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Killing Others Makes Us Sicker

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 7:52 PM EST

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Credit: Nature

Oops. More of those unforeseen consequences. Including the first scientific evidence that deadly emerging diseases have risen steeply across the world. Why? Because of human expansion into shrinking pockets of biodiversity and resulting contacts with wildlife (think poor countries). Plus, the bonus factor (think rich countries), new diseases arising from overuse of antibiotics, centralized food processing, and other technologies, nursing other outbreaks, like multidrug-resistant pathogen strains. The study appears in the Feb. 21 issue of the scientific journal Nature.

In the new study, researchers from four institutions analyzed 335 emerging diseases from 1940 to 2004, then converted the results into maps correlated with human population density, population changes, latitude, rainfall and wildlife biodiversity. Disease emergences have quadrupled in 50 years. Sixty percent travelled from animals to humans, most from wild creatures. Hot spots on the map span sub-Saharan Africa, India, and China, with smaller spots in Europe, North America, and South America. Translated: everywhere.

Still waiting for human intelligence to overrule human appetite.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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Gunmaker Ends Partnership With Blackwater

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 5:22 PM EST

Even as FBI agents return to Baghdad to revisit the scene of Blackwater's September 16 shooting that killed 17 Iraqi civilians and wounded 24 more, the embattled private security firm continues to lose friends closer to home. According to UPI, German gun manufacturer Heckler-and-Koch, which formed a "strategic partnership" with Blackwater in August 2006, has announced an end to its association with the company:

Heckler-and-Koch said it would end its relationship in the wake of a German news report that Blackwater employees used its machine guns in Iraq and Afghanistan and that the two companies had a "strategic partnership."
Deutsche Welle said Tuesday that the revelations stirred criticism among some German politicians who said they were aghast at Blackwater's controversial role in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It is scandalous and unacceptable that a German arms company cooperates with such a lawless mercenary troop," declared Green Party lawmaker Hans Christian Strobele.

Lawless mercenary troop? That's exactly the kind of talk that makes Erik Prince's skin crawl. But it's also language that carries considerable political weight these days, especially given the high number of (allegedly) unlawful killings in Iraq that have involved Blackwater operators.

The end of the Blackwater/Heckler-and-Koch partnership means that paying clients will no longer be able to avail themselves of the "Blackwater HK International Training Services" program, which offered classes like H&K Rifle Operator, H&K Pistol Operator, and H&K SMG (submachine gun) Operator.

A New Smear Email: Obama Gave an Anti-Israel Speech at a Black Church

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 5:06 PM EST

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Barack Obama is a secret Muslim who refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance. During the Democratic primary campaign, the junior senator from Illinois has been hit repeatedly by virulent viral emails pushing false claims like these. The latest: Obama, due to his Muslim background, secretly favors Palestinians over Israelis.

An unsourced email being disseminated claims that "someone taped former Muslim Barack HUSSEIN Obama at a black church when he was in South Carolina" and that Obama said:

It's clear that we give too much money to Israel. [cheers] Why... do you know that every American gives approx .20 cents A DAY to Israel? [jeers] We keep hearing how tough the Israelis are... how great an 'ally' they are... --but what if we gave the SAME AMOUNT of money we gave THEM to the poor Palestinians--I bet THAT would bring them finally to the table. We could have a two-state solution... a two-state solution--just like former President Carter outlined in his latest book. We can't have peace in the Middle East until we solve that problem down in Palestine. George Bush should have thought about that before he went into Iraq...[etc.]

The email goes on to note that Obama sounds "a GREAT DEAL like Malcolm X." It asks, "Instead of the 'Manchurian Candidate,' is Obama the secret 'Farrakan Candidate'"? It then seeks to explain his purported anti-Israel bias:

Will Barrack's [sic] Muslim roots cause him to favor the Palestinians against Israel?

McCain Campaign Uses Lobbyist to Strike Back at Iseman Scandal

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 3:14 PM EST

A very interesting email from the McCain campaign:

Well, here we go. We could expect attacks were coming; as soon as John McCain appeared to be locking up the Republican nomination, the liberal establishment and their allies at the New York Times have gone on the attack. Today's front-page New York Times story is particularly disgusting — an un-sourced hit-and-run smear campaign designed to distract from the issues at stake in this election. With John McCain leading a number of general-election polls against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the New York Times knew the time to attack was now, and they did. We will not allow their scurrilous attack against a great American hero to stand.
The New York Times — the newspaper that gave MoveOn.org a sweetheart deal to run advertisements attacking General Petraeus — has shown once again that it cannot exercise good journalistic judgment when it comes to dealing with a conservative Republican....
John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has led the charge to limit the money and influence of the special interests in politics and stomp out corruption. His life and his record prove just how preposterous the smear by the New York Times really is...

