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San Francisco’s Famous Sea Lions Have VANISHED

December 30th, 2009 admin No comments

SAN FRANCISCO — Last month, marine scientists counted more than 1,500 sea lions on fabled Pier 39, a record number that delighted tourists and baffled experts. Why so many? Why were they sticking around? But now, almost all of the sea lions are gone, leaving the experts guessing where they went – and why.

“Most likely, they left chasing a food source,” said Jeff Boehm, executive director of the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, which runs an information center and gift shop at Pier 39. “It’s probably what kept them here in the first place.”

On Tuesday, 10 sea lions lounged and swam and dove from the docks, spreading themselves out where the animals were stacked three and four deep just a month ago. The bulk of the herd probably followed their favorite foods, sardines and anchovies, Boehm said.

The animals began leaving in droves the day after Thanksgiving, almost as if someone had issued an order. But Boehm said the fact that so many sea lions stayed for so long is even stranger than their disappearance.

“They do move off,” Boehm said, adding that in the fall, older sea lions head to breeding colonies in the Channel Islands, off the coast of Southern California along the Santa Barbara Channel. Younger sea lions, he said, “don’t mind those rules and tend to travel far and wide.”

The younger ones still sticking around Pier 39 were enough to satisfy hordes of visitors huddled against the wind to watch them. The sea lions huddled together, dove off the docks, and honked and barked,

“We’re happy with what we see,” said Carmen Fernandez of Miami Beach, Fla., who was watching the sea lions with her husband Carlos.

Despite the sea lions’ abrupt disappearance, Boehm said the Marine Mammal Center is not concerned that they have left for good. While more then the usual number have left – usually about 40 remain – it is very unlikely, Boehm said, that they won’t come back. He said the herd will probably come back, as usual, by the spring.

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There’s An App For That: Phone Points Illegal Border Crossers To Water

December 30th, 2009 admin No comments

SAN DIEGO — A group of California artists wants Mexicans and Central Americans to have more than just a few cans of tuna and a jug of water for their illegal trek through the harsh desert into the U.S.

Faculty at University of California, San Diego are developing a GPS-enabled cell phone that tells dehydrated migrants where to find water. It also pipes in poetry from phone speakers, regaling them on their journey much like Emma Lazarus’ words did a century ago to the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” on Ellis Island.

The Transborder Immigrant Tool is part technology endeavor, part art project. It introduces a high-tech twist to an old debate about how far activists can go to prevent migrants from dying on the border without breaking the law.

Immigration hardliners argue the activists are aiding illegal entry to the United States, a felony. Even migrants and their sympathizers question whether the device will make the treacherous journeys easier.

The designers – three visual artists on UCSD’s faculty and an English professor at the University of Michigan – are undeterred as they criticize a U.S. policy they say embraces illegal immigrants for cheap labor while letting them die crossing the border.

“It’s about giving water to somebody who’s dying in the desert of dehydration,” said Micha Cardenas, 32, a UCSD lecturer.

The effort is being done on the government’s dime – an irony not lost on the designers whose salaries are paid by the state of California.

“There are many, many areas in which every American would say I don’t like the way my tax dollars are being spent. Our answer to that is an in-your-face, so what?” says UCSD lecturer Brett Stalbaum, 33, a self-described news junkie who likens his role to chief technology officer.

Migrants walk for days in extreme heat, often eating tuna and crackers handed out at migrant shelters in Mexico. On Arizona ranches, they sip desperately from bins used by cows when their water runs out.

Hundreds have perished each year since heightened U.S. border enforcement pushed migrants out of large cities like San Diego and El Paso, Texas, in the 1990s. In response, migrant sympathizers put jugs or even barrels of water in the desert.

The designers want to load inexpensive phones with GPS software that takes signals from satellite, independent of phone networks. Pressing a menu button displays water stations, with the distance to each. A user selects one and follows an arrow on the screen.

Some worry the software could lead migrants to damaged or abandoned water stations. Others wonder if it would lull them into a false sense of security or alert the Border Patrol and anti-illegal immigration activists to their whereabouts.

