Undernews For 1 November 2009

Published: Mon 2 Nov 2009 10:17 AM
Since 1964, the news while there's still time to do something about it
October 31, 2009
You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. - Anne Lamott
10/29/2009 | Comments
Chattanooga Pulse - The List - Healthy Halloween Trick-Or-Treating Written by Pulse Staff
1. The smaller, the better. Buy only "fun size" or better yet, "mini."
2. Select candy that offers sugar-free options.
3. Buy value packs of sugarless gum.
4. Buy the handy portion-control craze and hand out 100-calorie packs of snacks (look for fun Halloween designs).
5. Pretzels are always a favorite, especially when small bags are designed for Halloween.
6. Stock up on 100 percent fruit chews or fruit "leathers". Dried pineapple rings (unsweetened) are super sweet and chewy - very satisfying.
7. Avoid the candy corn - it stays in molars and causes dental havoc.
8. Learn to like dark chocolate. It's healthy and has less sugar.
Halloween is one of the favorite holidays for all children. The reason is simple: free candy!
But, as a responsible parent trying to help keep your kids from joining in the growing youth obesity epidemic, there are ways to keep trick-or-treating healthier. . . The other thing you can do (and really should do) is to go through the haul your little costumed kid collected on his or her rounds of the neighborhood or mall. Not just to check for safety reasons, but to clear out the really bad stuff. One excellent parenting tip is to have a stash of "good" candy on hand to trade out for the treats you take from the bag.
Lenore Skenazy, Huffington Post - Forget all the guys in Bernie Madoff masks and tutus. If you want to see something really scary on Halloween, come to my apartment around 9 p.m. I'm letting my kids eat unwrapped candy.
They can eat any homemade goodies they get, too, and that unholy of unholies: candy where the wrapper is slightly torn. And on the very off chance they get an apple, they can gnaw it to the core, so long as there's not a razor-sized, dripping gash on the side. . .
It's not that I'm cavalier about safety. I'm just a sucker -- so to speak -- for the facts. And the fact is: No child has been poisoned by a stranger's goodies on Halloween, ever, as far as we can determine. Joel Best, a sociology professor at the University of Delaware, studied November newspapers from 1958 to the present, scouring them for any accounts of kids felled by felonious candy. And he didn't find any. He did find one account of a boy poisoned by a Pixie Stix his father gave him. Dad did it for the insurance money and, Best says, he probably figured that so many kids are poisoned on Halloween, no one would notice one more. . .
It's not just the fact that churches and community centers are throwing parties so that kids don't go out on their own. It's not just the fact that Bobtown, Pennsylvania has gone so far as to "cancel" Halloween altogether -- for the sake of "safety." . . .
No, the truly spooky thing is that Halloween has become a riot of warnings that are way scarier than the holiday itself. The website recommends that if your child is carrying a fake butcher knife, make sure the tip is "smooth and flexible enough to not cause injury if fallen upon.". . .
In England last year a man was ordered by his landlord to take down his lawn decorations because the zombies were too "realistic."
Our fears are so overblown they'd be laughable if they didn't sound so much like the fears that are haunting us the rest of the year. Fears that have lead to parents to wait with their kids at the school bus stop, and keep them inside on sunny afternoons. Fears that make parents forbid their kids from skipping down the street to invite a friend out to play. That's the everyday version of Halloween fear: The fear that we cannot trust our children amongst our neighbors for one single second because, who knows, they might be pedophiles just waiting to pounce.
If you want to see what childhood is becoming, look how at what Halloween has already become: A parent-planned, climate-controlled, child-coddled, corporate-sponsored "event," where kids are considered too delicate to even survive the sight of a scary costume.
Skenazy is founder of and author of "Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry."
10/31/2009 | Comments
Christian Science Monitor - A number of analysts are convinced that not all the photos being released of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, are really photos of Kim Jong-il.
Instead, they say, a look-alike has been standing in for him on some of the 122 trips he's reportedly made this year to the countryside, factories, cultural events, military units, and all sorts of other venues.
Some observers say the North Korean leader is too ill to make all these appearances. One Japanese analyst claims President Clinton didn't meet with Kim Jong-il in August - he met with a Mr. Kim double.
The evidence of Kim stand-ins is far from verified, but several North Korean refugees here say that Kim has not one but several look-alikes playing his role.
