Saturday, July 17, 2010

New vibration-powered batteries make charging easier than ever

By Kevin Hall | Jul 16, 2010

Brother, a company you may know for its sewing machines, is looking to shake up the battery world quite literally. The company is showing off vibration-powered generators that would allow you to charge your gadgets anywhere just by giving it a good shake.

Called the Vibration-powered Generating Battery (maybe in the future we'll all ask for VGBs instead of Energizers), the batt's fit in any regular ol' AA or AAA slot. Of course, there are already plenty of rechargeable alternatives out there — and most gadgets today just use lithium-ion batteries — though you still need to plug either in if you want to get some juice. With vibration-powered batteries, you'd be able to charge up anywhere, anytime.

Of course, the shaking-to-power ratio is traditionally rather low, so Brother probably won't be changing the world with this tech just yet. For the low-power devices the company envisions using the batteries, however (gadgets the use 100 mW or less, for instance), the batteries could do some real good.

The company is showing off the Vibration-powered Generating Batteries at a trade expo this month. Who knows? Maybe we'll see them on shelves in the near future.

Don't Rape, Part I & 2

Don't Rape Part 1
Society teaches 'Don’t get raped' rather than 'Don’t rape'

Why do we ask survivors to take responsibility for having been raped?
Disclaimer: Some scenes in this story may be triggering for people who have experienced sexual assault. Names in this story have been changed to protect the identities of sexual assault survivors.
HALIFAX—Jenna never wants to see her purple semi-formal dress again. She loves it, but she is reminded of that night in early April when someone slipped what she suspects was Ketamine into her drink.

When she finished class at 4 pm that day, Jenna rushed to her friend’s place to get ready. She wore her mom’s sparkly earrings and bracelet, black kitten heels and the silky, knee-length dress. It was the end-of-the-year celebration she’d been waiting for—a chance to blow off some steam with her friends and classmates at Dalhousie.

She remembers everything about that night—feeling happy, dancing to bad music with her friends at The Palace—up to a point. It’s as if the rest of the evening didn’t happen. She woke up in her bed feeling nauseous and hung over. She stepped into the shower and felt bruises on her chest. It took her the rest of the day to piece together what happened. When she did, she felt embarrassed. She recalled blurry flashbacks of a man in her room, on the third floor of her house. He was white, but she doesn’t remember anything else about him, only that he sat there in her computer chair, looking at her from across the room. Jenna asked him to leave, but he wouldn’t.

A short skirt is not an invitation.

At the hospital, nurses confirmed her suspicions with a rape kit. They gave her a list of side effects associated with Ketamine, a “date rape” drug. Her symptoms fit perfectly. The police took her pretty purple dress for DNA evidence.

We tell women to cover their drinks, to dress conservatively, and to walk home in groups—never alone at night. While Jenna still thinks those are great ideas, she says they didn’t work for her. She covered her drink as often as she could that night, and she stuck with her friends. Jenna worries no-one is looking at the big picture. It’s not her fault she was raped; she doesn’t take responsibility. Instead, she blames the man who raped her. Too often the media, the police, our parents and even our friends are quicker to point out flaws in sexual assault survivors’ actions.

"Don’t get raped"

Section 271(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada defines “simple sexual assault” as: Any attack of a sexual nature in which force is used. No physical injury is necessary to prove that an offence has occurred. When prosecuted as an indictable offence, this form of sexual assault carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Nova Scotia has the highest rate of sexual assaults in the country—double the national average, according to a 2009 report by the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women. A 2006 Halifax Regional Police report shows that on average one sexual offence is reported per day in Halifax. However, a 2005 Juristat report showed only eight per cent of sexual assaults are reported in Nova Scotia.

This year in Halifax the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre declared May Sexual Assault Awareness Month. On May 20, at Province House, politicians and community members spoke out publicly against sexual assault.

Avalon’s mission is to shift responsibility from the survivor to the attacker by educating the public.

The centre defines sexual assault as: “Any form of sexual activity that has been forced by one person upon another. Without consent, it is sexual assault. Sexual assault can happen between people of the same or opposite sex. It includes any unwanted act of a sexual nature such as kissing, fondling, oral sex, intercourse or other forms of penetration, either vaginal or anal.”

Before we begin our interview, Jackie Stevens, the Avalon Co-ordinator of Community Education, closes her door, as she usually does when someone comes into her office. When a woman, or sometimes a man, sits in the comfy chair beside her desk, Stevens—wearing electric-blue cat-eye glasses—doesn’t judge or offer advice. Instead she gives the person plenty of information so he or she can make an educated decision.

Too often the people who sit in that chair blame themselves.

“If I hadn’t trusted that person, if I hadn’t gone out drinking with my friends, this wouldn’t have happened to me,” the sexual assault survivors tell Stevens.

Rather than automatically thinking that way, she says society needs to see that an attacker has chosen to take advantage of someone who is vulnerable.

When Stevens reads articles about drunk driving, the police are quoted telling people to stop drinking and driving. But when she reads articles about sexual assault, there is no warning telling would-be attackers not to rape. Instead, the authorities tell potential victims to take precautions.

She doesn’t claim to see every article, but yellowing copies of the Chronicle Herald are piled alongside today’s issue in a bin behind her.

In a Metro News article from March 19, 2010, Dalhousie University spokesperson Billy Comeau told students to “be aware of their surroundings and to take all precautions when they are out travelling” in response to a man grabbing a 19-year-old female student from behind in Halifax’s South End. In a Chronicle Herald article from May 14, 2010, a prosecutor told parents to “watch what their children are doing, both online and within the proximity of their house and outside the house,” in response to a Halifax woman allegedly luring a girl over the Internet and sexually assaulting her.

“Rather than always putting out the messages of ‘don’t walk alone’ or ‘don’t drink’ or ‘don’t talk to strangers’—all of those things—we need to say ‘don’t sexually assault,’” Stevens declares.

