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The Week in Fodder

July 30, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s Friday… and what’s this… a Week in Fodder posted on the correct day?!!! WEIRD. Well, we did it, got it out in time. A lot of good stuff in this week’s edition… Hezbollah and Lebanon, Catalonian independence, the ESB, Warren Jeffs, mandatory minimums, alcohol and arthritis, crazy Philly fans and SO much more. Enjoy!

World Views:

Hezbollah: Creating tension in Lebanon.

Pakistan Air Blue Crash: Early Wednesday morning an Air Blue flight from Karachi to Islamabad crashed in the hills of Northern Pakistan just minutes before landing. Sadly, all 146 passengers along with 6 crew members perished in the accident. In a remote area, the crash site is near unreachable due to a lack of any form or roads and rough jungle terrain. Rescue workers immediately found a flight recorder; officials are hoping that the recorder will provide insight into the cause of the crash; beyond the weather that was the most likely cause.

Favela Makeover: On Tuesday, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes announced that slums (favelas) surrounding the city will be receiving a facelift before the 2016 Summer Olympics. Affecting over 200,000 households, the renovations and clearing of the favelas will cost over $4.5 billion. With over 600 communities receiving the “facelift,” the action-plan is audacious. The 13,000 families from the 123 communities that will be displaced by the actual destruction of the most decrepit areas will be relocated. This is the latest move in the ongoing struggle between the Brazilian government and the favela residents. After deadly landslides killed over 200 in April, the Rio government signed a decree into law that would allow the forcible eviction of favela residents. In May, a report by a non-governmental group found the official justification to be standing on shaky legal ground. The bottom line is that the Rio government sees the favelas as a hinderance to modernization for a handful of different reasons. The Olympics provide the municipal powers with the perfect rationalization to make a significant change. It all smacks, disturbingly, of Beijing’s attitude and tactics in the days and months leading up to the 2008 Games.

KGB Redux?: Thursday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed into law a bill that will expand the powers of the ESB; the descendant of the Soviet KGB. The bill passed both houses of Parliament but sparked major debate. In a country where dissent in relation to the Kremlin’s preferred policies is – let’s say – frowned upon, the fact this bill has been so strongly opposed raises red flags about the danger of the new law. The controversy revolves around specific language in the new law. ESB agents will now have the power to “warn officially an individual about the inadmissibility of actions that create the conditions for the commission of crimes.” That is terribly vague and dangerously usable language. In country where freedoms are shrinking, opposition journalists are murdered and Vladimir Putin casts a ever-present shadow, the ESB’s new powers are a disturbing development.

Bullfighting Ban: The Parliament of Catalonia, the semi-autonomous southern region of Spain, voted to ban bullfighting this week. With the vote, Catalonia becomes the first region of Spain to outlaw the historic national pastime. The measure made it to Parliament on the back of a petition signed by over 180,000 persons. While the decision can be seen within the scope of an animal rights campaign, many Spanish political experts believe that this was a power move by Catalonian nationalists to separate themselves from the rest of Spain; proof of a different historical identity. If it was, it was tactfully done. Keep an eye on this story.

Lebanese Tension: After a round of groundbreaking talk between Lebanese, Saudi and Syrian officials in Beirut, there has been a united call for maintained stability and piece in the volatile Mediterranean country. There are signs of a renewed conflict within its borders. After years of turmoil following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005, a unity government was finally formed in 2008. This, of course, included the politically powerful Hezbollah. As the UN investigation into Mr. Hariri’s death wraps up and it becomes more and more likely that it will condemn Hezbollah members, tension is rising. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, stated in a television interview this week that he would not stand for the defamation of his organization; a warning shot across the bow of the UN. After the 2006 War with Israel, Lebanon cannot handle another step backwards. Keep an eye on this story when the UN report comes out.

American Matters:

As his followers stay true, Warren Jeffs gets a new trial in Utah.

