2009 - %3, October

Copen-bloggin': The Danish Story

| Mon Oct. 5, 2009 3:00 PM EDT

Ahead of the big climate summit in December, the Danish government has invited a small group of reporters from the US to the country so they can show us all the climate-related activities they've been up to. I'll be reporting from here this week.

Our first day started out with a meeting at the Climate Consortium, a private-public partnership that the Danes created in June 2008 to promote and enhance the political, business, and public relations opportunities related to their climate work. As executive director Finn Mortensen describes it, the goal is to promote "Danish solutions in climate and energy."

The group organizes trips such as the press junket we're currently attending, as well as visits for political and business leaders from all over the world. They've also developed a website that uses Google Maps technology to highlight projects around the country.

Denmark has plenty to show off, and with the biggest climate meeting in history coming here in just 62 days, they've got an incentive to entice other countries to follow suit. The country has maintained a steady level of energy consumption since the 1970s, and continues to see a decline in use.

Meanwhile, the percentage of renewables has ticked steadily upward; they're now the world leader in wind energy and have a burgeoning biomass industry. Twenty percent of energy now comes from electricity generated by wind turbines, and they've set a goal of drawing half their power from wind by 2050. They also intend to end fossil fuel use by that time.

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Music Monday: Gillian Welch Mesmerizes the Fillmore

| Mon Oct. 5, 2009 2:56 PM EDT

Sure, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park hosted some of the biggest names in bluegrass this past weekend, on six different stages for three days straight. But I was lucky enough to catch Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings last Thursday at the Fillmore before all that madness began.

It's always a toss-up whether music with such reverence for subtlety will get drowned out by a drunken crowd in a standing-only venue like this one. But the country-folk pair cut right through any misgivings their audience might have had about the music being too soft or too twangy; at times they were both, and the crowd went crazy for them. The pair played a handful of Welch favorites, including "Red Clay Halo" and "Revelator," and with voices intertwined, so accustomed to one another's intonations, their harmonies sounded more like one voice than two.

The Qahtani Interrogation Tapes

| Mon Oct. 5, 2009 2:10 PM EDT

The Center for Constitutional Rights relays the news that audio and video tapes of the interrogation of Mohammed al Qahtani still exist. For now, a court is just requiring the government to release tapes depicting the period immediately before Qahtani underwent the most extreme interrogation under Donald Rumsfeld's "First Special Interrogation Plan":

The videotapes the government is required to produce will reveal the time period at the end of three months of intensive solitary confinement and isolation that immediately preceded the implementation of the "First Special Interrogation Plan," a regime of systematic torture techniques approved by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for use against Mr. al Qahtani.  In a letter to his superiors reporting possible abuse of men in U.S. custody, T.J. Harrington, Deputy Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, FBI described Mr. al Qahtani during this time as "evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to non-existent people, reportedly hearing voices, crouching in a corner of the cell covered with a sheet for hours on end)."

Now seems like an appropriate time to remember that even Jay Bybee, the author of the worst of the torture memos, thought that techniques that caused "prolonged mental harm" qualified as torture.

Genealogy Strikes Back

| Mon Oct. 5, 2009 11:36 AM EDT

I'm still catching up with news from the weekend.  Turns out that Iranian president Mahmoud "The Holocaust is a myth" Ahmadinejad is, um, Jewish:

A photograph of the Iranian president holding up his identity card during elections in March 2008 clearly shows his family has Jewish roots.

A close-up of the document reveals he was previously known as Sabourjian — a Jewish name meaning cloth weaver....The Sabourjians traditionally hail from Aradan, Mr Ahmadinejad's birthplace, and the name derives from "weaver of the Sabour", the name for the Jewish Tallit shawl in Persia. The name is even on the list of reserved names for Iranian Jews compiled by Iran's Ministry of the Interior.

....The Iranian leader has not denied his name was changed when his family moved to Tehran in the 1950s. But he has never revealed what it was change from or directly addressed the reason for the switch.

I will shortly be announcing that I am descended from Republicans.  More on that story later.

UPDATE: Then again, maybe not.

E. coli Conservatism

| Mon Oct. 5, 2009 10:27 AM EDT

Over the weekend the New York Times ran a long story about E. coli poisoning in the hamburger industry.  I could swear I've read nearly this exact same story three or four times before and it never seems to prompt any actual changes in the meatgrinding industry, but maybe this time we'll get lucky.  For Saturday's story, the Times tracked down the infected hamburger that paralyzed Stephanie Smith two years ago, and what they discovered was that meat grinders don't test the various ingredients that go into making hamburger.  They only test the final product:

When it came to E. coli O157:H7, Cargill did not screen the ingredients and only tested once the grinding was done. The potential pitfall of this practice surfaced just weeks before Ms. Smith’s patty was made. A company spot check in May 2007 found E. coli in finished hamburger, which Cargill disclosed to investigators in the wake of the October outbreak. But Cargill told them it could not determine which supplier had shipped the tainted meat since the ingredients had already been mixed together.

“Our finished ground products typically contain raw materials from numerous suppliers,” Dr. Angela Siemens, the technical services vice president for Cargill’s meat division, wrote to the U.S.D.A. “Consequently, it is not possible to implicate a specific supplier without first observing a pattern of potential contamination.”

Did Cargill do this to save money?  Only partly.  Primarily it's because if they test, they might actually find something:

The retail giant Costco is one of the few big producers that tests trimmings for E. coli before grinding....Costco said it had found E. coli in foreign and domestic beef trimmings and pressured suppliers to fix the problem. But even Costco, with its huge buying power, said it had met resistance from some big slaughterhouses. “Tyson will not supply us,” Mr. Wilson said. “They don’t want us to test.

