Monthly Archives: May, 2008

Whitehouse Casts Vote Against David Hill

Sheldon Whitehouse continues to advocate for more attention to science at the Environmental Protection Agency. In a vote of 10-9, David Hill was rejected as the legal counsel for the EPA. From the Whitehouse press office:

Whitehouse Votes to Reject Bush Appointee for Top Legal Job at EPA

Washington, D.C. In an expression of strong concern over the infiltration of politics into environmental regulation and policy, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) joined a majority of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee today to reject President Bush’s nominee to serve as general counsel for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Committee’s vote was 10 to 9 against David Hill, who now serves as general counsel of the Department of Energy. Whitehouse said Hill’s testimony before the committee and his responses to follow-up questions displayed a lack of candor and failure of leadership.

“EPA is in crisis. Its own career employees, as well as the public at large, believe its leadership has let politics trump its longstanding commitment to protecting the environment and the public health,” Whitehouse said. “At this time, more than ever, we need leadership at EPA that will promote transparent decision-making that is immune both from political interference and from judicial ridicule. I have no confidence that Mr. Hill will provide such leadership at EPA.”

Whitehouse, a former Rhode Island U.S. Attorney and Attorney General, has helped lead the EPW Committee’s investigation into the politicization of decision-making at EPA. He chaired a hearing earlier this month to hear testimony from George Gray, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development, and a panel of scientists. Gray refused to respond to concerns raised by scientists and policymakers that political considerations have dictated decision-making at the agency.

We live in a big, beautiful country that needs our protection and care. Thank you, Sen. Whitehouse, for standing up for better environmental policy.

Some Good News for Once

As soon as I find my glasses I’m going to clip this article from the science section of the New York Times.

“Older Brain Really May Be a Wiser Brain�

When older people can no longer remember names at a cocktail party, they tend to think that their brainpower is declining. But a growing number of studies suggest that this assumption is often wrong. Instead, the research finds, the aging brain is simply taking in more data and trying to sift through a clutter of information, often to its long-term benefit.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that every year is busier and faster, with new things to learn and new challenges. I’m old enough to be over the hill, but I’m still climbing. All my friends are in the same situation. Wasn’t middle age supposed to be boring? Not now it isn’t. But all this mental labor has to pay off…

“A broad attention span may enable older adults to ultimately know more about a situation and the indirect message of what’s going on than their younger peers,� Dr. Hasher said. “We believe that this characteristic may play a significant role in why we think of older people as wiser.�

Okay, now it’s time to turn off the computer and apply my wisdom to the day job.

For Their Country

This year I’ve been within a handshake reach of more politicians than I ever met in my life. John Kerry was at Obama headquarters downtown before the primary, with Linc Chafee and other dignitaries. On election day I was holding an Obama sign next to Myrth York and Sheldon Whitehouse, whom I regret to say were not holding Obama signs.

We want our politicians to meet us face to face. We put so much expectation and hope, and give so much power to the people we elect. But they are only human. Running through an exhausting schedule of speeches and meetings and interviews, with every word liable to be pulled out of context and used as a sound-bite has got to be an ordeal.

In the Tuesday, May 20th issue of the New York Times (pp 20 and 21) are photos of the three major candidates on the campaign trail. Barack Obama and John McCain are shaking hands with some voters and Hillary Clinton is giving a speech from a low stage to a crowd gathered outdoors. Whether we agree with their politics or not, they are brave, they are vulnerable, and they are out there speaking directly to the voters. This is an American tradition.

Those of us who remember the sixties know what it’s like to watch political debate silenced with a bullet. John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert F. Kennedy all taken from us. George Wallace paralyzed for life. The next two decades brought more shootings of politicians and famous people. This past December Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Pakistan.

Anyone who chooses to run for office knows that they could be a target.

It was not a minor slip, or a misunderstanding, when Mike Huckabee said this at an National Rifle Association meeting…

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Republican Mike Huckabee responded to an offstage noise during his speech Friday to the National Rifle Association by suggesting it was Barack Obama diving to the floor because someone had aimed a gun at him.

Hearing a loud noise and interrupting his speech, Huckabee said: “That was Barack Obama. He just tripped off a chair. He’s getting ready to speak and somebody aimed a gun at him and he — he dove for the floor.”

A weak apology couldn’t undo what he said and what he meant. When words fail, there’s the gun. Memories are still strong. This month Bobby Kennedy is on the cover of Vanity Fair. We have too much history where powerful debate was cut short by violence. I never want to see that happen again.

