Monday, November 30, 2009

Wes wins "most vegetarian-friendly" award

PETA has named Wesleyan this year's best school for vegetarian food:
The acclaimed liberal arts college, which has a history of social justice activism, lives up to the hype when it comes to vegan options. Some of the creative choices offered include veggie chicken red curry with steamed broccolini and organic jasmine rice, three-mushroom vegan ragu with penne pasta, and barbecue seitan. Following last year's second-place finish, Dining Services officials pulled out all of the stops in 2009, even setting up voting stations around campus to rally support from their well-fed student population. These efforts, combined with the impressive range of vegan options available on campus, have helped secure the title of the Most Vegetarian-Friendly College in America.

Press Conference: successful drug bust

Oh wait, actually this is just my housemate getting ready to make beer.

BPA update

The FDA was scheduled to release a new assessment of BPA today (that stuff in some plastic), but reportedly the assessment will be delayed.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which has led the reporting on the issue, has a good explanation today of where everything stands.
Advocates for a ban on BPA viewed the prospect of a delay as a good sign, figuring if the FDA plans to maintain its earlier ruling the agency would not need more time.


Even if a new ruling does not come Monday, environmental groups - including the Breast Cancer Fund, Environmental Working Group and the National Resource Defense Council - say they will ask the FDA to immediately impose a public health warning, mandatory labeling of food cans, and an outright interim ban on polycarbonate plastic in food containers.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Washington Post Implies Bolivia, Venezuela not Democracies

On Saturday, the Washington Post contrasted Bolivia and Venezuela with "democratic Brazil" -- implying that the two nations differed from Brazil in their democratic status.

The move follows an incident in June where the Post referred to Venezuela as "authoritarian," lumping it together with Burma, in an article online. In that case, the Post soon changed the language, removing Venezuela from the "authoritarian" category.

The article this time is "Ahmadinejad boosts Latin America ties," which looks at Ahmadinejad's trip to South America. The sub-healdine reads:
"Tours include not just anti-U.S. nations, but also democratic Brazil"
The language in the article itself, by Juan Forero, is a bit less direct. The first two paragraphs:

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- Ever isolated by the United States and its European allies, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is increasingly forging ties in Latin America, and not just with fervently anti-American leaders such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

On Monday, Ahmadinejad met with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, a vibrant democracy of 190 million that has the world's eighth-largest economy and warm ties with the United States. The meeting raised concerns in Washington, which has advocated sanctions to pressure Iran to give up its nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad's Latin America trip, as the article notes, was visits to Bolivia, Brazil and Venezuela.

Forero's use of the words "vibrant democracy" are a bit of a hedge, and his contrast of Brazil with Bolivia and Venezuela is a bit less direct. So, I think his first two paragraphs are somewhat offensive, but it's the sub-headline that really goes that extra mile, directly contrasting Bolivia and Venezuela with "democratic Brazil."

If it needs to be said, yes, Bolivia and Venezuela are democracies. It's particularly funny in the case of Bolivia, where the general elections are coming up in just a week and a half -- something surely the Post knows. The U.S. government certainly doesn't consider them non-democracies; in the CIA Factbook, Bolivia is a "republic" and Venezuela a "federal republic," whereas Belarus is a "republic in name, although in fact a dictatorship" and Saudi Arabia is a "monarchy."

The Post should not toss around implications that Bolivia and Venezuela are non-democracies. That it has now done so twice this year in the case of Venezuela is particularly troubling.

Just the facts, please.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

DC to pay out $13.7 million in A16 class action settlement

On Monday afternoon DC and plaintiffs announced a settlement in a class action suit from April 2000 -- where police officers falsely arrested and/or mistreated protesters demonstrating at the IMF/World Bank meetings ("A16").

Washington City Paper has the best report.

The suit involves about 600 people, each of whom could earn as much as $18,000. Plaintiffs attorneys, the Partnership for Civil Justice, say they believe this is the biggest such settlement ever in the country.

Here's the Hermes special issue on A16 from the time (h/t Abe).

What has the world come to?

Obama in China, rethought

The storyline in some of the American press was that Obama failed. Of course, that's wrong, and misunderstands the basics of US-China relations. Here are some of the pieces that lay out why that's wrong:

* Interview with Howard French (former NYT Shanghai bureau) at CJR, part 1 and part 2.

