Blogs

Does Eco-Tourism Encourage Child Labor?

| Mon Sep. 24, 2007 2:39 PM EDT

There may be no way to travel guilt-free.

For a while, carbon offsets looked promising—we were told (and we told ourselves) that by paying a little extra, we could make it as if our long-haul flights never happened at all! Well, as it turns out, not quite.

The latest bad news about carbon offsets: In some cases, child laborers may be paying for our supposedly ethically sound vacations. Climate Care, a British company that finances sustainable projects in the developing world, is at the center of the scandal:

Climate Care uses the money to help persuade families...to give up labour-saving diesel pumps and buy human-powered treadles instead. It claims that by using the treadle, a family will save money on diesel and hire charges, earn more from increased crops and cut the carbon emissions that would have been produced by the pump.

And in many of these families, the human that powers the treadle is a child (the London Times found a family who, because of financial circumstances, had a six-year-old child working half-hour shifts on the treadle).

So much for guilt-free.


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Everyone Start Mailing Newt Gingrich Checks Right Now

| Mon Sep. 24, 2007 2:38 PM EDT

Christopher Orr highlights the best part of Newt Gingrich's Fox News interview from yesterday.

CHRIS WALLACE: You've been flirting with the idea of running for president for months. And this week you said you want to see if you can get pledges of $30 million before deciding. How is that going to work?
NEWT GINGRICH: ....Next Monday, Randy Evans, who's been my friend and adviser for many, many years, will hold a press briefing. Randy will spend the next three weeks checking with people around the country. If he reports back that, in fact, we think the resources are there for a real race.... then close to that we'll face a very big decision in late October. If there aren't enough resources, I'm not for doing unrealistic things.
WALLACE: But why even go through it unless, if you get the money, you'd run?
GINGRICH: I think the odds are very high, if we ended up with that level of pledges, we'd -- I don't see as a citizen how you could turn that down.
WALLACE: So you'd run.
GINGRICH: I think you'd be compelled to.

People say Hillary would fare poorly in a general election because she would energize Republicans. Newt Gingrich would do the same to Democrats, except times a thousand. So everyone get out your checkbooks and start mailing money to this Randy Evans fellow. Or just use newt.org. Winning the future!

More on Rudy and the NRA

| Mon Sep. 24, 2007 1:51 PM EDT

Here's Rudy awkwardly answering a phone call from his wife during the speech I mentioned below. Note the equally awkward jokes afterward.

And here's Rudy roughly ten years ago calling the NRA extremists. This can't play well.

Giuliani: 9/11 Changed My Views on Gun Control

| Mon Sep. 24, 2007 12:12 PM EDT

This video shows Rudy Giuliani explaining his stance on guns to the NRA. He cites 9/11 as one of the reasons why he is changing his pro-gun control views.

Tim Grieve at War Room asks the obvious questions: "Could the citizens of New York have stopped the attacks of 9/11 if they'd opened fire on those airplanes with handguns and hunting rifles? Should airline passengers be allowed to carry weapons on board?" I'll add: does Rudy Giuliani think American citizens will soon be fighting terrorists in the streets of their hometowns? Is that what he envisions as the future of The Terrorists' War on Us?

The easiest explanation for all this nonsense is that Giuliani is pandering, plain and simple. The more complex reason is that Giuliani's experience on 9/11 made him overly paranoid about the world's dangers and simultaneously hardened him to what is normal, sane, and good in the world. He now sees danger around every turn — primarily from Islamic terrorists but really from everyone, from everywhere, and at all times.

And, I'll be perfectly honest, there is a portion of America that actually wants those qualities in a leader. This is the country in which we live, no?

