Thursday, May 31, 2007

Media Selection of Presidential Candidates Continues

May 31, 2007

With the public still many months away from choosing presidential candidates from either major party, the media have fallen into a familiar pattern of trying to "weed out" candidates that do not meet the press corps' ideological standards (Extra!, 9-10/03). This tendency usually applies more to Democrats than Republicans—but Rep. Ron Paul (R. Texas) has demonstrated that conservative libertarians as well can be deemed too far out for the establishment media.

As FAIR pointed out recently (Media Advisory, 5/8/07), media reactions to early candidates' debates often provided a vivid contrast. The more progressive Democrats—especially former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Oh.)—were treated as a diversion from the "real" debate between media-favored candidates. As CNN host Howard Kurtz said of Gravel (4/29/07), "Why should a network allow somebody with, say, zero chance of becoming president into these debates?"

By contrast, the inclusion of Republican candidates polling near the bottom in the debates was mostly cheered; a Los Angeles Times editorial (5/4/07) called the presence of such candidates "a sign of intellectual ferment." When three of the GOP contenders signaled their doubts about evolution, the Washington Post helpfully noted (5/6/07) that "a look at public polling on the issue reveals that the three men aren't far from the mainstream in that belief."

But the second Republican debate (5/15/07) flipped this media script, when Republican candidate Ron Paul dared to raise a taboo subject: Al-Qaeda's statements about the September 11 attacks. "They attack us because we've been over there, we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years," Paul said. "We've been in the Middle East.... Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us?"

GOP front-runner Rudy Giuliani responded by saying he'd never heard such an "absurd explanation" for the September 11 attacks, "that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq"—a response that got sustained applause from the audience, and much the same from the press corps.

Appearing on MSNBC's Hardball (5/16/07), Washington Post editorial board member Jonathan Capehart called it "a big moment, a home run for Rudy.... I knew that what Rudy was saying was heartfelt, and he meant it, because, when you look at his eyes, you have never seen him more serious, more focused." Capehart added that Giuliani "was upset. He was angry. And I think he tapped into not only the mood of the crowd, but also the mood of the country, in a sense."

The media reacted strongly in support of Giuliani. Fox News Channel's John Gibson scored a twofer (5/17/07) by mangling Paul's words ("Paul suggested that the U.S. actually had a hand in the terrorist attacks") and then linking him to the Democratic Party, citing a poll that claims many Democrats "think President Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks beforehand.... It wouldn't have stunned me had it come up in the Democratic debate, but it's a jaw-dropper to see it in the Republican debate." Time magazine's Joe Klein declared it to be Paul's "singular moment of weirdness," and that Giuliani "reduced Paul to history."

Lost amidst the media excitement over Giuliani's response was whether or not Paul was correct. The Nation's John Nichols wrote a column (5/16/07) pointing out that Paul's argument more or less echoed the findings of the 9/11 Commission, which noted that Osama bin Laden had called in 1996 for Muslims to drive U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia—whose mission there was largely to support air patrols over Iraq—and that subsequent statements rallied followers to oppose U.S. policy in Israel-Palestine and Iraq. Such discussions are common in academic and policy circles, but not so in the mainstream media.

Such evidence was rarely even considered. MSNBC host Chris Matthews declared (5/16/07), "Ron Paul has a big problem, by the way." While Matthews granted that it was important for Americans to "understand the simmering hatred and the hostility, the sea of hostility, over there," Paul's comments were unacceptable on factual grounds: "You can't say it's because we put troops in Iraq, over the no-fly zone, because they tried to blow up that same building back in '93, before all these skirmishes over the no-fly zone. You can't say that particular argument."

Paul actually made no reference to the no-fly zones in his debate remarks. But if that's what Matthews thought Paul was referring to, the cable news host should be aware that the no-fly policy was first declared in 1991, and that there was an extensive series of air raids in support of the no-fly zones in January 1993—a month before the 1993 attack.

When Paul convened a press conference on May 24 at the National Press Club featuring former CIA terrorism expert Michael Scheurer, the press ignored the event, although reporters have interviewed Scheurer regularly for several years. The fact that Scheurer essentially agrees with Paul's premise, as he explained to AntiWar radio (5/18/07), might explain the media's ambivalence.

CNN host Howard Kurtz (5/20/07) slammed Paul's "unorthodox theory" about the 9/11 attacks, declaring that "news organizations are allowing ego-driven fringe candidates to muck up debates among those with an actual shot at the White House." The real problem isn't that Ron Paul can't win the White House, or that he might "muck up" a debate; if anything, he started a debate the media don't want to have.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Large-Scale Wind Turbines Killing Bats and Birds

by Michael Virtanen
The Associated Press
May 30, 2007

While generating megawatts of electricity, windmills on the Tug Hill Plateau in northern New York are also killing hundreds of bats and birds, according to a recent study.

The consultants' report for PPM Energy and Horizon Energy identified 123 birds, mostly night migrants, and 326 bats found dead over the course of five months last year beneath 50 wind turbines on the plateau between Lake Ontario and the western Adirondacks.

The initial results from the ongoing study at the largest wind farm in New York state, which is required to assess its environmental impact, were also distributed to state and federal wildlife and energy officials.

"We already have a reasonably good idea of how birds are migrating across New York state, which is why we are reasonably confident the bird mortality on Maple Ridge will not prove significant," said William Moore, project developer for PPM Energy. "The story on the bat side is a little more complicated."

The Adirondack Council repeated concerns that wind turbine parks have been proposed in a virtual ring around the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park, saying the threat to migratory birds needs to be better studied before towers are built.

"It's hard to justify this kind of bird and bat slaughter for the amount of electricity we're generating here," council spokesman John Sheehan said. "Ultimately we think there are good places to put windmills and wind turbines, but we need to do some study before we start putting them up, and that wasn't done here."

Moore said the 195 wind turbines, spread across 12.5 miles, have all been operating since late 2006 and are generating about 900,000 megawatt hours annually, or about 2 percent of the residential electricity load in the state. The first 120 turbines have been running since 2005. While the prevailing wind comes from the southwest, the turbines can yaw into the wind to receive energy from any direction, he said.

The plateau is one of the windiest places in New York, PPM is considering a second turbine site in Lewis County, and the final report on the 2006 bird and bat data should be issued in a few days, Moore said.

A National Research Council panel reported to Congress this month that wind farms could generate up to 7 percent of U.S. electricity in 15 years - helping reduce air pollution from burning coal and oil - but too little is yet known about the risk to birds and bats.

At the Maple Ridge Wind Power Project, the wind turbines have 262-foot towers, three 134-foot blades that turn between 12 and 20 rpm (more than 130 mph at their tips), and a generator in the base, according to the company. They have a maximum height of 400 feet, are painted white and each can produce up to 1.65 megawatts of electricity. On an annual basis, they operate at about 30 percent of capacity.

The report data don't include spring migration, expected to increase the annual bird death rate slightly. About two-thirds of the dead birds found from July through November were songbirds, and 82 percent were night migrants, the report said.

Almost one-third of the windmills have flashing red aviation warning beacons. The study, prepared by consultants Curry & Kerlinger, said there was no clear evidence the lights attracted birds and bats. The report said the turbines are less deadly to wildlife than taller communications towers, and flashing beacons are less attractive than steady burning lights.

The Adirondack Council advocated radar tests to count the actual number of birds and bats in the area, both night and day and year-round, and to determine whether any pass the turbines unharmed.

"We're very much in favor of home size and farm scale wind production, and we think the risks especially from these lower towers are very minimal," Sheehan said. "Once you get up above 20 and 30 stories you can really have an impact on the environment and you've got to be careful where you put them."

According to Moore, preconstruction radar studies were done, and others are planned this year. None of the 28 species of birds found so far are on the endangered species list. Most of these "migrate on what is known as broad front," or in a fairly confused way, suggesting one turbine location is no better or worse than another, he said.

None of the five species of bats found dead is listed as endangered either, Moore said. "They're colliding with turbines for reasons nobody can explain."

Methods to repel bats will be tested, he said.

Maple Ridge draft fatality report posted by National Wind Watch:

© 2007 The Associated Press

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cindy Sheehan Calls It Quits

by Cindy Sheehan
Common Dreams News Center
May 29, 2007

I have endured a lot of smear and hatred since Casey was killed and especially since I became the so-called “Face” of the American anti-war movement. Especially since I renounced any tie I have remaining with the Democratic Party, I have been further trashed on such “liberal blogs” as the Democratic Underground. Being called an “attention whore” and being told “good riddance” are some of the more milder rebukes.

I have come to some heartbreaking conclusions this Memorial Day Morning. These are not spur of the moment reflections, but things I have been meditating on for about a year now. The conclusions that I have slowly and very reluctantly come to are very heartbreaking to me.

The first conclusion is that I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican Party. Of course, I was slandered and libeled by the right as a “tool” of the Democratic Party. This label was to marginalize me and my message. How could a woman have an original thought, or be working outside of our “two-party” system?

