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139 posts from January 2007

January 31, 2007

Molly Ivins (8/30/44-1/31/07)


Molly Ivins, originally uploaded by Doxieone.

I am very sorry to report that Texas journalist, humorist, feminist, activist, syndicated columnist, and general hell-raiser Molly Ivins has died of breast cancer at the young age of 62. She fought the disease through two prior recurrences, and eventually succumbed to the third.

I can't even begin to say how sorry I am. Ivins' death came too soon. The country needed her too much. A few weeks before her death she pledged to devote every last one of her columns to opposing the Iraq war.

Molly Ivins was a leader, a hero, and an inspiration.

"Raise hell," she urged readers. "Think of something ridiculous to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. ... We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, `Stop it, now!' "

She will be acutely missed.

Building inspectors team up with sheriffs to stop unsafe construction

A pilot program in Queens will pair building inspectors up with sheriffs to crack down on unsafe construction sites:

Got trouble with a construction site? Now you can call a sheriff.

Indeed, thanks to a pilot program announced by the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) last Wednesday, residents of Queens may only need to do it once before the city takes action.

The new initiative in Queens would create two teams, each composed of a DOB inspector and two NYC sheriffs. Each team, armed with a list of sites that have active stop work orders against them, would patrol the borough looking for illegal activity, which they would subsequently shut down. [BDS]

This is great news.

Illegal construction is a huge problem in this city. The fact that 60 people showed up to a meeting to discuss the sheriff/inspector program is an indication of what a chronic problem these sites are for residents.

Too often, residents face a Catch-22 when they want to complain about disruptive or unsafe construction: The building inspectors are unarmed civilians whom unscrupulous contractors can just brush off; but the police don't know how to handle building code complaints.

This new program offers some hope that stop work orders will be enforced. Unfortunately, these teams will only have the power to send workers home for the day--but by increasing enforcement, authorities are de facto punishing illegal work more severely. If stop work orders actually stop work most of the time, contractors will have more of an incentive to avoid the safety lapses that get work suspended in the first place.

Bush nearly flattens press corps with erratic bull-dozer driving

Newsweek blogger Holly Bailey reports on a bizarre and troubling incident involving the president of the United States, the media, and heavy machinery:

Does President Bush have it in for the press corps? Touring a Caterpillar factory in Peoria, Ill., the Commander in Chief got behind the wheel of a giant tractor and played chicken with a few wayward reporters. Wearing a pair of stylish safety glasses--at least more stylish than most safety glasses--Bush got a mini-tour of the factory before delivering remarks on the economy. "I would suggest moving back," Bush said as he climbed into the cab of a massive D-10 tractor. "I'm about to crank this sucker up." As the engine roared to life, White House staffers tried to steer the press corps to safety, but when the tractor lurched forward, they too were forced to scramble for safety."Get out of the way!" a news photographer yelled. "I think he might run us over!" said another. White House aides tried to herd the reporters the right way without getting run over themselves. Even the Secret Service got involved, as one agent began yelling at reporters to get clear of the tractor. Watching the chaos below, Bush looked out the tractor's window and laughed, steering the massive machine into the spot where most of the press corps had been positioned.

I presume that Bailey was at the plant and saw the incident first-hand. She doesn't cite any other sources. The AP confirms that Bush told people to back up because he was about to "crank this sucker up." So far, I can't find a major media report of Bush's visit to the tractor plant that mentions the chaos the president's joyride caused on the ground. If reporters scurried away from Bush's tractor and didn't report the incident, they would be taking self-censorship to a whole new level.

Update: I found another news account that appears to corroborate Bailey's story. According to this piece by Molly Parker of the Peoria Star Journal, Bush's jaunt on the bulldozer was arranged by Karl Rove at the last minute and his driving did scatter reporters:

Before the tour, Rove chatted briefly with Caterpillar executives about whether Bush would drive one of the tractors. Rove reminded them Bush doesn't do much driving on his own these days and asked if Caterpillar's insurance was up to date.

