Friday, May 2, 2008

Daily Freep - Friday, May 2, 2008

150 Oregon Officials Quit Over Ethics Policy
By Bob Kendall

The above headline was revealed on a Seattle Times local news page April 28.
Why would 150 officeholders resign quickly before revealing personal data, such as names of relatives?

Goodbye and god luck is what, in effect, 150 office holders hastily exclaimed as they rushed to resign.

Ah! At long last an ethics law recently passed revealed name by name who was afraid of being discovered.

The Seattle Times article explained it this way:

"Resignations struck across dozens of Oregon cities. Small city councils and planning commissions suffered the greatest number of losses."

Why would the losses hit hardest here?

When property zone decisions are made, millions of dollars can suddenly become available to the "lucky" real estate owner. It works this way. A parcel of land is purchased at a price that is often determined by land use, either residential or business.

If a lot is bought for a single family residence and then a zoning decision is made to allow a 4 unit apartment house to be constructed, the land value of the property jumps. If 4, 5 or 6 single family vacant lots are bought and a city zoning commission later approved them to become a high rise condo project, the real estate investor's profits skyrocket.

If a city commissioner revealed his or her real estate assets, or the assets of relatives, it could instantly expose if there was what is legally called "conflict of interest" deals whereby certain commissioners were making deals to make money in real estate zoning changes for themselves or their relatives.

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Courage Campaign

Dear Friend,

My name is Jess Durfee. I am the Chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party.

The Courage Campaign asked me to write this message to the people of San Diego about Blackwater's shocking new plan to build a base of operations in Otay Mesa, just three blocks from the Mexican border.

False pretenses. Bait-and-switch. Trojan horse. Take your pick of descriptions to explain Blackwater securing a city permit for its "vocational training school" -- a "school" that won't be open to the general public.

That's simply Blackwater's way of doing business. By using trojan-horse corporate shells like "Southwestern Law Enforcement" and "Raven Development Group" to obtain their permit, Blackwater is using false pretenses to evade public scrutiny.

The worst part? The "Blackwater bait-and-switch": Using Iraq profits to subsidize a base of operations in San Diego with millions of your tax dollars.

Enough is enough. It's time for San Diego's elected officials to take a stand and kick Blackwater out of San Diego County for good. If the people of Potrero can do it, so can we.

The one man standing in the way of Blackwater is Mayor Jerry Sanders. He has the power -- under San Diego's "strong mayor" system -- to launch a full investigation into the false pretenses Blackwater used to obtain a "vocational trade school" permit for their 61,600-square-foot facility.

I have written a letter to Mayor Sanders that asks him to take action immediately. To get the Mayor's attention, I am urging the citizens of San Diego to join me in signing it no later than TUESDAY AT 9 AM.

The sooner you sign on and spread the word to your friends, family and neighbors, the more signatures we'll have when we present this petition to Mayor Sanders on Tuesday:

We all know that Blackwater is the "Enron" of private security contractors, more than willing to exploit Californians in the pursuit of profit. Do we really want these notorious mercenaries as our neighbors, bait-and-switching San Diego with an eye to eventually landing border security contracts?

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Celebs Do Stuff

Al-Jazeera cameraman freed from Guantanamo after 6 years

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) An Al-Jazeera cameraman was released from U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay and returned home to Sudan early Friday after six years of imprisonment that drew worldwide protests.

Sami al-Haj, who had been on a hunger strike for 16 months, grimaced as he was carried off a U.S. military plane by American personnel in Sudan's capital, Khartoum. He was put on a stretcher and taken straight to a hospital.

Al-Jazeera showed footage of al-Haj being carried into the hospital, looking feeble and with his eyes closed, but smiling. Some of the men surrounding his stretcher were kissing him on the cheek.

"Thank God ... for being free again," he told Al-Jazeera from his hospital bed. "Our eyes have the right to shed tears after we have spent all those years in prison. ... But our joy is not going to be complete until our brothers in Guantanamo Bay are freed," he added.