John Hunter, who has planted water barrels in California’s scorching Imperial Valley since the late 1990s, says vandals destroy about 40 of his 150 stations every year.

“My concern is for people who arrive and find (the water) doesn’t exist,” he says.

Luis Jimenez, 47, was abandoned by smugglers and rescued by the Border Patrol twice this year – once after hitting his head on a rock and again after being bit by a snake. The Salvadoran migrant, who hopes to reach family in Los Angeles, would try the GPS device but can’t afford one.

“If it tells you where to find water, it’s good,” he said at a Tijuana, Mexico, migrant shelter.

The phone designers say they are addressing the concerns, with an eye toward having the phone ready by midsummer.

“We don’t want to create a safety tool that actually puts people in more danger,” Stalbaum says.

The water locations beamed to the phones will be updated constantly to ensure accuracy. If the distance is too far, they won’t appear on the screen.

The designers, who have raised $15,000 from a UCSD grant and an art festival award, hope to hand out phones for free in Mexico. The phones sell used for about $30 apiece. It costs nothing to add the GPS software.

Distribution would be tightly controlled by migrant shelters and advocacy groups to keep them away from anti-illegal immigration activists. The migrants would need passwords to use them.

U.S. authorities are unfazed. The Border Patrol has begun a $6.7-billion plan to drape the border with whiz-bang cameras, sensors and other technology.

“It’s nothing new,” said Border Patrol spokesman Mark Endicott. “We’ve seen handheld GPS devices used by smugglers. … We’re just going to have to learn to adapt to any challenges.”

Critics of illegal immigration say the device is misguided, at best.

“If it’s not a crime, it’s very close to committing a crime,” said Peter Nunez, a former U.S. attorney in San Diego. “Whether this constitutes aiding and abetting would depend on the details, but it certainly puts you in the discussion.”

The software is being designed to direct migrants to water stations but Cardenas said they may add other “safety markers,” like roads, towns and Border Patrol lookouts.

The group has published verses to be played on the phone’s “Global Poetic System.”

One poem reads, “May your tracks cut the shortest distance between points A and B.”

___

On the Net: Transborder Immigrant Tool, http://bang.calit2.net/xborder/

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Lisa Miller Must Give Child To Ex-Partner, Judge Rules

December 30th, 2009 admin No comments

MONTPELIER, Vt. — The birth mother of a 7-year-old Virginia girl must transfer custody of the child to the woman’s former lesbian partner, a Vermont judge ruled, adding that it seems the woman has “disappeared” with her daughter.

Vermont Family Court Judge William Cohen ordered Lisa Miller of Winchester, Va., to turn over daughter Isabella to Janet Jenkins of Fair Haven at 1 p.m. Friday at the Virginia home of Jenkins’ parents.

But in the Dec. 22 order denying Miller’s request to delay the transfer of Isabella, Cohen wrote: “It appears that Ms. Miller has ceased contact with her attorneys and disappeared with the minor child.”

Miller and Jenkins were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000. Isabella was born to Miller through artificial insemination in 2002. The couple broke up in 2003, and Miller moved to Virginia, renounced homosexuality and became an evangelical Christian.

Cohen awarded custody of the girl to Jenkins on Nov. 20 after finding Miller in contempt of court for denying Jenkins access to the girl.

The judge said the only way to ensure equal access to the child was to switch custody. He also said the benefits to the child of having access to both parents would be worth the difficulties of the change.

Mathew Staver, Miller’s attorney, declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the case.

A listing for Lisa Miller in Winchester, Va., says the phone line has been temporarily disconnected at the customer’s request.

Jenkins’ attorney, Sarah Star, said she hopes Miller is simply not communicating with her attorneys but plans to comply with the order.

“It is Ms. Jenkins’ intent when she has custody of Isabella to allow as liberal contact as is possible with her other mother,” Star said Tuesday.

When Cohen dissolved the civil union, he awarded custody to Miller but granted liberal visitation rights to Jenkins.

The supreme courts of Virginia and Vermont ruled in favor of Jenkins, saying the case was the same as a custody dispute between a heterosexual couple. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear arguments on it.

