Saturday, January 3, 2009

Ban Voices Concerns Over Threats Against Iranian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Ban Voices Concerns Over Threats Against Iranian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

UN, New York, Jan 3 2009 12:10PM

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today expressed his great concern over reports that Iranian lawyer, human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has been threatened recently.

It has also been reported that her Center for the Defense of Human Rights has been broken into and materials taken, and that hostile crowds have gathered outside her office and home.

Mr. Ban "calls on the Iranian authorities to take immediate measures to prevent any further harassment and to ensure Shirin Ebadi''s safety and security," according to a statement issued by his spokesperson.

Jan 3 2009 12:10PM
For more details go to UN News Centre at

Obama Address On Economic Recovery

American Recovery and Reinvestment, by Dave Rochelson
Obama-Biden Transition Team, Saturday, January 3, 2009 06:00am EST

In this week’s weekly address, President-elect Barack Obama lays out the challenges that face us in the new year, and his plan for taking them on.

“We need an American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that not only creates jobs in the short-term but spurs economic growth and competitiveness in the long-term,” he says. “And this plan must be designed in a new way—we can’t just fall into the old Washington habit of throwing money at the problem. We must make strategic investments that will serve as a down payment on our long-term economic future. We must demand vigorous oversight and strict accountability for achieving results. And we must restore fiscal responsibility and make the tough choices so that as the economy recovers, the deficit starts to come down. That is how we will achieve the number one goal of my plan—which is to create three million new jobs, more than eighty percent of them in the private sector.”

Watch the full address or read the text here.

Taking Detainees: As the Obama Effect Fades

As the Obama Effect Fades, by Abe Greenwald

Contentions, Commentary Blog, Jan 03, 2009

On December 23, the Associated Press reported that European nations were newly open to the U.S.’s request that EU countries resettle some Guantanamo Bay detainees. The AP’s taunting coverage went, predictably, like this:

The willingness to consider accepting prisoners who cannot be returned to their home countries, because of fears they may be tortured there, represents a major change in attitude on the part of European governments. Repeated requests from the Bush administration that European allies accept some Guantanamo Bay detainees received only refusals.

The Bush administration “produced the problem,” Karsten Voigt, coordinator of German-American cooperation at the German Foreign Ministry, said in a telephone interview. “With Obama, the difference is that he tries to solve it.

The very next day, EU Business reported soberly:

Europe reacted cautiously Wednesday to the idea of resettling terror suspects released from Guantanamo Bay, with some countries seeking a concerted European approach and others already opposed to the idea.

The Netherlands went furthest, ruling out accepting any newly freed inmates, despite broad European support for US president elect Barack Obama’s promise to shut down the notorious military detention centre.

A story in New York Times nearly completes our round-trip journey from reality to fantasy and back:

Australia said Friday that it would not agree to American requests to accept more detainees from the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and Britain signaled reluctance to take in significant numbers of former inmates, underscoring the difficulties both the departing and incoming administrations in Washington face in trying to close the camp, which has stirred bitter controversy around the world.

So, what the truth? Some spokesman at the German Foreign Ministry saw an opportunity to give the outgoing American president a dig and he took it. Sure, Germany and Portugal say they’d think about taking in detainees if Obama closes down Gitmo. And that’s good. But it’s predicated on a pretty big “if.”

Industry Views On The Race for Chemical Security

The Race for Chemical Security
Jan 03, 2008

Article originally from American Chemistry magazine.

For some in Washington, D.C., the issue of chemical plant security seemed resolved when Congress passed legislation just prior to the 2006 election recess. However, for the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and its member companies, passage of the legislation was not a checkered flag that ended the race. In reality, there will be lots of hard work ahead and many decisions to be made. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of ACC and its members, the foundation for the future was laid by the Responsible Care® Security Code.

The quest for legislation

Since 2003, ACC has led the charge for a strong, effective chemical security law. It worked with Congress, testified at hearings, and made sure the final bill took into account the importance of protecting the business of chemistry for the good of the nation. The measure signed into law last October reflected many of ACC’s views and met the nation’s needs. It granted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the authority to establish national performance standards for chemical facility security, to enforce those standards through inspection, as well as the power to require corrective action.

Of course, that was only one aspect of ACC’s leadership. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, without waiting for legislation or other federal directives, ACC initiated its mandatory RCSC to protect member company communities, employees, products, and facilities. The code covers site, cyber, and transportation security. Its four essential components require member companies to:
  • prioritize facilities;
  • assess vulnerabilities, using rigorous methodologies developed or approved by experts at Sandia National Lab and the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS);
  • implement security enhancements commensurate with risks, and;
  • verify physical enhancements through local officials or other credible third parties.
This realistic yet tough-minded process creates a methodology that can also be replicated at non-ACC facilities. Not surprisingly, DHS follows a similar approach in its recently proposed regulatory program, which will be finalized in less than one month.

