2006 - %3, July

Attack on Federal Regulations Continues

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 5:29 PM EDT

Good catch by Think Progress. The president is going to nominate Susan Dudley, a longtime opponent of federal regulations, to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which "manages the federal regulatory process." Among other things, Think Progress finds, Dudley is an opponent of action on global warming, air bags in cars, and stronger regulations for arsenic in drinking water.

But okay, what does this position even mean? According to this executive order, OIRA is tasked with reviewing regulations in other federal agencies to make sure they comply with the president's rules, "such as consideration of alternatives and analysis of impacts, both benefits and costs." Now I can't figure out what sort of impact Dudley could have on federal regulations from this perch, but it's safe to say that the administration's ongoing effort to dismantle the regulatory state will continue apace.

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Why Trust Bill Keller?

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 5:05 PM EDT

Jack Shafer has a very good column today about whether the New York Times should've published its story revealing a semi-classified terror-financing story or not. Understandably, he trusts Bill Keller over the Bush administration. Nothing to disagree with there, although I'm agnostic on the question of whether the article actually harmed national security in any way; reports suggest that details of the SWIFT program were already somewhat public, and I don't plan on taking the word of administration officials on this matter.

But there's another article I've been meaning to link to, concerning the merits of the program in question. like William Greider, I wish the government would actually more to monitor overseas financial transactions; it would be nice if something like SWIFT could be used to clamp down on offshore tax evasion, securities fraud, CEOs looting pension funds, etc. As it is, the U.S. government is incredibly lax on the issue. Sadly, bankers and corporations tend to be hugely influential, so terrorist financing is the only thing that is likely to get any attention.

Bergen: Decision To Fold Bin Laden Unit "Blew Me Away"

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 4:27 PM EDT

Coupla none-too-sanguine perspectives on the folding up of the CIA's bin Laden unit.

Michael Scheuer, the first head of the unit and now a ubiquitous talking head, on CBS:

"To dismantle the unit who chases that individual and that group seems to me a questionable decision."

"We've seen just in the last couple weeks that [bin Laden] can dominate the international media whenever he wants to, and he reached out and replaced [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi with one of his own people. So the idea that he's not in control is simply a pipe dream."

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And Peter Bergen (who wrote this fine piece for us a few years ago relating how the war in Iraq was diverting essential resources and energy from the hunt for bin Laden and the struggle against violent jihadism), on CNN:

[The decision to close down the unit] blew me away.... I mean... I'm sure there are good bureaucratic reasons for that, but I find it very -- I find it hard to understand that decision.

I mean, here is bin Laden now suddenly popping up with annoying regularity on these audiotapes, Ayman Al-Zawahri releasing more videotapes than Britney Spears, and they're closing down, you know, the bin Laden unit. I don't know -- I think, psychologically, that sends a terrible message.

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Ayman Al-Zawahiri in tape that emerged on the first
anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings

Conditions Worsening at Guantanamo?

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 3:16 PM EDT

Hard to believe—and of course possibly untrue—but, according to one detainee, guards at Guantanamo have become "very tough" since three inmates killed themselves last month. (What were they before? Merely no-nonsense?) "We're being pushed, pushed, pushed all the time--don't be surprised if things happen," the Australian prisoner told family members on a phone call. Payback for those ruthless acts of asymmetrical warfare...? (Guardian)

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Post-Katrina workers plagued by employer deception, racism, homelessness, and a toxic environment

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 2:42 PM EDT

Dan Nazohni, a member of the White Mountain Apache Nation, was recruited, along with 79 others on his reservation, to do $14-an-hour labor in post-Katrina New Orleans. The broker who did the recruiting was paid $1,600 by the tribal government for gas and incidentals. He then dropped the workers off in New Orleans and disappeared, never to be seen again. The Apache tribal workers were homeless for days, and wound up in a tent city in City Park, where the rent is $300 a month. Nazohni says he has found barely enough work to scrape by.

Gail Duncan works in the kitchen of a New Orleans restaurant, but she cannot afford to rent an apartment. Her family lived for several months in Fort Worth, Texas, but, Duncan says, her daughter was threatened (reason unknown) by the children at her school, and school officials told her to leave the state. Now she and her children sleep on the floor of a relative's public housing apartment.

Mario Fuentes, who does demolition work, traveled to New Orleans from Houston at the end of 2005. After working for four days, the contractors dropped him off at a fast-food restaurant, bought him a hamburger and a cold drink, then drove away and never came back.

Jorge Ramos, a Honduran man from Houston, was part of a team of a dozen tree service workers cleaned up debris in New Orleans' Garden District. They worked twelve hours a day for thirteen days and earned $20,000, but were never paid. They are living in tents in City Park.

These scenarios represent the gist of a report released yesterday by the Advancement Project and the National Immigration Law Project. The report is filled with examples of racism, deception and police harrassment.

The police harrassment concerns the alleged checking of migrant workers for gang tatoos by members of the NOPD. However, an NOPD spokesman says that police officers would never do such checking unless a complaint had been called in.

In addition to being underpaid, denied overtime, not paid at all, and living in cars, tents and flood-damaged buildings, many migrant workers also work in possibly toxic conditions.

The report calls the treatment of workers in New Orleans "a national crisis of civil and human rights." Considering the reaction to the crisis of suffering caused by the U.S. Corps of Engineers during Katrina, it would be near-futile to expect an appropriate reaction to this post-Katrina tragedy.

Neo-Nazis and Other Dangerous Extremists Infiltrating the Military

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 12:39 PM EDT

Oh, great.

Under pressure to meet wartime manpower goals, the U.S. military has relaxed standards designed to weed out racist extremists. Large numbers of potentially violent neo-Nazis, skinheads and other white supremacists are now learning the art of warfare in the armed forces.

