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FEATURE

EPA Documents Bombshell: EPA Administrator's global warming warning withheld by White House





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Published on Reuters, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Huffington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, Fox News, IBS


The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming subpoenaed documents that reveal EPA Administrator, Stephen Johnson, had sent regulatory recommendations to the White House last year in which he unequivocally stated that global warming was occurring and that vehicle emissions were a danger to public welfare.

WASHINGTON (June 24, 2008) – The Environmental Protection Agency was on its way towards finding global warming emissions to be a danger to public welfare, and that these emissions should be regulated in vehicles and fuels, according to a review of subpoenaed global warming documents by the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. The review of the documents follows a lengthy process of negotiation with the EPA and the White House, which started in January of 2008, and brings into serious question the administration’s u-turn on regulating global warming emissions.

The documents are the draft regulatory recommendations from December 5 and December 14 of 2007, and were sent to the White House and to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for approval before reports indicate all work was stopped on the recommendations. The White House is now in the process of completing an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR), which would be a step backwards in what the Select Committee has found to be an already advanced process towards regulating global warming emissions.

What makes this a bombshell: This is the same Stephen Johnson who denied California's request for higher emission standards waiver, stating that the lower Federal standard was enough -- the subject of an ongoing lawsuit between the EPA and at least 18 states plus environmental groups, resulting in a (different) subpoena for documents and eyewitness testimony by Henry Waxman (D-CA) to determine the extent of President Bush's intervention to lower those standards.

President Bush invoked executive privilege last week to avoid answering that subpoena.

“Th
is administration has shown its contempt for Congress, its contempt for the rule of law, and this administration’s handling of the Massachusetts v. EPA decision has shown its contempt for science,” said [committee] Chairman [Edward] Markey (D-MA). “The president has a short amount of time to alter his legacy as running the most environmentally-unfriendly administration in history, and he can start by listening to his own climate scientists and take action on global warming.”

Among the findings in the documents:

* EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson determined that man-made global warming is unequivocal, the evidence is both compelling and robust, and the administration must act to prevent harm rather than wait for harm to occur before acting.

* EPA found that global warming risks include severe heat waves, sea level rise, reduced availability of water, increased wildfire and insect outbreaks, an increase in heavy precipitation events, an increase in regional ground-level ozone pollution, and changes in the range of vector-borne diseases.

* EPA proposed that regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles be implemented in order to achieve the equivalent of a 35 mpg car and light truck fleet average by 2018 (with the car fleet averaging 38.4 mpg by 2018 and the truck fleet averaging 29.5 mpg by 2017).

* When EPA used the EIA 2007 high gasoline price projections of $2.75 in 2017 to $3.20 in 2030 to calculate standards, it found that the car fleet could achieve a standard of 43.3 mpg by 2018 and light trucks could achieve a standard of 30.6 mpg by 2017.

This comes just after President Bush evoked executive privilege to withhold information on his intervention in the EPA's lowering of rural and California smog standards...

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FEATURE

President Bush Claims Executive Privilege in EPA Interference Investigation





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Published on Reuters, The Huffington Post

President Bush has claimed executive privilege as his reason for denying Henry Waxman's House Oversight and Government Reform Committee access to documents that would prove whether the president pressured the EPA to lower smog standards earlier this year:
President Bush has asserted executive privilege over thousands of pages of documents that would show whether the President and his staff complied with the Clean Air Act in overruling EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson on important environmental decisions.
The Bush Administration sent notice to Waxman 15 minutes before his committee was to vote on whether to compel the EPA administrator and a White House budget official to testify as to President Bush's involvement. Waxman's reaction: "I have a clear sense that their assertion of this privilege is self-serving and not based on the appropriate law and rules," came as he canceled the vote.

