2009 - %3, November

More on the "Lady Bloggers" Hullaballoo

| Wed Nov. 4, 2009 6:54 PM EST

So given all the discussion generated by my "Lady Bloggers" post last week, I thought it would be wise to throw out a little reminder: The whole point of my post was to share a new statistic, to ask some pointed questions, and to say that if female bloggers aren't equally represented in the blogosphere, that's something that needs to change as more and more folks get their information from blogs.

After the story hit, female blogger Sarah Posner brilliantly suggested the hashtag #followwomenbloggers, and hundreds of people pitched in with suggestions for excellent female bloggers to follow. Several of you also had questions for me, and I've responded to a few of the main points in the comments section of the original post. In case you missed it, I'm reposting my response below:

Q: Why'd you pick a photo of Ana Marie Cox with cleavage?

A: I didn't pick it, and even if I had, now who's paying attention to the boobage? Do her breasts somehow undermine her legitimacy? Hell no, if you ask me, Ana Marie Cox can wear whatever Ana Marie Cox wants. Even if I didn't pick the picture, I fully stand behind my editor's choice. What's wrong with the picture? In my book, women shouldn't have to hide away their biology to be taken seriously. (Bonus: Ana's a MoJo alum.)

Q: Why 'lady' bloggers? What about 'gentlemen' bloggers?

A: If you'd rather me call you a homosapien who blogs and possesses two X chromosomes, I can. I just thought lady was a little shorter for the headline, which is the only place I used that term. I do hear your point, though, and I realize that "lady" has very traditional connotations, but as a female blogger myself, I certainly don't blog while sitting in Victorian dress, sitting sidesaddle and sipping Earl Grey. (Okay, maybe I still drink Earl Grey.) But I didn't envision any of you "lady bloggers" out there doing that either. Isn't there a point at which we can reclaim and reappropriate words? And if we're going to get all technical, it's not "women bloggers" either—it's female bloggers.

Q: This is bullshit and sexist, women are blogging.

A: Given that I quoted a female blogger in this piece, there's a high likelihood that I'm aware women are blogging. I never made any assertion that there are no female bloggers out there, but if you're disagreeing with the report and asserting that female bloggers make up more than a third of the blogosphere, I'd be happy to update the story to include whatever statistics you have. I'm aware that Technorati's study is hardly comprehensive—it's hard to have comprehensive, absolutely accurate statistics on the blogosphere—and that's why I chose to pose it as a question. To be honest, when I first wrote this blog entry, I thought it was kind of a throwaway post because I felt I wasn't really answering my own question. Apparently, based on your comments here, my very act of asking the question said more than I was aware of, but in any case, I'm glad it generated discussion because that's kind of the point of blogging.

Q: How can you even talk about women bloggers without taking a look at X blog? That you failed to do so tells me you didn't dig very deep.

A: This blog post isn't a comprehensive report. I'm absolutely sure I didn't get every blog out there, or cover every angle. It's a 600 word piece—if it got all of you to converse with each other, it served its purpose. It's not an expose (although Mother Jones has plenty of that too. Check us out on your news stands).

Thanks for reading, and keep the discussion going!

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The Right Not To Be Framed

| Wed Nov. 4, 2009 6:31 PM EST

Via OTB, here's an NPR story about a couple of guys who were framed for a murder they didn't commit and are now suing local prosecutors in the case for misconduct.  The prosecutors are claiming absolute immunity from suit:

The Supreme Court has indeed said that prosecutors are immune from suit for anything they do at trial. But in this case, Harrington and McGhee maintain that before anyone being charged, prosecutors gathered evidence alongside police, interviewed witnesses and knew the testimony they were assembling was false.

The prosecutors counter that there is "no freestanding constitutional right not to be framed." Stephen Sanders, the lawyer for the prosecutors, will tell the Supreme Court on Wednesday that there is no way to separate evidence gathered before trial from the trial itself. Even if a prosecutor files charges against a person knowing that there is no evidence of his guilt, says Sanders, "that's an absolutely immunized activity."

Well, yeah, there's no actual section in the constitution that says, "The right of the people not to be framed shall not be abridged."  And prosecutorial immunity is a longtime staple of common law.  But deliberately framing someone with evidence you know to be faulty?  Maybe the law is an ass, but one way or another, that just has to be wrong.

School Using Lap Dances to Treat ADD Closed, Your Tax $ Involved, But Will It Re-Open?

| Wed Nov. 4, 2009 3:46 PM EST

This story first appeared on the Huffington Post website.

