Monday, February 2, 2009

If movie posters were honest

Bush Punk'd Us Again

David LattA lot of ink was spilled by many writers, myself included, who were convinced that President Bush would pardon key members of his administration before he left office. We were certain he would protect Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, Gonzales and others who were important architects of his expansion of executive power. As January 19th approached we beat the war drums ever more loudly, hoping to keep the issue in the public's eye. We believed that by publicizing the issue Bush wouldn't be able to hide in the shadows and sign pardons without public notice.

And then on January 20th Barack Obama was inaugurated as our 44th president. We took a collective breath and relaxed. Apparently Bush really didn't believe in granting pardons.

Think again.

Michael Isikoff reported for Newsweek that while many of us were fomenting about Bush preemptively pardoning at-risk members of his administration, he and his lawyer Fred Fielding (White House Counsel) were concocting one last expansion of executive privilege. Four days before he left office, Mr. Bush authorized Fielding to write letters to Harriet Miers and Karl Rove giving them "absolute immunity" from Congressional inquiry and prosecution. Preemptively. In perpetuity. Absolute and irrevocable.

The letters set the stage for what is likely to be a highly contentious legal and political battle over an unresolved issue: whether a former president can assert "executive privilege" -- and therefore prevent his aides from testifying before Congress -- even after his term has expired.

These letters were delivered before Congress or any prosecutor had initiated action against Miers and Rove. Clearly Bush sought to inoculate Rove and Miers from all attempts to prosecute them for their actions during his administration. Only when John Conyers (Chairman, House Judiciary Committee) subpoenaed Mr. Rove did the letters come to light. Waving his letter in the air, Karl Rove refused to appear before the committee.

In December while Bush was giving a round-robin of legacy interviews proclaiming his two terms as successes, Vice President Dick Cheney was taking his own victory lap. In two of those interviews he said something interesting: I authorized the CIA's use of torture and I did it because my boss wanted me to. The Vice President had pointed a smoking gun right at Bush's heart. Cheney was clearly prodding Bush to issue pardons to protect his underlings AND to protect himself.

Every protective measure by Bush is self-protective. If Karl Rove and Harriet Miers don't testify under oath, then they can't reveal what Bush agreed to and authorized. How many more such letters did Bush have Fielding write?

Charts: 3

Square feet per person in various nations

To what extent do we feel overcrowded, as a species? I'm not talking about resources; just psychological factors.

To create this chart I turned to the CIA Factbook, where I looked up the populations of various nations and then divided this number into their land area (excluding lakes and rivers) to get the number of square feet available per person. I represented the results in squares that are all drawn to the same scale.

Of course if you are in Australia, where each resident has almost 4 million square feet to play with, you won't make full use of your land ration, if only because most of it is desert. On the other hand, when I was in Australia I did feel intuitively aware that the country was, so to speak, empty. As soon as I drove out of an urban area, the emptiness was right there. Conversely, in Hong Kong, where citizens have barely more than 1,600 square feet each, everyone is intensely aware of being crammed into a very crowded place.

Publishers Clearinghouse

A best-selling author proposes the most improbable bailout yet.

Of the many once-mighty American industries now on life support, from cars to banks to newspapers, few are struggling more than book publishing. Last month, the major publishing houses announced layoffs, pay freezes, and reorganizations. Even the leading publisher of Bibles—a countercyclical item if ever there was one—had to cut 10 percent of its work force.

The troubles of one print industry are spilling over into another. On Monday, Publishers Weekly laid off 7 percent of its staff, including its editor-in-chief. Today, the Washington Post confirmed a New York Times report that the Post will soon suspend "Book World," its Sunday book review supplement. The Times says that will leave only two major papers with stand-alone book supplements—the Sunday Times Book Review and the San Francisco Chronicle Book section.