This latest salvo between Congress and the recalcitrant White House is part of an ongoing investigation into President Bush's intervention into smog standards (amidst refusals to supply officials for testimony in other matters - i.e. Karl Rove in the Valarie Plame matter):
"Never before has a president personally intervened at the 11th hour, exercising political power at the expense of the law and science, to force EPA to accept weaker air quality standards than the agency chief's expert scientific judgment had led him to adopt," said John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a private advocacy group. "It is unprecedented and an unlawful act of political interference."
This comes as ongoing pressure and interference by Bush Administration officials was confirmed by EPA Scientists:
The Union of Concerned Scientists has released an online survey of thousands of EPA scientists in which over half the scientists cited political interference in their work and their findings.
"I don't think we've had a situation like this [claim of executive privilege] since Richard Nixon was president when the president of the United States may have been involved in acting contrary to law, and the evidence that would determine that question for Congress in exercising our oversight is being blocked by an assertion of executive privilege," Waxman stated.

Waxman (D-CA) said he will review Attorney General
Mukasey's claim of right to executive privelige before deciding upon his response. He added that he would not stop in his efforts to require the head of the EPA, Stephen Johnson, and a White House Management and Budget official, Susan Dudley, to testify as to the president's interference in lowering the smog standard to a lesser level than recommended by experts, along with his refusal to comply with the committee's request in what has been described as an ongoing pattern of "an overly broad use of executive privilege."

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NOAA makes it official: Extreme weather due to climate change





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Published on Reuters, The Huffington Post, IBS, Fox News, USA Today


In a report issued by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, a joint effort of more than a dozen government agencies -- including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- the conclusion is that the extreme weather we've been experiencing will become more extreme and is due to climate change.
WASHINGTON - Droughts will get drier, storms will get stormier and floods will get deeper with a warming climate across North America, U.S. government experts said in a report billed as the first continental assessment of extreme events.

Events that have seemed relatively rare will become commonplace, said the latest report from the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, a joint effort of more than a dozen government agencies.
Specific future projections include:

* Abnormally hot days and nights, along with heat waves, are very likely to become more common.
* Cold nights are very likely to bec
ome less common.
* Sea ice extent is expected to continue to decrease and may even disappear in the Arctic Ocean in summer in coming decades.

* Precipitatio
n, on average, is likely to be less frequent but more intense.
* Droughts are likely to become more frequent and severe in some regions.
* Hurricanes will likely have increased precipitation and wind.

* The strongest
cold-season storms in the Atlantic and Pacific are likely to produce stronger winds and higher extreme wave heights.

The report, issued by the Department of Commerce in accordance with Section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001 was produced to be in compliance with that act in conjunction with NOAA.
For purposes of compliance with Section 515, this CCSP Synthesis and Assessment Product is an “interpreted product” as that term is used in NOAA guidelines and is classified as “highly influential.”
Which means the report cannot require regulatory action, though it can (and should) influence it. From the NOAA press release:
The U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research today released a scientific assessment that provides the first comprehensive analysis of observed and projected changes in weather and climate extremes in North America and U.S. territories. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change previously evaluated extreme weather and climate events on a global basis in this same context. However, there has not been a specific assessment across North America prior to this report.

Among the major findings reported in this assessment are that droughts, heavy downpours, excessive heat, and intense hurricanes are likely to become more commonplace as humans continue to increase the atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
That's official. The extreme weather the U.S. has been experiencing is due to climate change and is expected to become more extreme in the future.

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Twenty Years Later: Tipping Points Near on Global Warming





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We'll let Dr. Hansen speak for himself:

Today I testified to Congress about global warming, 20 years after my June 23, 1988 testimony, which alerted the public that global warming was underway. There are striking similarities between then and now, but one big difference.

Again a wide gap has developed between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community and what is known by policymakers and the public. Now, as then, frank assessment of scientific data yields conclusions that are shocking to the body politic. Now, as then, I can assert that these conclusions have a certainty exceeding 99 percent.

The difference is that now we have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb. The next president and Congress must define a course next year in which the United States exerts leadership commensurate with our responsibility for the present dangerous situation. Otherwise it will become impractical to constrain atmospheric carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas produced in burning fossil fuels, to a level that prevents the climate system from passing tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of humanity's control...