Are lap dances an effective therapy for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or drug addiction? It doesn't seem like a question that should require a serious answer—but a state investigation of Oregon's Mount Bachelor Academy (MBA) has substantiated allegations made by students and staff that such "therapy" was part of the school's "emotional growth" curriculum and forced an emergency shutdown of the campus.

Just this June, the Supreme Court had decided in favor of a couple who sued for payment of MBA's tuition to treat their son's ADHD and marijuana problem. The Court determined [pdf] that parents of disabled children do have the right to seek such taxpayer support from a school district, even if they haven't tried public special education first.

While the decision didn't specify whether MBA itself was appropriate, some districts across the country are already reimbursing parents for its current $76,000 annual tuition, despite decades of allegations of similarly inappropriate and unproven practices. [Just one example is here [pdf]

Where the Banking Things Are

| Wed Nov. 4, 2009 3:39 PM EST

In a column about something else entirely, Brad DeLong says in passing:

The Economic Policy Institute reports a poll showing that Americans overwhelmingly believe that the economic policies of the past year have greatly enriched the bankers of Midtown Manhattan and London’s Canary Wharf (they really aren’t concentrated on Wall Street or in the City of London anymore).

True, but "Wall Street" and "the City" are very handy labels for referring to the financial industry in, respectively, the United States and Great Britain.  Anyone who writes about finance should therefore be eager to keep them around.  In fact, I think we need more of them for other countries.

But do we have them?  Are the bankers of Frankfurt, Zurich, and Tokyo concentrated in some part of the city that's since become a synonym for, respectively, the German, Swiss, and Japanese financial industry?  If so, what are they?  If not, why not?  I remember wanting such a word for the Japanese financial sector once, but I couldn't find it.  But I also couldn't figure out whether that was because it doesn't exist, or because I just didn't know where to look.  Can any jet setting financiers help me out here?

Italy's Rendition Trial

| Wed Nov. 4, 2009 3:12 PM EST

An Italian court has convicted 23 American CIA agents in absentia for their role in kidnapping a Muslim cleric from the streets of Milan and then flying him off to Egypt to be tortured.  "Here, Italian law rules, not American law or any other law," the Italian prosecutor said.

Well, maybe.  Here are the details:

Judge Oscar Magi handed an 8-year sentence to Robert Seldon Lady, a former C.I.A. station chief in Milan, and 5-year sentences to 22 other Americans. Three of the other high-ranking Americans were given diplomatic immunity, including Jeffrey Castelli, a former C.I.A. station chief in Rome.

The judge did not convict three high-ranking Italians charged in the abduction, citing state secrecy, and a former head of Italian military intelligence, Nicolò Pollari, also received diplomatic immunity. All the Americans were tried in absentia and are considered fugitives.

Let me get this straight: the Italian judge was happy to convict a bunch of Americans who he knew would never pay a price since they'll never be extradited, but he wasn't willing to convict the Italians involved in all this, who would have paid a price.  You'll excuse me, I hope, if I don't exactly see this as a triumph of judicial independence.  Convicting a bunch of foreigners is easy.  It's holding your own people to account that's hard.  Wake me up when either of our countries starts doing that.

Off-Off Yakking

| Wed Nov. 4, 2009 2:52 PM EST

I understand that everyone wants to spin yesterday's election results in the best possible light for their side, but the sheer volume of yak is astonishing.  Was there this much postgame analysis after the off-off-year elections in 2005 or 2007?  I don't remember it, but maybe I'm just forgetful these days.

In any case, jeez, can we all get a grip?  Democrats lost races in two states.  That's a bummer for them, but hardly a referendum on the future of the party.  Republicans lost one House seat after a stupid primary squawl.  That's a bummer for them, but hardly a referendum on the future of conservatism.  Everyone needs to turn down the dial before this election becomes the balloon boy of politics.

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Quote of the Day

| Wed Nov. 4, 2009 2:32 PM EST

From Ezra Klein, explaining modern romance:

Old modes of courtship are giving way to a faster, freer, fairer market, where transaction costs have fallen and participants have better information and competition is fiercer. In this market, supposedly rational actors make supposedly rational decisions and then reap the rewards or bear the consequences. New technologies such as cellphones and online dating are helping the market overwhelm older, less "efficient" norms.

Sounds exciting!