"We figure he'll have a tendency to go to the right," quipped Tim Elder, director of corporate public affairs.

At the end, Bush, dressed in a bright blue shirt and without a tie, did indeed climb inside a "Black Iron Machine" bulldozer.

"I would suggest you move back. I'm about to crank this thing up," he told the gaggle of reporters following him. He moved it to the left and then the right, reporters scattering as he wheeled in their direction.

"I thought you were joking," one reporter yelled to the president. He just smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

Shakespeare's Sister has photos of Bush's visit to the Peoria plant.


[HT: Michael Hussey]

x-posted at This Modern World.

Another New York worker dies in a fall

A day laborer working for Nesher Construction fell to his death down an open elevator shaft in Brooklyn yesterday:

A day laborer doing tile work at a Brooklyn construction site died yesterday after he lost his bearings and fell four stories through an open elevator shaft, officials said. The man, whose identity was not immediately known, was pronounced dead at Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center at 11:18 a.m., an hour after the accident, the police said. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the city’s Buildings Department are investigating. A Buildings Department spokeswoman, Kate Lindquist, said that a stop work order was issued because no guardrails were in place, as required, around elevator openings. A superintendent at Nesher Construction, the general contractor, said that the victim worked for a subcontractor and that protective plywood had been in place over “all the elevator openings” at the start of work. [NYT]

The accident occurred at 44 Troutman St. in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.

The Department of Buildings issued a stop work order on the site following the accident. (City records list the general contractor in charge of the 44 Troutman St. project as "Nesher Builders.")

These records show that in 2006 Nesher Builders was fined $2,500 for "Failure to protect roofs outlets & skylights of adjoining property during construction operations" at 44 Troutman St.

Nesher Builders didn't show up at their ECB hearing for that violation. As of this writing, Nesher Buildings is listed as being "in default" for the hearing and "no compliance" for the Class A (high-severity) violation.

I hope they don't skip out on their ECB hearing this time.

Alleged rape victim denied EC in prison

A 21-year-old Tampa woman was handcuffed, jailed, and denied medical treatment when she tried to report her rape to the police.

As police assisted her, taking her to a nurse examiner's clinic, and processing her report, an officer found two outstanding warrants for the woman in Sarasota County.

Attorney Virlyn "Vic" Moore III of Venice said his client was seated in the front seat of the police cruiser, on her way to the scene of her attack when the officer learned of the warrant, cuffed her and placed her in the back seat.

"To stop the rape investigation and instead victimize her again," Moore said. "I'm aghast, astonished and outraged. I have never, ever heard of this happening."

The officer arrested the woman at a sergeant's instruction, McElroy said.

The student had failed to pay $4,585 restitution after a 2003 juvenile arrest, McElroy said. Moore said his client is convinced that she paid the fine and that the warrant was probably the result of a clerical error. [SPT]

Happily, in light of this incident the Tampa police department has changed its policy regarding victims of violence with outstanding warrants:

The police department has changed its policy so that a person is treated as a victim first and foremost; the department would deal at a later date with the criminal offense this person is accused of. [ABC]

This is a really important concession by the Tampa PD and they deserve to be praised for their quick action. Policies like these will help the most vulnerable members of society seek out the protection of police without immediate fear of being arrested.

The biggest travesty is that some religious nut case took it upon themselves to overrule a doctor's prescription for emergency contraception.

Michael Hussey reports that the woman who refused to administer the second dose of emergency contraception is an employee of the private contractor Armor Correctional Health Services, she has retained a lawyer.

Sort of like Sky Mall...

Aquaclocky

I don't want to be a big hypocrite or anything...but this does seem like the sort of product that would make the world a better place: an alarm clock that runs away and hides.

I don't know if it works, or if it somehow causes cancer. I don't even know how much it costs, or whether it has a warrantee, or what deep existential reasons its creators had for inventing it.

