Freedom is the deepest and noblest aspiration of the human spirit.”

– President Ronald Reagan

“Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.”

– Albert Einstein

Is the Coast Guard working for the public or BP? An editorial

Editorial page staff, The Times-Picayune

The Coast Guard says that rules aimed at keeping the public and news media away from the oil spill response are necessary to protect the environment and the people and equipment involved in the cleanup.

But the new “safety zone” that the agency has set up within 65 feet of any response vessels or booms on the beach or the water mostly protects BP from bad PR.

Since booms are often placed more than 40 feet outside of islands or marsh grasses, this additional buffer will make it difficult to document the effect of oil on the land or wildlife.

That’s not in the best interest of the Gulf Coast. Reporters and photographers, including those who work for The Times-Picayune, serve a vital function in documenting the disaster and the response.

This decision isn’t the only one that has hampered media coverage of the oil spill. The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered that no media flights to photograph the spill can go below 3,000 feet without special permission.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, national incident commander for the spill, said that the safety zone restrictions are not unusual. He said BP didn’t bring up the issue, but that local officials in Florida and elsewhere had raised safety concerns.

But plenty of local officials understand the need to inform the public. “Anytime you all want, you all can come in there wherever we go on our boats,” Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser told reporters.

At this point, the Coast Guard has not justified its position. In fact, its reasons keep changing. First the restrictions were needed to protect civilians. Now the claim is that workers and equipment are at risk. But what’s clearly at risk is the public’s right to know, and that deserves protection, too.

Oil Spill Crisis Puts Jindal Back On Center Stage

NPR – By Debbie Elliott (Listen To The Story)

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has thrust Louisiana’s conservative young governor back into the national spotlight. Bobby Jindal was once a rising star in the Republican ranks, but he lost his footing after a lackluster rebuttal to President Obama’s first address to Congress. Now, he’s pushing the Obama administration to do more to help his imperiled coast.

Just about every day since the oil spill began, Jindal has been in south Louisiana, near the marshes and bayous threatened by the never-ending gusher.

Hitting The Front Lines

Talking about the oil spill’s effects with R.J. Frickey, a third-generation shrimper from Lafitte, La., Jindal promised to hold BP accountable.

“This is only done when they’ve mitigated the damage and they’ve restored our wetlands and our wildlife back to what it was pre-spill,” Jindal said.

“How long’s that going to take, to get our life back?” Frickey asked before adding, “If we ever get it back.”

“That’s why we’ve got to be playing offense,” Jindal said. “We’re not winning this war right now.”

These days, Jindal often sounds like a general, and his war is as much against the federal government as it is against the oil. For weeks, the governor badgered the Obama administration to build a series of sand berms to protect Louisiana’s coast from the oil.

Now he’s furious that regulators stopped the $300 million project because the state was dredging for sand in sensitive areas that were not approved.

“We don’t have time for meetings. We don’t have time for red tape and bureaucracy,” Jindal said. “We’re literally in a war to save our coast. Every hour matters. Every day matters.”

Jindal waged a similar battle to get vacuum barges sucking up oil in the marshes, and he filed a court brief arguing against Obama’s moratorium on new deep-water drilling — which was struck down by a federal judge in New Orleans last week.

“Nobody in Louisiana wants to see another explosion, another loss of life. Nobody in Louisiana wants to see another drop of oil wash up on our coast,” Jindal said. “But at the same time, we don’t want to devastate the same coastal communities that are struggling with this oil spill with this arbitrary six-month moratorium.”

Credit For Persistence

Jindal’s fast-talking, wonkish approach; his youth; and his Indian-American heritage all make him a different kind of Louisiana leader. But he’s also one with whom state voters seem happy. Most recent polls show him with approval ratings of 61 percent or higher.

When there’s a disaster, people expect their governor to be there, and Jindal has been, says Louisiana political columnist John Maginnis.

“Even if sometimes he seems like he’s beating his head against the wall or trying to hold back the sea, they give him credit for being out there and persisting and for raising hell at times,” Maginnis says.

Jindal’s political career has been on a rocket trajectory. The Rhodes scholar was head of Louisiana’s largest state agency at the age of 25, president of the University of Louisiana system at 28 and elected to Congress at 33, and he moved into the governor’s mansion at 36. He made Sen. John McCain’s vetting list for a running mate in 2008 and quickly became the freshest face on the Republican national circuit.