However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the “left” started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of “right or left”, but “right and wrong.”

I am deemed a radical because I believe that partisan politics should be left to the wayside when hundreds of thousands of people are dying for a war based on lies that is supported by Democrats and Republican alike. It amazes me that people who are sharp on the issues and can zero in like a laser beam on lies, misrepresentations, and political expediency when it comes to one party refuse to recognize it in their own party. Blind party loyalty is dangerous whatever side it occurs on. People of the world look on us Americans as jokes because we allow our political leaders so much murderous latitude and if we don’t find alternatives to this corrupt “two” party system our Representative Republic will die and be replaced with what we are rapidly descending into with nary a check or balance: a fascist corporate wasteland. I am demonized because I don’t see party affiliation or nationality when I look at a person, I see that person’s heart. If someone looks, dresses, acts, talks and votes like a Republican, then why do they deserve support just because he/she calls him/herself a Democrat?

I have also reached the conclusion that if I am doing what I am doing because I am an “attention whore” then I really need to be committed. I have invested everything I have into trying to bring peace with justice to a country that wants neither. If an individual wants both, then normally he/she is not willing to do more than walk in a protest march or sit behind his/her computer criticizing others. I have spent every available cent I got from the money a “grateful” country gave me when they killed my son and every penny that I have received in speaking or book fees since then. I have sacrificed a 29 year marriage and have traveled for extended periods of time away from Casey’s brother and sisters and my health has suffered and my hospital bills from last summer (when I almost died) are in collection because I have used all my energy trying to stop this country from slaughtering innocent human beings. I have been called every despicable name that small minds can think of and have had my life threatened many times.

The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think. I have tried every since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives. It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most.

I have also tried to work within a peace movement that often puts personal egos above peace and human life. This group won’t work with that group; he won’t attend an event if she is going to be there; and why does Cindy Sheehan get all the attention anyway? It is hard to work for peace when the very movement that is named after it has so many divisions.

Our brave young men and women in Iraq have been abandoned there indefinitely by their cowardly leaders who move them around like pawns on a chessboard of destruction and the people of Iraq have been doomed to death and fates worse than death by people worried more about elections than people. However, in five, ten, or fifteen years, our troops will come limping home in another abject defeat and ten or twenty years from then, our children’s children will be seeing their loved ones die for no reason, because their grandparents also bought into this corrupt system. George Bush will never be impeached because if the Democrats dig too deeply, they may unearth a few skeletons in their own graves and the system will perpetuate itself in perpetuity.

I am going to take whatever I have left and go home. I am going to go home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost. I will try to maintain and nurture some very positive relationships that I have found in the journey that I was forced into when Casey died and try to repair some of the ones that have fallen apart since I began this single-minded crusade to try and change a paradigm that is now, I am afraid, carved in immovable, unbendable and rigidly mendacious marble.

Camp Casey has served its purpose. It’s for sale. Anyone want to buy five beautiful acres in Crawford, Texas? I will consider any reasonable offer. I hear George Bush will be moving out soon, too…which makes the property even more valuable.

This is my resignation letter as the “face” of the American anti-war movement. This is not my “Checkers” moment, because I will never give up trying to help people in the world who are harmed by the empire of the good old US of A, but I am finished working in, or outside of this system. This system forcefully resists being helped and eats up the people who try to help it. I am getting out before it totally consumes me or anymore people that I love and the rest of my resources.

Good-bye America…you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can’t make you be that country unless you want it.

It’s up to you now.

© Copyrighted 2007

Big Subsidies for Liquid Coal Threaten to Speed Global Warming

by Edmund L. Andrews
The New York Times
May 29, 2007

Even as Congressional leaders draft legislation to reduce greenhouse gases linked to global warming, a powerful roster of Democrats and Republicans is pushing to subsidize coal as the king of alternative fuels.

Prodded by intense lobbying from the coal industry, lawmakers from coal states are proposing that taxpayers guarantee billions of dollars in construction loans for coal-to-liquid production plants, guarantee minimum prices for the new fuel, and guarantee big government purchases for the next 25 years.

With both House and Senate Democrats hoping to pass “energy independence” bills by mid-July, coal supporters argue that coal-based fuels are more American than gasoline and potentially greener than ethanol.

“For so many, filthy coal is a dirty four-letter word,” said Representative Nick V. Rahall, Democrat of West Virginia and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. “These individuals, I tell you, have their heads buried in the sand.”

Environmental groups are adamantly opposed, warning that coal-based diesel fuels would at best do little to slow global warming and at worst would produce almost twice as much of the greenhouse gases tied to global warming as petroleum.

Coal companies are hardly alone in asking taxpayers to underwrite alternative fuels in the name of energy independence and reduced global warming. But the scale of proposed subsidies for coal could exceed those for any alternative fuel, including corn-based ethanol.

Among the proposed inducements winding through House and Senate committees: loan guarantees for six to 10 major coal-to-liquid plants, each likely to cost at least $3 billion; a tax credit of 51 cents for every gallon of coal-based fuel sold through 2020; automatic subsidies if oil prices drop below $40 a barrel; and permission for the Air Force to sign 25-year contracts for almost a billion gallons a year of coal-based jet fuel.

Coal companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying on the issue, and have marshaled allies in organized labor, the Air Force and fuel-burning industries like the airlines. Peabody Energy, the world’s biggest coal company, urged in a recent advertising campaign that people “imagine a world where our country runs on energy from Middle America instead of the Middle East.”

Representative Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat whose district is dominated by coal mining, is writing key sections of the House energy bill. In the Senate, champions of coal-to-liquid fuels include Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat, Jim Bunning of Kentucky and Larry Craig of Wyoming, both Republicans.

President Bush has not weighed in on specific incentives, but he has often stressed the importance of coal as an alternative to foreign oil. In calling for a 20 percent cut in projected gasoline consumption by 2017, he has carefully referred to the need for “alternative” fuels rather than “renewable” fuels. Administration officials say that was specifically to make room for coal.

The political momentum to subsidize coal fuels is in odd juxtaposition to simultaneous efforts by Democrats to draft global-warming bills that would place new restrictions on coal-fired electric power plants.

The move reflects a tension, which many lawmakers gloss over, between slowing global warming and reducing dependence on foreign oil.

Many analysts say the huge coal reserves of the United States could indeed provide a substitute for foreign oil.

The technology to convert coal into liquid fuel is well-established, and the fuel can be used in conventional diesel cars and trucks, as well as jet engines, boats and ships. Industry executives contend that the fuels can compete against gasoline if oil prices are about $50 a barrel or higher.

But coal-to-liquid fuels produce almost twice the volume of greenhouse gases as ordinary diesel. In addition to the carbon dioxide emitted while using the fuel, the production process creates almost a ton of carbon dioxide for every barrel of liquid fuel.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Schools Going Green

by Dorie Turner
The Associated Press
May 28, 2007

Nestled in the lush trees of suburban Atlanta's Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve sits the foundation of a school that is being built with partly recycled materials.

When it's finished, Arabia Mountain High School will have naturally lit classrooms and an aggressive recycling program.

It's part of a "green school" movement that is growing in popularity nationwide, with schools leaning toward solar panels, living roofs and wetlands. School districts say the environmentally friendly properties save energy costs while educating students about the world around them.

"In the past 6 months, it's been overwhelming," said Lindsay Baker, manager of the U.S. Green Building Council's school certification program. "There is a general agreement in schools that this is the issue that schools need to be thinking about."

Nearly 300 schools are on a waiting list for certification from the council, which sets nationally recognized standards for environmentally friendly buildings. So many schools are going green that the council, which previously certified schools based on commercial-building guidelines, just came out with benchmarks specifically for schools.

So far, 27 schools have received the "green" certification.

The Council of Educational Facility Planners International estimates that schools will spend $53 billion this year on construction alone and that green building will comprise as much as 10 percent of the school construction market by 2010, a rapid growth from almost nonexistence a few years ago.

In Colorado, ice made during off-peak hours at Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins helps cool the building during the day.

The roof of the gym at Tarkington Elementary School in Chicago is a flower garden that helps insulate the building during the city's cold winters.

Such wildflower gardens and solar panel arrays make perfect hands-on learning labs for students, and the sunlight-lit classrooms create happier, healthier children, educators said.

A study by school officials in Washington state found green schools have better student performance and fewer absences. In 2005, Washington state lawmakers used the study to require new schools getting state money to be green.

For teachers like Rod Shroufe at Clackamas High School in Clackamas, Ore. -- one of the first green schools in the nation when it opened six years ago -- the green building movement makes his job easier.

The environmental studies teacher takes his students on strolls through the school's adjoining wetland and lets them explore the solar panel array on the top of the building as part of class projects.

His students have put more than 3,000 native plants in the ground around the school in the past two years, helping to eradicate an acre of blackberries, which are not native to Oregon and choke out other vegetation.