Department of Defense investigators estimate thousands of soldiers in the Army alone are involved in extremist or gang activity. "We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," said one investigator. "That's a problem."

So says a new report out from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which says these guys--whose numbers could run into the thousands--are "using their military training to fight wars at home."

Just to give you some flavor...one neo-Nazi, quoted in the report, says, "Join only for the training, and to better defend yourself, our people, and our culture. We must have people to open doors from the inside when the time comes." Another observes, "We have pride in our race, heritage, and culture, and we will do anything to prevent it from being destroyed. White man is the creator, the creator of civilizations."

Via the New York Times.

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Sorry about that 16 months of your life; here's a pair of sneakers

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 4:52 AM EDT

There will be many more of these stories. As people begin walking out of Gitmo and the other terror war jails, blinking and trying to figure out if what they just went through was real, we'll hear over and over again how they were detained on some tip, hint, or clue that would prove to be worthless; how their interrogators first thought they'd caught some terror kingpin, only to lose interest when they realized their prisoner was a foot soldier at best, just an unlucky farmer at worst; how there were fewer and fewer interrogations, but still they were not released, for months or years, until some day they were given a pair of white shoes (what an odd souvenir) and a letter saying they were not deemed a threat by the United States, and put on a plane, and told when it landed that they were free. (Read Emily Bazelon's Mother Jones story on tracking the families of detainees here, and her investigation of torture at Bagram--which also notes the peculiar white-shoe detail--here).

And the awful thing here is, even if you stipulate that maybe, after a bloody attack, it's conceivable that a government would arrest anyone it has reason to believe might be connected to that attack or planned future attacks; even if some people might consider it useful to interrogate those people in secret offshore prisons where they are kept in dungeons and humiliated or worse; even then, why, why keep them locked up for so long after you know for sure that you're not getting any intel out of them?

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Globe? Organic Food and the Global Economy

| Thu Jul. 6, 2006 9:27 PM EDT

"Organic" ain't what it used to be. As Michael Pollan notes in his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma (excerpted in the last issue of Mother Jones), what started out a quarter century ago as a reform movement is now well on its way to becoming a full-on industry, worth $14 billion at the last tally. People will disagree, of course, about whether this is a good thing. Some, like Joel Salafin, a local-food evangelist profiled by Pollan, sees the big organic companies like Whole Foods as, in Pollan's words, "part of an increasingly globalized economy that turns any food it touches into a commodity, reaching its tentacles wherever in the world a food can be produced most cheaply and then transporting it wherever it can be sold most dearly."

Well, good or bad, it's happening. For evidence, see this piece out today from AP. After noting that demand for organic food is outstripping supply (sales have grown 15-21 percent a year), that mainstream supermarkets are getting in on the act, and that the number of organic farms (10,000) is on the rise, though not fast enough to meet supply, the piece touches on the increasing globalization of Organic Inc.

As a result [of the lagging growth in the number of organic farms] organic manufacturers are looking for ingredients outside the United States in places like Europe, Bolivia, Venezuela and South Africa. ...

The makers of the high-energy, eat-and-run Clif Bar needed 85,000 pounds of almonds, and they had to be organic. But the nation's organic almond crop was spoken for. Eventually, Clif Bar found the almonds — in Spain. But more shortages have popped up: apricots and blueberries, cashews and hazelnuts, brown rice syrup and oats.

Even Stonyfield Farm, an organic pioneer in the United States, is pursuing a foreign supplier; Stonyfield is working on a deal to import milk powder from New Zealand.

"I'm not suggesting we would be importing from all these places," said Gary Hirshberg, president and CEO of Stonyfield Farm Inc. "But for transition purposes, to help organic supply to keep up with the nation's growing hunger, these countries have to be considered.

I leave to more sensitive souls the question of whether this development destroys the mystical communion folks have with their chicken dinners. I will say, though, that while there's obviously no inherent reason why the organic food "industry" should be immune from the dynamics of the global economy, the organic "movement," premised as it is on concern for the natural environment, runs into the problem that transporting food--even within the United States--burns up a whole lot of fuel. When a renegade movement is tamed, ironies abound...

Blogosphere--the wild blue yonder

| Thu Jul. 6, 2006 8:42 PM EDT

"Automated Ontologically-Based Link Analysis of International Web Logs for the Timely Discovery of Relevant and Credible Information."

Like the name? "How About Those Blogs?!" would flow better from the tongue, but for $450,000, you have to have a killer name for your study. "Automated Ontologically-Based Link Analysis of International Web Logs for the Timely Discovery of Relevant and Credible Information" (hereafter to be referred to as AOBLAIWLTDRCI) is a three-year project of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Dr. Brian E. Ulicny says "It can be challenging for information analysts to tell what's important in blogs unless you analyze patterns."

The researchers plan to develop an automated tool that tells analysts what topics bloggers are interestd in at any given time. If this sounds something like a search engine, the scientists agree, but say it is more focused. Says Ulicny:

Blog entries have a different structure. They are typically short and are about something external to the blog posting itself, such as a news event. It's not uncommon for a blogger to simply state, 'I can't believe this happened,' and then link to a news story.


What does the Air force hope to do with the results of AOBLAIWLTDRCI?

The fact that the web is a vast source of information is sometimes overlooked by military analyst. Our research goal is to provide the warfighter with a kind of information radar to better understand the information battlespace.

The United States of Incarceration

| Thu Jul. 6, 2006 7:40 PM EDT

Why go all the way to Guantanamo to find an unjust, broken prison system when we have one right here in the USA? That's the question cartoonist Mark Fiore takes up this week. (Click on the image to view. You need Flash.)

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