Monday, November 13, 2006

Making Terrorists out of Mole Hills

The U.S. House will soon vote on a bill that would define acts of peaceful protest as terrorism. Already passed by the Senate, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, S. 1926 and H.R. 4239 (AETA) categorizes activists as terrorists if they engage in First Amendment-protected activities like demonstrations, leafleting, undercover investigations and boycotts targeted at any business or institution that uses or sells animals or animal products. Have we lost our right to protest?

If AETA was in place during the 1950s and ‘60s, civil rights activists who engaged in lunch counter sit-ins at restaurants that serve animal products might have faced 10-year prison terms. It also would include any kind of whistleblower looking to flag illegal or questionable practices of the company.

According to the ACLU:
“Lawful and peaceful protests that, for example, urge a consumer boycott of a company that does not use humane procedures, could be the target of this provision because they ‘disrupt’ the company’s business. This overbroad provision might also apply to a whistleblower whose intentions are to stop harmful or illegal activities by the animal enterprise. The bill will effectively chill and deter Americans from exercising their First Amendment rights to advocate for reforms in the treatment of animals.”

The House is expected to vote on this bill soon after returning from recess possibly this week. The electorate’s call for sweeping change in Congress last week gives us new cause to encourage Members to vote down this bill that is a direct hit to our First Amendment rights. Please contact your Representative and the House Judiciary Committee today and ask them to oppose the AETA.

While this bill speaks primarily to animal rights activists and their abilities to challenge animal rights abuses in the corporate sector, it also is a new tactic in how corporate America chooses to deal with active opposition to their policies, or lack there of. AETA can be applied to a breadth of situations and activities that could very well limit the ability of any activist in America to challenge or call to question a corporation's actions around animal rights, human rights and the environment.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Perle and Adelman: We Shouldn't Have Invaded Iraq

Richard Perle, long known as the Prince of Darkness among politcal and anti-war circles, admitted to Vanity Fair yesterday that if he had to decide all over again he would not support a military invasion of Iraq and would instead urge the President and the Joint Chiefs to pursue "other means."

Perle is also one of the architects of the current neo-con policy and a major player in advising the Pentagon, White House and Defense Department. Perle is thus one of the most prominent neo-con policy advisors to publicly admit that the invasion of 2003 was, in hindsight, a bad idea. Here's an interesting quote from the interview:

"I think if I had been delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said, 'Should we go into Iraq?,' I think now I probably would have said, 'No, let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.' … I don't say that because I no longer believe that Saddam had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction, or that he was not in contact with terrorists. I believe those two premises were both correct.
What seems strange here is that Perle, a major sculptor of foreign policy under this administration and a key consultant leading up to and during the war in Iraq, moves away from the claim that Saddam ever had WMDs and instead acknowledges that Saddam "had the capability to produce" WMDs. That in itself is a dramatic shift from the pre-war affirmation every administration official exhorted that Saddam had WMDs and was selling them to terrorists (see Colin Powell's U.N. sales job).

The rest of the article also quotes other administration and policy officials.

"I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything."

Yikes. Now the speechwriters are instigating major foreign policy decisions? Is ANYONE captaining this ship?

The best part? They're all throwing Bush under the bus. The loyalty among neo-conservatives is about as thin as the facade of power.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

How Much is Pollution Worth?

As someone who has now spent two years in the environmental movement in one of the most liberal cities in America, I've been amazed at how much further "ahead" people are out here in terms of conceptualizing a different world that on the eco-front is far and away greener than anything you may read in the standard ink around the country.

Then I'm reminded of how "out there" we may seem to be when I read something like this.

Carbon offsetting is becoming the new fad in circles from the Sierra Club to bands like Pearl Jam and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Many corporations are scrambling to buy up carbon offsets so they can proclaim their "greenness" to consumers and thus feel better about their products and bottom line.

