Undernews For May 27, 2008
Undernews For May 27, 2008
Washington's Most Unofficial Source
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Washington DC 20003
Editor: Sam Smith
27 MAY 2008
Everything great in the world comes from neurotics.
They alone have founded our religions, and composed our
masterpieces. Never will the world know all it owes to them,
nor all they have suffered to enrich us - Marcel
If Obama is elected, by next January we will have had three presidents in a row who - if our laws had been equitably enforced - might easily have been convicted felons. Obama has admitted drug use including cocaine, and there is a high likelihood that both Bush and Clinton used cocaine as well as pot. Being a convicted felon is not a constitutional bar to the presidency but in many states the three could would not be allowed to vote or run for state or local office.
The issue comes to the fore thanks to Scott McClellan's new book. A story in the Atlanta Constitution recounts:
"McClellan tracks Bush's penchant for self-deception back to an overheard incident on the campaign trail in 1999 when the then-governor was dogged by reports of possible cocaine use in his younger days.
"The book recounts an evening in a hotel suite 'somewhere in the Midwest.' Bush was on the phone with a supporter and motioned for McClellan to have a seat. ;The media won't let go of these ridiculous cocaine rumors,' I heard Bush say. 'You know, the truth is I honestly don't remember whether I tried it or not. We had some pretty wild parties back in the day, and I just don't remember.'"
Clinton, for his part, ran Arkansas at a time when it was one of America's leading little narco republics. He looked the other way as Papa Bush ran an arms for drugs operation out of Mena as part of the Iran-Contra disaster. The IRS warned other law enforcement agencies of the state's 'enticing climate.' According to Clinton biographer Roger Morris, operatives go into banks with duffel bags full of cash, which bank officers then distribute to tellers in sums under $10,000 so they don't have to report the transaction.
Sharlene Wilson, according to investigative reporter Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, served as "the lady with the snow" at "toga parties" attended, she reported, by Bill Clinton. She told a federal grand jury she saw Clinton and his younger brother ''snort'' cocaine together in 1979. Investor's Business Daily reported, "Sally Perdue, a former Miss Arkansas and Little Rock talk show host who said she had an affair with then-Gov. Clinton in 1983, told the London Sunday Telegraph that he once came over to her house with a bag full of cocaine. ''He had all the equipment laid out, like a real pro.''' In the 1990s, Genifer Flowers told Sean Hannity's WABC talk radio show: "He smoked marijuana in my presence and and offered me the opportunity to snort cocaine if I wanted to. I wasn't into that. Bill clearly let me know that he did cocaine. And I know people that knew he did cocaine. He did tell me that when he would use a substantial amount of cocaine that his head would itch so badly that he would become self conscious at parties where he was doing this. Because all he wanted to do while people were talking to him is stand around and scratch his head."
Two Arkansas state troopers swore under oath that they have seen Clinton ''under the influence'' of drugs when he was governor. One-time apartment manager Jane Parks claimed that in 1984 she could listen through the wall as Bill and Roger Clinton, in a room adjoining hers, discussed the quality of the drugs they were taking. And in 1984, Hot Springs police record Roger Clinton during a cocaine transaction. Roger says, "Got to get some for my brother. He's got a nose like a vacuum cleaner."
The issue here is not what these men did. After all, in a sane land, their drug use would be considered foolish but legal. The issue is that we stand a good chance of entering a third presidential administration marked by massive hypocrisy, cruelty and destructiveness in the matter of drugs. Obama shows every sign of following in the same masochistic path that has not only failed in its goal, but coincidentally began the dismantling of constitutional government and encouraged manic and self-defeating foreign adventures.
You can not understand what has happened to this country over the past three decades without putting the war on drugs near the top of the list. Nothing has so changed the way we think and function as has our callously unexamined approach to drugs.
My bedtime viewing of late has been the Netflix compilation of "The Wire," which I have come to think of as among the best literature of our times, a Shakespeare for an America in disintegration. The series touches on all forms of urban collapse - in politics, religion, labor unions, the police, the media - but the unbreakable link is a drug trade fostered by some of the worst laws and policies ever conceived. Seldom has a country so deliberately destroyed so much of its being for so little gain.
But if you check the awards "The Wire" has won they are mainly from critic and writers groups and from the NAACP. The pop honors have been strikingly absent as were the ratings.
This is not surprising, because under our cultural rules, the drug war is not something to discuss and argue about. It is to be accepted, funded and promised to be continued by whoever is running for public office.
Significantly, two of the major enablers of this madness have been the media and a liberal elite that has increasingly blended its values with those of the conservative elite, the most notable exception being those of a demographic nature. It's no longer so much a matter so much of what you do but what ethnicity or gender gets to do it.
There are, of course, exceptions such as civil libertarians and populists fighting lonely battles that used to be central to Democratic Party beliefs. But on the whole, such matters simply don't matter that much. Which is why neither Obama nor Clinton have discussed the drug issue or cities other than in passing.
In the case of drugs, there is another factor that is never mentioned, which is that among the media and elite liberals there has been more than a little use of the same substances for which they are willing to send the less prominent to prison. You see just the tip of this phenomenon when a presidential candidate's drug use threatens to become an issue. The great mediators of public discourse quickly declare this topic fit only for the lower sorts and move it off the table.
