Monthly Archives: January 2011

Tribute to Duane Hamamura: A quiet man who spoke volumes with his photography

Duane Hamamura, who worked as a photo technician at the Seattle P-I until it stopped publishing in 2009, died suddenly Saturday evening at home of natural causes. Services are set for 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5, at White River Buddhist Temple, 3625 Auburn Way North, Auburn. Below is a tribute:

 

He was a quiet one. But he was also one of the guys.

He was a quiet one. But he could surprise you with a zinger.

He was a quiet one. But his photography spoke volumes.

Duane Hamamura was all of that, and more. While many of those in front of his camera knew very little about the man behind the camera, most everyone in South King County knew all about what came out of his camera.

Himself a picture of soft-spoken professionalism, Hamamura died suddenly late on Jan. 29 at the age of 57.

 

Read FULL STORY here

Visit Duane Hamamura’s gallery: http://on.fb.me/i7VGX7

See a slide show of his work here

Protecting federal spending for American Indians & Alaska Natives ‘to some degree’

The National Congress of American Indians proposed a fiscal year 2012 budget last week. It called for modest increases in a variety of federal programs, making the case that more money is required for American Indian and Alaska Native programs because of historic underfunding.

“Tribal leaders look to the upcoming fiscal year with great anticipation for honorable fulfillment of federal trust, treaty, moral and statutory obligations to tribes in the 21st century,” the proposal said. The NCAI budget proposal “presents a fresh opportunity for the U.S. government to live up to the promises made to tribes….” The NCAI request captures the wide variety of needs for services and programs across Indian Country.

 In some years this proposal might get a fair hearing. Not this year.

 NCAI describes the essence of the challenge ahead: “… in FY 2012, Indian programs should, at least, be held harmless and exempted from across-the-board recessions.”

 Can Indian Country hold on to its gains, budget-wise and program-wise? Will essential services — money for schools, clinics, tribal governments — be cut so deeply that the result is havoc? Is there any sort of back-up plan? The answers to those questions are complicated by the failure of Congress to pass a budget last year and that’s where much of the action begins on Capitol Hill. There’s a range of thinking that goes from congressional calls for deep reductions to the Obama administration’s proposal for an overall budget freeze. Or worse.

 Let’s start with the worse. New Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has introduced the “Cut Federal Spending Act of 2011.” It would cut this year’s spending by $500 billion, eliminating the Bureau of Indian Affairs, departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, and the Bureau of Reclamation. His plan would cut the Indian Health Service by nearly half.

 Paul told The Hill newspaper: “By removing programs that are beyond the constitutional role of the federal government, such as education and housing, we are cutting nearly 40 percent of our projected deficit and removing the big-government bureaucrats who stand in the way of efficiency in our federal government.”

  I would love to see the reaction in conservative communities in the West that are dependent on subsidized federal water, at least, if there were to be any real debate on this bill, especially the elimination of the Bureau of Reclamation. How much would people pay in Denver to water their lawn? What would California agri-businesses say about paying the same price for water as a municipal water system? Would there be any private sector buyers for federal water systems … especially with that resource shrinking because of climate changes?

 Fortunately, Paul’s Tea Party Caucus in the Senate remains teensy — as are the odds that this bill becomes law.

 However these are not ordinary days. Paul and his colleagues can cause lots of mischief because Republican votes will be needed for Congress to increase the nation’s debt limit, probably next month. Republicans are saying that severe reductions in federal spending will be required as part of any deal to do that. (Another proposal that’s being explored is to pay China and other creditors first, leaving the government short of cash to pay for program operations.)

 These fanciful proposals will draw lots of fireworks. But the bigger problem is that these maneuvers add to the downward pressure. They make other deep federal budget cuts appear reasonable by comparison.

 Remember these early fights are over this year’s spending — the government is operating on a Continuing Resolution, or a temporary budget that started last fall. That means any reductions — even five or ten percent — will pack extra wallop because the cuts will have to be made over a shorter period of time instead of a year.

 President Barack Obama will release his FY 2012 budget in a couple of weeks. Last year the administration did a great job of protecting programs for American Indian and Alaska Natives — I suspect he will try to do the same this time around, even with his government holding to an overall freeze in spending.

 And a few Republicans are saying the same thing. The new chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Mike Simpson, from Blackfoot, Idaho, told The Associated Press that he will be trying to protect the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service budgets “to some degree.”

 Wow. Imagine that. The best we can hope for in this Congress is that the Indian affairs budget might be protected to some degree.

 

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s recent book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

Al Jazeera English blacked out across most of the U.S.

This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post, and is used by permission of the author.

