Category Archives: Current Affairs

Exclusive Interview With John Kiriakou – CIA Whistleblower: Prelude

Exclusive Interview With John Kiriakou – CIA Whistleblower:

Prelude: Here we set the stage for our conversation with John Kiriakou, former CIA anti-terror agent turned whistleblower who served almost two years in prison for confirming the CIA tortured prisoners in the “War On Terror.”

Kiriakou will visit North Carolina October 27-29, and make several public appearances. (Full schedule below.) This excerpt is from his 2010 book,  The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War On Terror.  (More on his book here.)

 

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Continue reading Exclusive Interview With John Kiriakou – CIA Whistleblower: Prelude

“Have You Given Up Bottled Water?” Um, No. Why Not? (See Below.)

 “Have You Given Up Bottled Water?” Um, No. Why Not? (See Below.)

“Chuck,” wrote a FB friend this weekend, “this one is for you. Or have you already given up bottled water?

“This” was a short rant from a site called “Gizmodo” entitled,  “Stop Drinking Bottled Water,” by Alissa Walker. From the jump, Walker lays her cards on the table: 

Rumor-BW-not-cause“There are few things on this planet I hate more than bottled water,” she declares. “Just the crinkling sound of someone wrapping their mouth around one of those squeaky garbage accordions fills me with rage. I stopped drinking it a long time ago—and you should stop drinking it, too. . . .”

I won’t keep my FB friend who sent this — or anyone else — in suspense here: 

NO, I have not “given up” bottled water. In fact, nowadays I drink almost nothing else, especially at home.

Why is that? For much the same reasons that a recent article in “The Week” magazine about bottled water gave for the rapid growth in its consumption, notwithstanding all the hate-mongering against it:

“Between 1990 and 1997 . . . annual U.S. bottled water sales jumped from $115 million to $4 billion, thanks largely to public concern about obesity and water contamination.”

Bottled-Water-growth-Chart
Bottled water: going UP; Soda: going DOWN; the Twain Are About to Meet. This is a big deal, and I like it.Obesity & contamination. An uphill slog against the former, and deepening concern about the latter; that’s me.

Obesity & contamination. An uphill slog against the former, and deepening concern about the latter; that’s me.

It’s also reporter John Lingan, summarizing many gallons of industry data. And while the trend he pointed to has had bumps, its overall growth is undeniable:

“Bottled water is poised to overtake soda as America’s foremost commercial drink within the next year. Americans drank 10.9 billion gallons of it in 2014, a 7.3 percent increase over 2013. ” 

Lingan’s report was recently confirmed in “The Decline of Big Soda,” in the New York Times.

And you know what? I think this shift is a GOOD thing.  

Hog-waste-billboard-Raise-A-Stink
A North Carolina hog waste water-pollution billboard.

Why? Here, I’m going to skip rehashing the data and arguments  gathered in my previous articles, and point curious readers to them. These include my 2009 “Classic”, the many-times re-posted & linked-to “Top Ten reasons Why Bottled Water Is a Blessing.”   

Regarding the tap water contamination concerns, let me point out to those at a distance that I live in the state with the second largest hog-raising industry, which produces hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic stew, stored aboveground in many thousands of ponds, which leak in to groundwater, spill over into rivers, and jump their banks in gales. (And can anybody spell :”fracking”?) Personally I think it’s nuts not to worry about public water contamination. Nor am I alone in this view.

But I can also point to a more prestigious source, a series of shocking, stunning, mind-bending (and utterly neglected) investigative pieces called “Toxic Waters,” also  in the New York Times. Just the headlines are enough to make one queasy: “Millions in U.S. Drink Dirty Water”; “Tap water often tainted but ‘legal’; and more.

Dirty-drinking-Water-nyt
Contaminated drinking water samples from a California public water system. Photo from the NY Times.

Evidently Gizmodo hasn’t seen this work, or has disregarded it. Certainly it doesn’t hold Alissa Walker back:

“Drinking municipal tap water means connecting yourself to your local water system, where the goals are to think holistically about the conservation of natural resources, replenish local aquifers, and build a resilient infrastructure to distribute water to the public.”

