Thursday, April 30, 2009

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Five dead as Queen's Day celebrations turn into tragedy (Update)

UPDATE II: Just received email from a Dutch friend:
"A shaken, dreadfully looking queen almost burst into tears when addressing her Dutchmen. Compare this with her perfect radiating majestic wellgroomed look this morning! Even her hairdo lost all energy... :( A black day in Dutch History.

3rd time NL lost its innocence (after Fortuyn, Van Gogh...). The laidback character of our country is ruined for ever."

Celebrations throughout the land for Koninginnedag have been canceled.

The queen may have escaped an attack. The car broke through the barriers, hitting people and crashing into a monumental column as the open-topped coach carrying the Royal Family passed.

Press conference about to start.

Updated: 4 dead now and the Queen has just addressed the people, almost in tears.

It was strange, when the royals were having fun with the spectators etc. "bathing in the crowd," fifteen minutes before - everything seemed soooo relaxed (smiling security officers...) Who would have thought a lunatic would get some weird ideas! It is not clear if the driver of the car acted intentionally, but he was clocked at going 80kms/hr.

It was supposed to be a fabulous day of joy, celebrating Koninginnedag and the start of the 100th anniversary of the birth of former Queen Juliana, but has turned into a day of sadness.

In celebration, I had put out my Dutch flag with the Orange streamer, but have taken it back inside. The flag on the sidebar is at half-mast, too.

Radio Netherlands Worldwide

A car ploughed into the crowd watching the Queen's day parade in Apeldoorn. Two spectators were killed and 23 reported injured, some of them seriously.

Eye witnesses speculated that the accident may have been an attempted attack on the Royal Family. Others say that the car went off course with a shattered windscreen and that the driver appeared to be slumped motionless over the wheel. The vehicle came to a halt after crashing into a monument (pictured right).

The incident occurred minutes after a luxury open-top coach carrying the Royal Family passed the spot (pictured below). The coach briefly stopped and was then accompanied to Het Loo palace by security forces.

Queen Beatrix has sent a message expressing her sympathy to the victims. The government information service says the queen and her family are deeply shocked by the incident.
The photo on the left shows the reaction of the Prince of Orange and HRH Princess Máxima after the accident.
Story developing...a press conference is scheduled in the afternoon (Dutch time). Follow this channel for the latest on line news. CNN coverage; BBC report.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Breathless over the Swine Flu Panic

F. William Engdahl, Global Research - What are the symptoms of this purported Swine Flu? That's not at all clear according to virologists and public health experts. They say Swine Flu symptoms are relatively general and nonspecific. 'So many different things can cause these symptoms. it is a dilemma,' says one doctor interviewed by CNN. 'There is not a perfect test right now to let a doctor know that a person has the Swine Flu.' It has been noted that most individuals with Swine Flu had an early on set of fever. Also it was common to see dizziness, body aches and vomiting in addition to the common sneezing, headache and other cold symptoms. These are symptoms so general as to say nothing.

The US Government's Center for Disease Control in Atlanta states on its official website, 'Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza viruses that causes regular outbreaks in pigs. People do not normally get swine flu, but human infections can and do happen. Swine flu viruses have been reported to spread from person-to-person, but in the past, this transmission was limited and not sustained beyond three people.' Nonetheless they add, 'CDC has determined that this swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is contagious and is spreading from human to human. However, at this time, it is not known how easily the virus spreads between people.

How many media that have grabbed on the headline 'suspected case of Swine Flu' in recent days bother to double check with the local health authorities to ask some basic questions? For example, the number of confirmed cases of H1N1 and their location? The number of deaths confirmed to have resulted from H1N1? Dates of both? Number of suspected cases and of suspected deaths related to the Swine Flu disease?

According to Biosurveillance, itself part of Veratect, a US Pentagon and Government-linked epidemic reporting center, on April 6, 2009 local health officials declared a health alert due to a respiratory disease outbreak in La Gloria, Perote Municipality, Veracruz State, Mexico.

They reported, 'Sources characterized the event as a 'strange' outbreak of acute respiratory infection, which led to bronchial pneumonia in some pediatric cases. According to a local resident, symptoms included fever, severe cough, and large amounts of phlegm. Health officials recorded 400 cases that sought medical treatment in the last week in La Gloria, which has a population of 3,000; officials indicated that 60% of the town's population (approximately 1,800 cases) has been affected. No precise timeframe was provided, but sources reported that a local official had been seeking health assistance for the town since February.' What they later say is 'strange' is not the form of the illness but the time of year as most flu cases occur in Mexico in the period October to February. . .

Then, most revealingly, the aspect of the story which has been largely ignored by major media, they reported, 'Residents believed the outbreak had been caused by contamination from pig breeding farms located in the area. They believed that the farms, operated by Granjas Carroll, polluted the atmosphere and local water bodies, which in turn led to the disease outbreak. According to residents, the company denied responsibility for the outbreak and attributed the cases to "flu." However, a municipal health official stated that preliminary investigations indicated that the disease vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the outbreak was linked to the pig farms.'

Since the dawn of American 'agribusiness,' a project initiated with funding by the Rockefeller Foundation in the 1950's to turn farming into a pure profit maximization business, US pig or hog production has been transformed into a highly efficient, mass production industrialized enterprise from birth to slaughter. Pigs are caged in what are called factory farms, industrial concentrations which are run with the efficiency of a Dachau or Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. They are all conceived by artificial insemination and once born, are regularly injected with antibiotics, not because of illnesses which abound in the hyper-crowded growing pens, but in order to make them grow and add weight faster. Turn around time to slaughter is a profit factor of highest priority. The entire operation is vertically integrated from conception to slaughter to transport distribution to supermarket.

Granjas Carroll de Mexico (happens to be such a factory farm concentration facility for hogs. In 2008 they produced almost one million factory hogs, 950,000 according to their own statistics. GCM is a joint venture operation owned 50% by the world's largest pig producing industrial company, Smithfield Foods of Virginia. The pigs are grown in a tiny rural area of Mexico, a member of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and primarily trucked across the border to supermarkets in the USA, under the Smithfields' family of labels. Most American consumers have no idea where the meat was raised.

Now the story becomes interesting.

The Times of London interviewed the mother of 4-year-old Edgar Hernandez of La Gloria in Veracruz, the location of the giant Smithfield Foods hog production facility. Their local reporter notes, 'Edgar Hernández plays among the dogs and goats that roam through the streets, seemingly unaware that the swine flu he contracted a few weeks ago - the first known case - has almost brought his country to a standstill and put the rest of the world on alert. 'I feel great,' the five-year-old boy said. 'But I had a headache and a sore throat and a fever for a while. I had to lay down in bed.''

The reporters add, 'It was confirmed on Monday (April 27 2009-w.e.) that Edgar was the first known sufferer of swine flu, a revelation that has put La Gloria and its surrounding factory pig farms and 'manure lagoons' at the centre of a global race to find how this new and deadly strain of swine flu emerged.'

That's quite interesting. They speak of 'La Gloria and its surrounding factory pig farms and 'manure lagoons.'' Presumably the manure lagoons around the LaGloria factory pig farm of Smithfield Foods are the waste dumping place for the feces and urine waste from at least 950,000 pigs a year that pass through the facility. The Smithfield's Mexico joint venture, Norson, states that alone they slaughter 2,300 pigs daily. That's a lot. It gives an idea of the volumes of pig waste involved in the concentration facility at La Gloria.