"There are real tangible things these kids get from it in addition to knowledge," Shroufe said. "Hopefully when they're adults they'll make informed decisions based on that."

North Clackamas senior Trevor Dunsmuir hopes to work at an environmental nonprofit after college, a path he chose after taking Shroufe's classes. As his senior project, the 17-year-old organized an environmental club and has helped neighboring schools do the same.

"That's pretty much my favorite thing about this school," he said.

In suburban Atlanta, crews are building Arabia Mountain High School, Georgia's first green school built by a public school district. The $53 million DeKalb County school, set to open in 2009, is designed to preserve the pristine wilderness around it while teaching students to be kinder to the planet.

"You don't have to go too far to study -- it's right on your back porch," said Cassandra Anderson-Littlejohn, chairwoman of DeKalb County Board of Education. "It's a wonderful opportunity for learning, as well as an opportunity to conserve dollars for the system."

Like most school districts building green schools, DeKalb County is willing to shell out more money on the front end -- generally about 2 percent more in construction costs -- to ensure lower utility bills over the long run.

The Washington state study found green schools cut energy costs by up to 50 percent.

Happy educators and students also mean happy parents.

"We get so many compliments about how nice a school it is," said Jill Wingler, whose son, Josh, is in first grade at Third Creek Elementary in rural Statesville, N.C., an early green school. "We're losing our resources, and children need to be aware of these things."


DeKalb County Schools:

North Clackamas High School:

Third Creek Elementary School:

U.S. Green Building Council:

Council of Educational Facility Planners International:

© Copyright 2007 Associated Press

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Republican Presidential Candidates Embrace Baseless Iraq-9/11 Tie

by Peter S. Canellos
The Boston Globe
May 27, 2007

In defending the Iraq war, leading Republican presidential contenders are increasingly echoing words and phrases used by President Bush in the run-up to the war that reinforce the misleading impression that Iraq was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In the May 15 Republican debate in South Carolina, Senator John McCain of Arizona suggested that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden would "follow us home" from Iraq -- a comment some viewers may have taken to mean that bin Laden was in Iraq, which he is not.

Former New York mayor Rudolph Guiliani asserted, in response to a question about Iraq, that "these people want to follow us here and they have followed us here. Fort Dix happened a week ago. "

However, none of the six people arrested for allegedly plotting to attack soldiers at Fort Dix in New Jersey were from Iraq.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney identified numerous groups that he said have "come together" to try to bring down the United States, though specialists say few of the groups Romney cited have worked together and only some have threatened the United States.

"They want to bring down the West, particularly us," Romney declared. "And they've come together as Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, with that intent."

Assertions of connections between bin Laden and terrorists in Iraq have heated up over the last month, as Congress has debated the war funding resolution. Romney, McCain, and Giuliani have endorsed -- and expanded on -- Bush's much-debated contention that Al Qaeda is the main cause of instability in Iraq.

Spokespeople for McCain and Romney say the candidates were expressing their deep-seated convictions that terrorists would benefit if the United States were to withdraw from Iraq. The spokesmen say that even if Iraq had no connection to the Sept. 11 attacks, Al Qaeda-inspired terrorists have infiltrated Iraq as security has deteriorated since the invasion, and now pose a direct threat to the United States.

But critics, including some former CIA officials, said those statements could mislead voters into believing that the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks are now fighting the United States in Iraq .

Michael Scheuer , the CIA's former chief of operations against bin Laden in the late 1990s, said the comments of some GOP candidates seem to suggest that bin Laden is controlling the insurgency in Iraq, which he is not.

"There are at least 41 groups [worldwide] that have announced their allegiance to Osama bin Laden -- and I will bet that none of them are directed by Osama bin Laden," Scheuer said, pointing out that Al Qaeda in Iraq is not overseen by bin Laden.

Nonetheless, many GOP candidates have recently echoed Bush's longstanding assertion that Iraq is the "central battlefront" in the worldwide war against Al Qaeda and have declared that Al Qaeda would make Iraq its base of operations if the United States withdraws -- notions that Scheuer said do not withstand scrutiny.

"The idea that Al Qaeda will move its headquarters of operation from South Asia to Iraq is nonsense," said Scheuer.

The belief that there is a clear connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks has been a key determinant of support for the war. A Harris poll taken two weeks before the 2004 presidential election found that a majority of Bush's supporters believed that Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks -- a claim that Bush has never made. Eighty-four percent believed that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had "strong links" with Al Qaeda, a claim that intelligence officials have long disputed.

But critics have maintained that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney encouraged these ideas by using misleading terms to describe the threat posed by Iraq before the war.

Bush, for instance, repeatedly spoke of Hussein's support for terrorism -- which many Americans apparently took to mean that Hussein supported Al Qaeda in its jihad against the United States. The administration, however, sourced that claim to Hussein's backing of Palestinian terrorist groups targeting Israel.

Now, some GOP presidential candidates refer to "the terrorists" as one group, blurring distinctions between Al Qaeda, which has attacked the United States repeatedly, and groups that former intelligence officials say have not targeted the United States.

Romney said Friday: "You see, the terrorists are fighting a war on us. We've got to make sure that we're fighting a war on them."

Romney's comment in the earlier debate that "they've come together as Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda" struck some former intelligence officials as particularly misleading. Shia and Sunni, they said, are branches of Islam and not terrorist groups. There are an estimated 300 million Sunni Muslims in the Middle East, many of them fighting Al Qaeda.

"Are Shia and Sunni together? Is the Muslim Brotherhood cooperating with all these other groups? No," said Judith Yaphe, a former CIA Iraq analyst.

"There's a tendency to exaggerate in a debate," she added. "You push the envelope as far as you can."

No point has been emphasized more strongly at GOP debates than the link between the Iraq war and Al Qaeda. During the debates about war funding, GOP leaders have downplayed the role of sectarian violence in Iraq and emphasized the role of Al Qaeda.

On Friday, McCain called any attempt to cut Iraq war funding, "the equivalent of waving a white flag to Al Qaeda."

But specialists say that the enemy the military calls "Al Qaeda Iraq" is a combination of Iraqi jihadists and an unknown number of fighters from countries throughout the Middle East. "AQI" came together after the US invasion. And while there is evidence that AQI members coordinate attacks among themselves, there is little evidence that they coordinate closely with bin Laden.

In pressing his case for continued war funding, Bush last week said a previously classified intelligence report indicated that bin Laden had sent a messenger in early 2005 to urge the late Iraqi terrorist chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to aim more attacks at the United States.

But there is no further evidence that bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, exerts control over Al Qaeda Iraq, according to a senior military official in Baghdad in an interview last week.

"We don't have any direct information that would link Al Qaeda Iraq to getting e-mails, memos, whatever, from bin Laden," the military official said, speaking under condition of anonymity.

A McCain spokesman said the senator did not mean to suggest in his debate comments that bin Laden was in Iraq. But aides to Romney and McCain, in interviews, insisted that the candidates are not exaggerating when they speak of bin Laden and the link between Al Qaeda and Iraq.

"The larger point shouldn't be in dispute," said Randy Scheunemann , McCain's foreign policy adviser. "If there's a territory where Al Qaeda is left unmolested, free to plan, conduct, and train for operations, they will do so."

Romney's national press secretary, Kevin Madden, said the former governor's linking of Shia, Sunni, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood was based on their common hostility to the West. "I think [Romney's statement] was much more directed at intent -- they all share a common ideology or intent to bring down Western governments," Madden said. "There's a shared attempt to fight any beachhead of democracy in that region."

Analysts say that Hamas and Hezbollah are participating in democratic governments and that the leaders of Shi'ite militias are part of the Iraqi government.

"All of the bad actors in the Middle East get mixed up in people's minds," said Andrew Kohut , director of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, which has polled extensively on views on Iraq. "That's why it was easy to play on the perception that Saddam Hussein got together with Osama bin Laden and said 'Let's fly some planes into buildings.' Saddam Hussein was seen as a bad guy in the Middle East, and so it all gets jumbled up in people's thinking."

© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Distorting the Venezuelan Media Story

May 25, 2007

The story is framed in U.S. news media as a simple matter of censorship: Prominent Venezuelan TV station RCTV is being silenced by the authoritarian government of President Hugo Chávez, who is punishing the station for its political criticism of his government.

According to CNN reporter T.J. Holmes (5/21/07), the issues are easy to understand: RCTV "is going to be shut down, is going to get off the air, because of President Hugo Chávez, not a big fan of it." Dubbing RCTV "a voice of free speech," Holmes explained, "Chavez, in a move that's angered a lot of free-speech groups, is refusing now to renew the license of this television station that has been critical of his government."

Though straighter, a news story by the Associated Press (5/20/07) still maintained the theme that the license denial was based simply on political differences, with reporter Elizabeth Munoz describing RCTV as "a network that has been critical of Chávez."