If Mike Huckabee thinks that the possibility of one of his NRA constituency taking a shot at any of our candidates gives his campaign some extra power, he’s exactly what we don’t need. And if he’s so clueless about recent American history that he didn’t know what he was saying, then he’s got no business in politics.

My Valuable Family

Actually, the stories of gay lovers who are thrilled to be able to legally marry after decades together doesn’t rob me of anything. It gives me a romantic buzz. And as an old Star Trek fan I send George Takei and Brad Altman my best regards. Here is from George’s blog…

The California Supreme Court has ruled that all Californians have a fundamental right to marry the person he or she loves. Brad and I have shared our lives together for over 21 years. We’ve worked in partnership; he manages the business side of my career and I do the performing. We’ve traveled the world together from Europe to Asia to Australia. We’ve shared the good times as well as struggled through the bad. He helped me care for my ailing mother who lived with us for the last years of her life. He is my love and I can’t imagine life without him. Now, we can have the dignity, as well as all the responsibilities, of marriage. We embrace it all heartily.

Check out the rest of it for a few words about second-class citizenship from a man who was confined to an internment camp for being Japanese-American during WWII.

As for destroying heterosexual marriage — it just makes me appreciate mine all the more when someone so eloquently praises ‘the dignity, as well as all the responsibilities, of marriage.’ Sweet.

It’s like one of those Jane Austen novels, where the couple has to outrun and outwit a barrage of social prohibitions before they can finally be together by the last page. And it’s also a vindication of the faith that love doesn’t fade as you get older. I wish I were going to the wedding.

Live long and prosper, guys.

Bush-League Plays

Two hundred and forty-six days. Thirty-five weeks from tomorrow. That’s how much longer this nation must endure the reign of King George and await the term of a new President. Let’s hope that whoever swears to faithfully execute that office and to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution actually honors that solemn pledge. Let’s also hope that they promptly begin to undo the rampant damage wrought by George and his minions. Part of that enormous task will involve changing the partisan and reactionary culture that has spread throughout the corridors of government like the rising waters of Lake Pontchartrain. Only until those waters are permitted to recede will the full extent of the destruction and disarray inflicted upon this nation by Hurricane George become truly evident. Only then will the abuses of power and privilege begin to abate. Or so I hope.

For now, the Bush-league policies and practices persist. Just in the last week, this nation was rudely greeted with news of abuses by immigration and customs agents, who appear to have taken the works of Kafka and Orwell a tad too literally. (Or perhaps the Department of Homeland Security has taken to borrowing a page or two from the Gestapo Field Manual.) When I read of such dehumanizing tactics, I feel overwhelmed with dismay and disappointment. Rather than feeling proud of my country, I feel embarrassed and ashamed. And rather than counting on those elected and appointed to serve the general welfare, I find myself counting the days until their reign has ceased. How sad is that? And how sad are the following news reports?

From the Washington Post:

Some Detainees Are Drugged For Deportation

The U.S. government has injected hundreds of foreigners it has deported with dangerous psychotropic drugs against their will to keep them sedated during the trip back to their home country, according to medical records, internal documents and interviews with people who have been drugged.

The government’s forced use of antipsychotic drugs, in people who have no history of mental illness, includes dozens of cases in which the “pre-flight cocktail,” as a document calls it, had such a potent effect that federal guards needed a wheelchair to move the slumped deportee onto an airplane.

“Unsteady gait. Fell onto tarmac,” says a medical note on the deportation of a 38-year-old woman to Costa Rica in late spring 2005. Another detainee was “dragged down the aisle in handcuffs, semi-comatose,” according to an airline crew member’s written account. Repeatedly, documents describe immigration guards “taking down” a reluctant deportee to be tranquilized before heading to an airport.

In a Chicago holding cell early one evening in February 2006, five guards piled on top of a 49-year-old man who was angry he was going back to Ecuador, according to a nurse’s account in his deportation file. As they pinned him down so the nurse could punch a needle through his coveralls into his right buttock, one officer stood over him menacingly and taunted, “Nighty-night.”

Such episodes are among more than 250 cases The Washington Post has identified in which the government has, without medical reason, given drugs meant to treat serious psychiatric disorders to people it has shipped out of the United States since 2003 — the year the Bush administration handed the job of deportation to the Department of Homeland Security’s new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE.