Such a willingness to punish others for what one does or what one's friends do is bad enough when it is merely an opinion expressed. When it results in prison time, it is despicable.
The liberal hypocrisy on the drug war was an early signs that I was no longer a liberal. I was stunned by the liberal enthusiasm for Clinton, and claims that he was our first black president, even as he sent an ever larger number of young blacks to prison for doing what he had done.
This is not small stuff. Far more young American men have died as a result of the drug war than have died in Iraq. More young black men have died as a result of the drug war than died in Vietnam. Yet we not meant to talk about it.
In the wake of its support of the drug wars, liberals have gone on to support such awfulness as the Patriot Act and No Child Left Behind. In many ways, liberalism hasn't died; it's just evaporated.
progressive populism of the sort that John Edwards was
reintroducing is the sane and logical alternative, one that
provides the most for the most and under which you don't
have to graduate from Yale or Harvard Law School to have
equal rights as a woman or a black. It is obscene to speak
smugly of Obama's rise and yet be indifferent to the tens of
thousands of those whose skin is of the same hue but will
who spend the next four years in a cell rather than in the
White House because they tried to smoke or snort their way
to happiness just like two past presidents, and one
potential one, all in a row.
PAGE ONE MUST
KATRINA KIDS FACE LIFELONG HEALTH PROBLEMS
BOSTON GLOBE Tens of thousands of youngsters . . . may face lifelong health problems because the temporary housing supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency contained formaldehyde fumes up to five times the safe level. The chemical, used in interior glue, was detected in many of the 143,000 trailers sent to the Gulf Coast in 2006. But a push to get residents out of them, spearheaded by FEMA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did not begin until this past February.
Members of Congress and CDC insiders say the agencies' delay in recognizing the danger is being compounded by studies that will be virtually useless and the lack of a plan to treat children as they grow. .
Formaldehyde is classified as a probable carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance, by the Environmental Protection Agency. There is no way to measure formaldehyde in the bloodstream. Respiratory problems are an early sign of exposure.
A BRITISH COMMUNITY COURT AT
EVENING GAZETTE, UK Something odd happens as three magistrates are getting stuck into their caseload at the East Middlesbrough Community Justice Court. They step down, abandon their bench, walk over and join a defendant at the back of the courtroom. They sit and an informal chat begins, taking on a constructive, sympathetic tone.
"How's it going?" asks bench chair Sonia Brogden. "Come on, talk to us," she says encouragingly. The defendant is asked about his emotional well-being, home life, drinking, education and a report on his good progress.
A second case touches on sensitive issues of domestic violence and mental health with a female offender. Ms Brogden tells her: "It's a punishment, you've got to do it, but it's also there to help you. Everybody wants you to get through this and get on with your life."
The two people have already been sentenced. These new community order "reviews" help keep an eye on them, but it seems the main aim is to move them forward.. . .
Ms Brogden, who sits in the court on a 20-strong
panel, says defendants need to know that judges care, listen
and give sentences for a reason. "The idea is to see how
people are doing, if they're getting the guidance and
assistance that they need," she explains. "It's basically
to keep everyone on the right track.
The defendants can feel that the bench, the sentencers, are interested in what happens to them after court."
She stresses: "We're still the bench, it's still a courtroom. It's that balance. The court has to command respect."
In its other business, there are further subtle differences. The magistrates more often speak to defendants directly rather than through solicitors. Ms Brogden describes an emphasis on civic responsibility: "It's mainly in the sentencing stage to try to say, why have you done it? You're part of this community. But you've spoilt yourself in some way. How can we get you back into it? How can we stop you offending in the community?". . .
She tells how unpaid work sentences in the community court make offenders put something back into the area they have wronged, with "Pay Back" restorative justice projects. "We have an up-to-date list of jobs that need doing for the community in East Middlesbrough, minor repair works, tidying up, cleaning up."
[Neighborhood safety officer Rob Brown says] "When someone get arrested, gets to court and gets sentenced, they're trying to tailor it to a specific community."
Rob points particularly to community reparation work, like work at the Norfolk shops in Berwick Hills. "There was graffiti and it was just looking a bit run-down. We ask community payback teams to go in on a reparation order and spruce up the area, clean up, paint and take graffiti off the walls. The people who are causing the trouble in an area should be the people on the reparation order."
LEARNING FROM PARASITES
SAM SMITH, PROGRESSIVE REVIEW To understand the war on public schools, it helps to think of the Defense Department where our national security has been turned over to a mass of private contractors that make billions under the pretext of improving our national defense. There are no standardized tests at the Pentagon, the closest parallel being war itself, one of which we haven't won against a comparable enemy in over 60 years. A fair description of how the Defense Department works is that it is government by parasites.
Something similar is happening to our public schools under the guidance of an arrogant and aggressive coterie of educational bureaucrats like the much touted Michelle Rhee of Washington DC. There have always been commercial parasites hovering over public education, but the opportunities exploded with No Child Left Behind, basically a government subsidy to every firm that designs tests, the books that help students pass them, or provides untested consultant or administrative services to public officials who once knews how to run a school system without so many deals on the side.