In a May 14 column, Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl called the action an attempt to silence opponents and more "proof" that Chávez is a "dictator." Wrote Diehl, "Chávez has made clear that his problem with [RCTV owner Marcel] Granier and RCTV is political."

In keeping with the media script that has bad guy Chávez brutishly silencing good guys in the democratic opposition, all these articles skimmed lightly over RCTV's history, the Venezuelan government's explanation for the license denial and the process that led to it.

RCTV and other commercial TV stations were key players in the April 2002 coup that briefly ousted Chávez's democratically elected government. During the short-lived insurrection, coup leaders took to commercial TV airwaves to thank the networks. "I must thank Venevisión and RCTV," one grateful leader remarked in an appearance captured in the Irish film The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. The film documents the networks’ participation in the short-lived coup, in which stations put themselves to service as bulletin boards for the coup—hosting coup leaders, silencing government voices and rallying the opposition to a march on the Presidential Palace that was part of the coup plotters strategy.

On April 11, 2002, the day of the coup, when military and civilian opposition leaders held press conferences calling for Chávez's ouster, RCTV hosted top coup plotter Carlos Ortega, who rallied demonstrators to the march on the presidential palace. On the same day, after the anti-democratic overthrow appeared to have succeeded, another coup leader, Vice-Admiral Victor Ramírez Pérez, told a Venevisión reporter (4/11/02): "We had a deadly weapon: the media. And now that I have the opportunity, let me congratulate you."

That commercial TV outlets including RCTV participated in the coup is not at question; even mainstream outlets have acknowledged as much. As reporter Juan Forero, Jackson Diehl's colleague at the Washington Post, explained (1/18/07), "RCTV, like three other major private television stations, encouraged the protests," resulting in the coup, "and, once Chávez was ousted, cheered his removal." The conservative British newspaper the Financial Times reported (5/21/07), "[Venezuelan] officials argue with some justification that RCTV actively supported the 2002 coup attempt against Mr. Chávez."

As FAIR's magazine Extra! argued last November, "Were a similar event to happen in the U.S., and TV journalists and executives were caught conspiring with coup plotters, it’s doubtful they would stay out of jail, let alone be allowed to continue to run television stations, as they have in Venezuela."

When Chávez returned to power the commercial stations refused to cover the news, airing instead entertainment programs—in RCTV's case, the American film Pretty Woman. By refusing to cover such a newsworthy story, the stations abandoned the public interest and violated the public trust that is seen in Venezuela (and in the U.S.) as a requirement for operating on the public airwaves. Regarding RCTV's refusal to cover the return of Chavez to power, Columbia University professor and former NPR editor John Dinges told Marketplace (5/8/07):

"What RCTV did simply can't be justified under any stretch of journalistic principles…. When a television channel simply fails to report, simply goes off the air during a period of national crisis, not because they're forced to, but simply because they don't agree with what's happening, you've lost your ability to defend what you do on journalistic principles."

The Venezuelan government is basing its denial of license on RCTV's involvement in the 2002 coup, not on the station's criticisms of or political opposition to the government. Many American pundits and some human rights spokespersons have confused the issue by claiming the action is based merely on political differences, failing to note that Venezuela's media, including its commercial broadcasters, are still among the most vigorously dissident on the planet.

When Patrick McElwee of the U.S.-based group Just Foreign Policy interviewed representatives of Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists—all groups that have condemned Venezuela's action in denying RCTV's license renewal—he found that none of the spokespersons thought broadcasters were automatically entitled to license renewals, though none of them thought RCTV's actions in support of the coup should have resulted in the station having its license renewal denied. This led McElwee to wonder, based on the rights groups' arguments, "Could it be that governments like Venezuela have the theoretical right to not to renew a broadcast license, but that no responsible government would ever do it?"

McElwee acknowledged the critics' point that some form of due process should have been involved in the decisions, but explained that laws preexisting Chávez's presidency placed licensing decision with the executive branch, with no real provisions for a hearings process: "Unfortunately, this is what the law, first enacted in 1987, long before Chávez entered the political scene, allows. It charges the executive branch with decisions about license renewal, but does not seem to require any administrative hearing. The law should be changed, but at the current moment when broadcast licenses are up for renewal, it is the prevailing law and thus lays out the framework in which decisions are made."

Government actions weighing on journalism and broadcast licensing deserve strong scrutiny. However, on the central question of whether a government is bound to renew the license of a broadcaster when that broadcaster had been involved in a coup against the democratically elected government, the answer should be clear, as McElwee concludes:

"The RCTV case is not about censorship of political opinion. It is about the government, through a flawed process, declining to renew a broadcast license to a company that would not get a license in other democracies, including the United States. In fact, it is frankly amazing that this company has been allowed to broadcast for 5 years after the coup, and that the Chávez government waited until its license expired to end its use of the public airwaves."

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Who Exiled New Orleans' Poor?

by Judith Browne-Dianis
The Washington Post
May 17, 2007

Mary Ann Wright has been waiting to return home to the Lafitte public housing development in New Orleans for 20 months, but the federal government stands in her way. She's used to waiting for a federal response to Hurricane Katrina. After all, she was left in the floodwaters like thousands of other low-income African Americans.

For several weeks the 51-year-old evacuee lived in the Houston convention center, hoping to return to her apartment, which sustained very little flood damage. Wright eventually rented an apartment in Houston and found a job there a year later, but her salary is substantially less than she made in New Orleans. Stressed and depressed, she is struggling to survive with few family members nearby and no access to medical care.

Wright is among those in nearly 4,000 families who remain displaced from New Orleans public housing; these people's lives are in limbo, but not because of Hurricane Katrina and certainly not, as the April 30 editorial "Return to New Orleans" suggested, because of a civil rights lawsuit.

When the mandatory evacuation of New Orleans was lifted, residents of public housing, many of whom left with only the clothes on their backs, returned to find most of their homes locked and boarded up. This closure was not due to hurricane damage or flooding. In fact, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology architect's assessment in October 2006 showed no structural damage and minimal interior damage to most of these buildings because these all-brick structures were built to withstand such storms.

As residents of public housing watched the city attempt to come back, they wanted to know when they, too, could return. Although they knew the government had failed them during the evacuation, they did not imagine that the next federal insult would be locking them out of their homes.

The federal government might as well have put an ad in the paper: "Blacks Not Wanted." One month after Katrina's landfall, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson, who is charged with providing housing to the poor and eliminating discrimination, stated that New Orleans "is not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again." Worse, just days after the storm, Rep. Richard H. Baker (R-La.) proclaimed, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."

Then, HUD, which controls New Orleans public housing, announced that it would demolish 5,000 units of public housing, reopen 2,000 units by August 2006 (to date only about 1,200 have been reopened) and redevelop additional units. No date certain, just a promise of future mixed-income housing developments.

Residents of New Orleans public housing know this history too well. Over the past 10 years, 6,000 public housing units have been closed despite a waiting list of thousands. In 2000, 700 families were displaced for a "mixed-income" development. When HUD seized the storm as an opportunity to build more mixed-income developments, residents responded in kind; filing a lawsuit protects people's right to return.

The city, developers and the feds are planning the largest urban renewal and black removal in U.S. history. While it's clear that blacks were hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina, there is no aggressive plan to bring them home.

While HUD professes to want something better for public housing residents, its plan falls woefully short. There is no strategy to replace every unit that is demolished nor to increase the number of affordable housing units to meet growing needs.

Residents of New Orleans public housing want to go home now, not in five to 10 years. Most are depressed, some talk of committing suicide, others are suffering the effects of high blood pressure, and several elderly residents have died.

In addition to the lawsuit filed by the Advancement Project, residents have organized themselves and met with members of Congress. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) took the lead to win House passage of the Gulf Coast Hurricane Housing Recovery Act of 2007, which requires the reopening of public housing in New Orleans (a minimum of 3,000 units to start) and one-for-one replacement of demolished units, as well as seeking residents' input. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and her colleagues should restore residents' hope by following the example of the House.

The effort to return these families is a historic moment not only for the 4,000 displaced public housing families, but for every poor family in America. The outcome will determine whether the federal government can pounce on families, dispose of them and continue to marginalize them because they are poor and/or black. These families refuse to be silenced and exiled.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Screen Test: Reading the Micro-Fine Print

by Maureen Ryan
The Green Guide
May 22, 2007

With Memorial Day right around the corner, we have a lot to look forward to: long, hot days, pool parties, barbecues, baseball games and picnics in the park. But with these outdoor activities comes the very real threat of the sun's dangerous—and deadly—rays: Ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays, known to cause sunburn and associated with an increased risk for basal and squamous cell cancers and melanoma skin cancer, and ultraviolet-A rays which penetrate deeper into the skin, enhancing UVB’s carcinogenic effects.

In fact, approximately 90 percent of all skin cancers are caused by sun exposure, and this year alone, the American Cancer Society estimates that over 1 million Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer and more than 10,000 will die from it. And atmospheric scientists are concerned that massive Asian sales of air conditioners, which rely on ozone-depleting chemicals, bode ill for the hole in the ozone layer.

