Monday, July 21, 2008

The Real Joker


Officials spread false 'not a drop spilled after Katrina' talking point in support of offshore oil drilling

by Nick Langewis

Former Senator turned energy lobbyist Trent Lott (R-MS) falsely claimed, during a Tuesday MSNBC appearance in support of drilling for oil offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, that Hurricane Katrina didn't cause oil spills.

"We didn't have one drop of oil [spilled] when we had the biggest hurricane in recent history, Hurricane Katrina," Lott said on Tuesday. "I think that the American people," he added, "are saying 'Look, do whatever is necessary, do it all, and do it now.'"

Former Senator and lobbyist John Breaux, a Democrat hailing from the gulf state of Louisiana, said that opponents of offshore drilling should reconsider. "We've shown that for the last sixty years you can do it safely, you can develop all natural domestic resources here in the United States, and it can be done safely."

Oil spills, in fact, numbered over 100 in the hurricane's aftermath, plaguing New Orleans and nearby areas and also contaminating the Mississippi River. The Coast Guard, MSNBC itself reported in September of 2005, estimated that 7 million gallons of oil, between 44 separate facilities around southeastern Louisiana, had been spilled as a result of the storm.



After 30 years, US to send diplomats to Iran

by Ewen MacAskill
School boy in front of an anti-US mural in Iran

A school boy poses in front of an anti-US mural in Tehran, Iran. Photograph: Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters

The US is planning to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran for the first time in 30 years, a remarkable turnaround in policy by president George Bush who has pursued a hawkish approach to Iran throughout his time in office.

The Guardian has learned that an announcement will be made in the next month to establish a US interests section in Tehran, a halfway house to setting up a full embassy. The move will see US diplomats stationed in the country.

The news comes at a critical time in US-Iranian relations. After weeks that have seen tensions rise with Israel conducting war games aimed at Iran and Tehran carrying out long-range missile tests, a thaw appears to be under way.

The White House announced today that William Burns, a senior state department official, is to be sent to Switzerland on Saturday to hear Tehran's response to a European offer aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff.

Burns is to sit down at the table with Iranian officials in spite of Bush repeatedly ruling out direct talks on the nuclear issue until Iran suspended its uranium enrichment progamme, a possible first step on the way to building a nuclear weapon capability.

The Irascible Professor

"The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet."... 


Guest commentary by Poor Elijah (Peter Berger).

Classrooms may shut down in June, but the education world never rests.  Across the nation administrators, experts, and freelance consultants are culling through their bright ideas, devising agendas and mission statements for the coming year, and writing applications for the grants that will hopefully fund those next new things.  Here's a summer sampler of what they have on their minds so you know what to expect in September.

No Child Left Behind, the nation's federal education law, may have taken a backseat to the rocketing price of gasoline in the public mind, but policymakers haven't lost their focus.  In an effort to rationalize the billions of dollars and classroom hours devoured by NCLB, the Center on Education Policy, a Washington think tank, recently released a double dose of "good news" that "student achievement is increasing, and the [racial] achievement gap is narrowing."  The evidence underlying this optimistic conclusion was spelled out in Education Week's definitive headline "Since NCLB Law, Test Scores on Rise."

Well, not exactly.  Looking behind the headline, the scores in question are actually the percentages of each state's students that have satisfied their state's own definition of "proficient" on their state's own test.  With reviews of modern assessment typically running somewhere between skeptical and scathing, these often subjectively-derived rubric ratings dressed up as data have been further compromised by NCLB's looming 2014 deadline, by which date all of each state's students must be performing at the "proficient" level, or else.  Since human beings of any age will never all be academically proficient by any date, state definitions of proficiency have eased as the deadline has loomed closer.

Further dimming the rosy first impression, while student scores appear to have risen somewhat on state tests, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the "nation's report card," haven't shown the same gains.  In 2007 the National Center for Education Statistics found not only "absolutely huge" variations among states' standards, but also that the "gaps" between NAEP data and states' own testing results "have grown to unprecedented levels" since NCLB became law.  Many states claiming more widespread "proficiency" have simply "set less stringent standards for meeting that threshold," leading to grave doubts as to whether gains on state tests are "real or illusory."  Even if the improved scores were in any way meaningful, the report concludes that it's "impossible" from their results to determine whether NCLB has "produced gains or decreases in student learning."

NCLB's excesses aside, the present decade has seen schools beginning to veer back from the touchy-feely, content-light "reforms" that have governed public education since the 1970s.  Perhaps students are learning more now because more schools are rightfully refocusing on core academics.

