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Book Salon Preview: Angels by the River, A Memoir

By: Elliott Sunday November 23, 2014 8:19 am

Reflections on race, environment, politics, and living on the front lines of change

Angels by the River: A Memoir

Come chat with author Gus Speth and host Will Potter, 5pm ET, 2pm PT.

In Angels by the River, James Gustave “Gus” Speth recounts his unlikely path from a southern boyhood through his years as one of the nation’s most influential mainstream environmentalists and eventually to the system­-changing activism that shapes his current work.

Born and raised in a lovely but racially divided town that later became the scene of South Carolina’s horrific Orangeburg Massacre, Speth explores how the civil rights movement and the South’s agrarian roots shaped his later work in the heyday of the environmental movement, when he founded two landmark environmental groups, fought for the nation’s toughest environmental laws, spearheaded programs in the United Nations, advised the White House, and moved into a leading academic role as dean of Yale’s prestigious School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Yet, in the end, he arrived somewhere quite unexpected—still believing change is possible, but not within the current political and economic system.

Throughout this compelling memoir, Speth intertwines three stories—his own, his hometown’s, and his country’s—focusing mainly on his early years and the lessons he drew from them, and his later years, in which he comes full circle in applying those lessons. In the process he invites others to join him politically at or near the place at which he has arrived, wherever they may have started.

James Gustave “Gus” Speth is the former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, founder and president of the World Resources Institute, and co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He has also been administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, chair of the U.N. Development Group, professor of law at Georgetown University, and chair of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality in the Carter administration.

He currently teaches at Vermont Law School, and is a senior fellow at the Democracy Collaborative where he is co-chair of the Next System Project. He is also distinguished senior fellow with Demos, associate fellow with the Tellus Insitute, and the recipient of numerous environmental awards. His previous books include America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy, and the award-winning The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability and Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment. (Chelsea Green Publishing)


The NSA and Utah: Is any win a good one?

By: danps Sunday November 23, 2014 7:13 am

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

Late last year a group called the Tenth Amendment Center proposed model legislation designed to give states new methods to oppose the National Security Agency (NSA). It included a proposal to cut off the water supply at the NSA’s Utah data center, and at the time I wrote about both the encouraging and troubling aspects of it. The short version is this: It’s nice to see groups looking for innovative ways to undercut the surveillance state, but seeing them come from groups that also believe in, say, nullification is unsettling.

An issue like government spying doesn’t cut along traditional conservative/liberal lines, though. It’s more of an insiders versus outsiders issue. In Washington both parties seem comfortable with the status quo, or at least not sufficiently disturbed by it to challenge it. Somehow even those who like to make the right noises about it, like Rand Paul, end up finding ways to oppose even the mildest reforms. Proposals to change intelligence agencies always come up short of getting enough support to take action.

Based on that history, it’s an exercise in futility to look to the capitol for reform – which means looking for unconventional coalitions elsewhere. The problem in this case is that an outsider coalition is not equal. Civil libertarians on the left are typically characterized in the media as extremists, those on the right as patriots. Cliven Bundy brandishes weapons at federal agents and is defending the Constitution; protesters in Ferguson press their case for civil rights and are regarded as radicals.

That dynamic is currently at play in Utah: the model legislation is now a bill from Republican lawmakers. The Washington Post gave a respectful presentation of it, and quoted the sponsors warmly:

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Marc Roberts (R), would prohibit any municipality from providing “material support or assistance in any form to any federal data collection and surveillance agency.”


Roberts on Wednesday said the NSA came to Utah pledging to act according to the Constitution. “We all know and are aware that has been violated,” he told the committee, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

And here are some stirring quotes from the Tribune article:

“I just don’t want to subsidize what they’re doing on the back of our citizens,” said Rep. Roger Barrus, R-Centerville.


Joe Levi, the vice chair of the Davis County Republican Party and a Web administrator and senior editor of the website, said jokes about how the NSA has already read the bill point to the problem with the spy agency.

“This is not a bill just about a data center,” Levi said. “This is a bill about civil rights.”

