Saturday, May 22, 2010

Righthaven Files More Lawsuits

Righthaven Files More Lawsuits Amid Questions About Group's Agenda
by Wendy Davis, Sunday, May 16, 2010


Copyright enforcement group Righthaven has filed two more lawsuits against Web site operators for allegedly copying and linking to articles that originally appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

In the latest lawsuits, against the nonprofit Ecological Internet and the operator of the sports betting site, as with the prior 11 filed since March, Righthaven says it obtained the copyrights to the newspapers' articles. In all cases, Righthaven apparently went to court without first asking that the articles be removed. While sending takedown notices isn't legally required, it's extremely unusual for content owners to sue over newspaper articles when no one has previously complained to the operators.

Glen Barry, who runs Ecological Internet, says he has kept a database of articles about environmental issues for 15 years without previously facing litigation. "We have already amicably resolved similar situations with other outlets, including The New York Times," he says. He adds that he preserved copies of the articles on his site for research purposes. "We are building a scholarly archive to solve ecological crises," he says.

Barry adds that he checked the site's logs after speaking with Online Media Daily and discovered that the site had just four articles from the Las Vegas Review-Journal in its archives. None had ever been clicked on, he said.

In the meantime, at least one Righthaven defendant is questioning whether it was targeted for political reasons. The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, sued last month, was previously named by the Las Vegas Review-Journal as one of the five "worst taxpayer nightmares of the year."

"This nonprofit band of lefties never tires of coming up with ways to spend other people's money in the pursuit of 'social, economic and environmental justice,'" the paper railed in a December editorial.

PLAN now sees a connection between the paper's stance and the lawsuit. "They've got a right to say what they want to say," says communications director Launce Rake. "But at this point, I believe they just want to shut us down."

But it's not yet clear whether Righthaven intends to bring actions against conservative organizations. Righthaven CEO Steven Gibson says that his concern is limited to fighting the "rampant" copyright infringement occurring online. He specifically denies any link between the newspaper's editorial stance and the lawsuits brought to date. "We're non-discriminatory in terms of addressing copyright infringement," he says.

Other defendants include the progressive group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a real estate blogger, sites related to sports gambling, a group that opposes wind energy, an environmental site and the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. In 2002, the Las Vegas Review-Journal ran an editorial urging the decriminalization of marijuana.

Still, some observers have noted that Righthaven so far has not filed suits against any right-wing organizations or Republican groups that the paper currently appears to support. The Las Vegas Journal Review (which covers the media and has no connection to the Review-Journal) and Media Matters for America have both pointed out that Righthaven appears to allow U.S. Senate candidate Danny Tarkanian to reproduce the paper's stories on his campaign site.

Media Matters also said that some legal experts believe that allowing one political group to post copyrighted material but preventing others potentially violates campaign finance law.

Whether the lawsuits are aimed at forcing liberal groups to shut down or not, that could well be the effect, says Santa Clara University professor Eric Goldman. Simply defending a lawsuit could easily cost at least $100,00, he estimates. In addition, statutory damages in copyright infringement lawsuits -- available regardless of any actual economic harm -- range from $750 to $150,000 per infringement.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oil in the Loop

BP withholds oil spill facts — and government lets it
By Marisa Taylor and Renee Schoof | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — BP, the company in charge of the rig that exploded last month in the Gulf of Mexico, hasn't publicly divulged the results of tests on the extent of workers' exposure to evaporating oil or from the burning of crude over the gulf, even though researchers say that data is crucial in determining whether the conditions are safe.

Moreover, the company isn't monitoring the extent of the spill and only reluctantly released videos of the spill site that could give scientists a clue to the amount of the oil in gulf.

BP's role as the primary source of information has raised questions about whether the government should intervene to gather such data and to publicize it and whether an adequate cleanup can be accomplished without the details of crude oil spreading across the gulf.

Under pressure from senators, BP released four videos Tuesday, but it hasn't agreed to better monitoring.

The company also hasn't publicly released air sampling for oil spill workers although Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency in charge of monitoring compliance with worker safety regulations, is relying on the information and has urged it to do so.

"It is not ours to publish," said Dean Wingo, OSHA's assistant regional administrator who oversees Louisiana. "We are working with (BP) and encouraging them to post the data so that it is publicly available."

Much of the worker exposure data is being collected by contractors hired by BP.

Toby Odone, a BP spokesman, said the company is sharing the data with "legitimate interested parties," which include government agencies and the private companies assisting in the cleanup. When asked whether the information can be released publicly, he responded, "Why would one do it? Any parties with a legitimate interest can have access to it."

Joseph T. Hughes Jr., the director of the worker education training program for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said he didn't think "anyone has seen much of that data at all."