In essence, this is another way that people (and corporations) can duck responsibility. Buying up carbon credits is a good thing because it absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere but really its a temporary pass for emitters to pay a small price for their pollution. If a corporation wants to buy up some carbon credits in order to keep belching out 500 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere over the next five years, you can bet it will cost less to plant a bunch of trees in some third world country or put up 10 windmills in Montana than it would to pay the price through cutting their emissions to respectable levels. After all, that means cutting production. It presents a great marketing opportunity for the companies and firms, selling themselves as "green leaders" to their consumers and clients, when really they're just buying the right to pollute. Not only is it a corporate feel-good action but a consumer one as well. By the way, when those trees in Tanzania are cut down, all that carbon is released back into the atmosphere.

During medieval Europe the Catholic church offered up a similar opportunity to offset one's sins with purchased indulgences effectively saying society could purchase forgiveness if they could fork over enough money. Carbon offsets feel all to parallel in this. What happens when everyone wants to just offset their CO2 and let someone else do the dirty work? The point is not everyone can simply fork over money to pollute because in the end, the biggest polluters in our world are also the wealthiest and as long as they can pay, our air and water will only continue to get worse. It feels like a group of people agreeing that they have to empty the latrines in order to have a place to go to the bathroom but no one is signing up to do the dirty work. Right now we have a few "janitors" in the mix -- carbon offsetting programs and organizations, but all too many polluters willing to pay whatever they can not change their processes and strategies. Here's the list of carbon offsetting programs.

I don't think carbon offsetting is a solution. It might be a bridge (to where I have no idea) that helps usher in understanding of climate change and CO2. It shirks responsibility, presents the idea of a free lunch, and further pushes global warming and climate change off into the horizon away from our daily routines and business habits, that, God forbid we might have to change. My one fear is, do we really want to make a market out of our climate? What happens if that market takes a dive? Thats a Black Tuesday I don't want to be around for.

The erosion of the commons in this society is all to prevalent. Privatizing water and air is already happening. Taking ownership of the very basic elements of this earth shouldn't be surprising but it should germinate indignation. Real solutions to cleaning up the earth will revolve around changing paradigms and cultural habits, not looking for a free lunch or short cut.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Push-Polling in Ohio

One complaint about our political leaders worldwide is that they can't be trusted. Joe Citizen feels like he can't really trust everything a politician is saying, promising, showing or asking for, especially if they're asking you for your vote. I imagine thats largely true. Politics, oftentimes, becomes the selling of an idea. Instead of a new product that takes the stain out of your teeth, politicians are selling ideas that may or may not impact the way in which you choose to live your live, and that can be incredibly powerful if sold with the right packaging, or what those in the business call "message."

But when Joe Citizen gets in on the action, do we all become "politicians?" Common Sense Tennessee is the newest group attacking Harold Ford Jr. in his bid for U.S. Senate. In case you haven't heard, the RNC launched an incredibly racist and cheap-shot ad that was later pulled by Mehlman (GOP Chairman) after media hype and public outcry. Now, Common Sense Tennessee has been caught running a "push-poll" to TN voters, claiming Ford is soft on terrorism and will raise "your taxes." Though claiming to be an impartial survey it works to influence the view of its respondents through subtlety and guise. Its get better. The ad was put on by Common Sense Ohio which is currently run by Proctor and Gamble exec Nathan Estruth.

While being a longtime supporter of Blackwell (Ohio Sect. of State) and donor to the GOP, Estruth recently made the mistake of telling a reporter that he was actually a "moderate" who was very turned off by the democratic candidates on the ticket.

The fact that "truth" is in the guy's last name just brings the irony to a whole new level.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Our Greatest Self-Inflicted Wound

It's been a while since I've posted to the Ark, but the actions of my government over the past 24 hours has brought me back to the keyboard.

There are lots of things I take for granted as an American. One of them is my right to a trial and habeas corpus, or, my right to challenge the charges laid against me and my custody. It is perhaps one of the single most important, yet often forgotten, personal individual freedoms we have as members of this society. Tuesday, President Bush seriously challenged the writ of habeas corpus, a common law that dates back to Henry II in the 12th Century. Dare I ask, have we gone this far backwards?

