Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Franz Kafka’s porn brought out of the closet

13 Workers Dead: A Look at the "Shocking" and "Disgraceful" Imperial Sugar Tragedy

by Phil Mattera

VP at Imperial Sugar admits that working conditions at the plant where an explosion took the lives of 13 workers earlier this year were terrible.

Savannah Fire and Emergency Services Captain Todd Heil during the search for survivors at the site of an Imperial Sugar Refinery explosion in Port Wentworth, Georgia that killed 13. Imperial Sugar Company has been fined $8.7 million for OSHA violations in their factories in Georgia and Louisiana. (Photo: Carl Elmore / Savannah Morning News)

    "Shocking" and "disgraceful" are not the sort of words we expect to hear from a corporate executive when referring to his or her own company, but that's exactly what happened at a recent Senate hearing about the conditions at Imperial Sugar. Those descriptors made up part of the testimony of Graham H. Graham, vice president for operations at the company, which was recently hit with a proposed fine of $5 million by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in connection with conditions that caused a dust explosion earlier this year at its Port Wentworth, Georgia plant that killed 13 workers. Another fine of $3.7 million was proposed by OSHA in connection with similar problems at the company's operation in Gramercy, Louisiana.

    "It was without a doubt the dirtiest and most dangerous manufacturing plant I had ever come to," said Graham about the non-union Port Wentworth refinery, which he toured after being hired by Imperial Sugar late last year. He claimed to have pointed out more than 400 safety violations and was in the process of having them corrected when the accident occurred. CEO John Sheptor, who declined to testify at the hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, told the Associated Press that Graham has "exaggerated numerous things regularly about our facilities." Sheptor's p.r. people should have told him that line doesn't work when you have the blood of 13 workers on your hands.


Offshore drilling

Strange mission at Wilson Airport

By Cyrus Ombati And Brian Adero

Strange and unscheduled military planes from the US have in the last two months been making secretive night landings in Kenya, in what are feared as missions to move terror suspects from the country.

The night landings of US planes at Nairobi's Wilson Airport, carrying American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials have raised suspicion and controversy not only among local security agents, but also players in aviation.

Planes at Wilson Airport. Questions have been raised over US aircraft operating from the airport. PHOTO: CORRESPONDENT/

The Prescott Support Group, which has been accused in other parts of the world of being involved in renditioning terror suspects, was allowed to operate in Kenya two months ago.

Documents in our possession show that the company was allowed to fly in and out in a Gazette notice dated June 20 for two years.

Prescott Support Group, which according to the American media, has links with the CIA, applied for renewal of their licence in May, even after the Kenya Association of Air Operators (KAAO) questioned their licence and mission.

Despite the concerns, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) went ahead and granted the two-year licence although ordinarily they should have sought clearance from the Department of Defence (DOD) because of their military aircraft.

According to the Gazette notice, Prescott Group was given the secret landing licence through the US Embassy in Nairobi, whose officials we could not get a comment from on Sunday.

KCAA Director-General Chris Kuto on Sunday confirmed the operations of the planes, saying they were involved in "Turkana for mapping purposes".

Kuto said the planes carry only American soldiers and their equipment and not passengers, contrary to information from sources at Wilson Airport who had indicated that some passengers did not look like US military officers who are normally in uniform.


Tips for Spackling and Plastering a Black Hole

You might think you need to hire a professional to spackle and plaster a black hole, but you can really tackle this kind of project on your own. The first step is to carefully inspect the black hole. Stick your head right into the black hole and look around. Do you see any loose materials or galaxies in there? You can dislodge loose materials and galaxies using a regular spackling knife. Make sure you get all the galaxies you find, because there's nothing worse than a half galaxy hanging off the inside of a black hole.

After you've cleaned up inside the black hole, withdraw your head.

Next you'll need to buy some spackle and plaster. If you have a half tube left from your last spackling job, that won't be enough. You'll need a generous amount of spackle and plaster to completely fill a black hole. A good ballpark quantity is 1000 times the total amount of spackle sold in the past 500 years.

When you have your spackle and plaster beside you, you're ready to start. Make sure the mixture is firm but not too firm. Work your way from one side of the black hole to the other. Be careful not to back yourself into the black hole. If you do, it's pretty much all over.

If the black hole is really large, you might want to use chicken wire to support your spackle and plaster. Here again, you'll need generous quantities. You can bypass your local home improvement store and go straight to Perdue.

You'll need to order 500 million tons of chicken wire, at a minimum. (Don't worry about getting too much chicken wire. Any leftovers you can use for other black holes you fill in.)

Stretch the chicken wire from one side of the black hole to the other being careful not to let any of the middle wire sag too deeply into the hole. Most of the time you can gently pull the middle sag back out and pat things back into shape.

You can take satisfaction when the black hole is almost entirely filled. With the right technique, what was once a gaping hole in the universe can blend in smoothly with the surrounding space. Someone seeing your work would hardly suspect a black hole ever existed there.


McCain's biography

Coincidence? Guantanamo term ends as Bush's does

By Jane Sutton

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - It was no coincidence the U.S. military jurors at Guantanamo timed the prison sentence they gave Osama bin Laden's driver to end just before President George W. Bush's term does, legal analysts say.

The timing seems intended to give the next U.S. president who takes office on January 20 a chance to override the Bush administration's announcement that it will continue to hold convicted Yemeni captive Salim Hamdan as an "enemy combatant" in the war against terrorism after he finishes his sentence.

"My inference is that they concluded that this administration would not release Hamdan at the end of his sentence, but the next one might," said David Glazier, a national security expert who teaches at Loyola Law School.

"I think Hamdan's continued detention past the end of his sentence, although justifiable under the law of war, would be a political train wreck, and I think the panel made an effort to protect the U.S. from further international criticism."