If Miller does not turn over Isabella, the most likely scenerio is that she would be held in contempt of court and a warrant would be issued for her arrest, said Cheryl Hanna, a professor of constitutional law at Vermont Law School.

“I think the underlying thing is the fact that they are a lesbian couple doesn’t mean that the court’s going to treat this any differently than if they were a heterosexual couple,” she said.

___

Associated Press writers Steve Szkotak in Richmond, Va., and Lisa Rathke in Montpelier, Vt., contributed to this report.


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Society Of Professional Journalists Slams NBC For Practicing ‘Checkbook Journalism’

December 30th, 2009 admin No comments

NEW YORK — The Society of Professional Journalists condemned NBC News for practicing “checkbook journalism” by chartering a jet that carried a New Jersey man involved in a bitter custody battle and his son home from Brazil.

David Goldman, who successfully fought the Brazilian family of his now-deceased ex-wife for custody of 9-year-old Sean, granted an interview to Meredith Vieira of NBC’s “Today” show that aired Monday.

NBC said Goldman was booked for “Today” before the network invited him on the plane. The network had already arranged for the plane to bring its own employees home for Christmas, NBC News spokeswoman Lauren Kapp said. If NBC hadn’t brought the Goldmans’ home, one of its rivals would have, she said.

“We’ve covered this story exceptionally well,” she said. “Their going on the plane did not affect our coverage of the story or getting them booked at all.”

NBC News told viewers that it had paid for the Goldmans’ trip home, she said. The network showed pictures of the Goldmans on the plane and on “Nightly News” featured a brief interview by correspondent Jeff Rossen with David Goldman while both were on the plane.

The journalists’ group said NBC News jeopardized its integrity with the arrangement.

“Paying for access taints the credibility and neutrality of what you are doing,” said Andy Schotz, chairman of the SPJ ethics committee. “There is now a motive for people to be helping you, to be telling you what you want to hear.”

Most news organizations say they don’t pay for interviews. But critics say the commonly used practice of paying to license photos or video from a subject matter or paying for someone’s travel is a way of getting around the restriction.

At the same time SPJ criticized NBC News for its conduct with the Goldmans, CNN and ABC paid for cell phone pictures taken by Jasper Schuringa, the man who helped subdue an alleged terrorist who tried to take down a Detroit-bound plane. Both also interviewed Schuringa but denied any connection between the payments and interview.

Kapp said she believed NBC News did nothing wrong by chartering the plane.

The Goldmans “were invited on as guests,” she said. “This was not a booking strategy.”

Goldman’s lawyer, Patricia Apy, said Tuesday that Goldman never had a contract with NBC. She said the Goldman camp was loyal to the network because it did a thorough report on his situation a year ago before the story became major news.

Some media outlets offered favors in return for access, Apy said, but Goldman turned them down. She declined to say which media outlets were involved.

She said Goldman accepted the flight in part because of fears that multiple camera crews might be onboard if they flew back to the U.S. on a commercial flight.

___

Associated Press Writer Geoff Mulvihill contributed to this report.


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Yael Fischer: Amid Afghanistan’s Turmoil, Farmers Learn And Thrive

December 30th, 2009 admin No comments

This summer I took a commercial flight to a war-zone. Boarding the plane bound to Afghanistan, I was struck by how normal it all seemed. I expected it to be more difficult, but as I discovered little in Afghanistan was as I expected.

I went to Kabul in order to work with Global Partnership for Afghanistan (GPFA), an organization that provides Afghan farmers with the crops, poultry, and agriculture training they need to create a sustainable livelihood.

I landed in the new Kabul International Airport. It is supposedly much nicer than it used to be, though, of course, I never saw how it used to be. Regardless, I did not pay much attention to the facilities because I was fixated on finding my way out. Days before, the Taliban had shot rockets at the airport, and I was not looking to spend much time there.

