Suriname's Green Nobel Winner

Want some Earth Day inspiration that has nothing to do with Susan Boyle? Check out the seven Goldman Environmental Prize winners this year. From Indonesia to Appalachia, shipping to logging, these "Green Nobel" winners all have great heart. The one I spoke with, Hugo Jabine, comes from the forests of Suriname, where the Maroon community founded by freed African slaves has lived for 300 years. Goldman award materials say Jabine and his co-recipient Wanze Eduards "successfully organized their communities against logging on their traditional lands, ultimately leading to a landmark ruling for indigenous and tribal peoples throughout the Americas to control resource exploitation in their territories."

Here's how he tells it:

Wealth and Wall Street

Gabe Sherman has a piece today in New York magazine about how gobsmacked the Wall Street crowd is that people are pissed off at them these days.  There are a million things you could say about it — and since I'm coming late to this, a million things probably have been said about it — but I just want to excerpt this one piece:

Wall Street people are not moral idiots (most of them, anyway) — it’s not as if they’ve never pondered the fairness of their enormous salaries. “One of my relatives is a doctor, we’re both well-educated, hardworking people. And he certainly didn’t make the amount of money I made,” a former Bear Stearns senior managing director tells me. “I would be the first person to tell you his value to society, to humanity, is far greater than anything that went on in the Bear Stearns building.”

That said, he continues, “We’re in a hypercapitalistic society. No one complains when Julia Roberts pulls down $25 million per movie or A-Rod has a $300 million guarantee. We have ex-presidents who cash in on their presidencies. Our whole moral compass has shifted about what’s acceptable or not acceptable. Honestly, you can pick on Wall Street all you want, I don’t think it’s fair. It’s fair to say you ran your companies into the ground, your risk management is flawed — that is perfectly legitimate. You can lay criticism on GM or others. But I don’t think it’s fair to say Wall Street is paid too much.”

It's hard to know what to say about this.  It just leaves you speechless.  And this guy is one of the more self-aware ones.

Later on Sherman quotes another Wall Streeter who's livid over Obama's plan to raise tax rates slightly on the rich.  "He doesn’t want to have any wealth creation," the guy wails, and that really seems to get to the heart of all this.  Financial industry players sincerely seem to view all "wealth" as equal.  If the market pays you a lot, it's because you're responsible for creating a lot of wealth, and that's that.  The fact that the wealth you created was largely divorced from even a notional real-world benefit to the larger economy doesn't matter.  Money is money.

Still, both these guys are right: the big players in the financial industry get paid a lot because they're responsible for creating gigantic streams of money for their firms.  As long as that stays the case, they're going to continue making truckloads of money no matter what we do.  But if we reduce that stream of financial rents to levels more related to the actual value it creates in the real world, pay levels will become more reasonable too.  That's what we should focus on.

Dishing on Chrysler

This afternoon brings yet another story in which the most interesting question is, Who leaked this?

Top officials at Chrysler Financial turned away a $750 million government loan because executives didn't want to abide by new federal limits on pay, sources familiar with the matter say.

....The Treasury Department previously had loaned Chrysler Financial $1.5 billion....During March, when it seemed that the first loan would run out, the Obama administration began working on a deal to lend the company another $750 million.

Quickly, most of the agreement fell into place. But on April 7, Treasury asked Chrysler Financial to have its top 25 executives sign waivers regarding their compensation, sources said....Within a week, the company responded that some of the executives had refused to give their approval.

Sure, this is sort of interesting on its own merits.  Mainly, though, it seems interesting as a shot across the bow in the war between Washington and the business world over executive pay.  Someone in the White House apparently wants word of this particular round in the fight to become very public indeed.

Susan Boyle's 20 Media Euphemisms

A Lexis-Nexis search turns up 952 articles concerning Britain's Got Talent Superstar, Susan Boyle. Why? She's got a smoking singing voice, but she's not-hot, and that's touched a cultural nerve. We are shallow. We don't want to be shallow. Or at least, we don't want people to know how very shallow we are. But we can't talk about how shallow we are without mentioning how not-hot Susan Boyle is and how we wrote her off because of her not-hottitude. Right?

So. How many colorful euphemisms can the media come up with? Lots—see 20 below.

1. "The plain Jane superstar," in a Daily News article about an offer from a porn company to put Boyle in an adult film. (It plans to fly her to L.A. on Virgin Airlines.)

2. "Like Shrek come to life," Rosie O'Donnell to People magazine.

3. "Frizzy-haired" from Mother Jones's own Party Ben.

4. "Plain, dowdy, unemployed," in New York Magazine's round up.