WASHINGTON – Canadian television viewers looking for the most thorough and in-depth coverage of the uprising in Egypt have the option of tuning into Al Jazeera English, whose on-the-ground coverage of the turmoil is unmatched by any other outlet. American viewers, meanwhile, have little choice but to wait until one of the U.S. cable-company-approved networks broadcasts footage from AJE, which the company makes publicly available. What they can’t do is watch the network directly.

Other than in a handful of pockets across the U.S. – including Ohio, Vermont and Washington, D.C. – cable carriers do not give viewers the choice of watching Al Jazeera. That corporate censorship comes as American diplomats harshly criticize the Egyptian government for blocking Internet communication inside the country and as Egypt attempts to block Al Jazeera from broadcasting.

The result of the Al Jazeera English blackout in the United States has been a surge in traffic to the media outlet’s website, where footage can be seen streaming live. The last 24 hours have seen a two-and-a-half thousand percent increase in web traffic, Tony Burman, head of North American strategies for Al Jazeera English, told HuffPost. Sixty percent of that traffic, he said, has come from the United States.

Read more here.

State dept. helping to arrange voluntary evacuation U.S. citizens in Egypt

 Washington, DC – The U.S. Department of State announced Sunday that arrangements are being made to provide transportation out of Egypt for U.S. Citizens and their immediate relatives, beginning Monday, January 31. This is not a mandatory evacuation. Flights will head to safehaven locations in Europe. Once in Europe travellers wPlease read the following information thoroughly on how best to assist U.S. Citizens and their immediate relatives looking to leave Egypt.

 
Persons interested in departing Egypt via USG-chartered transportation should contact the U.S. Department of State and Embassy Cairo by sending an email to  or by calling 1-202-501-4444 with the requested information.
 
Due to the inaccessibility of the internet and e-mail in Egypt, representatives of U.S. citizens can also submit the information on behalf of the traveller(s).
  • Name
  • Age
  • Place of birth
  • Passport Number
  • Description of any medical needs
  • Contact information
 
Please note that at the time 
 
Additional information:
  • Immediate family members (spouses and children) who are not U.S. citizens must be documented for entry into the safehaven country and/or U.S., if that is your final destination.
  • Only one (1) piece of luggage per traveler.
  • This assistance will be provided on a reimbursable basis, as required by U.S. law.

 

Why is an Australian energy company so eager to export coal to China through Washington?

Have you heard the one about the Australian company that wanted to ship coal from Wyoming to China through Washington?

 But this one is no joke:  Ambre Energy, an Australian coal and oil-shale venture, recently obtained approval from Cowlitz County officials to set up a coal export facility at the Longview, WA port on the Columbia River.  Under Ambre’s plan, trains would carry over five million tons of coal each year to Longview, load it onto cargo ships, and ultimately sell it to feed China’s skyrocketing demand for coal-fired electric power.  When burned, the coal shipped through Longview will add about 9 million tons of carbon to the atmosphere.  (So much for Washington’s leadership on climate issues:  the coal sent through this one Washington terminal will release more carbon than the entire city of Seattle.  If you think that deserves a “yikes,” just wait:  several additional, larger coal terminals are on the drawing board.)

But the question that intrigued me about this whole situation was:  why Longview?  Why, of all ports, did the Ambre settle on this one?

The answer, as far as I can tell, comes down to cost:  shipping coal through Longview could save China, and the international coal conglomerate, a bunch of money.

Here’s why:

Powder River Basin (PRB) coal is dirt cheap.  In 2009, you could buy a ton of Wyoming coal for $11.72 (“Dirt cheap” is no exaggeration.  A quick web search suggests that topsoil can run somewhere around $20 per ton.)

There are two reasons why it’s so cheap.  First, as fossil fuels go, PRB coal is pretty thin stuff.  Burning a pound of the “sub-bituminous” coal from the Powder River Basin releases about 8,500 BTUs, about a third less energy per pound than the bituminous coals that are more commonly burned in Chinese power plants. 

A second reason that PRB coal is cheap is that the costs of long-distance shipping can add up — and the Powder River Basin is (no offense!) way out in the boondocks.  As of 2001 — the most recent data I could find — it cost about a penny to ship a ton of PRB coal one mile .  I imagine that those costs have risen with inflation; but even so, at a penny per mile, shipping PRB coal to Longview could cost nearly $10 per ton, and possibly significantly more.

And then there’s the cost of international shipping.  It costs between $20,000 and $50,000 per day to lease a good-sized cargo vessel — a “Panamax” ship, which is largest size that can fit through the Panama canal, and also the largest ship that the other berths at the Longview port can handle.  A Panamax vessel can handle about 60,000-80,000 tons of cargo, and the trip from the Northwest to Shanghai takes about 12 days.  (This source suggests 11 days from Vancouver to Shanghai,  and this one says 13 days from Seattle to Shanghai.  Obviously, it all depends on how fast the boat travels, but I’m not sure what speed winds up being most economical at today’s fuel and boat rental costs.)

