Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for July, 2010

Seattle City Council: Informed Consent For Commercial Display Of Human Remains

by Matt Rosenberg July 12th, 2010

SUMMARY: The Seattle City Council begins consideration this week of a bill requiring written consent from the deceased or his or her legal representative for use of human remains in educational or commercial exhibits. The proposed legislation is directed in large part toward exhibits such as “Bodies: The Exhibition,” for which no documentation of consent was provided for the public display of the corpses used. If the bill clears committee it will got to the full council for a vote. UPDATE, 7/14/10: I talk about this on KOMO 1000 Radio, today – audio file and transcript included.

BACKGROUND: In 2006-2007 and in 2009-2010, a popular commercial show titled “Bodies: The Exhibition” came to Seattle. The show has also been staged in other North American cities. Corpses used in the show were preserved through a special process called “plastination” which allows a close look at musculo-skeletal structures, diseased organs and other aspects of the human body.

While widely hailed by many visitors as educational, “Bodies” also attracted controversy because the corpses were unclaimed bodies from Chinese prisons and on cultural grounds emphasized by Seattle-area Chinese-American community leaders. No information was made available on the causes of imprisonment or death of the individuals and no consent forms could be produced permitting the display of their bodies. The exhibitor, Premier Exhibitions, states at the FAQ page for its most recent Seattle “Bodies” show:

“Premier cannot independently verify the complete provenance of the human remains in this exhibition. They were obtained from a plastination facility in China, which received them from medical universities in China. These medical universities received the remains from medical examiner authorities in the Chinese Bureau of Police. The specimens are unclaimed by next of kin and there is no available donor documentation. After the bodies were unclaimed at death, they were ultimately delivered to a medical school for education and research. Where known, information about the identities, medical histories and causes of death is kept strictly confidential.”

Premier Exhibitions is a publicly-traded company with a market capitalization of $54 million and stock at $1.16 a share late last month. “Bodies: The Exhibition” is currently listed as on display in 10 North American cities. Controversy is now surfacing in St. Louis. A Missouri congressman has introduced federal legislation that would attempt to ensure no prisoners’ bodies are used in exhibits of human remains, The Hill reports.

The Seattle bill was to be referred Monday July 12 by the full City Council to the Housing, Health, Human Services and Culture Committee – chaired by Council Member Nick Licata – for discussion and a possible vote as early as Wednesday July 14. If and when the bill is voted out of committee, it will go to the full council for discussion and a vote.

KEY LINK: Council Bill # 116916, “an ordinance regulating the commercial display of human remains, establishing that unlawful commercial display of human remains is a civil infraction, and creating a new section 14.14.010 of the Seattle Municipal Code.”

FINDINGS:

  • State law, The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, Ch. 68.64 RCW, “requires any donor and specified authorized individuals to authorize the use of anatomical gifts for transplantation, therapy, research, and education purposes.”
  • “Officials responsible for unclaimed human remains are required to make a good faith attempt to notify the next of kin of the decedent.”
  • “The public commercial display of dead human bodies must be regulated to protect individual bodily integrity, as well as the social and cultural values of the City.”
  • “It is the intent of the City Council to require persons who participate in the public commercial display of dead human bodies to provide evidence of informed consent specific to the public exhibition and display of human remains from the decedent or relatives of humans whose remains are put on display, and to provide for the continued use of human remains in the educational, medical, and scientific communities to promote human health and safety.”

KEY PROVISION: “It shall be unlawful to display to the public human remains for consideration or commercial purposes without valid written authorization from the deceased, which consent may be given in the last will of the deceased, or by a person who has the right to control the disposition of the remains pursuant to Ch. 68.50 RCW or Ch. 68.64 RCW, or any successor legislation. The Director of Financial and Administrative Services or the Director’s designee shall determine the adequacy of the documentation offered to establish consent.”

ADDITIONAL PROVISIONS: Fines of up to $250 per day would be allowed to be levied for violations of the legislation. The city attorney would be empowered to file civil actions to stop violations. There is a “rebuttable presumption” of compliance with the bill for human remains in possession of a museum accredited by by the American Association of Museums or a museum facility of an accredited college or university.

RELATED MATERIALS:

Washington State’s Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, RCW 68.64

San Francisco Police Code Article 11.1, approved 2005 – “Commercial Display Of Dead Human Bodies.”

Seattle City Council Committees – agendas, meeting minutes, video archives.

Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000: Global Energy Use And Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 2005-2035

by Matt Rosenberg July 7th, 2010

On my regular weekly radio segment on KOMO 1000 News Radio in Seattle featuring the work of our Public Data Ferret project, yesterday I spoke with “Nine2Noon” anchor Brian Calvert about a recent report on global energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions over the next several decades. Here’s the original Ferret write-up on the report, and here’s the audio of the on-air segment. The transcript follows.

Brian Calvert: “So are we as a planet learning to conserve more energy? A report by the U.S. Energy Department says, overall, not really. Matt Rosenberg of communityforums.org – where you can use their feature The Public Data Ferret – joins us on the line. And Matt, this week the Ferret has taken a closer look at that report on future global energy use. Tell us what you found.”

Matt Rosenberg: “Well you bet Brian. This was a real eye-opener. The 2010 International Energy Outlook should serve as a potent reminder that getting a grip on energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions will require truly global action, especially including the developing nations of Eurasia, Asia, Africa, Central and South America. Now, one of the base case projections, getting right to the findings here, is that from 2005 to 2035, total global energy use will grow 56 percent, and a rate four times greater in developing nations than in the more mature economies.

“And then coal, Brian. Everyone is keeping an eye on the use of coal because it’s one of the dirtier sources out there. And coal use will level off in the more mature economies but it will more than double by 2035 in the emerging world. And then the real kicker, carbon dioxide emissions. Same story. major growth in the developing nations, leveling off in the more mature economies. China, having a huge impact in the growth of carbon dioxide emissions.”

Brian Calvert: “Matt, I was looking through the report this morning and the thing that caught my eye is it seems like all of the messages of conservation and all the things that we’ve done here in this country, those messages seem to be being heard, but it’s the rest of the world where either the message isn’t getting out or they just have no other choice than keeping creating energy in the way they currently are, and at the rates that they currently are.”

Matt Rosenberg: “Well it’s a real thorny dilemma and a U.S. climate bill isn’t nearly the half of it all. Conservation, efficiency and technology are really important, but, you know, so too is going to be good policy and global political leadership on this, which as we know, is a huge challenge. So, I think nobody really wants to impose a blanket solution. It’s not smart or possible. But I will tell you this, Brian, I think a huge fork in the road for many nations will be the choice between a so-called ‘cap and trade’ strategy versus a carbon tax, which some economists say is a better approach. But, the real kicker is the developing nations want the developed nations to pay for cleaning up their energy supplies. And with the budget and debt issues that Europe and United States are facing, I just don’t see that happening.”

Corporation for Public Broadcasting: Examination of Northwest Communities’ Education Center and KDNA-FM

by Andrew Hart July 7th, 2010

BACKGROUND: KDNA-FM is a radio station based in Granger, Washington licensed by the Northwest Communities’ Education Center (NCEC). NCEC is a non-profit community organization serving the Latino/Chicano/Hispanic populace of the region. NCEC uses KDNA to address the educational, informational and cultural interests of the Hispanic/Latino community. KDNA is funded by government grants, private donors, program underwriting, membership dues, and funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

After allegations that the station was not complying with CPB and Communications Act of 1934 requirements, the CPB Office of Inspector General conducted an examination of the station and submitted a report to CPB management on March 31, 2010. Specifically, the examination sought to determine whether KDNA: (a) made inappropriate expenditure of CPB grant funds, (b) improperly claimed non-federal financial support on fiscal year 2008 annual financial reports, (c) kept inaccurate financial records for fiscal year 2009, and (d) insufficiently responded to public requests for information and open public meetings as required by CPB and the Communications Act.

KEY LINK: Examination of Northwest Communities’ Education Center, KDNA-FM, Report No. ASR911-1002

KEY FINDINGS: For the period ending September 30, 2008, the examination of KDNA conducted by the CPB’s Office of Inspector General found several issues:

  1. $58,587 in grant funds were used to pay salaries and fringe benefits of a KDNA producer and news director rather than for funding national programming.
  2. KDNA over-reported non-federal financial support by $494,539 for fiscal year 2008, which could lead to CPB making excess grant payments in the future.
  3. KDNA’s financial records of CPB revenues and expenditures for the calendar year 2008 were inaccurate.
  4. KDNA did not adequately comply with Communications Act requirements. KDNA failed to provide the public with information regarding public meetings and financial information. The examination also found that KDNA did not follow CPB’s requirements for: holding open public meetings; maintaining open financial records, equal employment opportunity information, and information on donors and political activities.