As a result of these misplaced messages, we say, "She shouldn’t have been walking home alone late at night," or, "She shouldn’t have worn a short skirt," rather than, "He shouldn’t have raped her."

The way a woman dresses or acts does not cause or prevent sexual assault; an attacker rapes someone because they want to exert power and control over him or her. The attacker is solely responsible for the crime. However, this responsibility is lost in translation through the police, the courts and the media.

Eighty-four per cent of people over the age of 15 who are sexually assaulted are women, according to the 2009 Status of Women Canada report. More than 90 per cent of those accused are men.

Sexual assault is a social problem, Stevens says, with lingering patriarchal structures* at the root of offenses by men toward women.

“There’s a lot of perception of sexual assault as an isolated incident that happens to certain people and it’s perceived as a very individual issue. The Avalon Centre takes the approach that sexual assault is a social issue and that the root causes are based in patriarchy, violence, oppression and inequality. Sexual violence is just one form of how that inequality and power imbalance is played out.”

Stevens says sexual assault and violence against women is interconnected with sexism and other forms of oppression such as racism, homophobia, and discrimination based on disability, gender identity, cultural background and lifestyle choices.

“Often times people who do experience sexual violence may be targeted for very specific reasons because of their vulnerability,” she says.

Elizabeth McCormack, a local activist who also works at the Dalhousie Women’s Centre, wouldn’t be considered pushy if she were a man. Her voice is louder than the average woman’s. Her tone is aggressive.

“If I’m too confident, I’m a bitch,” she says.

McCormack agrees that the root causes of male to female sexual assault are male privilege and the imbalance of power.

“Women weren’t legally human beings until 1920. If you’re property up until 1920, what role did sexual assault play in the world? Zero. There’s no such thing as rape—only for women. The pressure was on women to not allow men to ‘ruin’ them because women’s value and worth was placed in their virginity, their purity, so they could sell their sexuality to a man as property.”

As a result of historical imbalances, she says young men often feel entitled to “get drunk and get laid,” especially in a university atmosphere.

One in five male university students surveyed in a 2006 StatsCan study said forced intercourse was alright “if he spends money on her,” “if he’s stoned or drunk,” or “if they have been dating for a long time.”

One in five Canadian women surveyed in a Juristat report said they had unwanted sex with a man because they were overwhelmed by the man’s continued arguments and pressure.

“If we can change the response and how we think about sexual assault then we will change the rates of sexual assaults because it becomes less natural, less normalized; there’s more public scrutiny and judgment around it,” McCormack says. “The problem is, it’s very much a part of male culture.”
*According to Avalon, “patriarchy” refers to “the current societal framework, the structure of which has historically kept men in positions of power and authority in society, and has encouraged the domination of other nations, races and cultures of people for economic and political gain.” In the not-so-distant past, women were placed in inferior roles and their sexual, financial and personal autonomy were suppressed. That framework still lingers today; women are still not equal to men.

Don't Rape, Part 2
Why women don't report sexual assault

Disclaimer: Some scenes in this story may be triggering for people who have experienced sexual assault. Names in this story have been changed to protect the identities of sexual assault survivors.

“How does it feel to be a Monday?” he yelled across the street to a group of black people.

When Laura didn’t laugh, he turned to her and clarified: “You know, Monday—the worst day of the week.”

That was when Laura knew something was off about him.

“That’s not OK,” she said. “It’s not funny to be racist.”

He hastily apologized. She called him an asshole. Laura's roommate walked on ahead, furious.

He said he was nervous because he really liked her.

“Don’t say that shit. It’s not funny,” she said.

Laura met him in grade seven, through a close friend, at a party. They chatted over MSN on and off. In her second year at Dalhousie, he messaged her on Facebook. He was at Dal too! Did she want to meet for coffee? They met, once. She ran into him that night at the Alehouse. The place was packed with people she didn’t know. She was there with her female roommate. He bought drink after drink for Laura. He wanted to take her on a date sometime. She said, “We’ll see.” When the girls were drunk and it was time to go home, he offered to walk them. They gratefully said yes.

It was mild for mid-October. They walked up Sackville Street, took a right, and walked past the graveyard where Alexander Keith is buried. Laura’s roommate kept her distance. A few minutes later they came to her front door.

“Can I come inside for a minute?” he asked. “I just want to talk to you. I feel like shit about what happened.”

“Fine,” she said. “Fine.”

She let him in. Her roommate was already inside with her bedroom door locked. They walked to Laura’s room on the main floor and she went into the ensuite bathroom, brushed her teeth, took out her contacts and changed into sweatpants. When she opened the door, her room was dark.

“What’s going on?”

“I’m right here,” he said from the bed.

She sat on the bed. He was under the blankets.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m just being really comfortable.”

“This isn’t a sleepover party. You said you wanted to talk."

“Whatever. It’s cool. You know me.”

She had the spins so she lay down under the covers. He was naked.

“This isn’t cool,” she said. “I don’t really like this.”

He ripped off her sweatpants.

“This isn’t OK. I’m really pissed off at you. I don’t want to sleep with you. Stop. Don’t do that.”

She started to cry. He was taller and stronger than her. What was she supposed to do?

Laura woke up the next morning to a note on her desk. Her attacker had written: “Get Plan B. We didn’t use a condom."

According to a 2004 Juristat report, in 64 per cent of sexual assault cases the survivor knew his or her attacker.

Laura didn’t report her rape.

A few days later, when she couldn’t handle her feelings by herself anymore, she called her mom.
“I got sexually abused,” she said, sobbing, and told the whole story.