Why Banks Want Your Checks to Bounce

| Mon Sep. 24, 2007 11:13 AM EDT

Back in the day, writing bad checks used to be a criminal offense. Now, it's a profit center. Banks make an eye-popping $17.5 billion a year by encouraging us to overdraw our checking accounts. Banks hold on to deposits and clear checks in a way that ensures the maximum number of bounces, regardless of when the checks were actually cashed. They let us use ATM and debit cards even when there's no money in our accounts. Then they charge us $34 a pop for the favor. Some banks even charge extra fees for every day an account is in the red, turning overdraft "protection" into a form of loansharking, with interest rates that would make Tony Soprano blush. Except when banks do it, it's all legal.

Tomorrow, the U.S. House Financial Services Committee will vote on a bill that might change some of this. Among other things, H.R. 946 would prohibit banks from manipulating check-clearing to enhance overdraft fees and require banks to warn customers that their accounts are overdrawn before allowing them to make a purchase with a debit card or make an ATM withdrawal. Seems sensible enough, but expect a major fight over this one, given the money involved. You can read more about overdraft abuses here.

Army's Methodology for Calculating Sectarian Violence Finally Revealed

| Mon Sep. 24, 2007 11:11 AM EDT

The good people over at TPM filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out exactly what counting system General Petraeus was using when he went before Congress and said that sectarian violence is down in Iraq. A number of independent assessments and outside experts either contradicted his claims or threw serious doubt on them.

Here are some answers. First, any violence perpetrated by Sunnis on other Sunnis or by Shiites or other Shiites doesn't count. While that seems like a natural enough thing to exclude from a definition of "sectarian violence," it means that the general level of crime/lawlessness in Iraq is scrubbed out of Petraeus' numbers. It also means that when the sect of a perpetrator of a violent crime isn't immediately obvious, the authorities have the ability to do some investigating and deducing, and then to label the attack as either sectarian or non-sectarian. And those authorities, be they Iraqi or American, absolutely have an agenda.

Second, attacks on U.S. forces don't count. Again, a reasonable thing to exclude from a tabulation of sectarian attacks. But Petraeus should have presented statistics on the number of attacks on U.S. forces with the same frequency and prominence that he presented stats on sectarian violence.

Third, attacks on the Iraqi government or Iraqi security forces are not included. This is just preposterous. The Shiites control the government and have infiltrated the security forces. The Sunnis insurgents had control of the country for decades and are now on the outs. This can't be stressed enough: when insurgents attack the government, their intentions are sectarian. Whatever other motivations there might be, they cannot be teased out from sect-based hatred and jockeying for power.

When Sunni insurgents attack the government or the government's corrupt goons in uniform, they do so because their targets are Shiites. That's reality. When the Army believes otherwise it is an act of willful ignorance meant to deceive the American people.

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U.S. Officials Informed of Blackwater Misdeeds Many Times, Failed to Act

| Sun Sep. 23, 2007 9:55 PM EDT

When this happened, we should have known this was the case:

Senior Iraqi officials repeatedly complained to U.S. officials about Blackwater USA's alleged involvement in the deaths of numerous Iraqis, but the Americans took little action to regulate the private security firm until 11 Iraqis were shot dead last Sunday, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.
Before that episode, U.S. officials were made aware in high-level meetings and formal memorandums of Blackwater's alleged transgressions. They included six violent incidents this year allegedly involving the North Carolina firm that left a total of 10 Iraqis dead, the officials said.
"There were no concrete results," Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamal, the deputy interior minister who oversees the private security industry on behalf of the Iraqi government, said in an interview Saturday.
The lack of a U.S. response underscores the powerlessness of Iraqi officials to control the tens of thousands of security contractors who operate under U.S.-drafted Iraqi regulations that shield them from Iraqi laws.

Read the full Post article for more info. Read this Mother Jones feature for more on Blackwater.

MoveOn.org Rakes in the Cash After "Betray Us" Ad

| Sat Sep. 22, 2007 11:46 AM EDT

Just got this email from MoveOn.org. Check out how much money they've pulled in after the allegedly disastrous "Betray Us" ad.

