Saturday, August 27, 2005
Small Victories Department: Bombay bans plastic bags
Aug. 26, 2005
BOMBAY, India - The western Indian state of Maharashtra on Friday said it is banning most plastic bags, blaming them for choking drains and causing floods a month ago that left more than 1,000 people dead, most in Bombay.
Businesses caught using them would be fined 5,000 rupees ($114), while individuals would have to pay 1,000 rupees.
“Gutters choked with plastic bags caused the flooding which led to enormous losses for the state,” the chief minister said in a statement. “The media and environmental and citizens’ groups demanded that plastic bags be banned, so we are banning them.”
Bangladesh also banned plastic bags after blaming them for clogged drains and floods there, while a handful of Indian states that rely on tourism have done so to prevent littered bags becoming eyesores. Ireland and Taiwan have slapped taxes on them.
Personally, I've been using canvass bags for groceries for years, and guess what? They work a lot better than the plastic or paper ones.
Related MSNBC story: Irish take lead with plastic bag levy (August 4, 2003)
The case against Roberts solidifies
There could be a lot of talk about toads at the confirmation hearings for John Roberts Jr. In one of the few revealing opinions he has written in his brief time on the bench, Judge Roberts voted to reconsider a ruling that said the Endangered Species Act protected the arroyo Southwestern toad from being wiped out by a real estate development. He strongly suggested that Congress could protect only a species whose demise would affect "interstate commerce" - but that toad, he wrote, is a "hapless toad that, for reasons of its own, lives its entire life in California."
Judge Roberts's opinion, with its wry reference to the possibility that an entire species could be destroyed, disturbed environmentalists. But its implications go far beyond the environment. It suggests that Judge Roberts - who broke with even a majority of the conservative judges on his court - may hold extreme states' rights views, the kind that could sharply limit Congress's power to protect ordinary Americans from discrimination, pollution and unsafe workplaces. Much of the early discussion of Judge Roberts has focused on whether he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, but his views on federal power could be the sleeper issue.
I'm with Adam on this. Folks don't seem to be giving Roberts' narrow view of the Commerce clause the attention it is due.
On women’s issues, the Women’s Vote Center newsletter issued yesterday contains a summary of the main points:
Today, Americans celebrate Women's Equality Day, which marks the passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920, giving women the right to vote.
With 80 women Members of Congress and thousands of women legislators around the country, we have made great strides. As we reflect on the gains women have made, the Senate prepares to consider the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court, and we are reminded of just how critical it is that we have a nominee who will continue to move forward, not turn back the hands of time for women in America.
As the White House continues to stonewall on key memos written by Roberts, serious questions regarding his commitment to women's rights remain. His earlier writings reflect a disturbing trend of hostility towards women's rights, including addressing the pay gap, access to educational opportunity and Title IX. As a sign of respect for women in America and all that they contribute to our nation every day, President Bush should release these critical documents so that we can know the full story.
These points are described in more detail in the WVC newsletter, and even more in a brief (pdf) by the National Women’s Law Center.
And NARAL has released a new ad against Roberts that even FactCheck.org doesn’t have a problem with. The ad emphasizes Roberts' reference to "the so-called right to privacy" - yikes. I wonder how many republicans will still like the idea of the court not supporting the right to privacy - when it affects something they want to keep private?
Thursday, August 25, 2005
August 26th: Women's Equality Day
In 1971, the United States Congress designated August 26 "Women's Equality Day." Under the leadership of then-Democratic Congresswoman Bella Abzug (NY), the date was selected to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920. The culmination of a 70-year struggle for women suffragists, the 19th Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote. National Women's Equality Day not only recognizes this historic achievement, but also commemorates the date of a nationwide demonstration for women's rights that took place in 1970. Women's Equality Day serves as a reminder to all Americans of women's continued struggle to gain full equality in the United States. For more information, visit the National Women's History Project.
View the 19th Amendment and a brief history of women's suffrage at the National Archives Charters of Freedom site.
If you live near Philadelphia and have the time, check out the Women's Equality Day program at the National Constitution Center.
Robertson apologizes (after finding denial doesn't work when there's video)
On Wednesday, he initially denied having called for Chavez to be killed and said The Associated Press had misinterpreted his remarks.
“I didn’t say 'assassination.’ I said our special forces should ’take him out,”’ Robertson said on his show. “’Take him out’ could be a number of things including kidnapping.”
This NRO editorial on CBS News offers an interesting take on Robertson's relevance:
To many on the right, Robertson's most important role today seems to be as the maker of those crackpot comments, which give liberals the opportunity to hang the offending words — and Robertson himself — around conservatives' necks.