Really? If these municipal systems are all so holistically wonderful, what was the New York Times writing –fiction? Or how about this additional report, done for the National Institutes of Health? It’s entitled, “Risk of waterborne illness via drinking water in the United States,” and concludes that “The total estimated number of waterborne illnesses/yr in the U.S. is . . . estimated to be 19.5 M/yr.” 

In this last sentence, “M” stands for million. That’s 19 million illnesses per year, from public drinking water.

By contrast, Walker insists that 

“Drinking bottled water means colluding with a corporation which is not required to release any public information about how it plans to cut costs, exploit workers, dig wells, or employ a fossil-fueled supply chain in its quest to get a bottle of overpriced water into your hands.”

She’s right that bottled water companies should be pressured to be more forthcoming with data and access; and their facilities inspected more often (Tho their safety record overall is quite good).

Nonetheless, my main hope here is that Alissa Walker can get some help for her water rage issues. Because my own explorations suggest to me a long list of things to be more enraged about (which I’ll spare you), while bottled water looks ever more benign.

To a small extent, Walker’s water-rage outbursts are understandable because she lives in drought-stricken California, Los Angeles to be specific. There “rage and hate” at bottled water among certain bien pensant circles has been carefully nurtured by the anti-bottled water campaigners. Special vituperation has been aimed at the several BW companies that are still (legally) taking water out of the ground there and selling it.

Some seem to regard this water bottling as a main source of all the state’s massive water woes. The industry evidently makes an easy target as the yards around LA turn ever browner.

But this charge is absolutely not correct. Not even close.

In fact, as I discovered and reported here some months back, bottled water makes up only a nano-tiny, infinitesimal, doesn’t-even-move-the-needle part of the state’s unimaginable (38 billion gallons every day) water consumption. Getting rid of all bottled water there would do nothing useful about easing the drought. 

M-nM-Green-Villain
One of the REAL culprits in the California water crunch: Big Almonds, Inc. One gallon of water PER nut here. (Chocolate not included.)

Instead, Alissa Walker’s barely controllable “hate” would be much more accurately and usefully directed at pressuring the state’s almond industry; because it takes a gallon of water to grow one single almond; the nuts use up as much as ten percent of the state’s entire water usage. (That’s a truly mind-boggling figure, which I say with regret, as an almond aficionado; but beside it,  bottled water is barely a drop in the bucket.) Add in the rest of California agriculture, and there you are: two-thirds of California water (about 26 billion gallons a day) goes to feed the rest of us. 

Anyway, moving back from California to the U.S. overall, the upshot here is that widespread public water contamination, plus a shift away from fattening and chemical-loaded soda and related sweetened stuff, accounts for the growth in national bottled water consumption, as well as my personal loyalty to it. If this seems worse than most war crimes to Walker and Gizmodo, so be it; but its growth looks quite reasonable to me.

alissa-walker
Alissa Walker, while not thinking about bottled water. Photo by Ryan Essmaker.

And Alissa Walker’s rage and hate don’t connect well with either the causes of California’s drought (global warming? Divine vengeance on Disney and Hollywood? Voting Democrat?) or its meaningful policy remedies (taking on that political powerhouse, Big Almonds, and the even more fearsome Big Broccoli; which sounds funny but is not a joke.) Nor does it establish the iniquity of bottled water as an industry or a consumer item.

Pondering the Buzzfeed rant, I was struck by the fact that, beyond the undeniable fact that the water bottlers are for-profit companies, Walker provides no references to back up her charges of all the other iniquities the piece alleges. I wondered how, minus the evidence, we were supposed to take the piece seriously?

Wonderment increased when I googled up an interview/profile of her on another site. Turns out Walker’s educational background is in journalism and advertising, unsullied (like her article) by in-depth exposure to matters scientific. She recalls her professional epiphany thus:

“I very clearly remember walking out to the Mediterranean, sitting on the beach and playing with the rocks, and thinking, ‘This is what I was meant to do: I was meant to tell stories, talk about places, and walk around all day.’”

