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“The Obama administration’s controversial pick to be the Department of Homeland Security’s geek-in-chief is either a leading authority on the deadliest terror threats — or a biowar chicken little, dangerously out of touch with reality,” Wired reported yesterday.
At first glance, Dr. Tara O’Toole is a dream candidate to take over the position of DHS under secretary for science and technology. She’s a doctor, the CEO of the University of Pittburgh’s Center for Biosecurity, the chairwoman of the Federation of American Scientists, and the brains behind a series of influential disaster response exercises that woke Washington up to the threat of terrorists with weapons of massive destruction. Who better to take over DHS’ nearly billion-dollar research portfolio — about 45 percent of which goes towards chemical and biological defense?
But the outcry over O’Toole’s nomination began just moments after the White House announced its intent late Tuesday to name her to the job. To her critics, O’Toole has dangerously overhyped the bioterror threat — leading to a huge increase of the number of research labs and researchers handling deadly agents.”
Also of note about O’Toole are her ties to the Democratic Party and Congressman John Murtha. Since 2003, she has contributed a total of $8,300 to the Democratic National Committee, as well as a number of Democratic presidential candidates, including John Kerry, Wesley Clark, Hillary Clinton, and most recently Barack Obama. The only member of congress to whom she has contributed is Murtha. In 2004 and 2005, immediately before and after Murtha earmarked money for her center under the Strategic Biodefense Initiative, she gave him $1,750.
As I’ve noted before, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center — O’Toole’s center is one of its projects — retains as its lobbying firm Ervin Technical Associates, which has close links to the congressman. UPMC’s PAC and employees have donated heavily to Murtha, including $192,500 in 2006. That was the year after Murtha won an $8.5 million earmark for UPMC -– lobbied for by Ervin Technical -– for a communications network. Ervin Technical is also seeking to win support for a dubious UPMC project which is looking for funding to develop and manufacture biodefense vaccines.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”