Neither article goes into the questionable provenance of the bill. It’s just taken at face value that these lawmakers arrived at their opinions independently and that their concern for the Constitution is all that informs them. Tracing it back to the Tenth Amendment Center (to say nothing of the unsavory history of nullification) would seem to be an important bit of context. But nope: they say civil rights and that’s good enough.

This puts civil libertarians on the left in a jam. On its face the bill is great. It’s a creative way to push back against an aggrandized and unaccountable intelligence apparatus. The NSA does what it wants when it wants and never sees any adverse consequences. Seeing anyone, anywhere successfully opposing it would be really encouraging. And maybe only the far right has the good will from political and media elites to try something like that. Maybe there’s an “only Nixon could go to China” quality to it.

It’s damned unnerving, though, to think through where a successful effort along these lines could end up. This is purely a product of the right. It’s not like the ACLU is being invited to offer support of it, or to lobby Democrats for its passage. If this is what ends up being the way forward, the left will be at best junior partners to these efforts, at worst cheerleaders. Meanwhile, the Tenth Amendment Center gains prestige and begins to emerge as an ALEC of nullification, offering draft legislation to legislators for new and exciting adventures in states’ rights.

As a liberal, I consider all of that and think: Here’s to Roberts and company’s success. But not too much of it.

Food Sunday: Guacamole

By: Ruth Calvo Sunday November 23, 2014 4:55 am


My own chunky guacamole

Guacamole in progress

(Picture courtesy of Ivan Dervisevic at

The holidays are a perfect time to put together a nice dip, and to my taste nothing is as good as guacamole. It’s something that should be prepared close to the time of eating, so the first step is getting avocados and letting them get ripe. Then, you can put together a delicious, and healthy, treat.


3 avocados, halved, seeded and peeled
1 lime, juiced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic, minced

In a large bowl place the scooped avocado pulp and lime juice, toss to coat. Drain, and reserve the lime juice, after all of the avocados have been coated. Using a potato masher add the salt, cumin, and cayenne and mash. Then, fold in the onions, jalapeno, tomatoes, cilantro, and garlic. Add 1 tablespoon of the reserved lime juice. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour and then serve.

Looking back, I see that Elliott did a diary on guacamole, in an unserious vein, a few years ago. That’s worth a visit, also Christophe’s.

This needs something to dip in it, of course, and I have good Kroger chips on hand almost all the time. They’re excellent, and cheap too. I care deeply about the cost!

Sunday Talking Heads: November 23, 2014

By: Elliott Sunday November 23, 2014 12:12 am

Green World Rising
H/T Gaius Publius

Greetings, Sunday again. Yes, immigration is a top topic but there is a dose of Benghazi.

WASHINGTON JOURNAL: 7:45am – Christian Science Monitor Congressional Correspondent Francine Kiefer and Wall Street Journal National Politics Editor Aaron Zitner discuss the political and legislative future of President Obama’s immigration overhaul proposals. 8:45am – Thomas Erdbrink of The New York Times and Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy discuss the approaching deadline for a nuclear disarmament deal between Western powers and Iran.

ABC’S THIS WEEK: Immigration with President Barack Obama. Roundtable: Dr. Ben Carson, James Carville, Matthew Dowd, Katrina vanden Heuvel.

CBS’ FACE THE NATION: Immigration. “Will Republicans find a way to stop President Obama’s actions?” House Homeland Security Chair Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID). Then, Ferguson MO with NAACP President Cornell William Brooks. “What is his message to the people of Ferguson and the broader African American community? What lessons can Americans learn from Michael Brown’s shooting this summer and subsequent unrest? And what more can be done to prevent violence in the wake of the grand jury’s decision? Roundtable: Susan Page, David Ignatius, Michael Gerson, Mark Leibovich, Clarence Page.

CNN’S RELIABLE SOURCES:Barbara Bowman claims the media protected Bill Cosby from her rape allegations; China’s president finally faces a free press; the TV station behind #pointergate refuses to apologize.”