Riding into the heart of Kabul, I saw surprisingly few scars marking the nearly 30 years of war this city has borne. There were only a handful of bombed-out buildings, and, although the streets wear the evidence of poverty, they also show signs of prosperity. Tin shacks chock-full of one type of ware for sale (wheelbarrows, for example) line the road, but so do large glass and steel wedding halls and brightly-lit, modern supermarkets.

The streets are jammed with cars and these cars are packed full of people. A man swore to me that he saw a family of eight crammed into a station wagon riding with a goat seated in the middle. Aside from the stuffed automobiles, the city bustles with barnyard animals crossing traffic, bicyclists weaving, pedestrians walking, and merchants peddling. It can seem like any other developing world city until you spot the guns.

Afghan national police patrol the city by vehicle. They stand on the backs of trucks, facing the cars behind them, mindlessly pointing their guns towards traffic. Military Humvees pass by with soldiers standing lookout in the latch, also holding their weapons ready. The first time I saw a camouflage-color Humvee next to a cow, I laughed. They both seemed so out of place against the hotel in the background.

Overall, there is a surprising feeling of normalcy in Kabul — a normalcy that is only accentuated in the provinces to the north where the landscape is so lush with trees that the vista seems an endless sea of green. It is in these cities that many of GPFA’s farmers live.

I traveled to meet one such farmer. After calling ahead to see if it was safe, a few GPFA staff members and I drove out of Kabul along a road hugged by patches of trees and farms. When we arrived, we were greeted by a host of children — some the farmer’s and some her cousin’s — and we went to see the crops. Above the winding roots and below the broad green leaves, bright gourds peeped out. We walked through the patch, careful not to step on anything that was growing, stopping to look at two plump turkeys in a wire cage, and then went through the gate of a stone fence to see the orchard. Tree after tree bore fruit ripe for picking. It was a scene of peaceful abundance.

This was a GPFA farm. The three Afghan horticulturists with whom I traveled were GPFA “extensionists.” They, like the farmer, were all female.

Afghanistan

The organization is unique within the country for its grassroots model. GPFA works with community councils to designate farmers for participation, and provides special programs specifically for women. The organization hires only Afghan extensionists, who routinely visit the farms in the provinces they oversee.

We all sat on some benches alongside the farmer and her children for a long while eating freshly-picked mulberries and talking about quotidian matters — from farming to the Taliban. Just as we were getting ready to leave, another local GPFA farmer shouted after us. He explained that insects were eating some of his trees and showed the extensionists some leaves flecked with holes as evidence. What, he asked them, should he do about it?

GPFA provides such farmers with countless resources. The organization runs fruit nurseries and poplar woodlots that grow plants to be transferred to individual farms. They provide greenhouses to grow vegetables and cold storage facilities to store crops until the optimal selling period arrives. They also offer tools to farmers, like storage crates and solar fruit drying racks.

Afghan Farm

But the most important service GPFA provides is in agriculture education. The extensionists run training sessions on farming techniques like weeding, drip-irrigation, and pruning. While I was there, an American engineer finished perfecting a solar drying stand that could be cheaply replicated. These panels enabled farmers to dry fruit or vegetables without exposure to animal droppings. The dried product could then be sold at market. GPFA began planning sessions to show the farmers how to use the panels.

I did not get to spend nearly as much time with the farmers as I would have liked. Many have inspiring stories as well as harrowing tales. I learned about female farmers who had suffered great physical abuse, which is not uncommon in a country where the role of women is so curtailed. (Some Afghan women jailed for “crimes” related to domestic violence, such as running away, prefer to stay in jail because they have no where else go.) It was remarkable to see such women now running their own farms with the aid of GPFA.

It is common in Afghanistan to hear about close relatives recently killed, homes destroyed, and land lost. But there is also a lot of talk that is optimistic about the future. This is particularly true for the farmers in the countryside. GPFA offers them a way to build a sustainable livelihood and these farmers are determined to make the most of it.


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Ed Berliner: Urban legends, and the resignation of Gators Head Coach Meyer.

December 30th, 2009 admin No comments

The best thing for the University of Florida football team would be for Urban Meyer to make his “retirement” completely official and leave the program as soon as possible.

Hold your breath on that one. We’ll come back to it.