* A series of posts by James Fallows.

Part of the problem is that the American media is obsessed with the horse race of everything, not just of a campaign. (Did Obama succeed? Or did he fail?!). And the other significant part of the problem is that most of the reporters writing the stories were with the White House press corps -- not the people based in Beijing (the NYT -- with its extensive foreign bureaus -- can and does do better on this generally than most others). Even if you're a White House press corps member genuinely trying really hard to understand the story, you still can't. It's an impossible job.

Now, here comes the Get Rid of the White House Press Corps argument. I mean, why are we having people try to cover everything the president does when that means covering a huge range of issues? I think the argument is basically right, though of course it's a bit more complicated.

Still, even if you do that, and have your Beijing person (if you have one) or State Department person cover the trip, half of the problem still remains. And that's the editorial pressure to cover it as a horse race, still. At least it'd be a more informed horse race article.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Global Warming

This week the Indian prime minister visits Washington do discuss, among other things, climate change. In the Post's Sunday opinion section, Miranda Kennedy has a useful look at the view from India -- where the average Indian has a 20th the carbon emissions of an American.

Also, Naomi Klein's recent Rolling Stone article on climate debt is very accessible and good, if you remember that it's idealist and (unfortunately) far from today's political reality. As they put it in the subheadline: "The only way to stop global warming is for rich nations to pay for the damage they've done - or face the consequences." The problem is that that's unlikely to happen (on a significant scale) anytime soon. Not that we shouldn't be advocating for it; we should.

All of this is setting the stage for the big climate talks in Copenhagen, which run Dec 7 to Dec 18. Perhaps you've read about how the United States and many other countries are lowering expectations far for what is actually going to be accomplished. The media here have been rushing to call it a failure already. Environmentalists aren't happy, but for now, many are arguing that there are still some good possibilities. Jonathan Hiskes of Grist previews the meeting here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Salmon, fresh vs. frozen

New research suggests eating frozen salmon is generally much more ecological than fresh salmon, with a much lower carbon footprint. And as has been well documented, with salmon, wild is far better than farmed for a number of ecological reasons.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Are all restaurants like this? Troubling news from Park Slope

New York State Department of Labor inspectors checked 23 restaurants in Park Slope; 21 of them were paying workers below legal limits (press release). The Daily News had the story. The total documented wage theft (it's unclear how long a time period this covers) was $912,000.

Song, Olive Vine Cafe, Bogota, Red Hot, Rachel's Taqueria, you name it. Oy.

Department commissioner Patricia Smith says of the inspections:
"This is the future," she says. "We will be doing these type of proactive sweeps across the city, you can expect that within the next few years you may well be visited whether or not your employees file a complaint."
This is good news. As the criminologist types say, the deterrent of crime is not the severity of the penalty, but rather the likeliness (or perception of the likeliness) of being caught.

Oddly, the Labor Department's announcement got very little coverage in the NYC media. It's hard to imagine why all of the tabs wouldn't have covered it; usually they're all over something like this. Makes me wonder about the Labor Department's media operation, but who knows.

Also last week: the owner of H&H was indicted for stealing withholding taxes and evading unemployment insurance tax.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

First post on NOLA mayoral race

Progressive New Orleans mayoral candidate James Perry up with "edgy" TV ad.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Labor Fight Ends in Win for Students" -- and, um, for the 1200 workers getting their jobs back

Because I know not everyone reads back to the Business section... Here's Steven Greenhouse's article today on a big victory yesterday. United Students Against Sweatshops announced Tuesday that:
it had achieved its biggest victory by far. Its pressure tactics persuaded one of the nation’s leading sportswear companies, Russell Athletic, to agree to rehire 1,200 workers in Honduras who lost their jobs when Russell closed their factory soon after the workers had unionized.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

End of an era? Washington Blade closed

The Washington Blade, a 40-year-old gay newspaper in DC, was abruptly closed by its owner, Window Media, on Monday, along with several of the chain's other local LGBT papers. Windows Media filed for bankruptcy. See Washington Post, Washington City Paper, and Queerty.

Within hours, Blade employees (former employees?) pledged that they would, in some form, continue the publication.

