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Another Bush-Era Rule Revoked

From MSNBC:

The Obama administration on Tuesday revoked a rule enacted toward the end of the Bush administration that it said undermined protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Federal agencies must "once again consult with federal wildlife experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — the two agencies that administer the ESA — before taking any action that may affect threatened or endangered species," the Interior and Commerce departments said in a statement.

"By rolling back this 11th hour regulation, we are ensuring that threatened and endangered species continue to receive the full protection of the law," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose department oversees Fish and Wildlife.

Audublog reacts:

This is a huge victory for endangered species throughout the United States, and a huge victory for conservation groups, including Audubon, that argued strongly that the Bush Administration changes dangerously weakened protections for birds and other wildlife on the verge of extinction.

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Every Day Is Earth Day

From Dipnote, the State Department blog:

On April 22, people all over the world will celebrate Earth Day 2009 through various programs, activities and events. However, for the nearly 200 employees in the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science (OES), every day is Earth Day as we work diligently to promote diplomacy through advancing environmental stewardship, encouraging economic growth, and promoting social development around the globe to foster a safer, more secure and hopeful world.
 
These lofty goals are carried out through programs and activities concerning infectious diseases, biodiversity, natural resource conservation, climate change, access to water, ocean and polar affairs, and science and technology cooperation.

Earth Day has a personal meaning to everyone who celebrates and participates in it - for me, it has significance for several reasons. First, I spent part of my youth working on my family's organic farm in Lebanon, learning the value of the earth in a deep sense. Second I became involved in activism canvassing for an environmental organization, which eventually led to a career in politics working to advance progressive causes. Finally, my grandfather, father and I were born on or within a couple of days of April 22. I lost them both over the past few years and honoring their birthdays/memories coincides with a day that is especially meaningful for my father, who was a prominent environmentalist in the Middle East.

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The World Digital Library

WaPo:

A globe-spanning U.N. digital library seeking to display and explain the relics of all human cultures has gone into operation on the Internet for the first time, serving up mankind's accumulated knowledge in seven languages for students around the world.

Here's the link.

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Taking Safe Water for Granted

This report illustrates why those with access to safe drinking water shouldn't take it for granted:

Vietnam is a nation crisscrossed by rivers and streams and has one of the longest coastlines in the world: Water is everywhere, yet there is hardly a safe drop to drink, with even much of the bottled water contaminated.

Tran Van Nhi, a scientist at the Vietnam Institute of Biotechnology, told IRIN Hanoi's water was heavily contaminated with ammonia: "It is 6-18 times higher than the allowed level."

A small amount of ammonia is not toxic but when it reacts with certain other substances, it can convert to a carcinogen, according to Nhi and other scientists. Nhi also found arsenic levels two to three times higher than acceptable World Health Organization standards.

Most residents boil drinking water as a matter of course, even though high temperatures do not remove arsenic or dangerous heavy metals. ...

In June 2008, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 20,000 people living in Vietnam die each year from contaminated water and poor sanitation.

For much more on the topic, read Water, Sanitation and Hygiene from the WHO.

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UN Expert Criticizes Obama Administration on Torture, Calls for Independent Investigation

More fallout from the torture memos:

An Austrian newspaper quotes the U.N.'s top torture investigator as saying President Barack Obama's decision not to prosecute CIA operatives who used questionable interrogation practices violates international law.

Manfred Nowak is quoted in Der Standard as saying the United States has committed itself under the U.N. Convention against Torture to make torture a crime and to prosecute those suspected of engaging in it.

The release of the torture memos has resulted in an explosion of online commentary. The memos have been met with appropriate outrage, expressed with passion and eloquence, and the issue that Nowak addresses, namely whether or not to prosecute those who engaged in these terrible acts, is generating a plethora of arguments for and against.

There are those who contend that hard-nosed realism warrants the radical excesses of the Bush years and that to deal with the threat of global terrorism, "extra-legal" measures are required.