CNN’S STATE OF THE UNION: Benghazi with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). Immigration: Rick Santorum and Graham. Ferguson Roundtable: Princeton University Professor and activist Cornel West, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill, Sojourners President Jim Wallis, LZ Granderson.

FOX NEWS SUNDAY: Immigration. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), then Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Chair of the House Democratic Caucus. Also, Texas Attorney General and Governor-elect Greg Abbott (R) “who says he will sue the President on behalf of his state as soon as Obama announces he is taking this executive action.” Roundtable: George Will, Julie Pace, Kimberley Strassel, Ron Fournier. “Power Player of the Week” is NYC street photographer Brandon Stanton.



MOYERS & COMPANY: How Public Power Can Defeat Plutocrats. Lawrence Lessig and Zephyr Teachout return to talk about the corrupting influence of money in politics, and their push to change the system.

NBC’S MEET THE PRESS: Immigration with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). Ferguson Roundtable: Rudy Giuliani; Anthony Gray, Lawyer for family of Michael Brown; Michael Eric Dyson, Professor of Sociology, Georgetown University. U. S. Energy with John Hofmeister, Fmr. Chief Executive Officer, Shell Oil and Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer-Prize winning author, “The Prize: The Epic Quest For Oil, Money & Power.” Roundtable: Joe Scarborough, Jose Diaz-Balart, Amy Walter, Bill Richardson.

Saturday Art: The Muse of the Snowdragon

By: Elliott Saturday November 22, 2014 7:44 pm

Requiem of Ice

There’s an inspiring system of ice caves in the Sandy Glacier on the west face of Mount Hood in Oregon (waving to Suz here). In the past few years these caves have been spelunked, photographed and filmed:

This was a passion project for us inspired by a small thumbnail photograph I had seen in 2005 that showed a person in an extraordinary ice cave. With no information about where on Mt Hood it was or how to get there, it remained an elusive destination until last summer when Oregon Field Guide revealed the cave system in a comprehensive multimedia presentation. We saw a real opportunity and need to give a beautiful and cinematic treatment to the place and create the cave itself as a character.

This was a passion project for us inspired by a small thumbnail photograph I had seen in 2005 that showed a person in an extraordinary ice cave. With no information about where on Mt Hood it was or how to get there, it remained an elusive destination until last summer when Oregon Field Guide revealed the cave system in a comprehensive multimedia presentation. We saw a real opportunity and need to give a beautiful and cinematic treatment to the place and create the cave itself as a character.

I posted this because it’s beautiful and haunting. Here are a series of links for those who want to know more about the glacier and the snow caves, the making of this short film, as well as the project itself and text of the requiem; it’s surprising how much additional information is available at our fingertips.

From wiki:

Boston Bombing News: Throwing Fish Out or Convicting The Big Fish?

By: pbszebra Saturday November 22, 2014 7:36 pm

Most everyone knows the statuses of those accused in relation to the Boston Marathon Bombings, but if you’ve been living under a rock for the last several months, here’s a summary of how I see it:

Stephen Silva – Although Silva’s charges of  conspiracy to distribute heroin, distribution of heroin and possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number do not connect him to the Boston Marathon Bombings, he has been connected via my personal favorite reporter (serious facetiousness) Michele McPhee.  The title of this article simply reads, “Gun Used By Boston Bomber Linked to Alleged Heroin Dealer.”  Whether Silva’s gun truly is the same gun used by the Tsarnaevs, we have yet to know, but Silva is now knee-deep in the Boston Marathon Bombings.  Silva is being detained and awaits the start of his trial.  As far as I can tell (looking only at his docket) his trial date has not been set.  I wonder if prosecution will have Silva testify against Dzhokhar prior to any final decision in his own case?

Robel Phillipos – We all know Phillipos was convicted in October of two counts of making false statements in a terrorism investigation.  He now faces up to 16 years in prison and he is under house arrest until his sentencing, which is set for January 29th.  Of course, his case is waiting for the filing of post-verdict motions and defense appeals.  I wonder if prosecution will have Phillipos testify against Dzhokhar prior to any final decision in his own case?

