Blogs

Citizen Journalists In a Wired World

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 7:30 PM EDT

In response to the likes of Wikipedia, MySpace and YouTube, Wired has launched its own brave new media world. It's called Assignment Zero, and is the latest in "new, new journalism" crowd sourcing experiments.

Wired's idea for radical transparency is simple: put a ton of citizen journalists to work by asking them not just to comment on the news, but have them report it. It's a blogger's paradise. But their idea isn't new. Spin.com offers a similar program for music enthusiasts, allowing them to cover live music events as "Spin Correspondents and get a website byline."

Rolling Stone's in the the game, too. Their I'm From Rolling Stone reality show was essentially televised crowd sourcing for hipsters hungry for a gig with the magazine. Remember Gannett a year ago announced its big crowd sourcing plans to turn its newsroom into an "information center" that asks local residents to help with stories?

Crowd sourcing engages people by putting them right into the action. It has the power to improve content and encourage a broader dialogue from the ground up.

Widespread civic participation in newsgathering is exciting for journalism and content creation. That said, crowd sourcing is also chaotic, unorganized and a little shady. Media organizations can rake in tons of free content while continuing to merge and purge unchecked. And, general public trust in the media is still riding a little low on the hips. Maybe this will help, maybe not.

One 2005 study found that only 45% of the public thinks news organizations generally get their facts straight, a 2007 study says that less than half of Americans have a favorable view of the press, and a 2004 Gallup Poll suggests that people don't particularly trust journalists and haven't since at least the 70s.

So, when pollsters start evaluating citizen journalists about the quality of the new, new journalism they've helped create, what will the people think then?

—Gary Moskowitz

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James Hansen Testifies to Climate Science Meddling

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 7:30 PM EDT

The Bush administration once again faces charges from James Hansen, a foremost climate scientist, of interfering with science in order to downplay global warming. Hansen is director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, and was one of the first experts to warn of the threat of climate change.

The US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, during its second hearing on Monday, released a memo stating that documents "appear to portray a systematic White House effort to minimize the significance of climate change." From New Scientist:

In written testimony, Hansen said: "In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it has now."

The committee also heard a former White House aide attempting to defend his editing of government reports on climate change. Phil Cooney, chief of staff at the White House's Council on Environmental Quality from 2001 to 2005, said editing was part of the normal review process between agencies.

Right. Just for the record, before he joined the White House, Cooney was a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute and now works for ExxonMobil.

The committee [first] heard of this top-down pressure on climate scientists during the first hearing in January. Former government scientist Rick Piltz said that Cooney had tried to downplay the consequences of climate change in government documents.

In a 10-year policy plan, Cooney and Brian Hannegan, also at CEQ, made at least 181 edits to emphasize scientific uncertainty regarding the effects of climate change and 113 changes to minimize the importance of human contributions to global warming, according to the committee's memo.

For example, Cooney replaced "will" with "may" in the sentence: "Warming temperatures will also affect Arctic land areas." He also deleted this sentence: "Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment."

Do these guys really think they're going to escape the mayhem? Or are they all believers of that latter-day oxymoron, Intelligent Design?

Blanco Decides Not To Run Again--Leaves With A Reputation Somewhat Worse Than She Deserves

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 7:16 PM EDT

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco announced this evening that she does not intend to seek a second term as governor. Only a few days ago, she announced her intention to run, but had a change of heart. She will be remembered as the governor who bungled both Katrina and post-Katrina, and that is not an accurate picture of her governorship.

Let me start by saying I have never been a very enthusiastic supporter of Blanco, who holds two types of views--conservative views, and non-conservative views she feels she has to hide from the public. But it was important to me that in the last election, she defeat Bush-boy Bobby Jindal, a fast-talking ex-White House bureaucrat whose views are rigidly right-wing and extreme Christian right. One of the things that helped Blanco win, in fact, was her campaign's emphasis on Jindal's belief that all abortions--with no exceptions of any kind--should be illegal.

Since she has been governor of Louisiana, Blanco's activities have fallen into three areas: 1. stupid things she is said to have done which she did not do; 2. stupid things she did do; and 3. good things she did for which she received no credit.

A victim of an especially vicious Rovian campaign during Hurricane Katrina, Governor Blanco was simply not guilty of most of the accusations of incompetence hurled at her. The record bears this out, but many Louisianians, looking for a scapegoat and refusing to believe that George W. Bush would abandon them, were quick to jump on the "blame Blanco" bandwagon. She never recovered from the smear campaign.