Still, it's logical that for security reasons, Kim has one or more stand-ins, as did former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before the US invasion in 2003. One argument is that Kim has no time for all those trips outside Pyongyang while his health remains uncertain and he's preparing his youngest son to take over as early as next year. .
10/31/2009 | Comments
World Socialist - In a ceremony Wednesday, Barack Obama signed legislation authorizing the largest ever military budget, a gargantuan $680 billion for the Pentagon, including $130 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Thursday, he signed a spending bill funneling another $44 billion into the Department of Homeland Security. . .
Obama signed the record Pentagon budget less than three weeks after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. . .
10/31/2009 | Comments
There's been a lot of talk lately about how the Internet is hurting traditional print media. But this story tells something different. In the first nine months of the year subscription revenue was down only 3.6% but ad revenue was down 27%. More significantly, the Post's online income was down 12%. That's not the Internet's fault. You can't even blame it on Craigslist which has been going a lot longer than nine months.
Washington Post - Third-quarter profit at The Washington Post Co. rose 68 percent compared with the same period last year, as the flagship newspaper trimmed losses and the company's education and cable businesses kept growing. . .
The company's newspaper division, which includes The Post and several smaller papers, lost $23.6 million in the quarter, bringing 2009 losses to $166.7 million, compared with losses of $178.3 million through the first nine months of 2008. Like most newspapers, The Post was hit hard by the recession, which further eroded advertising revenue, already in decline for years.
Ad revenue at The Post was down 28 percent on the quarter, from $97.2 million in the same period last year to $70 million this year. Over the first nine months of the year, print ad revenue at The Post was down 27 percent.
Revenue at The Post's online division, mainly, was down 18 percent on the quarter, from $27.4 million in the same period last year to $22.6 million this year. Over the first nine months of this year, online ad revenue was down 12 percent.
Daily circulation at The Post was down 3.6 percent for the first nine months of the year, and now stands at 600,800. Sunday circulation was down 3.7 percent and is now 840,100.
10/31/2009 | Comments
Christian Science Monitor - CEO Jeremy Anwyl is defending his company's claim that the Cash for Clunkers program was basically a lemon, saying a recent report simply reiterated what's well known in the car industry: Incentive programs are "eyewateringly expensive."
After taking on Fox News and the US Chamber of Commerce as part of a new media strategy aimed at perceived political opponents, the White House turned its blog on Edmunds' critical report of the $3 billion Cash for Clunkers program.
In a post titled "Busy covering car sales on Mars, gets it wrong (again) on Cash for Clunkers," the White House charged the firm with "trying to grab headlines and get on cable TV" while the analysis doesn't withstand "basic scrutiny."
Founded in 1966, is the Santa Monica, Calif.-based publisher of the Blue Book series. Basically a consumer company supplying industry analysis to subscribers, also offers the "True Market Value" tool.
So what did Edmunds do to warrant a snarl from the White House? For one thing, its report did grab headlines, including a well-read Monitor report.
According to Edmunds, only 125,000 of the 690,000 cars sold during the taxpayer-funded promotion were sales inspired by the program as opposed to those that would have happened anyway. Edmunds then divided that number by the total price tag and voilà : Each car purchased cost the American taxpayer $24,000.
Besides the no-nonsense price tag (an Edmunds' specialty) there's nothing new about the premise of the report, Anwyl contends. (The White House used dealer reports to highlight the program's success while Edmunds used comparative historical sales figures to get its numbers.)
"We got real math behind this for the first time," says Mr. Anwyl in a phone interview, before landing a friendly jab referencing this summer's "Beer Summit" at the White House. "We need to send an invitation to the President to come out, we'll have a beer and a photo opportunity, and walk him through the data. He might find it eye-opening."
More seriously, Anwyl says: "It's shocking and somewhat troubling that this is something the White House would pick up. This administration more than any other administration is invested heavily in the auto industry, so you would hope that they would had done a little more homework than their response suggests."
10/31/2009 | Comments
10/31/2009 | Comments
Complete with three pages of analysis
Given that the balloon was not fully inflated, and that the plywood used for the basket would contribute a signicant amount of weight, it should have been immediately obvious that the Heene Balloon was not capable of lifting a six year old boy, especially when the rate of climb and its ability to reach an altitude of more than 3000m is considered. The absence of the correct shape of the balloon should have further reinforced the absence of Falcon Heene aboard the balloon. A knowledge of basic physics on the part of the emergency services and news organisations would have avoided a great deal of wasted time, eort and money and prevented a great deal of distress.