In response to the publishing world's troubles, historian and best-selling author Douglas Brinkley has floated what may be the most improbable bailout yet: a federal subsidy for book reviews. Brinkley told the Times, "Like public television, I think book review sections almost need to get subsidized to keep the intellectual life in America alive. … So if we can do that for radio and we could do it for television, why can't we do it for the book industry, which is suffering terribly right now?"

My heart goes out to my friends in the publishing world, and I'll miss "Book World" as much as the next guy. But if there's one stimulus idea that could put a smile back on Republican faces, Brinkley may have found it. A subsidy for critics would have every Republican in Congress dusting off Teddy Roosevelt's speech about how it's not the critic who counts, but the man in the arena. And since the Obama administration is demanding a rescue package based on what works, proponents of the Brinkley plan would have to acknowledge that from Savonarola to Joyce to Solzhenitsyn, the track record of government-sponsored criticism is not good.

No need for condoms – GE corn can do the job


India — New research from Austria shows that a commercial strain of Monsanto-made GE corn causes mice to have fewer and weaker babies. What is this doing to human fertility?

Regulators around the world said Monsanto's GE corn was as safe as non-GE strains.

It has been approved in many countries and regions including the US, the EU, Argentina, Japan, Philippines and South Africa.

China approved the GE corn for animal feed back in 2005.

Until this research, under the Austrian Ministries for Agriculture and Health, none of the regulators had seriously questioned the safety of Monsanto's GE corn.

The biotech industry is playing a game of genetic roulette with our food and with our health.

The GE corn research

Austrian scientists fed mice over a course of 20 weeks a mixture of 33 percent Monsanto GE corn (NK 603 x MON 810) and non-GE corn.

These mice gave birth to less babies and lighter babies in their third and fourth litters. Mice fed on non-GE corn had babies as normal.

These differences are statistically significant.

Israeli troops shot and killed zoo animals

By Ashraf Helmi, Videographer, and Megan Hirons, Photographer

The Gaza Zoo reeks of death. But zookeeper Emad Jameel Qasim doesn't appear to react to the stench as he walks around the animals' enclosures.

Watch video of Gaza zoo carnage

A month ago, it was attracting families - he says the zoo drew up to 1,000 visitors each day. He points at the foot-long hole in the camel in one of the enclosures.

"This camel was pregnant, a missile went into her back," he tells us. "Look, look at her face. She was in pain when she died."

Around every corner, inside almost every cage are dead animals, who have been lying in their cages since the Israeli incursion.

Qasim doesn't understand why they chose to destroy his zoo. And it's difficult to disagree with him. Most of them have been shot at point blank range.



Sarkozy offers new help for French print media


Sarkozy also announced a ninefold rise in the state's support for newspaper deliveries and a doubling of its annual print advertising outlay amid a swelling industry crisis.

Sarkozy argued in a speech to publishers that the measures are needed because the global financial crisis has compounded woes for a sector already suffering from falling ad revenues and subscriptions.

In a speech to industry leaders, Sarkozy said it was legitimate for the state to consider the print media's economic situation.

"It is indeed its responsibility ... to make sure an independent, free and pluralistic press exists," he said.

This is sensitive territory for Sarkozy, who has been accused of cozying up to media moguls and exerting influence over them. He is also no stranger to heavy criticism in the country's often opinionated newspapers.

In measures to take effect next month, the state will increase its annual support for newspaper and magazine deliveries to euro70 million ($90 million) from euro8 million last year, and spend euro20 million more a year for its advertisements in print publications. The state will also defer some fees the publications face.

One of Sarkozy's solutions to help the industry is a pilot program that will give teenagers celebrating their 18th birthday a free, yearlong subscription to any general news daily of their choice. The publisher is to give the newspapers away, while the state pays for the deliveries.

