Saturday, May 22, 2010



Stop Shell Oil's Offshore Drilling Plans in the Arctic

Target: United States Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar
Sponsored by: The Wilderness Society
The beautiful Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, just off the coast of Alaska, are prime habitat for countless species: gray and bowhead whales, endangered fin and humpback whales, and more than 3,000 belugas.

Shell Oil plans to send ships within weeks to start exploratory drilling there. The Gulf drilling disaster has shown us that there is no fail-safe way to drill for oil offshore. And on top of that, there is currently no technology available to clean up an oil spill in icy Arctic waters.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will submit his safety review on May 28. We only have until then to tell him to block Shell Oil's drilling plans before it's too late!

My Comments:

9:06 am PDT, May 19, Bonnie Weinstein, California
It is nothing less than criminal to continue to drill for oil off-shore when it is indelibly clear that it is wreaking havoc on the world's oceans and shores. The oceans have no border fences to stop illegal oil! The entire oil industry is illegal and a terrorist threat to all human life and our planet. The executives, CEOs and major shareholder's wealth should be confiscated and used to pay for a "Manhattan Project on Offshore Oil"--gather the world's scientists together to devise a way to stop the gush of oil--and to pay for a massive clean-up effort employing the unemployed, at union wages and representation--to get the job done. All expenses paid for workers who volunteer for the job. Free food, housing, healthcare plus pay and benefits until the clean-up is completed! A crime of terror has been carried out by the oil companies across the globe. They should be made to pay! Sincerely, Bonnie Weinstein

The letter:

Dear Mr. Secretary,

In light of the Gulf oil spill, it is imperative that you cancel any plans to explore or drill for oil and gas in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off the coast of Alaska. These waters are prime habitat for polar bears, whales, walruses, seals and water birds like loons and eider ducks. A spill in these frigid waters would be catastrophic, potentially affecting not just marine animals in the immediate area of a spill, but all wildlife, shorebirds, and waterfowl that inhabit the coastal areas of America's Arctic, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

There is simply no safe way to drill in these waters. Studies have shown that even seismic testing of potential drilling sites is known to have an impact on marine animals' habits and lifecycles. And, according to the Minerals Management Service -- your own agency -- there's a 40% chance of a large spill if development were to take place in this remote location. Making matters worse, the technology to clean up a spill in icy Arctic waters doesn't even exist.

Please put a halt to the Royal Dutch Shell planned drilling this summer by prohibiting federal agencies from permitting any oil development or exploration in Alaska waters until further, comprehensive research can take place.
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[Your name here]


Bay Area United Against War Newsletter
Table of Contents:




President Obama is coming to San Francisco
Tuesday, May 25, 4pm
Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason St.
(between Sacramento and California Sts.) San Francisco

Join a Protest to tell him:

• Stop the Occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine!
• We Want Unconditional Amnesty for All Immigrants!
• Stop Offshore Oil Drilling! Seize BP's Assets to provide full compensation for the affected communities
• Funds for Jobs and Social Services, Not War and Bank Bailouts!
• End the Blockade of Cuba! Free the Cuban Five!

Initiated by the ANSWER Coalition. Call 415-821-6545 for more info.

A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition
Act Now to Stop War & End Racism
2489 Mission St. Rm. 24
San Francisco: 415-821-6545


Send President Obama a Message
California Wants Medicare for All

Hands Off Social Security

May 25, Tues. 3:30 to 5:30
Fairmont Hotel, 960 Mason
San Francisco

Dear Healthcare Activist,

Help us yes send the message that California Wants Medicare for All and No Cuts to Social Security.

President Obama is coming to a fundraiser for Senator Boxer next Tuesday.

The California Legislature has twice passed SB 810, the California Universal Healthcare Act.

The platform of the California Democratic Party supports Medicare for All ( Single Payer Healthcare ).

The California Federation of Labor supports Single Payer Healthcare.

The City of San Francisco supports both state and national legislation for Single Payer Healthcare.

It is important that President Obama brings back the message to DC that California wants Medicare for All.

We encourage you to forward this message.

We are making banners now. Please let us know if you can hold a banner next Tuesday.

__ I can hold a banner for Medicare for All

__ I can hold a banner for Protecting our Social Security

__ I can help call our phone tree for May 25

__ I can hand out leaflets at the event.

__ I can collect single payer postcards at the event.

__ I have forwarded this alert.

__ If you would like to make a financial contribution to insure the success of our May 25 picket, please click here.

For more information call 415-695-7891

Thank you.

Don Bechler

Chair Â- Single Payer Now




United National Peace Conference
July 23 - 25, 2010, Albany , NY
UNAC, P.O. Box 21675
Cleveland, OH 44121


Twenty co-sponsoring national organizations urge you to attend this conference scheduled for Albany , New York July 23-25, 2010. They are After Downing Street, Arab American Union Members Council, Bailout the People Movement, Black Agenda Report, Campaign for Peace and Democracy, Campus Antiwar Network, Code Pink, International Action Center, Iraq Veterans Against the War, National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations, National Lawyers Guild, Peace Action, Peace of the Action, Progressive Democrats of America, The Fellowship of Reconciliation, U.S. Labor Against the War, Veterans for Peace, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and World Can't Wait.

The purpose of the conference is to plan united actions in the months ahead in support of demands for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. military forces and contractors from Afghanistan and Iraq , and money for human needs, not for wars, occupations, and bail-outs. The peace movement is strongest and most effective when plans for united actions are made by the whole range of antiwar and social justice organizations meeting together and deciding together dates and places for national mobilizations.

Each person attending the conference will have voice and vote. Attendees will have the opportunity to amend the action proposal submitted by conference co-sponsors, add demands, and submit resolutions for consideration by the conference.

Keynoters will be NOAM CHOMSKY, internationally renowned political activist, author, and critic of U.S. foreign and domestic policies, MIT Professor Emeritus of Linguistics; and DONNA DEWITT, President, South Carolina AFL-CIO; Co-Chair, South Carolina Progressive Network; Steering Committee, U.S. Labor Against the War; Administrative Body, National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations.

The conference's website is and you will find there details regarding other speakers, workshops, registration, hotel and travel information, and how to submit amendments, demands, and resolutions. The action proposal has also been published on the website.

Please write us at for further information or call 518-227-6947. We can fill orders for copies of the conference brochure. Tables for display and sale of materials can be reserved.

We look forward to seeing you in Albany on July 23-25.

In peace,

Jerry Gordon

Secretary, National Peace Conference




From Gary Bledsoe, Texas President of the NAACP:

Have you heard about what's going on here in Texas? History is being rewritten. And not in a good way.

The state of Texas sets national standards for school textbooks -- and on Friday, the State Board of Education is casting its vote on updated social studies and history textbooks.

Those books are changing the record on slavery, celebrating the Confederacy and shedding a positive light on Jim Crow laws. And the Texas NAACP has spent the past several months fighting back. We've written thousands of emails, placed hundreds of calls, and people are starting to notice.

I'm writing because we need your help. No matter the result of tomorrow's vote, make sure these bad ideas don't spread into your state. Sign the Not in My State Pledge:

The civil rights era was, and remains, one of the most significant and defining moments in U.S. history. Its leaders were true patriots -- fighting against oppression and for equality.

But if the proposed textbook changes happen, our children won't learn about them. They won't learn about brave men like Sam McCollough, who gave his life for Texas independence. And they won't learn that Texas seceded from the Union to fight for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

Rewriting history in the name of national pride isn't patriotic. It's ignorant.

Make it known throughout your state that if Texas textbook standards pass, they won't be coming into your classrooms. Sign the Not in My State Pledge to stop history from being rewritten:

American history -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- is what makes our country what it is today. A reminder of that past helps ensure a better future for all of us.

Thank you for speaking out,

Gary Bledsoe
Texas President

P.S. To find out the voting results and watch an interview with NAACP President, Benjamin Todd Jealous, tune in to NBC Nightly News tomorrow (Friday) at 6:30/5:30 p.m. ET/CT.


This is just inspiring! You have to watch it!
Don't Get Caught in a Bad Hotel



[While this is a good beginning to a fight to put safety first--for workers and the planet--we must recognize that the whole thrust of capitalism is to get the job done quicker and cheaper, workers and the world be damned!

It is workers who are intimately aware of the dangers of production and the ways those dangers could be eliminated. And, if, say, a particular mine, factory, industry can't be made to be safe, then it should be abandoned. Those workers effected should simply be "retired" with full pay and benefits. They have already been subjected to the toxins, dangers, etc., on the job.

Basically, safety must be under worker's control. Workers must have first dibs on profits to insure safety first.

It not only means nationalizing industry--but internationalizing industry--and placing it under the control and operation of the workers themselves. Governmental controls of safety regulations are notoriously ineffectual because the politicians themselves are the corporation's paid defenders. It only makes sense that corporate profits should be utilized--under the worker's control--to put safety first or stop production altogether. Safety first has to be interpreted as "safety before profits and profits for safety first!" We can only hope it is not too late!]


The government of the United States must seize BP and freeze its assets, and place those funds in trust to begin providing immediate relief to the working people throughout the Gulf states whose jobs, communities, homes and businesses are being harmed or destroyed by the criminally negligent actions of the CEO, Board of Directors and senior management of BP.

Take action now! Sign the Seize BP petition to demand the seizure of BP!

200,000 gallons of oil a day, or more, are gushing into the Gulf of Mexico with the flow of oil growing. The poisonous devastation to human beings, wildlife, natural habitat and fragile ecosystems will go on for decades. It constitutes an act of environmental violence, the consequences of which will be catastrophic.

BP's Unmitigated Greed

This was a manufactured disaster. It was neither an "Act of God" nor Nature that caused this devastation, but rather the unmitigated greed of Big Oil's most powerful executives in their reckless search for ever-greater profits.

Under BP's CEO Tony Hayward's aggressive leadership, BP made a record $5.6 billion in pure profits just in the first three months of 2010. BP made $163 billion in profits from 2001-09. It has a long history of safety violations and slap-on-the-wrist fines.

BP's Materially False and Misleading Statements

BP filed a 52-page exploration plan and environmental impact analysis with the U.S. Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service for the Deepwater Horizon well, dated February 2009, which repeatedly assured the government that it was "unlikely that an accidental surface or subsurface oil spill would occur from the proposed activities." In the filing, BP stated over and over that it was unlikely for an accident to occur that would lead to a giant crude oil spill causing serious damage to beaches, mammals and fisheries and that as such it did not require a response plan for such an event.

BP's executives are thus either guilty of making materially false statements to the government to obtain the license, of consciously misleading a government that was all too ready to be misled, and/or they are guilty of criminal negligence. At a bare minimum, their representations constitute gross negligence. Whichever the case, BP must be held accountable for its criminal actions that have harmed so many.

Protecting BP's Super-Profits

BP executives are banking that they can ride out the storm of bad publicity and still come out far ahead in terms of the billions in profit that BP will pocket. In 1990, in response to the Exxon Valdez disaster, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law the Oil Pollution Act, which immunizes oil companies for the damages they cause beyond immediate cleanup costs.

Under the Oil Pollution Act, oil companies are responsible for oil removal and cleanup costs for massive spills, and their liability for all other forms of damages is capped at $75 million-a pittance for a company that made $5.6 billion in profits in just the last three months, and is expected to make $23 billion in pure profit this year. Some in Congress suggest the cap should be set at $10 billion, still less than the potential cost of this devastation-but why should the oil companies have any immunity from responsibility for the damage they cause?

The Oil Pollution Act is an outrage, and it will be used by BP to keep on doing business as usual.

People are up in arms because thousands of workers who have lost their jobs and livelihoods as a result of BP's actions have to wait in line to compete for lower wage and hazardous clean-up jobs from BP. BP's multi-millionaire executives are not asked to sacrifice one penny while working people have to plead for clean-up jobs.

Take Action Now

It is imperative that the government seize BP's assets now for their criminal negligence and begin providing immediate relief for the immense suffering and harm they have caused.

Seize BP Petition button*:


Neil Young - Ohio - Live at Massey Hall


Rachel Carson's Warnings in "The Sea Around Us":
"It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself. . ."


Operation Small Axe - Trailer


Shame on Arizona

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer just signed a law that will authorize officers to pull over, question, and detain anyone they have a "reasonable suspicion" to believe is in this country without proper documentation. It's legalized racial profiling, and it's an affront on all of our civil rights, especially Latinos. It's completely unacceptable.