Significantly, according to the Times reporters, 'residents of La Gloria have been complaining since March that the odor from Granjas Carroll's pig waste was causing severe respiratory infections. They held a demonstration this month at which they carried signs of pigs crossed with an X and marked with the word peligro (danger).' There have been calls to exhume the bodies of the children who died of pneumonia so that they could be tested. The state legislature of Veracruz has demanded that Smithfield's Granjas Carroll release documents about its waste-handling practices. Smithfield Foods reportedly declined to comment on the request, saying that it would 'not respond to rumours.' [Read the rest here.]

COMMENT: FYI: There have been 13,000 deaths from "seasonal" flu since January.

The MSM are in panic mode about swine flu (c.f. CBS reports that DHS is preparing to quarantine people with confirmed swine flu infections). Apart from a story last night on The World (BBC/WGBH-Boston) which reported Mexico's ground-zero case was a boy living near a pig farm, there's been no reporting in the American cable/newspaper/radio about the connection to factory farms. The questions still remain,
Cui bono
? Why create the scare? What's the intended effect of the fear?

The end of Engdahl's piece gives us a hint:

"Panic and fear of death was used by the Bush Administration skilfully to promote the Avian Flu fraud. With ominous echoes of the current Swine Flu scare, Avian Flu was traced back to huge chicken factory farms in Thailand and other parts of Asia whose products were shipped across the world. Instead of a serious investigation into the sanitary conditions of those chicken factory farms, the Bush Administration and WHO blamed ‘free-roaming chickens’ on small family farms, a move that had devastating economic consequences to the farmers whose chickens were being raised in the most sanitary natural conditions. Tyson Foods of Arkansas and CG Group of Thailand reportedly smiled all the way to the bank."

(H/T to vidiot speak and Undernews.)

Tossing a Snowe Ball

Jane Hamsher in FDL

Olympia Snowe in the New York Times:
Regrettably, we failed to learn the lessons of Jim Jeffords’s defection in 2001. To the contrary, we overreached in interpreting the results of the presidential election of 2004 as a mandate for the party. This resulted in the disastrous elections of 2006 and 2008, which combined for a total loss of 51 Republicans in the House and 13 in the Senate — with a corresponding shift of the Congressional majority and the White House to the Democrats.
Shorter Olympia Snowe: the Republican Party has now boiled down to a hard crust of extremist freaks, and now that they've run Lincoln Chaffee and Arlen Specter out of the party, they'll be coming after me.

Krystian Zimerman's Pro-Peace Speech

The world famous Polish pianist, Krystian Zimerman, last Sunday informed a California audience that he would no longer perform in the US.

"Get your hands off my country," Zimerman told the stunned crowd in a denunciation of US plans to install a missile defence shield on Polish soil. Some people cheered, others yelled at him to shut up and keep playing. A few dozen walked out, some of them shouting obscenities.

"Yes," Zimerman responded with derision, "some people when they hear the word military start marching."

When I initially saw this story, the Guardian's subheading read "anti-US rant." Probably after complaints, it has now changed it to "anti-US tirade," but has not acknowledged the change.

A nice principled, virtuoso stand from Zimerman against the Bush "missle defence" shield (now being implemented by Obama), but the writer of the Guardian article linked above clearly is not pleased and focuses on the audience's storming out of Disney Hall. He calls Zimerman's "ranting" personal: "Shortly after 9/11, his piano was confiscated by customs officials at New York's JFK airport, who thought the glue smelled funny. They subsequently destroyed the instrument." A trademark of Zimerman's tours is his own piano, which he takes to every concert venue.

Craig Murray speaks about torture

Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, gave evidence yesterday on torture before the UK Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. It's not been covered in the US and has received scant reporting in the UK press. So, I'm attempting to spread the word. From Mr Murray's blog:

Nobody Can Hear You Scream
Just before I gave my evidence to Parliament yesterday, my sister Celia telephoned me to say that I would be speaking not for myself but for all those thousands who had suffered unspeakable torture around the World in the War on Terror, whose screams and sometimes death rattles were heard only by their torturers. She told me I was speaking for those who could not speak.

She put me into a calm place, and I tried to give my evidence very coolly and professionally, but I believe I did manage once or twice to break through the twisted legalese in which the committee have mummified themselves, to bring home the human cost of torture to them.

You can see my evidence here:

If that disappears, Tony has kindly put it onto YouTube which you can find here:

But I am completely astonished, and horribly depressed, that there has been almost no mainstream media of this quite sensational information. There has been not one word in any newspaper or on TV. The Today programme on Radio 4 ran a story on it at 6.45am, but did not repeat it.


I really cannot understand why no newspaper or TV channel has covered what is quite a startling development in a prominent continuing story on the use of torture in the War on Terror.

I had hoped that my evidence yesterday would be a significant step in ending the policy of obtaining intelligence from torture, and of bringing to account the ministers who approved it. But without any sign of public or media interest, the politicians will feel they can safely ignore the truth I told.

I was trying to speak up for those who have no voice. I feel very strongly that I have let them down.

Only their torturers heard their screams, and hardly anybody else heard my voice either.

Surveillance State

Talk Left

Police Creating "Terror Tip Sheets" for National Database

Meet the new "Operation Pipeline." The brainchild of the LAPD, it's being used by police dpeartments [sic] nationwide to create a new national database of people engaging in suspicious behavior.


"Operation Pipeline" is the drug interdiction profiling program used on highways to search cars stopped for traffic violations when certain indicators are present. Some of the indicators... are laughable, others are completely inconsistent. In the first category: fast food wrappers in the car. In the latter: there was no visible luggage or there was too much visible luggage.

The LAPD takes the insanity one step further in an attempt to identify would-be terrorists via suspicious activity reports, called SARS.

[Continue reading about this absurdity here.]

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

He's now Arlen Specter (D-PA)

Raw Story:

Actually, it don't amount to a hill of Philadelphia Scrapple. He'll vote as a Blue Dog conservative.

Jessica Lynch all over again....

The chief engineer on the same ship with Capt. Richard Phillips disagrees with the narrative that was presented to us in the media. I am not surprised. The folks in Underhill, Vermont may not like it, but as Jeremy Scahill writes,
One of the crew members of the now famous Maersk Alabama, the ship at the center of this month’s “Somali pirate” drama, is doing a little speaking out of school. He is directly contradicting some of the media and US government hype about what exactly went down on the ship that day. Among the stories the ship’s chief engineer, Michael Perry, says is false, is one which was “widely disseminated by media and celebrated on social-networking sites.” That is that Capt. Richard Phillips offered himself as a hostage to save his crew. Perry made the remarks to the St. Petersburg Times.

According to the paper, “although it has inspired a nation and fueled virtual fan groups, Perry, 60, wants people to know the truth:”
Perry wants to tell the story of the crew, the men who were almost baked alive in an unventilated room as pirates roamed the ship. Those men worked hard to save their captain, Perry said, even though they suffered from heat exhaustion.
For those of you who have followed this closely, you will see that Perry’s version of events closely mirrors early reports, which were quickly replaced by the other, more heroic narrative, that the US crew essentially was tricked into allowing the Somalis to get away with Phillips as their hostage:
Up on the bridge, a deal was made.