Which, she says, is what she does, having among other things given up cars. Moreover, she summarized her work at Gizmodo thus:

“I wake up at 6am, start working around 7am, write three or four articles, and end work at 4pm. My title at Gizmodo is Urbanism Editor, so that’s mostly what I focus on, but I write about a million other things, too.”

To be frank, her piece that was re-posted on my Facebook page reads exactly like that: one item among several churned out in standard click-bait mode during one such work shift. (Gizmodo brags that it attracts a hundred million  page views per month; that may be fine for business, but I’m not the first to notice that such frenetic content factories are often more like Chinese baby food factories when it comes to actual research and hard data.)

The upshot here is that, while bottled water sends Alissa Walker and Gizmodo over the edge, her rant about it doesn’t move my needle much.

But it is driving me to drink 

Except not soda or beer.

Come here, you squeaky garbage accordion. Let’s do the crinkle crinkle again.

PS. One of the best meditations on water issues I ever saw was a light-hearted but hardly lightweight sonnet penned in 1962 by the late great Quaker social scientist and systems thinker, Kenneth Boulding. Here it is:

Ode, on the General Subject of Water

Water is far from a simple commodity,
Water’s a sociological oddity.
Water’s a pasture for science to forage in,
Water’s a mark of our dubious origin.

Water’s a link with a distant futurity,
Water’s a symbol of ritual purity,
Water is politics, water’s religion,
Water is just about anyone’s pigeon.

Water is frightening, water’s endearing,
Water’s a lot more than mere engineering,
Water is tragical, water is comical,
Water is far from the Pure Economical.

So studies of water, though free of aridity,
Are apt to produce a good deal of turbidity. 

Annals of Homophobia: Don’t Cry For Kim, Rowan County

Annals of Homophobia: Don’t Cry For Kim, Rowan County

Remember the “Rainbow Tour” song from the movie version of “Evita”, the rock opera about Eva Peron? (If not, listen to it here right away.

It follows (and deconstructs) Evita’s supposedly triumphal European tour in the late 1940s:

Evita-Time-cover
A 1947 cover of TIME Magazine, featuring Eva “Evita” Peron, on the occasion of her “Rainbow Tour” in Europe.

The third verse from this stunning ensemble piece came back to mind on Wednesday:

More Bad news from Rome — 
She met with the Pope;
She only got a rosary, a kindly word–
I wouldn’t say the Holy Father 
Gave her the bird,
But papal decorations, never a hope . . .”

Who else met with the pope, more recently, and came away with only a rosary and some kindly words?

Yeah, Kim Davis.

News of the brief September 24 encounter was “leaked” by her lawyer.

It happened at the Vatican embassy in Washington, the day before Davis visited the Values Voter Summit, put on annually by Family Research Council Action. 

Family_Research_Council_Logo

FRCA is an ultra-rightwing lobby which has specialized in homophobia, plus anti-divorce, anti-same sex marriage and lots of other anti-stuff in the U.S., as well as support for draconian antigay laws in African countries. It has been named a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

FRC-hate-groupIn presidential years, the farther-right GOP candidates line up at the FRCA “Summit” to preen and toss red meat. This time most of them showed up, even Trump (but not Jeb!?) The Summit also runs a straw poll, of course, and this time ted Cruz, perhaps the nastiest of them all (but it’s a tough choice), won.

Still, despite the flurry of media attention that followed the disclosure, the visit turns out to be not exactly a big deal.

To be sure, Francis is on record as being against same sex marriage, and LGBT issues generally (even if he said “Who am I to judge?”); and has repeated the “religious liberty” meme which the American right (including its large Catholic wing) has been turned into a dog-whistle for protecting homophobic discrimination. None of this is new, even if he went out of his way to NOT repeat any of it in public while he was here.

In all his public, to-the-country statements repeatedly (& honestly) trashed the right wing Catholic political agenda, and the bishops’ alliance with them. If I was scoring all this, it would go: 20 for Francis’s good stuff, 1 (so far) for bad. In sports or politics, that would be a landslide or a rout. And in Vegas, betting on the pope saying progressive things while in the USA would have been a very big, loud winner. 