Join us in letting Arizona's leaders know how we feel, and that there will be consequences. A state that dehumanizes its own people does not deserve our economic support

"As long as racial profiling is legal in Arizona, I will do what I can to not visit the state and to avoid spending dollars there."

Sign Petition Here:


Please sign the petition to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal and
and forward it to all your lists.

"Mumia Abu-Jamal and The Global Abolition of the Death Penalty"

(A Life In the Balance - The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, at 34, Amnesty Int'l, 2000; www.

[Note: This petition is approved by Mumia Abu-Jamal and his lead attorney, Robert R. Bryan, San Francisco (E-mail:; Website:]

Committee To Save Mumia Abu-Jamal
P.O. Box 2012
New York, NY 10159-2012


Donations for Mumia's Legal Defense in the U.S. Our legal effort is the front line of the battle for Mumia's freedom and life. His legal defense needs help. The costs are substantial for our litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court and at the state level. To help, please make your checks payable to the National Lawyers Guild Foundation indicate "Mumia" on the bottom left). All donations are tax deductible under the Internal Revenue Code, section 501c)3), and should be mailed to:

It is outrageous and a violation of human rights that Mumia remains in prison and on death row. His life hangs in the balance. My career has been marked by successfully representing people facing death in murder cases. I will not rest until we win Mumia's case. Justice requires no less.

With best wishes,

Robert R. Bryan
Lead counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal


Collateral Murder



5th April 2010 10:44 EST WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad -- including two Reuters news staff.

Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-site, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.


San Francisco City and County Tramples on Civil Liberties
A Letter to Antiwar Activists
Dear Activists:
On Saturday, March 20, the San Francisco City and County Recreation and Parks Department's Park Rangers patrolled a large public antiwar demonstration, shutting down the distribution of Socialist Viewpoint magazine. The rally in Civic Center Plaza was held in protest of the illegal and immoral U.S. wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, and to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Park Rangers went table-to-table examining each one. They photographed the Socialist Viewpoint table and the person attending it-me. My sister, Debbie and I, had set up the table. We had a sign on the table that asked for a donation of $1.25 for the magazine. The Park Rangers demanded that I "pack it up" and go, because selling or even asking for donations for newspapers or magazines is no longer permitted without the purchase of a new and expensive "vendors license." Their rationale for this denial of free speech is that the distribution of newspapers, magazines, T-shirts-and even food-would make the political protest a "festival" and not a political protest demonstration!
This City's action is clearly a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution-the right to free speech and freedom of the press-and can't be tolerated.
While they are firing teachers and other San Francisco workers, closing schools, cutting back healthcare access, cutting services to the disabled and elderly, it is outrageous that the Mayor and City Government chose to spend thousands of dollars to police tables at an antiwar rally-a protest demonstration by the people!
We can't let this become the norm. It is so fundamentally anti-democratic. The costs of the permits for the rally, the march, the amplified sound, is already prohibitive. Protest is not a privilege we should have to pay for. It's a basic right in this country and we should reclaim it!
Personally, I experienced a deep feeling of alienation as the crisply-uniformed Park Ranger told me I had to "pack it up"-especially when I knew that they were being paid by the City to do this at this demonstration!
I hope you will join this protest of the violation of the right to distribute and, therefore, the right to read Socialist Viewpoint, by writing or emailing the City officials who are listed below.1
In solidarity,

Bonnie Weinstein, Editorial Board Member, Socialist Viewpoint
60 - 29th Street, #429
San Francisco, CA 94110

1 Mayor Gavin Newsom
City Hall, Room 200
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102

Board of Supervisors
City Hall
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 244
San Francisco, Ca 94102-4689

San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department Park Rangers
McLaren Lodge & Annex
501 Stanyan Street
San Francisco, CA 94117

San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission
501 Stanyan Street
San Francisco, CA 94117

Chief of Police George Gascón
850 Bryant Street, #525
San Francisco, CA 94103
(I could not find an email address for him.).



Lynne Stewart in Jail!

Mail tax free contributions payable to National Lawyers Guild Foundation. Write in memo box: "Lynne Stewart Defense." Mail to: Lynne Stewart Defense, P.O. Box 10328, Oakland, CA 94610.



U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Department of Justice Main Switchboard - 202-514-2000
Office of the Attorney General Public Comment Line - 202-353-1555

To send Lynne a letter, write:
Lynne Stewart
150 Park Row
New York, NY 10007

Lynne Stewart speaks in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal


On June 30, an innocent man will be given a second chance.

In 1991, Troy Davis was sentenced to death for allegedly killing a police officer in Savannah, Georgia. There was no physical evidence tying him to the crime, and seven out of nine witnesses recanted or contradicted their testimony.

He was sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit. But it's not too late to change Troy's fate.

We just learned today that Troy has been granted an evidentiary hearing -- an opportunity to right this wrong. Help give him a second chance by telling your friends to pledge their support for Troy:

Troy Davis may just be one man, but his situation represents an injustice experienced by thousands. And suffering this kind of injustice, by even one man, is one person too many.

Thanks to you and 35,000 other NAACP members and supporters who spoke out last August, the U.S. Supreme Court is granting Troy Davis his day in court--and a chance to make his case after 19 years on death row.

This hearing is the first step.

We appreciate your continued support of Troy. If you have not yet done so, please visit our website, sign the petition, then tell your friends to do the same.

I will be in touch soon to let you know how else you can help.


Benjamin Todd Jealous
President and CEO


Short Video About Al-Awda's Work
The following link is to a short video which provides an overview of Al-Awda's work since the founding of our organization in 2000. This video was first shown on Saturday May 23, 2009 at the fundraising banquet of the 7th Annual Int'l Al-Awda Convention in Anaheim California. It was produced from footage collected over the past nine years.
Support Al-Awda, a Great Organization and Cause!

Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, depends on your financial support to carry out its work.

To submit your tax-deductible donation to support our work, go to and follow the simple instructions.

Thank you for your generosity!


FLASHPOINTS Interview with Innocent San Quentin Death Row Inmate
Kevin Cooper -- Aired Monday, May 18,2009
To learn more about Kevin Cooper go to:
San Francisco Chronicle article on the recent ruling:
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling and dissent:


Support the troops who refuse to fight!




1) Agency Orders BP to Use a Less Toxic Chemical in Cleanup
May 20, 2010

2) Scientists Fault Lack of Studies Over Gulf Oil Spill
May 19, 2010

3) Arctic Drilling Proposal Advanced Amid Concern
"Afterward, people lingered to eat a cake decorated with the words, 'Drill, Baby, Drill.'"
May 19, 2010

4) U.S. Science Body Urges Action on Climate
May 19, 2010

5) Police Accused of Ignoring Law on Sealing Stop-and-Frisk Records
May 19, 2010

6) Teachers Facing Weakest Market in Years
May 19, 2010

7) Arguing Three Strikes
May 17, 2010

8) Conflict of Interest Worries Raised in Spill Tests
May 20, 2010

9) Student Protests Tie Up Campuses in Puerto Rico
"The territory is grappling with a huge budget deficit and an unemployment rate of 16 percent....They [the striking students] have received support from union leaders, writers and performers, including the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano and the Puerto Rican musician Ricky Martin, who posted a supportive message on Twitter."
May 20, 2010

10) Texas Approves Textbook Changes
May 22, 2010

11) "Shock Force" Riot Police Assault Students and Workers
Puerto Rico: Beatings at the Sheraton
From our correspondent
The Internationalist
May 20, 2010

12) More Than Just an Oil Spill
May 21, 2010

13) The Measure of a Disaster
May 21, 2010

15) Tragedy in Detroit, With a Reality TV Crew in Tow
May 21, 2010

16) Debating Whether It's a Crime to Rest on San Francisco's Sidewalks
[Housing for the homeless is, of course, out of the question for Newsom yet he's willing to spend the money on a jail cell. I only wish we could decide who should be in jail--I can think of a few oil executives and their political hacks I'd like to house in the state]
May 21, 2010

17) Louisiana: Another Former Officer Is Charged in Cover-Up After Killings
May 21, 2010


1) Agency Orders BP to Use a Less Toxic Chemical in Cleanup
May 20, 2010

Citing worries about a fragile coastal environment, the federal Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday gave the giant energy company BP 24 hours to select a less toxic chemical than the one that it is now using to break up crude oil gushing from a ruined well in the Gulf of Mexico.

After submitting a list of one of more alternatives to the agency, the company would then have 72 hours to start using one of them.

In seeking to break up the oil bubbling to the surface from the Deepwater Horizon well, BP has sprayed nearly 700,000 gallons of Corexit chemical dispersants on the surface of the gulf and directly onto the leaking well head, a mile underwater. It is by far the largest use of chemicals to break up an oil spill in United States waters to date.

But scientists and politicians have increasingly questioned why the E.P.A. is allowing use of the Corexit products when less toxic alternatives are available.

Because oil spills are relatively rare, only small amounts of a few dispersants are kept stockpiled, so at the outset of the disaster in the gulf, the amount of Corexit used was only in the tens of thousands of gallons. BP then ordered much more from its manufacturer, Nalco North America of Naperville, Ill., and applied the product repeatedly.

On Monday, Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of New Jersey, sent a letter to Lisa P. Jackson, the E.P.A.'s administrator, demanding details of the formula for Corexit products and information about any testing that had been carried out on the chemicals.

In most countries, the active ingredients of dispersants are trade secrets carefully guarded by the companies that make them, but the recipes must be conveyed to national testing agencies.

It was not clear what chemical alternatives BP would select in response to the agency's order, or whether the company would choose instead to rely less heavily on chemical treatment of the oil spill. But U.S. Polychemical of Spring Valley, N.Y., which makes a dispersant called Dispersit SPC 1000, said Thursday morning that it had received a large order from BP and would increase its production to 20,000 gallons a day in the next few days, and eventually as much as 60,000 gallons a day.

"We've been in touch with BP for weeks," said Bruce Gephardt, president of the company's marine division.

"Once they'd exhausted the initial stockpile, they ordered hundreds of thousands of gallons more from Corexit," he said, "and it was not clear what went into that decision process." Mr. Gephardt argued that cost could not be the issue because his company's product is roughly 10 per cent cheaper than Corexit.

The purpose of the dispersants is to break up the crude oil into tiny droplets that will sink into the water rather than float, and thus be more easily diluted by ocean currents, so that oil slicks do not hurt marine life on the surface or affect sensitive shoreline ecosystems.

But all dispersants are types of detergents and at best are mildly toxic, so applying them requires a careful calculation about whether the dispersant-oil mixture will cause more or fewer problems than untreated crude oil would.

Just over a dozen dispersants have been approved for use in the United States, a process that takes into account the efficacy and toxicity of the products. Many of them performed better in toxicity testing than Corexit did.

Still, Corexit products are widely used around the world and are the mainstay of dispersant use in Canada.

Yet Britain rescinded its approval of Corexit about 10 years ago because, in testing, the products were found to be too damaging to sea life like limpets in rocky shore environments.

Many experts in the field wonder why dispersants are being used at all so far out in the gulf, and why the federal agencies whose approval was required to apply the chemicals signed off on the plan.

Dispersants are conventionally applied to move oil off the surface of the ocean to protect marine life there and to prevent large amounts of surface oil from moving onshore. Yet the Deepwater Horizon rig is 50 miles offshore, which could be too far for the dispersants to play a helpful role in protecting coastal ecosystems, some experts suggest.

After decades of use, scientists have considerable experience in determining when dispersant is likely to be useful. Merv Fingas, formerly the lead oil spill expert at Environment Canada, the Canadian version of the E.P.A, said that when oil is bubbling up from a mile under the ocean, it emulsifies and separates into components, heavy and light oil, so "dispersant use isn't really effective."

While noting that he was not on the scene in the gulf to evaluate the decisionmaking, he said: "I really don't see any reason at this point for them to be using it. But they are in a desperate situation where they have to try everything possible, hoping something will work."

Normally oil companies fight spills on various fronts. These included the labor-intensive process of placing booms on the surface to absorb oil as well as the less costly process of spraying dispersants to temporarily break up the oil slick. Some critics say that BP has relied too heavily on the latter.

Recent research shows that, rather than degrading the oil so that it disappears; a natural process that occurs over time, the dispersants move it to a new compartment where it in theory causes less trouble. Like a shaken salad dressing with oil in it, "what goes down, eventually comes up" somewhere, Dr. Fingas said.

Huge underwater plumes of dispersed oil have been spotted drifting in the gulf over the last week - a predictable consequence of dispersant use, according to experts including Dr. Fingas, because the oil droplets sink and are carried by underwater currents.