10/31/2009 | Comments
10/31/2009 | Comments
SF Weekly - In examining Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's letter to the California State Assembly in which the letters I F-U-C-K Y-O-U appear vertically down the left-hand side, it is hard to imagine that it could have happened randomly.
The letter purportedly explains Schwarzenegger's refusal to sign AB 1176 -- an ordinary piece of legislation regarding the Port of San Francisco's finances -- which happened to be sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who recently told the governator to "kiss my gay ass." Motive? Check.
We wondered what the chances were that the letters "I FUCK YOU" ended up on the page via sheer coincidence. So we called a few math professors.
Stephen Devlin, the chair of the math department at the University of San Francisco, got excited about the challenge. The first thing he had to do was estimate how frequently the letters in question generally appear at the beginning of words.
"I was very friendly to our governor, here," Devlin said. He assumed that F, U, C, K, Y, O, and U start words about 10 percent of the time, when really some of them probably only appear at the beginning 2 or 3 percent of the time.
Next, Devlin calculated the chances that each of those letters would appear in order at the beginning of seven lines of the same missive by raising 10 percent to the seventh power. That comes out to one in 10 million. (Devin felt that starting a letter with I was very common, so didn't factor it into his calculations. If he had, the chance of a random I FUCK YOU would have been one in 100 million).
"Not surprisingly, it's virtually impossible for this to happen," Devlin said. . .
Gregory McColm, associate professor of mathematics at the University of South Florida. . . opted to include the "I" and go with one in 100 million. Then he did some fast figuring using something called "combinatorics" to account for the fact that the blank lines showed up in the right places to space out I FUCK YOU. McColm's ballpark figure of all this randomly occurring came out to one in 2 billion.
10/31/2009 | Comments
Motherboard - In Monrovia, Liberia, there's a guy taking the matter of a lopsided, state-run media and reshaping it into a free-of-charge, independent news-aggregator - all accomplished with dry-erase board and couple markers. Each morning, at 10:45 AM, Alfred Sirleaf wakes up and heads down to his bulletin board to post the day's news, culling together a slate of stories his countrymen might otherwise never see. Grateful readers line up in droves, on foot and in cars, to read these updates, in what has been described as the country's - and probably the world's - only analog blog.
10/30/2009 | Comments
Guardian, UK - Alan Johnson, the home secretary, has sacked Professor David Nutt as senior drugs adviser after the scientist renewed his criticism of the government's decision to toughen the law on cannabis.
Johnson wrote to Nutt saying he no longer had confidence in him as chairman of the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs and asking for him to consider his position.
Nutt had accused ministers of "devaluing and distorting" the scientific evidence over illicit drugs by their decision last year to reclassify cannabis from class C to class B against the advice of the ACMD.
A Home Office spokesman said: "The home secretary expressed surprise and disappointment over Professor Nutt's comments which damage efforts to give the public clear messages about the dangers of drugs."
In his reply, Nutt said: "If scientists are not allowed to engage in the debate then you devalue their contribution to policymaking."
The sacking is likely to raise concerns among scientists over the independence of advice to the government and may trigger further resignations.
The Home Office describes the ACMD as a independent expert body that advises on drug-related issues including recommendations on classification under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.
10/30/2009 | Comments
Telegraph, UK - The British Government's chief drug adviser has sparked controversy by claiming ecstasy, LSD and cannabis are less dangerous than cigarettes and alcohol.
Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, attacked the decision to make cannabis a class B drug.
He accused former home secretary Jacqui Smith, who reclassified the drug, of "distorting and devaluing" scientific research.
Prof Nutt said smoking cannabis created only a "relatively small risk" of psychotic illness. And he claimed advocates of moving ecstasy into class B from class A had "won the intellectual argument".
All drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, should be ranked by a "harm" index, he said, with alcohol coming fifth behind cocaine, heroin, barbiturates, and methadone.
Tobacco should rank ninth, ahead of cannabis, LSD and ecstasy.