Compare: the Davis meeting was held in private, with no papal aides, news media,  or Davis’s lawyer; it lasted  only a few minutes; the pope’s reported pleasantries were boilerplate; and when asked later, he did not seem well-briefed on her case

Further, the fact of the meeting was embargoed until the pope was safely back in Rome. And late on September 30, the Vatican was still declining to comment on it, sounding embarrassed and blindsided. Some ballyhoo.

Of course, homophobic crusaders like Davis’s “Liberty Counsel” and the “Alliance Defending Freedom” were ecstatic at the news leak, and insisted that it showed that Francis was on board with their campaigns. They can’t be stopped for grabbing this patronizing shred of recognition.

But time to cue the Evita sound track again:

She only got a rosary, a kindly word–
I wouldn’t say the Holy Father 
Gave her the bird,
But papal decorations, never a hope . . .”

Papal decorations? Yeah, there are lots of them. They weren’t likely in this case; but just so you know.

papal-decoration-1
Papal decorations: the order of St. gregarious (above) and the Order of Pope Pius the Ninth. There are several more.

papal-decoration-3-GoodYet Davis didn’t go back to Kentucky unrewarded. Family Research Action gave her a “Cost of Discipleship Award”; its president compared her to Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.  So don’t cry for her, Rowan County.

But the rest of us could shed a tear for Parks, King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose witness and martyrdom  were twisted by a creepy group whose worldview would have all of them spinning in their graves. 

PS. Update: Jesuit editor Fr. James Martin adds his well-informed insider perspective here. His verdict also: NBD

 

Kim-Davis-hands-raised

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The “Savvy” “Apolitical” Pope & Dingbat “Experts”

The “Savvy” “Apolitical” Pope & Dingbat “Experts”

In today’s NYTimes (09-28-2015, the front-page article on the pope’s visit quotes a so-called expert in “Catholic Studies”:

<< “I was frankly taken aback at how savvy [pope Francis] was,” said Stephen Schneck, the director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America. “He was clearly aware of all the very divisive issues for Catholics in American public life but talked about them in a way that didn’t give ammunition to either conservatives or progressives in the United States to use in their political wars.” >>

Clue-does-not-have-one

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A Continuing Quaker Thumbprint on Japanese (& World) History

A Continuing Quaker Thumbprint on Japanese (& World) History

Recently, there’s news about how the Japanese prime minister is about to dump the antiwar provisions of Japan’s constitution — which have kept Japanese troops from fighting in other countries for seventy years.

Hey — what could possibly go wrong?

There have been loud street protests there against this impending change. Good on them.

Japanese-antiwar-protest

 

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Howell Raines & Whistling Dixie

A Response to “The Dream World of Southern Republicans,” by Howell Raines, New York Times – July 12, 2015
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/12/opinion/sunday/will-demographics-transform-southern-politics.html?_r=1

Sorry, Mr. Raines, but from my crossroads perch in North Carolina, this rosy forecast is mostly eyewash. I WISH it was so, but I don’t see it.

Raines is right about demographic change in the region. But does he think southern Republican white supremacist politicians are all illiterate bumpkins, who can’t read the same reports, and take potent countermeasures? Not a chance.

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Anti-Disestablishmentarianism: The Word for Southern Marriage Holdouts

Anti-Disestablishmentarianism: The Word for Southern Marriage Holdouts
Do kids still joke about learning to spell “anti-disestablishentarianism”?
I used to think it was a fake, something made up, like Mary Poppins’s “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

But no! It was real. And in fact, I just realized that TODAY, for the very first time ever, I can use the term in a piece of factual writing, in its actual meaning.
Because that’s what going on in a few holdouts spots across the American South: fits of Anti-Dis-Establishmentarianism.

keep-calm-and-get-off-my-antidisestablishmentarianism
Continue reading Anti-Disestablishmentarianism: The Word for Southern Marriage Holdouts