"The situation is very bad and getting worse day after day," he said of conditions in Guantanamo. He claimed guards prevent Muslims from practicing their religion and reading the Quran.

"Some of our brothers live without clothing," he said.

The U.S. military says it goes to great lengths to respect the religion of detainees, issuing them Qurans, enforcing quiet among guard staff during prayer calls throughout the day. All cells in Guantanamo have an arrow that points toward the holy city of Mecca.

Al-Haj was released along with two other Sudanese from Guantanamo Thursday. He was the only journalist from a major international news organization held at Guantanamo and many of his supporters saw his detention as punishment for a network whose broadcasts angered U.S. officials.

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The Most Dimwitted Newspaper Headline Ever
by jclifford

This one comes from a brainless editor at Reuters:

Obama fights perception he is elitist

Uh, Reuters, Duh!

Barack Obama is running to become President of the Freaking United States of America!

Of COURSE Barack Obama is elitist, and so is every other member of Congress, and every other person who seriously wants to become President of the United States. Hillary Clinton is elitist. John McCain is elitist. Even bloody Ralph Nader is elitist, you gormless Reuters hacks!

Being in Congress, especially being a Senator, and especially being a Senator who is running to become President of the United States, requires that a person be an elitist. If a person really didn’t believe that they were better than anyone else, they would not be running to become President of the United States.

The President of the United States is the most powerful person on Earth - arguably the most powerful person there ever has been on Earth at any time in history. Dare we not call that position elite?

Or are we speaking in some kind of code here that I don’t understand? Is this about Barack Obama being uppity?

Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain are all multimillionaires. John McCain’s wife has over a hundred million dollars, and the McCains have at least as many houses as cats have whiskers.

Why is it that we’re only getting a story from Reuters about Barack Obama being elitist? It sounds like a stupid Republican talking point to me.

Hey Reuters editors - let me remind you of your job description: It’s to report the news, not to repeat the talking points of political part hacks.

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Study Finds No Cancer-Marijuana Connection
By Marc Kaufman

The largest study of its kind has unexpectedly concluded that smoking marijuana, even regularly and heavily, does not lead to lung cancer.

The new findings "were against our expectations," said Donald Tashkin of the University of California at Los Angeles, a pulmonologist who has studied marijuana for 30 years. Who's Blogging? Read what bloggers are saying about this article.

"We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use," he said. "What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect."

Federal health and drug enforcement officials have widely used Tashkin's previous work on marijuana to make the case that the drug is dangerous. Tashkin said that while he still believes marijuana is potentially harmful, its cancer-causing effects appear to be of less concern than previously thought.

Earlier work established that marijuana does contain cancer-causing chemicals as potentially harmful as those in tobacco, he said. However, marijuana also contains the chemical THC, which he said may kill aging cells and keep them from becoming cancerous.

Tashkin's study, funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Drug Abuse, involved 1,200 people in Los Angeles who had lung, neck or head cancer and an additional 1,040 people without cancer matched by age, sex and neighborhood.

They were all asked about their lifetime use of marijuana, tobacco and alcohol. The heaviest marijuana smokers had lighted up more than 22,000 times, while moderately heavy usage was defined as smoking 11,000 to 22,000 marijuana cigarettes. Tashkin found that even the very heavy marijuana smokers showed no increased incidence of the three cancers studied.

"This is the largest case-control study ever done, and everyone had to fill out a very extensive questionnaire about marijuana use," he said. "Bias can creep into any research, but we controlled for as many confounding factors as we could, and so I believe these results have real meaning."

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Media Matters
The media render the RNC obsolete
by Jamison Foser

When Bob Dole wrapped up the Republican nomination in 1996, he bumped up against the limits on campaign spending by which candidates who take public financing agree to abide. Dole's situation was the subject of significant media attention, meaning that even if he was inclined to simply ignore the limits and hope to escape significant legal penalties, it would have been politically difficult to do so -- he would have been plagued by news reports that he was breaking the law. So Dole turned to the Republican National Committee to carry him to the Republican convention, when he received his general election funding.