Let’s begin with the media mad dash to be the very first with the scoop on why Meyer decided to take the exit. Within minutes of his departure the “blog-o-sphere”, also known by it’s acronym, “BS”, was sizzling with everything from Dengue fever to the heartbreak of psoriasis.

But the most egregious and blatant misuse of media power goes to a TV station in Orlando, Florida, where the Sports Director was conveniently mentioned by name as the one reporting Meyer had suffered a heart attack. Naturally, the usual “source” was quoted for this “breaking news”.

Of course, Meyer did not suffer a heart attack, but what the doctors called “heart issues”. For the uninitiated, the difference between the two is comparing severe gas thanks to several large burritos with something that needs electric paddles and people yelling “CLEAR!”

So if you follow the bouncing blunder here, Meyer would have lost the SEC game, met the media and friends the next day, appeared at his weekly press conference, talked with more than a few people and be seen around the University, all while suffering a heart attack and then apparently being let out onto the pavement after being treated and released with the wave of a magic wand.

Or at the behest of Tim Tebow. Same thing.

Then again this incorrect, badly researched and reported ego goof did finish a very close first to the rumor I heard about Meyer suffering a brain tumor and being rushed to the hospital.

All this was followed by the rampant speculation on who would fill the alligator sideline shoes at “The Swamp”. Names such as Jon Gruden (not likely with a cushy gig sitting in the ESPN broadcast booth taking shots at old foes), Mike Shanahan, (just listen to the bloodcurdling screams of people in Denver, that should be plenty to wipe that thought out), and Chris Petersen from Boise State were tossed about in the race to fill the rumor vacuum radio talk shows abhor.

Not only is Petersen young and bright enough to captivate Gators fans and recruits, but you might get him for short cash after reminding him the alternative is continued retina damage staring into that blue field for another season.

And now, back to that initial statement.

There will never be a more opportune and correct time for Urban Meyer to back up, one more time, and announce he will not return under any circumstances next season.

Allow me to request Gator Nation remove the sharp objects from the Ed Berliner pincushion for a moment and look at this with a little less passion.

This in no way minimizes Meyer’s accomplishments and obvious football intelligence. The man has proven himself to be, without one single doubt from anyone, including those in-State and SEC opponents seething with jealousy, to be one of the very best college football coaches anywhere.

But Meyer and UF Athletic hierarchy has stumbled and bumbled badly in this affair. It’s difficult to imagine that someone above Meyer and in a position of authority wasn’t well forewarned before his initial announcement. This could then lead one to believe they tried to talk him out of it and were unsuccessful. Logic follows then UF agreed to the separation as being unavoidable.

Meyer’s mind was made up.

Why Meyer decided to pull a “Billy Donovan” is unclear, and we’ll likely never know the real reason. But in the monster-dollar world of college football, where coaches and recruiters have often sold more than their souls for a prized recruit, there is nothing worse than indecision and seeming weakness.

Plenty of recruits will still choose UF over Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and plenty of other schools around the Nation.

But what of those 1 or 2 who can change a program overnight? Those suddenly aware that there’s the slightest chance they will play for a coach who already found a way out and could do it again, meaning their future pro careers and paycheck amounts could be sizably lessened in a different attitude with a different Head Coach.

Several recruitment analysts have already told me that, to no surprise, teams from every conference are already whispering in the ear of recruits and their families about the lack of commitment they perceive at Florida. The long-term damage can indeed be significant.

There is blood in the water and the sharks are feeding already. There is only one way to solve what has become an embarrassment and a nightmare of bad decisions and announcements.

Urban Meyer won’t be there forever. The Tim Tebow era is over. A level of rebuilding begins immediately.

And in light of events over the past week, it needs to begin with a new, permanent and dedicated Head Coach.

Now.

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2010 Pro Bowl Roster: Selections Include Eight Vikings

December 30th, 2009 admin No comments

NEW YORK — Brett Favre and Peyton Manning have other plans for visiting Miami in early 2010.