....The food safety officer at American Foodservice, which grinds 365 million pounds of hamburger a year, said it stopped testing trimmings a decade ago because of resistance from slaughterhouses. “They would not sell to us,” said Timothy P. Biela, the officer. “If I test and it’s positive, I put them in a regulatory situation. One, I have to tell the government, and two, the government will trace it back to them. So we don’t do that.”

The USDA has since issued guidelines "urging" grinders to test ingredients, but that's it.  They don't require it.  Surely a Democratic administration and a Democratic Congress, not ideologically opposed to safety regulations, can do better than that?

AFP Musters Small Protest on Health Care Reform

| Mon Oct. 5, 2009 9:57 AM EDT

On Friday and Saturday the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) held its third annual Defending the American Dream Summit. (AFP was one of the main corporate-sponsored advocacy groups organizing this summer’s town hall protests.) On Friday, after a morning of “Grassroots Trainings”—which included social media lessons for conservatives and speeches by such notables as Newt Gingrich—participants ventured from the summit’s Arlington Marriot venue into DC for a health care town hall at the Capitol. According to the AFP website thousands of conservatives were expected to come from far and wide to attend the summit, but it looked like only about two or three hundred made it to the rally.

The crowd was old and young, overwhelmingly white, and though the intended theme of the rally was health care, people seemed concerned with a variety of issues on the GOP agenda. One man dressed as Napoleon lamented "the overall loss of American freedom." After an hour of fist shaking in the direction of the congress, the American dream defenders headed back to the Marriot for the Tribute to Ronald Reagan dinner.

 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 5, 2009

Mon Oct. 5, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

A mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored all-terrain vehicle is loaded onto a C-17 Globemaster III Sept. 30, 2009, at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. Two M-ATVs were loaded and flown to Afghanistan to support combat missions. The C-17 is based out of McChord AFB, Wash. (U.S. Air Force photo/James M. Bowman)

Need To Read: October 5, 2009

Mon Oct. 5, 2009 5:59 AM EDT

Today's must-reads are ready for a floor debate on health care reform:

Get more stuff like this: Follow me on twitter! David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets, as does awesome new MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

Econundrum: Household Conservation Smackdown

| Mon Oct. 5, 2009 5:00 AM EDT | Scheduled to publish Mon Oct. 5, 2009 5:00 AM EDT

Q: If I could only choose one thing to do in my lifetime to reduce my carbon footprint, what should it be?

A: Switch out your bulbs. Insulate your house. Recycle. Cinderelly, Cinderelly. Frankly, it’s all a little overwhelming. Wouldn't it be great to know which personal conservation activities get you the most carbon-reducing bang for your buck? Researchers at Oregon State University calculated the lifetime impact of a few popular ones. Here’s what they found:

  • Recycling newspaper, magazines, glass, plastic aluminum, and steel cans: 19 tons of CO2 saved
  • Replacing old refrigerator with energy-efficient model: 21 tons saved
  • Replacing ten 75-w incandescent bulbs with 25-w Energy-efficient lights: 40 tons saved
  • Replace single-glazed windows with energy-efficient windows: 133 tons saved
  • Reducing miles driven from 231 to 155 per week: 162 tons saved
  • Increasing car’s fuel economy from 20 to 30 mpg: 163 tons saved

So: If you can't afford to replace your fridge (or you're emotionally attached to your avocado green late '70s model), drive 10 fewer miles a week. If you rent and can't persuade your landlord to upgrade your windows, drive 62 fewer miles a week (um, time to buy a bike).

The bottom line: Keep recycling. Switch out those lightbulbs. But whatever you do, cut down on your car time, and if you must drive, do it in a fuel-efficient car.

 

We Geezers Got Our Single-Payer Plan. Now Go Get Your Own.

| Mon Oct. 5, 2009 12:03 AM EDT

I’ve written many times about how Americans of all ages have been set up for a fake intergenerational battle over supposedly scarce health care resources. The purpose of this phony competition is to distract us from the fact that the resources wouldn’t be so scarce to begin with if we would only reduce the profits of the insurance and drug industries.

It’s an old bait and switch tactic, and the mainstream media have fallen for it hook, line, and sinker. So instead of talking about greedy drug companies that gouge people for drugs they need to survive, or greedy insurance companies that let people die to keep up their share prices, we’re all talking about the greedy old farts on Medicare who don’t want their services cut to pay for younger people’s insurance.

The latest take on all of this, as described in over the weekend in the New York Times, pits the old (over 65) against the not-so-old (50-64). The article focuses on the conflict within AARP, which has spent several decades hitting people up for membership the day after their 50th birthdays, and now includes members from both these warring age groups:

Its 40 million members are split about evenly between those who have access to Medicare, the federal government’s health program for the elderly, and those who are too young to be eligible for such benefits. The younger members, or those between the ages of 50 and 64, sometimes face terrible choices in the private insurance market, with age and declining health status making premiums high and benefits poor. But members 65 and older get among the most secure medical benefits in the country, and many are in no mood to share.

So this is what it’s come to in the American health care system: Sickly 60-year-olds just trying to hold out until they can get their Medicare cards. Cranky old folks hoarding their Medicare benefits against the encroaching middle-aged mob. People eyeing each other suspiciously across the 65-year age divide, fearing and resenting one another.