With the threat of terrorism and national security as his backdrop, President Bush signed into law the Military Comissions Act yesterday morning. The Monitor has a great breakdown of the key parts of the bill:

• Establishes special rules for military-commission trials for Al Qaeda suspects accused of committing war crimes. The rules permit the exclusion of a defendant from his trial if classified evidence is being presented, and the admission of hearsay and coerced statements as evidence.

• Authorizes a three-officer military panel to determine a detainee's status as an enemy combatant eligible for indefinite detention in US custody. This is in lieu of the ability to file a habeas corpus petition challenging the legality of the detention in federal court.

• Creates a retroactive legal defense for US personnel who engaged in harsh interrogation tactics from September 2001 to December 2005. Also narrows the range of activities that might constitute a violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions outlawing torture and cruel treatment.

• Expands the definition of an unlawful enemy combatant to provide that anyone who offers "material support" to someone engaged in hostilities against the US can be held indefinitely in military detention, regardless of whether he or she actually engaged in hostilities. Also provides that only noncitizens held as unlawful enemy combatants may be tried by a military commission.

The first point goes directly to the heart of the torture debate: can coerced statements be used as factual evidence in a court of law? Most intelligence experts say no. Not to mention that while these statements are being presented in the court the defendants will most likely not be allowed to attend as any statements gathered during "aggressive interrogation measures" (or "torture lite") are usually considered classified information. Not only will the defendants not be able to defend their own statements in person but the decisions around those statements will be decided by, not a group of his/her peers but by a selected trio of military officials.

The second point takes habeas corpus and skins it down to a mere possibility as opposed to a guaranteed right. Instead of a promised opportunity to defend themself in a court of law, the defendant's future is handed over to a military panel (read "tribunal") that decides whether or not this POW will remain a detainee indefinitely (read "for life") or have a shot at a fair trial. In essence, the detainee is considered guilty before having a chance to be proven innocent by a jury of his peers.

The third point actually reaches back into history and tries to protect those military personnel who may have broken the Geneva Convention in their interrogation of detainees. Then it goes a step further by re-defining what is considered toture or inhumane treatment under interrogation procedures. In other words, the United States has taken the Geneva Conventions and re-written them to our own needs, which in the end defeats the purpose of an international agreement, right? But with our country's regard for international agreements I guess thats no surprise.

The fourth point simply enlarges the scope of who can be considered an "unlawful combatant." It's even less clear with the term "material scope" as to who it includes as possible targets thus linking virutally any 'person of interest' to a possible detainee.

The common theme running through this bill seems to be a loss of individual freedoms within the judicial system on a situational basis resulting in a collection of back-room decisions and non-public rulings through an escalation of military legal proceedings that try non-military individuals as military combatants.

Keith Olbermann
had a rather adept analysis of the bill and what impacts it has on the American public. Also, Stanifesto has a great beat on how this all relates to the American sense of nationalism and pride we all feel...maybe less so after a law like this is passed.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Top 10 Stories You Should Know About

A great piece on marketplace about the news stories that should have gotten more attention but didn't. Why the hell did CNN cover the Jean-Benet Ramsey case for a week while a Detroit judge handed down a decision that called the President's NSA surveillance program "unconstitutional" and must be "stopped immediatley?"

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Video sent by Phitness
We decided to stop waiting around for a commerical attacking the issue of oil addiction in this country and made one ourselves. Petrolius, the purple pill that allows us to keep driving around in old technology that burns gas, has kept us from the next great advancement in transportation tech.

Obviously, this is heavy on the tongue in cheek but its also a commentary on where our country is headed and how "in the clouds" we've been when it comes to quitting our addiction to oil.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Around the Horn

A Japanese oil tanker collided with a cargo ship and spilled 1.4 million gallons of crude into the Indian Ocean -- the Phillippines call it the region's worst spill.

California could become the first state to create a large network of "no-fishing" zones in an effort to help species of fish, crab and shellfish recover from over-fishing (if you like Dungeness crab wait til you see them after a couple years of R&R).