That information, coupled with research demonstrating that sunscreen poses its own risks, is reason enough to scrutinize product labels.

Chemical sunscreens that absorb the sun's rays commonly contain compounds that have been shown by numerous studies to interfere with the body's hormonal systems. The most prevalent include benzophenone, homosalate and octyl methoxycinnamate (also called octinoxate). Other chemicals like padimate-0 and parsol 1789 (AKA avobenzone) have the potential to damage DNA once activated by UV rays.

Mineral sunblocks that contain titanium dioxide (TiO2) or zinc oxide (ZO) are preferable to chemical sunscreens, because rather than being absorbed into the skin, the minerals lie on top of the skin, reflecting UV rays before they cause damage. The choice of most lifeguards, these sunblocks are famous for giving off that unattractive "white" mask.

But this is where problems with minerals arise. In order to reduce the visibility of sunscreen, many manufacturers use nanometer-sized particles of TiO2 and ZO. A nanometer (nm) is about a billionth of a meter—a unit so small that a single human hair is about 80,000 nm in diameter. The U.S. government has defined nanomaterials as particles smaller than 100 nm, and according to the Australian government, most nano-sized sunscreens use particles that size or smaller because the sunscreens become transparent on skin.

Nanoparticles are unpredictable because their small size and high ratio of surface area to volume can produce chemical or physical properties that are very different from their larger counterparts. For instance, once TiO2 nanoparticles enter the bloodstream, they are at risk of infiltrating the brain where they can damage cells, whereas larger micron-sized (millionths of a meter) particles of TiO2 are blocked by the blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain from harmful substances in the bloodstream. Fortunately, the consensus in the scientific community, as demonstrated by a 2006 Australian government literature review on the topic, is that neither TiO2 nor ZO penetrate the skin deep enough to actually enter the bloodstream.

That's not to say that the Food and Drug Administration, which hasn't assessed the safety of nanoparticles, can rest easy on Australia's research. Last May, a coalition of advocacy groups, led by the International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA), petitioned the FDA for nanoparticle toxicity testing and stricter labeling on products that contain nanoparticles. "They have not acted on our petition yet except to form, for the first time, a new committee of FDA staff to look at how they should regulate nanoparticles," says Jay Dee Hanson, CTA program director and member of their nanotechnology team.

Further confusing the issue, some companies use the term "micronized" to describe micron-sized particles, while other companies use it to describe particles that undergo what some dictionaries define as "breaking into very fine particles." Since the FDA has no set definition for the term, some companies misleadingly advertise nano-sized particles as "micronized," which is why it's important to verify particle sizes when you're purchasing a product that contains "micronized" or "nanoparticle" ingredients.

Nano-Free Suggestions

Because the studies present greater evidence against chemical sunscreens, and because it's riskier to spend time outdoors with no sun protection whatsoever, The Green Guide feels that mineral sunscreens are the better alternative, in addition to common-sense measures such as limiting time spent outdoors during peak sun hours and covering up with hats and long-sleeved clothing.

To avoid confusion, we have only included products containing TiO2 and ZO in micron-sized particles (1 micron or larger) or nano-sized particles larger than 100 nm, which are too large to penetrate the deepest skin layers. These are also free of The Green Guide's Dirty Dozen chemicals:

New for '07

Burt's Bees new Chemical Free Sunscreen SPF 15 with TiO2 ($15/3.5 oz.;, 800-849-7112)

Alba Botanica Sun Fragrance-Free Mineral Sunscreen SPF 18 with TiO2 ($9.95/4 oz. bottle,, 877-263-9456).

Old Favorites

Avalon Organics Baby Avalon Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 18, good for babies and adults with sensitive skin; the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping babies younger than six months out of direct sunlight and only applying sunscreen when shade is unavailable ($9.95/3.5 oz. bottle,, 877-263-9456)

California Baby No Fragrance and Everyday/Year-Round SPF 18/30 Moisturizing Sunscreen lotions ($17.99) and sticks ($12.99) with TiO2 (, 877-576-2825)

EcoLani SPF 15 sunscreen with TiO2 also contains micronized Green Coffee Extract, which reflects ultraviolet light ($15/4 oz. bottle,

JASON Natural Sunbrella Chemical-free Sun Block SPF 30+ ($19/6 oz) and Earth's Best Chemical-Free Sunblock SPF 30 for kids ($12.48) with TiO2 and ZO (, 877-527-6601).

Juice Beauty SPF 30 Tinted Moisturizer includes organic white grape and pomegrante juices ($29/2 oz.) and the Green Apple SPF 15 Moisturizer contains a brightening hydroxy-acid complex of organic apple and lemon juices ($38/1.7 oz;, 415-457-4600).

A Final Note: In January 2007, the FDA approved a new sunscreen called Mexoryl SX, or ecamsule, for use in the U.S. Hailed by dermatologists as a highly effective UV-A barrier, the only product in which it is currently used is L'Oreal's Anthelios SX. However, to make the sunscreen a broad-spectrum UV-A and UV-B protector, avobenzone was added, which, as previously stated, may damage DNA.


Sunscreens and Sunblocks Product Report

"Nanoparticles: Small Ingredients, Big Risks," Friends of the Earth,

International Center for Technology Assessment,

For practical tips on sun protection, see

© 2007 National Geographic Society

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Invaders at the Gate

by Linda Saucerman
The Nature Conservancy

Blogger's Note: This is one story of how the misplaced federal fiscal priorities in the era of the Iraq War are allowing a quiet invasion of America, with devastating consequences.

Sometime in the 1990s, a tree was cut in China, turned into solid wood packing material, and shipped to Brooklyn, New York.

This unremarkable event would have gone unnoticed were it not for a routine visit in 1996 by a New York City Parks inspector to Brooklyn’s McCarren Park, a four block recreational area covered with softball diamonds, tennis courts, a defunct swimming pool, and a family picnic area overlooking midtown Manhattan’s skyline.

As he examined the trees, the Parks inspector noticed neatly drilled half-inch holes on several tree trunks. Pulling out his binoculars, he spotted an unfamiliar beetle, then two, then three, scaling up the tree. The shiny, black, one-and-a-half inch beetles had white bands and white dots on their backs and antennae. He’d never seen anything like them before.

No one could have imagined the little black creature, later identified as the Asian longhorned beetle, would be responsible over the next decade for the death of some 7,000 trees in New York and Long Island, and generate a nearly half billion dollar federal campaign for its eradication.

On that lazy summer day in 1996, McCarren Park became the site of the beetle’s first infestation on American soil.

“No one even knew what it was,” says Fiona Watt, Chief of Forestry and Horticulture for the New York City Parks and Recreation Department. “The beetle was eventually sent to Hawaii for further examination. All of the literature was in Chinese at the time and it had to be translated. It was very difficult and it took about a year for us to catch up with the beetle.”

The Threat

Known in China as a pest of poplar trees, in New York the beetle developed a hearty appetite that went far beyond the borough’s modest poplar population. In the 10 years since it was first identified, the beetle has eaten its way through parts of Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island, and Long Island, where maple, willow, birch, elm, box elder, buckeye, and horse chestnut trees are abundant. New Jersey has also experienced infestations, as has Chicago.

The beetle’s lifecycle is unexceptional. After mating in the spring and summer, the female bores a hole in a tree trunk and deposits her eggs in the bark, covering them with a cement-like plug. The eggs become larvae and feed by eating their way deeper into the heart of the tree. In the spring, the larvae pupate and chew their way out to the bark, leaving dime-sized holes in the trunk. The holes cause a disruption in sap flow and weakening of the trunk that ultimately leads to the death of the tree. Unlike other beetles which take two to three years to mature, the Asian longhorned beetle can run through a complete life cycle in a single year.

So why is the Asian longhorned beetle such a big deal? After all, the 7,000 trees killed so far by the infestation represent only about one quarter of one percent of the city’s 5.2 million trees. Last year alone, in the course of routine public space maintenance operations, New York City removed about 9,000 trees without anyone really noticing a major difference.

The danger lies in the fact that, if not controlled, the beetle is likely to kill half of New York City’s trees, reducing the city’s beauty, raising summer temperatures, and lowering air quality. Because the beetle’s tunneling weakens the trees, they will have to be removed quickly and at great expense. And, should the beetle population spread, not only are urban trees at risk but also the forests of the Catskills, Adirondacks, and other wild portions of the eastern U.S. that are crucial to the integrity of our air, water, plants, and animals.

“The Asian longhorned beetle will, in the very near future, either break its quarantine around New York or be eradicated,” says Frank Lowenstein, Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Forest Health Program. “How successful we ultimately are in controlling this invasive species will show just how willing we are as a society to avert a disaster of catastrophic proportions.”

nvasive species like the Asian longhorned beetle are on the march across the United States. Expanded global commerce, the absence of consistent policies, and lack of information and funding make combating invasive species a challenging task. With 19 million residents, 13 airports, six shipping ports, and 800 miles of intrastate canal systems, New York is especially vulnerable to the risks posed by invasive species.