SB 1070 Blocked: On Wednesday, Federal District Court Judge Susan Bolton struck down some of the most controversial aspects – the ability of police officers to detain persons the believe to be “removable,” the pressing of all officers to determine immigration status in any kind of routine encounter with citizens and the requirement for all legal and illegal residents to carry proof of residency/legal immigration – of Arizona’s hot-button immigration law. Issuing an injunction against those facets, Judge Bolton cited the laws usurpation of the Federal Government’s sole right to make immigration law in the United States. Arizona immediately launched an appeal. Reaction has been varied. (Here is a little sampling.) SB 1070 is undoubtedly on a fast-track to the Supreme Court.

Jeffs’ Verdict Overturned: The 2007 conviction of Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophetical leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints*** (FLDS), was overturned this week by the Utah Supreme Court. Found guilty of facilitating the rape of a 14 year old FLDS member, Mr. Jeffs was sentenced to two concurrent 5 to life terms in prison. Citing a misrepresentation of legal facts by the judge in the 2007 case, a unanimous decision by the Utah Supreme Court means that further legal action against Mr. Jeffs in Utah is highly unlikely. Luckily, there are charges pending in Texas and on the Federal level against the FLDS leader. Mr. Jeffs ideology and church are immoral, dangerous and unacceptable in our modern United States; I only hope that he stays in prison where he belongs.

***This link is to the FLDS website run by the FLDS. Take it for what you will. OR, as they say, with a grain of salt.

Mandatory Minimum Victory: On Wednesday, after almost 25 years of injustice, Congress finally passed legislation to change the disparity in crack cocaine-powder cocaine mandatory sentencing on a national level. Since 1986, in the midst of the crack scare, Congress passed a law that put the mandatory minimum sentence of a first time crack cocaine offense at a level of 100 to 1 to the same first time offense of powder cocaine. Because of the cheapness of crack compared to powder, the issue quickly became socioeconomic; this inevitably led to a racial disparity. I won’t get into a lecture here. All I will say is this: it’s about damn time Congress.

Blago Trial: Illinois is officially on verdict watch in the Rod Blagojevich trial. After a controversy over Mr. Blagojevich’s lawyer’s closing argument, the jury started deliberation on Thursday. Facing over 20 criminal charges, Mr. Blagojevich is in the midst of one of the most prolific political corruption trial in recent memory. As in all high profile cases, the jury will most likely pontificate for a longer period of time before returning a verdict. Look for one early next week. Until then, however, you can place your bets on when they will come back, here, on Chicagoist.com.

Arlington Controversy: Earlier this year, John Melzer – the former superintendent of the Arlington National Cemetery – was forced to retire over a scandal involving the mislabeling and lack of labeling of at least 600 graves in the national resting place. Yesterday, Mr. Melzer and his right-hand man, Thurman Higginbotham, testified to a hostile Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), citing her own investigation, stated that the errors in labeling, in reality, affected somewhere between 4,000-7,000 graves. Senators on both sides of the aisle attacked Mr. Melzer and Mr. Higginbotham’s handling of the situation. The latter ended up pleading the 5th in response to a myriad of questions; the former blamed most of the errors on his staff. Let’s hope this unfortunate disrespect of our nation’s heros can be fixed sooner rather than later.

Off the Beaten Path:

Feeling arthritic? Drink it down, baby.

Alcohol and Arthritis: A study by the University of Sheffield released this week has found a direct link between drinking alcohol and rheumatoid arthritis relief. The study concludes, using two different test groups, that people who frequently drink alcohol, on whole, have less joint pain and swelling. It’s a victory for all college students, winos and arthritis suffers all over the world. I can already see it. A cop walks up to a car in a suspected DUI stop… “Have you been drinking tonight?” “Sory ociffer, my artritis was flaring up today…(insert hiccup).”