The plan: The pirates would hand over Phillips in exchange for the captured pirate, the man who Perry now believes was the leader. His name is Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse, and he later surrendered and is now in New York facing international criminal charges.

The pirates got into another boat with Phillips, and Muse was brought to them. The problem: The pirates didn’t return Phillips to the ship.

Perry tried to fly under the radar. The only reason he’s telling his story now is so the truth is told and the crew gets credit, he said at his Riverview home, as he lounged in the sun.
Remember, Muse, who is characterized as the “pirate ringleader” is believed to be as young as 15 or 16 years old. He is facing a trial in federal court in New York. If convicted, there is a mandatory life sentence.
The media frenzy we read/saw/heard about the saving of Capt. Phillips promoted American exceptionalism, power and might, but it was a diversion to avoid examining the reasons for the kidnapping in the first place.

Politics and Torture

Swine Flu and Profiting Corporations: Aiding and Abetting

Mike Davis in the Guardian about how profit-driven business practises aid and abet the creation of virulent forms of swine flu and retard the fight against the threatened pandemic:

[...] But the mythology of bold, preemptive (and cheap) intervention against avian flu has been invaluable to the cause of rich countries, like the US and UK, who prefer to invest in their own biological Maginot lines rather than dramatically increasing aid to epidemic frontlines overseas, as well as to big pharma, which has battled developing-world demands for the generic, public manufacture of critical antivirals like Roche's Tamiflu.

The swine flu may prove that the WHO/Centres for Disease Control version of pandemic preparedness – without massive new investment in surveillance, scientific and regulatory infrastructure, basic public health, and global access to lifeline drugs – belongs to the same class of Ponzified risk management as Madoff securities. It is not so much that the pandemic warning system has failed as it simply doesn't exist, even in North America and the EU.

Perhaps it is not surprising that Mexico lacks both capacity and political will to monitor livestock diseases, but the situation is hardly better north of the border, where surveillance is a failed patchwork of state jurisdictions, and corporate livestock producers treat health regulations with the same contempt with which they deal with workers and animals. Similarly, a decade of urgent warnings by scientists has failed to ensure the transfer of sophisticated viral assay technology to the countries in the direct path of likely pandemics. Mexico has world-famous disease experts, but it had to send swabs to a Winnipeg lab in order to ID the strain's genome. Almost a week was lost as a consequence.

But no one was less alert than the disease controllers in Atlanta. According to the Washington Post, the CDC did not learn about the outbreak until six days after Mexico had begun to impose emergency measures. There should be no excuses. The paradox of this swine flu panic is that, while totally unexpected, it was accurately predicted. Six years ago, Science dedicated a major story to evidence that "after years of stability, the North American swine flu virus has jumped onto an evolutionary fasttrack".


This has been a transition from old-fashioned pig pens to vast excremental hells, containing tens of thousands of animals with weakened immune systems suffocating in heat and manure while exchanging pathogens at blinding velocity with their fellow inmates.

Last year a commission convened by the Pew Research Center issued a report on "industrial farm animal production" that underscored the acute danger that "the continual cycling of viruses … in large herds or flocks [will] increase opportunities for the generation of novel virus through mutation or recombinant events that could result in more efficient human to human transmission." The commission also warned that promiscuous antibiotic use in hog factories (cheaper than humane environments) was sponsoring the rise of resistant staph infections, while sewage spills were producing outbreaks of E coli and pfiesteria (the protozoan that has killed 1bn fish in Carolina estuaries and made ill dozens of fishermen).

Any amelioration of this new pathogen ecology would have to confront the monstrous power of livestock conglomerates such as Smithfield Farms (pork and beef) and Tyson (chickens).

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND: Watch Frontline's recent programme - Poisoned Water - on factory farms and their effect on the environment.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Prince of Orange celebrates his birthday amid abdication rumours

Prins Willem-Alexander (Foto: ANP)

Van harte gefiliciteerd! Happy Birthday! Again, there have been rumours that his mother will announce her abdication.

Beatrix was 42 when her mother Juliana stepped down in favour of her daughter.

The prince is spending his birthday at home with family and friends, the state information service RVD said. On Thursday he will join his mother and brother in Apeldoorn for the traditional Queen's Day celebrations.

Swedish royals

Rumours that Beatrix is poised to abdicate were driven by Nos tv's claim to extra broadcasting time last week, but that turned out to be for a programme about the Swedish royal family's visit.

'This is the third hype in the past four months,' an RVD spokesman told the AD. 'But there is nothing to report.'

When she does decide to go, Beatrix will make her decision known in the form of a televised address to the nation, the AD states. And insiders say she will wait until next year, after celebrating her 30th jubilee as queen.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Guernica Anniversary

Democracy Now! remembers what happened on April 26, 1937:--

Seventy-two years ago this Sunday, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, on April 26th, 1937, the Basque town of Guernica was carpet bombed by Fascist Italian and Nazi German forces. Three-quarters of Guernica was destroyed, and as many as 1,600 civilians were killed. Boise, Idaho is home to one of the largest Basque populations in the United States. We speak with a survivor of the Guernica bombing and with the director Basque Museum and Cultural Center in Boise.


The Image Above: a tapestry of the Pablo Picasso painting, Guernica, displayed on the wall of the United Nations building in New York City, at the entrance to the Security Council room. It was placed there as a reminder of the horrors of war. Commissioned and donated by Nelson Rockefeller, it is not quite as monochromatic as the original, using several shades of brown. On February 5, 2003 a large blue curtain was placed to cover this work, so that it would not be visible in the background when Colin Powell and John Negroponte gave press conferences at the United Nations. On the following day, it was claimed that the curtain was placed there at the request of television news crews, who had complained that the wild lines and screaming figures made for a bad backdrop, and that a horse's hindquarters appeared just above the faces of any speakers. Diplomats, however, told journalists that the Bush Administration pressured UN officials to cover the tapestry, rather than have it in the background while Powell or other U.S. diplomats argued for war on Iraq.

Waterboarding of detainees used to link Saddam & 9/11

Craig Murray

I have just learnt something which has convinced me that Bush, Cheney and Rice are indeed evil in the sense that Hitler was evil. I did not actually believe that until today.

The excellent and much-respected Marjorie Cohn, President of the National Lawyers Guild of the USA and Professor of Law at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, has discovered that waterboarding was first approved in July 2002 by Condoleeza Rice, specifically to force confessions of links between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein.

Everybody in the intelligence and security worlds knew there were no such links - Bin Laden and Hussein were enemies. Only torture could yield "intelligence" of such links to provide a justification of the invasion of Iraq. There could be no clearer indication that these evil people wished to launch an illegal war of aggression for their other reasons.

If it is not evil to use torture to try to create a pretext for launching aggressive war, then what is evil?

Here is the full text of Marjorie's article.
When I testified last year before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties about Bush interrogation policies, Congressman Trent Franks (R-Ariz) stated that former CIA Director Michael Hayden had confirmed that the Bush administration only waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashirit for one minute each. I told Franks I didn’t believe that. Sure enough, one of the newly released torture memos reveals that Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times and Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times. One of Stephen Bradbury’s 2005 memos asserted that “enhanced techniques” on Zubaydah yielded the identification of Mohammed and an alleged radioactive bomb plot by Jose Padilla. But FBI supervisory special agent Ali Soufan, who interrogated Zubaydah from March to June 2002, wrote in the New York Times that Zubaydah produced that information under traditional interrogation methods, before the harsh techniques were ever used.