Out of the starting gate

Typically, rule making of this kind involves a broad exchange of ideas among stakeholders and agency experts, and this process has been no exception. It is clear DHS is already incorporating elements drawn from the RCSC. In particular, DHS regulations will prioritize facilities, requiring “high-risk” sites to undertake vulnerability assessments and develop and implement site security plans proportionate to its risk level.

Defining what constitutes high risk and determining which facilities cross that threshold will be among the greatest challenges faced by DHS. Ted Cromwell, ACC’s Senior Director for Security, explains that DHS is utilizing a four-fold risk model that encompasses:
  • off-site consequences, based on the types of chemicals, their quantities, and
    proximity to population centers;
  • sabotage and the threat posed by contaminated products;
  • theft and the potential use of stolen products to harm people and property, and;
  • economic consequences to national security or the region, due to lost production and reduced accessibility of chemical products.
“ACC supports this analytical framework,” Cromwell says. “We believe ACC’s members are well-positioned to comply with the new rules, and we are working with DHS to help ensure the rules are coherent, effective, and enforceable.”

ACC’s formal comments on the rulemaking supported the overall effort and offered guidance on specific issues. Full comments can be downloaded from DHS will issue its final regulations on April 4.

A change in attitude?

Throughout the chemical security legislative and regulatory process, Cromwell and his colleagues at ACC and its member companies have seen a significant change in Washington’s view of the chemical industry.

“The most refreshing aspect of our new relationship with the government is that our products, facilities, and role in society are seen as assets to be protected, not just liabilities to be regulated,” he says.

This growing awareness on the part of the nation’s officials is not an accident, but rather, the result of a focused education and outreach effort by ACC and member companies, including the widely praised essential2 ® campaign, CHEMTREC®, TRANSCAER®, and Responsible Care® programs. It is also thanks to long hours of hard work by officials in industry-government relations, communications, and regulatory affairs.

“It’s still early in the race for chemical security,” Cromwell notes. “The government, ACC, and our members are well-positioned, and if we all do our part, the real winners will be the people, the communities, and the customers who depend on chemistry every day.”

Unraveling Judicial Restraint: Guns, Abortion, and the Faux Conservatism of J. Harvie Wilkinson III

Unraveling Judicial Restraint: Guns, Abortion, and the Faux Conservatism of J. Harvie Wilkinson III, by Nelson Lund & David B. Kopel

December 1, 2008


Writing in the Virginia Law Review, a distinguished federal judge maintains that true conservatives are required to substitute principles of judicial restraint for an inquiry into the original meaning of the Constitution. Accordingly, argues J. Harvie Wilkinson, III, the Supreme Court's Second Amendment decision in District of Columbia v. Heller is an activist decision just like Roe v. Wade: "[B]oth cases found judicially enforceable substantive rights only ambiguously rooted in the Constitution's text." In this response, we challenge his critique.

Part I shows that Judge Wilkinson's analogy between Roe and Heller is untenable. The right of the people to keep and bear arms is in the Constitution, and the right to abortion is not. Contrary to Judge Wilkinson, the genuine conservative critique of Roe is based on the Constitution, not on judicial "values." Judge Wilkinson, moreover, does not show that Heller's interpretation of the Second Amendment is refuted, or even called into serious question, by Justice Stevens' dissenting opinion.

Part II shows that Judge Wilkinson himself does not adhere to the "neutral principle" that he claims to derive from "judicial values." Under the principle of judicial restraint that he articulates, many now-reviled statutes, including the Jim Crow laws of the twentieth century, should have been upheld by the courts. Judge Wilkinson does not accept the consequences of his own supposedly neutral principle, preferring instead to endorse or condemn Supreme Court decisions solely on the basis of his policy preferences. That is not judicial restraint. It is judicial lawlessness.

The Politics of Fat

The Politics of Fat, by Andrew Ferguson
The Weekly Standard, Jan 05, 2009, Volume 014, Issue 16

On December 15, the city council of Binghamton, New York--every member a proud progressive--unanimously passed an ordinance making it a crime to discriminate against fat people. The next day, David Paterson, the famously progressive governor of New York, proposed a special "fat tax" on soda pop because soda pop makes people fat.

When it comes to obesity, the authorities in New York have put their citizens on notice: We will get you coming and going.

Supporters make clear that each move is only preliminary to even greater reforms. Several legislators are interested in a statewide "weight-based" discrimination law, and fat taxes on other foods may prove irresistible.