“Well you’re fucking stupid,” her mom said. “What do you expect, letting a boy into your house. What, do you think you’re a slut?”
“We often tend to look for, ‘What did you do?’ or, ‘What was it about you that caused [your rape]?’” says Jackie Stevens, co-ordinator of community education for the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre. “We still do that as a society. We tend to do that more than, ‘What causes this person to commit a sexual offence?’ or, ‘What’s wrong with that person?’ We still put the blame on the victim as to what caused the sexual assault."

Rather than report what happened, rather than deal with blame or disbelief from authorities, Laura wrote a poem called “Tattoo.”
...This violence you’re playing 
Is far too intense
So in my defence I’m saying
Because men like you have had me tattooed,
Stripped me nude on the first date;
You’d wait for my last sip of the grape to drain
Then rape.
Soon you’d be out on to my sisters;
Blaming our bushes for begging,
Claiming our cunts couldn’t come,
So you’d just keep on banging
‘Til we bled, soaked the bed,
And you’d leave us to rot...
“Ideally”—Stevens lets out a soft, skeptical "Heh"—“because we have a crime-and-punishment kind of culture, because we have a legal system, [rape is] supposed to go through the legal process, but in reality, sexual assault is one of the lowest reported crimes.”

A 2005 statistical profile of Nova Scotia by Juristat found that only eight per cent of sexual assaults are reported to police.

Over the last decade, acquittal rates for sexual assaults have risen in this province while remaining stable for other violent offences, according to a 2009 report by the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Over the same period, the proportion of prison sentences handed to adults convicted of sexual assault has significantly declined, again remaining stable for other violent offences.

“The high incidence of sexual assault in Nova Scotia, combined with a declining police and court response to sexual offences, leaves women in this province in a position of vulnerability,” according to the report.

“Even when someone has been convicted of a sexual crime, they might serve their time, whatever that is,” Stevens says. “But the impact on the victim is never going to change, is never going to go away. Regardless of what happens to the perpetrator, the trauma and the stigma attached to the person who has experienced victimization is never going to change—because of our perceptions.”

When a woman comes to her for help, Elizabeth McCormack of the Dalhousie Women's Centre tells her not to report the rape.

“I say to women: ‘Don’t bother.’”

The local activist says the legal system is a bandage solution that doesn’t prevent sexual assault.
“I don’t have to get them to report. All I have to do is empower them, to let them know that they’re loved, to let them know that they did nothing wrong, that every anger, every hate, every feeling that they have is completely justifiable. If there’s any way that you want me to help you express those feelings, I’m here for you," she says.

She says creative expression, such as writing a letter to the newspaper, helps a woman grow past her negative experience; the court system does just the opposite.

“If a woman chooses to use the justice system to redress the crime that has befallen her, she had better be prepared to absolutely have no human dignity at all when it’s over. You better be prepared that everything you screwed, licked, ate, puked, shat, for the last 25 years, is now fair game.”

Many sexual assault cases rely on a man’s DNA evidence. If the victim cannot prove there wasn’t consent, or if the defence can establish reasonable doubt about lack of consent, that DNA evidence often won’t matter. All it proves is that they had sex.

McCormack says the defence will often try to undermine a woman’s credibility to show she is making up the rape because then it is one person’s word against another’s.

“That’s a big barter: 'I will give you my human dignity in exchange for justice for this crime.' We don’t do that to other so-called victims. That’s why women don’t report it, because, ‘I can handle the rape; I can’t handle the loss of human dignity.’”

Women tell her all the time: “The worst thing that happened to me is not that I got raped.”
Laura’s poem didn’t help her get over her experience, but it did help empower her.
...But this time I’m on top
Tattooing you.
How does it feel
Being used just for the skin you’re stuck in?
Like my needle slowly stretching your outsides thin? 

When you’re red I’ll spread you out
So I can slowly
Fuck you instead.
But me, I won’t leave you chewing
Your swollen cheek, doing nothing,
Soul stolen and weak.
I would wait until morning and tell you
El Jones doesn’t censor herself. She speaks the raw truth regardless of criticism or praise, both of which she’s garnered as a black spoken word poet and professor at King’s College.

In her poem “If I Had a Penis,” Jones points to inequalities between the sexes, such as men earning 30 per cent more than women in the same jobs with the same skills. She says these inequalities are at the root of rape.

“If I had a penis, I’d be on the right side of rape statistics, and my reproductive system would never be used for politics."

“I’d go out at night wearing short skirts without getting blamed for being raped, and I wouldn’t even need to wear short skirts because, hey, I’d have a penis, and when you have a penis you don’t need to put yourself on display.”

We see sexual assault as accidental, she says, or as acted out by men who are sociopaths. However, a 1993 StatsCan survey showed half of Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of sexual or physical violence.

“We still tend to phrase rape as abnormal—‘What is it that made this man rape?’—as if it’s an oddity, not part of society."

Jones says sexual assault is systematically deployed against women worldwide.

“I think we have to consider it an act of terror that’s upon women in our society. It’s so endemic to our society and so many women suffer from it.”

Sexual assault by men is the same rape for all women, she says, but it takes on different forms depending on race, class and cultural background.

“When it comes to women of colour, it’s who’s considered ‘rapeable,’ and that’s where the difference is." Like sex workers and women living in poverty, Jones says women of colour are more vulnerable because they are not considered ‘real’ women. “So raping that woman isn’t the same as raping a white woman, a white middle-class woman, in many cases.”

When black women were considered property, slave owners would often rape them, sometimes to produce more slaves. Jones says labouring women were not considered real women because of their muscular bodies, and they weren’t considered vulnerable because the assumption was they could protect themselves: “She could have fought him off, so she must have wanted it.”

Even today, Jones says black women aren’t considered human in a lot of ways. In fashion ads, black women are presented as backdrops to white women. Dark black women are considered threatening and non-human, she says.

“Black women aren’t in the position where people see them as fully human, as receptive of any kind of generosity. So that makes you rapeable.”