Why, then, the relentless waterboarding of these two men? It turns out that high Bush officials put heavy pressure on Pentagon interrogators to get Mohammed and Zubaydah to reveal a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 hijackers, in order to justify Bush’s illegal and unnecessary invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to a newly released report of the Senate Armed Services Committee. That link was never established.

The Senate Intelligence Committee revealed that Condoleezza Rice approved waterboarding on July 17, 2002 “subject to a determination of legality by the OLC.” She got it two weeks later from Bybee and John Yoo. Rice, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales and George Tenet reassured the CIA in spring 2003 that the abusive methods were legal.

Team Bush claimed - and still claims - that it had to use harsh techniques to protect us from the terrorists. They really sought to create evidence to rationalize an illegal, unnecessary, and tragic war.
That is absolutely stunning in its implications. How much of this did Blair and Straw also know?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Call it the stimulus package from God

From Juan Gonzalez in the Daily News, April 22, 2009

Manhattan's Riverside Church - one of the country's most illustrious religious institutions - is paying its new senior pastor, the Rev. Brad Braxton, more than $600,000 in annual compensation.

That's twice what Braxton's predecessor, James Forbes, one of the country's best-known preachers, was getting after running Riverside for more than 18 years.

It amounts to almost 10 times what William Sloane Coffin, the legendary anti-Vietnam War clergyman, was paid in his last year as senior minister at Riverside in 1987.

COMMENT: "No mere man since the Fall, is able in this life perfectly to keep the Commandments."> - Book of Common Prayer, Shorter Catechism

Flying cars? Say, what?

From Radio Netherlands Worldwide Dutch Press Review, April 24, 2009

While de Volkskrant tells us electricity companies have agreed to build an national network of 10,000 recharging points for electric cars, De Telegraaf has decided to run a story on flying cars.

The recharger network will bring an end to the chicken and the egg dilemma in which no-one wants to buy an electric car because there are no recharging points and electricity companies don't want to place recharging points because no-one has electric cars. Now all that needs to happen is for the price of electric cars to come down, so people might be able to afford one.

Meanwhile Traffic Minister Camiel Eurlings is investigating the possibility of solving traffic jams with flying automobiles. The futuristic Personal Air and Land Vehicle or Pal-V, which is a combination of a three-wheel car and a gyrocopter, will be test driven (or is it flown) today. This could give a whole new meaning to queue jumping. And imagine the pile ups if there is a multiple collision! Pedestrians might be well advised to keep their heads down!

COMMENT: Just think, Google maps could expand its 'Get directions' service!

View Larger Map

UVM protests continue

University of Vermont student protests continued a 2nd day, this time with UVM workers unions supporting the students. Yesterday 31 students were arrested.

Although Thursday’s event was billed as a faculty rally and speak-out, only a few faculty and staff members attended, and fewer spoke. Most of those who addressed the rally were students.

“There is so much fear on this campus,” Katherine Nopper, a senior from Putney, told the crowd. “People are afraid if they speak out they will lose their jobs.”

Among the staff and faculty representatives who did speak were Carmyn Stanko, president of the union representing UVM maintenance and service workers, and David Shiman, president of the faculty union.

“We have known from the day that President Fogel was hired that his goal was to continue transforming UVM from a university to a business corporation,” Stanko said. “We will continue to fight for all workers who have been laid off, to return them to their rightful jobs.”

Shiman told the students his union was concerned about the impact of the cuts on the quality of education that UVM provides. He praised the students for using their constitutional rights to question the administration’s plans.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Depth of Torture, War and US Imperialism


By Chris Floyd, April 22, 2009

You cannot disentangle the torture program from the war of aggression in Iraq – nor from the illegal wiretapping program, the corrupt war profiteering, and all the other degradations of liberty and law that have been so accelerated in the past eight years. They are all of a piece, part and parcel of a plan to expand and entrench America's "unipolar domination" of world affairs with a thoroughly militarized state led by an unaccountable, authoritarian "Unitary Executive."

This is one reason why Barack Obama is so obviously reluctant to tug on the torture thread too hard. If you tear it out, with full-scale prosecutions and top officials locked up behind bars, the whole rotten skein would fall apart. Once you start genuinely subjecting government officials – including security apparatchiks and military brass – to the full extent of the law, there would be no end to the unraveling: senators, contractors, representatives, bureaucrats, generals, lobbyists, judges, corporate chiefs – the whole edifice of Establishment power would be shaken to the core as its leading lights went down, one after the other.

Thus the mere act of applying the ordinary, bourgeois laws of the land as they stand right now would constitute a world-shaking revolution, an overthrow of the existing order every bit as radical as any ideologue's dream of mass uprising. It would be, in effect, a re-founding of the Republic – and the end of the empire, which cannot survive without continual war, lawless rule and endless corruption.

25 UVM protesters arrested

Burlington Free Press

University of Vermont students angry about budget cuts prepared to regroup today after 25 of them were cited for trespassing late Wednesday night.

They were part of a larger group that sat down about 3 p.m. outside the president’s wing of the Waterman administration building with a list of 13 demands.

Those demands included revoking recent reductions in faculty, capping tuition increases at the rate of inflation and recovering all the bonuses paid to administrators in 2008 and 2009.

President Dan Fogel met with seven of the students during the afternoon. He did not negotiate, a university spokesman said, but reiterated the school’s plan for reducing expenses.

Seven students were cited for trespassing in an inner hallway about 4:45 p.m., after Fogel departed.

“They were given the opportunity to leave and refused, so they were forcibly removed,” university spokesman Enrique Corredera said. “We did not engage in negotiations over their demands; we just responded with what our position is on those issues.”

Many students remained in the building. Others joined them until police closed Waterman to incoming students about 9:30 p.m. with about 60 protesters inside. As evening fell, the students ate pizza, passed around water bottles, sang protest songs and chanted slogans: “They say cut back, we say fight back,” and “People united will never be defeated.”

University police announced the building would be closed at 10 p.m. and anyone inside would be cited for trespassing.

The students took to their cell phones, rallying support from around campus. A crowd of several hundred gathered outside the south door of Waterman, cheering and singing.

Jean Marie Pearce, 21, a senior history major from East Albany, was one of those seated in the corridor.

“For the past six months, we’ve been trying to convince them that cuts need to come from the top, not from our beloved and needed faculty,” she said. Pearce said she was willing to protest, though she will soon graduate. “It’s still my community and my school,” she said. [read complete story]

Columnist Martin Bril (49) dies of cancer

Thursday 23 April 2009

Martin Bril, one of the Netherlands' best known newspaper columnists and writers, has died of cancer of the oesophagus at the age of 49.

Bril, who wrote for the Volkskrant newspaper and won numerous prizes during his career, was first diagnosed with cancer eight years ago. The cancer returned last year.

Columns, poems, background [Dutch]:
The World of Martin Bril

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

BREAKING: Student Lockdown in UVM Pres. Fogel's Office


Via Facebook:

there are 12 students in president fogel's office at UVM right now. 7 are locked down with the demands of:
- revoke all dismissals and non-reappointments thus far issued
- terminate all plans for more layoffs and non-reappointments of staff and faculty
- establish with us a democratic process by which students, staff, and faculty have a decisive role in decisions regarding the budget

there are 10 more demands they are waiting to hear about.

the students arrived shortly before 2pm. there was a meeting b/w fogel, sga, and other student groups happening. the meeting was coming to a close when they arrived and they spoke with fogel. they are discussing demands among themselves and awaiting negotiations.

contact cecile reuge at 631.275.1546 - community outreach contact.