Dole's predicament has a contemporary analogue -- to an extent. Like Dole, John McCain has wrapped up the GOP presidential nomination well in advance of the party's convention. Like Dole, McCain has reached the primary spending caps and may be breaking the law with each additional dollar he spends. (McCain's campaign asserts that he is not breaking the law because he opted out of the public finance system after first opting in. Federal Election Commission chairman David Mason disagrees.)

But that's where the similarities end. Things are a little easier if your name is John McCain -- after all, who needs the RNC when you have MSNBC?

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User-Generated Censorship

By Annalee Newitz, AlterNet. Posted April 30, 2008.

The Web makes it easy for crowds to collaborate. But it also makes it simple for mobs to crush free expression.
by Annalee Newitz

There's a new kind of censorship online, and it's coming from the grassroots. Thanks to new, collaborative, social media networks, it's easier than ever for people to get together and destroy freedom of expression. They're going DIY from the bottom up -- instead of the way old-school censors used to do it, from the top down. Call it user-generated censorship.

Now that anyone with access to a computer and a network connection can post almost anything they want online for free, it's also increasingly the case that anyone with computer access and a few friends can remove anything they want online. And they do it using the same software tools.

Here's how it works: let's say you're a community activist who has some pretty vehement opinions about your city government. You go to, which is owned by Google, and create a free blog called Why the Municipal Government in Crappy City Sucks. Of course, a bunch of people in Crappy City disagree with you -- and maybe even hate you personally. So instead of making mean comments on your blog, they decide to shut it down.

At the top of your Blogger blog, there is a little button that says "flag this blog." When somebody hits that button, it sends a message to Google that somebody thinks the content on your blog is "inappropriate" in some way. If you get enough flags, Google will shut down your blog. In theory, this button would only be used to flag illegal stuff or spam. But there's nothing stopping your enemies in town from getting together an online posse to click the button a bunch of times. Eventually, your blog will be flagged enough times that Google will take action.

And this is where things get interesting. Google has the option of simply shutting down your access to the blog. They rarely do that, though, unless it's a situation where your blog is full of illegal content, like copyright-infringing videos. Generally what Google does if you get a lot of flags is make your blog impossible to find. Nobody will be able to find it if they search Blogger or Google. The only people who will find it are people who already know about it and have the exact URL.

This is censorship, user-generated style.

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Drop that salmon!
With the days of indiscriminate fish consumption long gone, food writer Taras Grescoe explains how to eat seafood ethically. (Hint: Order mussels; skip shrimp.)
By Nicole Pasulka

On the subject of seafood, I'd always been well intentioned but underinformed. It's not that I didn't care, didn't hear the dispatches about avoiding Chilean sea bass or the antibiotics in shrimp, but I felt overwhelmed by a stream of investigative reports and gloomy forecasts. Overwhelmed is how a lot of us feel these days, as food-related crises proliferate in the news -- potentially contaminated beef from sick cows, possibly toxic crop spraying in California, food riots in Haiti. The bleak onslaught can make eating ethically seem like a daunting, if not impossible, goal. It was with this sense of doom that I began Taras Grescoe's "Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood." But by the time I was done, I found myself holding court in the canned fish aisle explaining to fellow shoppers the difference between skipjack and albacore tuna.

Grescoe, a Canadian nonfiction writer and respected food and travel journalist, takes us on an international tour of controversial cuisines -- shark fin soup in China, whale sashimi in Japan, monkfish tail in New York City -- meanwhile offering an overview of the corrupt practices that have put the oceans (and our health) in danger. The portrait he paints is grim: oceanic dead zones that, because of pollution and overfishing, can no longer support organic life; salmon farms polluted by pesticides and disease; ruthless bottom trawlers with nets that can destroy entire ecosystems.

A warning is not a death sentence, however. The book empowers consumers to ask the right questions -- if the halibut is from the Atlantic or Pacific, for instance, and whether the lobster pasta is actually made from monkfish, which is endangered. And asking these questions will make it possible to enjoy seafood for years to come.