The problem? The writer of this email, defending John McCain from accusations of being too close to a lobbyist, is McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis, a former lobbyist himself.

Update: Oh, and by the way — even though the McCain campaign is going to war with the New York Times, it is still touting its recent NYT endorsement on its website.

Belgrade's Burning

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 1:09 PM EST

Ominous news coming from Belgrade, the Serbian capital, which saw a huge and very nationalistic rally today led by Serbian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica against Kosovo's declaration of independence on Sunday. "Kostunica's rally was scary. It is condensed clero- nationalism never seen before, not even in the 90s," a Belgrade-based analyst writes me. "Initiation of new generation. Messages are terrifying and the night will be tough. Groups (many drunk) are devastating everything they come upon. Many embassies are targets. Turkish embassy is the constant target—there is chaos in front of the embassy. Ambassador is in the building and they [are] ready to shoot if they break in."

Another Belgrade contact writes that independent Radio B92 is reporting that "the American embassy is on fire.....and the people are coming in .... police try to put out the people who come in." He later writes that his sister who lives near the U.S. embassy says, "Now is all peaceful ... two floors of the American embassy are still on fire but fireworkers try to locate the fire....."

MSNBC is reporting that all U.S. staff had already been evacuated from the embassy. But news services later reported that "a charred body was found in the U.S. Embassy." With all US embassy personnel accounted for, "Belgrade's Pink TV said the body appeared to be that of a rioter."

My question: How could the international community led by Washington have screwed this up so badly once again?

Less Golf, More Water?

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 12:05 PM EST

golf100.jpgNumber one on the New York Times' most-e-mailed list today is a story about the mass exodus from American golf courses. No one knows exactly why corporate America is abandoning its erstwhile favorite sport. Not enough time? Too lazy?

Whatever the reason for the shift, there's at least one good thing about it. Golf courses are notoriously thirsty, and developers have a nasty habit of putting them in the darnedest (driest) places. If our newfound apathy about golf translates into fewer courses built over the long haul, [insert corny golf metaphor—a la "that's a hole in one for the environment"— here].

Then again:

To help keep the Great Rock Golf Club afloat, owners erected their large climate-controlled tent near the 18th green last summer. It sat next to the restaurant, Blackwell's, already operating there.

The next question: How far into the depths of unsustainability will golf-course owners sink to win back customers?

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Conservatives Spinning (in Circles) Over Iseman Scandal

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 11:28 AM EST

So which is it, conservatives? Did the liberal New York Times wait to publish their bombshell until after John McCain had locked up the Republican nomination because the NYT hates Republicans and wants to see the nominee crippled, or did the liberal New York Times wait until John McCain had locked up the Republican nomination because it loves John McCain (it endorsed him, after all), and didn't want to see him maimed with a viable alternative left in the race?

Can we get our spin straight, please?

Update: Oh boy.

Update Update: This post should have conveyed the very real concern I have that this story will end up helping McCain. Hard core conservatives don't like McCain because he is seen as being in bed (ba dum!) with the liberal media — he has repeatedly taken hatchets to his fellow Republicans in order to impress the members of the press, and in return they've showered him with years of adoring coverage. (Or so goes the right-wingers' theory.) Now, he's up against the NYT just like every other conservative has been for years. He's one of them, and deserves their support. Evidence of this thought-process is already evident here.

Can McCain Survive NYT Bombshell About His Coziness with a Female Lobbyist?

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 9:01 AM EST

The angriest man in America this morning? It's not John McCain; it's Mitt Romney. McCain stands accused by The New York Times of having too cozy a relationship with Vicki Iseman, a lobbyist for telecom firms with interests before a Senate committee he led. But Romney must be gnashing his white-as-can-be teeth over the timing of this disclosure. Though the newspaper had been working on the report for months, it was not published until the revelations could do Romney no good. Which is why Bay Buchanan, who was a strategist for Romney, was braying on CNN last night about the Times' playing politics with this piece.

At the same time, she accused the paper of mounting a smear job. The story does put conservatives in an awkward position. Many hate McCain, but they despise The New York Times. So what do Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity, and the others do? It's like choosing between Stalin and Hitler.

Smear job did seem to be the preferred Republican reply. The first email to journalists the McCain campaign sent out in response to the story included quotes from Washington power-lawyer Bob Bennett, a Democrat who had represented McCain in negotiations with the Times. He had appeared on Fox News and called the article a "smear job," comparing it to the "smear campaign" waged against McCain in 2000 prior to the South Carolina primary. (In that ugly episode, McCain critics accused him of siring a child out of wedlock, of being brainwashed in Vietnam, and more.)