Amy Goodman & Glenn Greenwald receive Izzy Award

Amy Goodman and Glenn Greenwald received the first annual Izzy Award for Special Achievement in Independent Media this spring from the Park Center for Independent Media.

Watch their acceptance speeches here.

The Izzy Award is named after legendary maverick journalist I. F. Stone, who launched I. F. Stone Weekly in 1953 and exposed government deception, McCarthyism, and racial bigotry.

Bill Moyers Journal featured Amy and Glenn in his program on 4/3/09.

Pillow Fight Update II: Stern Words

Worth repeating, it is still really about power and control in Burlington. The authorities give the police the role of maintaining not just civil but political order (because the two are often linked). How can something done "all in good fun" be threatening the civil order? It became political when Darin Cassler was led off to be arrested. Although the charges were dropped against Mr Cassler, an increased threat to political order worries the authorities to no end.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pillow Fight Update....


Pillow fight organizer Darin Cassler is officially off the hook.

The Burlington Police Department does not plan to press disorderly conduct charges against Cassler, the 21-year-old who Facebook-organized last Friday's Church Street pillow fight

Freeps Fluff Piece...

Adam Silverman, BFP's police beat reporter, quoting Darin Cassler, the organiser of Friday's Flash-Mob pillow fight,

'“If we’re not allowed to have pillow fights in our city, if we’re not allowed to organize and have fun with each other — is that what Burlington’s really about? Is that what America’s really about?

“I hope not.”'

Mr Cassler has been cited for disorderly conduct.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pillow Talk

Following up on yesterday's post, there's more coverage on Friday's Pillow Flash-Mob Action from Eva Sollberger in Blurt. Green Mountain Daily reports that Church Street is safe once again. Here is Eva's video:

COMMENT: All of this is really about power and control. In this country (and in this city), the authorities give the police the role of maintaining not just civil but political order (because the two are often linked - witness the arrests of Burlington anti-war protesters back in 2007). How can something done "all in good fun" be threatening the civil order? As a participant stated on Eva Sollberger's video, it became political in Burlington when the organiser was led off to be arrested. An increasing threat to political order worries the authorities to no end. Burlington has become increasingly uptight, but as a commenter on my post yesterday writes "They can always do some pillow fighting down on Brattleboro. They won't get arrested."

Somalian piracy explained in short Dutch film

From 24oranges

Utrecht-based, Benin-born filmmaker Didier Chabi made a simple film interviewing three Dutch guys of Somalian descent trying to explain in laymen’s terms why Somalian pirates keep attacking ships in the Gulf of Aden.

The film (in Dutch) raises some interesting questions: why shoot the pirates after they’ve been arrested? Is that really necessary? “They negotiate with captors of non African countries and don’t kill them when they are caught. But they shoot the Somalians. No one in the film understands why and label it racism.

One guy explains that the Spanish started fishing in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean and dumping toxic waste, which resulted in them being attacked, or simply put, the Somalians defending themselves and their rights. Another simple reason for the piracy is that although Somalia has an advantageous geographical position, it hasn’t really led to any economic advantage for Somalians, a very poor African country.

No matter how reprehensible piracy is, it didn’t start in a vacuum, as the media tends to portray, according to the film.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Peaceful Pillow Fighter Arrested in Vermont

I'm all for adding some urban life to an otherwise homogenized Church Street Marketplace. Sponsored by something called the Burlington Collective, the Burlington Pillow Fight (there was one in March, 2008, too) took place at 5:30 P.M. on Friday afternoon, April 17, in at the entrance of Burlington Center.

The Face Book announcement reads

Messing with perception with some good healthy fun.

Bring a pillow and a container in which to conceal it. Assemble on the street as if you were loitering, do not acknowledge anyone else participating. Our host will shout 'pillow fight' and we will all spontaneously break into a big miasma of feathers and pillows.


+ Soft pillows only!
+ Swing lightly, many people will be swinging at once.
+ Do not swing at people without pillows or with cameras.
+ Remove glasses beforehand!
+ The event is free and appropriate for all ages.
+ Wait until the signal to begin.
+ This event is more fun with feathers!

The organizer was arrested and carted off by the Burlington police. I guess you need a permit for riotous fun! My source tells me it was for "conspiracy to incite a riot." Gee, they don't arrest the naked bike riders for that, do they? Although I bet got a bigger audience than for a bunch of pillow punchers.

Kevin Hurley took some photos. Watch it all on Matt Malenczak's video.

You might be Anglo-Catholic if.....

... you believe that Sacraments are to be administered, not passed around.
... you hold the doctrine that whatever is worth doing is worth overdoing. think of the Wippell's catalog as liturgical porn. get more exercise genuflecting, kneeling, and prostrating than running, jogging, or walking.
...most of the volumes in your library have been out of print for over a century.
... the primary causes of your violating the Tenth Commandment are found on the pages of Wippell's.
...You'd consider going over to Rome if it didn't mean giving up being catholic.
...on hearing the parable of the Good Samaritan, you wonder what the priest and the Levite were wearing.
...on Easter morning in your parish, the men at the altar wear more lace than the women in the congregation. believe that the current controversies over the Bishopric of Jerusalem, the Open Pulpit Canon, the ordination of women, the new Prayer Book, and the Bishop of New Hampshire can be settled amicably but that the Alcuin Club and the Society of SS. Peter & Paul may need separate provinces. believe that 'old-time religion' was what we had before Pius XII started mucking around with Holy Week.'ll fight to the death for the 1928 Prayer Book, provided it's never actually used.
... you are willing to receive a visitation from your bishop, but would go to the barricades to keep cassock-albs out of your parish.
... you think that "Almy" is French for Methodist. think that "On Eagles' Wings" is where Low Churchmen read the epistle.
…you have trouble breathing if there’s not enough incense at Mass.

Borrowed from OCICBOV.

Dusty Springfield - The look of love

Dusty Springfield would have celebrated her 70th birthday last Thursday. Happy birthday, Dusty. You are missed.

Captain Phillips' Return: Feeding the Beast (and the Governor's Ego)

Our self-serving governor could also show some decency and respect for the Phillips famiy in asking the Vermont "news" media to stop its frenzy, no?

World Leaders celebrating Queen's Day in a World Class City

Queen's Day is not until next Thursday, April 30, but the Amsterdam Tourism Office has issued a new campaign to promote the Koninginnedag festivities in the city. As if they need promotion, the city centre gets so overcrowded that there's barely room to breathe. (I know from experience.)

Posters feature 'celebrating' world leaders: Hillary Clinton on a boat in the canals, Barack Obama hand in hand with Vladimir Putin, wearing identical Kiss Me, I'm Drunk t-shirts, and Nicolas Sarkozy with Silvio Berlusconi, draped in orange feathered boas.

In this case it was the video

From the Guardian: G20 death: 'This might have been swept under the rug' - eyewitness

As he sat down in his office in New York yesterday, the hedge fund manager who filmed the moment a police officer clashed violently with Ian Tomlinson digested the latest revelations.