5. The Age of Melbourne let an imaginary Jane Austen do the dissing and refers to her as "ill-favoured."

 

Crazy GOP Fundraiser Watch

A few weeks ago I reported two senators, John Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe, had introduced the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, a bill that would give the president and commerce secretary power to halt internet traffic on "critical" networks in the name of "national security."

And today, David Corn sent me a hysterical email he received from a conservative PAC, the Republican Majority Campaign, urging the reader to contact his representative in order to stop "Barack Hussein Obama and his cronies" from their "power grab"—Rockefeller and Snowe's bill.

Politicians and lobbyists want to take away our Constitutional rights -- we need to make sure they FAIL. And we've got a GREAT way to do that!

We've set up a website where you can send "blast faxes"to EVERY SINGLE MEMBER OF CONGRESS, telling them to say NO to this attempt to take over the entire internet! For less that what it would cost you to gather every fax number and send all those faxes yourself, you can send HUNDREDS of faxes, ALL AT ONCE to Capitol Hill -- to make SURE they hear your voice!

Of course, I clicked the link to the "blast fax" page. And of course, it wants me to pay them: Just $119 to fax all 535 members of Congress!—"about what it would cost you in time and telephone charges."

If this seems shady, it should. In what world does it cost $119 to send 535 pages via fax? Secondly, as they've obviously discovered email, why aren't they using an email blast? Third, why don't they just list the names of the members of the Senate Commerce Committee so I can call them myself?

In March of last year, TPM Muckraker linked the Republican Majority Campaign to Republican PACs that shut down after the Washington Post reported its founders were running them like their own piggy banks, taking in loads of money but only spending a tiny fraction of it on political action. At the time, TPM called the Republican Majority Campaign a "murky group," but this fundraising scheme parading as an action letter just seems brazen to me.

UPDATE: Joe the Plumber is also getting in on the shady GOP fundraising party.

Video: Dissecting Portugal's Approach to Drugs

Reason sits down with Glenn Greenwald, who just completed a study on Portugal's drug decriminalization program. Interesting stuff.

Via Andrew.

This Should Be Interesting

The 2009 Pulitzer prizes were announced on Monday, and the New York Times' David Barstow won the investigative reporting prize for his story on former military officials who were organized by the Pentagon to cheerlead for Bush administration war policies as "analysts" on cable television. Most of the "analysts"—called "message force multipliers" by the Pentagon—had ties to major defense contractors and had significant financial interests in the continuation of Bush war policies. And as Barstow reported, those relationships were rarely disclosed by the cable news networks that had the former officials on as purportedly unbiased analysts. The "message force multipliers" named in Barstow's article appeared or were quoted some 4,500 times on ABC, ABC News Now, CBS, CBS Radio Network, NBC, CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, and NPR between January 1, 2002 and May 13, 2008, according to a report by Media Matters for America.

The response to Barstow's story from the cable networks that hosted the officials from the military's propoganda team was, and continues to be, "deafening silence." Officials from the networks even refused to appear on PBS' award-winning News Hour with Jim Lehrer to respond to Barstow's charges. It should be interesting to see whether the media can keep up that silence now that Barstow's reporting has been recognized with a Pulitzer.

On MSNBC on Monday morning, GOP pundit Ron Christie, while commenting about Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez's self-professed desire for better relations with the United States, huffed that "actions speak louder than words...I'd like to see him release thousands of political prisoners who are currently in prison for their political views."

The problem with that statement? Chavez, for all his anti-democratic ways, has not imprisoned thousands of political prisoners. Human rights groups that roundly criticize Chavez don't even cite a single political prisoner in Venezuela. Nobody on air corrected Christie.

Who's Christie? He was an aide to both President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. He wrote a book called, Black in the White House: Life Inside George W. Bush's Wet Wing. He appears regularly on cable television. He's a lobbyist (and used to lobby for AIG). And his bio makes him sound super-smart:

As a veteran senior advisor to the White House and Congress, he brings his keen insights and political savvy to issues including health care, the national budget, taxes, and innumerable others. He is also active on the international scene as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, lending his breadth of knowledge and intelligence to world affairs.

But Christie's breadth of knowledge about Venezuela ain't so hot. As Human Rights Watch reports, Chavez "has weakened democratic institutions and human rights guarantees in Venezuela." It notes:

Discrimination on political grounds has been a defining feature of the Chávez presidency.
The Chávez government has engaged in wide-ranging acts of discrimination against political opponents and critics. At times, the president himself has openly endorsed acts of discrimination. More generally, he has encouraged the discriminatory actions of subordinates by routinely denouncing his critics as anti-democratic conspirators – regardless of whether they had any connection to the 2002 coup.

