Blogs

Minneapolis Residents Look for Answers

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 10:00 PM EDT

Minneapolis was my home for four years, as it was for many of us who just graduated from the University of Minnesota this May. Some of us have moved away, but wherever this community resides now, we share something in common. We're worried about Minneapolis. I used to cross the Minneapolis bridge that collapsed last night every week and never once gave the safety of the bridge a second thought. It's a big, sturdy bridge. I didn't think there was anything to worry about.

But I guess I was wrong. I read that the bridge collapsed minutes after it happened and immediately sent text messages to two of my best friends who still live in the area. Thankfully they were safe; one had actually yet to hear about the disaster. I was not alone in this panic. Minneapolis friends and families flooded house and cell phone lines so much that area phone numbers reportedly weren't working. Some, like me, were able to connect with people but the not-so-lucky ones are still painfully waiting for a snippet of any news at all.

Today, divers searched through submerged debris, citizens poured over news reports, and officials made plans to investigate similar bridges in the area. Police are planning to put the bridge back together, as if made of puzzle pieces, to determine what caused the collapse. Bush has made $5 million available to the city to remove debris and organize traffic and is planning on visiting the site Saturday. And, in the meantime, people want answers, and they're not getting them.

But there are some places where people can start to look for answers. My former student newspaper, the Minnesota Daily is providing up-to-date news, photos, videos, and commentary on the developing situation. I highly encourage you to turn to some of the most thorough and comprehensive coverage available right now, coming from whom some consider to be unlikely candidates: students.

—Anna Weggel

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Judge Halts Logging For Spotted Owl

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 9:39 PM EDT

The Environmental News Network reports on a federal judge issuing a preliminary injunction against Weyerhaeuser's logging in Spotted Owl habitat on private land in Washington. That's good news for owls. But U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman declined to grant another Seattle Audubon Society request to keep the state of Washington from granting permits to log in Spotted Owl habitat. Even so, Kenan Block, a spokesman for the Washington Forest Law Center, said Pechman's decision "really shows the Endangered Species Act still has some teeth in it." . . . Well, not if Bush and Cheney get their way.

The owl was listed as threatened in 1990 primarily because of heavy logging in the old growth forests where it nests and feeds. Today, it also faces a new threat from a cousin, the Barred Owl &mdash once an inhabitant of the Great Plains, now expanding its range westward due to a variety of human factors, including fire suppression in boreal forests, and the planting of shelterbelts in the northern Great Plains. . . Does Judge Pechman take that bigger picture into consideration when she weighs the fate of a species? JULIA WHITTY

People Powered Farms?

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 9:04 PM EDT

Two grad students from MIT want to harvest the energy of human movement in urban settings. The so-called "Crowd Farm" would turn the mechanical energy of people walking or jumping into a source of electricity. James Graham and Thaddeus Jusczyk of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning say a Crowd Farm in Boston's South Station railway terminal would work like this: A responsive sub-flooring system made up of blocks that depress slightly under the force of human steps would be installed beneath the station's main lobby. The slippage of the blocks against one another as people walked would generate power through the principle of the dynamo, which converts the energy of motion into an electric current. They point out that although a single human step can only power two 60W light bulbs for one flickering second, a crowd in motion, with 28,527 steps, for example, could make enough energy to power a moving train for one second. The pair tested a prototype stool at the Venice Biennale and in a train station in Torino, Italy, which exploited the passive act of sitting to generate power. The weight of a human body spun a flywheel, which powered a dynamo that lit four LEDs. "People tended to be delighted by sitting on the stool and would get up and down repeatedly," said Graham.

