Puget Sound

I haven’t blogged about this much, but Puget Sound is pretty damn polluted. The cause? Storm runoff, mostly. Oil and grease from the city streets are dumping the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez into the Sound every two years. Intesnse!

Fortunately, we have solutions for storm runoff: Bioswales. There are a few scattered throughout Seattle as test projects. This is one problem that we can solve. Swales can cut this down by 99 percent.

Hold the Tomatoes

Eric Schlosser (he of Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness fame) has a great op-ed in the NYT today about the horrid conditions facing the migrant workers who provide you with those oh-so-awesome (meaning, really bland and flavorless) beafsteak tomatoes during the winter.

Migrant farm laborers have long been among America’s most impoverished workers. Perhaps 80 percent of the migrants in Florida are illegal immigrants and thus especially vulnerable to abuse. During the past decade, the United States Justice Department has prosecuted half a dozen cases of slavery among farm workers in Florida. Migrants have been driven into debt, forced to work for nothing and kept in chained trailers at night. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers — a farm worker alliance based in Immokalee, Fla. — has done a heroic job improving the lives of migrants in the state, investigating slavery cases and negotiating the penny-per-pound surcharge with fast food chains.

Florida’s tomato industry may be one of the most effective cartels in the U.S. today, for example, they’ve successfully used their clout to prevent marketing of more flavorful — if less comely — varietals. So it’s a shame, if predictable, that they allow themselves to be browbeaten by the scions of robber-baron capitalism. Consider:

Telling Burger King to pay an extra penny for tomatoes and provide a decent wage to migrant workers would hardly bankrupt the company. Indeed, it would cost Burger King only $250,000 a year. At Goldman Sachs, that sort of money shouldn’t be too hard to find. In 2006, the bonuses of the top 12 Goldman Sachs executives exceeded $200 million — more than twice as much money as all of the roughly 10,000 tomato pickers in southern Florida earned that year.

Knowing what misers the Florida growers and their buyers are, do you really need your mid-winter tomato?

The Legislature and I-747

Gov. Gregoire has called the legislature into special session to restore the 1% cap on property tax increases, caving into Republicans and Tim Eyman right before an election year.

Goldy’s pretty hot and bothered over it, but why? I mean, doesn’t he realize that Dino Rossi will be so awesomely outmaneuvered by Gregoire’s clever ploy that he’ll have no choice to withdraw his candidacy and concede defeat?!

C’mon! It’s easy to see that Gregoire’s been talking to Mike Holmgren, and she’s figured out that it’s ALWAYS easier to win an away game. So she’s just going to play on Rossi’s turf.

I expect Rossi’s withdrawl within the next 48 hours. After all, Republicans always get scared and back off when you give them everything that they want. Showing fear always works.

Social Scientists

Continuing our Shachtman-mania here at BATP, another great article on the Army’s nascent efforts to recruit anthropologists to help understand local culture in Afghanistan and Iraq:

In western Afghanistan, the 4th Brigade of the 82nd Airborne had come under a steady stream of attacks, despite “a very aggressive outreach effort to village elders,” the report notes. The Human Terrain Team embedded with the brigade observed that the true power brokers in the area were the mullahs — the local religious leaders.

“After redirecting their outreach effort to the mullahs,” the 4th Brigade “experienced a rapid and dramatic decrease in Taliban attacks…. In the words of the brigade commander, ‘For five years, we got nothing from the community. After meeting with the mullahs, we had no more bullets for 28 days; captured 80 Afghan-born Taliban, 10 Pakistanis, and 32 killed or captured Arabs.'”

Unfortunately, the program’s in turmoil, perhaps due to a culture clash between the lefty, egghead anthropology PhD’s and the army colonels they’re serving with, among other things.

The real money quote comes from an army recruitment email, which we’ll file under things we should have asked before the war:

“The key is we need smart people who get the Middle East to whatever extent such a thing is possible.”


Without Terror, Where Would He Be?

Mitt, quit with the “Sanctuary City” claptrap (besides, it sounds too Mormon) and focus on useful arguments:

In other words, as incredible as it might seem, Rudy Giuliani—whose presidential candidacy is steeped in 9/11 iconography—has been doing business with a government agency run by the very man who made the attacks on 9/11 possible.

You think this looks like 9/11 Truth Out bunkum but you’d be wrong . . .