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FEATURE

My Mother: A Nana for Obama





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I can truly say that I was the youngest person in America to vote for FDR in his first term election. When she pulled the lever for Roosevelt I was in my mother’s womb, so I suppose I could be called an intra-utero Democrat. My mother, Lillian Yellen, is long gone now. Had she lived she would be one hundred and five and voting for Obama. She was run down by a reckless driver in Manhattan twenty five years ago as she was bringing some food to a poor, sick woman who was a member of her Hadassah group. That driver jumped the curb while she was waiting for a light to change and took her life. Mother was eighty at the time. We rented the smallest room in the Riverside Chapel for the funeral service knowing that she had outlived most of her friends and family and believing that few would come to the ceremony of a private woman who was not famous. But to our amazement the room soon overflowed with so many people we had never met, and we were obliged to hold the service in the largest room available for the many whose lives she had touched with her wisdom and quiet generosity, the many who came to pay her tribute.The reason for this crowd was simple. Mother cared about the welfare of others on both a personal and a political level, and she did it naturally, graciously. Generosity was her gift, her talent, her life’s work. She simply helped those in need on a daily basis, and her politics were simple: vote for people and programs that would improve the lives of those in need. And since such progressive programs were “good for the Jews” it was an easy decision for her to make.

As a three year old Jewish child who had escaped the pogroms of Russia, she understood oppression, and as an adult who had seen the consequences of the Holocaust she cared deeply about the fate of Israel as a homeland for the survivors. My mother, Lilly, had grown up in great poverty and knew life shattering tragedy early on. As a nine year old child she experienced within a year the loss of her mother, her older sister and brother to the “white death” of tuberculosis when they lived in squalid conditions on the Lower East Side. Her first school teacher was a Miss Emily Stokes, a young African American woman who favored the beautiful motherless Lilly, helping her with her lessons, teaching her the lovely flowing handwriting she used for a lifetime, and giving her a wonderful rag-doll, the only doll my mother would ever own. That personal experience Lilly had of the daughter of a former slave taught my mother to see beyond skin color to the value of the humanity within.



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FEATURE

Severe storms to hit Britain





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Residents across the United Kingdom have been warned to take cover Sunday as rare June gales are forecast to batter England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales with abnormally strong winds and rain.

The storms - with winds which could reach 65mph across northern Britain - are expected to peak around midday.

The worst affected areas are expected to be north Wales and northern England, but Northern Ireland and southern Scotland may also be affected.

BBC forecaster Tomasz Schafernaker said the weather was abnormal for June.
The Environmentalist's World Wide Weather page has the graphic below, which is a dynamic, real time feed from the British Met(eorological) Office. Click for further details:

McCain: Lock-step and (oil) barrel





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In a campaign year where John McCain is seemingly doing everything he can to publicly distance himself from George W. Bush, he's also been emulating the historically unpopular president by walking in lock-step with him along the path to Texas oil.

While Barack Obama was in Illinois shoveling sand in bags to hold back the Bush-neglected infrastructure crumbling around him -- resulting in a multi-state version of Katrina with both an oblivious Republican president and Republican presidential candidate -- John McCain just happened to be on his way to Texas to accept the whoops and cheers (and money) from oil industry insiders for his proclaimed flip-flop on offshore drilling as the answer to America's oil-supply woes.

Want something worse? Aside from the fact that he did it while Senator Obama was showing empathy to those impacted by an unstable climate and deteriorating infrastructure, it turns out that John McCain gave his oil pandering speech CONCURRENT to the release of his new ad-buy proclaiming his independence from the Bush Administration on global warming.

Hypocrisy, they name is McCain.

(Not that he's got support from every state with a governor who relies upon tourism to their oil-free beaches).

Not the first time we've seen this type of double-speak, this insult to our collective intelligence, this proof of the lock-step between all Republicans who have been bought and sold by Big Oil. Bush himself pulled this when he announced his support for the fight against global warming at the same time his administration was cutting NASA's climate monitoring satellite system.

Can't claim problems with the climate if ya can't see it, right?

