2009 - %3, October

Nyah Nyah Nyah

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 6:12 PM PDT

Getting in one last lick before the great Fox War becomes yesterday's news, Mickey Kaus follows up today on his earlier blog post about Fox News' lack of independence:

I argued that I have no faith that Roger Ailes didn't take direction from the Bush White House. The most sophisticated response I've gotten is, in effect, 'Sure he did. But you don't think Rick Kaplan at CNN took direction from the Clinton White House?' I don't know about Kaplan. But Kaplan only ran CNN for three years or so — just passing through. Roger Ailes pretty much is Fox News. The network has never existed without him.

Seriously?  This was the most sophisticated rebuttal he got?  That's pathetic.  Conservatives really need to step up their game.

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A Wee Question

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 5:19 PM PDT

Can someone please explain to me why a supposedly sophisticated magazine like the Economist continues to insist on the juvenile practice of refusing to byline blog posts?  I know, I know, voice of God blah blah blah.  But seriously.  Isn't it time to grow up and enter the 21st century?  After all, the whole point of the blog format is to highlight personal voices.  I know I'd link to them more often if I knew who I was conversing with.

Video: 350 Gets Rowdy

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 4:55 PM PDT

This Saturday, activists convened in more than four thousand cities worldwide for the 350 Day of Action, a global event designed to raise awareness about the looming effects of climate change and demand action from international leaders. The San Francisco protest attracted a hodge-podge of environmentalists, bikers, and polar bears, all lamenting the earth's increasingly dire fate. Now, it's up to the negotiators to reach a climate agreement in Copenhagen this November.

See the video:

Chamber Uses Yes Men 'Attack' to Fundraise

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 4:54 PM PDT

The US Chamber of Commerce is turning their run-in with the Yes Men last week into a fundraising opportunity.

TPMMuckraker got a hold of a fundraising email sent to Chamber supporters late last week, calling on them to send money because the "U.S. Chamber is under attack."

Help us fight back!As you probably have seen in the news -- the U.S. Chamber is under attack.

MoveOn.org and other extremist groups are harassing our members...

A group of pranksters held a fake news conference falsely claiming to be the U.S. Chamber...

They're attacking us for having the audacity to oppose legislation that would be harmful to American employers and cost vital American jobs.

The letter is signed by the Chamber's senior vice president and national political director, Bill Miller. It takes supporters to a webpage where they can make a donation to the Chamber. "Don't let them muzzle us. Stand up for free speech by making a contribution below," it urges.

Meanwhile, the Chamber has unleashed their lawyers on the Yes Men in order to get their parody Chamber site yanked from the interwebs. Because they truly believe in free speech, of course.

Fiji Water Burning Trash?

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 4:20 PM PDT

In the wake of Mother Jones's recent Fiji Water expose that tackled the company's indifference to the country's military junta and the surrounding communities' dire lack of clean drinking water, we received many letters. One in particular caught our attention. In 2007 Mary Ackley, then a graduate student at the University of Vermont, was doing research on the Vatukoula gold mine in Fiji when she saw yet another piece of the story.

On one of Ackley's trips to visit the Vatukoula mine, located about 18 miles from Fiji Water's bottling plant, she saw makeshift fences made of oversized spools of Fiji Water labels. Then she saw huge plumes of smoke rising from the local dump. When Ackley looked closer she noticed piles of discarded Fiji Water bottles, reels of company labels, and plastic pellets used to make the bottles. It looked like too much trash to be generated by the small town, so Ackley started asking around. Sure enough, residents who lived next to the dump said they had seen Fiji Water trucks pass by three or four times a week since about 1996, when the company first started operations.

But that was back in 2007. Last year, Fiji Water representative Rob Six told Ackley in a written letter that the company had been phasing out the use of the dump since June 2007. Apparently, as of last fall, the company stopped burning trash there all together. Nevertheless, asthma rates in Vatukoula are through the roof—which the community told Ackley is likely a result of gold mining operations, as well as carcinogens released by constantly smoldering Fiji Water trash over the past decade. Ackley's surveys showed that the number one concern in the community was respiratory problems caused by airborne carcinogens. It remains to be seen how Fiji Green will address the damage done.   

This year Ackley and filmmaker Kristian Maynard released a short documentary in which they narrate their discovery of the Vatukoula dump and explore the gold mining's horrific effects on Fijian health. Last weekend, it won an award at the Yosemite International Film Festival. Check out the clip below.

  

 

Blast Climate Change: India's Ready to Go Nuclear

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 4:06 PM PDT

The effects of coal-fired power are obvious everywhere in India. Filthy air. Grimy buildings. Persistent tubercular coughing from people, babies, dogs, cats, cows.

It's reminiscent of Europe in the first half of the 20th century, complete with pea-soup—make that dhal-soup—smogs.

So who can blame India for wanting to get more energy and cleaner energy and turning to the fastest solution? Just like France did. And Japan. And Russia. And South Korea.

Ever since a deal with the US last October removed sanctions denying access to the international atomic energy market, India's been on a nuclear spending bender, reports the Asia Times. They've signed big nuclear and tech agreements with Russia, the US, and France. They've signed lesser agreements with Namibia, Mongolia, Tajikistan, South Korea, Kazakhstan, and Argentina—and are about to sign with Canada.

Last week India assigned sites for Russian, French, and American firms to build new reactors: the French in Maharashtra; the Russians in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal; the US in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

Which leads to the dirty little secret that supposedly-clean nuclear power is making a stealthy comeback as the miraculous climate fix of the 21st century. Britain's made an about-face and is pledging a whopping 30 percent nuclear by 2030.