Involuntary chemical restraint of detainees, unless there is a medical justification, is a violation of some international human rights codes. The practice is banned by several countries where, confidential documents make clear, U.S. escorts have been unable to inject deportees with extra doses of drugs during layovers en route to faraway places.

Federal officials have seldom acknowledged publicly that they sedate people for deportation. The few times officials have spoken of the practice, they have understated it, portraying sedation as rare and “an act of last resort.” Neither is true, records and interviews indicate. [full text]

From the New York Times:

Italian’s Detention Illustrates Dangers Foreign Visitors Face

He was a carefree Italian with a recent law degree from a Roman university. She was “a totally Virginia girl,� as she puts it, raised across the road from George Washington’s home. Their romance, sparked by a 2006 meeting in a supermarket in Rome, soon brought the Italian, Domenico Salerno, on frequent visits to Alexandria, Va., where he was welcomed like a favorite son by the parents and neighbors of his girlfriend, Caitlin Cooper.

But on April 29, when Mr. Salerno, 35, presented his passport at Washington Dulles International Airport, a Customs and Border Protection agent refused to let him into the United States. And after hours of questioning, agents would not let him travel back to Rome, either; over his protests in fractured English, he said, they insisted that he had expressed a fear of returning to Italy and had asked for asylum.

Ms. Cooper, 23, who had promised to show her boyfriend another side of her country on this visit — meaning Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon — eventually learned that he had been sent in shackles to a rural Virginia jail. And there he remained for more than 10 days, locked up without charges or legal recourse while Ms. Cooper, her parents and their well-connected neighbors tried everything to get him out. [full text]

Why are We Still Depending on Oil?

This video raises the question of why we continue to depend on oil when clear alternatives exist and could be developed to bring on sustainable and renewable energy. Watch, learn, and advocate for better energy policy in the US, before we all go broke and ruin the world by pigging out on oil.

I Always Knew Flamingos Were Gay

And now a scientist says so, so that proves it.

According to University of Oslo zoologist Petter Backman, about 1,500 animal species are known to practice same-sex coupling, including bears, gorillas, flamingos, owls, salmon and many others.

If homosexuality is natural in the animal kingdom, then there is the question of why evolution hasn’t eliminated this trait from the gene pool, since it doesn’t lead to reproduction. It may simply be for pleasure.

“Not every sexual act has a reproductive function,” said Janet Mann, a biologist at Georgetown University who studies dolphins (homosexual behavior is very common in these marine mammals). “That’s true of humans and non-humans.”

One thing that does seem to be exclusive to humans is homophobia.

“It’s a very interesting question as to why anybody ever cares,” Mann said. “There are different theories about why people find it threatening. Some think it disrupts male bonds, like you’re not playing for the right team. The funny thing is that people say homosexuality is unnatural, that non-humans don’t engage in homosexual behavior, but that’s not true. Then they’ll say it’s base and animalistic.”

Well, as we progressives know, there are some arguments you can’t win. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

I’m going to get away from this computer and enjoy the day. The squirrels are bustling in the trees, the birds are singing. Who knows what they’re up to?

Blogs Drive the Media to Cover Environmental Justice

Is it just me, or are the blogs helping to drive the agenda when it comes to front-page news? A couple of months ago, we posted about the environmental justice movement in Rhode Island. Alex Moore has posted extensively about it at Rhode Island’s Future. Now it’s front-page news at the Projo. I guess this is what’s called being part of the wave of change. From the Projo’s environmental writer, Peter B. Lord:

New school on polluted site energizes environmental coalition

No matter which way you look from inside the city’s new Adelaide High School in the Reservoir Triangle neighborhood, the views aren’t good.

Out back, a tall chainlink fence encloses a huge pile of debris. Off to the side, several acres between the school and Mashapaug Pond are also fenced off and signs warn people to keep out.

The front of the school faces an empty Stop & Shop supermarket and parking lot. Inside the store, crews are drilling through the concrete floor so they can test for contaminants in the soils underneath.

Adelaide assistant principal John O. Craig, supervising students at the end of a recent school day, points to the ductwork designed to pull toxic gases from the soil and direct them away from classrooms. He thinks the school is safe, but barely adequate for his students.

“We’re doing the best we can with what we have,” says Craig. “But I’d just like to get a ball field and a running track for my students.”