Glad to see innovation coming from new, even unexpected, fields. Just shows how many human brains are turning to solving these issues. Sometimes hope abounds. JULIA WHITTY

Chiquita Secrets Unpeeled

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 7:31 PM EDT

Front-page stories in today's Washington Post and Wall Street Journal detail the latest news from the a Justice Department probe into Chiquita's dealings with Colombian paramilitaries. According to the Post:

On April 24, 2003, a board member of Chiquita International Brands disclosed to a top official at the Justice Department that the king of the banana trade was evidently breaking the nation's anti-terrorism laws.
Roderick M. Hills, who had sought the meeting with former law firm colleague Michael Chertoff, explained that Chiquita was paying "protection money" to a Colombian paramilitary group on the U.S. government's list of terrorist organizations. Hills said he knew that such payments were illegal, according to sources and court records, but said that he needed Chertoff's advice.
Chiquita, Hills said, would have to pull out of the country if it could not continue to pay the violent right-wing group to secure its Colombian banana plantations. Chertoff, then assistant attorney general and now secretary of homeland security, affirmed that the payments were illegal but said to wait for more feedback, according to five sources familiar with the meeting...
Sources close to Chiquita say that Chertoff never did get back to the company or its lawyers. Neither did Larry D. Thompson, the deputy attorney general, whom Chiquita officials sought out after Chertoff left his job for a federal judgeship in June 2003. And Chiquita kept making payments for nearly another year.

Moby Offers Royalty-Free Music For Films

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 6:15 PM EDT

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One-upping Brian Eno, diminutive New York electronic musician Moby has created a web site that offers royalty-free music for films. The project, called "Moby Gratis," features 70 unreleased compositions that independent filmmakers can use to accompany their movies. Moby told Billboard magazine that he wanted to "help out the independent film community" since licensing music can be "the hardest part" of low-budget filmmaking. If Moby's past output is any indication, half the songs will be hypnotic, melancholy tracks that sample obscure blues musicians, and the other half will be irritating, pseudo-mystical synthy treacle that makes you want to scrub your ears out with Fugazi. Choose carefully, young directors!

YKos Gossip: FCC to Weigh in on Murdoch-WSJ Deal?

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 6:15 PM EDT

FCC Commmissioner Michael Copps told Yearly Kossacks this afternoon (at a session organized by our friends at Free Press) that he wants the FCC to review the sale of the Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch's NewsCorp has several relicensing applications currently in front of the FCC, so Copps figures it's a good time to take a look at what legal authority the agency has to weigh in on the deal, and do their duty to protect the public interest.

Most of Copps' talk had to do with how corporate influence over U.S. telecom policy has put this country way behind others in broadband penetration (not to mention speed). He mentioned that a recent report by the International Telegraphic Union (the U.N. agency that deals with telecom and communications matters) puts the U.S. behind Estonia and tied with Slovenia in broadband penetration.

— Steve Katz

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Obama Has G.I. Joe Moment

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 6:02 PM EDT

Last night, Obama put to rest accusations that he can't be "tough" like the other hawks regarding foreign policy: He'll unilaterally attack Pakistan if General Musharraf is not doing enough to "take out" the "terrorists." To be fair, he did argue for making military aid to Pakistan conditional and that democracy in Pakistan should figure in as a top priority with our dealings with the "biggest non NATO ally."

But, what's most striking about Obama's speech is that if one were to read it without knowing it was penned by one of the "Democratic" front runners—one who is supposed to be a viable alternative to the centrist, and often hawkish, Democrats many find uninspiring—you'd think this was a rational and "compassionate" Republican talking.

I'm wondering if Obama's campaign managers are whispering in his ears, "Tell the American public that if push comes to shove, you too can be jingoistic." Well, regardless of what their strategy is, it's not a good one. A little note to BHO: Progressively becoming less progressive will only lose you votes.

The way the candidates have spoken (and continue to speak) to the American public make it seem like we are afraid of real change and that a radically different approach to how we deal with the international community is out of the question. And this is truly unfortunate, because carrying out air strikes to weed out terrorists usually ends in the loss of many innocent civilian lives, which in turn only angers people even more.

—Neha Inamdar

Birds on the Pill?