Bush shoe thrower statue is being removed

by The Intellectual Redneck

I must say former President Bush took this incident with great dignity and decent reaction time. Well, as much dignity as you can have while having a shoe lobbed at you. I wonder if President Obama would be so gracious? He seems much quicker to anger than former President Bush.
Police Order Statue Dedicated to Bush Shoe-Thrower Removed

BAGHDAD — The director of an orphanage in Tikrit says she must remove the shoe sculpture set up to honor the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at former U.S. President George W. Bush. Excerpted from

The End Of Alternative Comic Strips

Part One: The Beginning Of The End

Earlier this week Village Voice Media suspended publication of all its comic strips across its entire chain of alternative weekly papers in a cost-cutting move. Let me restate this so the significance sinks in: Village Voice Media suspended publication of ALL its comic strip across its ENTIRE CHAIN of alternative weekly papers. For those who don't know, Village Voice Media owns fifteen papers in key cities like New York and LA and is a huge component of the alternative comic strip lifeblood. With roughly one hundred thirty alternative weekly papers in the USA, shutting out fifteen papers accounts for a drop in 12% of the print outlets alternative comic artists can see their work published. This is a huge blow to the alternative comics industry. In addition, across the board, the other 88% of papers have been cutting comics in hopes of staying afloat in the tough economic times. On top of the loss of these fifteen papers, a lot of the cartoonists who were syndicated by them have already, or soon will, lose outlets in the one hundred other non VVM-owned papers. This is a big deal.

The alternative comic market is very tight. There are a vast number of artists fighting for an ever-shrinking bottleneck of space. Particularly as not only have comics been cut to save money in papers, but the papers themselves are going out of business. And when they're not going out of business, they're being acquired by chains like VVM--the largest in the publishing groups of alternative weeklies--which streamline their material to feature less original content and more syndicated content to save money. That means, with some exceptions, publishing the same three comics in all of their papers for uniformity. According to the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies website, chains account for forty-seven of the one hundred thirty alternative weekly papers. VVM owns fifteen papers, Creative Loafing owns six, Time Shamrock five, Southland Publishing four, Portico Publications three, Phoenix Media three, News and Review three, New Mass. Media three, Metro Newspapers three, and City of Roses two. I have no idea how similar papers are to sister papers within the chains, but as far as VVM is concerned, streamlining and syndication is a big trend.

So a market that is already tough to break into and survive in has now been made even tougher by this decision. With other papers facing the same economic hardships and susceptible to the hive-mind approach that takes place in media industries, it's not unrealistic to expect that many will soon follow the path that VVM has started. And even if they don't (or don't immediately), let me stress again that this is 12% of the market completely wiped off the face of the earth in one day. And that's cataclysmic.

New pornography laws 'could make comic books illegal', say campaigners

New laws designed to tackle extreme and child pornography could make owning mainstream comics like Batman or Judge Dredd illegal, campaigners claim.

Comic books: New pornography laws 'could make comic books illegal', say campaigners They are protesting against two pieces of legislation. The first, the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, comes into force later this month.

It will make possessing "extreme pornography" - defined as any "extreme image" produced "solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal" - illegal.

The Government defines an "extreme image" as any "grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise ... obscene" moving or still depiction of someone any "reasonable person" would think real being sexually injured or engaging in sexual activity with an animal or corpse.

Films given an official classification are exempt from the new law, meaning portrayals of such extreme activity by actors will be allowed on screen. However, imitations by characters on paper will not enjoy such an exemption.

The second is the Coroners and Justice Bill, which is currently passing through Parliament. It will introduce a similar law banning the possession of any image involving sexual activity and children. For the purpose of the law, an image is said to contain a child if "the impression conveyed ... is that the person shown is a child".

The comic book campaigners claim that if the new rules are interpreted harshly, their hobby could be criminalised.

In a statement,, a comic fans' website, said of the rules outlawing sexual violence: "Isn't that how Batman, Punisher, Judge Dredd get anything done?

Scout councils defend logging of their lands

An aerial view shows loggers harvesting timber at Camp Delezene Boy Scout Camp near Elma, Wash. (Gilbert W. Arias / Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

"The Boy Scouts were green before it was cool to be green," said national spokesman Deron Smith.