23 CIA Agents Convicted in Rendition Case

| Wed Nov. 4, 2009 1:58 PM EST

In 2003, CIA agents snatched an Egyptian cleric in Milan, Italy, and flew him to Cairo, where he was, predictably, interrogated and tortured by Egyptian security forces. The case of Abu Omar would have been like many of the extrajudicial "extraordinary renditions" secretly carried out by the Bush administration except that an Italian prosecutor stepped in and indicted 26 Americans involved in the daylight abduction. Today, an Italian judge ruled against 23 of the defendants, sentencing them to as much as eight years in prison. None will serve any prison time since they were tried in absentia, but the ruling is a rebuke to the US government—and the nearly 15-year-old rendition policy, which remains in place.

The policy of transferring suspected terrorists to third countries, implemented during the Clinton administration, has led to at least 67 people being detained by American agents and then taken to one or more countries where they were tortured, imprisoned without trial, and/or killed. In his investigation into the Italian case in Mother Jones' special package on torture, Peter Bergen described how the Bush administration's insistence that it was not handing over suspectes to be abused was demonstrably—and knowingly—false. The Obama administration has made similar assurances. It has not ruled out the use of rendition (AKA "transfers") but has said that it will ensure that "any affected individuals are subjected to proper treatment." And presumably, if the CIA still is playing body snatcher, it's no longer doing it on Italian soil. 

California's Democrats

| Wed Nov. 4, 2009 1:15 PM EST

In a column about Michael Bloomberg's slow but steady takeover of New York City politics, Michael Tomasky notes that Bloomberg was aided and abetted by the slow but steady deterioration of the city's Democratic Party:

I covered its demise as well as Bloomberg's ascent. The former was far more gruesome to watch. In a city that's six-to-one Democratic in voter enrolment, there isn't really a plausible mayor among the dozens of elected Democrats who represent the city or some portion of it at the federal, state and local levels.

This sounds eerily familiar.  Here in the great state of California, there are something like 10 million registered Democrats.  It's one of the bluest states in the country.  And yet, when it comes time to find someone to run for governor, there's no one to choose from.  When San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom dropped out of the race a few days ago, my first thought wasn't about Newsom at all.  My first thought was, "Jerry Brown?  Seriously?"  But yes: Jerry Brown, a 70-year-old guy who's already been governor twice is now the only Democrat running for governor.  That's the best we could do.

The GOP isn't in much better shape, either.  Their leading candidate right now is eBay zillionaire Meg Whitman, who barely seemed to know the Republican Party even existed until a couple of years ago.  But hey — at least they have two other candidates as well, even if they aren't exactly household names.

Jeez.  Jerry Brown. A guy who almost literally won't tell you what he thinks about anything or what he'd like to do as governor.  That's it.  That's all that California's Democratic Party can produce for the 2010 election.  Yikes.

Will Brazil's Greening Efforts Displace Indigenous Populations?

| Wed Nov. 4, 2009 12:43 PM EST

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva earlier this month announced that Brazil will cut its deforestation rate by 80 percent by 2020, a move he said would reduce the country's carbon dioxide emissions by 4.8 billion tonnes. That's significant, especially given that Brazil is one of the biggest contributors to the 20 percent (pdf) of the world's carbon emissions that come from deforestation, according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

But what effect will reducing deforestation have on Brazil's indigenous population? As Mark Schapiro reports in our Climate Countdown issue, green initiatives often put undue strain on the indigenous population. Witness Brazil's Atlantic Forest, where General Motors, American Electric Power, and Chevron bought 50,000 acres of rainforest to use as collateral toward massive tax breaks. Schapiro writes:

Jonas de Souza is a 33-year-old farmer who grew up a quarter of a mile from the forest that is now part of the GM-funded Cachoeira reserve. His family grows bananas, cocoa, and coffee on a small plot. He remembers hunting for small prey—roast paca, a large rodent, is a local delicacy—and collecting seeds and hearts of palm. But now, signs have gone up at the edge of the forest: No hunting, fishing, or removal of vegetation. A state police force, the Força Verde, or Green Police, patrols the three reserves, as well as a larger state-sanctioned preservation area, to enforce the restrictions.
"Now," says de Souza, "I don't have the right to go out and do what I used to do when I was 12, 14, 15 years old. I'd grab my fishing rod and get a fish to bring to my family or to feed myself. You don't have the right to walk into the forest to go and cut a heart of palm to eat. I'll get arrested and I'll be called a thief."

Read the article and watch this video by PBS' Frontline World, whose team traveled with Schapiro, for more about GM's carbon trading ploy and hear the stories of how people with some of the world's smallest carbon footprints are being displaced at the behest of corporations with some of the largest.