Well, not exactly.

People wading through the floods in the Midwest, while that may or may not be at effect of climate change, are certainly at effect of the climate. Might have been nice if they'd had some warning.

Oh, wait. THE ENVIRONMENTALIST called that one on March 20th (U.S. Floods a sign of things to come). Too late to rebuild every levee along the Mississippi, but the information had been available for some time -- for an administration that cared to look for it.

Another lock-step. Like all that information that had been available to the Bush Administration prior to Katrina. You know, the day that George W. Bush and John McCain celebrated McCain's birthday on the tarmac in front of Air Force One?

That very same Air Force One that Bush then used shortly thereafter to fly over the devastation?

President Bush knew not to fly over this latest hundred-year flood -- (he landed this time) -- as billions of acres of Heartland crops, the loss of which is destined to add to the world food crisis amid growing inflation, wash away along with people's homes and lives and dreams.

John McCain had not yet made his obligatory visit, though he does say he's coming. But not on the day Barack Obama was filling sandbags.
McCain was too busy giving his milquetoast grin with those insecure eyes that speak to his lack of surety at the podium, while he offered the oil industry even more obscene profits than they've been able to speculate through the Enron loophole that his own campaign adviser, Phil Gramm, put through to accommodate Gramm's wife's position on the Enron board (before Gramm went off to lobby for a Swiss bank with energy investments)...

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FEATURE

U.S. Floods a Sign of Things to Come





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Reprint of article originally published on 3/21/08 forecasting current floods

Cross-posted on Reuters, USA Today, FoxNews, IBS, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued a report that states the flooding we're seeing in the U.S. heartland is a sign of things to come.
Major floods striking America’s heartland this week offer a preview of the spring seasonal outlook, according to NOAA’s National Weather Service. Several factors will contribute to above-average flood conditions, including record rainfall in some states and snow packs, which are melting and causing rivers and streams to crest over their banks. This week, more than 250 communities in a dozen states are experiencing flood conditions.
“We expect rains and melting snow to bring more flooding this spring,” said Vickie Nadolski, deputy director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “Americans should be on high alert to flood conditions in your communities. Arm yourselves with information about how to stay safe during a flood and do not attempt to drive on flooded roadways – remember to always turn around, don’t drown.”

The heavy precipitation may be related to the La Nina effect, as reported by the British
Met(eorological) Office in this report. NOAA gives these reasons for the flood conditions:
  1. Above-normal flood potential is evident in much of the Mississippi River basin, the Ohio River basin, the lower Missouri River basin, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, most of New York, all of New England, and portions of the West, including Colorado and Idaho.

  2. Heavy winter snow combined with recent rain indicates parts of Wisconsin and Illinois should see minor to moderate flooding, with as much as a 20 to 30 percent chance of major flooding on some rivers in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

  3. Current snow depth in some areas of upstate New York and New England is more than a foot greater than usual for this time of the year, which increases flood potential in the Connecticut River Valley.

  4. Locations in the mountains of Colorado and Idaho have 150 to 200 percent of average water contained in snowpack leading to a higher than normal flood potential.

NOAA has also updated their Spring Drought Outlook with the following...

FEATURE

In Defense of Marriage





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Last week someone asked me as a long married man what I thought of gay marriage. I said I was all for it; it was straight marriage I sometimes have my doubts about. I was joking, but like most jokes there was a kernel of truth in it. With the rate of divorce in this country at a record high level I wonder how the right wing keeps their self-righteous rhetoric going on the sacredness of traditional marriage, and why it feels so threatened by gay people who want the ceremony, the respect, and the legal rights of marriage. The denial of those rights seems outrageous in any country that considers itself a civil society. And there is the embarrassing fact that Republican John McCain, Libertarian Bob Barr, and half the Republicans and Democrats in Congress are divorced or serial adulterers, not counting those defenders of marriage who are lusting after Senate pages, and engaging in toilet booth toe tickles. Yes, I do believe in defending marriage but not by setting up walls of discriminatory law to prevent others from enjoying its privileges, its joys, and its struggles.