Khairullozhon Matanov –  Matanov, similar to Phillipos, is accused of lying to investigators, or more precisely, making a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement in a federal investigation involving international and domestic terrorism.  In addition, destruction, alteration, and falsification of records, documents, and a tangible object in a federal investigation.  Is that anything like throwing fish overboard?  Matanov is being detained and awaiting his trial, which is predicted to start June, 2015.  Meanwhile, Matanov appears to be having a hard time in detention, having been beaten, finally moved and his old attorney assigned.  I wonder if prosecution will have Matanov testify against Dzhokhar prior to any final decision in his own case?

Azamat Tazhayakov – Yes, Tazhayakov was convicted back in July of obstructing a terrorism investigation.  And yes he testified in Phillipos’ trial, hoping to get a reduced sentence.  He faces up to 25 years in prison.  However, his case is at a stand still, having all hearings and deadlines cancelled pending resolution by the Supreme Court of Yates v. United States.  Once the Supreme Court decides whether or not a fish is a tangible object, I guess it will be decided whether a backpack is a tangible object as well.  I wonder if prosecution will have Tazhayakov testify against Dzhokhar prior to any final decision in his own case?

Dias Kadyrbayev – Kadyrbayev, also charged with obstructing a terrorism investigation, changed his plea to guilty after the conviction of his friend, Tazhayakov.  He, like Tazhayakov, faces up to 25 years in prison.  Kadyrbayev’s case is also on holding pending resolution by the Supreme Court of Yates v. United States.  One more time, I wonder if prosecution will have Kadyrbayev testify against Dzhokhar prior to any final decision in his own case?

All of these Tsarnaev acquaintances are waiting.  Are they all really waiting for Supreme Court decisions, or court date availability, or what?  Is it coincidence that these acquaintances’ outcomes are not finalized before the start of Dzhokhar’s trial?  Prosecution has already given Tazhayakov hope of a reduced sentence in exchange for testifying at the Phillipos trial.  Exactly what would prosecution hope to gain if they make such offers to Kadyrbayev, Tazhayakov, Phillipos, Silva and Matanov for testifying against Dzhokhar?  If Dzhokhar is found guilty, I wonder what the sentences of his friends will be?  Do you think they will be minimal since the friends will have held up their part of the bargain?  Will they be “rewarded”?

The Inevitability of Democratic Dry-Doperism

By: patrick devlin Saturday November 22, 2014 12:42 pm

“It would be irresponsible for me as the chief law enforcement officer to take a position based on its popularity without thinking it would actually work” – Kamala Harris, candidate for California Attorney General, 2014

“I am not opposed to the legalization of marijuana, there’s a certain inevitability about it.” – Kamala Harris, newly re-elected California Attorney General, 2014

“Be the change you want to see” – Gandhi

Well, it was inevitable.

That a sitting Democrat, even one from the avant state of California, would admit the obvious after running away from the obvious as she ran for re-election, and come clean, fess up, speak reality and stop with the timorous mealy-mouthery and calculated misrepresentation on cannabis legalization.

Freshly re-elected California Attorney General Kamala Harris recently told Californians that she made a craven choice to obfuscate as the silly season was unfolding – that she believes (a belief shared by about 99 percent of Americans, including the paid prohibitionist anti-cannabis propagandists Patrick Kennedy and Kevin Sabet) legal cannabis in her state and the country is “inevitable”.

What we also know by now, after four states and Washington DC have legalized recreational cannabis consumption, it is inevitable that modern elected Democrats will either hem and haw about their position on legalization or stake an outright (and untenable) prohibitionist stance against cannabis legalization and work to keep the substance illegal – ensuring the arrest of more minority Americans and the pain and suffering of many of their fellow citizens.