Prof Nutt said: "No one is suggesting that drugs are not harmful. The critical question is one of scale and degree. We need a full and open discussion of the evidence and a mature debate about what the drug laws are for - and whether they are doing their job."
10/29/2009 | Comments
LA Times - The Los Angeles County district attorney's office announced it would not file criminal charges against any LAPD officers for their actions during the 2007 May Day melee at MacArthur Park. Prosecutors said in a statement that after a lengthy review, there was insufficient evidence to prove any officer violated the law when using force, although some might have used "questionable tactics."
They described the incident as "unfortunate and preventable" but said that the office was "closing our file and will take no further action in this matter."
Last year, Police Chief William J. Bratton said he planned to discipline 11 officers and called for the termination of four others for their roles in the melee in which police were accused of using excessive force to clear immigration rights demonstrators and journalists.
LAPD officers were videotaped wielding batons and shooting rubber bullets in an attempt to disperse a largely peaceful crowd. A scathing internal investigation into the incident blamed poor leadership and overly aggressive tactics by officers in the field.
Earlier this year, the Los Angeles City Council agreed to pay nearly $13 million to people injured or mistreated in the melee.
10/30/2009 | Comments
Hartford Courant, 2006 - After spending most of his Senate career advocating piecemeal health care reforms, Joseph I. Lieberman said Wednesday he strongly supports universal health care.
Lieberman devoted a conference call with reporters to an issue that his main rival in the U.S. Senate race, Democratic nominee Ned Lamont, has highlighted in recent days.
"I have long supported the goal of universal health care," Lieberman told reporters. "Ned Lamont can talk about it. I've been doing something about it all the time I've been here."
10/30/2009 | Comments
Discovery Channel - Legendary aviatrix Amelia Earhart most likely died on an uninhabited tropical island in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati, according to researchers at The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery.
Tall, slender, blonde and brave, Earhart disappeared while flying over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937 in a record attempt to fly around the world at the equator. Her final resting place has long been a mystery.
For years, Richard Gillespie, TIGHAR's executive director and author of the book "Finding Amelia," and his crew have been searching the Nikumaroro island for evidence of Earhart. A tiny coral atoll, Nikumaroro was some 300 miles southeast of Earhart's target destination, Howland Island.
A number of artifacts recovered by TIGHAR would suggest that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, made a forced landing on the island's smooth, flat coral reef.
According to Gillespie, who is set to embark on a new $500,000 Nikumaroro expedition next summer, the two became castaways and eventually died there.
"We know that in 1940 British Colonial Service officer Gerald Gallagher recovered a partial skeleton of a castaway on Nikumaroro. Unfortunately, those bones have now been lost," Gillespie said.
The archival record by Gallagher suggests that the bones were found in a remote area of the island, in a place that was unlikely to have been seen during an aerial search.
A woman's shoe, an empty bottle and a sextant box whose serial numbers are consistent with a type known to have been carried by Noonan were all found near the site where the bones were discovered. . . .
Books, movies and television specials about her disappearance abound as well as speculation about her fate. Theories proliferated that she was a spy, that she was captured by the Japanese, that she died in a prisoner-of-war camp, and that she survived and returned to live her life as a New Jersey housewife.
The general consensus has been that the plane had run out of fuel and crashed in the Pacific Ocean, somewhere near Howland Island.
But according to Gillespie, the "volume of evidence" TIGHAR has gathered suggests an alternative scenario.
"Propagation analysis of nearly 200 radio signals heard for several days after the disappearance make it virtually indisputable that the airplane was on land," Gillespie said. . .
10/30/2009 | Comments
Sam Smith, Shadows of Hope, 1994 - One of the best descriptions of how Washington really operates can be found in Thurman Arnold's Folklore of Capitalism. Arnold imagines applying the principles of a contemporary debate to the attempted rescue of Amelia Earhart: First, plans would have been made for the use of the best planes to search the ocean. Then, when this extravagance was attacked publicly, cheaper planes would have been used. By the time that this device had received condemnation for inefficiency, the rescue would have been changed from a practical, efficient endeavor to a public debate about general principles. Everyone would have agreed that people in distress must be rescued. they would have insisted, however, that the problem was intimately tied up with balancing the national budget, improving the character of people lost at sea, stopping the foolhardy from adventuring and at the same time encouraging the great spirit of adventure and initiatives and so on ad infinitum. They would have ended perhaps by creating a commission to study the matter statistically, take a census of those lost at sea, examine the practices in other countries. What was saved in airplane fuel would be spent on research so that the problem could be permanently solve.