But, its more than overfishing that is killing our seafood specimens: a dead-zone along the Pacific coast is so oxygen depleted that massive crab and fish die-offs are taking a toll on the fishing industry on the west coast.

A U.S. district judge slaps every Katrina victim in the face...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Voting for Freedom From Oil

RAN is having a vote to choose a new ad campaign around their Freedom From Oil work. You can cast your vote at Jumpstart Ford's website for the best photograph that depicts how we can break our addiction to oil and then checkout the results. The winning photo will be featured in RAN's ad campaign this fall.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


I've made the jump and am on vacation for the next week. This will, hopefully, provide a chance for me to re-dedicate myself to writing. So...with that in mind here are few great quotations on vacations.

I do not really like vacations. I much prefer an occasional day off
when I do not feel like working. When I am confronted with a whole week in
which I have nothing to do but enjoy myself I do not know where to begin.
To me, enjoyment comes fleetingly and unheralded; I cannot determinedly enjoy
myself for a whole week at a time.
~Robertson Davies

Oh Robbie boy, you've got give it a better go than that!

If we would only give, just once, the same amount of reflection to what we
want to get out of life that we give to the question of what to do with a two
weeks' vacation, we would be startled at our false standards and the aimless
procession of our busy days. ~Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Guilty as charged. But how often do your vacations not go directly according to plan (which results in no real loss except more time to kick back) versus how often your work plans fall apart (which results in much loss and stress for everyone involved)? Its more fun to plan things you want to do that are different from your everyday habit. Imagine how fun work would be if we took more vacations? I think the Europeans have it down...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Closing Down SXSW

Sitting here in the Halcyon coffee shop in downtown Austin, TX with a bunch of other haggard (but happy) Southies, the initial reaction to this year's interactive conference is one of optimism and reassurance. Optimism in the sense that normal everyday folk are doing some amazing work in empowering everyday people on the internet. Reassurance in the sense that there IS so much creative lift within this community of developers, designers, coders, programmers, e-theroists, organizers and entepreneurs.

Bruce Sterling, one of the foremost social comentator bloggers and sci-fi writers of our time, closed out the 4 day event with a wonderful speech around the power of the human experience. I left his talk with a real sense of "We Can..." (those of you who are Deanaics out there will have horrible flashbacks to a certain song that bore its ugly head when "on hold"). I realized that we were the transition generation (as my buddy Stan notes, "we're all a part of transition generation!") from an offline world to an online world. Sterling defines past generations as "legacy people" who read the newspapers, believe in TV and radio and go into work where they keep their 'work things.' I realized just how free we are as a generation. I can work from home continually, get all my news from or, can talk to my friends via email, text message or instant message, edit webpages and do my writing and journaling on various blogs. Heck, I can buy all my necessary items to live online and have them delivered to my door. But this is all old information. What Sterling is talking about is how this generation will handle the future. We are a group of people who grew up on the internet. We straddle legacy. Early memories still revolve around big-wheels, barbies and television with only 30 channels. Now, our days are filled with keyboards, texting and walking, gaming and wireless communication. We are the transition generation -- transitioning to an "internet of things" where we can make "reality simple again."

But is this freedom really a facade? Obviously it is. As soon as you lack the power to drive a wireless access point or a computer you lose your "freedom." Sterling is big on the "cradle to cradle" idea and very much embraces the idea of returning to our roots as a human species. Whether that means technology will play a role is still a major question. Where will it lead us?

Sterling is living in Belgrade, Serbia with his wife (also a writer) where one saying rules the day: Make no decision out of fear.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

South By and On

Two days into the conference and I can honestly say that many of the greatest minds here will play a role in changing the digital landscape of our future. And, since that digital landscape is becoming more and more linked to our physical landscape, these folks will indirectly play a role in how we all live our lives (and children's lives) down the road.