Frederic Hauge, head of the international environment group Bellona, said that the use of dispersants can make it harder to track a spill and to measure the effect of the oil and chemicals because "you don't know where it will pop up next."

Scientists have criticized the Obama administration for not releasing data about the subsea course of the oil spill, although the government on Wednesday began releasing limited results.


2) Scientists Fault Lack of Studies Over Gulf Oil Spill
May 19, 2010

Tensions between the Obama administration and the scientific community over the gulf oil spill are escalating, with prominent oceanographers accusing the government of failing to conduct an adequate scientific analysis of the damage and of allowing BP to obscure the spill's true scope.

The scientists assert that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies have been slow to investigate the magnitude of the spill and the damage it is causing in the deep ocean. They are especially concerned about getting a better handle on problems that may be occurring from large plumes of oil droplets that appear to be spreading beneath the ocean surface.

The scientists point out that in the month since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, the government has failed to make public a single test result on water from the deep ocean. And the scientists say the administration has been too reluctant to demand an accurate analysis of how many gallons of oil are flowing into the sea from the gushing oil well.

"It seems baffling that we don't know how much oil is being spilled," Sylvia Earle, a famed oceanographer, said Wednesday on Capitol Hill. "It seems baffling that we don't know where the oil is in the water column."

The administration acknowledges that its scientific resources are stretched by the disaster, but contends that it is moving to get better information, including a more complete picture of the underwater plumes.

"We're in the early stages of doing that, and we do not have a comprehensive understanding as of yet of where that oil is," Jane Lubchenco, the NOAA administrator, told Congress on Wednesday. "But we are devoting all possible resources to understanding where the oil is and what its impact might be."

The administration has mounted a huge response to the spill, deploying 1,105 vessels to try to skim oil, burn it and block it from shorelines. As part of the effort, the federal government and the Gulf Coast states have begun an extensive effort to catalog any environmental damage to the coast. The Environmental Protection Agency is releasing results from water sampling near shore. In most places, save for parts of Louisiana, the contamination appears modest so far.

The big scientific question now is what is happening in deeper water. While it is clear that water samples have been taken, the results have not been made public.

Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, told Congress on Wednesday that she was pressing for the release of additional test results, including some samples taken by boats under contract to BP.

While the total number of boats involved in the response is high, relatively few are involved in scientific assessment of the deep ocean.

Of the 19 research vessels owned by NOAA, 5 are in the Gulf of Mexico and available for work on the spill, Dr. Lubchenco said, counting a newly commissioned boat. The flagship of the NOAA fleet, the research vessel Ronald H. Brown, was off the coast of Africa when the spill occurred on April 20, and according to NOAA tracking logs, it was not redirected until about May 11, three weeks after the disaster began. It is sailing toward the gulf.

At least one vessel under contract to BP has collected samples from deep water, and so have a handful of university ships. NOAA is dropping instruments into the sea that should help give a better picture of conditions.

On May 6, NOAA called attention to its role in financing the work of a small research ship called the Pelican, owned by a university consortium in Louisiana. But when scientists aboard that vessel reported over the weekend that they had discovered large plumes undersea that appeared to be made of oil droplets, NOAA criticized the results as premature and requiring further analysis.

Rick Steiner, a marine biologist and a veteran of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, assailed NOAA in an interview, declaring that it had been derelict in analyzing conditions beneath the sea.

Mr. Steiner said the likelihood of extensive undersea plumes of oil droplets should have been anticipated from the moment the spill began, given that such an effect from deepwater blowouts had been predicted in the scientific literature for more than a decade, and confirmed in a test off the coast of Norway. An extensive sampling program to map and characterize those plumes should have been put in place from the first days of the spill, he said.

"A vast ecosystem is being exposed to contaminants right now, and nobody's watching it," Mr. Steiner said. "That seems to me like a catastrophic failure on the part of NOAA."

Mr. Steiner, long critical of offshore drilling, has fought past battles involving NOAA, including one in which he was stripped of a small university grant financed by the agency. He later resigned from the University of Alaska at Anchorage and now consults worldwide on oil-spill prevention and response.

Oceanographers have also criticized the Obama administration over its reluctance to force BP, the oil company responsible for the spill, to permit an accurate calculation of the flow rate from the undersea well. The company has refused to permit scientists to send equipment to the ocean floor that would establish the rate with high accuracy.

Ian MacDonald of Florida State University, an oceanographer who was among the first to question the official estimate of 210,000 gallons a day, said he had come to the conclusion that the oil company was bent on obstructing any accurate calculation. "They want to hide the body," he said.

Andrew Gowers, a spokesman for BP, said this was not correct. Given the complex operations going on at the sea floor to try to stop the flow, "introducing more equipment into the immediate vicinity would represent an unacceptable risk," he said.

Thad W. Allen, the Coast Guard admiral in charge of the response to the spill, said Wednesday evening that the government had decided to try to put equipment on the ocean floor to take accurate measurements. A technical team is at work devising a method, he said. "We are shoving pizzas under the door, and they are not coming out until they give us the answer," he said.

Scientists have long theorized that a shallow spill and a spill in the deep ocean - this one is a mile down - would behave quite differently. A 2003 report by the National Research Council predicted that the oil in a deepwater blowout could break into fine droplets, forming plumes of oil mixed with water that would not quickly rise to the surface.

That prediction appeared to be confirmed Saturday when the researchers aboard the Pelican reported that they had detected immense plumes that they believed were made of oil particles. The results were not final, and came as a surprise to the government. They raise a major concern, that sea life in concentrated areas could be exposed to a heavy load of toxic materials as the plumes drift through the sea.

Under scrutiny from NOAA, the researchers have retreated to their laboratories to finish their analysis.

In an interview, Dr. Lubchenco said she was mobilizing every possible NOAA asset to get a more accurate picture of the environmental damage, and was even in the process of hiring fishing vessels to do some scientific work.

"Our intention is to deploy every single thing we've got," Dr. Lubchenco said. "If it's not in the region, we're bringing it there."

Robert Gebeloff, Andrew W. Lehren, Campbell Robertson and Matthew L. Wald contributed reporting


3) Arctic Drilling Proposal Advanced Amid Concern
"Afterward, people lingered to eat a cake decorated with the words, 'Drill, Baby, Drill.'"
May 19, 2010

A proposal to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean as early as this summer received initial permits from the Minerals Management Service office in Alaska at the same time federal auditors were questioning the office about its environmental review process.

The approvals also came after many of the agency's most experienced scientists had left, frustrated that their concerns over environmental threats from drilling had been ignored.

Minerals Management has faced intense scrutiny in the weeks since the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. An article in The New York Times reported that it failed to get some environmental permits to approve drilling in the gulf and ignored objections from scientists to keep those projects on schedule.

Similar concerns are being raised about the agency's handling of a plan by Shell Oil to begin exploratory drilling in the Arctic's Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

The Shell plan has stirred controversy for many years among environmentalists and advocates of the endangered bowhead whale, which is legally hunted in the area for subsistence by Alaska Natives.

Opponents have argued that an oil spill would be virtually impossible to contain, given the region's remoteness, its severe weather and ice and limited onshore support.

The investigation of the Minerals Management's Alaska office by the Government Accountability Office, completed in March, examined the environmental review process for proposed offshore leasing in southwest Alaska, which has since been canceled.

But it also raised questions about future leasing plans in the Beaufort and Chukchi at the time the agency was deciding whether to allow Shell to go forward on leases it had purchased. The Shell project received critical initial permits from Minerals Management last fall, though it still needs several final approvals.

The G.A.O. found that the Alaska branch deliberately avoided establishing consistent guidelines for determining whether future leases would cause significant environmental impacts in the Arctic - a finding that could require further examination and delay or prevent drilling.

It noted that Minerals Management had yet to complete a handbook for reviewing environmental issues that the Department of Interior, which oversees the agency, had asked it to write.

"When we talked to managers, the story was that, 'Well, we have the institutional knowledge - if you put things in the handbook, it gets outdated,' " said Mark Gaffigan, a director on the G.A.O.'s natural resources and environment team and the author of the report.

Yet when G.A.O. investigators interviewed many of the agency's environmental analysts in Alaska, Mr. Gaffigan said, "They felt there was a need. They wanted consistent ways for how the analysis was to be done."

The findings described in the G.A.O. report were echoed in interviews with current and former scientists and employees at the Alaska office of Minerals Management and bolstered by documents posted online by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

All of those interviewed, including some who have found other government jobs, spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of repercussions at work.

The lack of clear guidance in the environmental review process was exacerbated by high turnover among scientists at the agency, many of whom said in interviews that they left for other jobs because they had been pressured to rewrite their work or had it rewritten for them and that they were perceived as obstacles in the way of drilling. Managers, on the other hand, tended to stay.

"My impression was they had predetermined decisions and if you didn't get with the program you were sort of labeled and ostracized, really," said one former minerals agency scientist. "But if you went along with the program and didn't do anything to obstruct anything, they would treat you well, promote you, give cash awards."

A spokesman for the minerals agency said that "M.M.S. Alaska takes the G.A.O. report very seriously and in fact even before the final report came out, we began addressing issues it raised." He declined to discuss accusations by agency scientists that they faced pressure.

Even as the administration has begun a review of its offshore leasing program and temporarily halted new offshore drilling projects, Shell says it hopes to begin drilling this summer.

The company was buoyed last week, when a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected claims that Minerals Management's initial environmental review of the project was flawed.

Several people involved in the lawsuit noted that environmental reviews of an earlier version of the Shell plan approved by Minerals Management had been rejected by the court in 2008.

Since that earlier decision, the current and former employees said in interviews, instead of making environmental reviews more thorough and transparent, the Alaska office tightened control, limiting which scientists have access to information about threats and limiting discussions that can improve analysis. They said the tighter control limited documents through which the court could view the process.

"The development of these environmental assessments was done in secret," by inexperienced staff, a Minerals Management employee in Alaska said. The employee said that the process "was horrible, they ignore everything" and that drilling "would be a disaster for the bowhead and the Natives who take bowhead through subsistence."

The Ninth Circuit decision did not address questions raised by the gulf spill or in the G.A.O. report.

The G.A.O. report found the Alaska office's handling of information "is inconsistent with agency policy, which directs that information, including proprietary data from industry, be shared with all staff involved in environmental reviews. According to regional staff, this practice has hindered their ability to complete sound environmental analyses under NEPA," the National Environmental Policy Act.

A senior Interior Department official responded to the G.A.O. report in March, saying the "department generally agrees with your findings." The department said that it would publish a Web-based guidebook for conducting environmental reviews by the end of the year and that Minerals Management in Alaska would "ensure employees are provided with all information to effectively and efficiently perform their duties and responsibilities."

The Shell project still faces scrutiny by other agencies that have raised questions about Arctic drilling. In a letter to Minerals Management last September, Jane Lubchenco, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, warned against leasing in the Arctic Sea.

Shell has vowed to implement aggressive efforts both to prevent a spill and contain one. Shortly after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar proposed reconfiguring the agency, John Goll, the head of the Alaska region, called an "all hands" meeting, according to a staff member there.

Afterward, people lingered to eat a cake decorated with the words, "Drill, Baby, Drill."


4) U.S. Science Body Urges Action on Climate
May 19, 2010

WASHINGTON - In its most comprehensive study so far, the nation's leading scientific body declared on Wednesday that climate change is a reality and is driven mostly by human activity, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

The group, the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued three reports describing the case for a harmful human influence on the global climate as overwhelming and arguing for strong immediate action to limit emissions of climate-altering gases in the United States and around the world - including the creation of a carbon pricing system.

Congress requested the reports in 2008. This is the first time the academy has issued specific recommendations on how to mitigate or adapt to climate change.

One of the reports, "Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change," urges the United States to set a greenhouse gas emissions "budget" that restricts overall emissions and provides a measurable goal for policy makers and for industry. It does not recommend a specific target but says the range put forward by the Obama administration and Congress is a "reasonable goal."

Legislation pending in Congress calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

The report says the most efficient way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to set a predictable and rising price. It does not explicitly recommend a cap-and-trade system, but says that such a system of tradable emissions permits would give industry more flexibility in meeting an emissions target or budget.

Another report, "Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change," suggests that the United States and other nations begin planning for effects like rising sea levels and more severe storms and droughts. Increasing preparedness can be viewed as "an insurance policy against an uncertain future," the report said, while inaction could impose large costs on future generations.