There is some truth to that, but there is also some evidence to suggest that Robertson is not quite as marginalized a figure as conservatives would like to believe. His main forum, the television program The 700 Club, is available in nearly all of the country on the ABC Family Channel, FamilyNet, the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and some broadcast stations. According to Nielsen Media Research, The 700 Club, aired each weekday, has averaged 863,000 viewers in the last year. While that is not enough to call it a popular program, it is still a significant audience. It is, for example, more than the average primetime audience for CNN last month — 713,000 viewers — or MSNBC, which averaged 280,000 viewers in prime time. It is also greater than the viewership of CNBC and Headline News.
So these days, Robertson makes news only when he says something outrageous. And he has done that more than a few times. In early 2004, Robertson claimed divine inspiration as he predicted a Bush landslide in the presidential election. "I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout election in 2004," he said on The 700 Club. "It's shaping up that way."
In 2003, discussing a book critical of the State Department, Robertson said, "If I could just get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom, I think that's the answer. I mean, you get through this [book], and you say, 'We've got to blow that thing up.'"
In 2001, shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Robertson nodded in agreement as fellow televangelist Jerry Falwell said the attacks were God's punishment for the sins of "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America."
And now Robertson has advised the United States to assassinate the president of Venezuela. (He later released a statement saying that he didn't really mean Chavez should be killed.) Conservatives would like to dismiss him as a has-been and an embarrassment. To some extent, that's true — but not to all those viewers of The 700 Club.
The LA Times has a few more examples of Robertson's outrageous statements from the past.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Head of the Un-Christian Coalition Urges Assassination of Elected Venezuelan Leader
Hearing this story on NPR literally launched me out of bed this morning. Words cannot express my utter disgust with Pat Robertson, and amazement that any Christian allows him to demean their religion by calling himself one of them.
Robertson’s suggestion Monday that the United States “take out” Chavez to stop Venezuela from becoming a “launching pad for communist influence and Muslim extremism” appeared likely to aggravate tensions between the United States and the world’s fifth-largest oil exporting country.
On Monday, Robertson said on the Christian Broadcast Network’s “The 700 Club”: “We have the ability to take him (Chavez) out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability.”
“We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator,” he continued. “It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.”
“You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it,” Robertson said. “It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war ... and I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.”
But about Chavez, the Newsweek article notes, "Chavez, who was democratically elected..."; "Although he is disliked in Washington, Venezuelans overwhelmingly supported Chavez in a failed recall effort by the opposition. "; "Chavez, a former army paratrooper, also has accused Washington of backing a short-lived coup against him in 2002, a charge U.S. officials have denied. Chavez is up for re-election next year, and polls suggest he is the favorite." (I seem to recall a certain U.S. pResident, who came to power by virtue of a Supreme Court decision in a contested election, was quick to congratulate the coup leaders in that 2002 attempt, which appeared briefly to have succeeded.)
As for "Muslim extremism", a quick check of the CIA World Factbook shows that the religious makeup of Venezuela is 96% Catholic, 2% Protestant, and 2% "other."
You can watch the rabid religionist spew the hate at iFilm.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
Thomas legislative database to get improved search interface
From Federal Computer Week: Thomas legislative database to get a facelift
BY Aliya Sternstein
Published on Aug. 17, 2005
The Library of Congress is overhauling Thomas, the library’s free legislative database.
Since Thomas debuted in January 1995 as a congressional initiative, several lawmakers have called for an update to Thomas. Ten years later, library officials expect to complete a prototype of a new search engine by the end of the year, they say.
The new site will cater to first-time users and daily visitors, officials wrote yesterday. It will display a simple, comprehensive interface and include tools for advanced searches.
The library is also updating its Web site to allow users single-search access to text catalogs and multimedia collections. The library’s offerings are now divided among five databases.
Public access proponents are cautiously optimistic about the Thomas project. But they applaud the idea of Thomas cross-searching Congresses and reaching out to multiple skill levels.
“It remains to be seen what their new search engine does,” said Patrice McDermott, deputy director of the American Library Association's Office of Government Relations. “I’m hoping it’s not a FirstGov model,” she said, adding that FirstGov, the federal government’s Web portal, has high recall but low precision.
In the past, McDermott has expressed the need for congressional markups and committee reports in Thomas.
“It would also be really excellent to put in a keyword and be able to pull up committee hearings and legislation -- to be able to put in ‘Patriot Act’ and pull up all the bills, hearings and testimony that pertain to the Patriot Act,” she said today, adding that the system would ideally link to the Government Printing Office, which deposits all the testimony.
I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with it. Of course, McDermott's goal will not be fully realized no matter what is done with Thomas, until the problem is resolved that committees frequently don't publish records of hearings.
Kerry slams Republicans, CNN lifts Kerry news embargo
Okay, the second half of that title is a bit snarky. But it was nice, and a little surprising given the dearth of Kerry coverage since the election, to see CNN Headline News today reporting on Kerry's speech Friday to the National Conference of State Legislatures in Seattle.