Paul the Octopus… the Great Satan Incarnate?: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave Islamist groups everywhere another reason to hate the West this week: Paul the Octopus. Claiming the octopus represents “decadence” and “decay” among his Western enemies, Ahmadinejad stated that people who believed in soothsaying octopi could not possibly aspire to the “human perfection” that the Islamic Republic does. Let’s call a spade a spade here… Ahmadinejad is a hater. Pure Haterade. He’s just jealous Paulie Boy didn’t pick Iran to win the World Cup. I’ll raise a drink to Paul the Octopus tonight. Will anyone else join me?

Apache on Main Street: This week, an Apache helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing on a street in Kershaw, S.C. due to mechanical problems. The Apache landed on the nearest, safest road when the crew decided it was too dangerous to continue on. The Army left it parked on the street overnight until it could send a truck to pick it up. I can only imagine that AAA call. “What kind of car is it?”…. “It’s actually a $56.25 million Apache…” “You know we only cover the first 20 miles of towing… right?”

The Northwest Passage: Over 150 years ago, the HMS Investigator traveled toward the Arctic searching for the legendary Northwest Passage and a quick link to the Indian silk routes. After getting marooned on the Arctic ice, the crew abandoned the ship. This week, an archaeological team found the ship’s remains. There may be some controversy over this discovery, however. Since the Investigator was found in Canada’s Western Arctic, there will probably be a turf war between Canadian and British authorities as to where the ship’s final resting place will be. I, personally, think it should stay where it is. It’s a testament to the explorers that opened this world for the rest of us; let it sit!

Vomit and the Phillies: Anyone who knows sports knows that Philadelphia fans are a special breed; intense, passionate and mostly crazy. Well this story – and what a story it is – would only happen at a Phillies game. Last Friday, Matthew Clemmens – a native of the Dirty Jerz, that’s a whole different story – intentionally vomited on a spectator and his daughter as the Phillies played the Washington Nationals. That spectator was actually an off-duty police officer; talk about karma. Anyway, Clemmens was sentenced to three months in jail and two years of probation. I mean, are we serious here? When was the last time you went to a sporting even, heckled the person in front of you for an hour and then pulled the trigger and puked on them? Oh right, never. Get better Matthew Clemmens.

Oh, and here’s some Phillies fan action for you…

Quotes of the Week:

LOVING the yacht controversy...

“If you guys think that John Kerry doesn’t have enough sense of either propriety or common sense, that I’m going to be sailing my boat around Massachusetts where I’m highly recognizable but it’s going to somehow stay in Rhode Island and I’m going to avoid a tax . . . I’d be crazy to think that I’m going to be doing that, and that was never our long-term intention here.’’ – Sen. John Kerry in a Boston Globe interview concerning the controversy surrounding his new yacht. New $7 million yacht and referring to himself in the third person? NBD.

“I’m working every day to clear this black mark from me and my family. Give me the opportunity to show you who I am and not who I was that one afternoon.” – Matthew Clemmens at his sentencing. Good luck with that, kid.

Idiom of the Week: To be a bundle of nerves.

This week’s Idiom of the Week describes someone who is nervous and uptight.

Example #1: John was quite a bundle of nerves when his name was called on to read a passage of Hamlet aloud in front of the class.

Example #2: John Kerry was a bundle of nerves when he realized he didn’t pay taxes on his new yacht.

Song of the Week:

This week’s Song of the Week comes from the New Jersey band Real Estate. It’s a great chill, summer tune to put on in the background. Enjoy!

That concludes our Week in Fodder. Hope you got something for your weekend shenanigans. Thanks for tuning in. Until next week, keep living the good life!

The Week in Fodder

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Admittedly, we are a few days late with last week’s Week in Fodder but we wanted to post it anyway. It was a big week here at the Fodder…. new guest bloggers, new web domain and new levels of traffic. Glad you’re all tuning in and I hope this Week in Fodder continues that trend. Ciudad Juárez, Trafigura, BP, Alberto Gonzales, teacher purges, 200 year old champagne, whales jumping on boats and so much more! Please enjoy.

World Views:

Legal Independence. For now.