This afternoon, the Washington Post reports:
At a coffee shop Tuesday morning in the lobby of the office building that was their former home, Kevin Naff, the Blade's editor, convened his staff -- now volunteers -- handed out assignments and made plans for a vastly scaled-down issue.


Naff said he and other former Blade staffers have been inundated with offers of help, from landlords willing to donate office space to freelance writers willing to work for free.
It looks as if the immediate product will be a Kinko's job, funded out of pocket; whether some investor jumps in to pay for the thing for real (incl 20 salaries, etc), remains to be seen.

Update: Zach of writes:
The Blade’s insistence on only covering the most vapid, the most A-list, the most anti-intellectual, camp-at-all-costs, male dominated aspects of our life have done real and lasting damage to the 90% of us who don’t fit so narrow a rubric.

Wes holding class at a CT prison

In the NYT today, Wesleyan teaching classes at a prison in CT.

I know a few of you out there were part of the organizing starting the push (2004 or so?) to make this happen. Kudos to Wes for making it happen.

In comments on the article, someone writes:
It comes down to philosophy - are prisons to reform or exact revenge. If it is reform, this is a way to go. If it is revenge, make them take organic chemestry.

Monday, November 16, 2009

BPA in the News

The FDA is slated to release a new report on BPA safety at some point in the coming weeks, so the matter will probably be back in the news a bit more intensely. The FDA report probably won't say anything that definitive though, and it's not something where anyone knows yet very concretely how bad the harm is.

There was a recent Consumer Reports investigation showing that BPA is in and leaches from many "BPA-free" cans. But what will get the public and lawmakers concerned if we don't know yet how bad the effects are? Perhaps that BPA has now been linked to a new problem. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported:
The five-year study examined 634 workers in factories in China, comparing those working in BPA-manufacturing facilities with a control group working in plants where no BPA was made. The study found workers in the BPA facilities had four times the risk of erectile dysfunction, and seven times more risk of ejaculation difficulty.

Obligatory post on Belichick's decision

When Bill Belichick decided to go for it on 4th and 2 last night, I thought it was pretty extreme, and not the right decision. And of course the reaction from almost all quarters after the game has been that it was a crazy decision.

But this morning the number cruncher people looked at it, and there's an awfully strong defense for Belichick's decision. Here are two of the analyses (AdvancedNFLStats and ZEUS) that are getting attention today.

Of course, there's plenty of question exactly which numbers are appropriate to use (i.e. do you look at how often the Patriots have converted on 4th down plays of under 3 yards just this year? Or do you average it out over the last five years? etc). But those two analyses suggest that Belichick was pretty clearly right no matter which of the reasonable numbers you use for your calculation.

Judy Battista has more (non-quantitative) general analysis on the decision.

This specific decision aside, there's certainly a wealth of literature showing that teams do not go for it on 4th down nearly as often as they should.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

On the limits of Antiracism

Also via Jason's Blog (now you owe me!), see Adolph Reed Jr. on "The limits of anti-racism."
The contemporary discourse of “antiracism” is focused much more on taxonomy than politics. It emphasizes the name by which we should call some strains of inequality—whether they should be broadly recognized as evidence of “racism”— over specifying the mechanisms that produce them or even the steps that can be taken to combat them.
Some of it is over my head but a lot of it sounds about right to me.

Of course, you could note that Reed's reading of the United States today includes predicting definitely that Obama would lose to McCain.

Veryln Klinkenborg, tell us about the seasons

You know those annoying pieces about nature and stuff on the NYT editorial page by editorial writer Verlyn Klinkenborg? You know, the ones that take up space where actual, you know, important issues could be discussed? It turns out there's a blog dedicated to making fun of them. And I think that's great. Via Jason's Blog, I learned of the site, called "Verylyn Klinkenborg, In Summary."

My personal gripe with Klinkenborg is that a couple years ago he reffered to the Coney Island Cyclone as the "oldest roller coaster in the world." It's not; not even close.

Filling the judiciary, slowly

Charlie Savage has an update in Sunday's NYT on the status of Obama's nominees for the federal judiciary (see also Jeffrey Toobin's piece in the New Yorker a few weeks ago on the subject). The White House says that while the nominations are slow, the total confirmed nominees will match the pace of the Bush Administration, because they're working carefully with the Republican senators, and so there will be a wave of confirmations ahead. And then:

But Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice, warned that picking moderate judges and low-key tactics might not work.