"These reports show that the state of climate-change science is strong," Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, said in a statement accompanying the reports. "But the nation also needs the scientific community to expand upon its understanding of why climate change is happening and focus also on when and where the most severe impacts will occur and what we can do to respond."

John P. Holdren, the science adviser to the Obama administration, was briefed on the report Tuesday night, researchers said.

The academy recommends that an interagency group be given the authority and the resources to coordinate national research and response. It notes that previous efforts have fallen short of providing the kind of action-oriented research that policy makers need.

Predictably, advocates of climate and energy legislation embraced the reports.

"These studies clearly demonstrate the urgency for Senate action," said Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and a sponsor of a climate bill introduced in the Senate this month.

Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists said: "This report should light a fire under Congress. Lawmakers should stop dragging their feet, pay attention to the science and pass a bill this session."

Leslie Kaufman contributed reporting from New York.


5) Police Accused of Ignoring Law on Sealing Stop-and-Frisk Records
May 19, 2010

To the New York Police Department, its database of people who have been stopped and frisked is an invaluable tool, providing quick access to information that it says can help solve crimes and save lives.

But to civil libertarians and others, the database represents something else: an unconstitutional cyberwarehouse of thousands of names and addresses of New Yorkers, most of them minorities, who have been stopped by the police on city streets but found in most cases to be innocent of wrongdoing.

The New York Civil Liberties Union sued the city and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly on Wednesday to address one small portion of that database, seeking to halt the police from keeping information on those who were arrested as a result of street stops but later cleared of criminal charges or fined for a noncriminal violation.

The suit maintains that a state law requires that the records of such people be sealed.

The suit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, does not address the much larger pool of people whose names are in the database even though they were not arrested or given summonses after being stopped, questioned and sometimes frisked. The civil liberties group also opposes their inclusion in the database, but noted that such a change would require a change in the Police Department's policy or action by the State Legislature; the group said it intended to lobby legislators.

In 2009, more than 575,000 stop-and-frisk reports were filled out by police officers, more than in any previous 12-month period. Since 2004, there have been nearly three million street stops. Since only about 6 percent of those stops led to an arrest, and an equal percentage led to summonses, the civil liberties group has expressed concern over the expanding database of those who have not committed crimes.

In March, two City Council leaders called on Mr. Kelly to purge the database so that it only contained those convicted of crimes - though no one is sure how many of the arrests from street stops lead to convictions.

Police officials have hailed the street stops as an essential crime-fighting tool. When he was asked about the lawsuit, Mr. Kelly said, "I can only tell you that that database has proven to be invaluable." He pointed out that investigators used information from the database "on some high-profile bias cases."

Asked about the suit's assertion that state law forbids the names from being kept in cases that are resolved in the defendant's favor, Mr. Kelly said he would have to see the court papers before commenting.

Paul J. Browne, the department's chief spokesman, has said that the stop and frisks have not only led directly to arrests, but have also contributed to a safer climate in the city. And he has argued that there is a direct correlation between the ethnicity of those stopped and those who commit crime in the city.

For instance, while 55 percent of stops in the first three months of this year involved black people, 66 percent of violent crimes involved suspects described as black, he said.

But others question such logic, arguing that there is no proof that the street stops have put a significant dent in crime, since the biggest drops in crime in recent years occurred before the practice mushroomed.

Jeffrey A. Fagan, a professor of law at Columbia University who has studied the numbers, contradicted Mr. Browne, noting that in 2009, blacks made up 15 percent of suspects in all crimes, and 32 percent of suspects in all violent crimes in New York. Yet, a suspect's race is known only 29 percent of the time.

The department "reports the data on suspect race only in cases where they know the race of the suspect, which leaves out 7 out of 10 crimes where the race of the suspect isn't reported by the police," he said.

The civil liberties group's suit, which seeks class-action status, names two individuals who represent the class. One, Daryl Khan, who is white, 35, a former Newsday reporter and a former freelance reporter for The New York Times, was stopped in October 2009 for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk in Brooklyn He got two violations - one for the bicycle and one for disorderly conduct - that were later dismissed, yet his name is presumably in the database, the suit claims.

The second plaintiff, Clive Lino, 29, who is black and works with special-needs children, said he had been stopped at least 13 times since 2008. At least some of those interactions led to summonses or violations that have since been dismissed or disposed of through a fine, and thus are "entirely sealable," said Christopher T. Dunn, the civil liberties group's associate legal director.


6) Teachers Facing Weakest Market in Years
May 19, 2010

PELHAM, N.Y. - In the month since Pelham Memorial High School in Westchester County advertised seven teaching jobs, it has been flooded with 3,010 applications from candidates as far away as California. The Port Washington District on Long Island is sorting through 3,620 applications for eight positions - the largest pool the superintendent has seen in his 41-year career.

Even hard-to-fill specialties are no longer so hard to fill. Jericho, N.Y., has 963 people to choose from for five spots in special education, more than twice as many as in past years. In Connecticut, chemistry and physics jobs in Hartford that normally attract no more than 5 candidates have 110 and 51, respectively.

The recession seems to have penetrated a profession long seen as recession-proof. Superintendents, education professors and people seeking work say teachers are facing the worst job market since the Great Depression. Amid state and local budget cuts, cash-poor urban districts like New York City and Los Angeles, which once hired thousands of young people every spring, have taken down the help-wanted signs.

Even upscale suburban districts are preparing for huge levels of layoffs. School officials and union leaders estimate that more than 150,000 teachers nationwide could lose their jobs next year, far more than any other time, including the last major financial crisis of the 1970s.

Juliana Pankow, who just graduated from Teachers College at Columbia University, has sent out 40 résumés since January. A few Saturdays ago, she went to a school in Harlem because she heard the principal would be there (she was invited back to teach a demonstration lesson, but it may be for naught since the city has a hiring freeze). Now, Ms. Pankow said she might have to move back in with her parents in Scarsdale, N.Y., and perhaps take up SAT tutoring.

"I can't think of anything else I'd rather do," said Ms. Pankow, 23, as she waited outside the principal's office at Pelham Memorial last week, among 619 people applying for one English position. "Which is a problem, because I might have to do something else."

At Teachers College, so many students like Ms. Pankow are looking for work that two recent job fairs attracted a record 650 students and alumni, up from 450 last year. Last month, the college added a job fair focusing on schools in Harlem.

But job postings are down by half this year, to one dozen to two dozen a week, mostly in charter schools, said Marianne Tramelli, the college's director of career services.

Charter schools, which are publicly financed but independently run, are practically the only ones hiring in New York and elsewhere because of growing enrollments amid expanding political and economic support for school choice. Even so, they do not have nearly enough jobs to go around.

In New York, where the Success Charter Network is hiring 135 teachers for its seven schools in Harlem and the Bronx, some of the 8,453 applicants have called the office three times a day to check on their status. Veteran teachers have also offered to work as assistant teachers.

"It's heartbreaking - there's much more desperation out there," said Eva S. Moskowitz, a former councilwoman who is the network's founder and chief executive.

KIPP, another charter school network with 82 schools nationwide, has received 745 applications since January at its seven schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, compared with 385 last year.

At the University of Pennsylvania, most of the 90 aspiring teachers who graduated last weekend are jobless. Many had counted on offers from the Philadelphia public schools but had their interviews canceled this month after the district announced a hiring freeze.

"We're trying to encourage everyone to hold on," said Kathy Schultz, an education professor at Penn. "But that's very difficult because students have taken out loans and want to be assured of a job."

Michigan State University has pushed its 500 teaching graduates to look out of state. As local jobs have dried up, it started an internship program in Chicago, a four-hour drive from campus. Professors now go with students to the annual campus job fair to make sure they do not hover around the Michigan tables, but walk over to, say, North Carolina, Texas or Virginia.

"We have a culture of people wanting to stay here and teach where they went to school, but we also want them to get jobs," said Suzanne Wilson, the chairwoman of the department of teacher education.

Along with five other former teachers, Jade Stier, 27, finally gave up and enrolled in a nursing program last fall, after three years of looking for an elementary school job. She sent out hundreds of résumés, only to land one interview a year. She settled for working as a substitute teacher, earning $85 a day with no benefits.

"Spending $50,000 for an education you can't use is really frustrating," Ms. Stier said. "I definitely miss teaching, but I felt like I had no other choice."

If there is an upside to the shortage of teaching jobs, it is that schools now have their pick of candidates.

Teach for America, which places graduates from some of the nation's top colleges in poor schools, has seen applications increase by nearly a third this year to 46,000 - for 4,500 slots. From Ivy League colleges alone, there are 1,688 would-be teachers.

Here in Pelham, a well-regarded district where teaching salaries range from $50,000 to $134,000, high school administrators and teachers have spent recent weeks winnowing applicants' résumés. Candidates with grade point averages below 3.0 were eliminated (3.3 in some departments), as were those who missed the April 30 application deadline. Almost 200 were invited for interviews.

"It's very difficult," said Jeannine Clark, the high school principal in Pelham. "More so than in years past because there are so many very qualified candidates."

While Ms. Clark and the English supervisor were meeting with prospective teachers last week, candidates for the social studies job were down the hallway typing a 40-minute timed essay on the French Revolution. Upstairs, interviews for physics and biology teachers were being conducted.

"People will come in here begging for anything," said Dennis R. Lauro Jr., the superintendent, who started closing his office door this year because out-of-work teachers would drop in unannounced to hand him résumés. "We've never seen these kinds of numbers before."

Top candidates will be asked to return several more times to meet with Dr. Lauro, parents and students and to teach a demonstration class.

Ms. Pankow is hoping she will be among them.

"It would be unbelievable," she said. "I would love it here, but I'm not necessarily putting all my eggs in this basket."


7) Arguing Three Strikes
May 17, 2010

One day last fall, Norman Williams sat drinking hot chocolate with his lawyer, Michael Romano, at a Peet's coffee in Palo Alto, Calif. At an outdoor table, Williams began to talk about how he'd gone from serving a life sentence at Folsom State Prison to sitting there in the sun. "After being shut down for so many years. I didn't believe it," he said of the judge's decision to release him in April 2009.

Williams, who is 46, was a homeless drug addict in 1997 when he was convicted of petty theft, for stealing a floor jack from a tow truck. It was the last step on his path to serving life. In 1982, Williams burglarized an apartment that was being fumigated: he was hapless enough to be robbed at gunpoint on his way out, and later he helped the police recover the stolen property. In 1992, he stole two hand drills and some other tools from an art studio attached to a house; the owner confronted him, and he dropped everything and fled. Still, for the theft of the floor jack, Williams was sentenced to life in prison under California's repeat-offender law: three strikes and you're out.

In 2000, three years after Williams went to prison, Steve Cooley became the district attorney for Los Angeles County. Cooley is a Republican career prosecutor, but he campaigned against the excesses of three strikes. "Fix it or lose it," he says of the law. In 2005, Cooley ordered a review of cases, to identify three-strikes inmates who had not committed violent crimes and whose life sentences a judge might deem worthy of second looks. His staff came up with a list of more than 60 names, including Norman Williams's.

Romano saw Cooley's list as an opportunity. After working as a criminal-defense lawyer at a San Francisco firm, he started a clinic at Stanford Law School in 2006 to appeal the life sentences of some three-strikes convicts. In search of clients at the outset, Romano and his students wrote to Williams at Folsom about the possibility of appealing his conviction. Most prisoners quickly follow up when the clinic offers free legal help. But Williams didn't write back. At Peet's, Williams said he'd been too nervous. "I didn't want to use the wrong words," he said.

"You were lucky you were at Folsom," Romano said. "It's only a couple of hours' drive from here. So we decided to come up and see you."

"Yeah, if not, I'd still be there, staring at the walls," Williams said. "Never had visitors before you came. I didn't know what the visiting room looked like."

IN 1994, the three-strikes ballot measure in California passed with 72 percent of the vote, after the searing murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas, who was kidnapped from her slumber party and murdered while her mother slept down the hall. When the killer turned out to be a violent offender recently granted parole, support surged for the three-strikes ballot initiative, which promised to keep "career criminals who rape women, molest children and commit murder behind bars where they belong."

The complete text of the bill swept far more broadly. Under California's version of three strikes, first and second strikes must be either violent or serious. These include crimes like murder, attempted murder, rape, child molestation and armed robbery. But in California, "serious" is a term of art that can also include crimes like Norman Williams's nonconfrontational burglaries. And after a second-strike conviction for such an offense, almost any infraction beyond jaywalking can trigger a third strike and the life sentence that goes with it. One of Romano's clients was sentenced to life for stealing a dollar in change from the coin box of a parked car.