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 4:56 PM EDT

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To curb the out-of-control population growth of pigeons in Hollywood, and the excrement that comes along with them, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has suggested giving them birth control pills. OvoControl P will be placed in rooftop feeders in the next few months around the 5,000 pigeon-strong area in a "humane" attempt to control this poopy situation. The method is supposed to cut the population in half by 2012.

This plan brings about various questions. How much will the pills cost and who is going to pay for them? Are they truly safe for the birds? Are people upset? Is this ethical? Here are a few answers:

  • Cost: The pill costs $4.88 per pound. That means around $6 a day for 100 pigeons and $60,000 a year (including food, feeders, reports and worker compensation).
  • Who's paying: The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce will pay $1,000 in September. The Hollywood Entertainment Business Improvement District pleged $5,000. The rest? Lobbying to business improvement districts.
  • Ethical quandry: This method is allegedly the most humane way to go about it. The pill interferes with egg development, and the plan was proposed by PETA after all.
  • The enraged: Well, we can probably bet the Bird Lady isn't too happy.

And all this because people like feeding birds. Well done, Mary Poppins.

—Anna Weggel

Bridge Collapse: Whose Roads Are They Anyway?

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 4:53 PM EDT

Not that long ago, I rode my bike to work along Minneapolis' West River Parkway—underneath the I-35W bridge—every day, so it was particularly heartbreaking to watch CNN last night, with all that footage of twisted steel and crumpled concrete, the exhausted and frightened voices on cell phones. (And there's still more Minnesota in me than I knew—my first thought was, "Thank God it's not January.")

This morning, my inbox was full of messages from friends and relatives, assuring everyone that they are okay, noting how "every day we have is a gift." But some of my friends were also angry, and one raised a point that hasn't been picked up in the national press. She wrote,

Earlier this year, in February, the state legislature wrote a bill that would have raised the gas tax by five cents per gallon. [Congressman James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chair of the ultra-powerful Transportation Committee] had gone to the statehouse and told legislators that if they passed the bill, he'd match it with fed funds—for a total of up to $1 billion. The bill passed the House and Senate by large majorities, but Pawlenty vetoed it, citing his longstanding, budget-devastating promise of no new taxes. Instead, the governor floated a plan to pay for improvements with bonds, otherwise known as loans.

Of course, this money wouldn't have come through in time to fix 35W, and if it had there's no saying it would have been spent on improving an old freeway bridge in the city rather than build a new interchange in the suburbs. But the point is, there are only three ways of dealing with roads, bridges, and public transit (remember transit?): Decide, as a society, that we need them and will pay for them; let them fall apart; or turn them over to the private sector. The first is what we did in the great public-works era from the late 1800s to the 1970s; the second is what we've done since; and the third is what we seem about to do, as Dan Schulman and James Ridgeway documented in Mother Jones a few months ago.

Privatization sounds sweet: Companies will take these old roads off our hands, and pay us for them!. And that would be great if it worked. But to make roads profitable you have to charge tolls, and to throw off enough profit for private investors, you have to charge tolls a lot higher than the state would. So privatization means new and higher tolls; upgrades only for roads in profitable places; and, overall, more money for less service. There is a lot more collapsing in the nation's highway system than a single bridge.

Republicans Candidates Remain Completely Substance-Free

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 4:43 PM EDT

TAPPED has had their finger on an important aspect of the presidential campaigns.

Obama, we're told, only recently started to show some substance. Yet, by this standard, every major Republican candidate is about as substantial as tissue paper in a tornado. I'm not the first to notice this, but I was still taken aback by just how little Republicans seem to care about even appearing as if they have any ideas when I started poking around their websites.

Basically, the Republicans duck every significant issue, from Iraq to healthcare. When Democrats stop bashing Bush and turn their attention to their Republican counterparts, they'll have lots of material to work with. For more details (or lack thereof) see this post.