One popular way to make your school system look better, for example, is to dump some of your regular teachers and replaced them with smart recent college graduates from Teach for America. The local media eats this up because, in fact, TFAers are bright and earnest and by the time they leave after their two year stint the story will be stale and no one will notice that the problem remains.
As it is, TFA - while getting a lot of headlines - reaches only a tiny percentage of urban schools even if you assume - as many wouldn't - that rotating teachers on two years shifts is a good idea.
TFA has gotten a lot of good publicity, some of its deserved as there is nothing wrong with using bright and earnest in the classroom much as the Peace Corps has used them overseas. The problem is when worthy assistance is overblown and treated as a solution. As any EMT can tell you, we still need doctors.
There are a lot of reasons why TFA is not a solution. For example, the program skims the cream of the crop of bright college grads. It is not unlike having a program called Coach For America in which only college varsity athletes get to do the job. Sure, it may work on a case by case basis, but what about all the teams Coach for America can't handle?
According to a recent Urban Institute study, TFA teachers produce better results on tests than the traditional certified ones. But as Eduwonkette writes, "An advantage of .04 standard deviations over teachers with 3-5 years experience in the same school is not going to significantly close the achievement gap. This is not an advantage over teachers in the nearest suburb or the best schools in the city that don't staff TFA teachers, and is hardly a convincing rationale to permanently staff tough schools with a revolving corps of academically talented 2-year teachers." She adds, "I'm all for Teach for America as a stopgap, but the achievement gap claim is fanciful thinking. Why? By comparison, the black-white gap in NAEP math achievement in grade 12 is approximately 1 standard deviation (and is likely larger because many black students have left by grade 12)."
Even more significant is what hasn't been reported in the media about this study. If you break down the TFA teachers' results by level of mastery of a subject you get a strikingly different story.
For example, 31% of the students taught Algebra I by traditional teachers had superior performance as opposed to only 15% of the TFA teachers. Even novice traditional teachers produced 26% with superior results. At the other end, the difference was far less: 4% of the TFA students had insufficient mastery as opposed to 6% for the traditional teachers.
Here are the superior performance rates for TFA, traditional teacher and traditional novice for the various subjects.
Algebra II: 15-35-29
Physical Science: 7-11-10
In other words, the TFA teachers had a minimal edge on average, but were way behind traditional teachers in producing superior results. This is not cause for embarrassment, but it's not cause for a parade, either.
One of the real keys to changing public education may lie not so much at the school level but in the education courses where teachers are trained. But there is little talk of reform here, because, after all, what's in it for the new educational-industrial complex? The kids will just have to suffer awhile longer.
OBAMA'S IRAQ POSITION REMAINS IN DOUBT
From Democracy Now
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Obama, quick question: 70 percent of Iraqis say they want the US to withdraw completely; why don't you call for a total withdrawal?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, I do, except for our embassy. I call for amnesty and protecting our civilian contractors there.
AMY GOODMAN: You've said a residual force-
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Yeah, but-
AMY GOODMAN: -which means [inaudible] thousands [inaudible].
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, no. I mean, I don't think that you've read exactly what I've said. What I said is that we do need to have a strike force in the region. It doesn't necessarily have to be in Iraq; it could be in Kuwait or other places. But we do have to have some presence in order to not only protect them, but also potentially to protect their territorial integrity.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you call for a ban on the private military contractors like Blackwater?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: I've actually-I'm the one who sponsored the bill that called for the investigation of Blackwater in [inaudible], so-
AMY GOODMAN: But would you support the Sanders one now?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Here's the problem: we have 140,000 private contractors right there, so unless we want to replace all of or a big chunk of those with US troops, we can't draw down the contractors faster than we can draw down our troops. So what I want to do is draw-I want them out in the same way that we make sure that we draw out our own combat troops. Alright? I mean, I-
AMY GOODMAN: Not a ban?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, I don't want to replace those contractors with more US troops, because we don't have them, alright?
JEREMY SCAHILL, DEMOCRACY NOW: I started looking at Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's Iraq plans, and one of the things that I discovered is that both of them intend to keep the Green Zone intact. Both of them intend to keep the current US embassy project, which is slated to be the largest embassy in the history of the world. . . . I think it's 500 CIA operatives alone, a thousand personnel. And they're also going to keep open the Baghdad airport indefinitely. And what that means is that even though the rhetoric of withdrawal is everywhere in the Democratic campaign, we're talking about a pretty substantial level of US forces and personnel remaining in Iraq indefinitely. . .
Obama is saying he wants to keep the embassy. Obama is saying he wants to keep the Green Zone. Obama is saying he wants to keep the Baghdad airport. Who's guarding US diplomats right now at this largest embassy in the history of the world? Well, it's Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp; it's these private security companies. . . And so, the situation right now is that Obama seems to have painted himself into a corner on this issue, . . .
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, let me ask you, in terms of this whole issue of mercenaries in general, I mean, are we facing the possibility that a Democratic president would in essence reduce the troops but increase the mercenaries?