California's repeat-offender law is unique in this stringency. Twenty-five other states have passed three-strikes laws, but only California punishes minor crimes with the penalty of a life sentence. About 3,700 prisoners in the state are serving life for a third strike that was neither violent nor serious, according to the legal definition. That's more than 40 percent of the total third-strike population of about 8,500. Technically, these offenders are eligible for parole after 20 years, but at the moment, the state parole board rarely releases any prisoner early.

In 2004, reformers put an initiative on the ballot, Proposition 66, that would have reduced the number of people going to prison for life by removing nonviolent property and drug offenses from the list of three-strikes crimes. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger attacked the ballot measure. He credited three strikes for a major drop in crime - to the frustration of most experts, who point out that California's dip began in 1991, well before three strikes passed, and ended in 2000. "The great weight of empirical studies discounts the role of three strikes in reducing crime," states a 2004 report signed by six criminal-law professors, including Franklin Zimring at U.C. Berkeley. Still, Prop 66 fell short, with 47 percent of the vote.

Now California is in the midst of fiscal calamity. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had been a judge in California, recently bemoaned state sentencing and spending on prisons. In an address at Pepperdine University, he said that "the three-strikes law sponsor is the correctional officers' union, and that is sick!" And yet Schwarzenegger has vowed not to touch the law. Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown, the leading Republican and Democratic contenders to succeed him in November, are just as unbending.

IF THERE'S A WAY to reform three strikes, it may follow Norman Williams's route out of prison. Michael Romano, who is 38, got his client released without opposition from the L.A. district attorney by forging a working relationship with Cooley's office. The 63-year-old Republican prosecutor seems an unlikely ally for a young defense lawyer. He joined the D.A.'s office straight out of law school. His office notched more death sentences last year than the state of Texas, and his lunchmates include Pete Wilson, the former governor who signed three strikes into law. Yet despite his conservative bona fides, Cooley shares the conviction that some number of third-strike offenders like Norman Williams don't belong in prison for life.

After three strikes became law, Cooley watched one of his colleagues in the D.A.'s office prosecute Gregory Taylor, a homeless man who at dawn one morning in 1997 went to a church where he'd often gotten meals and pried open the door to its food pantry. The priest later testified on his behalf. Taylor's first crime was a purse-snatching; his second was attempting to steal a wallet. He didn't hurt anyone. Taylor was sentenced to life. "It was almost one-upmanship, almost a game - bye-bye for life," Cooley says, remembering the attitude in the office.

Three years later, Cooley ran for D.A. on a platform of restrained three-strikes enforcement, calling the law "a necessary weapon, one that must be used with precision and not in a scatter-gun fashion." In office, he turned his critique into policy. The L.A. district attorney's office no longer seeks life sentences for offenders like Norman Williams or Gregory Taylor. The presumption is that prosecutors ask for a life sentence only if a third-strike crime is violent or serious. Petty thieves and most drug offenders are presumed to merit a double sentence, the penalty for a second strike, unless their previous record includes a hard-core crime like murder, armed robbery, sexual assault or possession of large quantities of drugs. During Cooley's first year in office, three-strikes convictions in Los Angeles County triggering life sentences dropped 39 percent. No other prosecutor's office in California has a written policy like Cooley's, though a couple of D.A.'s informally exercise similar discretion.

It's a mistake, though, to cast Cooley as a full-tilt reformer. He opposed Prop 66 for ignoring a defendant's criminal history. Instead, in 2006, he offered up his own bill, which tracked his policy as D.A., taking minor drug crimes and petty theft off the list of three-strikes offenses unless one of the first two strikes involved a crime that Cooley considers hard-core. For staking out even this middle ground, Cooley became prosecutor non grata among his fellow D.A.'s. No district attorney, not even the most liberal, supported his bill, and it died in Senate committee.

Cooley could once again pay a price for his three-strikes record. This spring, he announced his candidacy for California attorney general. His Republican rivals have hammered him for his moderate stance. "He's acting as an enabler for habitual offenders," State Senator Tom Harman told me. "I think that's wrong. I want to put them in prison." The race has developed into a litmus test: for 15 years, no serious candidate for major statewide office has dared to criticize three strikes. If Cooley makes it through his party's primary on June 8 - and especially if he goes on to win in November - the law will no longer seem untouchable. If he loses, three strikes will be all the more difficult to dislodge.

MICHAEL ROMANO has another, complementary strategy for changing the law. He has won victories for 13 three-strikes lifers in two years, 5 of them with the help of Cooley's office, and he sees that small number of victories as making a case for larger reform. (He was on a panel I moderated at Yale Law School last month.) While that may sound far-fetched, the tactic has worked before. Romano's boss, Lawrence Marshall, helped prove the innocence of 13 death-row inmates in Illinois in the late 1990s. His work set in motion a reassessment of the death penalty. A result was a statewide moratorium on executions that has held for a decade. "The hardest step is to get people's attention," says Marshall, associate dean for clinical education at Stanford. "And you can only get it with sympathetic cases."

Romano started thinking about three strikes when he clerked for Judge Richard Tallman on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 2004. One afternoon, Romano watched his boss and two other judges quickly dispense with routine matters. One of them was a three-strikes appeal. "This guy, Willie Joseph, was doing life for aiding and abetting a $5 sale of crack cocaine," Romano remembers. Legally speaking, his case for release was so weak that it took the judges "less than a few minutes" to reject the appeal.

And yet Willie Joseph's life sentence was effectively the same as the punishment imposed on the most vicious killers in California. While 694 convicted murderers sit on the state's death row, only 13 have been executed since the Supreme Court allowed for reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. The 3,700 nonviolent, nonserious three-strikers serving life in California outnumber the 3,263 death-row inmates nationwide.

By working with three-strikers, Romano is trying to highlight the plight of criminals he sees as more pathetic than heinous. "I think about explaining to my kids what I do, and I see no moral ambiguity," Romano says about his work. Capital defendants, of course, deserve representation, he explains. "But there are other lives to be saved, of people who haven't done horrible things, who haven't actually hurt anyone."

In practical terms, Romano points out, the difference between being convicted of capital murder and a small-time third strike is this: a murderer is entitled to a far greater share of legal resources. California spends at least $300,000 on the defense side of a capital murder trial. The courts give extra scrutiny to each capital appeal that comes before them. And it's only in death-penalty cases that the state pays lawyers to file a writ of habeas corpus, the route to challenging a conviction once direct appeal has been exhausted.

A three-strikes case, by contrast, is just one more file in the stack on a public defender's desk and a judge's docket. Romano has a client whose appellate lawyer cut and pasted into her brief for him the more serious criminal history of another man - incorrectly telling the judges that her client was far more violent when he actually was.

In court, Romano and his students don't simply argue that their clients are minor offenders who don't deserve to spend the rest of their lives in prison. That route to release is mostly blocked by the Supreme Court's twin rulings on three strikes. In 2003, the justices voted 5-4 to reject the argument that three strikes violates the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel-and-unusual punishment. Because of criminal histories, the high court let stand the life sentences for Leandro Andrade, convicted of a third strike when he shoplifted videotapes from two Kmarts, and Gary Ewing, who walked out of a store with three golf clubs in a leg of his pants.

But the California Supreme Court has left open a different route to appeal. In 1998, the court told trial judges who were weighing a bid for leniency at sentencing after a three-strikes conviction that they could consider whether a defendant's "background, character and prospects" place him outside the "spirit" of three strikes.

Romano argues that, as in capital cases, his clients deserve to ask for lesser sentences based on "mitigating evidence" - often of child abuse, mental illness or mental retardation. Romano's students track down clients' old files, ask about their childhoods and pry confirmation out of family members. From Norman Williams's juvenile files and probation reports, Romano's students pieced together a story of unbroken woe. The 8th of 12 children, Williams grew up with a mother who was a binge drinker. She pimped out Williams and his brothers to men she knew. A social worker wrote, "These men paid the boys money to perform anal intercourse on the boys and they . . . gave the money to their mother for wine." As an adult, Williams became a cocaine addict and lived on the streets of Long Beach.

Romano's students laid out this mitigating evidence, which hadn't been introduced at trial, in a 56-page habeas brief before the state court in Long Beach last year. They got back a one-sentence order denying their claim.

Frustrated, Romano took the habeas petition to one of Cooley's deputies, Brentford Ferreira. Would he agree that after 12 years in prison, Williams had done enough time? Would he say so to the judge?

Ferreira, a 24-year veteran prosecutor, fired back with questions of his own. "I said, O.K., what you've really shown me is that all this guy knows how to do is steal," he remembers. "So why should I let him out? What are you going to do for him?" Romano knew that Ferreira was right. If just one of his clients got out and hurt someone the whole project would look menacing rather than crusading. Defense lawyers don't usually act like social workers, but it was vital for Romano and his students to come up with a plan and a home for Williams, from the moment he walked out of Folsom.

Romano's efforts to help Williams succeed on the outside led him to Eileen Richardson. Once the C.E.O. of Napster, she now runs a $500,000 program, the Downtown Streets Team, which contracts with the city of Palo Alto and local nonprofits to provide janitorial services. The work is done by former offenders and homeless people. Richardson pays them in rent subsidies and Safeway and Wal-Mart gift cards. They attend a weekly support meeting and wear different colored T-shirts as they move up a "ladder of success."

With Richardson's promise to give Williams a try, Romano persuaded Ferreira to go with him to see the judge in Long Beach. The prosecutor's support made the difference: Williams was resentenced to time served. Shortly after he left Folsom a year ago, he started on the Streets Team mopping and waxing the floors of a local shelter. Richardson says Williams hasn't missed a day of work since.

IF STEVE COOLEY wins the Republican primary for attorney general, on almost every issue - most visibly the death penalty - he'll run to the right of his probable Democratic opponent, the San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris. But on three strikes, Cooley will run to Harris's left. (She didn't support his 2006 proposal, though she is one of the prosecutors who, on a case-by-case basis, refrains from seeking a life sentence for some nonviolent three-strikers.) It's a reminder of how far the prosecution of Gregory Taylor, the homeless man who broke into the church, has taken Cooley from the expected comfort zone of a prosecutor.

Cooley is couching his support for amending three strikes statewide more carefully during campaign season. "Any changes to the three-strikes law will have to be in the context of overall prison reform," he told me in March. At the same time, Romano and Families to Amend California's Three Strikes, the group that fought for Proposition 66, are increasingly interested in using Cooley's Los Angeles policy as the basis for a new statewide reform effort in 2012, because it suggests a way to reserve life sentences for the three-strikers who have committed crimes of violence.

Between 2001 and 2008, the Los Angeles D.A.'s office automatically sought life sentences for about 5,400 repeat offenders whose third strike was violent or serious. The office also screened 13,900 cases in which the third strike crime was neither violent nor serious, to find out whether the defendant had a past record of hard-core crimes. During these years, prosecutors asked for life in only 25 percent of these cases. The other 75 percent are the nonviolent three-strikers whom the law could safely be amended to spare, Romano argues. "Those are the folks who shouldn't be doing life," he says. If Cooley becomes attorney general, he'd have more clout to put behind a 2012 reform initiative, if he chose to.

Norman Williams will soon move into his own apartment in Palo Alto. None of the other clients for whom the Stanford clinic has won release have gotten in trouble. And Romano and his students recently started representing Gregory Taylor, who is still serving life in San Luis Obispo prison.

he's out In an online video, Norman Williams talks about being released from prison after being sentenced to life.

Emily Bazelon, a contributing writer, is a senior editor at Slate and the Truman Capote law-and-media fellow at Yale Law School.


8) Conflict of Interest Worries Raised in Spill Tests
May 20, 2010

Local environmental officials throughout the Gulf Coast are feverishly collecting water, sediment and marine animal tissue samples that will be used in the coming months to help track pollution levels resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, since those readings will be used by the federal government and courts to establish liability claims against BP. But the laboratory that officials have chosen to process virtually all of the samples is part of an oil and gas services company in Texas that counts oil firms, including BP, among its biggest clients.

Some people are questioning the independence of the Texas lab. Taylor Kirschenfeld, an environmental official for Escambia County, Fla., rebuffed instructions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to send water samples to the lab, which is based at TDI-Brooks International in College Station, Tex. He opted instead to get a waiver so he could send his county's samples to a local laboratory that is licensed to do the same tests.