Compounding the challenges of keeping invasives out is the speed with which they are landing on American shores, leaving precious little time for nature and humans to prepare effective counterattacks. The absence of a master plan in New York and beyond puts the nation at major environmental and economic risk.

According to Watt, approximately 4,000 trees have been removed in the city alone as a result of the Asian longhorned beetle infestation. However, if the beetle manages to successfully infect all possible host trees in the city, the price tag to replace them could run upward of $2.2 billion. Nationwide, the Asian longhorned beetle could kill a third of urban trees, which have a replacement value of about $669 billion. The threat is not far fetched: chestnut blight wiped out just about all the chestnut trees in America’s Eastern forests in the last century.

We know the beetle is on the move. After causing a scare when several infested trees were found on the edge of Central Park in 2006, the beetle showed up on Prall’s Island (near Staten Island) on March 1st of this year and was detected on Staten Island proper on March 22nd. Staten Island has the largest tree cover of all five boroughs and stands to lose half its trees if the beetle is not contained.

The Answer

It’s been 10 years since the beetle was first spotted in New York, so why hasn’t it been eradicated yet?

Money is a large part of the problem.

Despite the expansion of the beetle’s range across the five boroughs, Long Island, and New Jersey, funding for the national program has decreased dramatically since 2002. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2007 the national budget for the Asian longhorned beetle was $20 million, with $11 million going to New York City. The proposed national budget for 2008 has dropped to $18 million. The current level of funding is a major decrease from the $50 million allocated in 1996 or the $48 million available as recently as 2002. At that time, the target date for the beetle’s eradication in New York City was set for 2010. Today, the deadline has been pushed back beyond 2030.

The decrease in funding and a new deadline more than 20 years away worries Watt. “The current federal money does not go far enough,” she says. “This isn’t even enough money to implement the federal protocol, which is to inject [with an insecticide] all host trees [within a 1/2 mile of] all known infested sites.” In New York City, 47 percent of all trees are potential hosts. For the city to lose half its standing trees would mean a catastrophic social, economic, and environmental loss.

If the Asian longhorned beetle succeeds in breaking out of its quarantine and bolting into upstate New York and New England, there would follow a devastating economic blow to the sugar maple, tourism, timber, and forest product industries. Over 1.5 billion trees are susceptible across New England.

“Failure to fund eradication adequately now means we will have to spend a lot more money in the long run,” says the Conservancy’s Lowenstein. “We aren’t doing anybody any favors by not having the eradication fully funded. I’d like to see the funding go to at least $30 million nationally. This is a national priority that must be addressed.”

Despite the grimness of situation today, one city has shown that successful containment and eradication is possible: Chicago. The beetle was found there in 1998 but it has not been spotted since 2003. Experts say community involvement and adequate funding helped keep the beetle in check. If there is no evidence of the Asian longhorned beetle after four years of survey, the area will likely be declared beetle-free this fall.

Chicago may have won one battle but the war on invasives is far from over. In fact, with the emerald ash borer knocking on the city’s door, the fight may never be over for Chicago, New York, or the country. Like the Asian longhorned beetle, the emerald ash borer hitched a ride from Asia in wood packing material, only this time it landed in Detroit, spreading throughout the Midwest and killing 20 million ash trees in the process. Foresters believe that this metallic green beetle has the potential to wipe out the ash tree population across the United States.

“If we don’t start dealing with the issue of imports and pests – by adopting strong prevention policies and putting adequate money into controlling those pests that enter the country despite prevention efforts – then we’re going to see massive impacts on cities and towns. The time to act is now,” says Lowenstein.

Copyright © 2007 The Nature Conservancy

Bush's Illegal Activities Cannot Continue to be Overlooked

by The Washington Post
May 18, 2007

It doesn't much matter whether President Bush was the one who phoned Attorney General John D. Ashcroft's hospital room before the Wednesday Night Ambush in 2004. It matters enormously, however, whether the president was willing to have his White House aides try to strong-arm the gravely ill attorney general into overruling the Justice Department's legal views. It matters enormously whether the president, once that mission failed, was willing nonetheless to proceed with a program whose legality had been called into question by the Justice Department. That is why Mr. Bush's response to questions about the program yesterday was so inadequate.

"I'm not going to talk about it," Mr. Bush told reporters at a news conference with departing British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "It's a very sensitive program. I will tell you that, one, the program is necessary to protect the American people, and it's still necessary because there's still an enemy that wants to do us harm."

No one is asking Mr. Bush to talk about classified information, and no one is discounting the terrorist threat. But there is a serious question here about how far Mr. Bush went to pressure his lawyers to implement his view of the law. There is an even more serious question about the president's willingness, that effort having failed, to go beyond the bounds of what his own Justice Department found permissible.

Yes, Mr. Bush backed down in the face of the threat of mass resignations, Mr. Ashcroft's included, and he apparently agreed to whatever more limited program the department was willing to approve. In the interim, however, the president authorized the program the Justice lawyers had refused to certify as legally permissible, and it continued for a few weeks more, according to former deputy attorney general James B. Comey's careful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Under the Constitution, the president has the final authority in the executive branch to say what the law is. But as a matter of presidential practice, this is breathtaking.

These are important topics for public discussion, and if anyone doubts that they can safely be discussed in public, they need look no further than Mr. Comey's testimony. Instead of doing so, Mr. Bush wants to short-circuit that discussion by invoking the continuing danger of al-Qaeda.

"And so we will put in place programs to protect the American people that honor the civil liberties of our people, and programs that we constantly brief to Congress," Mr. Bush assured the country yesterday, as he brushed off requests for a more detailed account. But this is exactly the point of contention. The administration, it appears from Mr. Comey's testimony, was willing to go forward, against legal advice, with a program that the Justice Department had concluded did not "honor the civil liberties of our people." Nor is it clear that Congress was adequately informed. The president would like to make this unpleasant controversy disappear behind the national security curtain. That cannot be allowed to happen.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

Why Working Less is Better for the Globe

by Dara Colwell
May 21, 2007

Americans are working harder than ever before. The dogged pursuit of the paycheck coupled with a 24/7 economy has thrust many of us onto a never-ending treadmill. But of workaholism's growing wounded, its greatest casualty has been practically ignored -- the planet.

"We now seem more determined than ever to work harder and produce more stuff, which creates a bizarre paradox: We are proudly breaking our backs to decrease the carrying capacity of the planet," says Conrad Schmidt, an internationally known social activist and founder of the Work Less Party, a Vancouver-based initiative aimed at moving to a 32-hour work week -- a radical departure from the in early, out late cycle we've grown accustomed to. "Choosing to work less is the biggest environmental issue no one's talking about."

A backlash against overwork fatigue, the Work Less Party is one of a growing number of initiatives aimed at cutting work hours while tackling unemployment, environmentally unfriendly behavior and boosting leisure time. According to Schmidt, author of "Workers of the World RELAX," which examines the economics of reduced industrial work, working less would allow us to produce less, consume less, pollute less and -- no complaints here -- live more.

"As a society, we're working exponentially hard to decrease sustainability and it's making us miserable -- just look at how antidepressants are on the rise," he says. "In order to reduce our ecological footprint, we have to take working less very seriously."

Americans work more hours than anyone else in the industrialized world. According to the United Nations' International Labor Organization, we work 250 hours, or five weeks, more than the Brits, and a whopping 500 hours, or 12 and a half weeks, more than the Germans. So how does ecological damage figure in to the 40-plus workweek?

Do the math: Longer hours plus labor-saving technology equals ever-increasing productivity. Without high annual growth to match productivity, there's unemployment. Maintaining growth means using more energy and resources, both in manpower and raw materials, which results in increased waste and pollution.

Unsurprisingly, the United States is the world's largest polluter. Housing a mere 5 percent of the world's population, it accounts for 22 percent of its fossil fuel consumption, 50 percent of its solid waste, and, on average, each citizen consumes 53 times more goods than a person in China, according to the environmental nonprofit, Sierra Club.

When people work longer hours, they rely increasingly on convenience items such as fast food, disposable diapers, or bottled water. Built-in obsolescence has become standard business practice -- just throw it away and make more -- leaving mountainous landfills in its wake. "Earning more often means spending money in ways that are environmentally detrimental. We're finding that to compensate for lack of time, you actually need more money to work those extra hours," says Monique Tilford, acting executive director of the Centre for a New American Dream, a Maryland group promoting environmentally and socially responsible consumption. "When people are time-starved they don't have enough time to be conscious consumers. The overarching theme of our organization is to remind Americans that every single dollar they spend has a carbon impact, to make the connection."