“It’s a mistake to think that by going slower and lessening the visibility of nominations, Republican acrimony will be reduced,” she said. “It didn’t work with Clinton and it won’t work now because Republicans will do everything in their power to hold open as many seats as they can for a future president to fill.”

It's hard to imagine that she's not correct.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

KSM being tried in New York, in perspective

The announcement Friday that KSM and four others will be tried in a civilian court in NYC -- rather than in a military tribunal at Gitmo -- is welcome news.

But, Glenn Greenwald argues, don't get too excited: we're now at an officiallya multi-tiered justice system, where the government decides what kind of justice system different prisoners will get depending on where the government is sure it can get a conviction. This is hardly great news.

Meanwhile, Jim Webb is with the right wingers: don't bring those terrorists onto our soil!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Politico's Josh Gerstein has the real breaking news on CAIR

In "Despite ban, Holder to speak to CAIR-linked group" Politico's Josh Gerstein reports:
Attorney General Eric Holder has agreed to give a keynote speech next week to a Michigan group which includes the local branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations even though the FBI has formally severed contacts with the controversial Muslim civil rights organization.
Stop the presses! I mean, really. This is news? This what the right wing can come up with these days on CAIR and the Obama Administration?

With CAIR - a favorite target of the right wing - I've always though the absence of evidence principle is appropriate. In other words, there are so many right wing organizations and blogs trying to find criminal connections to CAIR, and that they've come up with so little ought to say at least something. The NYT's useful review of the matters from 2007 is here.

After federal prosecutors named CAIR "unindicted co-conspirators" in the Holy Land Foundation case later in 2007, it was Gerstein -- writing in the New York Sun, actually -- who noted:

The practice of publicly naming unindicted co-conspirators is frowned on by some in the legal community, chiefly because there is no trial or other mechanism for those named to challenge their designation. Justice Department guidelines discourage the public identification of unindicted co-conspirators by the government.

"In all public filings and proceedings, federal prosecutors should remain sensitive to the privacy and reputation interests of uncharged third-parties," the Justice Department's manual for prosecutors says. When co-conspirator lists have to be filed in court, prosecutors should seek to file them under seal, the guidelines say.

And in the Politico piece this week, he notes:
CAIR officials have denied any connection to terrorism and have complained bitterly about being named as co-conspirators in the Holy Land case. They note that since the group was never charged it had no forum to challenge the documents prosecutors said linked CAIR to the Muslim Brotherhood. CAIR officials have also noted that aspects of the documents are not consistent with CAIR’s activities.
Good for Gerstein.

But the point remains: this piece isn't news in the first place.

It's gotten picked up in the right-wing blogs, of course, but otherwise hasn't gone mainstream. It will be interesting to see if any of the majors pick it up.

DC settles for $450,000 for its illegal interrogations at A20

The Washington Post reports this week on the fallout from the 2002 incident:
For years, authorities suggested that the interrogation never happened. FBI and D.C. police said they had no records of such an incident. And police told a federal court that no FBI agents were present when officers arrested the protesters for trespassing.

But as attorneys for the protesters were preparing for the trial, which was scheduled to begin in federal court Nov. 30, they unearthed D.C. police logs that confirm the role of a secret FBI intelligence unit in the incident.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

You know you live on a cool block when...

Friday, November 06, 2009

My first of the season

And it was as delicious as it looks.

Swine flu vs. rape: a comparison of two responses

Meg Stone asks: "What if we did as much to prevent rape as we do to prevent H1N1?"
The CDC reported just over 43,000 cases of H1N1 between April and July of this year and estimates that it will affect a million people, or 0.3% of the total population of the United States. Compare this to the 2.5% of women and 0.9% of men who reported being raped or sexually assaulted in the past year.


H1N1 is not getting any attention it shouldn’t – it’s getting the attention all public health crises should.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Dear Brooklyn Brewery, Four is Not the New Six


I still bought this because it was on sale. But I took the picture off-center to show where the other two bottles would be.

It's just the BCS that has gone down to four bottles, and the 4-pack seems to be priced the same as their other 6-packs. (I think the 6-packs of BCS used to be a bit more than the other 6-packs, but not that much - this site says about a dollar more, which sounds right). This is troubling.