"The hard part about it is that in a normal response, when the government is doing this, there might be more transparency on the data," Hughes said. "In this case, when you have BP making the decisions and collecting the data it's harder to have that transparency."

Unlike the response to other past national disasters such as Hurricane Katrina where the government was in charge, BP has been designated as the "responsible party" under federal law and is overseeing much of the response to the spill. The government is acting more as an adviser.

So far, the government has been slow to press BP to release its data and permit others to evaluate the extent of the crisis.

"I think that one of the lessons learned here is whether the federal government should have more of a role in the response and not leave that decision-making in the hands of the responsible parties," said Hughes, whose institute was one of the first to raise questions about air quality at the World Trade Center site in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

A recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine found that many Sept. 11 rescue workers still suffer from impaired lung function.

The Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, one of BP's consultants, is collecting air quality samples over the coast and the water.

"It's fair to say that a majority of the air monitoring along the shoreline is being done by our organization," said Glenn Millner, a partner with the CTEH and a principal toxicologist.

Gina Solomon, a medical doctor and a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said her environmental organization has been pressing the government to release the data, after hearing reports of fishermen concerned about exposure.

"The fact that OSHA is saying that it's safe is important because they have access to data that we don't have," she said. "It's sort of awkward to have to take that on face value given the fact that there are fishermen who feel they are getting sick."

The Environmental Protection Agency is releasing shoreline data on its website, but not information about the air quality workers encounter on the water.

OSHA has access to that data and is monitoring it to determine what type of equipment the workers should be issued and other questions related to worker safety. So far, the air quality does not require workers to receive respirators, Wingo said.

Millner said that data as a matter of practice is shared only with the oil clean up worker and the company overseeing the cleanup.

BP also has exercised considerable control over how much is known about the amount of oil gushing into the gulf.

Early on, the government estimated that 210,000 gallons was being released daily. That estimate was based on satellite observations of the water's surface.

The first look at the oil coming out of the pipe on the sea floor was a video clip that BP released last week in response to demands from reporters and others. It caused a stir because some experts who analyzed it estimated that the amount of oil pouring into the gulf was many times the government's official estimate.

Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., on Monday asked BP on Monday to provide all available video footage.

BP provided clips from several days of the spill on Tuesday.

The clips, however, would still result only in rough estimates because the oil flows at different rates at different times and it's mixed with gas, said BP spokesman Mark Proegler.

The company had no other equipment on the sea floor to monitor the amount of the flow, and no plans to install any.

"We've said from the beginning . . . it's difficult if not impossible to measure from the source of the flow," Proegler said on Tuesday. BP's focus is stopping the flow and keeping the oil away from shore, he said.

Jeff Short, an oil pollution expert and former National Marine Fisheries Service official who now works for the environmental group Oceana, said the estimate based on surface observations was very imprecise, and that looking at the flow rate from the pipe would be better.

"The public has the right to see what harm the environment is exposed to, and knowing the flow rate is fundamental to that," he said.

Judy McDowell, the chair of the biology department and a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts who's studied many oil spills, said that in addition to knowing the amount of oil flowing in, scientists also need to figure out how it's dispersing and breaking down in order to know what effect it would have on living organisms in the water.

Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of NOAA, said in testimony to a Senate committee Tuesday said it was important, but difficult to get a better estimate of the amount of oil. She said that the Coast Guard planned to set up a team to get a better estimate.

Some university researchers have been frustrated by the lack of data and the refusal of federal agencies to press BP to collect detailed measurements from the broken well pipe or fully assess what might be happening underwater.

"We have been screaming from day one for data,'' said Peter Ortner, a fisheries biologist at the University of Miami.

Ortner also said that NOAA had been slow to consider sub-surface effects and didn't deploy the sophisticated gear that might help surveying for submerged oil.

Lubchenco said Monday that the agency had been discussing ideas about more sensing gear on the ocean floor but said "the priority at this point is to stop the flow.''

Meanwhile, an analysis of satellite imagery by the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, reported Tuesday that the spill has grown to more than 7,500 square miles, or about the size of New Jersey.

(Curtis Morgan of The Miami Herald contributed to this article.)


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More McClatchy oil spill coverage

Check out McClatchy's expanded politics coverage at Planet Washington

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Pentagon’s Private & Secret Spy Ring

International Media Mis-Adventures:
The Pentagon’s Private & Secret Spy Ring
by rory o' connor


Author and adventurer Robert Young Pelton is perhaps best known for his best-selling guides to The World’s Most Dangerous Places. A veteran of battles in Afghanistan, sieges in Chechnya and attacks in Liberia, and a survivor of an assassination attempt in Uganda and a kidnapping in Colombia, Pelton has also spent time hunting for Osama with the CIA and hanging out with both Blackwater contractors and the insurgents they were fighting in Iraq.