If the world started clocking American hours, then it would be detrimental to its environmental health. According to a paper issued by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, D.C., if Europe moved towards a U.S.-based economic model, it would consume 15-30 percent more energy by 2050. This would impact fuel prices worldwide and boost carbon emissions, resulting in additional global warming of 1-2 degrees Celsius. Any reductions in greenhouse gas emissions made through conservation, cleaner fuels or green technology would be overwhelmed by increased industrial output.

"Productivity normally increases every year, but we haven't seen massive productivity gains reflected in our working hours," says Mark Weisbrot, CEPR's co-director, who also authored the study "Are Shorter Work Hours Good for the Environment?" "Because there's no limit to what we can consume, a change of values has to take place if the planet stands a chance of survival."

The problem is, France has already begun following America's lead by increasing the workload. In 2005, France effectively abolished its 35-hour workweek to counter high unemployment -- the highest in the European Union, hovering at roughly 10 percent -- though a subsequent International Monetary Fund paper examining the impact concluded there was no significant increase. And this May, the new French president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy, whose campaign to "work more, earn more" helped win him the presidential seat, promised to make overtime largely tax-exempt. His goal: strengthen consumer purchasing power and galvanize the economy.

Only if Weisbrot's research is correct, France's increased productivity would create even larger problems, especially considering France's current productivity is greater than America's, with a GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per hour of $37.01 versus $33.77. Today's push towards a heavier workload is in many ways a historical precedent. In both the United States and Europe, work hours declined steadily from the beginning of the industrial revolution until World War II, when labor unions were key in fighting for shorter hours. After the war, the 40-hour workweek was legally in place, and governments promoted economic growth in order to match it.

But since the 1970s, with the advent of technological advances and increased automation, most European governments have continued shortening work hours whereas the United States has opted instead to let wages fall. In the late 1960s futurists predicted an Age of Leisure, hypothesizing that the largest issue facing the country at the end of the century would be too much leisure. "It was the kind of problem I thought I could deal with -- in fact, I was looking forward to it," says John de Graaf, producer of the groundbreaking 1997 PBS documentary "Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic" and a frequent speaker on issues of overwork and overconsumption. "Of course, I didn't reason we'd put all our productivity gains into more stuff."

Quoting data from his current campaign, "What's the Economy for Anyway?" which examines America's economic policies in light of quality of life issues, de Graaf says the evidence proves we're not better off. "It's staggering. The USA has declined relative to all other industrial countries in virtually every quality of life measured -- health, equality, savings, sustainability -- though that's not so with the GDP and certainly not with the number of billionaires," he says. "Yet we're still constantly being told we're better off."

Yet suggest alternatives to the status quo of GDP worship, like shortening the work week, and resistance is great. "Here, the business community fiercely opposes any mandates relating to time," says de Graaf, noting that by controlling or regulating time, they maintain the upper hand. "What's happened in Europe is people have discovered it's nice to have some time in their lives, and in getting some, they've wanted more. Whereas here, business has kept that door completely shut."

But even many overburdened Americans fear change will signal further sacrifice -- mostly to their paychecks. "But the fact is, we're already sacrificing our time and our lives right now," says de Graaf. De Graaf is also the national coordinator of "Take Back Your Time Day," an annual event scheduled for Oct. 24, the date on which the 40-hour workweek was first inaugurated in the United States. A national organization with 10,000 members, Take Back Your Time has launched a campaign calling for national legislation guaranteeing a minimum of three weeks of paid vacation, an issue it hopes to make part of the 2008 presidential campaign.

As it stands, America is the only industrial nation that offers no legal protection for vacations. The average vacation in the United States is now only a long weekend, and 25 percent of American workers have no paid vacation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Compare that to Sweden, which mandates 32 vacation days per year. President Bush, however, does know the value of vacation time. In 2005, he took five weeks off to visit his Texas ranch, taking the longest presidential retreat in at least 36 years.

"We see overwork as a social, legal problem that needs political legislation," says de Graaf. "We are utterly unique in our dismissal of the need for time and the environmental costs; not to mention, the costs to our health and our families have been enormous."

But by shelving time, we continue to suffer from overload, debt, and anxiety, and are stuck in a fatalistic rat race generated by heightened consumerism. So what fuels this need to accumulate in the face of time deprivation? Devoting his career to what drives materialism, Tim Kasser, associate professor of psychology at Knox College and author of "The High Price of Materialism," has sought scientific explanations, examining the relationship between materialism and psychological well-being.

"Materialism is driven by an underlying sense of insecurity," says Kasser, who conducted a study where subjects were randomly assigned writing about death or writing about listening to music. The former experience an increased desire for consumption and were "greedier," according to Kasser. "Death is the ultimate end of time; it's interpreted as that feeling of not having enough time. In the last decade politicians have played off that insecurity. It keeps getting people elected, but it also drives us to think we need to work harder and harder," he says, noting the signs of insecurity around us are numerous: We don't know our neighbors and suffer from high divorce rates; our social safety nets have been dismantled; we have no mandatory overtime laws and minimal vacation. "All these work to create an underlying sense of insecurity, and we need to break out of that cycle," he says.

Interestingly, Kasser conducted an empirical study comparing 200 adherents of Voluntary Simplicity to a control group of 200 mainstream Americans and found the Voluntary Simplicity group was "simultaneously happier while using fewer resources," and that their happiness was derived from "less materialistic, intrinsic goals, such as personal growth, family and community." While the Voluntary Simplicity group was "still awfully far from having a sustainable ecological footprint," Kasser feels it's a positive start. "The correlation between the VS group being happy was due to those no-consumeristic, intrinsic values, and the reason they're living in a more ecologically sustainable fashion is also due to those values."

It's just those kind of values Schmidt has tried to encourage in his Work Less Party. Schmidt, a former computer programmer, started by getting rid of his car and cycling to work, then took advantage of the savings by reducing his workweek, which allowed him enough time to write his book, make two documentaries, and organize a community theater group -- all in the last three years.

"People spend so many hours working they have no idea of how much creative potential they have, but you get a taste of mental freedom you want more of it. It's an explosion of creativity." says Schmidt, quickly adding, "I'm a workaholic, but it's the type of work that's the problem. Our society is focused on work that makes stuff that goes directly into landfills. Essential work such as art, music, creativity, community, the kind necessary to create a healthy society and planet, is being negated in favor of that."

If there's any solution to increasing our well-being, as well as the planet's, Schmidt's advice flies counter to our driven consumerism. "If you want to protect the environment, you have to consume less, which means you have to produce less, and you have to work less. We have to keep the message positive -- our standard of living will improve hugely. I think people are starting to make the connection."

© 2007 Independent Media Institute

Small Magazines, Big Ideas

by Bill Moyers
Common Dreams News Center
May 19, 2007

It’s time to send an SOS for the least among us–I mean small independent magazines. They are always struggling to survive while making a unique contribution to the conversation of democracy. Magazines like National Review, The American Prospect, Sojourners, The American Conservative, The Nation, Washington Monthly, Mother Jones, In These Times, World Magazine, The Christian Century, Christianity Today, Columbia Journalism Review, Reason and many others.The Internet may be the way of the future, but for today much of what you read on the Web is generated by newspapers and small magazines. They may be devoted to a cause, a party, a worldview, an issue, an idea, or to one eccentric person’s vision of what could be, but they nourish the public debate. America wouldn’t be the same without them.

Our founding fathers knew this; knew that a low-cost postal incentive was crucial to giving voice to ideas from outside the main tent. So they made sure such publications would get a break in the cost of reaching their readers. That’s now in jeopardy.

An impending rate hike, worked out by postal regulators, with almost no public input but plenty of corporate lobbying, would reward big publishers like Time Warner, while forcing these smaller periodicals into higher subscription fees, big cutbacks and even bankruptcy.

It’s not too late. The Postal Service is a monopoly, but if its governors, and especially members of Congress, hear from enough citizens, they could have a change of heart. So, liberal or conservative, left or right, libertarian, vegetarian, communitarian or Unitarian, or simply good Samaritan, let’s make ourselves heard.

Bill Moyers is the host of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS. This essay appears on the program aired May 18. You can post a comment on The Moyers Blog

© Copyrighted 2007

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Bush "Worst in History" in International Relations

by the Associated Press
May 19, 2007

Former President Carter says President Bush's administration is "the worst in history" in international relations, taking aim at the White House's policy of pre-emptive war and its Middle East diplomacy.

The criticism from Carter, which a biographer says is unprecedented for the 39th president, also took aim at Bush's environmental policies and the administration's "quite disturbing" faith-based initiative funding.

"I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history," Carter told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in a story that appeared in the newspaper's Saturday editions. "The overt reversal of America's basic values as expressed by previous administrations, including those of George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and others, has been the most disturbing to me."

Carter spokeswoman Deanna Congileo confirmed his comments to The Associated Press on Saturday and declined to elaborate. He spoke while promoting his new audiobook series, "Sunday Mornings in Plains," a collection of weekly Bible lessons from his hometown of Plains, Ga.