The group also points out that the Chavez government has undermined freedom of expression with crackdowns aimed at the media, has violated workers' rights, and has "pursued an aggressively adversarial approach to local rights advocates and civil society organziations." But it says nothing about political prisoners--let alone thousands. Amnesty International, too, notes that in Venezuela "human rights defenders continued to face intimidation and attack." Again, no mention of political prisoners. (By the way, the repressive Castro regime in Cuba has imprisoned several dozen dissidents, not thousands.)

I sent Christie an email asking about his claim that Chavez has jailed thousands of political prisoners. So far, he has not responded. Maybe he's too busy lending his breadth of knowledge to world affairs.

Watchdog Demands Harman Ethics Probe

Is an ethics committee investigation in Rep. Jane Harman's future? DC-based watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics In Washington certainly thinks one is warranted, and just faxed faxed a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) requesting an investigation into Harman's role in alleged quid-pro-quo scheme. CQ reported late Sunday that the California Democrat was caught on an National Security Agency wiretap agreeing to lobby for the reduction of charges against two alleged Israeli spies in exchange for another suspected Israeli agent's help in convincing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) to name Harman to chairmanship of the House intelligence committee. Harman denies the allegations. "Harman deserves to be sanctioned...,' Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, told Mother Jones. "She was willing to use a criminal investigation as a tool just to get a chairmanship. Obviously there's political gamesmanship on Capitol Hill, but it has to end before you get to the Grand Jury's door. That's really beyond the pale."

CREW also faxed a letter to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) Monday afternoon, requesting an investigation into why no charges were pursued against Harman. CQ alleged in its story that an investigation of Harman was quashed because then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wanted the powerful Democrat's continued help defending the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. "It looks like the Justice Department dropped the case not because they didn't have the evidence but for political reasons," Sloan says. "It's yet another example that [the Bush administration] would do anything to advance their agenda, that they treated the Justice system as a political tool."

Review: Poisoned Waters

More than 35 years ago, Congress enacted the legislation now known as the Clean Water Act. The law had been around since its first incarnation—the Federal Water Pollution Control Act—in the Truman era, but the bill Congress passed in 1972 was a sweeping overhaul of the original act. The Clean Water Act set limits on the amount of pollutants industries and cities could discharge and gave the Environmental Protection Agency the power to sue and penalize polluters that exceeded those limits.

But after Ronald Reagan came to Washington, his administration established a program of voluntary compliance with Clean Water Act standards. That program is the launching point for Frontline’s documentary Poisoned Waters (airing Tuesday at 9 pm on PBS), which examines widespread pollution in two US waterways—Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound—caused by 25 years of unregulated toxic industrial, agricultural and municipal runoff.

Narrator Hendrick Smith shows us the first striking snapshot of aquatic pollution when he joins one environmental activist on a flyover of a Purdue chicken farm in Maryland: Behind each shed of 40,000 chickens, we see huge brown splotches of phosphorus- and nitrogen-heavy chicken manure. Rainwater eventually causes the chicken waste to leach in to one of the streams that make up the Chesapeake’s massive aquatic footprint. As Smith shows, chicken waste dumped into a tributary in Richmond could eventually end up in your drinking water in Baltimore.

Poisoned Waters is filled with those types of images: Frogs with six legs, once-male bass in West Virginia rivers that have morphed into females, and an underwater waste pipe spewing a constant noxious cloud of brown goop into Puget Sound. Smith and his crew use those images as segues to the documentary’s crucial point: Any pollution that kills aquatic life can harm humans. Finding dead fish floating belly-up on the surface of a river is a bad omen for humans drinking its water.

While deregulation emerges as the main culprit for the nation's polluted waterways, Smith implicates another group of culpable offenders—us. We’ve spent years creating new chemicals for everything from pesticides to household cleaners, all without pushing for up-to-date technology to purify our water of these toxins. Smith talks to one team of scientists who test for toxins in the Potomac River, both before and after its water is run through a treatment plant just north of Washington, DC. The plant’s outdated filters only remove a third of the pollutants in the Potomac.

So what can we do about it? Poisoned Waters concludes the impetus to clean up aquatic pollution—and halt it in the future—carries the most force when it comes from the electorate. But a pure environmental argument doesn’t always resonate with the voters. As Chris Miller, an activist with the Virginia-based Piedmont Environmental Council, says, “Getting up in front of a crowd and saying, ‘The bay’s in tough shape, and the pollution’s getting worse, and we’ve gotta change our lifestyles to save it,’ really doesn’t get you anywhere.” And with three-quarters of the US population living near waterways, hundreds of millions of Americans are affected by unregulated pollution. The trick is getting us all to care.

Note: I wasn't aware PBS would be advertising this program on our site until after I watched and reviewed Poisoned Waters. —S.A.