Based on the findings, the Office of Inspector General made the following recommendations to CPB management:

King County Must Revise Cost-Of-Living Pay Policy

by Administrator July 7th, 2010

By Seattle Times editorial board

Two Metropolitan King County Council members propose new labor policies that would end the county’s long-standing and anachronistic automatic cost-of-living pay increases. The council would be wise to adopt either or a combination of both plans.

County employees have been living in an altered state, pretending the county has enough money to award employees 2 to 6 percent annual cost-of-living increases even if that cost dropped as it did last year. That makes no sense.

Council Chairman Bob Ferguson and Councilmember Kathy Lambert offer different proposals to accomplish similar goals: to change de facto policy that institutionalizes cost-of-living increases. Lambert has been working this issue almost two years and deserves considerable kudos for bringing the matter to the forefront.

Lambert and Ferguson should join forces to combine and refine proposals and rally enough votes to support the new approach. By doing so, the council would send a powerful message to labor that the economic realities of the 21st century require new rules.

More

Can Media Build Social Capital?

by Carrie Shaw July 7th, 2010

According to Hanson Hosein, Director of Digital Media at the University of Washington, media academics are now discussing the potential of new media as a platform for the development of social capital — the bridging and bonding that occurs between individuals in online communities who share common values and opinions, or who “bridge” differences by seeking to understand different perspectives. In a media marketplace that’s increasingly niche-oriented and capable of widening rather than narrowing existing ideological divides, development of that potential is important for the greater good.

Hanson Hosein

This theme arose recently when I attended a fascinating discussion hosted by Hosein with local media leaders for the City Club of Seattle’s Rapid Response Series. The event was titled: “Revenue models in the changing media landscape.” Key themes emerged on how the news ecosystem has forever changed and how new revenue sources are still working themselves out. The discussion and audience comments brought out a common refrain — “we’ll find out five years down the road if this or that revenue model becomes viable.”

Everyone agreed that there is a desire within the general public for objective news sources. A free and independent press is vital to the health of any democracy. Trusted and objective news sources are necessary to foster an informed citizenry, just as social “bridging” opportunities between individuals are necessary to foster empathy, understanding, and tolerance. It is that place of trust, where traditional and new media fill the role as social capital arbiter.

Panelists did address the baseline issue of staying independent from the overt influences of funding sources.

They stressed that that they as individuals and organizations maintain a firewall between revenue sources and journalism. Yet there was little direct discussion on the current lack of public trust that media provide fair and accurate news and information. Another perspective is helpful. The Pew Research Center for People & The Press has been following public attitudes toward the media in the key areas of accuracy, fairness, and independence since 1985.

When it comes to accuracy, the press has hit a two-decade low since Pew began evaluating the topic.

Only 29 percent of Americans say that news organizations generally get the facts straight, while 63 percent say that news stories are often inaccurate. And while Internet news sources are getting all the attention, 71 percent of Americans still get their news and information from television. However last December, for the first time, Pew reported that more people said they got more of their national and international news from the Internet than from newspapers. The Pew survey also noted that little has changed since 1985 when it came to whether the press overall was viewed as liberal or conservative, with about twice as many people viewing the press as liberal vs. conservative.

The most disturbing finding to me was on whether the media is viewed as independent from “powerful people and organizations.” According to Pew, “nearly three-quarters (75%) say news organizations are influenced by powerful people and organizations compared with 20 percent who say they are independent.” In 1985 that difference was much less, (53% to 37%). As trust declines and media continues to fragment, many Americans prioritize sources which validate their existing opinions or bias. Perhaps we’ve largely written off creation of social capital and informational bridges through media channels, though that would be a worrisome concession.

Delivering on the issues of accuracy, fairness, and independence would go a long way in restoring public trust. Exposure to “both or all sides” of an issue and accurate reporting of news events should build common ground and greater understanding among citizens. And while that’s what we’re taught in journalism school in the pursuit of objective and thorough reporting, it is easier said than done.

As trust declines and media continues to fragment, many Americans prioritize sources which validate their existing opinions or bias. Perhaps we’ve largely written off creation of social capital and informational bridges through media channels, though that would be a worrisome concession.