Obesity is very today, very right now. Obesity is the new smoking. "What smoking was to my parents' generation," Paterson says, "obesity is to my children's generation." He means this in two ways. One is that kids today--these kids today!--eat fatty foods with as much ardor as their grandparents smoked tobacco. The other is that government intends to eradicate the first vice with the same ruthlessness as it did the second. And it's not an idle threat. The campaign against smoking was progressivism's greatest recent success. Over a span of 20 years, an ancient human weakness once enjoyed by nearly half the population and quietly tolerated by the other half became virtually outlawed.

The anti-smoking campaign shows how to turn a private vice requiring tolerance and indulgence into a public offense demanding regulation and official censure. Paterson is following the campaign step by step. First comes the misappropriation of the language of epidemiology. The terms are liberated from their scientific meaning and then attached to a widely shared activity or condition. The condition, in this case obesity, is renamed a "disease," suggesting that some kind of contagion is making the rounds. Then the disease inflates into an "epidemic," suggesting an urgency that only the foolhardy would ignore. "We find ourselves," says Paterson, "in the midst of a new public health epidemic, childhood obesity." Any libertarian qualms are quickly overridden, since not even the most hollow-eyed anarcho-capitalist would deny that government is obliged to guard against runaway disease.

To intensify the urgency, Paterson deploys neutral statistics from sources that are already on his side. The statistics are always improbably exact. Unnamed public health researchers at Harvard have discovered that obesity is "associated" with 112,000 deaths in the United States every year; not 113,000, and not 111,000. Each can of soda pop "increases the risk" of making a child fat by 60 percent. Not 59 percent. Not 61 percent. An increase of $1.25 in tobacco taxes saves more than 37,000 lives and $5 billion in health care costs. And Paterson's 18 percent tax on sugary soft drinks will reduce consumption by 5 percent. Not four.

From here the rest of the argument tumbles like dominoes, clack clack clack. Fat people are not merely drawn to eating unhealthy food; they are "addicted." As addicts, they are rendered helpless by their addiction. Helpless, they deserve the status of victims. Like all victims, they must be victimized by something. By unhealthy food? No: Not food merely, for food and commercial marketing combine to create the TFE--the "Toxic Food Environment." The TFE is everywhere in today's America; it is today's America. It emanates from the seductive advertising of food, from the media's quasi-pornographic obsession with food, from the scandalously low price of food, from the ubiquitous sale of food in such unlikely places as gas-station minimarts. (In simpler times, Americans got gas when they ate food; now they eat food when they get gas.) Created by cynical corporations, the TFE is the ghastly miasma in which we live and move and have our being, swelling with every Frito.

Thus a private failing becomes a public menace.

This is the point in the argument where the city council of Binghamton jumps in. Actually, they perked up at the mention of the word "victims." Victims are citizens who have gone limp. They require the paternal care and protection of public officials. Researchers from Yale (no less) "found that obese adults were 37 times more likely"--not 36 times more likely, and not 38 either--"to report weight-based employment discrimination compared to 'normal' weight adults." Nonprogressives from places other than Binghamton might find this statistic less than eye-popping. Who else but fat people are going to suffer discrimination against fat people? But the very idea of such unregulated bigotry moved the city council to act. Specifically, it outlawed what has elsewhere been called weightism: "weight-based" discrimination in housing, employment, education, and public accommodation. The bill's sponsor explained the law by saying, "It is the human thing to do."

Well, it's certainly the progressive thing to do. Those same Yale researchers fleshed out the reasoning, if you'll forgive the expression. "Weight bias exists," they explained, because weightist bigots believe that "the only reason people fail to lose weight is because of [they're not teaching grammar at Yale these days] poor self-discipline or a lack of willpower." This wrongheaded notion "blames the victim rather than addressing environmental conditions that cause obesity."

The city council takes care of the first part of this incorrect thinking. Its new law reinforces the view that obesity, like sex or race, is an unchangeable condition deserving civil rights protection. The governor aims for the second part, by making the initial move toward taxing those "environmental conditions" out of existence; he will, in other words, directly attack the TFE and, if all goes well, cure the obesity epidemic.

The governor and the Binghamton city council acted independently, of course, but together they've concocted a perfectly progressive two-pronged approach, a one-two punch, a regulatory pincer movement designed to eliminate, all at once and simultaneously, not only discrimination against the obese but also the obese themselves.

One problem does suggest itself. If the government is to declare our hefty brothers and sisters a protected class, if they are to become a legal caste that cannot be singled out because of their weight, how can the government continue to go after their favorite foods? A "fat tax" on sugary soda pop punishes fat people by making the foods they love more expensive--merely because fat people love them. One tactic violates the other. It's only a matter of time before fat people will be able to sue the state of New York on grounds of discrimination for imposing a fat tax. And then where will we be?

I don't want to give anybody any ideas, but I have noticed an alarming number of dangerously skinny people drinking diet soda. It's like an -epidemic.

Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.