That argument fails for one fundamental reason: throughout history, moral power inexorably trumps brute force. On the core question of what makes America stronger and safer, upholding the highest ethical standards, adhering to the rule of law, respecting human rights, will always be the more effective and more just course of action.

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NYT – Afghan Women: “We Want Equality!” Men: “Get Out of Here, You Whores!”

From the New York Times, a perfect example of the abuse women are subjected to across the globe:

The young women stepped off the bus and moved toward the protest march just beginning on the other side of the street when they were spotted by a mob of men.

“Get out of here, you whores!” the men shouted. “Get out!”

The women scattered as the men moved in.

“We want our rights!” one of the women shouted, turning to face them. “We want equality!”

The women ran to the bus and dove inside as it rumbled away, with the men smashing the taillights and banging on the sides.

“Whores!”

But the march continued anyway. About 300 Afghan women, facing an angry throng three times larger than their own, walked the streets of the capital on Wednesday to demand that Parliament repeal a new law that introduces a range of Taliban-like restrictions on women, and permits, among other things, marital rape.

It was an extraordinary scene. Women are mostly illiterate in this impoverished country, and they do not, generally speaking, enjoy anything near the freedom accorded to men. But there they were, most of them young, many in jeans, defying a threatening crowd and calling out slogans heavy with meaning.

With the Afghan police keeping the mob at bay, the women walked two miles to Parliament, where they delivered a petition calling for the law’s repeal.

That's courage.

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Young Couple Elope, Are Publicly Executed by Taliban

The brutality of this story is unsettling:

Taliban gunmen executed a young couple in southern Afghanistan for trying to elope, shooting them with rifles in front of a crowd in a lawless, militant-controlled region, officials said Tuesday.

The woman, 19, and the man, 21, were accused by the militants of immoral acts, and a council of conservative clerics decided that the two should be killed, said Ghulam Dastagir Azad, the governor of the southwestern province of Nimroz.

Riflemen in the remote district of Khash Rod shot the man and woman with AK-47s Monday during a public execution, said Sadiq Chakhansori, the chief of Nimroz' provincial council.

This line alone makes one's blood boil: "a council of conservative clerics decided that the two should be killed." How hideously mundane that sentence sounds: just like that, 'decide' to snuff out two young lives - for the crime of being in love. Absolutely heinous.

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Boys Murdered in Iraq to “Get the Beggars and Homosexuals Off the Street”

A terrible story out of Iraq:

In the past two months, the bodies of as many as 25 boys and men suspected of being gay have turned up in the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City, the police and friends of the dead say. Most have been shot, some multiple times. Several have been found with the word “pervert” in Arabic on notes attached to their bodies, the police said.

“Three of my closest friends have been killed during the past two weeks alone,” said Basim, 23, a hairdresser. “They had been planning to go to a cafe away from Sadr City because we don’t feel safe here, but they killed them on the way. I had planned to go with them, but fortunately I didn’t.”

“Homosexuality is against the law,” said Lt. Muthana Shaad, at a police station in the Karada district, a neighborhood that has become popular with gay men. “And it’s disgusting.”

For the past four months, he said, officers have been engaged in a “campaign to clean up the streets and get the beggars and homosexuals off them.”

This kind of hate isn't confined to Iraq.

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The Green Urban Jungle?

I've never owned a car and I've lived between Washington D.C. and Manhattan for most of my adult life. Before that I lived on organic farms in Lebanon.

It's interesting to read this and consider that there may be some ancillary benefits to living in a big city:

Generally speaking, studies have shown that city dwellers, who frequent public transportation, occupy smaller-than-average and multiunit living spaces, use less energy to heat and cool, tend to have lower carbon footprints than their suburban or rural counterparts, who often have bigger homes, use more energy to heat and cool, and typically drive themselves to and fro.

A 2008 report by the Brookings Institution, for example, found that the average American in a metropolitan area has a carbon footprint of 8.21 tons — 14 percent less than the average American living outside the city.

The flip side is that lately, I've become more and more sensitive to the smell of exhaust in New York. In day to day city living, you rarely think about the smell of air, but when you do, it's somewhat alarming to realize how much fouler it is than country air.