And, in this year’s California Attorney General’s race, Ms. Harris shown as a masterfully scheming dry-doper politician, segueing effortlessly from coy quips and chuckles to strongly worded finger-wagging morality plays (see above), ensuring both to-be-arrested young minority males and scared-as-shit suburban parents that she will not lend a hand to equal justice demanding Californians, claiming the tough law enforcement territory on legalized cannabis. In fact, Harris’s republican challenger, the wacky straw-dog candidate Ron Gold, actually took the medically responsible and certainly more rational, law enforcement cost saving and equal justice uplifting pro-cannabis legalization position in the race. It is understood that Gold didn’t stand a chance against Harris with his odd-ball Libertarian worldview, but, who can really argue with the statement; “It is common sense, reasonable and rational to change laws that have driven the market for marijuana into the hands of drug cartels and street gangs.” The answer…Kamala Harris.

Harris’s reaction to questions from the media regarding her challenger’s stance on cannabis legalization, (a very Obama like laugh-off when Harris said with a derisive guffaw, “He’s entitled to his opinion”) angered Californians who are serious about legalizing cannabis, driving some very liberal voters to support the republican from a standpoint of principle – voters who had never voted for a republican in their lives. Harris may have angered some hippies, but she certainly received the support of law enforcement in the 2014 election cycle. And, she didn’t have to admit that law enforcement unequally applies the laws prohibiting cannabis or explain to suburban mommies why she is hanging with those dirty hippies.

While Harris’s crass self-obsessive posturing, her effort to not anger law enforcement constituencies as she scans the horizon of her political career shooting for the stars (again, in a very Obama like fashion – the state senator who supported both cannabis decriminalization and the creation of a Palestinian state for reasons, looking back, that were purely political) may have made her forget the public that she has promised to serve, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsome (also newly re-elected) chose to insert cannabis legalization as a plank in his 2014 re-election campaign.

As cannabis legalization is forced by the will of the people in state after state and as medical researchers discover the usefulness of the substance after 80 years of the federal government’s suppression of medical research, we can expect to see more self-serving Democratic politicians sheepishly come to grips with Legal Cannabis America and reverse course on the subject.

This is not to suggest that these dry-doper Democrats will reverse course out of principle or personal integrity or compassion. This does not mean that these liars will admit that their clinging to cannabis prohibition (that is antithetical to both equal justice and scientific research) so as to be elected over and over again by both stoking and appealing to fears and bigotries in their constituencies that they once saw as a requirement for ‘tough on crime’ Democrats, was immoral and wrong and served to give tens of millions of young Americans arrest records and limit the quality of life of patients who have terminal diseases. They will admit that cannabis should be legal simply because their future political careers hang in the balance.

That’s not bravery and honesty; it is, rather, cowardice and narcissism.

cross posted at mLaw

Ferguson: Counterinsurgency Operation Underway

By: wendydavis Saturday November 22, 2014 11:34 am

This post is largely by way of Part II of the earlier ‘Tearing the Band-Aid Off’; the comment thread is long, interesting, but rather unwieldy.  If you require links, most I can dig up for you.

The degree to which the massive USian ‘security’ apparatus has been ginning up the idea that there will be riots in Ferguson once the Grand Jury considering three long months of ‘evidence’ and deciding on indictment or not, has indicated ‘not’ in so many ways.  The media and public figures continually try to cover the DA’s and Gov Jay Nixon’s backsides for their corrupt handling of the case, always forgetting that the police could have forced Darren Wilson to actually file a police report on his killing of Michael Brown, and simply with the evidence the public knows…to have arrested him and put him on trial.  Most juries acquit killer cops in any event, given that the bar of ‘fearing for my life, I killed him or her’ is so low.

Now given that 99% of the protestors have been engaging in peaceful protests, and that all violence to actual human beings has come from the police, sheriffs, and state patrol, the admonishments from Eric Holder, the Gov, the police, that protestors not be violent.  Oh, the hypocrisy of the President:

“This is a country that allows everybody to express their views. Allows them to peacefully assemble, to protest actions that they think are unjust,” the President told ABC News in an interview excerpt broadcast on Friday.

But using any event as an excuse for violence is contrary to rule of law and contrary to who we are.