SXSW Interactive is the geek extension to the long-running SXSW Music and Movies Conference in Austin, TX. Basically, its an excuse for all the part-time bloggers, filmakers, developers, designers, programmers and (recently) industry reps from IBM, Dell and Apple (Apple sent the most) to come together and meet, talk to, share stories and shake hands with their web heroes. My buddy Stan Jones is a talented designer who got to meet Jeffrey Zeldman, a designer who changed the way everyone at this conference thinks about web design through his book Designing With Web Standards. I was able to hear Jason Kottke and meet other bloggers of community fame.

But what really stands out at an event like this is how much already in motion everyone is. I don't think the number of individuals here who are "blown away" by the content being discussed and introduced any more than other web conferences I've been to. In fact, I think most folks here know already much of the content being thrown around and talked about. So, does this mean that all of us techies are on the same page when it comes to web development? Maybe this community of interactive folks is more tight knit than we had previously estimated, and we're really only separated by 1 or 2 degrees?

Regardless, these conferences are necessary and an integral part of the community. Why are they necessary when we can be connected with audio, video, intstant messenger, cell phone, and text message? Because nothing can replace the human experience of meeting someone, shaking their hand and sitting down over a morning coffee to discuss a project that at the same time baffles and astounds you. And we're bound to have that here. The creativity is being scraped off the walls like butter and slathered over all who are willing to soak it in.

Gotta love Austin.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Philippines Mudslides and Illegal Logging

The recent mudslides in the Philippines has wreaked havoc on a the residents and natural regions around the south-east Asian archipelago, especially on the island of Leyte. It being monsoon season heavy rains have fallen for over three days in the region. Thousands are reported to be buried in one of the worst mudslides in the country's history.

The Philippines have a rough history with natural disasters. In 2003 mudslides claimed over 80 people and hundreds went missing. In 2001, a typhoon killed 36 people after it caused massive mudslides and flooding. The blame for the latest mudslide is falling to illegal loggers who are raping most of the rural regions with clear cutting of hardwood forests. Its not the first time illegal logging has been put on the hot seat either. So, one hopes that the country, but more importantly the world, begins to realize that buying such products from the asian wood market is directly connected to these disasters. The folks sitting in their tropical hardwood chairs and couches who give large checks to the American Red Cross after disasters like this could probably do better to educate themselves on the devastation their furniture causes. The bottom line is its a circular process...we're all connected.

Checkout a devastating report on the causes of illegal logging, how its connected to American consumers and the effects of such deforestation on the natural environment.

Already, the country is dealing with soil erosion and deforestation (most of it illegal) not to mention high pollution levels among the ancient mangrove swamps where the majority of their fish stock are bred.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ecologist on RAN

The organization I work for, Rainforest Action Network, is being featured in this month's Ecologist. If anything I'm interested in what folks are thinking about some of the work we do as the article does a great job of grasping what our work has accomplished, some of its shortfalls, what we hope to accomplish and how we operate "under the radar" of the media and major networks. You can't get the article online (!) but you can grab it at your Barnes and Noble (or local bookshop newsstand of your choice...I think.)

Granted its a friendly news source (in case you couldn't tell the Ecologist is a bit of a softball for us) and many of our victories are garnering more attention especially in the financial sector with the likes of JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and now Wells Fargo. But its nice to finally get a little press outside of American Banker and Investors Daily. Not exactly mainstream, y'know?

Checkout the global finance campaign's website DirtyMoney for more info:

Otherwise, see the new RAN website that will be released in the coming weeks.

Monday, January 30, 2006

NASA to Scientists: Shutup!

For those of you who dont know him, James Hansen discovered of global warming. Well, not quite, but he has been the alarm bell since 1988 warning governments and business leaders that the heat trapping gases CO2 and NOx are causing climate fluctuations that wouldn't otherwise be happening. Bill McKibben features a full run-through of Hansen's expereince on the Senate floor back in 1989 in his book End of Nature. If you haven't read it...pick it up.

Hansen now says that NASA and administration officials have been asked to review all his interview requests, coming lectures, papers and postings to the Goddard Insitute website often before they are released. I guess the odd piece here is why are public affairs officials reviewing scientific data and results being posted publicly on a website by one of the world's renowned climate scientists?