White women don’t often report rape because they fear blame or disbelief from authorities due to sexism, but the Avalon Centre and Jones agree women of colour are at increased risk because of racism.

Jones says police are less likely to believe women of colour when they report sexual assault. On the other hand, black women are less likely to trust white authorities because of Nova Scotia’s history and reputation of unfair law enforcement.

“It’s not your people who are coming to take the report,” Jones says. “It’s going to be a bunch of white male cops—or white females—not necessarily people who understand you.”

As a result, the sexual assaults of black women go unreported.

Because the African Nova Scotian community is so close-knit, and because the majority of sexual assaults are by acquaintances, a black woman may not report rape by a neighbour or relative. The same is true within immigrant populations, according to Jones and Avalon: due to the small populations of immigrant communities, women risk social isolation if they report sexual assault to police.

There are fewer reports of sexual assault in Aboriginal communities as well, according to Avalon, and Aboriginal women are three times more likely to be sexually assaulted than non-Aboriginal women.
An Amnesty International report from 2004 showed that racist and sexist attitudes toward Canadian Aboriginal women made them more vulnerable to sexual assaults. Several studies over the last decade showed Aboriginal women had less access to justice in Canada because of racist and sexist stereotypes.

“The portrayal of the squaw is one of the most degraded, most despised and most dehumanized anywhere in the world,” wrote Metis professor of Native Studies Emma LaRoque in 1994. “The ‘squaw’ is the female counterpart to the Indian male ‘savage’ and as such she has no human face, she is lustful, immoral, unfeeling and dirty.”

According to a Canadian research paper from 1998, “Aboriginal Women: Invisible Victims of Violence,” up to 75 per cent of sexual assault survivors in Aboriginal communities are young women under 18. Half of those are under 14. One-quarter are younger than seven.

“Such a grotesque dehumanization has rendered all Native women and girls vulnerable to gross physical, psychological and sexual violence,” LaRoque wrote. “I believe that there is a direct relationship between these horrible racist/sexist stereotypes and violence against women and girls.”

As a result of these lingering stereotypes, and distrust between communities, Jones says silence surrounds the sexual assault of coloured women.

“You don’t hear black women speaking out,” she says. “If you go to something like Take Back The Night, there’s three or four black women total."

On a wall just inside the Dalhousie Women’s Centre, flash photos from last year’s Take Back The Night protest show white women marching Halifax’s dark streets together.

“It’s not old news that mainstream feminism has tended to focus on issues relevant to middle-class white women and ignored women of colour, poor women. I think there’s a lot of distrust. Affirmative action has tended to benefit white women. White women have been co-oppressors in a lot of cases. So on the one hand white women suffered patriarchy, but at the same time when white women allied themselves with white men*, they helped put down women of colour as well. It’s not like women of colour aren’t aware of that.”

* White women also allied with white men against black men. Historically, white men carried out a lynching when a white woman claimed to be sexually assaulted by a black man. When lynching was common, consensual interracial sex was also common, but white women often feared social isolation for having sex with black men.

This story is Part 2 of a three-part series originally published by the Halifax Media Co-op. read Part 1 

BP admits lobbying to free Lockerbie bomber al-Megrahi to protect huge deal to drill off coast of Libya.

(BP, thou art even more sinister than those with noble heart and mind can ever conceive.--jef)

BP Faces Scrutiny in Lockerbie Case
By JOHN F. BURNS | July 15, 2010

LONDON — The oil giant BP faced a new furor on Thursday as it confirmed that it had lobbied the British government to conclude a prisoner-transfer agreement that the Libyan government wanted to secure the release of the only person ever convicted for the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing over Scotland, which killed 270 people, 189 of them Americans.

The acknowledgment came after American legislators, grappling with the controversy over the company’s disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill, called for an investigation into BP’s actions in the case of the freed man, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi.

After an initial demand for an investigation on Wednesday by four senators from New York and New Jersey, further calls for an inquiry by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were made on Thursday by Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats of California.

Mr. Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence agent, was released and allowed to return to Libya in August after doctors advised the Scottish government that he was likely to die within three months of prostate cancer. But nearly a year later, he remains alive and free, though kept out of sight, in Libya’s capital, Tripoli.

BP’s statement on Thursday repeated earlier acknowledgments that it had promoted the transfer agreement to protect a $900 million offshore oil-and-gas exploration deal off Libya’s Mediterranean coast. The British justice minister at the time, Jack Straw, admitted after Mr. Megrahi was repatriated and freed that the BP deal was a consideration in the review of his case.

In the end, Mr. Megrahi was not released under the prisoner transfer agreement. Instead, to the consternation of the Obama administration, and of many of the victims’ families, the Scottish government released him under provisions in Scottish law that allow for a prisoner’s sentence to be commuted on humanitarian grounds, because of Mr. Megrahi’s cancer. That freed him from serving any further prison time in Libya, as he would have had to do under the transfer pact.

American anger over the case found a new outlet this week, with the demands for an investigation of the issue in the United States. On Wednesday, Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, together with Robert Menendez and Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey, announced that they had written a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton asking for a State Department investigation into BP’s role in the prisoner transfer agreement.

Mr. Schumer told reporters that BP should freeze its operations in Libya because it “should not be allowed to profit on this deal at the expense of the victims of terrorism.”

The two California senators, Ms. Boxer and Ms. Feinstein, followed on Thursday with a letter to Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, declaring that “commercial interests — oil or otherwise — should never be prioritized over justice for victims of terrorist acts and severe punishment for convicted terrorists.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced Thursday that it would hold a hearing July 29 on Mr. Megrahi’s release and that it would ask BP officials to testify. Mr. Menendez, who will preside over the hearing, said, “For our national security and for fundamental justice, we need answers about the circumstances of this convicted terrorist’s release.”