Legal Independence: On Thursday, the International Court of Justice ruled that Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 was a legal, unilateral decision under international law. The UN’s ranking court based its ruling on the fact that international law did not prohibit, or make illegal, declarations of independence. This is a monumental decision for independence movements – Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Ingushetia – across the world; legal experts see this as a precedent for future declarations. The US was quick to support the decision and Serbia, as expected, rejected the ICJ’s ruling. This decision will undoubtedly lead to numerous more countries recognizing Kosovo as an independent state. Keep an eye on this story and its implications on Kosovar-Serbian relations and international law.

Bombs in Juárez: Last weekend, the raging drug war in Mexico took a turn for the worse. The infamous Ciudad Juárez was hit with a car bomb; the first in the conflict between major drug cartels and the Mexican government. This is just the most recent, and possibly most disturbing, escalation in a de-facto war that has claimed over 20,000 lives since 2006. A car bomb is not a tactic to be taken likely. It’s an attack used by al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Taliban… not a drug cartel. We can only watch and hope that this first car bomb does not signal the beginning of a full-out guerilla war.

Trafigura: The oil firm Trafigura was fined the maximum penalty allowed by law, $1.28 million, for dumping toxic sludge in Côte d’Ivoire’s capital Abidjan in 2006. Originally, the Trafigura ship tried to offload the waste in Amsterdam but it was deemed too noxious to stay. So instead, the ship traveled to West Africa and dumped the waste in landfills around a city of 3.8 million people (2006 number). This is a case of pure, unadulterated corporate greed. I cannot say that I agree with the $1.28 million fine. I think a more fitting punishment would be the dismantling of the company, the selling of the scrap pieces and the profits given to the clean up of Abidjan. Despicable, Trafigura.

Speaking of Oil Firms…: Friday, in Louisiana, the former chief technician of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig testified that the onboard alarm system utilized to alert crews to the build-up of combustible gases was intentionally disconnected. The chief stated that the rig worked without the safety system functional for over a year because the leadership did not want crew “bothered” by false alarms. If this turns out to be a fraudulent rationale, and that is HIGHLY likely, BP is in even more trouble that it already is. Which leads me to another dismal public relations topic for BP: its role in the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie Bomber. There have been questions, since his release last August, about whether BP lobbied the Scottish government to make the move in order to garner favor from the Libyan government for potential oil rights. It was even on the agenda between UK Prime Minister David Cameron and President Obama. We will see what a call for an inquiry by the Senate does to the investigation.

Honda’s Electricity: Earlier this week, Honda announced that it will start selling an electric car in 2012. Following Nissan into the burgeoning market, this is the first time that the major firm has set an exact deadline in which it will follow in the production of electric cars. I say cheers, to you, Honda. We’ve all seen/heard of Who Killed the Electric Car, the movie in which we heard the arguments about how the electric car was kiboshed by the major car companies. It finally seems that we’re turning the corner, led by Honda and Nissan, and investing in electric cars as a viable alternative to petrol powered vehicles.

American Matters:

Rep. Rangel cannot be smiling right now.

More Trouble for Rep. Rangel: It has been over three months since Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) stepped down as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee over allegations of ethics violations and other improprieties. On July 22, the House ethics subcommittee announced that it had found Rep. Rangel guilty of breaking ethics rules. So with the midterm election season heating up, the public House trial of Rep. Rangel will be a continued nightmare for the Democratic Party. Already fretting over their perception to the American public, the admonishing of a senior Party member for taking corporate sponsored vacations to the Caribbean could not come at a worse time for campaign officials across the country. That being said, Rep. Rangel deserves whatever is coming to him. The Democratic giant stepped way over the ethical line on more than one occasion.

Deficit Woes: The Federal government released its latest deficit predictions for 2011 on Friday. The Obama Administration believes the the national deficit will hit $1.47 trillion; slightly north of the deficit record of $1.4 trillion in 2010. While this looks like a drastic – catastrophic to some – number, it is actually $84 billion lower than Peter Orszag’s estimate in February. Crazy, I know. Those are titanic sums for anyone other than that US government.