JEREMY SCAHILL: . . . Joseph Schmitz, who's one of the
leading executives in the Blackwater empire, recently said
this: "There is a scenario where we could as a government,
the United States, could pull back the military footprint,
and there would then be more of a need for private
contractors to go in." So apparently these contractors see a
silver lining in that scenario. You know, the reality is,
right now, that these forces are one of the most significant
threats to Iraqis in the country. I mean, we've seen scores
of incidents where they've shot at them, etc.
ELI LAKE, NY SUN A key adviser to Senator Obama's campaign is recommending in a confidential paper that America keep between 60,000 and 80,000 troops in Iraq as of late 2010, a plan at odds with the public pledge of the Illinois senator to withdraw combat forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office.
The paper, obtained by The New York Sun, was written by Colin Kahl for the center-left Center for a New American Security. In "Stay on Success: A Policy of Conditional Engagement," Mr. Kahl writes that through negotiations with the Iraqi government "the U.S. should aim to transition to a sustainable over-watch posture (of perhaps 60,000-80,000 forces) by the end of 2010 (although the specific timelines should be the byproduct of negotiations and conditions on the ground)."
Mr. Kahl is the day-to-day coordinator of the Obama campaign's working group on Iraq. . .
Both Mr. Kahl and a senior Obama campaign adviser reached yesterday said the paper does not represent the campaign's Iraq position. Nonetheless, the paper could provide clues as to the ultimate size of the residual American force the candidate has said would remain in Iraq after the withdrawal of combat brigades. The campaign has not publicly discussed the size of such a force in the past.
This is not the first time the opinion of an adviser to the Obama campaign has differed with the candidate's stated Iraq policy. In February, Mr. Obama's first foreign policy tutor, Samantha Power, told BBC that the senator's current Iraq plan would likely change based on the advice of military commanders in 2009. She has since resigned her position as a formal adviser. . .
In an interview yesterday, a senior Obama foreign affairs adviser, Susan Rice, said the Iraq working group is not the last word on the campaign's Iraq policy. . . Mr. Obama's policy to date also allows for a residual force for Iraq. In early Iowa debates, the senator would not pledge to remove all soldiers from Iraq, a distinction from his promise to withdraw all combat brigades. Also, Mr. Obama has stipulated that he would be open to having the military train the Iraqi Security Forces if he received guarantees that those forces would not be the shock troops of one side of an Iraqi civil war.
But the Obama campaign has also not said how many troops would make up this residual force. "We have not put a number on that. It depends on the circumstances on the ground," Ms. Rice said. She added, "It would be worse than folly, it would be dangerous, to put a hard number on the residual forces."
Mr. Kahl's paper laid out what he called a "middle way" between unlimited engagement in Iraq and complete and rapid disengagement. The approach is contingent, he said, on the progress and willingness of Iraq's major confessional parties in reaching political accommodation.
"There is a fundamental difference in the assumption between the Democratic approach and the Bush-McCain approach. That approach is premised on the assumption the Iraqi government wants to reach accommodation and what they need is time. The surge is premised on the notion of creating breathing space," Mr. Kahl said. He added that his strategy would pressure and entice the Iraqi government to begin political accommodation by not only starting the withdrawal, but also by stating that America had no intention to hold permanent bases in the country.
LIBERTARIANS RAISE THE BARR
ATLANTA CONSTITUTION Georgia's Bob Barr won a long and tense battle Sunday for the 2008 Libertarian Party's presidential nomination . . . It took six ballots and nearly five hours of voting at the Libertarian National Convention before the former four-term congressman defeated Texas business consultant Mary Ruwart for the party's bid.
Barr, who until 2006 was a Republican, took 54 percent of the vote after Las Vegas odds-maker Wayne Allyn Root dropped out following the fifth ballot and endorsed Barr. Delegates subsequently selected Root to be Barr's running mate. . .
Barr, 59, said the Libertarian Party anticipates being on the ballot in at least 48 states, but work remains to be done in 20 of those to ensure access. . .
Barr had to overcome the objections of many Libertarians who viewed him as an interloper and who questioned his commitment to Libertarian ideals. Ruwart said Barr had not embraced fully the Libertarian message on key party issues, such as the legalization of all drugs or the ending of all federal taxation.
Barr got 7 percent against Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, according to a poll Barr's exploratory committee commissioned from Pulse Opinion Strategies in early April. A poll by Rasmussen Reports from earlier this month showed Barr getting 6 percent nationally. No Libertarian candidate for president has ever done that well. In 1980, Libertarian Edward Clark won 1.06 percent of the vote, and his 921,128 votes were the most ever for a Libertarian.
WHY LOSING ISN'T ALL THAT
STEVE COBBLE, THE PROGRESSIVE Over the course of four decades of progressive politics, I've concluded that politics is not always just about success at the polls. And winning is not always getting the most votes. Sometimes, winning in politics is changing the landscape. As Barry Goldwater unfortunately demonstrated back in 1964, sometimes politics is about changing the behavior of a major party. Or, as George Wallace unfortunately showed in '64, '68, and '72, and Pat Robertson in 1988, politics is about strengthening a constituency that a major party can then adopt or co- opt.
Sometimes, as George McGovern proved in 1972, politics is about bringing new blood into a stagnant system, training a new cadre of organizers, changing the rules of the game. And sometimes, as Bobby Kennedy and Jesse Jackson highlighted, politics is about poetry as well as prose, offering a new way of thinking about America, challenging the power structure head-on, giving voice to the voiceless. . .