Mr. Kirschenfeld said he was also troubled by another rule. Local animal rescue workers have volunteered to help treat birds affected by the slick and to collect data that would also be used to help calculate penalties for the spill. But federal officials have told the volunteers that the work must be done by a company hired by BP.

"Everywhere you look, if you look, you start seeing these conflicts of interest in how this disaster is getting handled," Mr. Kirschenfeld said. "I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but there is just too much overlap between these people."

The deadly explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig last month has drawn attention to the ties between regulators and the oil and gas industry. Last week, President Obama said he intended to end their "cozy relationship," partly by separating the safety function of regulators from their role in permitting drilling and collecting royalties. "That way, there's no conflict of interest, real or perceived," he said.

Critics say a "revolving door" between industry and government is another area of concern. As one example, they point to the deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management at the Interior Department, Sylvia V. Baca, who helps oversee the Minerals Management Service, which regulates offshore drilling

She came to that post after eight years at BP, in a variety of senior positions, ranging from a focus on environmental initiatives to developing health, safety and emergency response programs. She also served in the Interior Department in the Clinton administration.

Under Interior Department conflict-of-interest rules, she is prohibited from playing any role in decisions involving BP, including the response to the crisis in the gulf. But her position gives her some responsibility for overseeing oil and gas, mining and renewable energy operations on public and Indian lands.

Officials in part of what will remain of the Minerals Management Service, after a major reorganization spurred by the events in the gulf, will continue to report to her.

"When you see more examples of this revolving door between industry and these regulatory agencies, the problem is that it raises questions as to whose interests are being served," said Mandy Smithberger, an investigator with the nonprofit watchdog group Project on Government Oversight.

Interior officials declined to make Ms. Baca available for comment. A spokeswoman said Ms. Baca fully disclosed her BP ties, recused herself from all matters involving the company and was not currently involved in any offshore drilling policy decisions.

Patrick A. Parenteau, a professor at Vermont Law School, said that concerns about conflicts of interest in the cleanup are cropping up for reasons beyond examples of coziness between the industry and regulators.

He noted that because of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which was passed after the Exxon Valdez spill, polluters must take more of a role in cleanups.

"I do think the law brings the polluter into the process, and that creates complications," Professor Parenteau said. "That doesn't mean, however, that the government has to exit the process or relinquish control over decision-making, like it may be in this case."

Dismissing concerns about conflicts of interest at his lab, James M. Brooks, the president and chief executive of TDI-Brooks International, said his company was chosen because of its prior work for the federal government.

"It is a nonbiased process," he said. "We give them the results, and they can have their lawyers argue over what the results mean." He added that federal officials and BP were working together and sharing the test results.

Federal officials say that they remain in control and that the concerns about any potential conflicts are overblown.

Douglas Zimmer, a spokesman for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency simply did not have the staff to handle all the animals affected by the oil spill. BP has more resources to hire workers quickly, he said, and letting local organizations handle the birds would have been impractical and costly.

"I also just don't believe that BP or their contractor would have any incentive to skew the data," he said. "Even if they did, there are too many federal, state and local eyes keeping watch on them."

But Stuart Smith, a lawyer representing fishermen hurt by the spill, remained skeptical, saying that federal and state authorities had not fulfilled their watchdog role.

Last month, for example, various state and federal Web sites included links that directed out-of-work fishermen to a BP Web site, which offered contracts that limited their right to file future claims against the company.

This month, a federal judge in New Orleans, Helen G. Berrigan, struck down that binding language in the contracts.

Collaboration between industry and regulators extends to how information about the spill is disseminated by a public affairs operation called the Joint Information Center.

The center, in a Shell-owned training and conference center in Robert, La., includes roughly 65 employees, 10 of whom work for BP. Together, they develop and issue news releases and coordinate posts on Facebook and Twitter.

"They have input into it; however, it is a unified effort," said Senior Chief Petty Officer Steve Carleton, explaining BP's role in the shared command structure.

He said such coordination in oil spill responses was mandated under federal law.

But even if collaboration were not required, Mr. Zimmer said, it would be prudent because federal and state authorities could only gain from BP's expertise and equipment.

"Our priority has been to address the spill quickly and most effectively, and that requires working with BP - not in some needlessly adversarial way," he said.

In deciding where to send their water, sediment and tissue samples, state environmental officials in Florida and Louisiana said NOAA instructed them to send them to BB Laboratories, which is run by TDI-Brooks.

Though Florida has its own state laboratory that is certified to analyze the same data, Amy Graham, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection there, said the state was sending samples to B & B "in an effort to ensure consistency and quality assurance."

Scott Smullen, a spokesman for NOAA, said that two other labs, Alpha Analytics and Columbia Analytical Services, had also been contracted, but officials at those labs said B & B was taking the lead role and receiving virtually all of the samples.

The samples being collected are part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, which is the federal process for determining the extent of damage caused by a spill, the amount of money owed and how it should be spent to restore the environment.

The samples are also likely to be used in the civil suits - worth hundreds of millions of dollars - filed against the companies and possibly the federal government.

While TDI-Brooks and B & B have done extensive work for federal agencies like NOAA and the E.P.A., TDI-Brooks is also described by one industry partner on its Web site as being "widely acknowledged as the world leader in offshore oil and gas field exploration services."

The Web site says that since 1996, it has "collected nearly 10,000 deep-water piston core sediment samples and heat flow stations for every major oil company."

Hundreds of millions of dollars are also likely at stake in relation to the oil-slicked animals that are expected to wash ashore in coming weeks.

While Fish and Wildlife Service officials say that BP's contractor will handle virtually all of the wildlife and compile data about how many - and how extensively - animals were affected by the spill, they add that they will oversee the process.

The data collected will likely form the basis for penalties against BP relating to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In the case of the Exxon Valdez spill, Exxon was fined more than $100 million, partly for violations of that federal law.

John M. Broder, Andrew W. Lehren and Michael Luo contributed reporting.


9) Student Protests Tie Up Campuses in Puerto Rico
"The territory is grappling with a huge budget deficit and an unemployment rate of 16 percent....They [the striking students] have received support from union leaders, writers and performers, including the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano and the Puerto Rican musician Ricky Martin, who posted a supportive message on Twitter."
May 20, 2010

SAN JUAN, P.R. - The seven entry gates on the largest campus of the University of Puerto Rico system remained chained shut on Thursday. Beyond improvised barricades were hundreds of students in makeshift camps, some with portable showers and stoves, hardly engaged in the typical college springtime routine of studying for final exams and preparing for graduation.

The students here have hunkered down, bringing the academic calendar to a halt. They are a month into a strike that has crippled an 11-campus system with more than 62,000 students, intent on persuading the administration to revoke austerity measures that they believe will unfairly hamper low-income students. Only one campus, for medical sciences, is operational.

The Río Piedras campus here in the capital has been closed since the strike began on April 21. When the students locked the gates, a confrontation with the police ensued, and university officials later decided to shut down the school. The territory is grappling with a huge budget deficit and an unemployment rate of 16 percent. The strike is the latest, most contentious protest against Gov. Luis G. Fortuño, a Republican elected in 2008. Thousands of union members rallied against planned layoffs by the government in a national protest last October.

As the university system announced budget cuts, students demanded an alternative and a greater transparency for university finances. One point of tension is funding for music, athletics and honors scholarships for students who also have federal grants.

"We understand this is social marginalization and discrimination against the people with less resources," said Fernando Espinal, a law school graduate and former president of the student council.

University officials did not respond to requests for interviews.

Many public universities in the United States have faced tuition increases and cuts in funding because of states' financial problems. In March, thousands of students and faculty members protested at the University of California.

But the strike in Puerto Rico has continued for weeks and grown increasingly tense, with reports of the police preventing the students from receiving supplies, food and water last weekend.

The fiscal crisis set up the conditions for the student strike, said Miguel Soto-Class, executive director of the Center for a New Economy, an independent research organization here.

"The University of Puerto Rico is receiving a significant amount less than it has received in the past," he said. "It has forced the administration to undertake some cost-cutting measures that have not been popular with the students and some of the staff."

Mr. Fortuño has encouraged both sides to work together to reach a solution, a spokesman said.

The governor said in an e-mail interview: "It is unfortunate that a minuscule group of students, that do not represent the vast majority of university students, have decided to take matters in their own hands and closed the university gates, thus precluding the vast majority of students to continue their studies, the teachers to impart their classes and the researchers to continue their research projects."

The protesters spend their time reading and using computers with wireless Internet access to spread the word about the strike. They have received support from union leaders, writers and performers, including the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano and the Puerto Rican musician Ricky Martin, who posted a supportive message on Twitter.

After negotiations between the administration and students fell apart on Thursday, Aura Colón Solá, a member of the university's law school action committee, said she was prepared to continue the strike for several more months. She said she was upset that university officials had sued some student leaders to try to end the strike.

"You do not sue students if you really intend to negotiate," she said. "It is ridiculous. They would have to sue the 200 students in here and the thousands that voted in favor of this."

Maritza Stanchich, an English professor at the Río Piedras campus who supports the strike, said many professors viewed the strike as a "teachable moment" to show the students how to stand up for themselves.

"It has been an enormous disruption," she said, "but it's meant to be that way to force the administration to negotiate."

Students said the administration tried to end the strike through a court injunction, but public backlash intensified and Mr. Fortuño revoked the court order after three days. This week, the police chief ordered a reduction of the police presence.

On Thursday, the mood was calm at the main gate, where about 20 police officers stood guard. A large sign on the fence read "You may cut all the flowers, but will never eradicate spring."


10) Texas Approves Textbook Changes
May 22, 2010

AUSTIN, Tex., (AP) - The State Board of Education on Friday adopted new social studies and history guidelines with a conservative bent for Texas primary school classrooms.

The standards lay out how political events and figures will be taught to about 4.8 million schoolchildren in Texas and beyond for the next decade. They were adopted after a final showdown by two 9-to-5 votes along party lines, after Democrats' and moderate Republicans' efforts to delay a final vote failed.

The standards, which have prompted national debate, will be used by publishers who often develop materials for other states based on those passed in Texas.


11) "Shock Force" Riot Police Assault Students and Workers
Puerto Rico: Beatings at the Sheraton
From our correspondent
The Internationalist
May 20, 2010

SAN JUAN, May 20 - This evening, there was a picket of several hundred students of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) and workers from a number of sectors, including port workers, university professors and many others. The picket was held in front of a fancy fundraising dinner for businessmen where Governor Luis Fortuño was to give a speech.

When several dozen students entered the luxurious restaurant of the Sheraton Hotel in the Convention Center where the event was being held and tried to go up to where the privatizing, anti-worker governor was scheduled to speak, the notorious Fuerza de Choque (Shock Force) riot squad of the Puerto Rican Police poured in and savagely beat the students, spraying pepper gas in their faces and in some cases directly into their eyes.

The Shock Force brutally beat many students, as well as some older ladies. When the students managed to escape, the police took off after them and charged into the workers who were still picketing the hotel. This militarized police force also fired off large amounts of tear gas, to the point that a cloud of gas hung over the area.

The police also beat and pepper-sprayed a number of union leaders in the face, among them the president of the UGT (General Workers Union), Manuel Perfecto, a representative of the Puerto Rican Labor Federation (FTPR), John Viguera, as well as the president of the Solidarity Union Movement (MSS), José Rodríguez.

Perfecto estimated that more than 25 people were injured. "They threw them on the ground, they kicked them and beat them with riot sticks," he told Primera Hora, one of the leading San Juan daily newspapers. The president of the FCT (Central Labor Federation) Luisa Acevedo was beaten in the back, and José Rodríguez Báez, president of the FTPR, was also injured. Both were taken to the hospital, according to the UGT leader. Several demonstrators were arrested.

A student from the UPR Humanities Department, Mariana Lima, told our reporter: "We came here to demonstrate because the universities are closed in protest over privatization. Governor Fortuño held a tea party here in the Sheraton Hotel, charging $1,000 a plate. One thousand dollars is what my education costs, in a public university! They want to take away our scholarships. They beat us with riot clubs. They tear-gassed us. They sprayed pepper gas right in my face."

An airport worker who is a member of the HEO (Brotherhood of Office Workers) of the port authority, Jesús, said: "We're here because we're fighting against privatization of the ports, of the UPR and the rest. We have to keep on fighting against these outrages by the police and the government."

Gilberto, another port worker who handles heavy machinery, said: "The police provoked this incident and they were ruthless. We're here partly because Law 7 affects us indirectly. We don't want them to privatize us like they did with the Puerto Rican Telephone Company" (in 1998). We have to show that we are united, students and workers."