But the Bennett statements disseminated by the campaign did not dispute a single fact in the Times article, which noted that McCain had taken official action on behalf of one of Iseman's clients. In a real stunner, the Times story includes on-the-record comments from John Weaver, a former top strategist for McCain, who told the paper about a meeting he had with Iseman, during which he apparently warned her to stay away from McCain. This conversation, Weaver said, followed "a discussion among the campaign leadership" about Iseman. He added, "Ms. Iseman's involvement in the campaign, it was felt by us, could undermine that effort." Iseman disputed Weaver's account of the meeting.

A Campaign to Stop Stoning Abroad, the Un-Liberation of Women and the De-Closeting of Gays at Home

| Wed Feb. 20, 2008 10:17 PM EST

It was inevitable that calls from western feminism to crack down on violence against women in other countries would both help and hurt women there. Take Iran, where a 2002 moratorium ordering a ban on the practice hasn't stopped the carnage. From The Nation:

In the most recent case, two sisters, Zohreh and Azar Kabiri, have been sentenced to stoning for "adultery." (This sentence came after the ninety-nine lashes meted out for "inappropriate relations," which came after a trial notable for its lack of due process.). Equality Now has the whole horrific story, with addresses of officials to address letters calling for a ban on stoning and the decriminalization of "adultery."

That a few men have also been stoned for adultery is no sign of (does this need saying?) either equality or progress. Now, according to Katha Pollitt and Equality Now, Iran is speeding up the process, and maybe efficiently cleaning up the decadent gene pool, with sibling pairs.

According to a comment, the petition included in the article has stopped accepting signatures, but try anyway.

Since we're discussing theocracies, The Nation also analyzes this message for Europe from US conservatives: "have more white babies" because the mongrel hordes of Islam are out-breeding lazy, selfish whites. But that's not really what they're saying, I think. What they're really saying, important as the white supremacy is to them, is: "Quick! Return women to barefoot pregnancy before it's too late and get the gays back in the closet". It's the kindler, gentler stoning and the lash, however infinitely preferable to the real kind, as in Iran:

Mississippi's Criminal Justice System: Still Burning the Poor Alive

| Wed Feb. 20, 2008 9:51 PM EST

Today Slate, ran a piece on the travesty that is Mississippi's criminal forensics 'system' that defies even this blogger's facility with hyperbole and exaggeration. Where to begin?

According to the National Association of Medical Examiners, a doctor should perform no more than 250 autopsies per year. Dr. Hayne has testified that he performs 1,200 to 1,800 autopsies per year. Sources I spoke with who have visited Hayne's practice say he and his assistants will frequently have multiple bodies open at once, sometimes smoking cigars and even eating sandwiches while moving from corpse to corpse. They prefer to work at night, adding to their macabre reputation.

These jokers aren't even certified, having failed the exam in the 1980s and, Mississippi being Mississippi, knew not to bother re-testing. Think I'm being hard on the state (from which my own dear cotton-picking mother fled in the 40's)?
Mississippi's system is set up in a way that increases the pressure on forensics experts to find what prosecutors want them to find. The state is one of several that elect county coroners to oversee death investigations. The office requires no medical training, only a high-school diploma, and it commonly goes to the owner of the local funeral home. If a coroner suspects a death may be due to criminal activity, he'll consult with the district attorney or sheriff, then send the body to a private-practice medical examiner for an autopsy. The problem here is that a medical examiner who returns unsatisfactory results to a prosecutor jeopardizes his chance of future referrals. Critics say Hayne has become the preferred medical examiner for Mississippi's coroners and district attorneys, because they can rely on him to deliver the diagnoses they're looking for.
Under state law, this whole process is supposed to be overseen by a board-certified state medical examiner. The last two people to hold that office, Dr. Lloyd White from 1988 to 1992 and Dr. Emily Ward from 1993 to 1995, were appalled at the way the state was handling death investigations. Both tried to implement reforms. And both were met with fiery resistance. Dr. Ward's tenure was particularly raucous. West (who at the time was the elected county coroner for Forrest County) circulated a petition signed by slightly more than half the state's coroners calling for her resignation. The legislature has largely refused to fund the office since. It's been vacant since 1995.

Read the whole piece and take a gander at how judges handled the piece's three poster boys for wrongful, heartbreaking, incarceration. Call me a victimologist, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that poor blacks outnumber the many never-had-a-chance good ole boys also no doubt moldering unjustly at the state's notorious prisons. Yes, railroading the poor is bad. Railroading by race is worse.

Some things just take away the words. Either pieces like this keep you up at night or they don't. It's not the racial angle, overwhelmingly. It's knowing that this sort of injustice could happen even to the non-usual subjects in a system like Mississippi's, should the kingpins take a mind to do so. Injustice anywhere is truly injustice everywhere. If it could happen to 'them' it could happen to you.