Teacher Purge: On Friday, using results from its newly established teacher assessment system IMPACT, Washington, DC fired 241 teachers in one of the biggest school system purges in recent memory. DC schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was quoted as saying, “Every child in a District of Columbia public school has a right to a highly effective teacher — in every classroom of every school, of every neighborhood or every ward, in this city….” According to Ms. Rhee and the IMPACT test, many teachers in the capital’s school system were not being effective. The Washington Teachers Union immediately responded to the firings by calling the IMPACT system a flawed form of assessment. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but you have to applaud the gall of Ms. Rhee in making the decision to lower the axe and undoubtedly infuriate a very strong union for what she sees as the good of children’s education.

End of the Climate Bill: The Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid admitted this past weekend that the Senate would not be able to pass a climate bill in its current session. In 2009, the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R.2454) and put it on the Senate calendar for consideration. Capping emissions and establishing a carbon exchange system, the bill is (and would be) a major step forward in US climate regulation. It unfortunately looks like we will have to wait, until at least the next Senate session, for any passage of a climate law.

A Chapter Closed: I am sure most of you remember the firing of 8 federal prosecutors by the Bush Administration’s Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in 2007. Last Wednesday, after three years, the Department of Justice closed the book on their investigation into the alleged improper actions by the former Attorney General and his staff. Citing insufficient evidence to charge anyone, including former Senator Pete Domenici, the DOJ decided not to proceed with charges. It’s an official end to one of the Bush Administration’s last lingering political controversies.

Off the Beaten Path:

Cristal does not even hold a candle to 200 year old champagne.

Damn Good Bubbly: Let’s be honest, we’ve all rung in a New Year’s Eve or two with a gran reserva André (so classy it doesn’t even have its own website) at some point or another and thought “wouldn’t it be nice if we were drinking a bottle of Cristal instead?” Well, last week, divers working in a shipwreck at the bottom of the Baltic Sea found the ultimate prize of the aged champagne lottery: 30 bottles of champagne that pre-date the French Revolution. That’s right, it’s over 200 years old. Traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia, the cargo ship carrying the bubbly-vino sank and the depth, darkness and pressure seem to have kept the celebratory beverage in good condition; not only drinkable but sweet to the taste. So later this year, when you’re ready to make New Year’s plans, look for a nifty 200 year old champagne. Just be ready to shell out $68,000 for a bottle. No big deal.

A Donkey and a Parasail: Well… the title of this little synopsis is self-explanatory. A group of entrepreneurial beach owners on the Sea of Azov hooked a donkey into a parasail and sent it up, up and away. The businessmen are now potentially facing animal cruelty charges over the incident. The donkey could be heard squealing in terror in the surrounding towns making children cry and prompting public outrage. Clearly this was a terrible thing to do to the poor animal… seems to have worked in getting people’s attention though. Got mine at least at the very least.

Slender Loris: The Horton Plains Slender Loris was caught on camera for the first time last week in the jungles of Sri Lanka. Discovered over 80 years ago, the Slender Loris is so rare that it was thought to be extinct. It is always great, especially in a world of declining ecosystems, to find out that a species is still alive and kicking. I suggest you watch the video below to familiarize yourself with the awesomeness of the Loris…

A Whale of a Boat Ride: Last week, as a couple whale watched in a sailboat off the shores of South Africa their voyage took a turn toward the dramatic. Breaching the surface, a 40 ton whale landed on Ralph Mothes and Paloma Werner’s yacht. There isn’t really words to describe what happened. Luckily no one was hurt. The incident was captured from a boat nearby. Shout-out to EB for showing me this story. Really, the video is too much for words…

Watch here.

Biking 10,000 Miles Plus: Tony Lucente, an IT guy at UPenn, embarked on an amazing journey from Philadelphia to the Artic Circle in Alaska! 10,370 miles in total, with an average distance of 400 miles a day, Tony recently completed the trip. He did it all to raise money and awareness about domestic violence and Native American women. Check out the featured video from NBC Philadelphia.