In his '88 campaign, Jackson inspired the young, won thirteen states from Alaska to Vermont, down to Georgia and Louisiana. He filled basketball arenas from Columbus, Ohio, to Portland, Oregon, and won in Puerto Rico. Jackson walked the picket lines and settled strikes during campaign stops, marched students directly down to the voter registration offices, stayed in the homes of families without jobs or health care. . .
Despite not winning the nomination, the Jackson '84 and '88 campaigns made a lasting mark. We strengthened the infrastructure of the Democratic Party, over the resistance of the party insiders. The millions of new African American voters registered and mobilized by the Jackson campaigns are still mostly voting today, providing a strong progressive base upon which most Democratic electoral victories are built.
Consider the fact that the Senate is in Democratic hands today partly because of Jim Webb's razor-thin (less than 10,000 votes) victory over George Allen. This victory was built upon overwhelming African American support, due to revulsion about Allen's views on race and ethnicity. We'd do well to remember that Jackson won Virginia twice, and registered thousands and thousands of new African American voters there. . .
Jesse Jackson's campaigns registered so many new voters that it has strengthened the Democratic Party for candidates all over the country. His campaigns paved the way for Barack Obama.
So did Howard Dean's campaign. Joe Trippi and his Internet Deaniac crew rightfully have been given credit for creating a new source of strength for progressive politics. . .
Progressive politics profits from those who try but fail to win the nomination. These so- called second-tier candidates identify issues that the country will benefit from in the future (anti-apartheid movement in '84, health care for all in '04). They elevate constituencies (peace activists, fair trade groups) that are sneered at by elite pundits and the mainstream media. They build grassroots strength for future activism on issues (civil liberties, inequality) that are currently ignored inside the Beltway. . .
An obvious illustration is John and Elizabeth Edwards. They pushed both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton to more seriously consider health care, poverty, and fair trade issues than they would have otherwise.
But why stop there? Why not trace the evolution of the frontrunners' current policy positions at least back to the 2004 Kucinich campaign?. .
On key issues- opposition to the Iraq War, opposition to the Patriot Act, opposition to NAFTA, support for national health insurance-the Democratic Party has quietly moved toward Dennis Kucinich. . .
Politics is never just about what the elites tell us is possible. It's often what we decide to make possible with our words, our actions, our hopes. And there is more than one way to win.
WORLDWIDE, BIKING IS UP
EARTH POLICY The world produced an estimated 130 million bicycles in 2007-more than twice the 52 million cars produced. Bicycle and car production tracked each other closely in the mid-to-late 1960s, but bike output separated sharply from that of cars in 1970, beginning its steep climb to 105 million in 1988. Overall, since 1970, bicycle output has nearly quadrupled, while car production has roughly doubled.
A number of European cities have set the standard for bicycle use and promotion, via pro-bike transportation and land use policies, as well as heavy funding for bicycle infrastructure and public education. In Copenhagen, for example, 36 percent of commuters bike to work. The city plans to invest more than $200 million in bike facilities between 2006 and 2024 and estimates that by 2015 half its residents will bike to work or school. In Amsterdam, cycling accounts for 55 percent of journeys to jobs that are less than 7.5 kilometers (4.7 miles) from home. The government has pledged to spend $160 million from 2006 to 2010 on bicycle paths, parking, and safety. And Freiburg, Germany, a city with 218,000 people, has allocated roughly $1.3 million annually for cycling since 1976; now some 70 percent of local trips there are made by bike, on foot, or by public transit.
Governments elsewhere are following Europe's lead. Bogotá, Colombia, boasts more than 300 kilometers of bikeways, the most for a city in the developing world. In Australia, the state of Victoria has amended planning laws to require all new large buildings to provide bike parking and other facilities such as showers and lockers.
Some notoriously polluted and congested cities are working to reap the benefits of cycling as well. Mexico City plans to have 5 percent of all trips be by bike in 2012, up from less than 2 percent today, using traffic calming methods, promotional campaigns, and bike-transit connectivity. In India, Delhi's newest Master Plan requires fully segregated bicycle tracks on all arterial roads and notes that promoting cycling will be an essential component of the city's plans to reduce growth in fossil fuel consumption
Bicycle rental programs are also increasing bike use in some cities. The stand-out example of 2007 was Paris's low-cost Velib rental scheme, launched in July. Now offering 20,600 bikes that can be obtained by credit card at 1,451 stations, the program logged 6 million rides in its first three months. Analysts expect the program to double or even triple bike trips in Paris. Similar programs exist in Oslo, Barcelona, and Brussels and are planned for Washington, D.C., and central London, among other cities.
While biking remains popular for recreation in the United States, it is woefully underused for transportation. Total cycling participation has declined nationally since 1960, dropping 32 percent since the early 1990s, and now accounts for just 0.9 percent of all trips. Cycling to work is even less frequent, at 0.4 percent of trips.