But in recent decades, local Boy Scout councils around the nation have ordered clear-cutting or other high-impact logging on tens of thousands of acres of forestland they own, often in a quest for a different kind of green: cash.

A Hearst Newspapers investigation has found dozens of cases in which the scouts ordered the logging of prime woodlands or sold them to big timber interests and developers, turning quick money instead of seeking ways to save the trees.

"In public, they say they want to teach kids about saving the environment," said Jane Childers, a longtime scouting volunteer in Washington state who has fought against scouts' logging. "But in reality, it's all about the money."

Scout councils nationwide have hired loggers to carry out clear-cutting and salvage harvests in ecosystems that provided habitat for a host of protected species, including salmon, timber wolves, bald eagles and spotted owls, records show.

At times, the scout councils have logged or sold wild properties that had been bequeathed specifically for use as scout camps.

In some cases, councils have sought revenues from logging or land sales to make up for funding lost because of the organization's controversial bans on gays and atheists.

Iraq to Deny New License To Blackwater Security Firm

U.S. Embassy's Preferred Contractor Accused of Killings

MOSUL, Iraq, Jan. 28 -- The Iraqi government has informed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that it will not issue a new operating license to Blackwater Worldwide, the embassy's primary security company, which has come under scrutiny for allegedly using excessive force while protecting American diplomats, Iraqi and U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Iraq's Interior Ministry conveyed its decision to U.S. officials in Baghdad on Friday, in one of the boldest moves the government has made since the Jan. 1 implementation of a security agreement with the United States that sharply curbed American power in Iraq.

Blackwater employees who have not been accused of improper conduct will be allowed to continue working as private security contractors in Iraq if they switch employers, Iraqi officials said Wednesday.

Where's the arm?

We're in a recession, but there are few businesses doing quite as well as the weapons industry. I'm going to give it a go

I've decided to start manufacturing weapons. Nothing too ambitious, just some small arms, a few automatic weapons, and maybe a couple of bombs. You know the sort of thing.

It's not that I'm keen on killing people. I haven't actually killed anyone myself yet. It's all to do with economics.

You see, I can't help but notice that the arms industry is doing extremely well. In fact in these times of economic disaster, it's the one industry that seems to be expanding. According to the government, the UK has become the top global defence exporter, notching up a golden £10bn of new business and snagging a walloping 33% of the market.

In fact the UK is now the second biggest player in the global arms market, with a whizzo $53bn of sales over the past five years, compared with America's $63bn, and Russia's measly $33bn, France's pathetic $17bn, and Germany and Israel trailing at $9bn each.

And, even in these difficult economic times, things look good for the future too. In 2007, global arms buying rose by 6% to £1.3tn. And, according to the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, the US spent $696bn last year and is set to increase that to $706bn this year.

US operations in Iraq are currently costing $14m per hour. That's $343m per day or $3,973 per second. By the time you finish reading this, the US will have spent another $1m in Iraq and Afghanistan combined! That's an awful lot of gravy to share around, and I wouldn't mind putting my knees under the arms industry's table.

What I admire about the arms industry is that it's willing to put its money where its mouth is, when it comes to promoting its members' interests. And it has a lot of money.

Last summer, for example, the National Rifle Association of America announced that it intended to spend $40m during the 2008 elections. That's quite a lot isn't it? And $15m was earmarked merely to persuade Americans that Barack Obama would be a threat to gun ownership in the US. They wouldn't throw that sort of money around if they didn't think it was going to do some good. And of course it does.

In the 2000 presidential race, the arms industry gave George W Bush five times the donations it gave to Al Gore. And Bush duly showed his thanks by doubling the expenditure on defence from just over $333bn in 2001 to $696bn in 2008.

And since November, the outgoing president has rushed through a whole slew of arms export deals, just to make sure his friends in the arms industry survive any economic downturn.

With friends like that, I know I'm going to feel right at home as an arms manufacturer.

Bumper sticker of the week