House roll call on anti-Goldstone Report resolution

Here's the roll call from the House yesterday on the resolution condemning the Goldstone Report (on the Gaza War, or whatever we should be calling it, from Dec/Jan).

344 Yes, 36 No, 22 present, 22 not voting. The resolution had plenty that was factually questionable; Ron Kampeas reviewed the back-and-forth between Goldstone and Reps Berman, Ros-Lehtinen and Ackerman. They did change the resolution somewhat, but left a resolution that was still awful, of course.

The roll call is sad; it's mostly just the usual progressives (and hardly all of them) who voted no, though a few random non-progressives at least voted present or didn't show. The most interesting thing is that Gary Ackerman (chair of the Middle East and South Asia subcommittee in the Foreign Affairs committee) ended up not voting.

Some of the disappointing yes votes include Danny Davis, Barney Frank, Jay Inslee, John Lewis, Ed Markey, Brad Miller, Gwen Moore, Jerry Nadler, Jared Polis, Jan Schakowsky, Jose Serrano and Henry Waxman. If I'm not mistaken all of these folks are quite comfortable in their seats.

Was Thompson the "underfinanced" candidate?

The New York Times has done plenty of coverage on how Bloomberg spent exorbitant sums of money on the election. But in the their lead piece on the results of that race, they refer to Thompson as "vastly underfinanced."

Political types would certainly agree.

But that seems to me to be making a judgment about what the "right" amount of money to have is (some number which Thompson did not reach), and therefore implicitly endorsing our system of money-based elections. Yeah, they have to explain events within the context of how the current political system works, but at the same time they don't have to actively choose to perpetuate that system.

Post refers to West Bank as "disputed territory"

Karen DeYoung's "In face of Arab anger, Clinton amends view on Israel's offer to curb West Bank growth" in Tuesday's Post has this:
Clinton insisted that the administration still considers settlement activity on disputed territory "illegitimate" and advocates a freeze.
It's too bad. The Post has managed to stick away from "disputed territory" since March. And in a related matter, they've even referred to settlements as "not legal internationally," and "legal under Israeli law but not internationally."

The notion that the West Bank is "disputed territory" doesn't convey the truth. Its status is clear: it is occupied by Israel. It's not part of Israel.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Will swine flue make paid sick day legislation move?

Federal legislation to require employers to provide paid sick days has not gotten far. But maybe swing flu will help.

Today Steven Greenhouse has a piece on it in the NYT business section, and the National Labor Committee has a related report ("Wal-Mart's Sick Leave Policy Risks Spreading Swine Flu").

Some employers are left giving pretty sad answers. From NYT:
White Castle does not provide paid sick days, he acknowledged, but he said that workers who stayed home sick would not suffer lost pay because they could work extra hours after recovering.
Oh, problem solved!

But seriously. Not giving people paid sick days means many of them will work while they have swine flu. Employers don't want to admit it, but it's true. And part of the problem is that the true costs of this situation are somewhat externalized from the company. In other words, when an infected employee comes to work, that has some costs for the company (like infecting other workers, lower productivity). But some of the cost goes outside the company (infecting customers).

I don't know if it's at all possible to try to do a cost-benefit on this kind of stuff, or that we should do it even if it is, or that if we do it, the externalized costs are what would push the cost higher than the benefits. My point is more just that employers who don't give paid sick days are not only harming their own workers, but the general public, and legislators (be this state or federal) ought to recognize that.

Update: Wonkroom has a post just up, "Chamber Scoffs At Lack Of Paid Sick Leave: ‘The Problem Is Not Nearly As Great As Some People Say.’" They point to some of the research there is on the economic calculations.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The filibuster today

David Roberts at Grist reviews the history of the filibuster and where we are today:
Step back a moment and appreciate what’s happened: this amounts to an radical change in our constitutional system of governance, drastically increasing the difficulty of passing legislation to address the nation’s challenges. Not only did the country never openly debate it; not only did Congress never vote on it; nobody even talks about it!
Below is a chart he has, via Norm Orenstein:

A sad day

I just gave in and added 'geoengineering' to the dictionary in my email program. Oy.

na-GOUR-ney-ism (n.)

Adam Nagourney: "Off-year elections are typically the subject of frenzied discussion and overinterpretation by political observers..." But he's going to go ahead and do it anyway.