Don't start celebrating yet.  The experts who helped bring you the past thirty years of education decline are attempting to capitalize on the understandable dissatisfaction with NCLB and to resuscitate their old bankrupt reforms as if they weren't responsible for the scholastic disaster NCLB was commissioned to repair.  One resuscitator calls for "new forms of school and schooling."  He faults "traditional" schools because they "cannot ensure that all students will learn."  In short, he rejects nearly everything about NCLB except its impossible objective.

Synthetic Pot as a Military Weapon? Meet the Man Who Ran the Secret Program


By Martin A. Lee

Dr. James Ketchum tested a potent form of synthetic marijuana on soldiers to develop a secret weapon in the '60s. Now he's telling the tale.

It was billed as a panel discussion on "the global shift in human consciousness." A half-dozen speakers had assembled inside the Heebie Jeebie Healers tent at Burning Man, the annual post-hippie celebration in Black Rock, Nev., where 50,000 stalwarts braved intense dust storms and flash floods last August. Among the notables who spoke at the early evening forum was Dr. Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin, the Bay Area-based psychochemical genius much beloved among the Burners, who synthesized Ecstasy and 200 other psychoactive drugs and tested each one on himself during his unique, offbeat career.

Sitting on the panel next to Shulgin was an unlikely expositor. Dr. James S. Ketchum, a retired U.S. Army colonel, told the audience, "When Sasha was trying to open minds with chemicals to achieve greater awareness, I was busy trying to subdue people."

Ketchum was referring to his work at Edgewood Arsenal, headquarters of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, in the 1960s, when America's national security strategists were high on the prospect of developing a nonlethal incapacitating agent, a so-called humane weapon, that could knock people out without necessarily killing anyone. Top military officers hyped the notion of "war without death," conjuring visions of aircraft swooping over enemy territory releasing clouds of "madness gas" that would disorient the bad guys and dissolve their will to resist, while U.S. soldiers moved in and took over.

Terrorism Funds May Let Brass Fly in Style

Luxury Pods for Air Force Debated

An Air Force document specified that the capsule's seats are to swivel such that "the longitudinal axis of the seat is parallel to the longitudinal axis of the aircraft" regardless of where the capsules are facing.
An Air Force document specified that the capsule's seats are to swivel such that "the longitudinal axis of the seat is parallel to the longitudinal axis of the aircraft" regardless of where the capsules are facing.
The Air Force's new capsules, which will fit in large aircraft, are meant to ensure that senior military officers and civilian leaders can travel in comfort.



The Air Force's top leadership sought for three years to spend counterterrorism funds on "comfort capsules" to be installed on military planes that ferry senior officers and civilian leaders around the world, with at least four top generals involved in design details such as the color of the capsules' carpet and leather chairs, according to internal e-mails and budget documents.

Production of the first capsule -- consisting of two sealed rooms that can fit into the fuselage of a large military aircraft -- has already begun.

Air Force officials say the government needs the new capsules to ensure that leaders can talk, work and rest comfortably in the air. But the top brass's preoccupation with creating new luxury in wartime has alienated lower-ranking Air Force officers familiar with the effort, as well as congressional staff members and a nonprofit group that calls the program a waste of money.

Air Force documents spell out how each of the capsules is to be "aesthetically pleasing and furnished to reflect the rank of the senior leaders using the capsule," with beds, a couch, a table, a 37-inch flat-screen monitor with stereo speakers, and a full-length mirror.

The effort has been slowed, however, by congressional resistance to using counterterrorism funds for the project and by lengthy internal deliberations about a series of demands for modifications by Air Force generals. One request was that the color of the leather for the seats and seat belts in the mobile pallets be changed from brown to Air Force blue and that seat pockets be added; another was that the color of the table's wood be darkened.

Changing the seat color and pockets alone was estimated in a March 12 internal document to cost at least $68,240.


Not to be outdone in the hopeless military adventurism department, Barack Obama promises a "surge"--not in Iraq, but against the people of Afghanistan, who are even more fiercely opposed to U.S. occupation than Iraqis.

Senate: UBS, Liechtenstein aided US tax cheats

GENEVA (AP) - A U.S. Senate subcommittee accused banks in Switzerland and Liechtenstein of helping wealthy Americans evade billions in taxes each year, and urged the establishment of tougher laws to combat offshore tax havens around the world.

In a report released late Wednesday, the Senate subcommittee on investigations estimated that offshore abuses were costing U.S. taxpayers about $100 billion a year.

It recommended a range of reforms to squeeze tax cheats, including more stringent U.S. requirements for foreign banks and harsher penalties for financial institutions failing to provide the Internal Revenue Service with details on all accounts their American clients are holding.