If the issue is greater transparency, then there need to be industry standards set that can apply to the many emerging revenue models supporting journalism. If the issue is more about professional ethics, then journalism as a profession needs to have that discussion and make some changes or these negative trends will only continue.

Global Energy Use and Carbon Emissions, 2005-2035

by Matt Rosenberg July 5th, 2010

SUMMARY: Barring a game-changing breakthrough in policy or technology, global carbon dioxide emissions will grow by 50 percent between 2005 and 2035, thanks in large part to steadily increasing use of coal for energy in developing nations, particularly China. Developed nations will continue to restrict growth in energy consumption and carbon emissions but growing population and economic activity in most of Asia, Africa, Central and South America pose a huge challenge to hopes for widespread and effective action on energy usage and man-made climate change.

BACKGROUND: The U.S. Department of Energy’s projections and statistics division, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently released its “2010 International Energy Outlook.” The heart of the document is a section titled “Reference Case Projections,” which details current and future global energy use, and growth in population, economic activity, carbon dioxide emissions and more, by category of country. A critical distinction is between countries which are members of the OECD, or Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and those which do not. The OECD members, primarily located in the Northern Hemisphere, including Western Europe, are more developed nations, and have already begun to conserve energy and push for limits on greenhouse gas emissions. The non-OECD countries, including the nations comprising South and Central America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Persian Gulf, Africa, and emerging Asia, make up the developing world, where significant population and economic growth are expected to fuel a marked increase in overall global energy use and carbon emissions.

The “reference case projections” for 2035 by the EIA are meant to indicate what to expect if current laws and policies remain unchanged regarding the amount and types of energy used globally. In practical terms, changes in current laws and policies regarding energy use and carbon emissions would need to be substantial, broad and robustly enforced in order to make a difference.

KEY LINK: “Reference Case Projections,” 2010 International Energy Outlook, U.S. Energy Information Administration, May 25, 2010.

KEY FINDINGS:

  • Population in the OECD or developed nations will grow from 1.16 billion in 2005 to only 1.34 billion by 2035, while population in non-OECD or developing nations is to increase from 5.33 billion in 2005 to 7.12 billion in 2035.
  • Global carbon dioxide emissions will grow 50 percent from 28,306 million metric tons in 2005 to 42,392 million metric tons in 2035. Non-OECD, or developing nation will account for two-thirds of the 2035 total versus 51 percent in 2005. The annual average percentage growth rate in carbon dioxide emissions between 2005 and 2035 will be one-tenth of one percent in OECD nations versus two percent in non-OECD nations. China will be the greatest contributor to this increase. It’s share of global carbon dioxide emissions will grow from 5.1 percent in 2005 to 31 percent in 2035. (p. 141).
  • Between 2007 and 2035, total primary energy consumption in the developed, or OECD nations will grow by roughly one-seventh, at an annual rate of 0.5 percent, to 280.7 quadrillion BTUs in 2035. In the same period, energy consumption by the developing, or non-OECD nations, will grow at annual rate of 2.2 percent, increasing more than four-fifths to 458 quadrillion BTUs by 2035. (p. 131).
  • The developed world, or OECD nations, will between 2005 and 2035 hold the line on growth in the use of coal, liquid fuels and natural gas, while increasing the use of nuclear energy at an average annual rate of 1 percent and renewables at an average annual rate of two percent. The developing, or non-OECD nations, will in the same period increase their use of coal more than four-fifths, while increasing their use in all other categories of fuel as well. The non-OECD nations in 2035 will have an energy mix that is more than one-quarter liquid fuels, one third coal, one-fifth natural gas, with the remainder (some 17 percent) about 3 parts “other” (including renewables) to 1 part nuclear. (pp. 132-133).
  • Total global energy consumption will increase 56 percent between 2005 and 2035, with coal the most prevalent source, followed by liquid fuels, natural gas, “other” (including renewables), and nuclear (p. 133).
  • Global growth in coal consumption will be led by China, which will more than double its current volume between 2005 and 2035, and will in 2035 account for 71 percent of the global total (p. 138).
  • Gross domestic product (adjusted for purchasing power parity) will grow from 2005 to 2035 at an average annual rate of 2 percent to a total of $63.4 billion in developed, or OECD nations. In developing, or non-OECD nations, the adjusted GDP will grow in the same period at an average annual rate of four percent, to $90.2 billion. (p. 134).

RELATED: “2010 International Energy Outlook,” U.S. Energy Information Administration, May 25, 2010.