A few years back when many people mocked or condemned Hillary Clinton for staying married to Bill after the Monica mess, I thought it was among her bravest decisions. She would not let scandal or humiliation, a relentlessly prurient press, or a husband who was half a genius and half a jerk force her to end a marriage that for all its flaws meant a great deal to her and to her daughter. There was a better history to that marriage that she was not going to toss out to satisfy her critics during the impeachment. Marriage can be a litmus test for how a person might govern. Bill’s screw up within his marriage was not totally disconnected to some of his bad Presidential decisions, including his pardon of Mark Rich, and his embrace of NAFTA; suggesting immediate gratification without a thought of the consequences to his own reputation or to the nation’s workers.

I might even draw some political conclusions from the easy yet spirited and loving marriage of Michelle and Barak Obama, suggesting that he would be a leader who would respond to the country’s needs in a thoughtful and caring way:


Then look at the Bush marriage. Laura and George existing in separate worlds even as they inhabit the same space; the sad disconnect of a cheerful looking couple who have only one thing in common, an inability to face the facts: George, in his constant losing battle with reality, Laura smiling her ladylike library smile from one denial to another denial about the toxic consequences of her husband’s presidency. I might even contrast Obama with John McCain, whose marital history shows a streak of cruel opportunism, suggesting a man who will always abandon his principles and the welfare of the disadvantaged, as he abandoned his first disadvantaged wife when it proved expedient.

Having said that I have t
o step back a little for nobody, and that includes this writer, has the right to pass too harsh a judgment on other people’s loves and marriages, which doesn’t mean that I don’t do so from time to time. What I do know is that marriage is occasionally an arrangement, sometimes a marvel, often a mess, and always a mystery. I have observed that love ties us up in its amazing contradictions and confusions, and never more so than in a marriage.

FEATURE

What's with the Weather? The La Niña-Tornado Connection





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Cross-posted on The Huffington Post, Reuters

2008 has seen a record outbreak of tornadoes in the United States from California to the Midwest, from the South through the central plains, to the Appalachian states.

In January, THE ENVIRONMENTALIST reported the University of East Anglia's prediction for a strong 2008 La Niña event.

"The assessment for 2008 is that there will be a strong La Niña event in the Pacific, which will limit the warming trend for the year (whilst still being one of the warmest years)."

The La Niña phenomenon is an upwelling of colder waters resulting in a change in ocean temperature that causes a shift in the jet stream, reducing corresponding climate temperature. A NOAA study from October, 1999, still referenced on their site, which uses data from 1950 through 1996, concluded there was no tornadic connection to the El Niño/La Niña event. Since then, however, Joseph Schaefer, Director of NOAA's National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center, according to this February MSNBC report, has revised his position:
Tornadoes do happen in February, but a study by Schaefer two years ago found that winter tornadoes in parts of the South occur more frequently and are stronger when there is a La Niña.
The La Niña connection was also cited in a Purdue University study reported in Science Daily (also from 1999), this one with data from 1916 to 1996, which offered the intriguing possibility that the La Niña event could be traced to a geographical shift in tornadic activity

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FEATURE

Republicans block oil windfall tax





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Senator Pete Domenici, R-N.M, has relayed the mixed message of "we feel your pain" (at the pump), while attempting to justify his party's blockage of a windfall profit tax on Big Oil by saying that increased taxes on oil companies would be something Americans wouldn't want.

Which Americans?
"Americans are furious about what's going on," declared Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and want Congress to do something about oil company profits and "an orgy of speculation" on oil markets.

"If you don't tell the big oil companies they can no longer run energy policy in America, we will not succeed, plain and simple," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told CBS Radio News.

That "orgy of speculation" is the issue, of course, spurred along by the falling dollar (more on that below). The legislation, which failed to gain the required 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster (as with the recent
failed global warming legislation), would have required the following provisions that to address speculation:

1. Require traders to put up more collateral in the energy futures markets and open the way for federal regulation of traders who are based in the United States but use foreign trading platforms. The measures are designed to reduce market speculation.