Later, she put her name on the "Road Home" program created by the Louisiana Recovery Authority, and that name has stuck. The Road Home--better known as the Road to Nowhere-- has to be one of the most mishandled, user-unfriendly, ghastly government programs to come around in a long time. People who had no houses and had to live out of state in order to make money were told that they would not get Road Home funds, even though they wanted to return to Louisiana. Thousands of people who signed up for the program were asked to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops, it was like dealing with FEMA all over again.

Applicants waited and waited, but no money came. Finally, after months, most of them received letters telling them they had been turned down, or giving them checks for a very small amount. Some were turned down for not having houses, though their houses were standing, plain as day. When the frustrated, enraged citizens placed calls to find out what had gone wrong, they were repeatedly told "I don't know," "I can't answer that," and "I have no idea" by contract employees whose company, hired by Blanco, botched the entire program.

The final blow came last week when HUD's federal office declared that Louisiana was wrongly requiring homeowners to wait for a series of small reimbursements rather than giving them the option of taking a lump sum. According to HUD, the state's method of distributing the money would trigger long delays for environmental and other regulations.

Finally, on to the good things. Blanco is the first governor in Louisiana history to stand up to the federal government and demand that Louisiana receive its fair share of oil and gas revenues. Blanco threatened to not permit any leases until the state receives its rightful share (which would, by the way, turn Louisiana's fate around dramatically).

Blanco also stood up to the federal government over the issue of Louisiana's environment, something else Louisianians do not see from their governors (the governor who proceeded Blanco became famous for helping to trash the environment). She was successful in halting a scheduled offshore lease sale because the federal government's assessment of the sale failed to include environmental damage done by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. She also vetoed a proposed natural gas port because whose construction would have hurt Gulf fisheries, and forced the energy company to change its design to a closed loop system port.

Rep. Jindal is again running for governor of Louisiana, and the Democratic candidate may be former Sen. John Breaux, who is now a lobbyist, and who periodically loves to tease the state with talk that he may run for governor. This time, he may really do it, Breaux is very popular in Louisiana and he already has a state health plan ready to present.

For her part, Blanco made a total mess of Louisiana's post-Katrina efforts. But she is not the completely incompetent, clueless governor that Karl Rove and the news media would have us believe.

Join the Club? More Killing of the Adorable and Defenseless

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 7:12 PM EDT

babyseal.jpg

A baby polar bear, on which Jen reported earlier, isn't the only cute creature in peril this week: according to the Humane Society of the United States' countdown clock, there are only seven days left until the world's largest marine animal slaughter kicks off in Canada.

The (subsidized) seal industry's hunt, which lasts until May 15th, killed more than 300,000 seals last year, and while whitecoats are off-limits, most of those "harvested" were less than three months old.

If just the idea of baby seals being clubbed to death isn't disturbing enough, you can watch a horrifying video of fishermen chasing them around on bloody ice and bludgeoning them with hooked clubs. The hunt has been responsible for over a million allegedly inhumane seal murders since 2003, but that's just one of the animals' problems: that whole global warming thing means the ice on which they're born and grow up is melting, which, according to Canadian government estimates, was responsible for a 75% mortality rate among pups in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2002.

Despite claims by the Federal Fisheries Minister that the hunt is "humane and sustainable," the HSUS' year-long Canadian seafood boycott cost the country $350 million in exports to the US, and some European officials are calling for EU-wide action. Since this year's killing quota hasn't yet been released, animal rights groups are urging people to contact the Canadian government while there's still time.

- Nicole McClelland

Marketing Israel, Soft and Hard

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 6:00 PM EDT

real_israel.jpgThe American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is in the headlines once again for its quasi- mythical abilities to get Congress to toe its hawkish Zionist line. Some say that AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbies are effectively steering U.S. foreign policy, while others argue that Congress and a wave of administrations are simply receptive to pro-Israel lobbies because their agenda fit neatly into U.S. foreign policy objectives. Whatever the case, the AIPAC has an impressive record in wielding its power to advance positions that are arguably politically extremist.