Well apparently they're doing it alot.

Dean Acosta, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at the space agency said there was no effort to silence Dr. Hansen. "That's not the way we operate here at NASA," Mr. Acosta said. "We promote openness and we speak with the facts."

He said the restrictions on Dr. Hansen applied to all National Aeronautics and Space Administration personnel. He added that government scientists were free to discuss scientific findings, but that policy statements should be left to policy makers and appointed spokesmen.

Except when the policy statements are tied to imperical data from one of the most accomplished climate scientists in the world. Don't we PAY him for his opinion? Isn't this like paying a basketball fan to go out and play for Kobe Bryant? Let the man talk! He's smart! Its why we pay him tax dollars.

And here's where it gets interesting:

The fresh efforts to quiet him, Dr. Hansen said, began in a series of calls after a lecture he gave on Dec. 6 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. In the talk, he said that significant emission cuts could be achieved with existing technologies, particularly in the case of motor vehicles, and that without leadership by the United States, climate change would eventually leave the earth "a different planet."

The administration's policy is to use voluntary measures to slow, but not reverse, the growth of emissions.

After that speech and the release of data by Dr. Hansen on Dec. 15 showing that 2005 was probably the warmest year in at least a century, officials at the headquarters of the space agency repeatedly phoned public affairs officers, who relayed the warning to Dr. Hansen that there would be "dire consequences" if such statements continued, those officers and Dr. Hansen said in interviews.

Almost sounds as if it was cut from a movie script. The scary piece of this is that now no scientist can get on a call with press unless several public affairs officials from NASA are on the call as well. Are they translating something? What the heck is the point other than to twist results in the name of political gain?

PS: Arthur over at Its Getting Hot in Here has a great post on this as well.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Power of Algae

Small steps toward curbing global warming emissions is coming out of the hub of tech/science advancement using one of nature's most simple organisms: algae. Isaac Berzin of MIT has created bioreactors of algae that strip the CO2 and NOx pollutants from emitting power plant smokestacks removing up to 40% of the CO2 and 90% of the NOx.

Working much like a screen, the algae bioreactors use photosynthesis to absorb the CO2 and other pollutants and emit oxygen instead. The algae is then harvested daily and from it a combustible vegetable oil is squeezed out. This fuel can be used as biodiesel and is some of the cleanest fuel that can be burned for cars running on "veggie-oil." The dried solid is then clumped together and can be burned as a cleaner coal. Ethanol is also a by-product of this process.

The most impressive side of this plan, however, is Berzin's business strategy that lays out the way in which utilities and coporations can make money off of the deal. By setting up algae farms, the biodiesel and ethanol can be sold as additional energy products.
For his part, Berzin calculates that just one 1,000 megawatt power plant using his system could produce more than 40 million gallons of biodiesel and 50 million gallons of ethanol a year. That would require a 2,000-acre "farm" of algae-filled tubes near the power plant. There are nearly 1,000 power plants nationwide with enough space nearby for a few hundred to a few thousand acres to grow algae and make a good profit, he says.
Now, the utilities aren't just gouging people for energy usage but are instead making it back in the form of fairly green energy. This explosion of biodiesel as a clean fuel could begin to affect car companies as more and more become open to producing diesel versions of their most popular vehicle for customers who want to drive on veggie oil.

Berzin's company in Cambridge, GreenFuel Techonologies is dedicated to educating all about the massive economic and ecologic bonuses coming out of clean air biofuels.

This is a good step in removing CO2 and NOx gases from the atmosphere but I also hope that eventually we'll move towards a more sustainable fuel source using solar and wind. The bottom line is this method is used on smokestacks that continue to belch out millions of pounds of CO2 and NOx every year and isn't really advancing the techological capability of clean energy. However, I'm all for supporting ways in which to clean up our environment, and this is one of the more interesting ways to help our air quality. I also don't want to ignore the fact that had we developed cleaner energy tactics a century ago we wouldn't be looking for ways to limit our emissions today. Still, who woulda thunk algae can absorb such dirty pollutants?