Iraq and the Networked War

Don’t miss Noah Shachtman’s piece in the December 2007 Wired. In their rush to create the next-generation network-centric warfare, U.S. military planners probably didn’t realize that they no longer have a monopoly on high-tech:

Meanwhile, insurgent forces cherry-pick the best US tech: disposable email addresses, anonymous Internet accounts, the latest radios. They do everything online: recruiting, fundraising, trading bomb-building tips, spreading propaganda, even selling T-shirts. And every American-financed move to reinforce Iraq’s civilian infrastructure only makes it easier for the insurgents to operate. Every new Internet café is a center for insurgent operations. Every new cell tower means a hundred new nodes on the insurgent network. And, of course, the insurgents know the language and understand the local culture. Which means they plug into Iraq’s larger social web more easily than an American ever could. As John Abizaid, Franks’ successor at Central Command, told a conference earlier this year, “This enemy is better networked than we are.”

The insurgent groups are also exploiting something that US network-centric gurus seem to have missed: All of us are already connected to a global media grid. Satellite television, radio, and the Internet mean that many of the most spectacular attacks in Iraq are deliberately staged for the cameras, uploaded to YouTube, picked up by CNN, and broadcast around the world.

Though the above quote caught my eye, the article is more about how Iraq is forcing the military to lash together high-tech satellite mapping software with really a low-tech hearts-and-minds campaign.

CNN/YouTube Debate

CNN has, in its infinite wisdom, bent over and pledged not to ask the Republicans any hard questions — er, “gotcha” questions — during the upcoming YouTube debate.

In other words, no firefighers asking Rudy why they didn’t have the radios he was supposed to get them, and above all, no questions about teh gay.


You may recall that, when the debate was proposed last summer, only John McCain and Ron Paul agreed to participate.

What do you think happened in the intervening few months? Would anyone be really surprised if CNN went to the other candidates, hat in hand and said, “okay, please … we promise to only ask questions about how much you love God, America, and puppies!!”

I’m sure it was a tough sell.

Soft Power

Smart words from our SecDef:

“We are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals,” he said. “It is just plain embarrassing that Al Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America.”

Mr. Gates expressed regret over decisions by previous administrations to cut the United States Agency for International Development and to abolish the United States Information Agency and divide its responsibilities among other offices.

The defense secretary urged the creation of “a permanent, sizable cadre of immediately deployable experts with disparate skills.” These people, he said, would be drawn from the civilian world — with expertise in such areas as agriculture, urban infrastructure and law — to work alongside the military and help rebuild and stabilize world trouble spots.

I would heartily support all of those things. But the implementation isn’t going to be so simple, for a number of reasons.

When we put American boots on the ground, whether it’s a few dozen in Somalia or hundreds of thousands in Iraq, we have a well-established process for doing so: negotiating with relevant allies for air space and basing rights, calling up certain brigades to active duty, and a million other things that are very much above my pay grade. I can’t say for sure, but my gut instinct is that the process for deploying civil infrastructure experts is not nearly so cut-and-dry.

Furthermore, what we’re talking about here is essentially a State Department consulting shop — a government-run version of McKinsey. So why not just help the Iraqis or Afghans or whomever to hire McKinsey, or Deloitte, or whatever private contractor they wish? Unlike the defense contracting business, there are actually a number of private consulting companies that could legitimately compete for this business, and probably do a better job at it than the U.S. Government.

As to Gates’ first point, about America’s message abroad, I think the State Department is stumbling towards the right answer here by empowering the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy, a position created in 1999 and notably held by Bush consigliere Karen Hughes for a couple of unsuccessful years. Bush’s first appointee, Charlotte Beers, a Madison Avenue ad exec, seems like a much more appropriate choice. One can imagine that a competent President (Obama, Clinton) and a seasoned Secretary of State (Biden, Richardson, Holbrooke) might be able to take this position and make it really useful.

But, of course, action speak louder than words, as Fred Kaplan noted when Hughes was first tapped for the job. All the slickly-produced ads in the world won’t help as long as America trots around the world launching pre-emptive wars and ignoring global treaties on important issues like arms control, global warming, and torture. If the product’s a turd, all the marketing brainpower in the world can’t sell it.

But Then What Will Happen To Maury?

Paternity kits now being sold in drug stores threaten to render Maury Povich’s show pointless:

Genetic testing is now available at the drugstore. A company called Sorenson Genomics has started selling a paternity test kit through Rite Aid stores in California, Oregon and Washington. It appears to be the first time a DNA test is being sold through a major pharmacy chain.

The move into the pharmacy is another in the spread of genetic testing directly to consumers. Many genetic tests, for health and diet advice, ancestry and paternity, are already available directly to consumers through the Internet.

But Sorenson hopes the corner drugstore will appeal to different customers, including those who do not want to wait three or five days for a kit to arrive in the mail after ordering it over the Internet.

“There is a curiosity and a need to know that can be provided discreetly, conveniently and affordably at retail,” said Douglas R. Fogg, chief operating officer of Sorenson Genomics. The company’s slogan: “For questions only DNA can answer.”