He has chosen to remain anonymous but has been observing events from across the Atlantic. Informed by the Guardian that the second postmortem had found Mr Tomlinson died not of a heart attack but abdominal haemorrhage, he said he was relieved he had stepped forward as a witness.

"Judging by the short amount of time that lapsed between him being hit and pushed to the ground and him collapsing and dying, it just seemed to be coincidental that it was called a heart attack," he said.

"Now I'm glad I came forward. It's possible Mr Tomlinson's death would have been swept under the rug otherwise. There was nothing except some witnesses speaking to the Guardian saying they saw him being beaten. But it was their statements versus the police. You needed something incontrovertible. In this case it was the video."

THE LESSON OF THIS STORY: Where ever you are (London, New York, Burlington or any of the 'Constitution-Free-Zones' throughout America), if you every see anybody pulled over, harassed (or 'dog handled') by the oinks, stop and observe. And keep the camera rolling.

Photograph: footage of Ian Tomlinson walking past a line of police dog handlers during the G20 protests in London.

Raising the Prospects of Prosecution

From The New York Times

Representative John Conyers Jr., the Michigan Democrat who is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, on Friday raised the prospect of prosecuting senior Bush administration officials and Justice Department lawyers who authorized the harsh interrogations.

“If our leaders are found to have violated the strict laws against torture, either by ordering these techniques without proper legal authority or by knowingly crafting legal fictions to justify torture, they should be criminally prosecuted,” Mr. Conyers said in a written statement.

COMMENT: Looks like John is doing his job. Let's get moving! Jane Hamsher at FDL writes that Nadler is also pushing for a special prosecuter. She has a petition drive going, too:
We're also communicating with other organizations and coordinating a consolidated campaign to push for an investigation, and we'll be delivering signatures to the Justice Department calling for a special prosecutor (you can add yours here).
And there's a slim chance we may see thos Spanish indictments yet. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Awaiting a refugee

From The Lead

The Diocese of Montreal in the Anglican Church of Canada has sponsored more than 1,000 refugees in the last 25 years but one Algerian who is still in custody at Guantanamo has an offer from the diocese to sponsor him to come to Canada as a refugee.

The Anglican Journal reports:
Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said Canadian officials would have to have access to interview Mr. Djamel Ameziane first. The current hold-up, she said, seems to be that the Americans are waiting until they have reviewed all the prisoners’ cases. “No one has formally and officially said that it is waiting for the U.S. to do their internal review but … all signs seem to point to” that cause for the delay, Ms. Dench said. “Once they’ve done the reviews, then they’ll be starting to think about ‘how do we find solutions for all of the people in Guantánamo and how do we involve these different other countries that might play a role?'”
Bishop Barry Clarke decided to sponsor Mr. Ameziane as a part of an ecumenical partnership with the Presbyterian Church in Montreal. “There’s an injustice here,” he said, noting that one the Five Marks of Mission in the Anglican Communion is changing unjust structures in society.

The Anglican Journal says that Mr. Ameziane has been imprisoned in Guantánamo since 2002, but has never been charged with a crime. According to information from the Center for Constitutional rights in New York where lawyers have taken on his case, he is an ethnic Berber who fled Algeria 17 years ago. He came to Canada but was denied refugee status and then traveled to Afghanistan. “As a foreigner in a land soon torn apart by conflict, he was an easy target for corrupt local police who captured him while he was trying to cross the border into Pakistan. Mr. Ameziane was then sold to U.S. military forces for a bounty,” his lawyers say.
Mr. Ameziane fears his life would be in danger returning Algeria with the stigma of having been accused of terrorist-related activities and would like to come to Canada because he has family in Quebec, said Bishop Clarke.

“People say to me ‘Can you really guarantee that he wasn’t a terrorist?' Well, there’s no guarantees in any thing, but on the other hand I keep telling people ‘We’ve done our homework. It’s not something that is just a nice thing to do,” said Bishop Clarke, commending Presbyterian pastor Glynis Williams for all her work on the matter. He added that the Canadian Council for Refugees and Amnesty International are also working hard to help Mr. Ameziane. “They’re not going to come and present something to me that they haven’t done their homework on.”

Dutch TV show: 9/11 was Inside Job

Friday 17 April 2009

A Dutch tv show in which a fake jury found Osama bin Laden not guilty of involvement in the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the US has angered New York's former mayor and other officials, Fox tv news reports.

The show, Devil's Advocate, sends a 'disturbing' message to the world and fuels conspiracy theories, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and other former US prosecutors were quoted as saying.

The jury of three men and two women ruled last Wednesday that there was no proof bin Laden masterminded the 9/11 attacks or that he remains the head of Al Qaeda.

During the show, Dutch celebrity lawyer Gerard Spong argued that Bin Laden's connection to 9/11 was the product of 'hearsay' and 'Western propaganda' and cast doubt on the authenticity of videos and statements.

For the full article, click here

The Top 10 Enemies of Single-Payer

Russell Mokhiber writing in Single Payer Action describes the "cesspool" in Washington, D.C. that has become a "hot tub" of corruption regarding health care delivery in the land. Cui bono? He doesn't flat out say it, but our esteemed congressional representatives and Washington power elite are beholden to the corporate and non-profit lobbies of the profiteers:-

Outside the beltway cesspool/hot tub, the majority of doctors, nurses, small businesses, health economists, and the majority of the American people – according to recent polls – want a Canadian-style, single payer, everybody in, nobody out, free choice of doctor and hospital, national health insurance system.

Inside the beltway cesspool/hot tub, the corrupt elite will have none of it.

They won’t even put single payer on the table for discussion.

Why not?

Because it will bring a harsh justice – the death penalty – to their buddies in the multi-billion dollar private health insurance industry.

The will of the American people is being held up by a handful of organizations and individuals who profit off the suffering of the masses.

And the will of the American people will not be done until this criminal elite is confronted and defeated.

(Remember, virtually the entire industrialized world – save for us, the U.S. – makes it a crime to allow for-profit health insurance corporations to make money selling basic health insurance.)

Before we confront and defeat the inside the beltway cesspool/hot tub crowd, we must first know who they are.