(Law 7, introduced by the governor and rammed through the legislature last year, authorizes the government, in the name of the economic crisis, to lay off public employees despite union contracts. It also changed the financing formula for the University of Puerto Rico, leading to the budget deficit that is now being used to justify the elimination of tuition waivers and other measures against the students.)

Another student, from Social Sciences, said: "They were beating us with riot clubs, especially in the back, affecting people's disks." A Social Work student, Joel, who uses a wheel chair, gave a speech on the corner were a number of students and workers managed to regroup after the police assault. He said: "People should stay militant to the end. We have to keep on fighting. I'm glad we spoiled Fortuño's party."

At this moment (9 p.m.), there is a picket line in front of the main entrance to the UPR campus in Río Piedras (in metropolitan San Juan) where students and workers are chanting, "Struggle yes, sellout no!" They are also singing a famous anthem of the workers movement that goes back decades. Along with indignation, they are showing their determination to continue this fight, which is shaking up bourgeois public opinion as well as important sectors of the working class. It is this class that has the power to defeat the increasingly brazen and brutal attacks by the bourgeois government.

We must not allow the ruling class and its rabid guard dogs to attack labor leaders and student activists with impunity for coming out in defense of the struggle against privatization. The strike this Tuesday (May 18), where thousands of workers joined with students and professors in front of the Río Piedras campuses and at UPR campuses around the island, shows that the working class of this country is vitally interested in defending public education, along with the fight against layoffs, Law 7 and other attacks by the bourgeoisie. It is urgently necessary to carry out powerful strikes to shut down key sectors of the economy and to multiply solidarity protests internationally.


12) More Than Just an Oil Spill
May 21, 2010

Hopedale, La.

The warm, soft winds coming in off the gulf have lost their power to soothe. Anxiety is king now - all along the coast.

"You can't sleep no more; that's how bad it is," said John Blanchard, an oyster fisherman whose life has been upended by the monstrous oil spill fouling an enormous swath of the Gulf of Mexico. He shook his head. "My wife and I have got two kids, 2 and 7. We could lose everything we've been working all of our lives for."

I was standing on a gently rocking oyster boat with Mr. Blanchard and several other veteran fishermen who still seemed stunned by the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. Instead of harvesting oysters, they were out on the water distributing oil retention booms and doing whatever else they could to bolster the coastline's meager defenses against the oil making its way ominously and relentlessly, like an invading army, toward the area's delicate and heartbreakingly vulnerable wetlands.

A fisherman named Donny Campo tried to hide his anger with wisecracks, but it didn't work. "They put us out of work, and now we're cleaning up their mess," he said. "Yeah, I'm mad. Some of us have been at this for generations. I'm 46 years old and my son - he's graduating from high school this week - he was already fishing oysters. There's a whole way of life at risk here."

The risks unleashed by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig are profound - the latest to be set in motion by the scandalous, rapacious greed of the oil industry and its powerful allies and enablers in government. America is selling its soul for oil.

The vast, sprawling coastal marshes of Louisiana, where the Mississippi River drains into the gulf, are among the finest natural resources to be found anywhere in the world. And they are a positively crucial resource for America. Think shrimp estuaries and bird rookeries and oyster fishing grounds.

These wetlands are one of the nation's most abundant sources of seafood. And they are indispensable when it comes to the nation's bird population. Most of the migratory ducks and geese in the United States spend time in the Louisiana wetlands as they travel to and from Latin America.

Think songbirds. Paul Harrison, a specialist on the Mississippi River and its environs at the Environmental Defense Fund, told me that the wetlands are relied on by all 110 neo-tropical migratory songbird species. The migrating season for these beautiful, delicate creatures is right now - as many as 25 million can pass through the area each day.

Already the oil from the nightmare brought to us by BP is making its way into these wetlands, into this natural paradise that belongs not just to the people of Louisiana but to all Americans. Oil is showing up along dozens of miles of the Louisiana coast, including the beaches of Grand Isle, which were ordered closed to the public.

The response of the Obama administration and the general public to this latest outrage at the hands of a giant, politically connected corporation has been embarrassingly tepid. We take our whippings in stride in this country. We behave as though there is nothing we can do about it.

The fact that 11 human beings were killed in the Deepwater Horizon explosion (their bodies never found) has become, at best, an afterthought. BP counts its profits in the billions, and, therefore, it's important. The 11 men working on the rig were no more important in the current American scheme of things than the oystermen losing their livelihoods along the gulf, or the wildlife doomed to die in an environment fouled by BP's oil, or the waters that will be left unfit for ordinary families to swim and boat in.

This is the bitter reality of the American present, a period in which big business has cemented an unholy alliance with big government against the interests of ordinary Americans, who, of course, are the great majority of Americans. The great majority of Americans no longer matter.

No one knows how much of BP's runaway oil will contaminate the gulf coast's marshes and lakes and bayous and canals, destroying wildlife and fauna - and ruining the hopes and dreams of countless human families. What is known is that whatever oil gets in will be next to impossible to get out. It gets into the soil and the water and the plant life and can't be scraped off the way you might be able to scrape the oil off of a beach.

It permeates and undermines the ecosystem in much the same way that big corporations have permeated and undermined our political system, with similarly devastating results.

Gail Collins is off today.


13) The Measure of a Disaster
May 21, 2010

ON Thursday, BP was finally forced to acknowledge that far more oil is escaping from its damaged well into the Gulf of Mexico than the oft-repeated estimate of 5,000 barrels per day. Nonetheless, the company still insists that an accurate measurement of the spill rate is neither necessary, as it would do nothing to alter their response efforts, nor is it possible with existing science.

It is our view that accurate, continuously updated measurements are not only possible, but absolutely essential if we are to respond effectively to this and future disasters. That is why we are conducting satellite image analysis and image-based fluid-flow analysis to provide an independent assessment of the oil spill.

For example, the siphon tube inserted into the damaged pipe on Monday is reported to be recovering 5,000 barrels per day, but large and unknown quantities of oil are still escaping. BP is also planning to try a procedure called a "top kill," in which heavy fluids and drilling cements are to be injected into the valve, but that move would likely provide only partial relief.

Without knowing the flow's true magnitude, how can anyone judge the success of any approach? Without determining how much oil is beneath the ocean's surface and how much is floating toward land, how can we best direct response efforts?

There are, in fact, at least two ways to measure the rate of the spill. The first method uses computer image analysis of satellite photos and data to measure the spread and thickness of oil on the ocean surface.

This oil spill is said to be mostly "sheen," which means a layer less than one-three-thousandth the thickness of a hair, visible only because it causes mirror-like reflection of light or radar energy. Yet photos show that most of this sheen contains patches of "rainbow" or "dark" oil, which are tens to thousands of times thicker.

These darker patches can represent more than 90 percent of a spill's total volume in less than 10 percent of its area. Remote sensing images examined by two of us have consistently indicated that at least 26,500 barrels of oil have been reaching the surface each day.

The second method is to measure flow rates at the site of discharge. On May 12, BP released a single, 30-second video clip that showed oil and gas gushing from a broken pipe. The company claimed that no one looking at it would be able to estimate accurately how much oil was escaping.

However, there are well-established methods for measuring flow using optical image analysis. Working independently, two of us, using computational methods for fluid-parcel tracking to obtain the velocity of objects moving through the video frame, made estimates with median values of 60,000 to 75,000 barrels per day.

Because the video released was of poor quality, and information regarding the imaged scene is sparse, the uncertainties in these measurements are large. There is a second leak point on the top of the failed valve stack known as the blow-out preventer. Video of this leak, along with a live feed of the original leak that BP has finally made available, is under analysis, but will only increase the estimate of the total flow escaping.

It is not surprising that seafloor release estimates are two to three times higher than what remote sensing of surface oil would indicate. Application of dispersants, dissolution into the water and evaporation into the air potentially remove significant fractions of the surface oil - although much of the oil could remain below the surface. And because the oil is escaping in jets at very high pressure, it is broken into tiny droplets, which aren't likely to float to the surface and may form layers thousands of feet underwater.

At present, publicly known evidence for deep oil plumes consists of measured profiles of ocean color and oxygen concentration. The profiles show multiple, distinct layers 150 feet thick at depths from 3,000 to 4,000 feet. Hydrocarbon analysis that would confirm that oil caused these layers has not been released.

Taking all this into account, our preliminary estimates indicate that the discharge is at least 40,000 barrels per day and could be as much as 100,000 barrels. Certainly, our assessments suggest that BP's stated worst-case estimate of 60,000 barrels has been occurring all along. What matters most is that we take the steps to find out if it has.

Starting now, BP and the government must begin using the best possible means to measure this spill, while preserving all records of events. On the ocean floor, we recommend acoustic velocimeters, high-rate video cameras and imaging sonar. For the underwater oil, sonobuoys could detect layers of oil, and undersea gliders could follow them autonomously. On the surface, military drone aircraft could find and track patches of oil headed for shore as well as conduct surveillance over this now gigantic spill. Like the methods we have used, these are all readily available solutions.

No surgeon in an operating room would neglect an unvarnished assessment of a bleeding patient. In this disaster, an accurate measurement of the oil spill is no less important.

Ian R. MacDonald is a professor of oceanography at Florida State University. John Amos is the president of SkyTruth, which uses satellite images to monitor environmental problems. Timothy Crone is a research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Steve Wereley is a professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University.


14) Crisis Imperils Liberal Benefits Long Expected by Europeans
May 22, 2010

PARIS - Across Western Europe, the "lifestyle superpower," the assumptions and gains of a lifetime are suddenly in doubt. The deficit crisis that threatens the euro has also undermined the sustainability of the European standard of social welfare, built by left-leaning governments since the end of World War II.

Europeans have boasted about their social model, with its generous vacations and early retirements, its national health care systems and extensive welfare benefits, contrasting it with the comparative harshness of American capitalism.

Europeans have benefited from low military spending, protected by NATO and the American nuclear umbrella. They have also translated higher taxes into a cradle-to-grave safety net. "The Europe that protects" is a slogan of the European Union.

But all over Europe governments with big budgets, falling tax revenues and aging populations are experiencing climbing deficits, with more bad news ahead.

With low growth, low birthrates and longer life expectancies, Europe can no longer afford its comfortable lifestyle, at least not without a period of austerity and significant changes. The countries are trying to reassure investors by cutting salaries, raising legal retirement ages, increasing working hours and reducing health benefits and pensions.

"We're now in rescue mode," said Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister and a former prime minister. "But we need to transition to the reform mode very soon. The 'reform deficit' is the real problem," he said, pointing to the need for structural change.

The reaction so far to government efforts to cut spending has been pessimism and anger, with an understanding that the current system is unsustainable.

In Athens, Aris Iordanidis, 25, an economics graduate working in a bookstore, resents paying high taxes to finance Greece's bloated state sector and its employees. "They sit there for years drinking coffee and chatting on the telephone and then retire at 50 with nice fat pensions," he said. "As for us, the way things are going we'll have to work until we're 70."

In Rome, Aldo Cimaglia is 52 and teaches photography, and he is deeply pessimistic about his pension. "It's going to go belly-up because no one will be around to fill the pension coffers," he said. "It's not just me - this country has no future."

Changes that would have been required in any case have now become urgent. Europe's population is aging quickly as birthrates decline. Unemployment has risen as traditional industries have shifted to Asia. And the region generally lacks competitiveness in world markets.

According to the European Commission, by 2050 the percentage of Europeans older than 65 will nearly double. In the 1950s there were seven workers for every retiree in advanced economies. By 2050, the ratio in the European Union will drop to 1.3 to 1.

"The easy days are over for countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain, but for us, too," said Laurent Cohen-Tanugi, a French lawyer who did a study of Europe in the global economy for the French government. "A lot of Europeans would not like the issue cast in these terms, but that is the storm we're facing. We can no longer afford the old social model."

In Paris, Malka Braniste, 88, lives on the pension of her deceased husband, who sold household linens. "I'm worried for the next generations," she said, having lunch with her daughter-in-law, Dominique Alcan. "People who don't put money aside won't get anything."

Ms. Alcan, 49, is a traveling saleswoman. "I'll have to work longer," she said. "But I'm afraid I'll never reach the same level of comfort. I won't be able to do my job at 63; being a saleswoman requires a lot of energy."