The only other place in Rhode Island where a school has been built on contaminated land is just a short way up Route 10, also in Providence. The city built a middle school and an elementary school on a closed landfill off Springfield Street. The School Department continually vents harmful gases and fills places where soils and walks have caved in. [full text]

Life of Sacrifice — The Journals of Cindy McCain

I was lucky enough to get a look at the advance publicity for Cindy McCain’s upcoming book. It is due to come out this September. Her portrayal of her husband as manly, independent, stubborn and principled to a fault is hoped to aid his campaign for President. In her book, Cindy McCain opens her personal journal and bares her deepest emotions, as she reveals the intimate married life of a couple who share their love, but keep their tax returns separate …

January 3, 2007- I’m so excited! I just bought another LearJet. It’s so cute. I’m going to fly it to the Resort. Everyone will be so jealous. John hopes to make it there by the weekend. He’s riding on Greyhound.

February 14, 2007–A romantic Valentine’s. John took me out, his treat. We went to TGI Friday’s, a place I had never heard of. It was adorably quaint, and so sweet of John. Unfortunately I couldn’t eat anything but the salad because fried foods make me sick. A girl does have to watch her figure. Afterwards he surprised me by booking a room at the Holiday Inn. The ‘do not disturb’ sign hung on the door all the time we were there, but we had to check out at 11:00 or we would have been charged for another day.

February 15, 2007–A real meal at L;Apogee. God! I was so hungry. It would have been perfect if John had been there to share it with me. He was across the street at McDonald’s. He is so principled. I ordered a meal for him, but I had to put it in a doggy bag and pretend it was leftovers or he wouldn’t touch it.

June 3, 2007–A month at my estate in Aruba. John should be here if his merchant vessel is on schedule. How I’ve missed him. Don’t tell anyone, diary, but I expect him to spend the night in my suite. Not like last year, when he slept in that thatch hut on the beach.

December 14, 2007–The intimacy of a marriage is something that outsiders can never really understand. Like today, when John couldn’t find the envelope that little lobbyist sent him. “Did you open my mail, runt?” He roared. I explained to the intern that ‘runt’ is his pet name for me. All in good fun.

February 16, 2008- John is looking tired, strained. Yesterday he met with Rev. James Hagee to ask for his endorsement. Afterwards he sat in the dark, drinking, staring at the wall. This kind of thing takes it out of him, and then he’s depressed for days.

March 12, 2008–It’s going to be a long campaign. I don’t know how I could do it without my masseuse, my cook, my esthetician and my transfusions. Not sure what’s in those transfusions, but Dr. Fielgud makes me young again. I’m full of energy. I hope John is eating something besides pork rinds on the Straight Talk Express. Those reporters have terrible dietary habits. I asked that little lobbyist to keep an eye on him. Thank goodness I can trust her, because there’s no way I could live on a bus for weeks. I had to buy a smaller jet so I could get to those airports and join him for photo-ops. With the jet, the limo, and the chopper I can be at his side in hours even when he’s in the middle of nowhere.

April 7, 2008–Reporters keep demanding I release my tax returns. I feel so violated. Is there no respect for privacy? With all the care that John takes never to use my private fortune for his own political career, still there are those who doubt us. I’m so hurt.

These are just a few excerpts, the book includes delightful examples of McCain’s whimsical sense of humor, like when he superglues Cindy’s Pomeranians together. An inspiring love story packed into just 750 pages (including pictures). It just goes to show, you don’t understand a woman until you’ve walked a mile in her custom-made Italian shoes.

Nancy Carriuolo Chosen as RIC’s Ninth President

As a female, who is not only a professional in the field of Student Affairs, but also an active alumna of Rhode Island College, I was very pleased to hear that the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education chose Nancy Carriuolo to succeed President John Nazarian as the ninth president of Rhode Island College (RIC). Although I do not know her personally, I have heard great things about her while she has served as RIC’s interim vice president for academic affairs for the past year and as deputy commissioner and chief academic officer at the Rhode Island Office of Higher Education.

President Nazarian has had a very successful and impressive 58-year tenure at RIC (18 years as President) and will be sorely missed, but I look forward to this new chapter in RIC’s history. There has been some talk on Capitol Hill of merging RIC and CCRI; hopefully President-Elect Carriuolo will work to maintain RIC’s unique position within the State’s Higher Education system.

I feel that she perfectly captured the role she will play within Rhode Island when the ProJo interviewed her. “It is a privilege and an enormous responsibility, because a number of younger female leaders will be watching and wishing me well and thinking about their own careers and what the possibilities might be for them,� Carriuolo said. You can read the full Projo article here.

I wish President Carriuolo the best in her new role at Rhode Island College.

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