Already Pro Bowl regulars, they were selected to this season’s game Tuesday. Favre was among eight Minnesota Vikings who made the NFC team, while Manning was one of six Indianapolis Colts on the AFC squad. It will be Favre’s 11th Pro Bowl and the 10th for Manning. No other quarterbacks have been to 10 all-star games.

Naturally, both of them – and every other player chosen for the Pro Bowl whose team has made the playoffs – are thinking of appearing in another game in South Florida, the Super Bowl. All six of the quarterbacks made the playoffs and, of course, would prefer to be playing in the Super Bowl on Feb. 7 in Miami. The Pro Bowl has been moved to the previous Sunday at Dolphin Stadium, and no Super Bowl participants will play in the all-star game.

As Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco said on Twitter after discovering the AFC North champions have nobody going to the Pro Bowl:

“Just been informed myself nor any of my teammates made the Pro Bowl-bengal fans we wouldn’t be abe to play in it anyway! SUPER BOWL BABY!!!”

Favre will be a backup to New Orleans’ Drew Brees, the NFL’s top-rated passer. The other NFC quarterback will be Aaron Rodgers, who replaced Favre in Green Bay last year.

“When you are voted in as a quarterback, you really represent the entire offense and the team,” Brees said, “because there isn’t anything I can accomplish without the offensive line, running backs, tight ends and wide receivers. So this is a recognition of what we’ve been able to achieve as a unit, and I’ve been thrilled to be a part of an offense that has worked together so well this season.”

Tennessee running back Chris Johnson, the league’s leading rusher, also made the AFC team, along with NFL receptions leader Wes Welker of New England. Manning will be backed up at quarterback by New England’s Tom Brady and San Diego’s Philip Rivers.

Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, the league’s top scorer among non-kickers, will be in the NFC backfield. The other Vikings who made it: wide receiver Sidney Rice, defensive end Jared Allen, guard Steve Hutchinson, defensive tackle Kevin Williams, special teamer Heath Farwell and tackle Bryant McKinnie.

Dallas and Philadelphia, which meet for the NFC East title on Sunday, had the next most players on the NFC roster with six each, followed by top-seeded New Orleans with five. There were 13 first-timers chosen in the NFC in voting by fans, coaches and players.

Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers has earned another $1.5 million by making his fifth Pro Bowl, pushing his NFL-high salary to $18.2 million this season. Peppers has 10 1/2 sacks and was voted an NFC starter.

Nobody made it from the Falcons, Seahawks, Buccaneers or Lions.

The other Colts on the AFC roster were tight end Dallas Clark, defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, wide receiver Reggie Wayne and center Jeff Saturday.

San Diego, Denver and Baltimore each had five players chosen for the AFC team. There were eight newcomers in the AFC, while Cincinnati was the only division champion with no Pro Bowlers. Kansas City was the other AFC team without one, for the first time since 1978.

Two rookies made the AFC team, Houston linebacker Brian Cushing and Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd, who is on injured reserve.

“I’m just thrilled,” Cushing said. “It’s one of those things you always look forward to growing up playing football. When coach called me today I was just beyond ecstatic. I couldn’t believe that it actually happened.”

Washington LB Brian Orakpo is the lone rookie on the NFC squad. Orakpo is the first Redskins rookie selected for the Pro Bowl in 31 years.

“It really humbles me, because it shows people are watching and really know what I can do out there,” Orakpo said. “I appreciate this honor and hopefully will get some more in the future – and turn this team around, as well.”

Several players used social media to reveal their selections to the game well before the NFL’s official announcement at 7:15 p.m. EST. The NFL found that “understandable.”

“To be named to the Pro Bowl is a tremendous individual honor,” league spokesman Michael Signora said. “We notified each club of its Pro Bowl players at 4 p.m. ET to provide an opportunity for the club to inform its own players. This is standard procedure. It is understandable in today’s world of social media that some players couldn’t resist sharing their good news by tweeting.”

Record-setting kick returner Joshua Cribbs made the AFC team and joked it might help his stalled contract negotiations. Cribbs is planning to take most of the members of Cleveland’s return units with him to the Pro Bowl.