In 2009, Jindal was the GOP’s choice to deliver the rebuttal to Obama’s first address to a joint session of Congress. He spoke about the economy and the effort to recover from Hurricane Katrina. But the performance was widely panned, and Jindal disappeared from the national stage.

Now he’s back with a similar theme and a similar contradiction. He’s against big government, but also calling on the feds to do more.

Jindal argues that in times of disaster, it’s the government’s responsibility to act. Maginnis says the governor is navigating a tricky line.

“He’s caught a lot of criticism for being someone who has always argued for less government, but here he is wanting government to respond,” Maginnis says.

Some Louisiana environmentalists and scientists are skeptical about Jindal’s plan to build a giant sand wall to protect the coast. They say he’s pushing it for political, not scientific, reasons.

The ‘Katrina Dynamic,’ In Reverse

The situation between Jindal and the Obama White House resembles what Len Bahr, former head of the state Office of Coastal Activities, calls “the Katrina dynamic.”

Bahr is referring to the ineffective working relationship between then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, and Republican President George W. Bush in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“It’s to the governor’s political interests to make the president look ineffectual, by stalling on permits,” Bahr says. “No matter what he hears, he’s gung-ho to do this at all costs, and I think that’s just a totally unfortunate situation.”

Others question Jindal’s staunch defense of offshore oil and gas drilling, given that the industry is among his top campaign contributors. But oil and gas also account for one in three jobs in the state and have an estimated $70 billion economic impact.

In southern Louisiana, people whose livelihoods are threatened by the oil spill don’t see a conflict. Seventh-generation oysterman Mike Voisin says the governor is doing exactly what he should be doing.

“He’s a hands-on kind of guy,” Voisin says. “He is calling on BP aggressively to take responsibility in many different facets. He has a grasp, and he’s acted.”

The question is whether Jindal’s response to the oil spill has catapulted him back into the national political arena. The governor says he’s only interested in running for re-election in Louisiana next year. And after all, at 39, he has plenty of time to ponder higher office.

The Family and the Land: Sally Mann

18 June – 19 September 2010

The work of American photographer Sally Mann is deeply rooted in both her family, and the landscape she lives and works in. This exhibition, her first solo-show in the UK, draws on several powerful photographic series from throughout her long career that reflect these influences.

Sally Mann (b.1951, USA) first came to prominence for Immediate Family (1984 – 94), a series of intimate and revealing portraits of her three young children Emmett, Jessie and Virginia. Taken over ten years, Mann depicts them playing and acting to camera in and around their homestead in Virginia. Capturing their childhood in all its rawness and innocence, both this and the later series Faces were born out of a collaborative process between mother and child.

Changing focus to the landscape close to her home, the series Deep South (1996 – 98) draws on significant locations from the American Civil War. The photographs are ghostly lit and covered with delicate marks and drip trails – a result of using antique cameras and processes which Mann relishes – that imbue them with a sense of time suspended.

The most recent series in the exhibition, What Remains (2000-04), brings together both of the earlier strands. Facing us are beautifully realised portraits of decomposing bodies returning to the land, photographs taken at a research facility in Tennesse. Dealing directly with the social taboo of death, Mann treats this subject with sensitivity, encouraging us to reflect on our own mortality and place within nature’s order.

The Family and the Land: Sally Mann at The Photographers’ Gallery is an edited version of a touring exhibition, conceived by Sally Mann in collaboration with Hasse Persson, Director, Borås Museum of Modern Art, Sweden.

Grape expectations: Crianzas, chorizo, cobbles and cathedrals in La Rioja, Spain’s small (but perfectly formed) wine region

Daily Mail – By Chris Leadbeater

The main square in the village of Fuenmayor does as fine a job of advertising its region as any billboard ever could. In the middle, a church, the Iglesia de Santa Maria – all sandstone sides and sturdy tower – sounds a note of pious calm. To its left, a group of plane trees, alive in the breeze, adds pastoral charm. And then there is the giveaway – the fountain in the corner, a splashy circle whose centrepiece – a sculpted bunch of grapes – acknowledges the vineyards that fan out around this dot on the Spanish map.

La Rioja is the second smallest of the 17 ‘autonomous provinces’ into which Spain is split, a plateau tucked 100 miles below the north-coast city of Bilbao, and 200 miles above Madrid. But what it does, it does well: medieval towns on hilltops, mountains on the horizon, huge monasteries clinging to the 16th century. Oh, and wine. Lots of it.