Will it enhance your class status? Probably not.

Does it do a goddamned thing for reproductive rights? As if. It's not like EC pops out of those cute little button-eyes.

Hell, maybe it kills people as they sleep.

Almost certainly, this thing is a distraction from the current war, the impending war, global warming, and/or the heartbreak of psoriasis.

Just forget I said anything.

[HT: Loren in Vancouver]

January 30, 2007

NYC quietly doubles contribution to Atlantic Yards mega-project

The Bloomberg administration's preliminary budget for 2008 sets aside twice as much for Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards mega-project as was initially promised:

In 2005, the city and the Empire State Development Corporation agreed to a memorandum of understanding with the developer of the Brooklyn project, Forest City Ratner Companies, in which both governmental parties committed $100 million. A provision in the agreement allowed for further subsidy "for extraordinary infrastructure costs relating to the mixed use development."

A spokeswoman for the state agency said it has no plans to change its $100 million commitment. [NY Sun]

I have no doubt that the infrastructure costs associated with the Atlantic Yards project will be extraordinary in the sense of being huge. On the other hand, I wonder why the city didn't anticipate these costs when it made its initial commitment.

"The additional funding is for infrastructure improvements, several of which would have been required with or without the construction of the Atlantic Yards Development," a spokesman for the mayor's office, John Gallagher, told The New York Sun via e-mail. [NY Sun]

So these "extraordinary" infrastructure costs include things the city would have had to do anyway? Sure.

A typical Monday in Baghdad

Shatha, an Iraqi journalist with the McClatchy Baghdad bureau, blogs another terrifying day in Iraq:

I remembered what my friend have told me few days ago he said “if you can hear the sound of the bomb it means you are fine and alive but when you don’t it means you are already too close and might be in the other world” I thanked god for my safety and was thinking to myself about all the what ifs? I thought about my daughter who is only 16 months old I thought who will look after her about my husband who asked me last night weather it was time to stop being on the streets and going to work I couldn’t help but to see this morning as warning to stop being so heroic, I have every reason to be targeted by now I am working in the journalism field in Iraq I am neutral and politically independent why should I exist anymore most people like me have either been killed or have left the country. [Read the whole thing]

Also on the McClatchy blog, 37-year-old Laith writes about losing friends to violence and emigration:

The security situation is stealing my friends. One of the friends whom I really love went to a foreign country. Another two will leave so soon by Allah will for a better place and a fourth one is working so hard to leave with her family and I pray she can do it. I don’t want to talk about those who were killed because some people may not believe that they were killed simply because they were journalists and honestly I’m afraid to think that I may be killed one day for the same reason. Can anybody imagine that being journalists in Iraq is a crime for the terrorists and many of the insurgents and extremists groups? This crazy country is stealing my friends and I’m afraid that I wake up one day to find that I lost my humanity. I just cant describe my feelings because I think I lost them because of the abnormal circumstances I live in.

If you aren't reading the McClatchy Baghdad Bureau blog, you should be.

John Edwards on Iran

Listen to what John Edwards told the Herzliya Conference:

At the top of these threats is Iran. Iran threatens the security of Israel and the entire world. Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons. For years, the US hasn’t done enough to deal with what I have seen as a threat from Iran. As my country stayed on the sidelines, these problems got worse. To a large extent, the US abdicated its responsibility to the Europeans. This was a mistake. The Iranian president’s statements such as his description of the Holocaust as a myth and his goals to wipe Israel off the map indicate that Iran is serious about its threats.

Once Iran goes nuclear, other countries in the Middle East will go nuclear, making Israel’s neighborhood much more volatile.

Iran must know that the world won’t back down. The recent UN resolution ordering Iran to halt the enrichment of uranium was not enough. We need meaningful political and economic sanctions. We have muddled along for far too long. To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep ALL options on the table, Let me reiterate – ALL options must remain on the table.

In the same speech Edwards reminded everyone of the nefariousness of Syria, just like the president has been doing lately.