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Group with Clinton Ties Behind Dubious Robocalls
by Peter Overby

Thousands of North Carolina residents answered their telephones last week to hear this message, delivered in a deep, soothing voice:

"Hello. This is Lamont Williams. In the next few days, you will receive a voter registration packet in the mail. All you need to do is fill it out, sign it, date and return the application. Then you will be able to vote and make your voice heard. Please return your registration form when it arrives. Thank you."

In fact, the deadline to register for the May 6 Democratic presidential primary had already passed. The robocall went to many registered voters who were expecting to vote that day. The call and follow-up mailings left many wondering whether they were registered for the primary or not.

This sounds like a classic example of voter suppression sowing confusion in order to drive down turn-out. The calls seemed to be aimed at African-American communities, places where Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is expected to run well ahead of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

But the group behind the calls isn't partisan Republican or ideologically conservative. It's Women's Voices Women Vote, a 501(c)(3) charity that states its mission as registering single women to vote.

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Longshore union strikes against war
By Peter Cole

On Thursday, May Day, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union will declare an eight-hour strike to protest the war in Iraq. Since the ILWU controls every port along the U.S. Pacific Coast, including Seattle and Tacoma, this strike demonstrates the collective power of workers willing to use it.

The ILWU is demanding "an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East." Although the majority of Americans repeatedly have expressed their desire to end the war, President Bush has not obliged us, so it drags on. Because our leaders refuse to listen, ILWU members are taking the next logical step for workers: Strike.

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BURMA: US Oil Major Complicit in Abuses - Rights Lobby
By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Apr 30 (IPS) - An environmental group is warning U.S. energy giant Chevron to clean up its act in Burma or face legal proceedings where the multinationals links to gross human rights violations in the military-ruled country could be exposed.

There has been little relief for villagers living in the Yadana pipeline region in southern Burma since the Chevron Corporation became a partner to this natural gas venture in 2005, states the Washington D.C.-based EarthRights International (EI) in a report released here Tuesday.

Chevron and its consortium partners continue to rely on the Burmese army for pipeline security and those forces continue to conscript thousands of villagers for forced labour, and to commit torture, rape, murder and other serious abuses in the course of their operations, revealed the 76-page report, The Human Cost of Energy.

Chevron should act on its moral and legal obligations to human rights rather than profit from human rights abuses, the report added of this project that earned the Burma's junta about 1.1 billion US dollars in 2006, over half of its total earnings from the sale of gas to neighboring Thailand, which was 2.16 billion dollars that year.

Chevron can be sued by villagers from Burma if it does not stop the human rights violations, Naming Htoo, EIs Burma Project coordinator, said during a press conference at the launch of the report. The violations are happening every day.

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Mission Accomplished: A look back at the media's fawning coverage of Bush's premature declaration of victory in Iraq

On May 1, 2003, President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln aboard an S-3B Viking jet, emerged from the aircraft in full flight gear, and proceeded to "press[] flesh," as The Washington Post put it, as he shook hands and hugged crew members in front of the cameras. Later that day, Bush delivered a nationally televised speech from the deck of the Abraham Lincoln in which he declared that "[m]ajor combat operations in Iraq have ended," all the while standing under a banner reading: "Mission Accomplished." Despite lingering questions over the continued violence in Iraq, the failure to locate weapons of mass destruction, and the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein, as well as evidence that Bush may have shirked his responsibilities in the Texas Air National Guard (TANG) during the Vietnam War, the print and televised media fawned over Bush's "grand entrance" and the image of Bush as the "jet pilot" and the "Fighter Dog."

Chief among the cheerleaders was MSNBC's Chris Matthews. On the May 1, 2003, edition of Hardball, Matthews was joined in his effusive praise of Bush by right-wing pundit Ann Coulter and "Democrat" Pat Caddell. Former U.S. Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-CA) also appeared on the program.:

MATTHEWS: What's the importance of the president's amazing display of leadership tonight?