Gustave Brun d'Arre, 18, is still in high school. "The only thing we're told is that we will have to pay for the others," he said, sipping a beer at a cafe. The waiter interrupted, discussing plans to alter the French pension system. "It will be a mess," the waiter said. "We'll have to work harder and longer in our jobs."

Figures show the severity of the problem. Gross public social expenditures across the European Union increased from 16 percent of gross domestic product in 1980 to 21 percent in 2005, compared with 15.9 percent in the United States. In France, the current figure is 31 percent, the highest in Europe, with state pensions representing more than 44 percent of the total and health care, 30 percent.

The challenge is particularly daunting in France, which has done less to reduce the state's obligations than some of its neighbors. In Sweden and Switzerland, 7 of 10 people work past the age of 50. In France, only half do. The legal retirement age in France is 60, while Germany recently raised the age to 67 from 65 for those born after 1963.

With the retirement of the baby boomers, the number of pensioners will rise 47 percent in France between now and 2050, while the number under 60 will remain stagnant. The French call it "du baby boom au papy boom," and the costs, if unchanged, are unsustainable. The French state pension system today is running a deficit of 11 billion euros, or about $13.8 billion; by 2050, it will be 103 billion euros, or $129.5 billion, about 2.6 percent of projected economic output.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to pass major pension reform this year. There have been two contentious overhauls, in 2003 and 2008; the government, afraid to lower pensions, wants to increase taxes on high salaries and increase the years of work.

But the unions are unhappy, the Socialist Party opposes raising the retirement age and polls show that while most French think a pension overhaul is necessary, up to 60 percent think working past 60 is not the answer.

Jean-François Copé is the parliamentary leader for Mr. Sarkozy's center-right party, and he says that change is painful, but necessary. "The point is to preserve our model and keep it," he said, while acknowledging that the word "austerity" has become politically sensitive. "We need to get rid of bad habits. The Germans did it, and we can do the same."

More broadly, many across Europe say the Continent will have to adapt to fiscal and demographic change, because social peace depends on it. "Europe won't work without that," said Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister, referring to the state's protective role. "In Europe we have nationalism and racism in a politicized manner, and those parties would have exploited grievances if not for our welfare state," he said. "It's a matter of national security, of our democracy."

France will ultimately have to follow Sweden and Germany in raising the pension age, he argues. "This will have to be harmonized, Europeanized, or it won't work - you can't have a pension at 67 here and 55 in Greece," Mr. Fischer said.

The problems are even more acute in the "new democracies" of the euro zone - Greece, Portugal and Spain - that embraced European democratic ideals and that Europe embraced for political reasons in the postwar era, perhaps before their economies were ready. They have built lavish state systems on the back of the euro, but now must change.

Under threat of default, Greece has frozen pensions for three years and drafted a bill to raise the legal retirement age to 65. Greece froze public-sector pay and trimmed benefits for state employees, including a bonus two months of salary. Portugal has cut 5 percent from the salaries of senior public employees and politicians and increased taxes, while canceling big projects; Spain is cutting civil service salaries by 5 percent and freezing pay in 2011 while also chopping public projects.

But all three countries need to do more to bolster their competitiveness and growth, mostly by making structural changes to deeply inflexible employment rules, which can make it prohibitively expensive to hire or fire staff members, keeping unemployment high.

Jean-Claude Meunier is 68, a retired French Navy official and headhunter, who plays bridge three times a week to "train my memory and avoid Alzheimer's." His main worry is pension. "For years, our political leaders acted with very little courage," he said. "Pensions represent the failure of the leaders and the failure of the system."

In Athens, Mr. Iordanidis, the economics graduate who makes 800 euros a month in a bookstore, said he saw one possible upside. "It could be a chance to overhaul the whole rancid system," he said, "and create a state that actually works."

Reporting was contributed by Maïa de la Baume and Scott Sayre from Paris, Niki Kitsantonis from Athens, and Elisabetta Povoledo from Rome.


15) Tragedy in Detroit, With a Reality TV Crew in Tow
May 21, 2010

DETROIT - The house where Aiyana Stanley-Jones lived on the East Side here is quiet now, a makeshift memorial of teddy bears and balloons on the porch where the police lobbed a stun grenade through the front window last Sunday. They were looking for a 34-year-old homicide suspect.

But Aiyana, 7, asleep for the night on a sofa under the window, died from a bullet to the neck.

"Soon as they hit the window, I hit the floor and went to reach for my granddaughter," said a distraught Mertilla Jones at a news conference after Aiyana's death. "I seen the light leave out her eyes. I knew she was dead. She had blood coming out of her mouth. Lord Jesus, I ain't never seen nothing like that in my life."

But there is a good possibility that others eventually will see it: On that chaotic night, the Detroit police were being shadowed by a camera crew from a reality television show, "The First 48," on the A&E cable network. And even if the night's macabre events are never shown on television, they will almost certainly be viewed in a courtroom, since Aiyana's family has filed suit against the Detroit Police Department, alleging gross negligence.

Even in Detroit, where deadly violence can seem routine, Aiyana's killing has transfixed the city, leaving many questioning what they see as heavy-handed tactics by the police - particularly the use of the so-called flash-bang grenade on a Sunday night in a residence where children were known to live.

Beyond Detroit, the incident is raising a larger question in this age of reality TV: Does the presence of TV crews affect how well police officers do their jobs?

"Those cameras can influence the behavior of what's already a very dangerous and unpredictable job," said Brian Willingham, a laid-off Flint, Mich., police officer and author of "Soul of a Black Cop."

Laurie Ouellette, an associate professor of media studies at the University of Minnesota who specializes in reality television, says cameras even affect what type of police calls are shown. "There is evidence that they do tend to go into lower-income neighborhoods and are less likely to be shown policing affluent white suburban spaces," she said. "They want a particular kind of drama. They want the money shot."

The original "Cops" series made its debut more than 20 years ago, but police shows are the hottest genre in reality television, Ms. Ouellette said, mainly because they are cheap - a perfect product for a time of rapid proliferation of cable channels in need of content but ever-shrinking production budgets.

Some police departments participate because they see the shows as positive publicity and community outreach. And proponents of such reality shows say that the presence of the cameras works to police the police.

But, Ms. Ouellette said, "Just like anyone on 'American Idol' or 'Survivor' goes on and performs a role, we can imagine that police are performing a role based on what they've seen, on the endless televised representations of real police officers. It would be unrealistic to think that they don't think of themselves in terms of what the expectations are for these shows."

In particular, Thomas Loeb, a lawyer in Farmington Hills, Mich., who specializes in police misconduct cases, said there may be a correlation between the use of stun grenades and reality shows.

According to the Detroit police the loud, disorienting devices are used on a case-by-case basis. But some criminal justice experts say their use in the routine execution of a search warrant is unusual.

"I think they're showboating for the camera," Mr. Loeb said, referring to the police using the grenades on reality shows.

The Michigan State Police are investigating Sunday's shooting, and Representative John Conyers Jr., a Democrat who represents Detroit, has asked the Department of Justice to intervene.

In a letter sent to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Mr. Conyers asked, "If entertainment cameras are present, are there particular steps that should be taken to ensure that focus remains on sound police practice and not television drama?"

A spokesman for A&E, Dan Silberman, declined to comment on the case. But the network's footage could be crucial.

The Detroit police dispute much of what Aiyana's family and their lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger, say happened on the night of the shooting. (Mr. Fieger is best known for representing Jack Kevorkian.)

The Jones family contends that the shot that killed Aiyana was fired from outside the house, and that the police eventually caught the homicide suspect, Chauncey L. Owens, at a different address within the duplex. But according to the police, a stray bullet hit Aiyana after at least one officer had entered the first-floor flat and came into contact with Ms. Jones, Aiyana's grandmother.

The police have been unclear about exactly where Mr. Owens was captured, whether it was in Aiyana's family's apartment or not. Mr. Owens was charged on Wednesday with first-degree murder in the killing of a Detroit teenager.

"This investigation should have been over Monday morning," Mr. Fieger said. "You have videotape that you know about, which depicts what happened."

No one knows for sure what members of the camera crew got, since they were outside and are not speaking. But their work may show whether the shot in question was fired from outside.

Television and film crews are not allowed inside suspects' home by federal law.

Robert J. Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University who specializes in television and popular culture, said: "The film will reveal certain empirical details, but the idea of 'what happened?' is a lot more complicated. The video may not be definitive."

Mr. Fieger said that someone - a man he would not identify - showed him some of the footage, and that the tape confirmed the family's version of events. (Mr. Fieger said he did not have the tape, and did not make a copy.)

Michigan State Police have the video.

The Detroit police chief, Warren C. Evans, said, "This case has been a human tragedy at every possible level." He declined to comment on the possibility that officers were affected by the presence of a cable network crew.

At Maison's Fine Foods, a diner, patrons were abuzz with talk of the circumstances surrounding Aiyana's death. Larry Chatman, a retiree, took a critical view of the Police Department's actions, especially the use of the flash-bang grenade.

"Why was it necessary to throw that in there in that situation?" he said. "The cops bungled this one real bad, all the way around."

Aiyana's funeral is Saturday, and the Rev. Al Sharpton will deliver the eulogy.

Mary M. Chapman reported from Detroit, and Susan Saulny from Chicago.


16) Debating Whether It's a Crime to Rest on San Francisco's Sidewalks
[Housing for the homeless is, of course, out of the question for Newsom yet he's willing to spend the money on a jail cell. I only wish we could decide who should be in jail--I can think of a few oil executives and their political hacks I'd like to house in the state]
May 21, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO - Starchild, a self-described sex worker and a candidate for San Francisco supervisor, says there is absolutely no reason that his beloved city needs any more rules.

"I think that with a lot of laws, half of it is leftover morality from the Puritan days," said Starchild, a male escort who goes by only one name and declines to give his age. "And it could be your freedom that goes next."

Starchild is one of a handful of working men and women fighting a proposed city law that would make it illegal to sit or lie on public sidewalks in San Francisco for most of the day. Backed by the city's Police Department and Mayor Gavin Newsom, the "sit-lie" law is being hailed by supporters as a weapon to combat aggressive behavior by the city's myriad sidewalk dwellers.

But advocates of the homeless and some sex workers see it as a direct attack on the city's weakest, as well as on the city's own image as a tolerant refuge for live and let live.

Advocates for men and women of the night like Starchild say the proposed law has the potential to make their difficult lives - what with the fear of arrest, disease and occasionally dangerous clients - even more arduous.

"The work that they do is just like any other job, except it's criminalized," said Rachel West, a spokeswoman for the US Prostitutes Collective, a network of sex workers based in San Francisco that staged a small protest over the sit-lie law on Thursday afternoon. "So when you go to work, you're facing getting arrested, which makes the work much harder. And sit-lie will make that worse."

In a city known for its open attitudes toward sex, it is hardly surprising that sex workers would be this public or involved in a political campaign. In 2008, a measure to decriminalize prostitution received nearly 41 percent of the vote, but ultimately failed.

Still, sex workers are hardly the only group upset about the sit-lie law. Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said that laws such as the one proposed in San Francisco, which would prohibit sitting or lying on sidewalks from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., "causes noncriminals to be conducting criminal behavior."

"It is extremely hard to stay moving your whole waking day," he said. "I would challenge any individual to do that for one day and feel how exhausting it is."

Tony Winnicker, a spokesman for Mr. Newsom, a Democrat who is running for lieutenant governor, said the law was not meant to target any specific group, but to protect residents from harassment in neighborhoods like the Haight-Ashbury, the hippie-friendly enclave where groups of youths still congregate to drink, panhandle and smoke marijuana.

"It's about unacceptable behavior," Mr. Winnicker said, "and giving police another tool to deal with it."

The city's Board of Supervisors has been slow to enact any sit-lie law, which Mr. Newsom proposed in March. A public safety committee is expected to take up the issue on Monday, but Mr. Newsom has also hinted that he may put the issue to a vote by the public if the board fails to pass it.

For his part, Starchild - blond and buff - said that he was not concerned about being arrested himself, but that he worries for his co-workers. "I don't look like the category of people they're going after," he said. "But I wouldn't be surprised that sex workers working on the street get caught up in this."


17) Louisiana: Another Former Officer Is Charged in Cover-Up After Killings
May 21, 2010

Another former police officer has been charged in a cover-up in which two unarmed people were shot to death and four wounded on a New Orleans bridge in the days after Hurricane Katrina. Ignatius Hills, 33, was charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and misprision of felony. Four other former New Orleans police officers have pleaded guilty to charges related to the cover-up.