Last week, AIPAC successfully purged any language from the military appropriations bill that would have required the President to get congressional authorization before using force against Iran—despite the fact that the administration's current unilateral war has seen plummeting public approval. This move, and a series of other AIPAC initiatives, has caused American Jews to begin to speak out.

As AIPAC brings on board unsavory characters to tout its neocon platform, such as the evangelical fundamentalist John Hagee, more and more Jews are speaking out to underline the fact that views like the AIPAC's are not the views of all Jews (across the pond, a similar move is being undertaken by the Independent Jewish Voices to counteract the misleading notion that Jews all over the world are uncritical supporters of Israel.)

These dissenting voices have more than just congressional battles to contend with. While AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbies such as the American Jewish Committee are working overtime on Capitol Hill, there's a softer force working on the ground to capture the minds and hearts of Americans who are critical of Israeli state policies. BlueStarPR, a public relations firm is advertising the "Real Israel." Recently, the firm concluded a two-month, $17,000 billboard and public transit campaign in the San Francisco area. Some images include a blonde girl standing in a short dress with an Orthodox Jew walking in the background, or Israelis enjoying Happy Hour, "Israel-style." In response to the campaign, Paul Larudee of the International Solidarity Movement says, "The problem is what you're doing, not how you present yourself."

—Neha Inamdar

Skywalk Over Grand Canyon Grand Opening: See it Live

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 5:49 PM EDT

I blogged a few weeks ago about the completion of a "skywalk" over the Grand Canyon on Hualapi Indian land. The walk was the brainchild of a white Los Vegas man in the tourism industry, but Native Americans hope it will bring more tourist dollars to their impoverished tribe.

CNN is running live footage of the skywalk's opening right now. Check it out.

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The UK Will Require Carbon Footprint Labels on Products

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 5:28 PM EDT

carbonlabel.jpgYou used to be able to count only the calories in your snacks owing to diet-friendly product labeling, but soon it might be just as easy go on a carbon diet—that is, if you live in the United Kingdom. The Carbon Trust in the UK recently announced the launch of a new product labeling method, which the Independent called "a green equivalent to the Fairtrade label." The logo, depicting a black 'C' wrapped around a white arrow, will document the carbon footprint of the labeled commodity. To be eligible to use the label, The Carbon Trust will require companies to do extensive analyses of their products' carbon footprints and make a commitment to reducing this footprint over a period of two years. This is just one more instance of the UK leaping ahead in the race to reduce carbon emissions.

Three British companies have committed to pioneering the label on their products, which serves as a brilliant—but currently untested—marketing strategy with the rise of eco-chic. The Fairtrade label has been doing remarkably well in the UK, as this article on Treehugger notes, which would be incentive enough for a company to hedge its bets on the success of the new carbon label. The first company to launch the label, Walkers, managed to cut the carbon footprint of their soon-to-be-labeled cheese and onion crisps by one-third after doing a thorough carbon analysis. Boots Organics shampoo and Innocent smoothies will be the other two labeling pioneers.

If you aren't lucky enough to live in a place as trailblazing as the UK, you won't be able to discover the carbon released during the production of your organic shampoo, but you can still keep an eye on your own carbon footprint with helpful online tools here and here.

—Rose Miller

New Torture Allegations From David Hicks Revealed

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 5:13 PM EDT

I've written about David Hicks before: he's an Australian man, captured in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, who recently became the first Guantanamo detainee to be charged with a crime in the Bush Administration's system of military tribunals.

Hicks' mother is English, and Hicks has been applying for British citizenship because the British government does more than the Australian on behalf of citizens detained by the United States. As part of his application, Hicks filed a document that detailed his treatment at the hands of his American captors. Among Hicks' claims, which cannot be substantiated:

- The bulk of the abuse occurred before Hicks was deposited at Guantanamo, during a several month period when he was held in Afghanistan or being shuttled between naval ships and unknown buildings.

- When Hicks was interrogated, it was sometimes by as many as five men at a time, who slapped him in the head after every response and told him he was lying.

- At one point, Hicks was made to sit on a window ledge where he could see several American soldiers standing outside pointing their weapons at him.

- Hicks was fed only a handful of rice or fruit three times a day.

- Hicks was forced to kneel for ten hours at a time.

- Hicks was hit by a rifle butt in the back of the head hard enough to make him fall over, "slapped in the back of the head, kicked, stepped on, and spat on."

- While in Kandahar, Hicks and other detainees were forced to lie face down in the mud while solders walked across their backs.