Our Oil Reserves Are Depleted; It's Time for Utopia

Our Oil Reserves Are Depleted; It's Time for Utopia, by Jim Schumacher and Debbie Bookch
Huffington Post, December 25, 2008 02:13 PM (EST)

Last week at a Christmas party in the hills of Umbria, we were part of a captive audience listening to an American businessman holding forth on an ever-popular expat subject - the dismal exchange rate of dollars to euros. He informed his listeners that they needn't worry: In just a couple of years, he said, America will have pulled out of the recession and the economy will be growing strong; Europe, on the other hand will still be facing the ripple effects of the global meltdown - and will be suffering.

"You'll see," he said blithely, "the dollar and the euro will be at par."

Although the conversation took place in Italy, it could have as easily occurred in a Wall Street boardroom. Despite the ongoing economic meltdown, the dominant, "business as usual" wisdom is that the ascendancy of the American model of global capitalism can only continue. It's just a matter of time before the good ship USS Free Enterprise rights itself and we have smooth sailing ahead.

But exactly what resources will the U.S. call upon to fuel the economic recovery that our American businessman and millions of others like him continue to believe in? Our longtime economic paradigm - growth fueled by cheap oil - has no future. Even when it did, it was a flawed concept because the constant growth required under the "grow or die" capitalist paradigm demands that we relentlessly exploit natural resources - how else to increase profit margins and pay investors their ever-greater dividends?

This paradigm has brought us to the brink of ecological disaster, with a planet so over-heated that even the most optimistic climate experts are doubtful whether we will be able to prevent cataclysmic disruptions unless worldwide carbon emissions are drastically reduced in the coming years - an unlikely scenario given the unwillingness of most governments to enact tough standards and regulations.

Not only has the planet been brought to its knees as a result of this capitalist ethos, but we humans haven't fared so well either. Can we really say we're succeeding as a human race when half of the world's population is starving, or lacks adequate access to potable water, or is suffering from preventable diseases? Even in the U.S., our "high standard of living" leaves much to be desired, not only for the 45 million people who have no health insurance but for the tens of millions who work 40-80 hours a week and find themselves with little time to socialize, go for a walk, prepare and enjoy a meal with friends, or read a book - in short, have less free time and a lower standard of living than their parents did.

With oil virtually at an end, what better time to re-examine the economic paradigm that allowed us to think we could use up finite resources and just "grow" forever? Isn't it time to rethink our blind embrace of the "grow or die" philosophy that led us down this self-destructive path?

In her recent post, "Laissez-Faire Capitalism Should Be as Dead as Soviet Communism," Arianna Huffington suggests that the collapse of our financial system as a result of deregulation proves that this form of deregulated capitalism should be relegated to the dust bin of history. But is it just deregulation, or is it capitalism itself that needs to be junked? Inherent in the capitalist ethos is the endless exploitation of natural resources. Indeed, not only the exploitation of nature, but the exploitation of individuals by individuals is a guiding principle of modern capitalist society. You needn't travel to 19th century England to understand this; it's not just the exploitation of workers in factories anymore. As capitalism colonizes the realm of interpersonal relations, we've ceased to become human to each other and instead become "resources" (think "networking") to be exploited for one type of gain or another.

Considering the tremendous advances in labor-saving technology in the last century, isn't it time for a new form of social organization? One that prizes mutual aid over competition, collective stewardship of nature over its rapacious exploitation, and recognition that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" must include the provision of basic necessities for all, regardless of status: shelter, food, free healthcare. Even better, imagine if we could recognize that ultimately human beings are capable of much more than just earning money? It's time to use our immense powers of reason to ask ourselves: What does it mean to build a truly civilized world? History has shown us that Leninist Communism - itself a form of state-sanctioned exploitation of nature and human beings - wasn't the answer. But neither has capitalism allowed us to fully realize our potential as free, creative beings.

We stand on a threshold. Will we use our extraordinary technology, science and rationality to create a just, humane and truly free society? Or will we continue down the path of domination - of each other and of the natural world - destroying our environment and ourselves?

The great utopian, Murray Bookchin, said: "If we do not do the impossible, we shall be faced with the unthinkable." When he said those words, more than a quarter of a century ago, the notion that capitalism could bring the world to the brink of destruction was ridiculed by almost every mainstream intellectual. Yet here we are on the precipice, confronted with the unthinkable. The only course left to us, is to do the impossible - to abandon the paradigm of capitalism that has defined our cultural, political and economic life for the past 250 years, and whose supremacy has led inexorably to the despoilation of our planet and demeaning of human existence.

Let us choose to end the domination of each other and the unthinking exploitation of nature, and find a more human, decent form of social organization, one that prizes true, decentralized democracy, basic decency and the common good.

The oil is almost gone. The hourglass is about to run out. It's time to create a utopia.