“I hope I get that contract so I can afford it,” he said, laughing. “It’s the least I can do for a job well done. I can’t leave those guys behind, they deserve it as much as I do. I’ve got to take care of my guys.”

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Matthew Filipowicz: Ask Budweiser To Step Down From The Chamber Of Commerce

December 30th, 2009 admin No comments

Many companies have quit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over it’s extreme anti-environmental views and actions. Apple has quit. Nike has quit. Exelon and Pacific Gas and Electric have also quit.

One of the companies, however, that has yet to quit is Anheuser-Busch, the makers of Budweiser and Bud Light.

Recently, one of Anheuser-Busch’s employees bravely stepped forward and made a video asking his company to do the right thing. Take a look.

Help Bob out. Help the planet out. And help Anheuser-Busch make the correct decision by asking them to step down from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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Johann Hari: As A Dark Year Ends, Remember the Inspirational Peoople of 2009

December 30th, 2009 admin No comments

It was a dark year, 2009, sealing a dark decade. It began with the world in economic free-fall and the Gaza Strip being bombed to pieces (again). We watched the vicious crushing of a democratic uprising in Iran, a successful far-right coup in Honduras, and the intensification of the disastrous war in Afghanistan. It all ended at Brokenhagen, where the world’s leaders breezily decided to carry on cooking the planet.

But in the midst of all this there were extraordinary points of light, generated by people who have refused to drink the cheap sedative of despair. The left-wing newsman Wes Nisker said in his final broadcast: “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.” I want – in the final moments of 2009 – to celebrate the people who, this year, did just that: the men and women who didn’t slump, but realised that the worse the world gets, the harder people of goodwill have to work to put it right.

Inspiration One: Denis Mukwege. The war in the Congo is the worst since Adolf Hitler marched across Europe: it has killed more than 5 million people and counting. As I witnessed when I reported on the war in 2006, the violence has been turned primarily on the country’s women: one favourite tactic is to gang-rape a woman and then shoot her in the vagina. For years these women were simply left to die in the bush. But one man – a soft-spoken Congolese gynaecologist with a gentle smile – decided to do something mad, something impossible. With scarcely any equipment and no funding, he set up a secret clinic for these women.

He was told he would be killed by the militias for undoing their “work”. The threats said his own daughters would be murdered if he didn’t stop. Everyone thought he was mad. But he knew it was the right thing to do. He became the Oscar Schindler of the Congolese mass rapes, saving the lives of tens of thousands of women. In the midst of a moral Chernobyl, he showed that the best human instincts can survive and, in time, prevail. It is rumoured he was number two in the Nobel Committee’s list for the Peace Prize. He should have won.

Inspiration Two: Liu Xiaobo. A year ago, a petition began to circulate in China demanding that its one billion citizens be allowed to think and speak freely. “We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes,” it said. As if they were the Irony Police, the Chinese authorities promptly arrested the authors and many of its signatories. One of the most articulate and brave – Liu Xiaobo – was sentenced to 11 years in a re-education camp for “subversion”.

The Chinese authorities believe human rights are a “plot” to weaken China. In fact, China will be immeasurably stronger when it stops persecuting its citizens when they try to develop their minds and defend each other.

Liu is not alone. Hu Jia is in prison for warning about China’s hidden Aids crisis. Huang Qi is in jail for warning that the poor construction of school buildings in Sichuan – because the builders bribed the local authorities – meant hundreds of children died unnecessarily in the earthquake. There is a long list, and for every prisoner, thousands more are too frightened to speak. But these dissidents stand as models of the truly great nation China will be one day, when it stops persecuting these people and starts electing them.

Inspiration Three: Evo Morales and Malalai Joya. Although they were born thousands of miles apart, these two people embody what real democracy can mean. When Evo Morales was a child, the indigenous peoples of Bolivia weren’t even allowed to set foot in the capital’s central square, which was reserved for white people. Today, he is the President, and for the first time in his country’s history, he is diverting the billions raised from the country’s natural resources away from the pockets of US corporations. It is building schools and hospitals for people who had nothing, and poverty is being eradicated in a stunning burst of progress.