BP’s business dealings in Libya include an exploration deal in the Gulf of Sidra, which the company estimates could lead to an eventual BP investment of up to $20 billion. The deals represent BP’s return to Libya after decades of exclusion that followed nationalization of the company’s interests there in the 1970s.

BP’s response to the senators’ challenge came in a statement released Thursday, in which BP stuck to its claim that its lobbying was focused on the prisoner transfer pact, not on Mr. Megrahi himself, and that the company had nothing to do with the decision by Scotland to release him.

“It’s not for BP to comment on the decision of the Scottish government,” it said. “BP was not involved in any discussion with the U.K. government or the Scottish government about the release of Mr. al-Megrahi.”

But the company’s critics have said that such a distinction was largely illusory, since Libya’s pressure for the prisoner transfer pact was primarily motivated, as Libyan officials said at the time, by their desire to bring Mr. Megrahi home.

Long before the Gulf of Mexico disaster, the British government’s role in the Megrahi release — and the involvement of British companies with interests in Libya, including BP — had caused deep strains between the Obama administration and the former Labour Party government, which was ousted in May.

The new government responded to the spotlight turned on BP in the affair on Thursday with what amounted to an apology for the former government’s actions. A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said that Mr. Cameron regarded Mr. Megrahi’s release as a mistake, and the British ambassador in Washington, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, said in a letter to Mr. Schumer that the Cameron government “deeply regrets the continuing anguish” the release had caused among the families of Lockerbie victims.

Although senior figures in the Labour government insisted that the Megrahi decision was taken independently by the Scottish government, which has legal powers of its own, an official paper trail showed that officials in London had told Scottish officials, in the context of the prisoner transfer agreement, that letting Mr. Megrahi go would benefit British commercial interests.

That led to widespread suspicions that the Labour government, eager to promote British commercial interests in Libya but reluctant to be seen taking a step — the release of Mr. Megrahi — that would anger Washington, chose to encourage instead an end-around solution that had the Scottish government making the decision.

British officials have noted privately that the last three American administrations have been keen for American oil companies to strike deals with Libya, and that BP has been joined in the contest for potentially lucrative deals by several American oil giants, including Exxon Mobil and Chevron.

Still, the chain of events surrounding Mr. Megrahi fostered deep disillusionment in Washington, where politicians and senior officials criticized what they regarded as Britain’s duplicity in the affair.

Their anger was based, in part, on assurances the United States said it had been given at the time of the Lockerbie trial, held before a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands, that anybody convicted in the case would serve the full term in Scotland. Mr. Megrahi’s conviction was the only one in the case, after a Libyan accused of being an accomplice, like Mr. Megrahi an agent of Libya’s secret intelligence service, was found not guilty and freed.

The Economic Bill of Rights or Second Bill of Rights

(I ran across this and found it interesting, especially as an overlay of todays economic uncertainty--well, you may be uncertain, I'm pretty sure we are nosediving into depression. By the way, when you read these rights, keep track of how many are in existence today--jef)


(From the Wiki) The Second Bill of Rights was a list of rights declared by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the then President of the United States, during his State of the Union Address on January 11, 1944. In his address Roosevelt suggested that the nation had come to recognize, and should now implement, a second "bill of rights", not constitutionally amended, but socio-economic and applied to the economy.

Excerpt from President Roosevelt's January 11, 1944 message to the Congress of the United States on the State of the Union[1]:
“ It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.[2] “Necessitous men are not free men.”* People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
  1. The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  2. The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  3. The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  4. The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  5. The right of every family to a decent home;
  6. The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  7. The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  8. The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.
[1]^ "State of the Union Address".
[2 ]This phrase is found in the old English property law case, Vernon v Bethell (1762) 28 ER 838, according to Lord Henley LC

The Problem with Design...

...Imperialism or Thinking Too Small? 

Bruce Nussbaum has stirred up a fierce debate with his new article Is Humanitarian Design the New Imperialism?. Nussbaum criticizes groups like Project H, Acumen Fundand Architecture for Humanity for being perhaps naive about the post-colonial landscape they face in Asia and Africa:
Is the new humanitarian design coming out of the U.S. and Europe being perceived through post-colonial eyes as colonialism? Are the American and European designers presuming too much in their attempt to do good?
What's more, Nussbaum says, we ought to be focusing our efforts closer to home: "And finally, one last question: why are we only doing humanitarian design in Asia and Africa and not Native American reservations or rural areas, where standards of education, water and health match the very worst overseas?"

Of course, Emily Pilloton of Project H has shot right back, saying it is Nussbaum himself who is out of touch with the younger generation of humanitarian designers, designers who are well-aware of the cultural and political landscapes in which they're working, and are in fact increasingly focused on problems closer to home:
It is only through this local engagement and shared investment that the humanitarian design process shines. It is through this personal connection to place and people that the human qualities of design rise to the top of the priority list, through which our clients are no longer beneficiaries, but experts and co-designers right there with us. In his infamous address titled “To Hell With Good Intentions,” Ivan Illich puts this beautifully: 'If you have any sense of responsibility at all, stay with your riots here at home...You will know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how to communicate with those to whom you speak. And you will know when you fail. If you insist on working with the poor, if this is your vocation, then at least work among the poor who can tell you to go to hell.' We all have to learn how to be citizens again: citizens first, and designers second. Citizenship is inherently local, defined by our connection and commitment to the places we best know and most love.
In the last few days, there have been different takes on this debate from leading thinkers likeCameron Sinclair, Susan Szenasy and Robert Fabricant. Now, I have conflicts of interest all over the place here -- Emily and Cameron are friends, I've sat on a panel and shared ideas with Susan, and Worldchanging's discussing a project with Frog Design -- so I'm not going to take sides, but I find the conversation extremely encouraging.