So, all told, it costs at least $14 to ship a ton of coal  from the Powder River Basin to a Chinese port — and that’s excluding any handling costs in the ports themselves.  Then, when you factor in the low energy density of PRB coal, that’s the equivalent of about $20 per ton of the Chinese coal that it’s competing with.  And remember, this is a rock bottom estimate; transportation costs can be volatile, and if they spike to the high end of their historic range the transportation costs could rise north of $30 per ton.

So, getting back to my original question:  why Longview?  Well, it’s simple.  Longview offers what is the lowest cost for getting PRB coal to China. 

Even if other Northwest ports could handle the over 5 million tons of coal per year, most of them (save perhaps Portland) are farther away by rail.  Even an extra 100 miles of rail travel – the distance, roughly, from Longview to Tacoma — might significantly cut into Ambre’s profits.  When margins are thin, boosting costs by $1 per ton can make a huge difference to profitability.

But imagine what would happen if Ambre couldn’t find a west coast terminal to ship its coal.  The next closest alternative would be Houston/Galveston:  an additional 600 miles or so by rail, compared with Longview, plus an extra 12 days by boat through the Panama Canal.  All told, shipping coal through Galveston rather than Longview would add a bare minimum of $11 per ton to transportation costs, and possibly much more.  And once again, adjusting for the relatively low energy-density of PRB coal, that $11 cost penalty translates into nearly $17 per ton of Chinese coal.  And on top of all that, with China seemingly committed to a strong-dollar/weak-yuan policy, that $17 may actually wind up being even more expensive to Chinese consumers, once exchange rates are factored in.

So in short, if Ambre can’t find a Northwest port, shipping coal from Montana to China via Galveston would probably be a non-starter.  So it’s little wonder that international coal companies are so interested in finding a Northwest passage for Powder River Basin coal.

***

ALSO FROM SIGHTLINE’S SERIES,“THE DIRT ON COAL”

Washington infants versus coal: You decide

The Northwest’s electricity grid may be dirtier than you think

Does your outlet need Centralia’s coal-fired power plant?

Expecting a tax refund? IRS track record on returns in 2010 was worst in years

The Internal Revenue Service posted its worst performance in years in getting tax refunds to the public—about 3.3 million refunds were delayed through last August.

In addition, the delays cost the IRS $12.6 million in interest on refunds, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

It was the worst refund performance since at least 2005.

Seventy-one percent of all individual taxpayers filed online, which saves the IRS considerable funds. Each electronic return costs the IRS 19 cents and its paper counterpart $3.29. Consumers didn’t take advantage of other programs intended to expedite the process for both the IRS and the taxpayer: one would have provided refunds on debit cards, for taxpayers without bank accounts, but the program was rarely used in 2010. The GAO criticized the agency for not taking into account key factors in it how it assessed the program, adding the “IRS risks not learning the real reasons for low participation.”

One big frustration for taxpayers was waiting for their return, the report said. The IRS had designed a new Modernized e-File system, which was supposed to cut down on wait time and generally streamline the process, as well as replace the IRS’ old system. But the new system didn’t work as well as intended, the GAO report said. IRS officials have decided to use the new system along with the old until 2012. The system was plagued by problems, including delayed acknowledgements and slow servers, and the IRS said many consumers turned to traditional filings out of frustration.

FULL STORY…

WikiLeaks more effective than SEC, says Enron whistleblower

A former Enron accountant who blew the whistle on fraud at the energy giant says she doesn’t trust the Securities and Exchange Commission to handle tips from company insiders, even though the agency plans to offer a generous new bounty for information about fraud.

“I don’t think the SEC’s culture is one that will make this effective one iota,” said Sherron Watkins, a one-time vice president at Enron, referring to expanded protections for whistleblowers included in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

If she was in the same situation today as 10 years ago, when Watkins approached government authorities about accounting fraud at Enron, she would probably instead take her information to an organization like WikiLeaks, Watkins said.

In August 2001, Watkins warned then-Enron chief executive Ken Lay that Enron “might implode in a wave of accounting scandals.” After she was ignored, she told her story to government investigators. But by then it was too late and Enron had begun collapsing under the weight of allegations of massive fraud at the Houston-based energy giant. 

 

FULL STORY…

Washington infants versus coal: You decide

COMMENTARY

 

Where are Washington’s values?