10/30/2009 | Comments
Rocco Landesman, Chair, National Endowment of the Arts - This is the first president that actually writes his own books since Teddy Roosevelt and arguably the first to write them really well since Lincoln. If you accept the premise, and I do, that the United States is the most powerful country in the world, then Barack Obama is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar. That has to be good for American artists.
Ike, Powerline Blog - Lincoln never wrote a book, although I believe he did compile the texts of his 1858 debates with Douglas for publication in book form. And Landesman misses a few presidential authors since Theodore Roosevelt.
Woodrow Wilson wrote several influential books as a Princeton professor. Herbert Hoover wrote books including, I am reliably advised, a classic book on fishing. Richard Nixon wrote books before and after his presidency. And even Bill Clinton wrote his apologia pro vita sua.
Landesman leaves JFK unmentioned by name. JFK was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Profiles in Courage in 1957. My guess is that JFK and Obama share the attribute of authorship in roughly equal measure.
K Lo, National Review - Many historians believe the Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant sit at the top of the presidential literature pile. Mark Twain - presumably a better literary critic than Rocco Landesman - was a huge admirer.
Dreams from my Father, words from Bill Ayers?
10/30/2009 | Comments
CNN - Research released this week in the American Journal of Public Health estimates that 45,000 deaths per year in the United States are associated with the lack of health insurance. If a person is uninsured, "it means you're at mortal risk," said one of the authors, Dr. David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
The researchers examined government health surveys from more than 9,000 people aged 17 to 64, taken from 1986-1994, and then followed up through 2000. They determined that the uninsured have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those with private health insurance as a result of being unable to obtain necessary medical care. The researchers then extrapolated the results to census data from 2005 and calculated there were 44,789 deaths associated with lack of health insurance. . .
Two authors of the Harvard study, Himmelstein and Dr. Steffie Woolhandler are co-founders of the Physicians for a National Health Program, which supports government-backed "single-payer" health coverage.
10/30/2009 | Comments
10/30/2009 | Comments
Progressive Economics - With the current economic climate, there has been much discussion about the origins of the financial crisis and the future of capitalism. In these typically hollow debates, Adam Smith is routinely and thoughtlessly invoked as the founder of modern capitalist though, based on unrestrained trade, limited government, and the mechanics of market economies. To this day, The Wealth of Nations is held up as the espousal tome for free-market ideology that decries government regulation, excessive taxation, and wealth redistribution (in whatever contrived shapes it may take).
But the myth of Adam Smith created by two centuries of advanced industrialization and capitalism is very far from the reality of Adam Smith. The majority of academics and pundits alike generalize on Smith's observations about the invisible hand, the benefits of division of labor, and the growth of wealth through free trade.
Outside of these points, The Wealth of Nations serves as an of his time reaction to the impact of corporations and mercantile interests on economies and governments. More specifically, Smith spent much of his book reacting to the growth of the East India Company, whose stockholders were to be found on every level of government decision making in Great Britain and thought to be adversely effecting foreign policy and internal financial systems. Smith was also appalled at the exploitation under the reign of the East India Company, including the starvation of over 30 million people in modern-day Bangladesh due to British-imposed tariffs.
As Chomsky notes, Smith saw the East India Company and other stockholding corporations as bending state policy towards the good of the few at the expense of the many. Smith to this end was in favor of heavy-handed government regulation to prevent financial and corporate powers from manipulating government policy for their own ends. This led him to conclude on the nefarious impulse of corporate manipulation, that when "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary."
The legacy of Smith continues to diverge further and further from the reality of Smith's principles which were heavily influenced by Rousseau and other humanist figures of the Enlightenment. Smith advocated for a system of progressive taxation and a political economy centered on the freedom of creative pursuits but protective of the working class. Considering how his legacy is enshrined today, it seems out of place to realize that Smith's chief concern was for economic policy to be secondary to moral and ethical concerns such as economic equality, freedom of speech, and dignified and just labor conditions.