Malalai Joya is the youngest woman ever to be elected in Afghanistan, and she was swiftly banned from taking her seat because she kept speaking up for the people who elected her – against the violent fundamentalist warlords our governments have put in charge of the country. They keep trying to murder her, but she says: “I don’t fear death, I fear remaining silent in the face of injustice … I am ready, wherever and whenever you might strike. You can cut down the flower, but nothing can stop the coming of the spring.”

She and Morales are authentic democrats, in contrast to the parody of it offered by Hamid Karzai and – too often – our own leaders.

Inspiration Four: Amy Goodman and the team at Democracy Now! It’s not hard to despair of the US at the moment, when even the silver-tongued King of Change seems unable to get real healthcare and cuts in warming gases through his corrupt Senate, and he is ramming harder into Afghanistan. A large part of the problem is the atrocious US broadcast media. The TV news is one lengthy blowjob for the powerful, seeing everything from the perspective of the rich, and ridiculing arguments for progress. It serves its owners and its advertisers by poisoning every political debate with death-panel distractions and silence for the things that matter.

But there is one remarkable exception. Broadcasting from a tiny studio in New York, on a budget raised entirely from its viewers, comes Democracy Now! Every day, the hour-long broadcast – hosted by the wonderful Amy Goodman – tells the real news. While the nightly news fills up with junk and gossip, they calmly, cleverly explain what is really happening. For example, while ABC and NBC were fixating on Tiger Woods’ genitals, Democracy Now! was in Copenhagen, explaining how the world’s rainforests were being stiffed. They, at least, can tell the trees from the Woods. It is the best single source for making sense of the world that I know – and it is a model of what the American media could be if it treated its viewers with respect.

Inspiration Five: Peter Tatchell. Long before it was trendy to support gay equality, there was Peter Tatchell, taking huge risks for what was right. As one of the pioneers of direct action to oppose bigotry against gay people, he was never afraid to put his own body in the path of bigots. In 1999, he performed a citizen’s arrest on the murderous Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, and was beaten so badly by his bodyguards he has never recovered. This year, he went to Moscow to defend the gay rights march there from viciously anti-gay police, and was beaten again. This year, he announced he had to withdraw from running as the Green candidate in Oxford East because the damage was so severe.

Almost unbelievably, some people who claim to be on the left have attacked Tatchell because he criticises homophobes who happen to be black, Arab or Asian in exactly the same way he criticises people who are white. (He tried to arrest Tony Blair and Henry Kissinger for war crimes just as surely as he tried to get Mugabe.) But the real racism would be to hold non-white people to lower standards, as if their bigotries were less real or less deadly. A person who chooses to persecute gay people is monstrous and should be stopped – whatever their skin colour, and whatever their culture. Tatchell has dedicated his life to that cause, and he deserves our endless thanks, not dishonest abuse.

What do they all have in common, all these people? When Mukwege built his clinic, they said he’d be dead within a week. When Tatchell said gay people could be equal, they laughed in his face. When Morales and Joya ran for office, they said people like them could never win. They dismiss Liu and Goodman now; but their arguments will win, in time.

They show that when the world gets worse, that’s not a reason to slink away in despair. On the contrary: it’s a reason to work harder and aim higher. As the essayist Rebecca Solnit says: “Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.” That should be the epitaph for these remarkable people – and for 2009.

Johann Hari is a writer for the Independent. To read more of his articles, click here.

He is also a contrbuting writer for Slate magazine. To read his latest article there, clck here.

You can follow Johann on Twiter at www.twitter.com/johannhari101


Charde Dickey Of Boulder Arrested For Assaulting Woman Who Tried To Repossess Her Car

December 30th, 2009 admin No comments

Boulder police arrested a 24-year-old Longmont woman late Monday on suspicion of assaulting a woman who was trying to repossess her Oldsmobile Alero.

Officers were called to the 4600 block of Broadway about 11 p.m. Monday on a report of an assault and theft. At the scene, police learned that a woman and her husband had been sent to repossess Charde Dickey’s Alero because she had not been making payments, said police spokeswoman Laurie Ogden.


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