MATTHEWS: What do you make of the actual visual that people will see on TV and probably, as you know, as well as I, will remember a lot longer than words spoken tonight? And that's the president looking very much like a jet, you know, a high-flying jet star. A guy who is a jet pilot. Has been in the past when he was younger, obviously. What does that image mean to the American people, a guy who can actually get into a supersonic plane and actually fly in an unpressurized cabin like an actual jet pilot?


MATTHEWS: Do you think this role, and I want to talk politically [...], the president deserves everything he's doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief? That [...] if you're going to run against him, you'd better be ready to take [that] away from him.

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White House admits fault on 'Mission Accomplished' banner

By Terence Hunt

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House said Wednesday that President Bush has paid a price for the "Mission Accomplished" banner that was flown in triumph five years ago but later became a symbol of U.S. misjudgments and mistakes in the long and costly war in Iraq.

Thursday is the fifth anniversary of Bush's dramatic landing in a Navy jet on an aircraft carrier homebound from the war. The USS Abraham Lincoln had launched thousands of airstrikes on Iraq.

"Major combat operations in Iraq have ended," Bush said at the time. "The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on Sept. 11, 2001, and still goes on." The "Mission Accomplished" banner was prominently displayed above him - a move the White House came to regret as the display was mocked and became a source of controversy.

After shifting explanations, the White House eventually said the "Mission Accomplished" phrase referred to the carrier's crew completing its 10-month mission, not the military completing its mission in Iraq. Bush, in October 2003, disavowed any connection with the "Mission Accomplished" message. He said the White House had nothing to do with the banner; a spokesman later said the ship's crew asked for the sign and the White House staff had it made by a private vendor.

"President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific and said `mission accomplished' for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission," White House press secretary Dana Perino said Wednesday. "And we have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner. And I recognize that the media is going to play this up again tomorrow, as they do every single year."

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Poll: Bush most unpopular in modern history
New poll numbers show bad news for president Bush. New poll numbers show bad news for president Bush.

WASHINGTON (CNN) A new poll suggests that George W. Bush is the most unpopular president in modern American history.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Thursday indicates that 71 percent of the American public disapprove of how Bush his handling his job as president.

"No president has ever had a higher disapproval rating in any CNN or Gallup poll; in fact, this is the first time that any president's disapproval rating has cracked the 70 percent mark," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

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White House Blocked Rule Issued to Shield Whales
By Juliet Eilperin

Thursday, May 1, 2008; Page A03 >White House officials for more than a year have blocked a rule aimed at protecting endangered North Atlantic right whales by challenging the findings of government scientists, according to documents obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The documents, which were mailed to the environmental group by an unidentified National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official, illuminate a struggle that has raged between the White House and NOAA for more than a year. In February 2007, NOAA issued a final rule aimed at slowing ships traversing some East Coast waters to 10 knots or less during parts of the year to protect the right whales, but the White House has blocked the rule from taking effect.

North Atlantic right whales, whose surviving population numbers fewer than 400, are one of the most endangered species on Earth, and scientists have warned that the loss of just one more pregnant female could doom the species. Some shipping companies have opposed the NOAA proposal, saying slowing their vessels will cost the industry money.

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Lesbos islanders dispute gay name
By Malcolm Brabant

Gay pride parade Brazil 2007
The term lesbian is now widely used to describe homosexual women

Campaigners on the Greek island of Lesbos are to go to court in an attempt to stop a gay rights organisation from using the term "lesbian".

The islanders say that if they are successful they may then start to fight the word lesbian internationally.

The issue boils down to who has the right to call themselves Lesbians.

Is it gay women, or the 100,000 people living on Greece's third biggest island - plus another 250,000 expatriates who originate from Lesbos?

The man spearheading the case, publisher Dimitris Lambrou, claims that international dominance of the word in its sexual context violates the human rights of the islanders, and disgraces them around the world.

He says it causes daily problems to the social life of Lesbos's inhabitants.

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