Monday, May 24, 2010

Let's get some terms straight

Iran renews offer to help on US oil spill

The National Iranian Drilling Company (NIDC) has renewed its offer to assist the US in reining in an ecologically disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mehran Alinejad, the head of special drilling operations at NIDC, pointed to the experience gained by Iranian experts in containing huge oil leaks during the eight-year Iraqi-imposed war in the 1980s, and said, "Iranian technical teams have had major achievements in oil well capping and the Gulf of Mexico oil rig is not a great feat in comparison."

"There is, at any rate, an ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and its negative consequences will affect everyone. That is why if we receive a suitable response from relevant [American] officials we can examine the issue and contribute to its resolution," Alinejad was quoted by IRNA as saying.

Since April, when an explosion on a BP-operated oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 employees and triggered a major oil spill, Iran has twice offered to help the US avoid the looming ecological catastrophe.

Washington, which has been pressing on with a campaign to impose a fourth round of tough UN sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program, has yet to respond to the Iranian offer.

Qatar's offer to help rebuild Gaza is snubbed by Netanyahu

Government fears that conditions of Gulf state's deal would benefit Hamas

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

The Emir of Qatar had offered supplies to Gaza to help reconstruction projects in its deal with IsraelIsrael has turned down an offer from Qatar for a reopening of diplomatic contacts between the two countries in return for the Gulf state being allowed to import supplies to Gaza to carry out a series of badly needed reconstruction projects.

Qatar had proposed a major thawing of relations between the two countries in which Israel would have been allowed to reopen its official interests office, shut down on the orders of the emirate during the military onslaught on Gaza in January 2009.

But in return it wanted an easing of the three-year blockade of Gaza to allow a major increase in imports of cement and construction materials to start rebuilding war-ravaged sectors of the besieged territory.

But senior government officials have confirmed that he and other key ministers were not prepared to accept the conditions set by Qatar's royal family on the grounds that some of the materials might have fallen into the hands of Hamas, and used for military purposes.

L.A. Loses Deep-Fryer, 45 Percent of Items Purchased With Taxpayer Funds

lost. tragically lostIn budget-crunched L.A., a new report finds that 45 percent of items purchased with taxpayer dollars have gone missing [PDF].

(Los Angeles) – City Controller Wendy Greuel released an audit today showing that various City departments could not locate hundreds of items purchased with taxpayer funds, and that hundreds of other items had been sitting unopened or unused for up to 7 years....

* Of 254 items that we attempted to locate, 115 were not where they should have been. While 56 items were ultimately found in the wrong location, 59 were unable to be located at a cost of $938,000.
—Some of the items that were never found included a video recorder purchased by ITA for almost $60,000.
* Departments are supposed to conduct a physical inventory of items every two years to maintain accurate physical inventories of equipment. ITA and Sanitation have not conducted a review in at least 5 years and Recreation and Parks has not conducted a review of all items in at least 7 years.
* ITA and Recreation and Parks have 138 items that were purchased at least 1 year ago, still in warehouses or staging areas. These items are worth $237,000, and some were purchased over 7 years ago.
—Some of the items not placed into service included 9 microwaves, 1 deep fryer and 2 television sets by the Recreation and Parks Department and various computer equipment by ITA.

Rep. Alan Grayson Introduces the "War Is Making You Poor" Act


By Joshua Holland

Last week, as Congress prepared to pass yet another "emergency" spending bill to cover America's costly operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- to the tune of $159 billion this time around -- Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, introduced a bill that would force the Pentagon to pick up the tab out of its ample regular budget.   

The War Is Making You Poor Act is elegant in its simplicity. Instead of financing these longstanding conflicts outside of the regular budgeting process, where they're not factored into deficit projections, Grayson's bill would make the DoD work within its means, and the money would instead be used for an across-the-board tax cut that would make the first $35,000 each American earns tax-free. 

"The purpose of this bill," wrote Grayson last week, "is to connect the dots, and to show people in a real and concrete way the cost of these endless wars." It's not just the costs of active shooting wars; with hundreds of bases overseas, as far as the defense budget is concerned Americans have been on a permanent wartime footing, to varying degrees, since Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. "War is a permanent feature of our societal landscape," wrote Grayson, "so much so that no one notices it anymore." 

The bill already has several co-sponsors, including at least two Republicans (albeit maverick GOPers Ron Paul of Texas and Walter Jones of South Carolina). But since the Pentagon would have to take money out of its regular budget -- largely from the budget for newfangled hardware -- the DoD and influential defense contractors will no doubt fight it tooth-and-nail.  

But the War Is Making You Poor Act might have a major impact on our national dialogue regardless. It highlights in a visceral way what Americans lose by privileging money for guns over butter. "The costs of the war have been rendered invisible," wrote Grayson. "There's no draft. Instead, we take the most vulnerable elements of our population, and give them a choice between unemployment and missile fodder. Government deficits conceal the need to pay in cash for the war." Grayson's measure might just shine a bright light on those "opportunity costs."  

Budgeting is all about priorities, and the bill can raise public awareness of that fact. The Right has done a remarkable job convincing the American public that tax dollars used for programs that help the middle class or the poor are dollars "taken out of your pocket," but no such consideration is given to the trillions spent on financing our military operations.