American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
AARP, one of DC’s most powerful lobbying groups, has worked inside the beltway for years to defeat single payer. Why? AARP makes about a quarter of its money selling insurance through its affiliate, United Healthcare Group, the nation’s largest for-profit insurance company. AARP must defeat single payer – which if enacted, would wipe out that revenue stream.
America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).
The private health insurance industry. Public enemy number one. The health insurance corporations must die so that the American people can live. Of course, facing the death penalty, AHIP is the most aggressive opponent to single payer. No compromise with AHIP.
American Medical Association.
With a shrinking base of doctors (only 25 percent of doctors nationwide belong) – the AMA is the most conservative of the doctors’ organizations. I just returned from a health care policy forum at the Center for American Progress. As usual, not one of the panelists mentioned single payer. Only during the question period did a self-identified patient/citizen ask the single payer question. And a pit bull-like Nancy Nielsen, president of the AMA, ripped into the questioner. “Sounds more like a statement than a question,” Nielsen said. “And clearly you have a point of view about that. And I don’t happen to share that point of view.” Clearly she doesn’t. But just as clearly, the majority of doctors, probably even a majority of doctors who belong to the AMA, support single payer. Nielsen is in denial and must be defeated.
Barack Obama.
He was for it when he was a state Senator in Illinois. Now, ensconced in the corporate prison that is the White House, he says single payer is off the table. To get off the list, Obama needs to put single payer back on the table.
Business Roundtable.
Dr. David Himmelstein, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), was at a health care forum a couple of years ago sponsored by the Business Roundtable. And the moderator asked the audience – made up primarily of representatives of big business – to indicate their preference of health care reforms. And the majority came out in favor of single payer. Why then is the Business Roundtable opposed? Himmelstein put it this way: “In private, they support single payer, but they’re also thinking – if you can take away someone else’s business – the insurance companies’ business – you can take away mine. Also, if workers go on strike, I want them to lose their health insurance. And it’s also a cultural thing – we don’t do that kind of thing in this country.”
Families USA.
A major inside the beltway liberal foundation and long-time foe of single payer. It’s chief executive, Ron Pollack, was once an advocate for single payer. But no more. In November 1991, Pollack was at a Washington hotel debating Yale University professor Ted Marmor in front of then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. Marmor was making the argument for single payer. Pollack against. A November 1994 article in the Washington Monthly, co-authored by Marmor, reported the result this way: “After the two advocates finished, Clinton looked thoughtful, pointed to Marmor and said, ‘Ted, you win the argument.’ But gesturing to Pollack, Marmor recalls, the governor quickly added, ‘But we’re going to do what he says.’ Even considering the Canadian system, everyone in the room agreed, would prompt GOP cries of ‘socialized medicine’ – cries that the press would faithfully report.”
Health Care for America Now.
The largest coalition of liberal groups promoting a choice between a public plan and private insurance companies. “They are saying – we can’t do single payer because Americans don’t want it,” said Kip Sullivan of the Minnesota chapter of PNHP. “That’s based on junk research conducted by Celinda Lake for the Herndon Alliance. It is bad enough to say we can’t do single payer because the insurance industry is too powerful to beat. But it is just plain insidious to say we can’t do single payer because the American people don’t want it. In fact, polling data indicates that two-thirds of Americans support a single payer system. And that level of support exists despite the fact that there is little public discussion about it.”
Kaiser Family Foundation.
One of the most prestigious liberal inside the beltway think tanks on health reform policy. Saul Friedman is a reporter for Newsday. In February, Friedman wrote an article for Newsday arguing that single payer is suffering from a conspiracy of silence. And he says Kaiser is the most culpable of the co-conpsirators. Kaiser, funded initially by insurance industry money, regularly keeps single payer off the table, Friedman says. When single payer advocates released a study in January asserting that Congressman John Conyers’ single payer bill (HR 676) could create 2.6 million new jobs and would cost far less than the private insurance currently paid for by individuals and employers, “the Kaiser Family Foundation’s daily online report on health care developments at didn’t mention it,” Friedman reported. “Nor has Kaiser, the most comprehensive online source of health care information, made any mention of single-payer or the Conyers bill since it was introduced in 2003, despite widespread support for such a plan according to Kaiser’s own polls.” After a number of insistent inquiries, Kaiser told Friedman that they would publish charts in March comparing the Stark and Conyers bills. They never did.
The Lewin Group.
The go-to consulting firm for health reform studies. The most recent study, released last week and widely quoted in the press, of the public plan option, showed that the insurance industry would lose 32 million policy holders if a public plan is enacted. Lewin’s health reform policy guru, John Sheils, told the Associated Press: “The private insurance industry might just fizzle out altogether.” What the mainstream press didn’t report was that The Lewin Group is a wholly owned subsidiary of Ingenix, which is in turn owned by UnitedHealth Group, the nation’s largest health insurance corporation. Lewin Group has conducted studies on single payer at the state level – and their studies consistently show that single payer is the most efficient cost saving system. But Lewin Group has never done a study on HR 676 – which would create a single payer for the entire country and drive The Lewin Group’s parent – UnitedHealth Group– out of business. When asked why Lewin Group never has done a study on HR 676, Sheils said – “the President didn’t propose single payer, did he?” No, he didn’t. That’s why he too is on this list. (Sheils says The Lewin Group has studied national single payer. He points to a recent comparison of the different health reform proposals floating on Capitol Hill – including one by Congressman Pete Stark (D-California). Stark’s bill would give every American the option of opting into Medicare. But that’s not single payer, because it keeps the private insurance industry in the game. Sheils counters that he modeled the Stark bill as single-payer. “The employer coverage option under the Stark bill is made so unfavorable that no employer would do it. We have everyone in Medicare, with the resulting savings.” Sheils says that of all the plans studied, the Stark bill saves the most money.)
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association of America (PHRMA).
PHRMA chief executive Billy Tauzin says that under single payer, the government would become a “price fixer.” By which he means, the government, as a single payer, will have the power to negotiate drug prices downward, thus costing the drug corporations millions in excess profits. In recent years, PHRMA has infiltrated liberal sounding groups like America’s Agenda – Health Care for All. PHRMA’s Vice President for Government Affairs and Law, Jan Faiks, now sits on the board of America’s Agenda and PHRMA contributes money to the group – which has worked in recent years to undermine single payer at the state level. (America’s Agenda Mark Blum won’t say how much money PHRMA gives to his group.)

Closer to home - and supported by our state house legislators - that includes private insurers MVP Health Care, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, the insurers for the state program, Catamount. Which is lobbied for by Vermont AARP and Vermont Interfaith Action.

What to do closer to home? Join in a mass demonstration at the statehouse on Friday, May 1, 2009 calling on our state legislators to provide a single payer health plan for all Vermonters. Info: More than eighty Vermont organizations have endorsed.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

TEXAS: Bugging Out on Pesticides

Texas Observer Political Intelligence

In a state known for flying roaches the size of small planes and a fire ant population that outnumbers humans, it’s not surprising that many people use pesticides. Of course, the pesticides are often more dangerous than the pests, especially to children. Now some of Texas’ anti-pesticide advocates—there aren’t many—are concerned that the Texas Department of Agriculture is considering loosening restrictions on pesticide use in schools.

Mary Hintikka never really thought about pesticides sprayed on school grounds, including outdoor gardens and athletic fields, even inside buildings. But as she watched her school-age son develop frequent, unexplained illnesses, she began to suspect that pesticides might be the cause. She was alarmed to learn that the powerful chemicals sprayed in and around her son’s Houston school included chemicals on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of the most dangerous pesticides. Children with long-term or acute exposure to some of these chemicals, numerous studies have shown, are more likely to suffer from childhood leukemia, soft-tissue sarcoma, and brain cancer.

In 2007, the Legislature passed a bill by Corsicana Republican state Rep. Byron Cook that abolished the Structural Pest Control Board—by most accounts, a lax regulatory body—and folded its duties into the Agriculture Department. The idea behind the bill was to strengthen oversight and regulation of pesticides, especially for schools. The bill instructed the department to create new regulations for pesticide use at schools.

The agency released a draft of the new rules last summer, and they were much stricter. Schools could only spray the most powerful pesticides—those in the so-called red category (there are also green and yellow designations)—if students wouldn’t be within 100 feet of the spray area for at least 12 hours. The proposed 100-foot buffer was double the current standard, 50 feet for 12 hours.

(That’s still not ideal. Beyond Pesticides, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., has recommended that students not be allowed in sprayed areas for at least 24 hours.)