While the bicycle is still an essential form of transportation in China, the country has recently seen a rapid decrease in bike ownership as its population becomes wealthier and turns to cars. From 1995 to 2005, China's bike fleet declined by 35 percent, from 670 million to 435 million, while private car ownership more than doubled, from 4.2 million to 8.9 million. Blaming cyclists for increasing accidents and congestion, some city governments have closed bike lanes. Shanghai even banned bicycles from certain downtown roads in 2004. This deterioration in Chinese bike culture emerges even as the country's share of world bicycle production continues to rise: China now turns out more than four fifths of the 130 million bikes produced each year.
China's central government, increasingly concerned about traffic congestion, energy consumption, and people's health, has now begun calling on cities to reverse this discouragement of bikes. In June 2006, Deputy Minister of Construction Qiu Baoxing ordered cities that had narrowed or removed bike lanes to restore them. Within Beijing, bike promotion is having some visible effects as the city prepares for the 2008 Olympics. For example, after successful pilot projects, a private bike rental scheme co-sponsored by Beijing's environmental protection and security bureaus aims to provide 50,000 bikes at some 200 locations by August. Thus far, however, the recent pro-bicycle rhetoric from Beijing has not translated into much positive action outside the capital.
Development projects addressing disease and poverty in Africa provide evidence that the bicycle's utility is not just limited to urban areas. In Zambia, World Bicycle Relief has partnered with a coalition of relief organizations to combat HIV/AIDS through more timely education and treatment, providing 23,000 bicycles to healthcare volunteers, disease prevention educators, and families affected by the virus. In Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Uganda, an alliance of Dutch non-governmental organizations has launched a micro-credit lending program called Cycling Out of Poverty. Through this effort, poor people can pay off leased bikes while using them to attend school or start a small business.
THE LOSS OF LOCAL BLACK RADIO
BRUCE DIXON, BLACK AGENDA REPORT Black commercial radio station owners, like all other broadcasters, hold their licenses on the condition that they faithfully serve the public interest. But commercial black radio, whether owned by African Americans or not, is failing that test. Commercial black radio treats its audience exclusively as a market, not a polity, and acknowledges no public service obligation worth mentioning. . .
The near disappearance of broadcast radio news is somewhat masked by the growth of talk radio, but whatever talk radio is, it is not news. . This year's State of Journalism 2008 by the Pew Center for Excellence in Journalism showed that the majority of talk show topics are indeed riffs on news stories, but talk shows do not break new stories, or conduct the investigations that break the stories. . .
We are witnessing the disappearance of black America's ability to talk to itself in, and to hear its own authentic voices. If Dr. Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Improvement Association were conducting their historic bus boycott under today's media regime, few people outside that city would be aware of it, and many black citizens inside Montgomery itself would be in the dark as well.
In the heyday of civil rights activism many African Americans, especially in the north, had no direct ties to the student movement or to those churches and other organizations which were active participants in the Freedom Movement. They learned about the movement the same way many white Americans did. They saw it on TV, they read about it in the papers, they heard about it on the radio.
Black radio, back in the days when locally produced news coverage was a staple of the medium, played a major role as transmitter and conveyor, as the very circulatory system of public consciousness in African American communities. In 1973 there were as many as 21 reporters from three black radio stations covering national and local affairs in the Washington DC market, providing broadcast constituencies with a rich diet of news and public affairs coverage upon which that community thrived. This was not too different from Atlanta or Chicago or Detroit around the same time. .
Commercial black radio, including black-owned Radio One, is in a self-serving but highly profitable rut. Spin the dial in any major market from coast to coast and you get the same handful of artists singing the same songs, whether the genre is Gospel or Hiphop or anything in between. At one time, local artists could contact local deejays, and get their music on the air in their home markets. If they succeeded there, stations in other markets might pick it up. . . . Black radio not only doesn't do news, it doesn't do art or entertainment very well either.
GOVERNMENTS OF 20 COUNTRIES AHEAD OF U.S. IN WORKPLACE FLEXIBILITY
A NEW REPORT by the Institute for Women's Policy Research and the Center for Work Life Law at the University of California, finds that of 21 countries reviewed, 17 have statutes that allow parents to move to part-time work or otherwise adjust their working hours; 12 have statutes to help workers adjust work hours for training and education; 11 allow reduced hours with partial pension prior to full retirement; 5 allow working time adjustments for those with family care-giving responsibilities for adults; and 5 countries give everyone the right to alternative work arrangements.
According to the latest data from the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation, college-educated women in the United States are now less likely than women in many other high-income countries to participate in the labor market. Participation in the U.S. labor force for women aged 24-54 has stalled in the last decade while 19 of 20 other high income countries surveyed have seen growth during the same period.
Most countries target statutory regulation at specific circumstances, such as family caregiving responsibilities, old age or lifelong learning. More recent is an all encompassing approach that provides a mechanism for changing working time arrangements to all employees, irrespective of why they want change.
The Institute for Women's Policy Research conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women, promote public dialogue, and strengthen families, communities, and societies. IWPR focuses on issues of poverty and welfare, employment and earnings, work and family, health and safety, and women's civic and political participation.
The Center for WorkLife Law, based at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that seeks to eliminate employment discrimination against employees who have caregiving responsibilities for family members, such as mothers and fathers of young children and adults with aging parents. WorkLife Law works with employees, employers, attorneys, legislators, journalists, and researchers to identify and prevent family responsibilities discrimination.