That said, some things are missing here, I think. In particular, the whole discussion has glanced over two critical realities: the scope, scale and speed of the planetary crisis we face, and the profoundly unequal distribution of access that exists to tools of innovation globally. I don't have time to write a proper essay today, but I'd like to share a few thoughts.

Most of us in the Global North are out of touch with the scope, scale and speed of the problems we face. We live in a global civilization that can measure its life expectancy in decades if it continues to operate as it does today. We know that we're straying beyond a series of non-negotiable ecological boundaries (the most obvious being the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere). The predicted consequences are profound in a way that's difficult to fully grasp, but could well involve the complete collapse of large portions of human society and almost unimaginable suffering and destruction.

"This is not a small probability of a rather unattractive outcome," as Lord Stern, former Chief Economist of the World Bank, reminds us. "This is a big probability of a very bad outcome.”

This planetary sustainability crisis is impossible to tackle unless the Global North redesigns its own prosperity to be at least carbon neutral (and probably actually  carbon negative) by 2050. Because it takes time for innovations to spread and become universal, that 2050 goal, in turn, means innovating many of our urban land use, transportation and energy systems (as well as the products and services we use) to be  carbon neutral by 2030. Zero impact is the only rational goal,  and we need to be working towards it right now.

In addition, between two and four billion young people are expected to raise themselves into the global middle class in the Global South over the next 40 years, and billions more poorer people will have to find stable systems of survival in a rapidly changing world. The new global middle class can only adopt a bright green, climate-responsible model of prosperity if such a model is available when they need it. That forces us to confront a second planetary reality: the international distribution of problem-solving resources is profoundly unfair.

A gigantic imbalance in capacities and resources exists between the Global North and Global South. This is, obviously, not to argue that Southern designers, engineers and entrepreneurs are less capable (or less innovative) than their Northern counterparts. If anything, the evidence points to the opposite conclusion.

But in Northerners' desires to avoid the pitfalls of cultural imperialism and the failed model of top-down aid (and, let's be honest, to be seen to be down with other cultures), we go whistling past the mountainous reality of power inequality in our global society, and the extent to which, in a knowledge economy, that power is about the ability to generate and deploy ideas.

The Global North has the vast majority of the world's finest universities, libraries and broadband connections. It has the lion's share of the best-trained designers and professional innovators: there are probably more top-level product designers in New York than in all of India; probably more top-flight software engineers in the Bay Area than in all of Africa. That's not even getting into corporate R+D labs, incubators, fellowships, internships and all the other capacity that spins off the design, technology and engineering industries: almost all of which are in the developed world.

What's more, we know that innovation sparks from clusters of talented people in close proximity -- from scenius-- but it catches fire when exposed to capital, subjected to debate (in magazines, at conferences, on campuses) and connected to networks of other equally talented professionals in other fields. Most of those clusters are in the Global North; the remainder are in places (like Sao Paolo and Shanghai) that are already approaching "developed" status. Hotbeds, conferences and venture capital are not fairly distributed around the Earth.

It's a harsh reality that the vast bulk of the world's ability to solve system-scale problems is concentrated in wealthy countries. If a bright green model of prosperity is going to be invented in time for billions of young people to adopt it, big chunks of it will have to come from the Global North and be spread through partnerships between the North and South.

Obviously, complexities abound. Some of the world's most innovative thinking is happening on "the edges" of the wealthy world, in newly emerging economies. The Global North often stifles innovation with outdated codes and regulation. Many designers in New York or London may mot have the foggiest clue what on-the-ground challenges present themselves in the cities of the Global South, and so lack the ability to design solutions at home that will have a broader value. Many people cannot afford to participate in the major capitalist forms of innovation diffusion. Furthermore, flowing innovations to the bottom billion is wrought with difficulties. Some nations suffer from a hipness invisibility (what some have called the Ninja Gap), which makes them unable to draw even the most modest notice from folks in a position to help them solve problems. Finally, the ability of experts operating in ignorance of context to screw a system or place up beyond recognition should never be underestimated.

Yet, yet, yet... the reality is that we inherited a broken future, and designing a better one is going to take the whole-hearted participation of hundreds of thousands of creative, innovative people in the cities of the Global North. It's going to take grappling with remaking our own cities and systems into sustainably prosperous forms -- and doing it with an eye to global realities, the need for innovation diffusion and the cultural minefields involved. It's ultimately going to take redesigning (or at least reconsidering) pretty much everything about the way our cities work.

So, perhaps it's worth shifting the debate a little to discuss the obligations of not just humanitarian designers, but all designers to design responsibly? Maybe presumption is less the problem than a lack of planetary thinking.

BP buys up Gulf scientists for legal defense, roiling academic community

Ben Raines, Press-Register | Friday, July 16, 2010

"We told them there was no way we would agree to any kind of restrictions on the data we collect. It was pretty clear we wouldn't be hearing from them again after that," said Bob Shipp, head of marine sciences at the University of South Alabama. "We didn't like the perception of the university representing BP in any fashion."

For the last few weeks, BP has been offering signing bonuses and lucrative pay to prominent scientists from public universities around the Gulf Coast to aid its defense against spill litigation.

BP PLC attempted to hire the entire marine sciences department at one Alabama university, according to scientists involved in discussions with the company's lawyers. The university declined because of confidentiality restrictions that the company sought on any research.

The Press-Register obtained a copy of a contract offered to scientists by BP. It prohibits the scientists from publishing their research, sharing it with other scientists or speaking about the data that they collect for at least the next three years.

"We told them there was no way we would agree to any kind of restrictions on the data we collect. It was pretty clear we wouldn't be hearing from them again after that," said Bob Shipp, head of marine sciences at the University of South Alabama. "We didn't like the perception of the university representing BP in any fashion."