At EOI’s blog, the single best comparison I’ve seen demonstrating the wretchedness of Washington’s tax and revenue situation:

A $23 million cut in King County health programs approved by the Legislature last month means layoffs in Maternity Support Services, [a] program that improves infant survival and health by providing a range of services to 30,000 women and babies.

 Meanwhile a sales tax exemption for out-of-state coal worth…you guessed it, $23.7 million…is still on the books.

It’s hard to imagine history treating us kindly. Will we be remembered for neglecting our most vulnerable infants and mothers, so that we can protect a tax loophole for a foreign energy company that is also the state’s biggest polluter? I hope that’s not our legacy.

I fully understand the implications of Eyman’s 1053 — that closing even the most egregious corporate tax loopholes is nigh impossible – but it’s hard to believe that a moral legislative body wouldn’t try.

****

 

ALSO FROM SIGHTLINE’S SERIES, “THE DIRT ON COAL”:

Why is an Australian energy company so eager to export coal through Washington?

The Northwest’s electricity grid may be dirtier than you think

Does your outlet need Centralia’s coal-fired power plant?

From Cairo: ‘For the first time in my life, I see real pride in their faces.’

To see more of Amal’s writing, go to her blog: “My Eye on Egypt.”

January 30, 2011

Cairo, Egypt

Today, the fourth day of what must now be called an Egyptian revolution, 100,000 people showed up in Tahrir Square, the political center of the people’s protest against President Hosni Mubarak and his government and for democracy and government respect of the people.  Not a bare spot was to be found.

 The size of the gathering was unaffected by the government’s shutdown of the internet and cell phone services.  Nor the fact that it shut down Al Jazeera in Arabic, the county’s main source of news.

 That fact is, that in spite of the tremendously rapid growth in internet and cell phone use in Egypt, the major pathways for news are mosques – whose messages sound throughout the city each day and which provide public gathering places for the people, and word of mouth.

 Neighborhoods are extremely tight-knit; people help each other, lending money, bartering for services, adjudicating quarrels, offering aid and spreading news. Since very few move houses, the ties are long, complex and meaningful. Neighborhoods tie the country together. Word travels efficiently.

 Mohamed ElBaradei

At some point, Mohamed ElBaradei, former Nobel Peace Prize winner and spokesman for authentic democracy in Egypt, announced that he would be willing to form an interim unity government.

 The people’s opinion of ElBaradei is mixed.  He’s been out of the country for decades, most recently as head of the IAEA International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and many see him as an interloper and there are others with long established reputations for leadership and opposition to the government.

 Still, in my opinion, it’s important now that a titular leader emerge. The people will get tired; they need people to replace those who were in positions of power and who are leaving the country in droves. Among many others, President Mubarak’s son, Gamal, often mentioned as a likely successor to his father, much to the people’s disgust, is said to be in London with his brother and their respective wives.

 Meanwhile, the police have returned to the streets and protesters keep the pressure on one of main sites of oppression, like the Ministry of Interior (known locally as the Ministry of Torture).  Today shots were heard from inside the building and there are rumors that the Minister abandoned the country. 

 F-16s over Cairo

 Early this evening, my apartment rattled violently.  Two F-16 fighter jets coming in low to buzz Tahrir Square. The people shout louder. In a phrase which rhymes in Arabic, they yell, “You fly; we stay!”

Army tanks rolls toward square while rumors spread that they had been ordered to use live ammunition and that they had refused. 

 I suspect that’s true. In Egypt, the army is thought of being on the side of the people.  It would simply be “unEgyptian” of them to shoot.

 Egyptians’ distaste for violence

  People here are terribly upset by the violence. They genuinely hate to see people being hurt.  They avoid confrontation. In fact, a major turning point in the revolt was provoked by government violence.  In the beginning, the protest was mostly young middle-class men; but when the police started bruising, bloodying and in some cases killing, the lower classes joined up en masse.

 And now, as this very dignified rebellion progresses, people are proud. For the first time in my life, I see real pride in their faces.  They are proud of the consistency and restraint in the protest, proud of protecting their own neighborhoods.

 I believe we’ll see a lasting change in the Egyptian psyche.

 As an Egyptian-American myself, I am proud; I get shivers thinking about the folks out there.

 

Dr. Winter is an Egyptian-American psychologist in Seattle who currently lives in Cairo, Egypt during the academic year where she is Visiting Professor of Practice at the American University in Cairo’s Graduate School of Education. She is a member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, the Arab American Community Coalition in Seattle, and the Arab American Institute’s Pacific Northwest representative. Her numerous consulting positions include the U.S. Department of State where she trains women in the Middle East to run for public office and the creation of training programs for panels of mediation specialists in over 450 Egyptian family courts.

 

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