Photoshop Blunders: We all know that Photoshop, and all of its magic, contribute quite a bit to today’s world but it is always fun when corporations and countries get caught in wonderfully stupid Photoshop edits. The Telegraph ran a piece last week about recent and well-known Photoshop gaffes. From Iran to Microsoft… these blunders never get old.

Idiom of the Week: Shank’s Pony

The saying refers to when you find yourself without the option of taking the train, bus, plane or car and have to settle with walking to your destination.

Example #1: “I was hoping my rents would pick me up after the party. However, to my dismay, I had to take the Shank’s pony all the way home.”

Example #2: “That hitchhiker is probably looking at a ride on Shank’s pony if he wants to get anywhere.”

Video of the Week:

How to open a wine bottle using gravity, a shoe and a wall!

Song of the Week:

This week’s song comes to us from the Brooklyn-based singer Holly Miranda. I love the guitar and bell combination in this song. It’s the type of song that gets you going; definitely one for the car or before you go out. Hope you enjoy!

Broken Promises

July 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Gleneagles - Location of broken promises?

At the 2005 G8 Gleneagles Summit, the international community pledged – among other things – a $50 billion ramp up in official development assistance (ODA) to reduce poverty, foster productive governance and fight HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in the world’s poorest countries; $25 billion was to be specifically earmarked for sub-Saharan Africa. Driven by a renewed sense of urgency to complete the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, Gleneagles represented a massive recommitment by the world powers in the fight against poverty and treatable/terminal illnesses. Now we’re five years on from those promises and staring a certain reality in face: the promises made at Gleneagles have not been fulfilled. This is obviously an expansive, convoluted and important topic that will not be done justice by a 500 word blog post; but I will try my hardest to flesh out the most important parts of this undeniably tricky situation.

The BBC ran an article this past week looking at how the Gleneagles commitments have fared in way of their fulfillment. According to the piece, the ODA commitments made at Gleneagles to sub-Sarahan Africa have only been 44% realized; only $11 billion of the $25 billion has made it to ground level. Less than 50% implementation is nothing to be proud of. Last time I checked, in fact, it was a point away from a failing grade. Now this, of course, must be qualified in a couple of ways. First, as we all so intimately know, the past three years have been marred by the newly termed “Great Recession.” Massive job losses, gargantuan governmental bailouts and austerity measures have inevitably cut into the international assistance budgets of G8 countries. This must be considered as a mitigating circumstance. Second, in the past two years, a debate over foreign aid itself has gained new traction on both sides of the Atlantic. Encapsulated most completely in Dambisa Moyo‘s Dead Aid, the question of effectiveness of simply throwing money at culturally sensitive problems – with the added problem of corrupt aid delivery channels – has struck a new cord. Is aid really helping Africa? This is another poignant and important question. I can’t come close to answering it without writing a dissertation so I will spare you. However, I can tell you this: money does provide medical treatment. We know medical treatment works. Understanding that, we come back to one number: 44%.

To be honest, I can’t claim that $11 billion is a number to scoff at; I would hope that no one could be so preposterous. But it is a disturbingly different number than $25 billion. What was the point of promising ODA at such a high level at Gleneagles? It’s level that is, and was, restricted and subjected to economic stability. Was it lip service and an attempt quell our Western guilt over the  suffering “other?” Or was it more hopeful and unintentionally misleading? I’m more inclined, hopeful even, to believe the latter. Either way, it’s unfortunately a broken promise. I’m not laying the blame on any one country or even the whole G8, rather, I’m asking you to think about the motives of ODA and the aid community on whole. Whether you think aid is working to fuel the endemic corruption in a myriad of sub-Sarahan African countries or you believe in the comprehensive development pedagogy of Partners in Health, it is important to remember that this is all about saving people’s lives.

Yes, this is a sticky and torturous situation. That cannot be stressed enough. However, I will leave you with this: at the very least – using the ARV price tag of $295 – the missing $14 billion could have bought 47,457 people triple combination HIV/AIDS therapy. That is a lot of people.