Later in the Q&A session, Edwards said that he supports "direct engagement with Iran," which I take to be a euphemism for direct negotiations between the U.S. and Iran regarding Iran's nuclear program. That's exactly what the U.S. should be doing, but John Edwards' saber-rattling won't help us get to that point.

The Bush administration clearly doesn't want to negotiate with Iran. The US is opening with intimidation, isolation, and punishment. Escalation, if you will. When those strategies fail, they'll proceed directly to war. Nobody really thinks that Iran will be talked out of its nuclear program because Bush put another aircraft carrier in the Gulf or pressured some institutions not to bank with Iran.

Michael Froomkin argues that Edwards hawkish rhetoric is just a negotiating tactic. If Edwards wins the Democratic primary and the general election, then he'll have to negotiate with Iran. Froomkin thinks that Edwards has to talk tough now so as not to undermine his future negotiating position. Frankly, that argument strikes me as a bit of a stretch.

Even if Michael's right, the fact remains that the Bush administration is manufacturing an immediate crisis over the Iranian nuclear program as an excuse to start another war.

Like compulsive gamblers, the president and his neocon cronies want to go double or nothing. Bush knows that he botched Iraq, and now he's thinking about his legacy. It's the twilight of the Bush presidency and his top advisors realize that the gilded age of neconservatism is coming to an end. They want one last chance to test their beloved hypotheses and they've got their beady little eyes locked on Iran.

All of a sudden, Iran is a crisis. The biggest crisis! Luckily, we've got two air craft carriers in the Gulf right now.

Remember, Iran is five to ten years away from being able to make a bomb. Furthermore, President Ahmadinejad is losing public support and trying the patience of the Iranian elites who keep him in power. Rumor has it that his job is in danger.

John Edwards is being an enabler. By insisting that Iran is literally the biggest threat in the world, he's giving Bush cover for another war. (Update: The Jerusalem Post reports that elsewhere in his speech Edwards said that stopping a nuclear Iran was 'greatest challenge of our generation'.)

If Iran is developing nukes, perhaps the world would be justified in stopping the program by force. Unfortunately, it won't be that simple. Some hawks would have you believe that we could just precision-bomb Iran, destroy its nuclear facilities, and get out. Presumably, the Iranians would just hide their facilities better next time. The result of attacking Iran would not be a safer world, it would be an angrier Iran. Remember, Iran is a big exporter of terrorism. If we attacked Iran's nuclear program, what do you think Iran would do next? Suffice it to say that attacking the Islamic Republic of Iran is not going to be a coup for counter-terrorism.

The nuclear genie is not going back into the bottle. That, in the neocon's twisted estimation, is why we have to "remake" the Middle East. "Remaking" means overthrowing governments and replacing them with pro-American regimes. Remember how well that worked in Iraq?

Regardless of his future intentions, John Edwards should not be facilitating Bush's push for war. He must not make the same mistake on Iran that he did with Iraq.

Vanity Fair editor goes on scaffold rampage

Don't worry, it wasn't James Wolcott. It was Graydon Carter who got fed up with after hours construction and took matters into his own hands:

January 30, 2007 -- Never say Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter is afraid to do the heavy lifting.

The gray-maned magazine mogul took matters into his own hands over the weekend when workers raised a racket as they erected a 22-foot scaffold outside his tony home and near an eatery he owns on Bank Street in lower Manhattan.

Annoyed by the noise, Carter rushed out of his three-story, $5 million townhouse in frigid, 36-degree temps wearing shorts, snatched a 5-foot rail and flung it to the ground in exasperation. [NY Post]

Jeremiah Harrington, the owner of Rockledge Scaffolds admitted that his crew was working after sundown and acknowledged that they should have gotten to work earlier so they could have completed the task before sundown.

If you live in New York, you can call 311 to report after hours construction to the Department of Buildings.

[Hat tip: Bridge and Tunnel Club.]