BP officials declined to answer the newspaper's questions about the matter. Among the questions: how many scientists and universities have been approached, how many are under contract, how much will they be paid, and why the company imposed confidentiality restrictions on scientific data gathered on its behalf.
Shipp said he can't prohibit scientists in his department from signing on with BP because, like most universities, the staff is allowed to do outside consultation for up to eight hours a week.

More than one scientist interviewed by the Press-Register described being offered $250 an hour through BP lawyers. At eight hours a week, that amounts to $104,000 a year.

Scientists from Louisiana State University, University of Southern Mississippi and Texas A&M have reportedly accepted, according to academic officials. Scientists who study marine invertebrates, plankton, marsh environments, oceanography, sharks and other topics have been solicited.

The contract makes it clear that BP is seeking to add scientists to the legal team that will fight the Natural Resources Damage Assessment lawsuit that the federal government will bring as a result of the Gulf oil spill.

The government also filed a NRDA suit after the Exxon Valdez spill.

In developing its case, the government will draw on the large amount of scientific research conducted by academic institutions along the Gulf. Many scientists being pursued by BP serve at those institutions.

Robert Wiygul, an Ocean Springs lawyer who specializes in environmental law, said that he sees ethical questions regarding the use of publicly owned laboratories and research vessels to conduct confidential work on behalf of a private company.

Also, university officials who spoke with the newspaper expressed concern about the potential loss of federal research money tied to professors working for BP.

With its payments, BP buys more than the scientists' services, according to Wiygul. It also buys silence, he said, thanks to confidentiality clauses in the contracts.

"It makes me feel like they were more interested in making sure we couldn't testify against them than in having us testify for them," said George Crozier, head of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, who was approached by BP.

"It makes me feel like they were more interested in making sure we couldn't testify against them than in having us testify for them," said George Crozier, head of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, who was approached by BP.

Richard Shaw, associate dean of LSU's School of the Coast and Environment, said that the BP contracts are already hindering the scientific community's ability to monitor the affects of the Gulf spill.
"The first order of business at the research meetings is to get all the disclosures out. Who has a personal connection to BP? We have to know how to deal with that person," Shaw said. "People are signing on with BP because the government funding to the universities has been so limited. It's a sad state of affairs."

Wiygul, who examined the BP contract for the Press-Register, described it as "exceptionally one-sided."

"This is not an agreement to do research for BP," Wiygul said. "This is an agreement to join BP's legal team. You agree to communicate with BP through their attorneys and to take orders from their attorneys.

"The purpose is to maintain any information or data that goes back and forth as privileged."
The contract requires scientists to agree to withhold data even in the face of a court order if BP decides to fight such an order. It stipulates that scientists will be paid only for research approved in writing by BP.

The contracts have the added impact of limiting the number of scientists who're able to with federal agencies. "Let's say BP hired you because of your work with fish. The contract says you can't do any work for the government or anyone else that involves your work with BP. Now you are a fish scientist who can't study fish," Wiygul said.

A scientist who spoke to the Press-Register on condition of anonymity because he feared harming relationships with colleagues and government officials said he rejected a BP contract offer and was subsequently approached by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with a research grant offer.

He said the first question the federal agency asked was, "'is there a conflict of interest,' meaning, 'are you under contract with BP?'"

Other scientists told the newspaper that colleagues who signed on with BP have since been informed by federal officials that they will lose government funding for ongoing research efforts unrelated to the spill.

NOAA officials did not answer requests for comment. The agency also did not respond to a request for the contracts that it offers scientists receiving federal grants. Several scientists said the NOAA contract was nearly as restrictive as the BP version.

The state of Alaska published a 293-page report on the NRDA process after the Exxon Valdez disaster. A section of the report titled "NRDA Secrecy" discusses anger among scientists who received federal grants over "the non-disclosure form each researcher had signed as a prerequisite to funding."

"It's a very strange situation. The science is already suffering," Shaw said. "The government needs to come through with funding for the universities. They are letting go of the most important group of scientists, the ones who study the Gulf."

We Refuse To Sacrifice Life for Corporate Profits

Our Planet, Our People are not Expendable!
by Stephanie McMillan | Saturday, July 17, 2010 |

The Gulf of Mexico has been destroyed. Immeasurable, irreparable damage has been done to wildlife, the health of the ocean, and people's livelihoods. We have been cursed for years to come. It can not, as BP promises, be "made right." In fact, even after this utter catastrophe, crimes against the planet and its inhabitants continue without pause.

We are told that the government is supposed to guarantee the rights of the people. But when a big corporation decides our rights are not in their interests, then POOF! They vanish into thin air. In a clear violation of our rights to free speech and a free press, government agencies have assisted BP's lies and cover-up by restricting media access, threatening journalists with felony charges and $40,000 fines. Uniformed police officers in Louisiana have harassed photographers at public beaches. BP has threatened workers with firing if they talk to anyone about anything.

We are also told that the government's purpose is to protect the country and us. But instead the government helps big corporations plunder the country and trash our lives. The Minerals Management Service allowed BP to cut corners and violate safety regulations, leading finally to the fatal decision to save a few hundred thousand dollars by not installing a backup valve.

When BP ignored an order by the Environmental Protection Agency to stop using the dispersant Corexit 9500 (a poisonous compound banned in Europe), the EPA did absolutely nothing. Millions of gallons are still being dumped into the Gulf, even as it has been shown to evaporate and fall as toxic rain, and is damaging plants far inland.

BP and its employees have given more than $3.5 million to federal candidates during the past 20 years, with the biggest portion going to Obama. It also spent $15.9 million on lobbying last year alone, for the purpose of controlling energy policy.

What does all this tell us?

The government repeatedly sells us out to corporate interests. It sells out our rights, our health, our safety, our livelihoods, our lives, and the natural world. The government is merely a tool to facilitate the conversion of life into profit.