DISCOVERING THE SUN
MECHANIX ILLUSTRATED, 1955 - Last Fall, the National Industrial Conference Board brought together a group of businessmen in New York City to thrash out the question of just how the sun's great energy, free but elusive, could be trapped for commercial use. One of the chief speakers was octogenarian Charles G. Abbot, secretary emeritus of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and a world-famed astrophysicist. He jolted the assembled businessmen with this: "There is a world-wide demand for small solar-power machines, up to five hp, for irrigation, heating and cooling of dwellings, charging batteries and other ranch uses. The demand is very keen in Australia, India, Israel and other semi-arid regions where fuel is several times more expensive than in the U. S. At present there is no company manufacturing such units, though the demand is large and constant."
Dr. Maria Telkes of New York University, one of the world's foremost authorities in the field, also spoke to the businessmen and outlined what's ahead. Hear this: Small household appliances utilizing the power of the sun will be in wide-spread use soon, Dr. Telkes said. She expects them within the next five years! "Especially in tropical regions where conventional fuels are at a premium," she pointed out, "small devices powered by the sun can soon be a reality. . . "
What else is coming? "Small cooling units utilizing the sun's energy are also feasible," said Dr. Telkes.
And still a third foreseeable application, she asserted, lies in development of small-scale thermo-electric generators for household purposes.
A fourth possibility is the use of the sun to convert sea water to fresh water for human consumption and irrigation purposes, thus opening up vast new areas to habitation and cultivation.
authoritative Wall Street Journal, which keeps its fingers
closely on the pulse of opportunity, predicts that a few
manufacturers will "plunge headlong into the sun-stove field
in the immediate future."
The George W Bush administration plans to launch an air strike against Iran within the next two months, an informed source tells Asia Times Online, echoing other reports that have surfaced in the media in the United States recently. Two key US senators briefed on the attack planned to go public with their opposition to the move, according to the source, but their projected New York Times op-ed piece has yet to appear. The source, a retired US career diplomat and former assistant secretary of state still active in the foreign affairs community, speaking anonymously, said last week that that the US plans an air strike against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. The air strike would target the headquarters of the IRGC's elite Quds force. Asia Times
Britain and other European governments should break from the US over the international embargo on Gaza, former US president Jimmy Carter told the Guardian y. Carter, visiting the Welsh border town of Hay for the Guardian literary festival, described the EU's position on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as "supine" and its failure to criticise the Israeli blockade of Gaza as "embarrassing". . . Carter described western governments' self-imposed ban on talking to Hamas as unrealistic and said everyone knew Israel was negotiating with the organization through an Egyptian mediator, Omar Suleiman. Suleiman took the Hamas ceasefire offer to Jerusalem last week. . . Last night, before a packed crowd at Hay, Carter spoke of his "horror" at America's involvement in torturing prisoners, saying he wanted the next US president to promise never to do so again. He left an intriguing hint that George Bush might even face prosecution on war crimes charges once he left office. When pressed by Philippe Sands QC on Bush's recent admission that he had authorized interrogation procedures widely seen as amounting to torture, Carter replied that he was sure Bush would be able to live a peaceful, "productive life - in our country". Sands, an international legal expert, said afterwards that he understood that to be "clear confirmation" that while Bush would face no challenge in his own country, "what happened outside the country was another matter entirely". Guardian
Most marijuana users who get caught smoking a joint summarily pay a fine, but when an undercover police officer detained Richard E. Cusick and R. Keith Stroup, the two chose instead to challenge the constitutionality of Massachusetts laws banning marijuana for the first time in 30 years. Arrested for sharing a marijuana cigarette at the annual Boston Freedom Rally in September, Cusick and Stroup turned to Harvard Law School professor Charles R. Nesson '60 for legal counsel. Nesson and his clients acknowledged that they had used the illegal drug, and decided upon an unusual defense: they argued that the statute outlawing marijuana in Massachusetts has no "rational basis," and that the jury has the power of jury nullification, or ruling a defendant innocent while recognizing that he or she had violated a law. . Nesson said he had hoped that several experts-ncluding Lester S. Grinspoon, an associate professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School, and Jeffrey A. Miron, director of undergraduate studies in economics¬would be allowed to testify to the harmlessness of marijuana. But the defendants were not granted an evidentiary hearing, and the jury found them guilty of marijuana possesion after deliberating briefly. The judge sentenced them to one day in prison, which they had already served the day they were arrested. - Harvard Crimson
Since the number of [Arkansas] drug
courts were expanded in 2003, the program has become
such a success that legislation is being developed for the
2009 session to add up to two more in eastern Arkansas, a
region of the state currently without one, and to add
juvenile drug courts. . . Nearly 1,000 people have graduated
from the program, according to the Arkansas Department of
Community Corrections, and about 1,600 are enrolled in
programs across the state. That's 2,600 diverted from the
state's chronically overcrowded prisons. The program also
saves the state money, according to a recent legislative
audit, which found it costs the state $9.96 a day for each
participant, while the state spends $54.82 a day for
inmates. . . Each drug court has a team that includes the
circuit judge, prosecutor, public defender, probation
officer and a drug/alcohol counselor. Those selected to