- Hicks was stripped naked, his body hair shaved, and a piece of plastic forcibly inserted into his rectum.

- Hicks was shown pictures of other prisoners who had been beaten black and blue, and promised the same fate if he did not cooperate.

- At Guantanamo, Hicks witnessed other detainees being mistreated. A one-legged detainee was attacked by dogs in his cell, and was later dragged out with blood dripping down his face and across the floor. Hicks says the episode "put me in such fear that I just knew I would 'cooperate' in any way with the U.S."

If all this is true, it seems Hicks suffered the sort of wanton and unguided abuse that we saw in Abu Ghraib. Prison guards and low-level interrogators, drunk with power, uninformed on proper interrogation practices, and either untrained or unsupervised (or both), did whatever they pleased with the helpless people in their command. It doesn't appear that Hicks got the organized forms of torture (waterboarding, etc.) that were the subject of DoJ memos (Al Gonzales' previous scandal) and were generally reserved for high-level captures like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Sorry Karl, Clinton Did Not Purge Prosecutors

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 4:08 PM EDT

Karl Rove and Bush Administration allies have been pushing the talking point that Clinton and most every other president undertook the very normal step of firing U.S. Attorneys.

That's right and wrong. It's correct that most presidents bring in a new crop of U.S. Attorneys when they take office -- the nation's top prosecutors are like any political appointees in that respect. But once U.S. Attorneys are appointed, they serve their four (or eight) years with the comfort of knowing that they are independent of the administration that put them in place -- that justice has nothing to do with politics. Said a former U.S. Attorney who served almost ten years, "Throughout modern history, my understanding is, you did not change the U.S. attorney during an administration, unless there was some evidence of misconduct or other really quite significant cause to do so." She went on to note that attorneys need to serve "without fear or favor and in an absolutely apolitical way."

It's perfectly indicative of the Bush Administration's desire to reshape the entire federal government into a partisan machine (The first czar of Bush's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives resigned in anger, saying, "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you've got is everything — and I mean everything — being run by the political arm.") that they would corrupt the nation's justice system in order to oust individuals making trouble and appoint more docile or even completely acquiescent replacements. Moreover, it's perfectly indicative of the Bush Administration's record of dishonesty to try and displace blame by smearing the Clinton Administration.

But the Congressional Research Service isn't letting them get away with it. They looked at all U.S. Attorneys between 1981 and 2006 and found that "Of the 468 confirmations made by the Senate over the 25-year period, only 10 left office involuntarily for reasons other than a change in administration." In those 10 instances, serious lapses in personal or professional conduct can explain eight of them. In the other two, the CRS was unable to determine cause.

Thus, in the past quarter century, somewhere from zero to two U.S. Attorneys have been fired for political reasons. The Bush Administration fired seven in one day, and eight total. Just another example of how power has corrupted the Bush Administration, making it greedy and dismissive of custom, good practice, and the principles of good governance.

"Captivity" Campaign is Nobody's Fault

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 4:05 PM EDT

mojo-photo-captivity.jpgLos Angeles area residents were not amused this week after billboards went up around the city featuring a young woman pictured in various unsavory scenarios including "Abduction," "Torture" and "Termination." The icky ads were part of a campaign for an upcoming horror flick called "Captivity," but, garsh, turns out it was all a horrible mistake! The production company, After Dark Films, said that the "wrong files" were sent to the printer, who then apparently went ahead and just made a bunch of billboards without asking anybody, and besides, we were all in Las Vegas when it happened! After Dark CEO Courtney Solomon went so far as to issue a statement saying that he, personally, "wasn't going to go with this campaign," since it was "OTP," which is Hollywood-speak for "over the top," I can't believe you didn't already know that.

Anyone who's ever worked at even the lowliest ad agency, production house, or print shop knows there is no possible way anything ever gets done without about 10,000 proofs, endless back-and-forths, and everyone from the board to the receptionist signing off. Whether they knew the campaign would immediately be taken down, or were just completely clueless, it's hard to fathom how it could have actually been a mistake.

But, hooray! It turns out everyone, everywhere is wrong about everything: Solomon says that, sure, the movie has a woman in a cage, but really, it's "about female empowerment." So, parents everywhere, get your young daughters to LA, quick, so they can be empowered by the billboards before they're taken down this afternoon!