2. Make oil and gas price gouging a federal crime, with stiff penalties of up to $5 million during a presidentially declared energy emergency.

3. Authorize the Justice Department to bring charges of price fixing against countries that belong to the OPEC oil cartel.

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the obstructer of the earlier climate change legislation, echoed Domenici's crocodile tears about the pain at the pump while ridiculing "those who think we can tax our way out of this problem."

McConnell's answer?


Drill more oil on American soil (read: Alaska and offshore). Screw the environmental consequences.

Which makes one wonder whether this approach --
to let things get so bad that Americans will support a complete rape of the environment -- might be the end-game of our pain at the pump that these oil lobbyist representativesRepublicans feel so very bad about, especially after these very same Republicans, lead by McConnell, defeated separate legislation designed to provide for alternative fuels.

But then, it could just be short-presidential-term greed -- the 'let's get as much as we can before our policies drive the Republicans out of office' philosophy.


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FEATURE

Corporate Plea for Climate Legislation Ignored





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Eleven corporations have issued an open letter to the Senate urging the passage of the Climate Security Act (S. 3036), stating that it "represents a real effort to establish the regulatory framework that we need."

The June 2nd plea by: Allianz of America; Catalyst Paper Corporation; FPL Group, Inc.; JohnsonDiversey, Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Levi Strauss & Co.; National Grid, Nike, Inc; Novo Nordisk; Tetra Pak; and Xanterra Parks & Resort, working in conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund, fell on deaf ears, as Senate Democrats fell short of the 60 votes required to overcome a Republican filibuster.
President George W. Bush has consistently opposed any economy-wide cap-and-trade plan and had vowed to veto this bill if Congress approved it.

Senate leaders opposed to the bill used a variety of tactics during weeklong debate on the Senate floor, including a rare maneuver by Republicans that forced clerks to read an updated version of the 491-page bill aloud. That took 10 hours.
The bill sought to require business to reduce emissions by 19 percent before 2020 escalating to a ~70 percent reduction around 2050 along with a carbon trading scheme to help with transition and costs.

The gamesmanship involved with this bill has been overt. Specifically with actions taken by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), labeled as "stonewalling" by Senator Reid, after McConnell forced a complete reading of the ~500 page bill on the senate floor, a process that required over eight hours to complete.



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FEATURE

A Hunger Conference with Canapés and Thinly Sliced Veal





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Cross-posted on The Huffington Post

A U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization hunger conference called to address skyrocketing food prices has opened with Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's pronouncement that the world must increase food output by 50% before the year 2030 to avert a global catastrophe.

The three-day conference received press after Western representatives who'd protested the attendance by Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe -- whose people are said to be suffering from hunger through his mismanagement -- had stated they would not converse with him there.

That did not stop other attendees from kissing Mugabe on the cheek in welcome.


Another moment that stood out?


The gourmet repast the attendees dined upon while they all but ignored the speech given by Bangladesh's Foreign Minister describing the famine in his country.
The FAO luncheon was not the only food game in town for delegates. Premier Silvio Berlusconi was co-hosting a state dinner Tuesday evening with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at Villa Madama, a Renaissance villa. Berlusconi aides said they planned what they call a "Tricolore menu" — a meal that evokes the green, white and red of the Italian flag and has become a standard of formal dining under the patriotic premier. For the Tuesday dinner, guests were being served pasta with pesto, cheese and tomatoes, a beef steak with a tricolore side dish of vegetables and pistachio, and vanilla and strawberry ice cream.
NGO representatives have taken a pragmatic view in reaction to the conference's culinary delights in the hope that the attendees will part with the billions needed to avert the looming world food crisis.
"Leaders can eat what they want as long as they take decisive action to deliver the policies and the aid in agriculture that is needed to ensure that poor people who are suffering from high food prices are helped," said Alexander Woollcombe, a spokesman for the British aid group Oxfam.
Food riots have been increasing due to skyrocketing inflation, a problem that has been exacerbated by a world-wide rice shortage...

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