The pesticide industry and school boards didn’t like the proposal. They complained to the agency, saying the buffer zone was too onerous, says Bryan Black, a department spokesman. So in its most recent revision, released earlier this year, the department recommends that schools spray only where students won’t be within 25 feet for eight hours. That’s not only lower than the agency’s draft, it’s lower than the current standard.

Black says the department consulted experts at Texas A&M’s Southwest Technical Resource Center in formulating the new standard. “We believe these standards are absolutely safe,” he says. “We’re not going to do anything that would put children in danger.”

But Hintikka—like Sue Pitman, a pesticide expert who once worked in Texas and now lives in Colorado—worries that the department is bowing to pressure from industry and schools. Hintikka says the reason for moving pesticide oversight to the Agriculture Department was to strengthen standards, not weaken them.

The department hasn’t finalized the rules. The agency will decide in the next month to either implement the proposal or revise it again. In the meantime, Hintikka says, parents should find out exactly what pesticides are being used at their kids’ schools.

Dave Mann

Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer

Pepe Escobar: Welcome to the new “new world order”

Related to what I've written here and here, two commentaries by Pepe Escobar from The Real News Network:

Texas Secession? The stars at night are big and bright....

From McClatchy we read this morning, "Texas' Perry raises secession issue at 'tea party' protest."

Though I have moved back to New England, where I grew up as a kid/teen, I lived in TX for over 20 years and remember those bumper stickers back in the 80s, "Texas Secede" and "Texas Native." This secession idea has been kicked around for years. It's that whoop and holler "Don't Mess with my white, anti-hispanic, anti-gay Texas" mentality, and with the changing demographics, that dog don't hunt. Perry's a fucking opportunist anyway. It was all bluster. When pressed with questions about his statement, he told reporters that Texas probably wouldn't secede anyway.

N.S.A.’s Intercepts Exceed Limits Set by Congress

Erich Lichtblau and James Risen, writing in today's New York Times

The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year, government officials said in recent interviews.

Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic, although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional.

The legal and operational problems surrounding the N.S.A.’s surveillance activities have come under scrutiny from the Obama administration, Congressional intelligence committees and a secret national security court, said the intelligence officials, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because N.S.A. activities are classified. Classified government briefings have been held in recent weeks in response to a brewing controversy that some officials worry could damage the credibility of legitimate intelligence-gathering efforts.

The Justice Department, in response to inquiries from The New York Times, acknowledged Wednesday night that there had been problems with the N.S.A. surveillance operation, but said they had been resolved.

As part of a periodic review of the agency’s activities, the department “detected issues that raised concerns,” it said. Justice Department officials then “took comprehensive steps to correct the situation and bring the program into compliance” with the law and court orders, the statement said. It added that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. went to the national security court to seek a renewal of the surveillance program only after new safeguards were put in place.

In a statement on Wednesday night, the N.S.A. said that its “intelligence operations, including programs for collection and analysis, are in strict accordance with U.S. laws and regulations.” The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the intelligence community, did not address specific aspects of the surveillance problems but said in a statement that “when inadvertent mistakes are made, we take it very seriously and work immediately to correct them.”

The questions may not be settled yet. Intelligence officials say they are still examining the scope of the N.S.A. practices, and Congressional investigators say they hope to determine if any violations of Americans’ privacy occurred. It is not clear to what extent the agency may have actively listened in on conversations or read e-mail messages of Americans without proper court authority, rather than simply obtained access to them.

Certainly, a lot more Americans have been wire-tapped than we know.

From the above Times article (my emphasis): The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the intelligence community, did not address specific aspects of the surveillance problems but said in a statement that “when inadvertent mistakes are made, we take it very seriously and work immediately to correct them.”

I won't hold my breath. Telecoms being held accountable? Heh. These are abuses that have been continuing in the past months, not just during the Bush era. Richard Seymour/Lenin's Tomb:

Glenn Greenwald points out that Obama's position on state secrecy and torture not only adopts the most authoritarian and extreme positions of the Bush administration, but goes farther by claiming a radical kind of 'sovereign immunity' to ensure that torture victims get no redress and no one ever finds out about it. He also notes that the Department of Justice under Eric Holder now wants total immunity from wiretapping prosecutions.

Thomas Tamm, the whistleblower who exposed the warrantless wiretaps, and Glenn Greenwald are interviewed on Democracy Now! today - check the site mid-day for the video of the program.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The piracy problem

A good sum up from the Brattleboro Reformer's editorial, 14 April 2009

The story had a happy ending, but the problem remains.

The U.S. Navy was able to safely rescue Capt. Richard Phillips of Underhill on Sunday in a daring sniper attack, ending a five-day hostage drama off the Somali coast.

Phillips, who bravely gave himself up to save the lives of the 19 U.S. crew members on the container ship Maersk Alabama, is believed to have been the first U.S. citizen taken by pirates since 1804, when U.S. Navy Commodore Stephen Decatur battled the infamous Barbary pirates off the northern coast of what is now Libya.

But pirates are still holding about a dozen ships with more than 200 crew members, according to the Malaysia-based piracy watchdog International Maritime Bureau. Hostages are from Bulgaria, China, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, the Philippines, Russia, Taiwan, Tuvalu and Ukraine, among other countries.

Piracy is big business in Somalia right now. Attacks in the Gulf of Aden and along Somalia's coast have risen dramatically, from 41 in 2007 to 111 in 2008, according to the International Maritime Bureau. These pirates have earned between $30 million and $80 million in ransom through the seizure of 42 vessels in 2008. The average ransom per ship ranges between $1 million and $2 million.

Somalia hasn't had a real government for nearly 20 years. Anarchy has been the rule, with rival clans fighting for control. Now that these clans have discovered that around 25,000 ships -- most of them unarmed -- go through the Gulf of Aden each year, they see plenty of opportunities to pick up money.

Somalis say the piracy is payback for the more than $300 million worth of tuna, shrimp, and lobster they say is hauled in every year by illegal foreign trawlers off Somalia's coast, forcing the collapse of the local fishing industry. Also, since the collapse of the Somali government in 1991, Asian and European nations have been accused of using the nation's coastline as a dump for toxic and nuclear waste.

The pirates first emerged as a way to stop the foreign vessels, but that wasn't as lucrative as hijacking commercial vessels for ransom. The Somali coastline is the longest in Africa, about 1,900 miles long. And the pirates aren't ragtag amateurs. Operating with speedboats equipped with satellite phones, GPS equipment and weaponry such as machine guns and grenade launchers, they can quickly overwhelm a merchant ship.

In a country where the average life expectancy is 46 and about a quarter of all children die before the age of 5, piracy looks like a great option to the average Somali. In some of the coastal towns, the pirates have provided wealth and economic growth unknown in other parts of Somalia.

Until there is a functioning central government in Somalia, there is little that can be done to stop the piracy. There are two dozen international warships patrolling an area that's nearly five times the size of Texas.

More warships doing patrols and escorting vulnerable ships might help, but the international community needs to help Somalia get its act together and give its people another path to a decent life besides crime. This could be as simple as enforcing the fishing regulations to give the Somali fishing fleet a chance to recover.

So while we as Vermonters rejoice in seeing Capt. Phillips rescued, there are still many more hostages waiting for their freedom in what has become a very dangerous place for the world's seafarers.

Precisely because we're only being told half the story... read this from Ten Percent: Background Links On Somalia Beyond Pirate Tales & Black Hawk Down and recent posts on Somalia in Jeremy Scahill's new blog RebelReports