The Seattle Times: Scrappy Kerry blisters Republicans, touts Democratic comeback at state level
The Massachusetts senator said the national government has been hijacked by fast-talking, mean-spirited and destructive Republicans. After blistering Republicans on everything from Iraq to health care, Kerry said Democrats have an opportunity to rebuild from coast to coast by simply addressing the concerns that affect people's daily lives — energy, transportation, health care and security, for starters. The Massachusetts senator said the national government has been hijacked by fast-talking, mean-spirited and destructive Republicans. After blistering Republicans on everything from Iraq to health care, Kerry said Democrats have an opportunity to rebuild from coast to coast by simply addressing the concerns that affect people's daily lives — energy, transportation, health care and security, for starters.
Kerry scoffed at the idea that Democrats need an extreme makeover.
"We have to go out and fight for the real issues that make a difference in the lives of the American people and we don't need some great lurch to the right or lurch to the left or redefinition of the Democratic Party.
"The last thing America needs is a second Republican Party."
Kerry said Bush and the Republicans have used the terrorism issue to divert attention from issues that favored the Democrats.
And the best of what sounds like it was a great speech:
In an arch comment about the president's recent statement in favor of teaching "intelligent design" as an alternative to the theory of evolution, Kerry said, "I think we ought to be getting some intelligent design in our policy in Iraq."
That drew a standing ovation and whoops of delight from the audience.
Heh heh. Sounds like Mr . Kerry was in fine form. And the clips they had on CNN showed that he was, indeed.
Monday, August 15, 2005
WaPo: Iraqi Chemical Stash Uncovered
Post-Invasion Iraqi Chemical Stash Uncovered:
Cache Could Have Been For Use in Weapons
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 14, 2005; Page A18
BAGHDAD, Aug. 13 -- U.S. troops raiding a warehouse in the northern city of Mosul uncovered a suspected chemical weapons factory containing 1,500 gallons of chemicals believed destined for attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces and civilians, military officials said Saturday.
Monday's early morning raid found 11 precursor agents, "some of them quite dangerous by themselves," a military spokesman, Lt. Col. Steven A. Boylan, said in Baghdad.
Oh but wait. Isn't this evidence that Saddam was producing WMDs?
Sorry, no. Reading on:
This article is a must-read. Read, and ponder. Okay, you probably already suspected. But you didn't know.
Invading Iraq has certainly not made anyone safer, except perhaps a few über-moguls of the military-industrial-petroleum complex, who can afford even more bodyguards and more secluded hideaways with all the cash they are stashing from their Iraq-related contracts. Oh yeah, that's right. It's those same über-moguls who are making the decisions now.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Divided Koreas mark 1945 freedom
Divided Koreas mark 1945 freedom
Having spent some time in South Korea in the 1980's, and having friends and associates from there, I am very interested in the re-unification efforts, and heartened by signs like this.
Senior members of the North's ruling party are among the visitors.
The four-day festival is seen as an opportunity to further improve relations after the rapprochement of recent years.
The North Korean visit comes during a pause in the six-nation negotiations over North Korea's nuclear programme.
South Korean officials have said they hope to use the four-day visit as a chance to speak directly to delegates from Pyongyang to establish when the talks on the nuclear issue can resume.
For those unfamiliar with the historical context, the BBC article adds:
The country was then divided into American and Soviet-controlled zones along the 38th parallel, a temporary split that became permanent after the inconclusive three-year peninsular war.
If you are interested in 20th century Korean history but not ready to pick up a scholarly history book, I highly recommend the novel One thousand chestnut trees, by Mira Stout.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
Kerry Delivers the Democratic Hispanic Radio Address
John Kerry Delivers the Democratic Hispanic Radio Address Marking the 70th Anniversary of the Social Security Act
Read the translated transcript
Listen to the audio file
I don't speak Spanish myself, but I think he did okay, and the commenters at Democratic Daily seemed to agree. In any case I think people respect non-native speakers who make the effort to speak their language. Good job, Senator!
Friday, August 12, 2005
Cleland on Kerry 2008: "There's a lot of support...
In Roger Friedman's review of the release of Miramax's "The Great Raid" - at Fox News! - there's this little nugget (emphasis mine):
Former U.S. senator from Georgia Max Cleland, a real American hero, was the guest of honor. He spoke eloquently from his wheelchair after telling me that he would back Sen. John Kerry in another run for the presidency in 2008.
"There's a lot of support for Kerry, and we'll get it right this time," he said.
Hmmm...someone from Fox News calls Max Cleland "a real American hero" and then quotes his positive statement about John Kerry, in full and with no snarky side comments? Did I fall down the rabbit hole? Or is someone going to lose their job over there?
Okay, it was the entertainment section after all. Still..it's very, very nice to see.
Where I've been....
I had a bout of severe eyestrain-related symptoms there for awhile and then I was feeling so glum about Roberts, Bolton, etal; and the recent breakup of some good friends that I just felt like hanging out in the protective cocoon of the Kerry Group at DU.
But I'm feeling a little better now, probably thanks to a lot of good press my favorite Senator is getting these days. So I'm back at the keyboard now. Hopefully I still have readers...