10/30/2009 | Comments
Reuters - The multiyear ice covering the Arctic Ocean has effectively vanished, a startling development that will make it easier to open up polar shipping routes, an Arctic expert said . . Vast sheets of impenetrable multiyear ice, which can reach up to 80 meters (260 feet) thick, have for centuries blocked the path of ships seeking a quick short cut through the fabled Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. They also ruled out the idea of sailing across the top of the world.
But David Barber, Canada's Research Chair in Arctic System Science at the University of Manitoba, said the ice was melting at an extraordinarily fast rate.
"We are almost out of multiyear sea ice in the northern hemisphere," he said in a presentation in Parliament. The little that remains is jammed up against Canada's Arctic archipelago, far from potential shipping routes.
10/29/2009 | Comments
Washington Post - President Obama and members of Congress told federal agencies earlier this year to avoid awarding funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to contractors with troubled histories of work for the federal government.
But that isn't happening at numerous agencies, a Washington Post analysis shows. So far, 33 federal departments and agencies have awarded more than $1.2 billion in stimulus contracts to at least 30 companies that are ranked by one watchdog group as among the most egregious offenders of state and federal laws.
Government records show that as a group, these contractors have sold defective products, manufactured safety tests, submitted false travel claims and padded contracts with fraudulent fees.
"Even a simple Google search could raise red flags about some contractors' performance," said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.).
10/29/2009 | Comments
Seminal - Some fun facts about Michael Bloomberg and his bid for a third term as New York's mayor, courtesy of The New York Times:
1) Bloomberg's estimated total personal wealth: $16 billion
2) Amount of his personal wealth Bloomberg has invested in this campaign: $85 million (the most in United States history)
3) Amount Bloomberg will spend by Election Day: $110-140 million.
4) Amount raised by Bloomberg's non-billionaire opponent: $6 million
10/29/2009 | Comments
Telegraph UK - Only council-vetted "play rangers" are now allowed to monitor youngsters in two adventure areas in Watford [England] while parents must watch from outside a perimeter fence.
The Watford Borough Council policy has been attacked as insulting and a disgrace by furious relatives who say they are being labeled as potential pedophiles.
Councillors in Watford claim they are only following Government guidelines and cannot allow adults to walk around playgrounds "unchecked". . .
Parents already have to 'register' their child on arrival at the free playgrounds so staff have their contact details in the event of an accident.
10/29/2009 | Comments
AFP - US drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan could be breaking international laws against summary executions, the UN's top investigator of such crimes said.
"The problem with the United States is that it is making an increased use of drones/predators (which are) particularly prominently used now in relation to Pakistan and Afghanistan," UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Philip Alston told a press conference.
"My concern is that drones/predators are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law," he said. . .
"The onus is really on the United States government to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary extrajudicial executions aren't in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons," he added.
Since August 2008, around 70 strikes by unmanned aircraft have killed close to 600 people in northwestern Pakistan.
"I would like to know the legal basis upon which the United States is operating, in other words. . . who is running the program, what accountability mechanisms are in place in relation to that," Alston said.
"Secondly, what precautions the United States is taking to ensure that these weapons are used strictly for purposes consistent with international humanitarian law.
"Third, what sort of review mechanism is there to evaluate when these weapons have been used? Those are the issues I'd like to see addressed," the UN official said.
10/29/2009 | Comments
Maine Public Broadcasting - Earlier this year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency caused quite a stir when it issued a draft of its updated flood insurance map for the southern Maine coast. Members of the Portland City Council, along with Maine's congressional delegation, were shocked to learn that FEMA proposed reclassifying Portland harbor from an A-zone to a V-zone, meaning it's considered much more prone to flood damage than previously thought.
City officials are concerned not only about much higher insurance rates, but also about severe limits on waterfront development.
"The V-zone designation is a very restrictive designation," says Penny St. Louis Littell, Planning Director for the city of Portland. "What FEMA would allow, absent a variance or some other exception, would be fishing or lobster shacks and no real development of any kind."
Littell says the new map would also prohibit any existing buildings on the harbor from being rebuilt should they burn down. The effect on the local economy would be devastating, says First District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. "Given this economic climate in particular, it seemed like it would place a huge economic burden on much of the southern coast."