Dear MoveOn member,
Yesterday, an amazing thing happened. After the Senate's shameful vote, and after President Bush called MoveOn "disgusting," our email started to fill up with messages like this one:
I'm currently in Iraq. I do not agree with this war, and if I did support this war, it would not matter. You have the RIGHT to speak the truth. We KNOW that you support us. Thank you for speaking out for being our voice. We do not have a voice. We are overshooted by those who say that we soldiers do not support organizations like MoveOn. WE DO.
YOU ARE OUR voice.
And then came the donations. By midnight, over 12,000 people had donated $500,000—more than we've raised any day this year—for our new ad calling out the Republicans who blocked adequate rest for troops headed back to Iraq.
The message from MoveOn members was loud and clear: Don't back down. Take the fight back to the issues that matter.
So today we're shooting for a very ambitious goal: Reach $1 million so we can dramatically expand the campaign we launched yesterday going after politicians who support this awful war. Can you chip in $25 toward our goal?

My thinking on this originally was that the GOP had played it perfectly. They were outraged when it came out. Then they waited a week and President Bush slammed it. Then they waited a little longer and passed a resolution in Congress condemning it. As a result, what should have been a blip on the national radar has become a permanent fixture in the debate over the war and in the 2008 elections.

But maybe it worked out better than anyone thinks. That's a lot of money MoveOn.org can use on Democrats and in ending the war.

Except... there's a movement afoot amongst MoveOn'ers to cut off the Democrats. Drama!

Park Your Greenery by the Curb

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 9:14 PM EDT
park-green

Folks today were "parking" themselves—and plants and flowers, wheel barrows and benches—in parking spaces throughout San Francisco, a dozen other U.S. cities, and a dozen more cities worldwide as part of PARK(ing) Day.

Some guys from a San Francisco architecture firm that had taken over a parking space near Mother Jones' offices told me that the whole idea is get people to think about the concrete jungle they inhabit and to consider new, greener urban planning ideas. So I pulled up a bench surrounded by temporarily-placed indigenous plants and shrubs—and carbon monoxide-spewing cars and trucks whizzing by— and chatted them up.

Didn't this concept conflict with the basic nature of architecture (you know, building things, which usually requires steel and concrete and fuel-burning machines)? They were quick to say no. Buildings in urban areas, they explained, can and should always include more green park space and, in some instances, roofs from which grass and plants can grow.

Of course, in a small, compact little city like San Francisco, it's pretty easy to live a car-less life where parking spaces can be used to make a political statement; in huge urban sprawls like Los Angeles where public transportation is lousy and everything is at least 20 minutes away (by car), not so much.

PARK(ing) Day folks say more than 70% of most cities' outdoor space is dedicated to the private vehicle while only a fraction of that land is allocated to open space for people. For citizens who want to take back the pavement, they offer advice on creating temporary street intervention tool kits and slightly less plausible ideas like the Parkcycle.

For another reporter's take on Park(ing) Day, see Josh Harkinson's post below.

Fun With Ping Pong

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 8:53 PM EDT

pingpong.gif

"Weird Al" Yankovic is famous for recording spoof versions of pop songs, but Ubiquity recording artist Shawn Lee doesn't merely spoof, he takes a song that was already good and makes it better. It's not so much ironic pranksterism as kickass, creative borrowing. Think of him as an artier, hipper version of Weird Al.

Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra, which releases Hits the Hits on October 9, changes the entire vibe and aesthetic of other people's songs. Lee turns Missy Elliot's "Get UR Freak On" into an ominous surf-guitar rant; Britney Spears' "Toxic" into an instrumental driven by sitar and flute melodies and hard, funky drum beats; and OutKast's hit "Hey Ya" into a swanky saloon diddy powered by accoustic guitar, piano, and harmonica.

With his collection of vintage instruments (a 1940s Clavioline, a 100-year-old Marxophone zither, and a 1900s Dulcetone), random assortment of covers—and talent—these songs are as funny as they are meticulously-performed. Pop this CD in at a stuffy wine and cheese party and see who's first to notice something is awry.