The BP spill is not an accident. It is an inevitable consequence of a global economic system that values profit over life. The BP spill is not unique. Oil companies have ruined large areas of the Niger Delta, Ecuador and other parts of the world, and they will continue to do so until they are stopped.

The ruthless pursuit of profit has caused 98% of old growth forests to be cut down. 99% of the prairies are gone. 80% of rivers worldwide no longer support life. 94% of the large fish in the oceans are gone. 120 species per day becomes extinct. Now the Gulf of Mexico has been ruined. Clearly, a global economic system based on perpetual growth is unsustainable. Yet those who run this system do not stop, will not stop.

At what point will we stop accepting this?

We can not stand by while big corporations like BP, with the assistance of the US government, destroy our lives and our planet. We should have stopped them a long time ago. Now we must stop them before they do even more damage, before they kill everything. We depend upon the natural world -- we must now urgently come to its defense.

How Giant Food Corporations Are Giving Kickbacks to Schools to Get Their Products on Kids' Trays

The reason why kids are served sugary cereals, Pop-Tarts, Otis Spunkmeyer muffins, and flavored milk that has nearly as much sugar as Coke or Mountain Dew.
By Ed Bruske | | July 17, 2010

D.C. Public Schools in the last two years have taken in more than $1 million in corporate rebates -- referred to by some as "kickbacks" -- paid by giant food manufacturers as an inducement to place their brands on kids' cafeteria trays at school.

Documents I obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that Chartwells, the company hired by D.C. Schools to provide food services at 122 schools across the city, through February of this year had declared $1,076,738 in rebates it received since its contract began in the fall of 2008. That represents 5 percent of the $18.7 million in purchases Chartwells billed the school system during that period. Under federal law, Chartwells is required to credit D.C. schools for any rebates it receives.

Food manufacturers use the rebates as an incentive to entice purchasing agents to buy certain products over others for school meals. Rebates sometimes are referred to as "kickbacks" because powerful food service companies such as Chartwells expect to receive them, much the way grocers expect manufacturers to pay to have their goods displayed prominently on supermarket shelves.

Critics charge that the rebates -- also referred to as "volume discounts" or "buy backs" -- act as a tool in the campaign to imprint processed and often sugary food brands in the minds of young children. Rebates help explain why kids in D.C. schools routinely are served sugary cereals such as Kellogg's Apple Jacks and snacks like Kellogg's Pop-Tarts, Otis Spunkmeyer muffins, Pepperidge Farm Giant Goldfish Grahams, and flavored milk from Cloverland Dairy that has nearly as much sugar as Coke or Mountain Dew.

It could not be immediately determined from the documents which manufacturers paid the rebates to D.C. Schools or in what amounts. Under U.S. Department of Agriculture rules governing the federally-subsidized school meals program, food service providers such as Chartwells are required to itemize the rebates they receive only when schools ask them to do so. Otherwise, the rebates appear simply as a lump-sum line item on the monthly invoices Chartwells submits to D.C. Public Schools for reimbursement.

Although the school system's newly hired food services director, Jeffrey Mills, was said to be disturbed by the potentially corrosive effect rebates might have on D.C. school food purchases, apparently no one in the DCPS hierarchy had ever asked Chartwells for a breakdown of where the rebates come from. On May 28, I filed a second Freedom of Information Act request for an itemization of rebates received by Chartwells. Schools spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway last Thursday said DCPS has since asked Chartwells for a breakdown, but has not yet received one.

Navigating by compass

Much like rebates in the consumer world, rebates in the multi-billion-dollar universe of corporate food service are awarded by manufacturers after products are purchased. For instance, after a truckload of cereal is delivered, the purchasing company -- Chartwells, in this case -- would apply for the rebate and later receive a check. Chartwells, Sodexo, and Aramark -- the two other companies most prominent in the field -- deal in rebates worth millions.

Chartwells is part of a huge, publicly traded international food services conglomerate based in the United Kingdom, the Compass Group, that reports annual sales of $9.3 billion. Chartwells provides the food each day for 2.5 million kids in more than 500 school districts across the U.S. Other affiliated companies in the group -- Bon Appetit, Restaurant Associates, Thompson Hospitality, Morrison Management, Wolfgang Puck Catering, to name a few -- handle the food served in universities, corporate campuses, museums, and all sorts of public and private venues, even oil drilling platforms nationwide.

All these Compass Group subsidiaries share a procurement operation that negotiates food purchases -- and rebates -- for the entire group. Called Foodbuy, and based along with Compass Group's North American headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., Foodbuy bills itself as "the nation's largest group purchasing organization," dealing in more than $5 billion worth of goods annually.

Between 35 and 40 Foodbuy employees are engaged full-time in negotiating contracts and rebates with manufacturers. Rebates become a major driver of purchasing decisions, said Ken Jaycox, vice-president for category development at Foodbuy. "We're focused on net cost," Jaycox said. "Our job is to try and get the best net cost for our customers."

Jaycox suggested that the choice of foods served in school cafeterias is determined less by the rebates manufacturers offer than by negotiations between schools and Chartwells representatives over which foods are the best choices, and how they balance against the local food budget. But Rick Hughes, who spent eight years as a manager for Sodexo in Colorado, said performance evaluations were based in part on how well Sodexo employees adhered to the company's choice of products, determined in large part by manufacturer rebates.

"We were rewarded for purchasing specific products," said Hughes, who now works the other side of the fence, as food services director of Colorado Spring School District 11. "Especially if the company is mandating that you buy their foods, absolutely that's what food service directors are buying," Hughes said. "There's big money tied up in big company food and agribusiness. There's not a whole lot of money tied up in fresh vegetables and fruits. So just follow the money. That's what's being given to kids."

As prevalent and influential as they may be, rebates are treated as a kind of third rail in school food services. Food manufacturers are loathe to talk about them.