Pingree, along with Maine Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, wrote to FEMA in August urging it to reconsider the map, which they say is based on inadequate data. Portland planning director Penny Littell agrees. She says much of the data used by FEMA was based on information that was not specific to the harbor area, and that, she says, has led to some inaccurate conclusions.
"Just an example, they used a 71 mile-per-hour wind speed in the harbor, and that would be a one-hour duration. We don't get an hour's worth of 71-mile-per hour winds here in Portland harbor," Littell says.
Littell also points out that the harbor has, for a long time, been used by ships as a safe haven when a major storm hits. "Any of the cruise ships, or the oil tankers, the Coast Guard vessels come into Portland harbor. They get out of the storm by seeking safety in our port, and so the wave action that's been predicted by FEMA is really not there."
But Littell says now, after a meeting with federal officials last week, FEMA may be coming around. She says she's now more confident that a new, more favorable flood map will eventually emerge. "I think our engineer did a great job in impressing upon them the need to go back and take another look at the information they used in their study."
"The city raised a number of good points and FEMA will be reviewing engineering documentation that the city now has," says FEMA spokesman Dennis Pinkham.
He says FEMA's mapping experts are in the midst of a massive billion dollar plus effort to remap most of the U.S. coastline using updated technology. And they have a set pattern for gathering data, using a series of prescribed weather points.
"In many instances, the information may not be exactly pertinent to a particular area," Pinkham says. "Now if someone like the city of Portland comes and says, 'Well, you were gathering your scientific information from this point in the area, and we have other validated scientific information from another point, then of course we look at that."
But that could pose a problem, says Littell, for municipalities forced to pay the cost of gathering that additional data, if they're not happy with FEMA's conclusions. "It's expensive to go out and hire experts argue on your behalf," she says.
The Portland City Council has hired an engineering consultant at an undisclosed cost, to make its case to FEMA. U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree feels that's unfair. "I'm just concerned that the city of Portland had to spend the money and supply the data. This seems like it should have come from FEMA in the first place. We think it's an unfair burden for the city of Portland."
Spokesman Dennis Pinkham says FEMA hopes to have a new preliminary flood map out by the end of the year, in time for a 90-day public comment period due to start in January. The final map, he says, now won't be ready until June 2011.
NY Times - The shift means that construction of new buildings would be effectively prohibited on the sturdy plank piers, which lobstermen have shared for years with restaurants, office space, even some condominiums.
Existing structures would also face a grim future. They could be rebuilt to half of their current value if a hurricane rakes them into the ocean. That concerns city officials, who worry the wharfs could slip into disrepair if pier owners see little economic reason to maintain them, prompting memories of a dark period of harbor dilapidation in the 1970s.. .
The sea near Portland has risen about 8 inches since 1912. Greenhouse gas emissions appear to be hastening that rate. Ocean temperatures are warming more quickly than in the past, having risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970. Water expands as a result, and the rate of sea-level rise has accelerated in recent decades, according to a study released this year by the University of Maine. . .
"Our company is over 200 years old, and there's no documented history [of 3-foot waves causing damage]," said Charlie Poole, whose family owns the Union Wharf, a sprawling concrete pier where a shirtless man brushed weeds from wire lobster traps recently. "We're trying to have FEMA understand." . .
"Portland Harbor is not your mansions in the sand dunes." St. Louis Littell said. "Can I say that a catastrophic storm won't come into Portland Harbor? No. But I can say it hasn't happened in the last 100 years."
At a talk at the University of Maine, a student asked Attorney General Holder to reveal one of the nominees for Obama's vice president. Reports Maine Public BroadcastIng: Holder was legal adviser to Obama during the presidential campaign, and later on, the committee that recommended a vice presidential choice to Obama. "Alright, here's a little tidbit," Holder told the gathering. "One of the people that we did consider was this gentleman right here. And Secretary Cohen doesn't really know how close he came in the process. He had one problem, though. He was John McCain's best man at his wedding. And as we played that out we just thought, that's going to be difficult, that's going to be difficult."
As of July, Greens hold a total of 284 seats worldwide: 234 seats in 16 European nations and another 50 in Australia (5), Brazil (14), Mexico (22) and New Zealand (9). There are also 46 Greens holding seats in the 785-member European Parliament.
One of the reasons people get mad at government: DC has registered 142,000 complaints this fiscal year over broken parking meters.
10/31/2009 | Comments

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