Today Is the Day (May 20) Obama Swore He'd Have Iraq Withdrawal Complete

By dswanson

Candidate Obama said innumerable times that ending the war in Iraq would be the first thing he would do:

And he said many, many times that he would do so by beginning immediately to pull out one to two brigades per month and be done in 16 months, in other words: now:

When President Bush failed to pull out of Iraq, Senator Obama in 2007 said that Congress should overrule the president and end the war in order to represent the American people. Not a bad idea:

California Throws Away Enough Food to Fill 35 Stadiums

I had a recent personal encounter with this waste myself.  I ate a late dinner at a Whole Foods sushi bar.  It was only 15 minutes before they closed, so I quickly ordered some food.  What did they do 15 minutes later with the 100, or so, pre-made sushi plates?  Well, I watched in horror as the clerk pulled out a giant trash bucket and nonchalantly started dumping everything into it.  Next time, I'll just wait fifteen minutes and head straight for the trash can.


What's worse than being one of the five million people in California who can't afford to buy groceries? It's living in a state that wastes enough food each year to fill the Staples Center 35 times over.

Despite an uptick in food insecurity, California throws away 6 million tons of edible food every year, according to a new analysis by California Watch and the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. What's even more startling is that food accounts for more than 15 percent of California's total waste stream.

This really isn't big news — as a country, we waste 40 percent of the food available for consumption — but the astonishing thing to me is the excuses some companies and individuals give for not donating perfectly good food to people and organizations that really need it.

Many grocers say that they are reluctant to donate perishable items to hunger relief programs because they fear being held liable if someone gets sick from eating the food. However, there are fairly well-known federal and state laws that shield companies that donate food in good faith from responsibility if an illness occurs. If I can find these laws by doing some simple Googling, why can't a multi-million dollar corporation with a giant legal department figure it out? Seems like a pretty poor excuse to me.

Power Play Over Immigration Law


An Arizona utility commissioner said he's willing to pull the plug onLos Angeles if the city goes through with a boycott of his state.

In a letter to the city of LA, a member of Arizona's power commission said he would ask Arizona utility companies to cut off the power supply to Los Angeles. LA gets about 25 percent of its power from Arizona.

"That is one commissioner who has that idea — whether he can do that or not is another idea," said LA Councilman Dennis Zine. "They are the ones who have to make the move, not us."

The commissioner's power grid play is in response to the city's approval of a resolution directing city staff to consider which contracts with Arizona can be terminated.

Here's part Arizona Corporation Commission member Gary Pierce's letter to the mayor:

If an economic boycott is truly what you desire, I will be happy to encourage Arizona utilities to renegotiate your power agreements so Los Angeles no longer receives any power from Arizona-based generation.

I am confident that Arizona's utilities would be happy to take those electrons off your hands. If, however, you find that the City Council lacks the strength of its convictions to turn off the lights in Los Angeles and boycott Arizona power, please reconsider the wisdom of attempting to harm Arizona's economy.

The full text was sent to the blog Hot Air.

Obama wins the right to detain people with no habeas review

Glenn Greenwald

Few issues highlight Barack Obama's extreme hypocrisy the way that Bagram does. As everyone knows, one of George Bush's most extreme policies was abducting people from all over the world -- far away from any battlefield -- and then detaining them at Guantanamo with no legal rights of any kind, not even the most minimal right to a habeas review in a federal court.  Back in the day, this was called "Bush's legal black hole."  In 2006, Congress codified that policy by enacting the Military Commissions Act, but in 2008, the Supreme Court, in Boumediene v. Bush, ruled that provision unconstitutional, holding that the Constitution grants habeas corpus rights even to foreign nationals held at Guantanamo.  Since then, detainees have won 35 out of 48 habeas hearings brought pursuant to Boumediene, on the ground that there was insufficient evidence to justify their detention.

Immediately following Boumediene, the Bush administration argued that the decision was inapplicable to detainees at Bagram -- including even those detained outside of Afghanistan but then flown to Afghanistan to be imprisoned.  Amazingly, the Bush DOJ -- in a lawsuit brought by Bagram detainees seeking habeas review of their detention -- contended that if they abduct someone and ship them to Guantanamo, then that person (under Boumediene) has the right to a habeas hearing, but if they instead ship them to Bagram, then the detainee has no rights of any kind.  In other words, the detainee's Constitutional rights depends on where the Government decides to drop them off to be encaged.  One of the first acts undertaken by the Obama DOJ that actually shocked civil libertarians was when, last February, as The New York Times put it, Obama lawyers "told a federal judge that military detainees in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their imprisonment there, embracing a key argument of former President Bush's legal team."

But last April, John Bates, the Bush-43-appointed, right-wing judge overseeing the case, rejected the Bush/Obama position and held that Boumediene applies to detainees picked up outside of Afghanistan and then shipped to Bagram.  I reviewed that ruling here, in which Judge Bates explained that the Bagram detainees are "virtually identical to the detainees in Boumediene," and that the Constitutional issue was exactly the same:  namely, "the concern that the President could move detainees physically beyond the reach of the Constitution and detain them indefinitely."  

But the Obama administration was undeterred by this loss.  They quickly appealed Judge Bates' ruling.  As the NYT put it about that appeal:  "The decision signaled that the administration was not backing down in its effort to maintain the power to imprison terrorism suspects for extended periods without judicial oversight."  Today, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals adopted the Bush/Obama position, holding that even detainees abducted outside of Afghanistan and then shipped to Bagram have no right to contest the legitimacy of their detention in a U.S. federal court, because Boumediene does not apply to prisons located within war zones (such as Afghanistan).

So congratulations to the United States and Barack Obama for winning the power to abduct people anywhere in the world and then imprison them for as long as they want with no judicial review of any kind.

How to avoid Chinese censors


An image by Tenzing Gaychey (བསྟེན་འཇི༹ན་ དགེ་ཆེ་), a Toronto-based graphic designer originally from Kathmandu, Nepal