Two months ago, Pelton says, things started to get really scary in one of the world’s truly most dangerous places – the environs of Washington, D.C.

That’s when the New York Times broke a story headlined “Contractors Tied to Effort to Track and Kill Militants,” and ran a picture of Pelton above a caption identifying him as “a contractor.”

The article explained how “under the cover of a benign government information-gathering program,” a Defense Department official named Michael D. Furlong “set up a network of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants…” Furlong is a civilian Pentagon official with years of experience in what the military used to call “psyops” or “psychological operations” — now referred to as “information operations.” Unnamed “government officials” (no doubt with DC-area offices in Langley, Virginia) told Times reporter Mark Mazzetti they believed Furlong “might have channeled money away from a program intended to provide American commanders with information about Afghanistan’s social and tribal landscape, and toward secret efforts to hunt militants on both sides of the country’s porous border with Pakistan.” Furlong’s operation, as the Times reported, involves “a mysterious American company run by retired Special Operations officers and an iconic C.I.A. figure who had a role in some of the agency’s most famous episodes, including the Iran-Contra affair.” His “operators” gathered intelligence on militants and the location of their camps, which was then passed on to military and intelligence officials “for possible lethal action” in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Did any of this intrigue involve Robert Young Pelton? Or has he – along with his business partner, the former CNN executive Eason Jordan – become collateral damage in a murky “rogue” intelligence affair?

Pelton and Jordan had been hired by the US military to run a public Web site aimed at helping government officials gain a better understanding of the Afghanistan/Pakistan region. The pair thought up the idea for the government information program sometime in 2008 and approached Gen. David D. McKiernan, who was about to become the top American commander in Afghanistan. Their previous “Iraq Slogger” Web site had employed Iraqis to report and write news stories. Now they proposed setting up a similar Web site in Afghanistan and Pakistan — “Iraq Slogger on steroids,” Pelton calls it — to be financed largely by the American military. Dubbed AfPax Insider, their proposed reporting and research network was meant to be an “open-source” news gathering operation, involving only unclassified materials gathered by employees. The project would involve not only a subscription-based Web site, but a secure information database only the military could access in addition.

McKiernan endorsed the proposal and told them “to get to work,” but funding was late in coming and less than expected. In the summer of 2009 they were told their services were no longer needed. Instead, the planned budget of $22 million that was supposed to go to their Web site was apparently redirected by Furlong toward “off the books” intelligence gathering used to kill militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Instead of using Pelton and Jordan, Furlong employed two other companies. The first was International Media Ventures — several of whose senior executives are former members of the military’s covert Special Operations forces — describes itself as a public relations firm and “an industry leader in creating potent messaging content and interactive communications.” IMV President Robert Pack says it provides “information and media atmospherics, research and analysis for good governance and development in Afghanistan, civil society demographics and dynamics, key audience and influence group analysis, and media channel utilization.”

“Were they using us as cover?” Pelton wonders. “I don’t know, but I do know we got cut out after the snowball got rolling. Were we exploited? What was exploited was our concept of providing ‘atmospherics.’”

The second firm was American International Security Corporation, run by former Green Beret Mike Taylor, who employed Duane Clarridge, a former top C.I.A. official linked to the Iran-Contra scandal. AISC was also employed by The New York Times in late 2008 until mid-June 2009 to assist in the case of David Rohde, a reporter who was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan and held for seven months in Pakistan’s tribal areas before finally escaping. Who led the mission for the Times? None other than Duane Clarridge, who then began establishing a network of informants around the globe.

The Times, which withheld information about Rohde’s kidnapping for months, is now also withholding information about the contractor network, including some of the names of agents working in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But in a front page story this week, Mazzetti did reveal that Furlong’s “rogue operation” is still operating, and that its “detailed reports on subjects like the workings of the Taliban leadership in Pakistan and the movements of enemy fighters in southern Afghanistan are also submitted almost daily to top commanders and have become an important source of intelligence.”

Pelton believes he has become cannon fodder in a turf war between the CIA and the Pentagon, with the Times acting as the CIA’s mouthpiece and media outlet. “The narrative has become Blackwater-like,” he complains. “The unstated assumption is that we are the same sort of ‘contractors’ as Blackwater.” Instead, Pelton says, it was “a constant battle with Furlong,” who was “constantly trying to push us in that direction.” He avers that he and Jordan are “not spies and not contractors, but open-source information providers” who got caught in the middle of what might be “a CIA Frankenstein.”