Conservative blogger Paul Mirengoff at Power Line tries to convince why we should not be afraid. He paraphrases Former Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham writing in the Weekly Standard, in a piece called New Nukes!:

The objection to using nuclear power, to the extent it has any rational basis at all, stems from concerns about safety. But these concerns are founded on events from the late 1970s (Three Mile Island) and mid 1980s (Chernobyl). Since then... nuclear reactors and the whole nuclear industry have been transformed. Ironically, the old facilities continue to operate, while new, safer ones cannot be built. To borrow and expand on Abraham's analogy, the position of the critics makes about as much sense as refusing to have heart bypass surgery because the mortality rate associated with this procedure was high during the 1970s, but then having the surgery anyway using the procedures of the 1970s.

Abraham writes about the need for increased nuclear power to combat climate change. He writes without a smidgeon of irony regarding his own intransigent resistance to any notion of climate change as secretary of energy during George W. Bush's first term. He never mentions nuclear waste disposal. He never mentions security issues... like the alleged terrorist found to be working at a British nuclear lab.

But back to India. Should we be worried that a nation struggling to provide clean drinking water or universal education for its people, one that is in a state of near-war with all its neighbors, is racing to construct 15 nuclear power plants at eight different sites? Should we be concerned that firms including GE Hitachi, Toshiba Westinghouse, Areva, and Rosatom are vying for contracts worth an estimated US $100 billion?

Isn't there a better way to spend $100 billion than on a clean energy fix with filthy risks?

The only way to beat nuclear is to bring solar, geothermal, and intelligent wind up to speed and on-line faster. At the moment, only the US is holding out against nuclear—the technology we invented. It's up to us to enter the future with foresight. To pioneer the better solution. Fast.

Check the latest MoJo for the unholy scramble among lobbyists in DC for the future of the energy world.

You know, there's a lot of sun in India. In fact India has one of the world’s highest solar intensities, with an annual energy yield of 1,700 to 1,900 kilowatt hours per kilowatt peak of  installed capacity. It's cleaner, safer, and freer.


 

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Stop Digging

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 3:46 PM PDT

The latest story from those pilots who overshot Minneapolis is that they had their laptops out and got so absorbed in what they were doing that they lost track of time.  Private pilot James Fallows isn't buying it:

The difficulty for the pilots is that the version of the story they're resisting — that they simply fell asleep — is less damning for them than any alternative version. If they fell asleep, that's bad, but they could argue some kind of force majeure. But if their "heated conversation" (previous story) or intense laptop use (current story) kept them from remembering their most elemental responsibility as pilots, that really is beyond the pale. The closest comparison would be, say, to an operating-room crew that got so interested in watching a football game on TV that they sliced open a patient but forgot to take out his appendix. Forgetting where you are going is incredible enough on its own. And not having any back-of-mind nag saying, "Wait a minute, we haven't heard anything on the air-traffic control frequency for a while" also is outside any known experience of the professional flight-crew world.

The laptop story really, really doesn't hold water.  Air traffic controllers tried to reach them repeatedly with no success, and there's just no way that busily reviewing flight schedules could have absorbed them so fully that they didn't even hear their radio.  These guys need to remember the first lesson about what to do when you find yourself in a hole: stop digging.

Music Monday: Can Rupa and the April Fishes Live Up to The Hype?

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 2:35 PM PDT | Scheduled to publish Mon Oct. 26, 2009 3:30 AM PDT

San Francisco loves Rupa and the April Fishes. The local world-beat ensemble recently garnered a nomination in the alt SF Weekly's annual music awards, and packed the space with adoring fans at a performance piece I attended last week.

Part of the appeal lies in the group's personal narrative, which seems designed to bait music editors: Frontwoman Rupa Marya is a physician; their musical influences include gypsy swing, tango, and polka; they sing in Spanish, French, Hindi, and English.

Luckily, their music mostly lives up to the hype. Marya's vocals are a fine blend of slow-burn passion and buoyant belting, and her backing musicians are highly skilled and perfectly synched.

Opt-Out Noses Ahead of Trigger at the Wire

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 2:16 PM PDT

Last Friday it looked like the most likely compromise on including a public option in the healthcare bill was Olympia Snowe's "trigger." But either that was just a feint or else everyone changed their minds over the weekend:

The Senate health care legislation will include a government-run insurance plan, but states would be allowed to “opt out” of it, the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, announced Monday afternoon.

....“Under this concept, states will be able to determine whether the public option works well for them and will have the ability to opt out if they so choose. I believe that a public option can achieve the goal of bringing meaningful reform to our broken system.”

Snowe has announced that she won't support this, so that means Republicans are now unanimously opposed to healthcare reform. It can still pass, but only if the Democratic caucus is unanimously willing to allow a floor vote.  Needless to say, this is still up in the air.  Fasten your seatbelts.

Music Monday: Kerouac's Big Sur Inspires Indie Collaboration

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 2:15 PM PDT

In writing the music for Death Cab for Cutie's "Narrow Stairs" (2008), singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard holed up in a cabin in Big Sur, California, that was once owned by the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti—and the place where Jack Kerouac wrote his lesser-known 1962 novel Big Sur. Kerouac's pull evidently lingered with Gibbard. His latest project, released last week, is a soft, melodic collaboration with alt-country rocker Jay Farrar titled "One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur."

Far more melancholic than On the Road or The Dharma Bums, Big Sur describes a fictionalized (though clearly autobiographical) Jack; his flight from fame to the West, his alcoholism, and his ensuing breakdown. Musically speaking, Farrar and Gibbard's interpretation is lighter than that, even as it pulls various lyrics straight from the text. And while the artists meld well in songs like "There Roads Don’t Move" and "Sea Engines," the overall album feels like the work of two distinct artists.