It is the latter commodity that has made Rioja a household name. Each year the region produces 175 million bottles of the stuff (13 per cent goes to Britain, the largest export market). Evidence of this productivity is all around, long furrows of tempranillo and graciano grapes stretched out on every available patch of the rocky yet fertile ground.

It is a world increasingly open to those who like to know their wine as well as drink it – via the many wineries that lurk among the vines, happy for visitors to try their wares.

These bodegas are quite a mish-mash, as varied as the ruby crianzas and dusky gran reservas they concoct in their cavernous cellars. Some are flag-bearers for their trade, such as the Marqués De Riscal winery at Elciego, where the hotel – its roof a jumble of pink, gold and silver ribbons of metal, gloriously out of kilter with the countryside – is recognisable as the work of uber-architect Frank Gehry ( Some are family-run affairs, toured by appointment, such as the Finca Valpiedra winery in its discreet base overlooking the River Ebra (…

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Narco sub is no rumor, authorities discover

Find in jungle of Ecuador called a game-changer in the war on drugs


It has long been the stuff of drug-trafficking legend, but federal authorities announced on Saturday that they have helped seize the first known and fully operational submarine built by drug traffickers to smuggle tons of cocaine from South America toward the United States.

The diesel-electric powered submarine was captured in an Ecuadorian jungle waterway leading to the Pacific Ocean, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The sub, which is about 100 feet long and equipped with a periscope, was seized before its maiden voyage by Ecuadorian authorities armed with DEA intelligence.

The discovery is seen by authorities as a game-changer in terms of the challenge it poses not only to fighting drugs but to national security as well.

“The submarine’s nautical range, payload capacity, and quantum leap in stealth have raised the stakes for the counter-drug forces and the national security community alike,” said DEA Andean Regional Director Jay Bergman.

It is unclear how far the camouflage-painted submarine could have traveled, but it is believed to be sophisticated enough to cover thousands of miles — and certainly to make it to the North American coast.

“There is a sense of urgency for naval engineers and submariners to take a look at this thing and dissect it and take it apart and figure out what its real capabilities were,” Bergman said. “The police have seized this structure, but the people that need to get on there are naval engineers.”

Bergman noted that traffickers have used speed boats, sail boats, fishing boats and specialized craft that float low in the water, but this is the first true submarine discovered.

“Now that the Loch Ness Monster has been found, the interdiction community is going to retool their search patterns and how they conduct business,” he said.

Back in 2000 in a Bogota, Colombia, warehouse authorities thought they’d found the first ever narco submarine, but it turned out to be an enclosed boat that floated low in the water, rather than completely under the surface.

The final frontier

The submarine seized in Ecuador was built in what was described as a clandestine dry dock of industrial proportions and even had housing for dozens of workers.

It marks what could be argued as the final frontier for traffickers who have squared off against law enforcement on the land, in the air and on the sea, and now look to go beneath the waves to reach lucrative drug markets.

“There is no place else they can go in terms of maritime,” Bergman said. “The traffickers have now exhausted every possibility.”

Among the questions is who could have designed such a sophisticated machine, as well as piloted it.

But the biggest issue haunting federal agents is this: How many more might be out there?

“The DEA is very good,” Bergman said, “but what are the odds of us detecting the first one ever built before it got underway? I’d say this is the first one we caught.”

Larry Karson, a retired Customs Service agent who is a criminal justice lecturer at the University of Houston Downtown, said the DEA very well could have found the only real narco sub.

Hard to hide

He noted that it isn’t easy to keep a dry dock covert, let alone all the people involved.

“It is feasible,” said Karson, who noted that for years authorities have heard rumors of drug traffickers getting a submarine. But most figured traffickers would most likely buy a used one, not make their own.

“I think everybody has been looking for it, it has been a matter of time,” he said. “There was a rumor somebody would find a used one on the market. We’ve been using them since the Civil War.”

He noted that the former Navy P-3s that now are used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to search for sea and airborne traffickers sneaking loads toward the United States might have to revert to their old submarine hunting mission.

Finding the sub comes as part of a long-term cat and mouse game in which authorities have combed jungles and flown over thousands of miles of open ocean each week in an attempt to deny traffickers easy access to their U.S. markets.

As Bergman put it: “This is the final frontier for the maritime drug traffickers. We remained completely incredulous until the last minute.”

“Good cops never underestimate their enemy or the ingenuity of the adversary,” he said. “But seeing is believing and that is what this day is.”

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