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell has said that the entire program “remains under investigation by multiple offices within the Defense Department.” Meanwhile, Pentagon officials decided recently not to renew the contract, which expires at the end of this month.

“We gave them everything we promised,” Pelton told me. “But the worst part of all this is that the military still desperately needs exactly what we could provide them. Instead, our information was being used to kill people!”

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Iceland Volcano Rumbles and Spews Still

Iceland Volcano Rumbles and Spews Still

Spill? What Spill?

Oil spill? What oil spill?

BP's nonchalance over Gulf leak tars entire offshore drilling industry

By Lorne Gunter, Edmonton Journal May 16, 2010


When you watch news reports of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, remember one thing: The hurricanes that regularly plague the Gulf often have enough force to churn up the seabed.

A Category 4 or 5 hurricane at the surface spins and whirls with such magnitude that the ocean floor 2,000 or even 3,000 feet below is sometimes turned over.

What has this to do with the Deepwater Horizons disaster? Plenty.

At the moment, being unable to cap the erupting wellhead a mile below, oil company crews, with the approval of government administrators, are injecting the spreading mess on the surface with dispersant -- chemicals designed to break up the enormous, creeping black blot that threatens the Gulf's freshwater deltas and saltwater marshes.

But dispersants are little more than a cosmetic coverup. They may even do more harm than good by masking the extent of the environmental catastrophe and breaking the oil up into smaller parcels that will be harder to clean up.

What's more, the dispersant may increase the formation of tar balls, globs of heavy, gooey black oil that often sink to the sea floor only to be carried to shore on currents and tides --- a few here, a few hundred there.

That's where the hurricanes come in.

If British Petroleum (BP) and its partners, coupled with the U.S. Department of the Interior, inject enough dispersant and create enough tar balls, these tacky ecological time bombs will keep being torn up from the ocean bed and brought to shore for decades and decades.

Just when Americans are certain the legacy of this tragedy has passed, another hurricane will come along and pick up scores of these viscous reminders of the Deepwater disaster and deposit them on some shore birds' nesting grounds or fragile oyster bed or sea life spawning zone.

I certainly do not favour a ban on offshore drilling. There are, at present, too few alternatives to oil and natural gas to power developed and developing economies alike.

It is naive in the extreme to believe we can simply proclaim our desire to find alternative energy sources and it will happen like magic.

Over time, alternatives will come, but what replaces hydrocarbons cannot be directed by government. Nor can they be predicted now.

Perhaps wind, solar or nuclear -- or some combination of the three -- will provide our future energy needs. But it is also possible that some as-yet-unknown source will emerge.

Still, while we wait for the replacement or replacements -- while we are still dependent on crude oil and natural gas -- and while we need to expand offshore exploration, the companies doing the drilling and exploring have to be better prepared for accidents than BP has shown itself to be in this case.

BP's attitude has appalled even a diehard free-marketer such as me.

First, it seemed to say "Oil spill? What oil spill?" Then when the slick could no longer be ignored, its attitude became one of nonchalance: "Don't worry. It's only a small leak."

To this day, neither the company nor the U.S. Department of the Interior seems prepared to admit the true extent of the disaster. Both are insisting that no more than 5,000 barrels a day are gushing from the broken well (after having insisted, disingenuously, for two weeks that it was only 1,000).

Meanwhile, independent engineers viewing the speed of the flow estimate the true rate at 20,000 to 70,000 barrels daily.

(The upper estimate would create an Exxon Valdez every four days.)

Indeed, BP's attitude seems still to be one of unconcern. They still seem to be saying it's no big deal. Even if it is a big deal, it's not our fault. Besides, what are you going to do, sue us? Government regulations limit the extent of our financial liability.

A story in Friday's Miami Herald claims BP employees had described the well as "troublesome" in the weeks leading up to the explosion in late April.

Unscheduled gas penetrations had occurred and three times during the course of the rig's final day there had been "sudden loud noises as bursts of pressure had been released." Pressure tests had shown a "disturbing imbalance." Nonetheless, BP pushed ahead.

Such a cowboy attitude does the cause of offshore drilling more harm than good.

According to a study by the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas, offshore drilling remains less damaging than shipping oil by tanker.

"Since 1991, oil tankers have still spilled three times as much oil as offshore platforms and more than twice as much as pipelines."

Even during hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, very little oil spilled into the Gulf.

But there is no excuse for companies being shielded by governments from the full impact of the mistakes they make.

If they want to drill in sensitive areas, oil companies have to be more accountable, especially for the damage they do to others' property and livelihoods: fishermen, homeowners, boaters and entrepreneurs.
© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

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