participate in drug courts are non-violent offenders who are
willing to meet with their probation officer and counselor
on a regular basis and take random drug tests. There also
are education and employment requirements, and regular court
appearances. Any violations of the rules could mean being
sent immediately to prison. If successfully completed,
participants either have their conviction expunged or avoid
charges altogether. Arkansas News
BUSH NEIGHBORHOOD CRIME WATCH
John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, has escaped an attempted citizen's arrest as he appeared at the [London] Hay Festival. Security guards blocked the path of columnist and activist George Monbiot, who tried to make the arrest as Mr Bolton left the stage. . Mr Monbiot was blocked by two heavily-built security guards at the end of the one-and-a-half hour appearance, before he could serve a "charge sheet" on him. After being released by the guards the columnist - a fierce critic of the 2003 American-led invasion - made a dash through the rain-soaked tented village in a failed attempt to catch up with Mr Bolton. A crowd of about 20 protestors, one dressed in a latex George Bush mask, chanted "war criminal" as Mr Bolton was ushered away. . . A citizen's arrest can be carried out under certain circumstances by a member of the public, if they believe a person had carried out a crime, under the Serious and Organized Crime and Police Act 2005. Telegraph UK
A South American union was born as leaders of the region's 12 nations set out to create a continental parliament. Some see the Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, as a regional version of the European Union. Summit host Brazil wants Unasur to help coordinate defense affairs across South America, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez calls it a counterweight to the United States. AP
THE SUCCESSOR TO NAFTA
The inspector general for the Defense Department said that the Pentagon cannot account for almost $15 billion worth of goods and services ranging from trucks, bottled water and mattresses to rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns that were bought from contractors in the Iraq reconstruction effort. . . "When we turned them over to the Iraqis, they weren't properly accounted for," said Gary Comerford, a spokesman for the Defense Department's inspector general, saying serial numbers were not consistently recorded. "The paper trail is not complete." Washington Post
Recently, [Obama] explicitly endorsed US involvement in the failed drug war in Colombia as well as US involvement in that country's ancient civil war: "For the people of Colombia – who have suffered at the hands of killers of every sort – that means battling all sources of violence. When I am President, we will continue the Andean Counter-Drug Program, and update it to meet evolving challenges." Lew Rockwell
Josh Goodman, Ballot Box We now have some hard evidence that California will pass a constitutional amendment this fall to disallow gay marriage. We also have some evidence that it won't.
The Los Angeles Times conducted a poll that showed 54% of registered voters in favor of the ban, which is likely to appear on the ballot. Only 35% were opposed. However, a new Field Poll reverses those numbers. It found 40% in favor of the amendment and 54% opposed. In that poll, for the first time ever a majority of Californians (51%) think gay marriage should be legal.
Cynthia McKinney now has the support
of over 50% of the delegates to the Green Party national
convention. Although not all state Green Parties have chosen
their delegates, even if all the unselected delegate spots
went to people who are opposed to McKinney, she would still
win. The national convention is July 10-13 in Chicago.
Ballot Access News
Those trying to find out who Brarack Obama really is might want to add this, from Australian Broadcasting into the mix: "He is one of America's most famous neo-conservatives and his ideas on the spread of democracy have informed the Bush administration's foreign policy. But Francis Fukuyama, the author of The End of History and Professor of International Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University, is now a sharp critic of US President George W Bush and has even come out as a supporter of Democrat frontrunner Barack Obama for president."
Barack Obama has moved from being a prophet to being a full fledged psychic, saying during a weekend speech, " On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes -- and I see many of them in the audience here today -- our sense of patriotism is particularly strong."
The Department of Transportation said figures from March show the steepest decrease in driving ever recorded. Compared with March a year earlier, Americans drove an estimated 4.3 percent less -- that's 11 billion fewer miles, the DOT's Federal Highway Administration said y, calling it "the sharpest yearly drop for any month in FHWA history." Records have been kept since 1942.
FURTHERMORE. . .
Folksinger and storyteller Utah Phillips, a "national treasure" if there ever was one, died last Friday, May 23. His performances featured the songs, jokes and lore of hobos, tramps, cowboys, migrant workers and Wobblies. Although he made a number of fine recordings, he was most truly in his element in live performances, where he knew how to draw the audience into a song or story and would leave us cracking up with laughter at some outrageous punch line that would unexpectedly pop up in the middle of his apparently rambling reminiscences. VIDEO FROM A UTAH PHILLIPS PERFORMANCE
Under Frontier Airlines new contract of carriage, the cost of flying with a set of antlers will go up from $75 to$100. Other rules: Antlers or horns must be free of residue; points must be covered and protected. . . Pepper spray, bear spray, mace, or any item containing an irritant or incapacitating substance are accepted in limited quantities. . . One hang glider per ticketed passenger. . . Pole vaults accepted on airbus flights only.
Rules of thumb: If you volunteer to work with children 80% of your problems will come from their parents.. . . For every ten people on a committee; three will do nothing, three will say they will do something and never do it and three will do the work of the committee. The final one will never attend another meeting. . . You have to ask twelve people to find two volunteers.
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