Both major U.S. presidential candidates have said they would close the detention camp at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.


Obama compared to Britney

Targeting Obama for his choice in vacation spots

by Steve Benen

One could, I suppose, criticize Barack Obama for wanting to take a break from the campaign trail. There are just 86 days until the election, and just 15 days until the Democratic National Convention, and one might feel tempted to tell Obama, "You can rest after November 4."

But it seems Obama isn't being criticized for taking a break, so much as he's being criticized for where he's taking a break. TNR's Michael Crowley noted:

I know he grew up [in Hawaii] and all. But if Obama's being smeared as a highfalutin celebrity who is somehow "other" and distant from the American heartland, is Hawaii really the ideal vacation destination? It sounds trivial but such things can resonate…. John Kerry's staff asked him not to windsurf in the summer of 2004 and he didn't listen. The results are famous.

I might have counseled a nice cottage beside some Illinois lake with a wholesome name….

Similarly, the Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown had a 1,200-word piece yesterday on the perils of Obama spending eight days in the state of his birth.

After Kerry retreated to Nantucket during the Republican convention, footage of him windsurfing there later surfaced in an attack ad deeming him the candidate who votes "whichever way the wind blows."

"For somebody who has been called 'elitist,' going to Hawaii is not exactly going against type," [Douglas Schoen, a pollster for Clinton's reelection campaign] said. "I would rather have him going to national parks."

I suppose it's hard to know what kind of superficial concerns voters might take seriously, but all of this seems a little excessive.


Let There Be Light

Patricia Gonzalez  A long-suffering border colonia powers up with renewable energy.

by Forrest Wilder

For a decade, the onset of the stifling summer heat in South Texas meant it was time for Patricia Gonzalez and her three children to drag their mattresses out of their cramped home to sleep outside. Like their neighbors, the Gonzalezes didn't have electricity. No fans or air conditioning broke the heat. An ice chest kept the food and medication for her kids' respiratory ailments cool. When daylight faded, she and her three children did schoolwork by candlelight (Gonzalez was studying for a GED). In the summer, they would sweat; in the winter, they would shiver.

For 36 years, the people of La Presa, a dusty neighborhood set among prickly pear cactus and squat huisache trees 10 miles south of Laredo, have lived without potable water, sewer connections, drainage, and properly maintained roads. Water for drinking and cooking is hauled in by truck and stored in large, plastic barrels. Septic systems often consist of little more than a cesspool behind the house. Most of the 350 residents in this colonia—shorthand for a substandard development built in an unincorporated area without basic services—aren't connected to the electric grid. Instead, they get by with portable gas generators, electricity shared among neighbors via a daisy chain of extension cords, power poached from the grid, or nothing at all.

For 36 years, the people of La Presa, a dusty, sweltering colonia south of Laredo, have lived without electricity, potable water, or an adequate sewage system.

Now an innovative experiment has brought power to a dozen lucky residents of La Presa, including Gonzalez. By the end of the year, all 100 homes in the colonia will be hooked up to a "microgrid" provided by a partnership between a for-profit power company and the state. If the project works, it could be applied to other colonias in Texas, which has more of these substandard communities than any other state. According to the Texas Secretary of State, there are 2,300 colonias in Texas that more than 400,000 people call home.


8,000 jobs

Iraq demands "very clear" U.S. troop timeline

By Mohammed Abbas

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The United States must provide a "very clear timeline" to withdraw its troops from Iraq as part of an agreement allowing them to stay beyond this year, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Sunday.

It was the strongest public assertion yet that Iraq is demanding a timeline. U.S. President George W. Bush has long resisted setting a firm schedule for pulling troops out of Iraq, although last month the White House began speaking of a general "time horizon" and "aspirational goals" to withdraw.

Iraq's leaders have become more confident of their ability to provide security as the country has become safer. But attacks which killed at least 15 people on Sunday, including a U.S. soldier, were a reminder it is still a violent place.

In an interview with Reuters, Zebari said the agreement, including the timeline, was "very close" and would probably be presented to the Iraqi parliament in early September.

Asked if Iraq would accept a document that did not include dates for a withdrawal, Zebari said: "No, no. Definitely there has to be a very clear timeline."


Offshore Drilling: Candidates Concur on Bad Idea

In a rare burst of bipartisan consensus, Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama have agreed on a dreadful proposal: Open more of America's fragile coastlines to offshore oil drilling.

How is it awful? Let me count the ways.

1. It will do nothing for today's or tomorrow's pump prices. The U.S. Energy Department says it: Drilling in these previously banned offshore areas "would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030."

The idea that extracting more oil in the United States would uniquely benefit American consumers is also nonsense. Oil gets poured into tankers and sold to the world's highest bidders.

A Rasmussen Reports poll finds that more than two-thirds of voters want to allow this offshore exploitation. Nearly that many believe it will bring lower prices. Hence, two candidates who had sensibly opposed such drilling now talk it up.

2. It endangers some of America's most treasured environments. There is a reason for the ban on offshore drilling. Nearly 40 years ago, an oil rig blowout near Santa Barbara, Calif., let loose a black tide of crude that killed 10,000 birds, choked marine plants and fouled gorgeous California beaches from Pismo to Oxnard. That traumatic event led to the end of oil exploration off the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts.

3. Californians and Floridians detest the plan — or should. Real estate and tourism interests have joined environmentalists in opposing any move toward drilling along their oceanfronts. In much of California and Florida, real estate and tourism are the economy.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger immediately denounced the call to relax restrictions on offshore drilling, as have Florida's two senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Mel Martinez.

Sadly, recent polls show residents in those states warming to the notion of offshore drilling. Someone should replay that ghastly news footage of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill.


The McCain Plan