"Apparently, Sunday mornings in Plains for former President Carter includes hurling reckless accusations at your fellow man," said Amber Wilkerson, Republican National Committee spokeswoman. She said it was hard to take Carter seriously because he also "challenged Ronald Reagan's strategy for the Cold War."

Carter came down hard on the Iraq war.

"We now have endorsed the concept of pre-emptive war where we go to war with another nation militarily, even though our own security is not directly threatened, if we want to change the regime there or if we fear that some time in the future our security might be endangered," he said. "But that's been a radical departure from all previous administration policies."

Carter, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, criticized Bush for having "zero peace talks" in Israel. Carter also said the administration "abandoned or directly refuted" every negotiated nuclear arms agreement, as well as environmental efforts by other presidents.

Carter also offered a harsh assessment for the White House's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which helped religious charities receive $2.15 billion in federal grants in fiscal year 2005 alone.

"The policy from the White House has been to allocate funds to religious institutions, even those that channel those funds exclusively to their own particular group of believers in a particular religion," Carter said. "As a traditional Baptist, I've always believed in separation of church and state and honored that premise when I was president, and so have all other presidents, I might say, except this one."

Douglas Brinkley, a Tulane University presidential historian and Carter biographer, described Carter's comments as unprecedented.

"This is the most forceful denunciation President Carter has ever made about an American president," Brinkley said. "When you call somebody the worst president, that's volatile. Those are fighting words."

Carter also lashed out Saturday at British prime minister Tony Blair. Asked how he would judge Blair's support of Bush, the former president said: "Abominable. Loyal. Blind. Apparently subservient."

"And I think the almost undeviating support by Great Britain for the ill-advised policies of President Bush in Iraq have been a major tragedy for the world," Carter told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press

Sicko Debut for Michael Moore

by Marc Burleigh
Agence France-Presse
May 19, 2007

Michael Moore unveiled his latest attack on America's shortcomings at Cannes today with Sicko, a scathing documentary that exposes the dark side of the US health system and its powerful insurance lobby.

The film played to a packed-out crowd in the film festival's biggest, 2000-seat theatre.

It was also the first of two non-fiction US films shown - A-list star Leonardo DiCaprio was on hand to present his own pet project, the documentary The 11th Hour, about man's impact on the environment.

In Sicko, Moore flays a health system that, he shows, leaves 50 million Americans without access to medical care - and which even cruelly pulls the rug out from under many of those who mistakenly think they are properly covered.

The documentary fires off side shots at US President George W. Bush, the follow-up to the September 11, 2001 attacks and the Iraq war - all subjects of predilection for Moore, who won Cannes's Palme d'Or in 2004 for Fahrenheit 9/11.

This time, the filmmaker has landed in hot water for a stunt in Sicko in which he takes a group of ailing September 11 emergency workers to Cuba, where they receive medical treatment.

The US Government has opened a probe into the trip, which potentially breaches its laws restricting US citizens from visiting the communist island.

“I don't know why the Bush administration is taking this action,” Moore told journalists after the screening.

"It's hard to get into their heads about why they do anything... This is an administration that flaunts the law, flaunts the Constitution.

"The point was not to go to Cuba, it was to go to American soil, to Guantanamo Bay and to take 9/11 rescue workers there to receive the same medical care given to the Al-Qaeda detainees."

But the group doesn't enter the Guantanamo US military base, and instead gets good care from Cuban doctors in a hospital.

Moore also heads to other countries - Canada, Britain and France - to show how their national state-run health systems, often derided as “socialist” in the US, offer a far superior level of care than the US one.

The problem in America is that private Health Maintenance Organisations run the system (under legislation brought in by president Richard Nixon) - and they do so by limiting coverage and payments, and by “buying off” politicians, the documentary alleges.

“They are legally required to maximise profits for their shareholders,” Moore noted, adding that he feared any reform that might come in under a new president could simply end up putting “tax dollars in the hands of private companies”.

The real solution, he opined, was to “steal” what worked in other Western countries and apply that to the US.

Asked whether he was prepared for the inevitable backlash from the deep-pocketed US medical insurance companies, Moore admitted “they may be a scarier force than Karl Rove or George Bush” but added: “It is my profound hope that people will listen to this film.”

Moore said he declined to have his film shown in the line up vying for the Palme d'Or this year.

“I already have the Palme d'Or. What do I want? Another Palme d'Or?” asked the filmmaker, who also picked up an Oscar in 2002 for Bowling for Columbine.

Stephen Schaefer, a US critic for the Boston Globe newspaper, hailed the new movie and predicted it might do even bigger US box office business than Fahrenheit 9/11.

While the facts Sicko laid out make him "sad as an American,” Schaefer said it was “a very strong and very honest documentary about a health system that's totally corrupt and that is without any care for its patients”.

Copyright 2007 News Limited

Friday, May 18, 2007

Earth’s Natural Defenses against Climate Change ‘Beginning to Fail’

by Michael McCarthy
The Independent
May 18, 2007

The earth's ability to soak up the gases causing global warming is beginning to fail because of rising temperatures, in a long-feared sign of "positive feedback," new research reveals today.

Climate change itself is weakening one of the principal "sinks" absorbing carbon dioxide - the Southern Ocean around Antarctica - a new study has found.

As a result, atmospheric CO2 levels may rise faster and bring about rising temperatures more quickly than previously anticipated. Stabilising the CO2 level, which must be done to bring the warming under control, is likely to become much more difficult, even if the world community agrees to do it.

The news may give added urgency to the meeting in three weeks' time between the G8 group of rich nations and the leading developing countries led by China, at Heiligendamm in Germany, when an attempt will be made to put together the framework of a new world climate treaty to succeed the current Kyoto protocol.

"This is a timely warning in advance of Heiligendamm and the G8 that the climate clock is beginning to tick faster," said the leading environmentalist Tom Burke, visiting professor at Imperial College London.

"The shift that has been detected in a four-year study by researchers from the University of East Anglia, the British Antarctic Survey and the Max-Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, published in the journal Science, is one of the most ominous in the development of climate change. It implies a breach in the planet's own defences against global warming.

Human society has hugely benefited from the earth's natural carbon absorption facility, which means oceans and forests take up roughly half of the CO2 pumped into the atmosphere, in the so-called carbon cycle. What is left in the atmosphere is known as the "airborne fraction".

If sinks weakened, the airborne fraction would be likely to get bigger. Although supercomputer models of the climate have for some time predicted the weakening of the ocean and terrestrial sinks, no example of it happening has actually been detected - until now.

Now the research team has found the vast Southern Ocean, which is the earth's biggest carbon sink, accounting for about 15 per cent of the total absorption potential, has become effectively CO2-saturated.

The level of the gas it is absorbing has remained static since 1981 - but in that time the amount emitted has grown by 40 per cent, so it has stopped keeping pace and much more CO2 is left over to trap the sun's heat.

The effect - revealed by scrutinising observations of atmospheric CO2 from 40 stations around the world, is thought to have been caused by an increase in ocean wind speeds. Stormier weather and stronger waves are churning up the sea and bringing natural CO2 stored there closer to the surface - which reduces the ability of the surface to absorb the gas from the air.

The increased winds are believed to be caused by altered atmospheric temperature regimes produced by two separate processes - the depletion of the ozone layer over Antarctica by chlorofluorocarbon gases from aerosol spray cans (now phased out), and global warming.

It is thus a positive feedback - an effect of climate change which itself makes climate change worse. Some researchers fear that feedbacks may make global warming happen much faster, and harder to control, than generally appreciated. The pessimism of scientists such as James Lovelock is largely based on the fact that most feedbacks in the earth's system are likely to work against us.

"This is the first unequivocal detection of a carbon sink weakening because of recent climate change," said the lead author of the study, Corinne Le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia. "This is serious. Whenever the world has greatly warmed in the past, the weakening of CO2 sinks has contributed to it."

Professor Chris Rapley, director of the British Antarctic Survey, said: "Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution the world's oceans have absorbed about a quarter of the 500 gigatons [millions of tonnes] of carbon emitted by humans. The possibility that in a warmer world the Southern Ocean is weakening is a cause for concern."

The Government's chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, said: "We have quite a large number of positive feedbacks to worry about, and this appears to be another one. But the seriousness of it would depend on if it was affecting the whole ocean, or merely the Southern Ocean."

In recent years it has become clear that the rate at which CO2 was accumulating is itself increasing. The level currently stands at about 382 parts per million by volume (ppm), up from 315 ppm in 1958.

In the past decade the rate has jumped from about 1.6ppm annually to well above 2ppm - a fact which, as The Independent reported in October 2004, may well signal that the earth's absorption ability is shrinking.

Asked if this rate increase could now be linked to weakening sinks, Dr Le Quéré said: "I think we are just at the border of detecting that." She added: "All the carbon cycle experts have their eyes on it."

© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited