Thursday, December 22, 2011

12/21 and 12/22

On the second day of Hanukkah, my EPA gave to me: cleaner air to breathe and fewer neurotoxin poisoning me...

More than twenty years after the passage of the amended Clean Air Act (which was supported, of course, by many Republicans and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, back in a time when there was such a thing as GOP sanity) gave it the authority to limit emissions of mercury and other airborne toxic pollutants, the EPA finally unveils regulations requiring power plants to clean up their mess:
Congress gave the EPA the authority to limit these toxins — which include mercury, arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium and cyanide — in 1990, but disagreements among federal regulators, industry officials and activists over how best to regulate them have stalled action until now.


The EPA estimates the new regulation’s safeguards — which are slated to fully take effect in three years — will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year by 2016 and will cost the industry $9.6 billion in compliance that year. By comparison, the agency projects reducing these emissions will save between $37 billion and $90 billion in 2016 in annual health costs and lost workdays.
As David Roberts says, this is a big deal:
Finally controlling mercury and toxics will be an advance on par with getting lead out of gasoline. It will save save tens of thousands of lives every year and prevent birth defects, learning disabilities, and respiratory diseases. It will make America a more decent, just, and humane place to live.
Yet despite two decades to prepare for these new rules and adopt clean technologies, the big polluters are still stuck in the past and they don't want to change — public health be damned!:
Scott H. Segal, who represents utilities that would be affected by the rule, said the E.P.A. was playing down the costs and double-counting the benefits. “The bottom line,” he said in an analysis of the regulation, is that “this rule is the most expensive air rule that E.P.A. has ever proposed in terms of direct costs.”

He added, “It is certainly the most extensive intervention into the power market and job market that E.P.A. has ever attempted to implement.”
I suppose it's true that it is expensive, but that's when you ignore all the benefits. Luckily, despite the slow action from the federal level, many states have already adopted similar rules, so we actually have quite a bit of evidence on how these rules would affect the coal-burning utilities. And guess what? The lights didn't go out. And nope, their economies weren't crippled by the draconian regulations. Instead, coal plants made the necessary adjustments. And now, some of those very utilities who've already installed anti-pollution equipment are pushing back against the usual, discredited Republican lies about the evils and high costs of environmental regulations:
Ralph Izzo, the chief executive of the Public Service Enterprise Group, the parent of New Jersey’s largest electric utility, said his company had spent $1.3 billion to bring his plants into compliance with New Jersey’s air quality rules, which are as stringent as the new federal standards. He said other utilities had had more than enough notice to clean up their facilities in advance of the federal rule announced on Wednesday.

Mr. Izzo said that the E.P.A. action was “long overdue,” and that the Clean Air Act, under which the new standards were issued, provided enough flexibility to allow all power generators to come into compliance without a threat to the electric supply.
The AP decides to investigate the claims of Big Pollution and finds they're bunk, as well:
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which is an association of companies producing electricity from coal, said the rule will destroy jobs, raise the cost of energy and make electricity less reliable. A study by the group estimated that as much as 12 percent of coal-fired generation would be forced to retire due to the regulation.

But an AP survey of 55 power plant producers found that estimate, and others, to be inflated. The mercury rule, along with another to reduce power plant pollution that blows downwind, will force portions of more than 32 mostly coal-fired power plants in a dozen states to retire, and put another 36 power plants on the brink of retirement.

But not a single operator interviewed said the EPA was solely to blame for the decision. And coal is still likely to be the country's dominant electricity source until 2035, according to the Energy Information Administration.

For the older, aging plants, many of which only ran when electricity demand peaked, the rules were the final blow. Coal was already struggling to compete against low natural-gas prices, demand from China and elsewhere driving up its price, and lower electricity demand.

The average age of the units retiring or at risk of shutting down was 51 years old, the AP found. And while they produce enough power for more than 22 million households, experts say they probably won't cause the lights to go out, because in many cases the power is being replaced.
It's worth pointing out again what exactly the benefits of the new regulation are, since the anti-environment, pro-pollution lobby will no doubt seek to hijack the debate over this into one focused solely on costs, costs, costs; as EDF notes:
According to EPA, the new rules will:
  • Prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths each year
  • Prevent up to 4,700 heart attacks each year
  • Prevent up to 130,000 asthma attacks each year
  • Prevent up to 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits each year
  • Prevent up to 540,000 missed work or school days each year
The rules will also provide employment for thousands. The updating of older power plants with modern air pollution control technology will support:
  • 46,000 new short-term construction jobs
  • 8,000 long-term utility jobs
The value of the air quality improvements for human health alone will be as much as $90 billion each year.
And all that doesn't even touch on the benefits provided to wildlife, particularly those in streams, lakes, and other bodies of water where bioaccumulation of these toxins has been a serious issue. As this graphic shows, power plants are responsible for a large amount of a variety of airborne pollutants, so this new rule takes a huge step towards cleaning up our air (and land and water, too).

Seems like a pretty strong case for regulation, but if there's one thing we can expect, it's that Big Coal and their friends will continue to spend millions lobbying for less stringent rules:
Amy Poszywak at SNL Financial reports that lobbying among the largest U.S. power companies topped $11 million in the third quarter of 2011 (the latest figures available) and that expenses have been high all year.

The lobbying done by energy corporations was intended to shape and defer rules coming from the Environmental Protection Agency (often under court order) that would cut air pollution, redefine coal ash as a toxic waste, and upgrade coal plants' cooling water systems to avoid killing fish.
In light of this intense lobbying effort, along with a mixed environmental record by the Obama administration so far, it's truly an act worth praising:
The decision compensates, at least in part, for the White House’s lamentable decision two months ago to reject stricter health standards for smog. That and the administration’s failure to give full-throated support to climate change legislation last year had disheartened many of the president’s environmental supporters.

The administration can now legitimately point to three measures that will almost certainly lead to cleaner power plants and vehicles, more breathable air and fewer greenhouse gas emissions: a ruling in July setting new limits on interstate emissions of sulfur dioxide, the main acid rain gas; a landmark deal announced in November aimed at doubling automobile fuel efficiency by 2025; and, now, the new mercury rule.

Given the long history of drought in here in the Southwest, and with a hotter, drier climate looming (and, actually, already here), water resources here in the desert are going to be under increasing stress. Adapting to the approaching mega-drought will require many changes, and as Peter Gleick and a colleague from the Pacific Institute point out, Australia's recent history with long-term drought provides us with some potential solutions:
The southwestern U.S. bears some resemblance to parts of Australia before the drought. Both include arid regions where thirsty cities and irrigated agriculture are straining water supplies and damaging ecosystems. The Colorado River no longer flows to the sea in most years. Water levels in major reservoirs have steadily declined over the past decade; some analysts project that the largest may never refill. The U.S. and Australia also share a changing global climate that is increasing the risk of drought.


Even in the midst of the drought, Australia moved forward with plans to restore water to severely degraded aquatic ecosystems. The government has continued with plans to restore rivers and wetlands by cutting withdrawals from the Murray-Darling river basin by 22 to 29 percent. It has committed $3 billion to purchase water from irrigators to restore ecosystems. Regulators introduced water markets in the hope of making farms more water-efficient and reducing waste. Despite efforts to phase out subsidies, the government announced more than $6 billion in aid to improve irrigation infrastructure and make it more productive.

The southwestern U.S. states would do well to push for these kinds of reforms before a similar disaster strikes. They need to tackle difficult policy issues, such as development of water markets and pricing, expansion of water efficiency and productivity programs, elimination of government subsidies that encourage inefficient or unproductive water use by cities and farms, and agricultural reform. As the climate continues to change, smart water planning may help ease the impacts of unexpected and severe shocks that now appear inevitable.

Speaking of water, our infrastructure problem in this country gets worse by the day, and has severe consequences for delivering and treating water:
The drinking-water systems, just under half of which are publicly owned, supply 264 million people. The wastewater treatment facilities supply about 225 million people, but they are so prone to failure that 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage are discharged each year, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2004.

The E.P.A.’s 2010 estimate of the capital cost of modernizing this infrastructure was $91 billion, the report said, but financing for that purpose amounted to only $35 million. If systemic neglect continues, it adds, that shortfall will only increase.

“The growing gap between capital needs to maintain drinking water and wastewater treatment infrastructure and investments to meet those needs will likely result in unreliable water service and inadequate wastewater treatment,” the study said.

The GOP's anti-environment, anti-regulation, anti-reason-and-sanity stance has now gone so far that the affected industries themselves are objecting to the GOP's nonsense:
The rider may have advanced GOP talking points about light bulb “freedom of choice,” but it didn’t win them many friends in the industry, who are more interested in their bottom line than political rhetoric.

Big companies like General Electric, Philips and Osram Sylvania spent big bucks preparing for the standards, and the industry is fuming over the GOP bid to undercut them.

After spending four years and millions of dollars prepping for the new rules, businesses say pulling the plug now could cost them. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association has waged a lobbying campaign for more than a year to persuade the GOP to abandon the effort.

Manufacturers are worried that the rider will undermine companies’ investments and “allow potential bad actors to sell inefficient light bulbs in the United States without any fear of federal enforcement,” said Kyle Pitsor, the trade group’s vice president of government relations.

A very interesting new report in Science that should be a must-read for those of you interested in sustainable development. It's not all about technology; building capacity matters — and is achievable:
A continued focus on technical solutions to rangeland problems by national or international research bodies assumes that technology is the driver for progress. We argue, rather, that here human development is the driver and technology provides the tools. Human development provides the vision, desire, and opportunity to improve lives, and technology can then serve evolving aspirations. This process was best illustrated by the groups at Liben using available technology once they felt confident and financially secure. More recently, group members have begun to use mobile phones to acquire electronic information on livestock prices and early warnings of drought.

Research approaches affect observations and conclusions. Our action-oriented process perturbed this social system, revealing the potential of women as leaders and entrepreneurs. Changes in gender roles have been rapid. Survey research lacking perturbations describes the status quo. In such studies, men are often identified as pioneers of livelihood diversification with women overlooked.

Development scholars can strive to broaden the academic agenda by including more societal engagement as part of project research design. This can generate reliable scientific knowledge, as well as build human capacity at multiple levels. Our experience confirms that careful strengthening of human, social, and financial capital can rapidly improve lives and help transform communities in remote, harsh environments where the technical options to boost productivity remain elusive.
SciDev's coverage of the paper highlights the fact that technology has a role in development, but isn't the sole answer:
Korbinian Freier, from the Sustainability and Global Change research unit at the University of Hamburg, Germany, said: "I think that it is a good study that shows the importance of capacity building in pastoralist development — but technology can also play a tremendous role … development depends on an interaction between the two."

Freier said though that technologies change how pastoralists interact with each other and their environment, which can lead to new problems and conflicts.

"Capacity building and developing social agreements are vital first stages in successful pastoralism in areas of degradation, where coordination of land use is needed to maintain the environment. All technological elements to improve pastoralists' lifestyles have a precondition of social intervention," he concluded.
Geographer Ed Carr says some similar things (not specific to this new study, but generally) in an interview with Yale Environment 360:
e360: At the same time, though, in your book you talk about how the community in Ghana you worked in has already been adapting for decades, if not hundreds of years, to environmental change.

Carr: Absolutely. To me, one of the most important and fascinating things that comes out of my experience is that people are enormously capable. More remarkably, they’re really capable with access to very limited resources, while managing serious economic and environmental instability, and have been doing so for quite some time. The example I give in the book is their crops. About 80 percent of the crops in a year are not African domesticates. These folks have managed to integrate crops from all other parts of the world slowly but steadily and have been able to work without soil or crop science the way we understand it, and still have functional ecosystems that provide them with food and seem to be somewhat sustainable.

e360: In your book, you write that, “the single greatest misconception shaping contemporary views of development and globalization is the idea that the problems of poverty in the developing world are the result of the absence of development.” Can you explain?

Carr: When we look at the global poor, when we look at people living on a dollar a day, there’s this assumption that development does no harm. That is to say, we couldn’t make things worse for these people so we ought to be trying everything all the time. That’s sort of the Jeffrey Sachs logic, that we have to be doing something and not just sit here. But this fails to grasp the ways in which people are already doing great things to make a living and in fact a nonproductive intervention could undermine those things and do real damage.

NYC greens its zoning requirements.

Palm trees, shade, water use and UHI.

Rortybomb suggests a saner approach to the student debt problem and paying for college:
According to Pew Charitable Trust’s website subsidyscope, the deductibility of student loan interest alone costs taxpayers $1.4 billion dollars. Instead of taking $1.4 billion dollars and directly making college cheaper, students take out massive amounts of student loan debt and we alter the tax code to make that debt $1.4 billion dollars cheaper.

This is an example of what Suzanne Mettler calls “the submerged state,” a pattern where the government has, as she says, “shunned the outright disbursing of benefits to individuals and families and favored instead less visible and more indirect incentives and subsidies, from tax breaks to payments for services to private companies. These submerged policies…obscure the role of government and exaggerate that of the market.” Instead of directly providing public options, we subsidize the purchasing of private goods, often using the tax code.

Let’s take the case of student debt and the tax code. How much would it cost to make public colleges and universities free? Rough estimates (quoting Jeffrey Sach’s latest book) put the price of free public higher education at $15-$30 billion, which fits other estimates I’ve seen.

Now what are the costs of how we subsidize higher education through the tax code? There’s already the $1.4 from the interest exemption. Also from subsidyscope, there’s the exclusion of employer-provided educational assistance ($1.1 billion), exclusion of interest on student-loan bonds ($0.6 billion), exclusion of scholarship and fellowship income ($3.0 billion), exclusion of tax on earnings of qualified tuition programs: savings account programs ($0.6 billion), the HOPE tax credit ($5.4 billion), the Lifetime Learning tax credit ($5.5 billion), parental personal exemption for students age 19 or over($3.4 billion), and state prepaid tuition plans ($1.75 billion). There’s also the stimulus’s American Opportunity Tax Credit($14.4 billion) and some part of the deductibility of charitable contributions (education) ($4.9 billion).

Even without the last two, that’s $22.75 billion we are paying through the tax code to make college tuition and student debt more manageable. This amount is in the middle the range of the cost of just making public high education free. Now these aren’t equivalent — much of what is spent through the tax code will be biased more towards private and professional schools, which are more expensive. But this also isn’t anywhere near the full extent we subsidize student debt (a government creation from 1965).

But there is a choice in how to provide mass higher education. We can either use resources to reduce the price of the good upfront — make college free — or to subsidize the purchase of the good — here through the numerous hoops of the tax code. The amount of money we take from the tax code to try and make student debts and runaway tuition more bearable could be used instead to just provide free public colleges.

There are winners and losers in each case. When we subsidize through the tax code, people who are well off and pay more taxes benefit more. People who can afford support staff, such as accountants and lawyers, are also more likely to understand how to take maximum advantage of these benefits. These subsidies benefit private educational institutions over public ones, as they’ll make private education feel more “natural” while obscuring the role of the government in setting up these markets. They give public college a nudge towards corporatization and privatization.

A new target for the Occupy movement: language. H. Samy Alim points out how language can be used as a tool of oppression:
Occupy Language might also support the campaign to stop the media from using the word “illegal” to refer to “undocumented” immigrants. From the campaign’s perspective, only inanimate objects and actions are labeled illegal in English; therefore the use of “illegals” to refer to human beings is dehumanizing. The New York Times style book currently asks writers to avoid terms like “illegal alien” and “undocumented,” but says nothing about “illegals.” Yet The Times’ standards editor, Philip B. Corbett, did recently weigh in on this, saying that the term “illegals” has an “unnecessarily pejorative tone” and that “it’s wise to steer clear.”

Pejorative, discriminatory language can have real life consequences. In this case, activists worry about the coincidence of the rise in the use of the term “illegals” and the spike in hate crimes against all Latinos. As difficult as it might be to prove causation here, the National Institute for Latino Policy reports that the F.B.I.’s annual Hate Crime Statistics show that Latinos comprised two thirds of the victims of ethnically motivated hate crimes in 2010. When someone is repeatedly described as something, language has quietly paved the way for violent action.

But Occupy Language should concern itself with more than just the words we use; it should also work towards eliminating language-based racism and discrimination. In the legal system, CNN recently reported that the U.S. Justice Department alleges that Arizona’s infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio, among other offenses, has discriminated against “Latino inmates with limited English by punishing them and denying critical services.” In education, as linguistic anthropologist Ana Celia Zentella notes, hostility towards those who speak “English with an accent” (Asians, Latinos, and African Americans) continues to be a problem. In housing, The National Fair Housing Alliance has long recognized “accents” as playing a significant role in housing discrimination. On the job market, language-based discrimination intersects with issues of race, ethnicity, class and national origin to make it more difficult for well-qualified applicants with an “accent” to receive equal opportunities.

In the face of such widespread language-based discrimination, Occupy Language can be a critical, progressive linguistic movement that exposes how language is used as a means of social, political and economic control. By occupying language, we can expose how educational, political, and social institutions use language to further marginalize oppressed groups; resist colonizing language practices that elevate certain languages over others; resist attempts to define people with terms rooted in negative stereotypes; and begin to reshape the public discourse about our communities, and about the central role of language in racism and discrimination.As the global Occupy movement has shown, words can move entire nations of people — even the world — to action. Occupy Language, as a movement, should speak to the power of language to transform how we think about the past, how we act in the present, and how we envision the future.

Swallow a pen? It might still be able to write some 25 years later.

Call 719-266-2837. Please. Do it. This is probably the GREATEST THING EVER, and that's no hyperbole.

And finally, Heather's Happy Link of the Day: writers and cats.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

12/19 and 12/20

Sprawl encourages climate change; in designing responses to global warming, rather than focusing on exclusively on technological innovations it sure would make sense to recognize that we can move beyond the sprawl, embrace smart growth, and create livable communities — it's all a matter of envisioning a future that goes beyond our current ideas of what housing stock “should” look like:
It doesn’t solve the problem to buy a hybrid and retrofit your house if all of that takes place 20 miles from your job. You’d still consume more energy (“suburban single family green”) than an urban household without the latest green tech (“urban single family”). And that has as much to do with associated transportation emissions as the size and efficiency of your home.

The implication is that if more suburbanites opted to move out of their low-density detached homes and into walkable, mixed-use urban communities (or if we retrofitted suburbia to better resemble such places), right there we’d be on our way to taking a real whack at carbon emissions.

We'd still need to increase the fuel standards of cars, and change the makeup of fuel itself. But what if we could also simply reduce the miles people drive by in a sense pushing their many destinations closer together?

“Engineers and economists say, ‘get the right technology, set the right price signals, and you’re done,’” says Steve Winkelman, one of the authors of “Growing Wealthier.” “I’ve been working in planning circles, and this is a lot messier. That’s why regulators don’t like it. Really, it’s much more of a planning approach, and people have to find their own self-interest in this to get to a [higher] penetration level.”

This messy approach, though, has several things going for it that technological solutions to climate change don’t. For one, urbanizing communities comes with a whole host of co-benefits: it saves people money on utility bills, it improves public health, it reduces congestion and improves air quality, and it may even make communities happier (as walkability has been shown to do).
Unfortunately, taking a sane approach to planning won't be easy, so long as Teabaggers believe that embracing sustainability is akin to totalitarianism:
Across the country, Tea Party activists have been storming planning meetings of all kinds, opposing various plans by local and regional government having anything to do with density, smart growth, sustainability or urbanism. In California, Tea Party activists gained enough signatures for a ballot measure repealing the state’s baseline environmental regulations, while also targeting the Senate Bill 375, the 2008 law that seeks to combat climate change by promoting density and regional planning.

Florida’s growth management legislation was recently undone, and activists in Tampa helped turn away funding for rail projects there. A planning agency in Virginia had to move to a larger auditorium and ban applause, after Tea Party activists sought to derail a five-year comprehensive plan and force withdrawal from the U.S. Mayors Agreement on Climate Change.

What’s prompting the ire is anything from a proposed master plan to a new water treatment plant, rules governing septic tanks, or a bike-sharing program. What’s driving the rebellion is a view that government should have no role in planning or shaping the built environment that in any way interferes with private property rights. And in almost all instances, the Tea Partiers link local planning efforts to the United Nations’ Agenda 21, a nearly two-decade old document that addresses sustainable development in the world’s cities – read as herding humanity into compulsory habitation zones.

The protesters clearly feel there is a form of Moses-style planning going on today, but rather than highways, it’s high-speed rail and transit, and compact, mixed-use, dense development, all of which are designed to bring about long-term sustainability. As one Florida Tea Party activist put it, "compact development aka smart growth, aka New Urbanism, aka Traditional Neighborhood Design, aka Transit Oriented Development, aka Livable Communities, aka Sustainable Development ... are all names meaning the same thing: they are anti-suburban, high-density dwelling design concepts that are part of the UN's Agenda 21 and will make single family home ownership for our posterity unattainable." Another summed it up this way: “We don’t want none of your smart growth communism."
And sadly, one of the federal government's best organized efforts to holistically address the problem of sprawl and create liveable communities has been slashed by typical GOP partisan hackery; the pro-wasteful spending, anti-environment, anti-community, pro-sprawl caucus wins again:
In practice, Sustainable Communities-style smart growth means fewer subdivisions, denser and more walkable town centers, and linking new development to transit. Smart growth creates the type of vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods that Jane Jacobs celebrated a half century ago, but there’s no policy imperative in urban romanticism. Governments are embracing sustainable development because building better is an obvious answer to growing environmental and fiscal crises: If we’re going to build new homes and businesses anyway, we should at least construct them in a way that’s not deliberately wasteful. This wastefulness applies to the open space that sprawl consumes, as well as the enormous cost of developing and maintaining the infrastructure serving new suburbs and exurbs.

Sprawl isn’t so much a deliberate choice as it is a product of bureaucratic inertia. Outdated zoning codes are often stuffed full of provisions that force the construction of isolated, traffic-choked, single-use subdivisions. Zoning that was written decades ago often doesn’t allow dense, mixed-use, transit-oriented development. Since many communities don’t have the staff, budget, or planning expertise to overhaul their zoning, sprawl spreads on its own momentum.

Sustainable Communities tried to halt the momentum behind sprawl by giving communities money to make their zoning match smart growth best practices. It was a bridge between municipalities’ broad desires to build smarter neighborhoods, and the street-level zoning that enables smart growth development to proceed. The federal grants are especially needed by suburban cities and towns, which lack the budgets and staff to write substantive zoning code changes.


The demand for planning funds far outstrips the supply - this year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development received $500 million in funding applications for a $100 million pool of grants. But this year’s batch of grants will be the last. Tea Party activists have been assailing Sustainable Communities as a tool for making municipalities subservient to Washington bureaucrats; alternately, they’ve denounced it as the soft launch of a socialist-inspired UN takeover of America’s government.

In response House Republicans cut all Sustainable Communities grants from a recently enacted mini-omnibus budget. The House actually wanted to go even further, prohibiting any HUD funds from being deployed in support of what it called “ill-defined rubrics, such as ‘sustainability,’ ‘livability,’ ‘inclusivity,’ and equity.’ ’’ And it cut a $100 million placeholder for Obama’s doomed $38 billion high-speed rail initiative for good measure. Never mind that the cuts will wind up costing more than they save: These days, craven power plays are good politics.
On a bright note, though, Montgomery County, MD, is actually doing something positive with respect to repairing the damage wrought by sprawl:
There’s a lot to like about Montgomery’s initiative, including that it brings together three relatively new and successful – but often independently successful – lines of sustainability thinking and planning: redesigning suburbs; green infrastructure; and “complete streets” that accommodate all types of users.  It reminds us that the greatest potential for sustainable communities lies with the integration of ideas and purposes.
(Lastly, speaking of sprawl, the Arcade Fire's video to “Sprawl II” is now online. Goddamn, hipsters are the worst dancers ever. But the song is still great.)

We're still far from understanding all the potential implications of large-scale methane release in the Arctic, as well as the presumed drivers of that methane release, but what we know so far isn't especially comforting:
Preliminary computer analyses, made only recently, suggest that the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions could eventually become an annual source of carbon equal to 15 percent or so of today’s yearly emissions from human activities.

But those calculations were deliberately cautious. A recent survey drew on the expertise of 41 permafrost scientists to offer more informal projections. They estimated that if human fossil-fuel burning remained high and the planet warmed sharply, the gases from permafrost could eventually equal 35 percent of today’s annual human emissions.

The experts also said that if humanity began getting its own emissions under control soon, the greenhouse gases emerging from permafrost could be kept to a much lower level, perhaps equivalent to 10 percent of today’s human emissions.

Even at the low end, these numbers mean that the long-running international negotiations over greenhouse gases are likely to become more difficult, with less room for countries to continue burning large amounts of fossil fuels.

In the minds of most experts, the chief worry is not that the carbon in the permafrost will break down quickly — typical estimates say that will take more than a century, perhaps several — but that once the decomposition starts, it will be impossible to stop.

“Even if it’s 5 or 10 percent of today’s emissions, it’s exceptionally worrying, and 30 percent is humongous,” said Josep G. Canadell, a scientist in Australia who runs a global program to monitor greenhouse gases. “It will be a chronic source of emissions that will last hundreds of years.”

A troubling trend has emerged recently: Wildfires are increasing across much of the north, and early research suggests that extensive burning could lead to a more rapid thaw of permafrost.

Criticize the ignorant climate change stance of the Canadian government, lose your arts funding.

Some philosophers want their discipline more involved in the public sphere; oddly, some philosophers object under the patently absurd claim that their discipline is impartial and only concerned with finding ultimate truths, and as such would be corrupted by the ideology of political debates (h/t Katelyn, who's done a lovely job promoting this little bloggy adventure of mine):
When philosophers say they want to make a difference, some of their peers cringe, fearing that the philosophy will be corrupted by ideology.

"Under the guise of philosophy we get ideological advocacy," Gerald Gaus, a professor of philosophy at the University of Arizona, wrote in an essay, "Should Philosophers 'Apply Ethics'?"

"This, though, is to sacrifice the idea that philosophy is impartial in that its goal is simply to get things right," he wrote.

As citizens, he argues, philosophers have a right to apply their ethics instead of leaving public-policy debates to others. "However, when applying ethics in this way, they are not doing philosophy."

Such a position is "completely wrong-headed," counters Mr. Light. "What it winds up doing is ensuring that philosophically trained people and philosophers aren't at tables where decisions are actually made and that actually have very weighty moral consequences."

Meet the despicable Islamophobic asshole whose hatred for the idea that Muslims need not be terrorists caused Lowe's and to pathetically give in to the bigots:
It would be upsetting enough if a well-financed, well-organized mass movement had misrepresented a television show, insulted an entire religious community and intimidated a national corporation. What makes the attack on “All-American Muslim” more disturbing — and revealing — is that it was prosecuted by just one person, a person unaffiliated with any established organization on the Christian right, a person who effectively tapped into a groundswell of anti-Muslim bigotry.

“We live in the age of the Internet and a well-organized extreme right,” said Mark Potok, who investigates hate groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center and has followed Mr. Caton’s activities. “This little man was able to have his voice amplified in huge ways.”

Wajahat Ali, who has written about “the Islamophobia network in America” for the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group, made a similar point in an interview.

“It’s literally one dude with a poorly made Web site, one fringe individual with an e-mail list,” Mr. Ali said. “But by parroting the talking points created by this incestuous network, he’s triggered a national crisis.”


The question is why anybody, especially a major company like Lowe’s, would be swayed by Mr. Caton’s campaign. (A spokesman for Lowe’s declined the opportunity to comment.)

We clearly need to increase taxes on the wealthiest of the wealthy, but taxing inequality itself is an interesting idea:
Brandeis understood that at some point the concentration of economic power could undermine the democratic requisite of dispersed political power. This concern looms large in today’s America, where billionaires are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money on their own campaigns or expressly advocating the election of others.

We believe that we have reached the Brandeis tipping point. It would be bad for our democracy if 1-percenters started making 40 or 50 times as much as the median American.

Enough is enough. Congress should reform our tax law to put the brakes on further inequality. Specifically, we propose an automatic extra tax on the income of the top 1 percent of earners — a tax that would limit the after-tax incomes of this club to 36 times the median household income.

Importantly, our Brandeis tax does not target excessive income per se; it only caps inequality. Billionaires could double their current income without the tax kicking in — as long as the median income also doubles. The sky is the limit for the rich as long as the “rising tide lifts all boats.” Indeed, the tax gives job creators an extra reason to make sure that corporate wealth does in fact trickle down.

Here’s how the tax would work. Once a year, the Internal Revenue Service would calculate the Brandeis ratio of the previous year. If the average 1-percenter made more than 36 times the income of the median American household, then the I.R.S. would create a new tax bracket for the highest 1 percent of income and calculate a marginal income tax rate for that bracket sufficient to reduce the after-tax Brandeis ratio to 36.

This new tax, if triggered, would apply only to income in excess of the poorest 1-percenter — currently about $330,000 per year. Our Brandeis tax is conservative in that it doesn’t attempt to reverse the gains of the wealthy in the last 30 years. It is not a “claw back” tax. It merely assures that things don’t get worse.
I think Ayres and Edlin are misguided, however, in not calling for a claw back tax and in their willingness to accept the status quo. We do need to reverse the transfer of wealth from the middle class to the 1%; maintaining the current level of inequality is not an acceptable state of affairs.

It's that very inequality that now threatens the American ideal of social mobility:
[T]he belief that you might die in a markedly better existence than the one you came into is fading. And for good reason: a study published last year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that Americans now experience lower social mobility than prevails in almost any other rich country.


A Tocquevillean reading of today’s America, then, may venture beyond the observation that it is stagnating. It might go so far as to say that it is calcifying, that it risks becoming a society of castes. In such a society, Tocqueville wrote, speaking of his Europe, “everyone thinks that he can see the ultimate limits of human endeavor quite close in front of him, and no one attempts to fight against an inevitable fate.”
(On a related note, is wealth inequality in America today even worse than inequality during the Roman Empire?)

Though don't forget that the 1% is under attack. It's all so unfair, really. Life is so hard when you make your money by exploiting the rest of humanity — and then rather than thanking you, the plebes have the gall to complain about injustice! Stop the persecution of the fat cats now; don't hate them just because they're so much more productive than you:
“Instead of an attack on the 1 percent, let’s call it an attack on the very productive,” Allison said. “This attack is destructive.”
Yes, 99-percenters, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Stop being so damn lazy and stop blaming the job creators who are the reason you have such a great life. Fortunately, at least the besieged plutocrats are standing up for themselves rather than allowing the the jealous to wage class warfare on them.

Thanks to The Onion's Year In Review, I just discovered this glorious piece from a few months back. Are you “tired of America sucking on the wind teet,” as you no doubt should be?:

More on the GOP's modern-day nullification politics.

And meanwhile, Republican obstructionist bullshit and the GOP's complete opposition to giving a fair hearing to labor against capital mean than the right to organize is facing a new attack:
Workers illegally fired for union organizing won’t be reinstated with back pay. Employers will be able to get away with interfering with union elections. Perhaps most important, employers won’t have to recognize unions despite a majority vote by workers. Without the board to enforce labor law, most companies will not voluntarily deal with unions.

If this nightmare comes to pass, it will represent the culmination of three decades of Republican resistance to the [National Labor Relations Board] — an unwillingness to recognize the fundamental right of workers to band together, if they wish, to seek better pay and working conditions.

Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk policing policies don't accomplish anything other than criminalizing the entire black and Latino populations, and sowing distrust in the very communities the police are supposed to protect:
[L]ast year, the N.Y.P.D. recorded more than 600,000 stops; 84 percent of those stopped were blacks or Latinos. Police are far more likely to use force when stopping blacks or Latinos than whites. In half the stops police cite the vague “furtive movements” as the reason for the stop. Maybe black and brown people just look more furtive, whatever that means. These stops are part of a larger, more widespread problem — a racially discriminatory system of stop-and-frisk in the N.Y.P.D. The police use the excuse that they’re fighting crime to continue the practice, but no one has ever actually proved that it reduces crime or makes the city safer. Those of us who live in the neighborhoods where stop-and-frisks are a basic fact of daily life don’t feel safer as a result.


The police should consider the consequences of a generation of young people who want nothing to do with them — distrust, alienation and more crime.

Last May, I was outside my apartment building on my way to the store when two police officers jumped out of an unmarked car and told me to stop and put my hands up against the wall. I complied. Without my permission, they removed my cellphone from my hand, and one of the officers reached into my pockets, and removed my wallet and keys. He looked through my wallet, then handcuffed me. The officers wanted to know if I had just come out of a particular building. No, I told them, I lived next door.

One of the officers asked which of the keys they had removed from my pocket opened my apartment door. Then he entered my building and tried to get into my apartment with my key. My 18-year-old sister was inside with two of our younger siblings; later she told me she had no idea why the police were trying to get into our apartment and was terrified. She tried to call me, but because they had confiscated my phone, I couldn’t answer.

Meanwhile, a white officer put me in the back of the police car. I was still handcuffed. The officer asked if I had any marijuana, and I said no. He removed and searched my shoes and patted down my socks. I asked why they were searching me, and he told me someone in my building complained that a person they believed fit my description had been ringing their bell. After the other officer returned from inside my apartment building, they opened the door to the police car, told me to get out, removed the handcuffs and simply drove off. I was deeply shaken.

For young people in my neighborhood, getting stopped and frisked is a rite of passage. We expect the police to jump us at any moment. We know the rules: don’t run and don’t try to explain, because speaking up for yourself might get you arrested or worse. And we all feel the same way — degraded, harassed, violated and criminalized because we’re black or Latino. Have I been stopped more than the average young black person? I don’t know, but I look like a zillion other people on the street. And we’re all just trying to live our lives.

MSC certification of a swordfish fishery in Florida may come at the expense of loggerhead turtles. Meanwhile, conservationists are upset that the EU is ignoring the science on the state of fisheries when establishing fishing quotas.

Brazil has done a better and better job at controlling deforestation in the Amazon. Could the new forest code turn back the progress?

Climate change and viticulture.

The WaPo takes a look at the last US servicemember to die for a mistake. More than 4,000 dead Americans, likely more than 100,000 dead Iraqis, more than $1 trillion wasted, and Leon Panetta says it was worth it.

The kabuki theater nonsense that is TSA-mandated security screening is exposed as a complete joke yet again: millimeter-wave scanners have a false positive rate that exceeds 50%, so you might as well just opt-out and get the intrusive sexytime pat-down:
In Germany, the false positive rate was 54 percent, meaning that every other person who went through the scanner had to undergo at least a limited pat-down that found nothing. Jan Korte, a German parliament member who focuses on homeland security, called the millimeter-wave scanner "a defective product."

While it's difficult to know for sure if the millimeter-wave machine has a worse false-alarm rate than the X-ray machine, recent tests suggests that it does. The TSA wouldn't release its results, citing national security. But a British study found the X-ray machine had a false-alarm rate of just 5 percent.

It's probably a good time to revist Vaclav Havel's essay, “Politics and Conscience.” 

And finally, two videos comprise Heather's Happy Link(s) of the Day:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

12/16, 12/17, and 12/18

With the EPA's new mercury regulations on their way, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson turns to Jerome Bettis:
During his career as a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jerome Bettis made a habit of running over opponents—that’s why they called him “the Bus.” Now the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hoping that Bettis can handle conservative lawmakers the way he used to brush aside opposing linebackers. Bettis was in Washington on Thursday to meet with EPA head Lisa Jackson and to film a public service announcement about the need for new rules that will limit emissions of mercury and other toxics from power plants. Bettis—who was diagnosed with asthma at age 15—told POLITICO that Jackson was grateful for his work:
She wanted to thank me for the support that I’m lending to this issue. She said this is a very important issue, and it’s going to meet some resistance.
Jackson’s right. The mercury rule has been in the works for two decades, and year after year the power industry has managed to stave off implementation. But on Friday—under a court order—the EPA is expected to finally issue new regulations that will require power plants to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxics within the next three years. The utility industry is already fighting back, claiming that the rules will destroy jobs, raise electricity prices and even lead to blackouts—so Jackson knows she has a fight on her hands.
As Bryan Walsh notes in the same piece, however, there's little reason to buy into the coal industry's propaganda regarding the high costs of compliance; yes, there will be costs to the coal industry, but they will be vastly outweighed by gains to public health:
The new rules are expected to be similar to draft regulations the EPA first announced early this year, and would require mercury reductions beginning in 2014, giving industry about three years to comply. (Although 2014 will be 24 years after the EPA was first directed to investigate the risks of mercury pollution.) Like any regulation, it will have benefits—and it will have costs too. The EPA says that the new rules could have public health benefits ranging from $53 to $140 billion, while imposing costs of $11 billion. That means benefits to all of us—again, especially vulnerable children—for every $5 to $14 dollars industry is forced to spend cleaning up.
Not to mention that the companies that actually took action (due to state regulations) have found that compliance isn't actually all that difficult, despite Big Coal's complaints:
"It's physically impossible to build the controls, the generation, the transmission and the pipelines needed in three years," says Anthony Topazi, chief operating officer for Southern Company, which provides electricity to nearly 4 million homes and hundreds of thousands of businesses in the Southeast.

Topazi says electricity rates will go up, putting marginal companies out of business. He says unless his company gets six years, it will not be able to keep the lights on.

"We will experience rolling blackouts or rationing power if we don't have simply the time to comply," Topazi says.

Paul Allebn, senior vice president of Constellation Energy, says that's not his company experience. Constellation installed controls for mercury and other pollutants on its big power plant outside Baltimore, and he says it took a little more than two years. At the peak of construction, it put 1,300 people to work as well.

"We don't believe jobs will be destroyed, and we do think that it's time to get on with this work," Allen says.

Allen says the power industry had plenty of warning that this was coming.

Sure, the collapse of Solyndra has plenty of dirty energy-loving Repubs gloating about how clean energy is bunk and doesn't warrant government support, but there are plenty of reasons for the federal government to help support energy innovation, especially since the market isn't free:
The lessons we take from Solyndra are of enormous importance. The United States must find ways to support innovation in energy technologies that carry environmental benefits. The loan guarantee program is one way to do that. It is not the only way, but it is the only way we have at the moment.

Loan guarantees do not act like venture capital, nor are they intended to compete with or displace venture capital. As laid out in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, the loan guarantees were intended to support initial efforts to commercialize important technology innovations. Renewable energy technologies, before they are ready for consumers, must progress from basic science to lab-size proof of concept to prototype operations. (Venture capital can support those early stage developments but in turn demands high rates of return on investments. It can support the start-up, but traditional financing or programs like the loan guarantee are needed for commercial ventures.)

If the initial stages go as planned and the technology looks promising, then the company can attempt to operate on commercial terms and conditions. Initial commercial operations are challenging in two ways. First, costs for first-time projects are higher, and traditional financing is as a rule just not available. Second, these first-time efforts have to compete with available mature technologies in the energy market. Despite sound basic science and robust R&D efforts, important innovations would not make it in the commercial energy market—at least not in the United States.

When the evidence suggests that the XL Pipeline won't create very many jobs, the key is to lie. (The Colbert link provided in Engler's blog post is especially great.) Of course, it's probably all a moot point when the Dems' nods to bipartisanship mean selling out NEPA and agreeing with Repubs that a legitimate environmental review of Keystone XL is unnecessary:
Last week, the State Department warned that if Congress set an arbitrary deadline, “its actions would not only compromise the process, it would prohibit the department from acting consistently with National Environmental Policy Act requirements.”

But the legislation says that the pipeline, if permitted, would automatically be deemed in accordance with the act’s guidelines and that any route change would not need to undergo further environmental review.


Environmental law experts said that allowing changes to circumvent the full review process would be a blow to the National Environmental Policy Act.

Justice denied in West Virginia, as the Justice Department chooses not to prosecute Massey:
Massey had kept two sets of books at the mine: one for internal use, which recorded hazards, and a second for Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors, which did not. In addition, Massey routinely gave its facilities advance notice of inspections, which is a crime under federal law, and intimidated its workers so that they would not report safety and health violations.

Based on the Labor Department’s investigation, the Justice Department could have criminally prosecuted Massey under the Mine Safety and Health Act for the violations that caused the explosion. Prosecutors also could have charged the company with conspiracy and obstruction of justice for the ways it thwarted regulation.

Instead, on the same day the devastating report was released, the Justice Department announced that it would not criminally prosecute Massey. The news release issued by the United States attorney misleadingly described its nonprosecution agreement with Massey’s new owners as “the largest ever criminal resolution in a mining investigation.”

Let’s be clear: this is not a criminal resolution. Massey will not be charged with any crimes and will not plead guilty before a federal judge. Nor will there be a sentencing hearing where Massey apologizes to the families of the victims and is punished for its crimes.

The deal with Massey continues a disturbing trend whereby corporations can avoid criminal prosecution by entering deferred prosecution or nonprosecution agreements. Often the terms of these agreements are no better than what could have been achieved in a criminal case; worse, they create the appearance that justice can be bought.

Memory: it's not as good as you think. And that can have serious implications for eyewitness testimony:
Why is a witness’s account so often unreliable? Partly because the brain does not have a knack for retaining many specifics and is highly susceptible to suggestion. “Memory is weak in eyewitness situations because it’s overloaded,” said Barbara Tversky, a psychology professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York. “An event happens so fast, and when the police question you, you probably weren’t concentrating on the details they’re asking about.”

Hundreds of studies have cataloged a long list of circumstances that can affect how memories are recorded and replayed, including the emotion at the time of the event, the social pressures that taint its reconstruction, even flourishes unknowingly added after the fact.

While most of us tend to think memory works like a video recorder, it is actually more like a grainy slide show. Lost details, including imaginary ones, often are added later. One of the earliest and more famous experiments to demonstrate that memories are malleable was conducted by Elizabeth Loftus, a psychology professor at the University of California, Irvine, and an early pioneer of witness memory research.

In a 1974 study published in The Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, she asked participants to view films of fender-benders in which no car windows or headlights were broken. Later, the subjects who were asked how fast the cars were going when they “smashed” into each other — as opposed to “hit” — were more likely to report speeding and describe shattered glass they never actually saw.
(Jonah Lehrer covered a bit of this same ground in a blog post a couple months ago.)

But it's not just academic; there are serious consequences when eyewitness testimony is wrong:
Eyewitness identification has long been the most powerful tool in a prosecutor's arsenal. Even when there is a dearth of forensic evidence, juries are swayed by a victim's certitude—how could she forget the face of the person who raped her? But researchers are learning just how often eyewitnesses are wrong: Nationwide, incorrect identification was a factor in the convictions of more than 75 percent of people eventually exonerated by DNA. Gary Wells, an Iowa State University psychology professor who has studied the issue for decades, says the Lubbock police did exactly the things that can influence an eyewitness to choose the wrong guy. In a good lineup, he says, the witness must be warned that the perpetrator might not be in the lineup at all. "The tendency is to pick the person who looks most like the perpetrator—relative to the other lineup members," Wells explains. He also argues that the process must be double blind: Neither the officer nor the witness should know which photo shows the true suspect. "It's so natural for the lineup administrator, if you pick the person they had in mind, to smile, react, to reinforce."

For his 2011 book, Convicting the Innocent, University of Virginia law professor Brandon Garrett examined hundreds of DNA exonerations and found that in at least a third of the cases the victim was shown a "stacked lineup" like Cole's, where the actual suspect was highlighted. Even if victims were uncertain initially, he says, "by the time of trial, almost all of them were absolutely sure they were identifying the right person."

At trial, Cole faced a jury that included one member whose ex-wife had recently been a victim of sexual assault. His brother Reggie and his friends testified that on the night of the rape they were home, partying, while Cole sat at the dining room table all night studying. Reggie also testified that his brother never smoked due to his asthma. But the prosecutor, Jim Bob Darnell, portrayed them as liars who would say anything to save Cole.

No evidence tied Cole to the rape. His attorney, Mike Brown, brought up Jerry Johnson several times and even submitted a picture of him as evidence. Johnson had been charged with two rapes by then, and Brown recognized similarities with those assaults. It didn't matter. "What the jurors saw, and heard, was a courageous young woman unshakeable in her belief of who had raped her," District Court Judge Charlie Baird would write many years later in exonerating Cole. "What they did not know was how that belief had been shaped and formed by the police."

Sadly, Cole wasn't exonerated until after he was executed. Yet Texas governor Rick Perry, that skeptic of everything the government does save for murdering its citizens, certainly didn't seem to be too committed to changing much about the horribly unjust Texas criminal justice system:
Cole, Willingham, and Graves were all convicted under prior Texas governors. But Perry has done little to improve the state’s criminal-justice system, which has almost a million people in its grip. In 2001, he vetoed a bill banning the execution of the mentally disabled. In 2003, he cut the prison system’s budget by $230 million, slashing education programs, drug treatment, and food; when an independent auditor warned that was untenable, Perry cut the auditor’s office too. In 2007, his administration backed a bill making some child sex offenders eligible for the death penalty. While Perry has signed legislative reforms covering eyewitness identification and access to DNA testing, the system still offers scant options for the many people imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.

When our wars go remote and are fought by a limited few, it's easy for the public to forget the costs, and easier still for the military-industrial complex to perpepuate the never-ending war machine:
World War II was a war of necessity. In such a war, all Americans had a stake. Adolf Hitler and Nazism had to be defeated; so too did Japanese militarism. Indeed, war goals were that clear, that simple, to state. For that war, we relied uncontroversially on an equitable draft of citizen-soldiers to share the burdens of defense.

Contrast this with our current 1% wars. In them, 99% of Americans have no stake. The 1% who do are largely ID-card-carrying members of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower so memorably called the “military-industrial complex” in 1961. In the half-century since, that web of crony corporations, lobbyists, politicians, and retired military types who have passed through Washington’s revolving door has grown ever more gargantuan and tangled, engorged by untold trillions devoted to a national security and intelligence complex that seemingly dominates Washington. They are the ones who, in turn, have dispatched another 1% -- the lone percent of Americans in our All-Volunteer Military -- to repetitive tours of duty fighting endless wars abroad.

Unlike previous wars of necessity, the mission behind our wars of choice is nebulous, confusing, and seems in constant flux. Is it a fight against terror (which, as so many have pointed out, is in any case a method, not an enemy)? A fight for oil and other strategic resources? A fight to spread freedom and democracy? A fight to build nations? A fight to show American resolve or make the world safe from al-Qaeda? Who really knows anymore, now that Washington seldom bothers to bring up the “why” question at all, preferring simply to fight on without surcease?

In wars of choice, of course, the mission is whatever our leaders choose it to be, which gives the citizenry (assuming we’re watching closely, which we’re not) no criteria with which to measure success, let alone determine an endpoint.

Good riddance that the Iraq War (save for the thousands of contracted employees) is finally over; no matter what problems remain, at least it means this sort of sadness is hopefully finished with:
Iraqi civilians were being killed all the time. Maj. Gen. Steve Johnson, the commander of American forces in Anbar, in his own testimony, described it as “a cost of doing business.”

The stress of combat left some soldiers paralyzed, the testimony shows. Troops, traumatized by the rising violence and feeling constantly under siege, grew increasingly twitchy, killing more and more civilians in accidental encounters. Others became so desensitized and inured to the killing that they fired on Iraqi civilians deliberately while their fellow soldiers snapped pictures, and were court-martialed. The bodies piled up at a time when the war had gone horribly wrong.

Republican fillibustering of Richard Cordray? It's the new nullification:
The senators upholding the filibuster haven’t suggested Cordray is unqualified for the job. Rather, they are holding up the nomination because they don’t like the agency he would head or the law it is supposed to enforce – the Dodd-Frank Act, which is designed to police the banking and credit card agencies. They’ve said, explicitly and repeatedly, they will allow a vote on Cordray only if and when the president agrees to changes in the law.

I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating. When a minority of senators use the power to block votes over confirmation in order to undermine a law – a law that they lack the votes (or presidential support) to overturn – that’s not the way things are supposed to work in our system. It’s the “normalization of extortion politics,” as Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly has called it. It’s also, as Brookings historian and constitutional expert Thomas Mann once said, a “modern-day form of nullification.”

Moving beyond capitalism through worker-owned cooperatives?:
[M]ore and more Americans are involved in co-ops, worker-owned companies and other alternatives to the traditional capitalist model. We may, in fact, be moving toward a hybrid system, something different from both traditional capitalism and socialism, without anyone even noticing.

Some 130 million Americans, for example, now participate in the ownership of co-op businesses and credit unions. More than 13 million Americans have become worker-owners of more than 11,000 employee-owned companies, six million more than belong to private-sector unions.

And worker-owned companies make a difference. In Cleveland, for instance, an integrated group of worker-owned companies, supported in part by the purchasing power of large hospitals and universities, has taken the lead in local solar-panel installation, “green” institutional laundry services and a commercial hydroponic greenhouse capable of producing more than three million heads of lettuce a year.


If such cooperative efforts continue to increase in number, scale and sophistication, they may suggest the outlines, however tentative, of something very different from both traditional, corporate-dominated capitalism and traditional socialism.

It’s easy to overestimate the possibilities of a new system. These efforts are minor compared with the power of Wall Street banks and the other giants of the American economy. On the other hand, it is precisely these institutions that have created enormous economic problems and fueled public anger.


And while the American public has long supported the capitalist model, that, too, may be changing. In 2009 a Rasmussen poll reported that Americans under 30 years old were “essentially evenly divided” as to whether they preferred “capitalism” or “socialism.”

It's getting dustier out here in the West. That's bad news for my fellow asthmatic folks.

Some nice media coverage of the Pacific Institute's important new report on building resilience to climate change and water-related impacts in the urban, developing world.

Conservation and improved efficiency in water use are winning strategies.

Some positive movement in the effort to control nitrogen and phosphorus pollution of our waterways.

With Newt clamoring for a return to a Dickensian era, I suppose it's appropriate that debtors' prisons are back in vogue. (A WSJ piece from last spring is a good read, as well.)

And meanwhile, “Willard” Mittens Romney embraces the Plessy vs. Ferguson approach to gay rights. Lovely.

In a victory for workers, in-home laborers finally get the overtime and minimum-wage protections they deserve. Try to deny homecare workers their rights now, Supreme Court.

Enough talk about plutocracy and kleptocracy, what about the assholocracy?

Frank Pasquale likes Glenn Greenwald's new book.

Neither Greenwald or David Cole are fond of the fact that Obama is ok with shredding the Constitution.

Oh, how nice. The ignorance of racist people from my home-state of Ohio can rival the idiocy of racist people in my new home of Arizona.

Conflict over inequity and injustice in Wukan, more here, here, here, and here.

Coca-Cola's attempt to push the Grand Canyon away from banning sales of plastic water bottles? Looks like that failed, in part because Coke's involvement riled people up.

In a successful attempt by big business to dictate legislative agendas, Virginia's academic calendar is dictated by the amusement park industry.

Heather's Happy Link of The Day: animal GIFs!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

12/14 and 12/15

After years and years of evidence that many things in his office were sketchy at best, it looks like the DOJ is finally fed up with Sheriff Joe's assault on the rights of all dark-skinned peoples:
Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio has “promoted a culture of bias” against Latinos in his Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and communicated to officers that “biased policing would not only be tolerated, but encouraged,” according to a just-released report by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

DOJ investigators found during a three year probe that there was reasonable cause to believe that Arpaio, who fancies himself America’s Toughest Sheriff, and the Maricopa County’s Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) have engaged “in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing” and “engages in racial profiling of Latinos; unlawfully stops, detains, and arrests Latinos; and unlawfully retaliates against individuals who complain about or criticize MCSO’s policies or practices.”


Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who heads DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, told reporters in a conference call on Thursday morning that the department’s “exhaustive” investigation took “longer than it should have” because of a lack of cooperation from MCSO. He said they didn’t go into the probe with any “pre-conceived notions” but followed the investigation where it led.

“What is unique about the findings here is what appears to be at the highest levels of the organization, and that’s an issue — when we were peeling the onion — that began to jump out at us more and more and more,” Perez told reporters.

“I think that we can turn the culture around, but it will take persistence on our part,” Perez said.

DOJ’s 22-page report — based on interviews with over 400 individuals including Arpaio, reviews of tens of thousands of pages of evidence, tours of MCSO’s jails and the aid of four leading police practice experts — gives a few examples of Arpaio nurturing what Perez called MCSO’s “deeply routed culture. They say Arpaio frequently received “racially charged” constituent letters that he circulated to others in his staff after he marked them up with notes that “appear to endorse the content of the letter.”

Many of the letters, said DOJ, “contain no meaningful descriptions of criminal activity — just crude, ethnically derogatory language about Latinos.” In one instance, Arpaio dubbed a letter asking him to “round-up” of people with “dark skin” on a corner in Phoenix as “intelligence” and asked a member of his command staff to have “someone handle this.”

The investigation also found that MCSO detention officers calls Latinos “wetbacks,” “Mexican bitches,” “fucking Mexicans” and “stupid Mexicans.” A statistical study commissioned by DOJ also found that Latino drivers “are four to nine times more likely to be stopped” than similarly situated non-Latino drivers.
The problems in MCSO go all the way to the top:
The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department accused the sheriff’s office of racially profiling Hispanics and unlawfully arresting them. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez called the sheriff’s office "broken" as he laid out the allegations.

“We found discriminatory policing that was deeply rooted in the culture of the department," Perez said. "A culture that bred a systemic disregard for basic constitutional protections.”

Deputies are accused of targeting Hispanics for arrest, and in some cases, charged them with immigration-related crimes. Some of those were legal U.S. residents. Arpaio’s office is also accused of retaliating against people who criticized its policies.

Former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton has sparred with Arpaio for several years, both in and out of the courtroom.

"And this is why I think it is we can be justifiably proud of what happened here today," Charlton said. "This kind of behavior is unconstitutional, ought not to be allowed and we have a justice system that works to prevent that kind of activity."

The civil rights investigation is only one federal investigation into practices at the sheriff’s office. An unrelated criminal investigation involving the sheriff’s office and the county attorney’s office continues.

The Justice Department has mandated a series of correctional steps the sheriff’s office must undergo. The office has until January 4 to answer the demands or face federal civil litigation.
And the New York Times has more on just how deep Arpaio's war on justice and the Constitution went:
The inquiry’s findings paint a picture of a department staffed by poorly trained deputies who target Latino drivers on the roadways and detain innocent Latinos in the community in their searches for illegal immigrants. The mistreatment, the government said, extends to the jails the department oversees, where Latino inmates who do not speak English are mistreated.

“The absence of clear policies and procedures to ensure effective and constitutional policing,” the report said, “along with the deviations from widely accepted policing and correctional practices, and the failure to implement meaningful oversight and accountability structures, have contributed to a chronic culture of disregard for basic legal and constitutional obligations.”

The report said Latino drivers were four to nine times more likely to be stopped in the sprawling county, which includes Phoenix and its environs, than non-Latino drivers. The expert who conducted the study called it the most egregious racial profiling he has ever seen in this country, said Mr. Perez, the prosecutor, without naming the expert.

The report said that roughly one-fifth of the traffic-related incident reports generated by the department’s human smuggling unit contained information indicating the stops may have been conducted in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable seizures.

The report also suggested that Sheriff Arpaio’s well-publicized raids aimed at arresting illegal immigrants were sometimes prompted by complaints that described no criminal activity but referred to people with “dark skin” or to Spanish speakers congregating in an area. “The use of these types of bias-infected indicators as a basis for conducting enforcement activity contributes to the high number of stops and detentions lacking in legal justification,” the report said.


The Justice Department report quotes from some people characterized as victims of the department’s overzealous ways. It cites the case of a Latino driver who won a $600,000 legal settlement after a deputy intentionally struck him with his patrol car during a traffic stop.

In another case, an inmate was not allowed to use another inmate as an interpreter to tell a detention officer that her sheets were soiled. She was told she had to make the request herself in English, even though she did not speak the language well.

After Sheriff Arpaio received a letter complaining that employees of a McDonald’s in Sun City, a retirement community, did not speak English, the sheriff forwarded the letter to a top aide, who mounted an immigration raid in the area.
And as noted by ThinkProgress, Arpaio did all he could to obstruct and stonewall the feds' investigation of his shenanigans. So it's probably safe to assume that there's even more bullshit he covered up through his document-shredding and other efforts to hide information from DOJ. In response to these latest allegations, DHS is cutting the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office out the Orwellian-named Secure Communities program. (The DOJ's 22-page letter (.pdf) can be seen here.) Between everything documented here, the AP's recent uncovering of Arpaio's office's unwillingness to investigate sex crimes perpetrated on undocumented immigrants, his vindictive (and generally illegal) streak of investigating his political enemies, his wasteful expenditures and disappearing money, it's time to see this fool go. Though, sadly, there's probably little chance on that happening anytime soon.

What kind of science is sustainability science, asks Bob Kates?:
Both the insider and outsider stories answer that sustainability science is a different kind of science that is primarily use-inspired, as are agricultural and health sciences, with significant fundamental and applied knowledge components, and commitment to moving such knowledge into societal action. In just over 2 decades, it has attracted tens of thousands of research authors, practitioners, and knowledge users, as well as teachers and students, with a geographical, institutional, and disciplinary footprint very different from most science. However, its real test of success will be in implementing its knowledge to meet the great environment and development challenges of this century.

Kai Chan on why ecosystem services must be concerned with more than just valuation and payments:
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a whole-hearted believer that we will improve decision-making through a better understanding of how ecosystems relate to our wants and needs. And there’s great logic in the notion of ecosystem services. We absolutely need to connect conservation to the things that matter to people—clean water, productive soil, stable climate, and a host of less quantifiable services. Dollar valuation can sometimes play an important role. But it’s unfortunate that “ecosystem services” has become equated with putting a price tag on nature. People care about more than money. People care about caring—for people, homes, and landscapes—even when that caring comes with considerable cost and sacrifice. Parenthood made this easier for me to understand. About having a baby, fellow parents didn’t tell me, “You’ll love all the great things she’ll do for you!” Instead, they said, “It’ll change your life forever, but it’s magical. I never knew I could love anything so deeply and completely.”

Of course I’m not going to promise anyone this kind of love for ecosystems, but I will promise fulfillment, and a sense of belonging, to anyone who strives to build a relationship with nature. People can be receptive to messages that don’t lead with a promise of benefits, but generally this requires a relationship. We can bring out caring tendencies in ourselves and in others if we do more to facilitate a connection to nature—in part by getting people outside and participating in ecosystem care. We can then link caring for local ecosystems to (particular) more distant ecosystems—just as aid organizations so effectively hook people with pictures and stories of (particular) distant children—and from there build support for actions that benefit nature diffusely. Care begets care: I know how much more receptive I am to those messages now that I have two daughters. On the flip side, social psychologists have shown that engaging people’s self-interest serves to suppress their concern for others. So let’s encourage ecosystem care for the fulfillment it provides through relationships—and because it is crucial for humanity.

Fealty to corporate interests and Big Pollution trumps state-level conservatives' supposed commitment to local control when it comes to land-use decisions concerning oil drilling and fracking:
The fight, which pits towns and cities against energy companies and states eager for growth, has raised a fundamental question about the role of local government: How much authority should communities have over the use of their land?

The battle is playing out in Pennsylvania as the Republican-controlled legislature considers bills that would in their current form sharply limit a community’s right to control where gas companies can operate on private property. Critics say the final bill could vastly weaken local zoning powers and give industry the upper hand in exchange for a tax, which cash-strapped municipalities badly need.

The legislation has struck a nerve in a state where land control has long been considered quintessentially local.

“I’m a conservative Republican, and this goes against all my principles,” said Brian Coppola, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Robinson Township. The pending legislation, he said, “is an enormous land grab on the part of the industry. Our property rights are being trampled.”

Mr. Coppola noted a hillside in town that began to crack and slide under the weight of a new shale gas processing plant, which he contends was built without a permit. The town’s zoning powers allowed him, through a court, to compel the company to follow town regulations and allow town inspectors access to the site. The site was eventually stabilized. Losing those powers would leave local officials out of the equation, he said, even though they are responsible for protecting the health and safety of their citizens.

“I’m an unpaid, part-time elected official, and it’s been a nightmare,” he said. “The state is not capable of monitoring even the most basic parts of this industry.”


Mr. Coppola argued that the most immediate risk in Pennsylvania was the possibility that companies, which are not required to share infrastructure like pipelines and compressor stations, could erect multiple sets, driving away developers and affluent residents and reducing the tax base.

Mr. McDonough was hopeful. He said towns would not make the same mistake they did with the coal industry. A river in town still runs orange, even though the industry is long gone.

“We’re at a turning point,” he said. “If this is not done with common sense, we will have lost an entire way of life.”

At the same time, Repubs in the House are passing legislation to prohibit an EPA regulation that hasn't ever been proposed and never will be:
EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has said repeatedly that no such rule is in the works. What the EPA does do is review ambient air pollution standards every five years, as required by law, and make recommendations on whether or not to tighten standards.

"We have spent an entire day debating about a bill that does not address an existing problem," said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.).

"This entire session of Congress has felt to many of us like a trip into Alice's Wonderland," said DeGette. "To paraphrase the Cheshire Cat, 'We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad. ... You must be mad or you wouldn't have come here.' Sadly for the American people, H.R. 1633 simply underscores the 'madness' of this body right now."

Republicans countered that although no rule was proposed, they worried that someone might file a lawsuit someday to to regulate farm dust.

Ecuador goes to the international community to ask for financial assistance to resolve the tensions inherent in short-term profits versus long-term conservation — is it bribery or sustainable long-term planning?:
Yasuni National Park — a 10,000-sq-km reserve on the western fringes of the Amazon basin — is indeed a paradise, considered by many scientists to be the single most biodiverse spot on the planet. But it's a paradise in danger of being lost. Oil companies have found rich deposits beneath the park's trees and rivers, nearly 900 million barrels of crude worth billions of dollars. That's money that Ecuador — a small South American country in which a third of the population lives below the poverty line and petroleum already accounts for more than half its export revenue — badly needs, money that oil companies and consumers will be only too happy to provide if drilling is allowed to go forward. If Ecuador follows the usual path of development, that's exactly what will happen — with disastrous consequences for the park. "Yasuni is a truly unique place in the world," says Gorky Villa, an Ecuadorian botanist who works with the conservation group Finding Species. "Our concern is that it will be ruined before we can even understand it."

But there may be another way. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has told the international community that his country would be willing to forgo drilling and leave Yasuni largely intact in exchange for donations equal to $3.6 billion over 13 years, or about half the expected market value of the park's oil deposits. The plan — known as the Yasuni-ITT Initiative, after the name of the reserve's oil field — would conserve Yasuni's unique biodiversity and prevent the emission of over 800 million tons of carbon dioxide, an amount equal to Germany's annual greenhouse-gas footprint. The Yasuni plan would be a first for global environmental policy: recognition that the international community has a financial responsibility to help developing nations preserve nature. "Oil is by far the most important part of Ecuador's economy," says Carlos Larrea, a professor at Andean University and a technical adviser on the Yasuni project. "But we are willing to keep that oil indefinitely unexploited if the international community contributes."

Of course, from another perspective, the Yasuni initiative might look like environmental blackmail by Ecuador: Pay us or the forest gets it. And since the proposal was first floated a few years ago, Ecuador has struggled to get international partners to sign on, in part because momentum on climate policy has ebbed in the face of the prolonged global economic crisis. Nor does it help that Correa himself has sent mixed signals on the project, simultaneously preparing for drilling even as he asks for donations

There is, however, no ignoring the essential justice of the plan. If we all really do have a shared stake in the natural heritage represented by hot spots like Yasuni, then we have a shared responsibility in helping a poor country preserve it. "We need these resources to develop the country, but we're also responsible people who want to protect Yasuni," Correa said in New York recently. "If the poor don't receive direct benefits from conservation, conservation won't be sustainable."


Although Ecuador has so far managed to gather $53 million in commitments from a number of countries and even some individuals, the international community seems unconvinced for the most part. Norway — which has used its oil money to fund anti-deforestation programs in Brazil and Indonesia — has so far passed on the plan. Hopes were high that Germany would come through with a major contribution, but so far there's little indication that an increasingly donation-fatigued Berlin is interested. The U.S. failure to pass cap-and-trade legislation largely dashed hopes that American money would play a major role in the Yasuni initiative. At this point, the plan seems to be on life support: Correa has given the world until the end of the year to come up with at least $100 million as a show of good faith, lest the project likely be scrapped. "We're renouncing an immense sum of money," Correa said in September. "For us, the most financially lucrative option is to extract the gasoline."


In reality, the chance of success seems to lessen by the day, but the issues raised by the Yasuni project won't go away. South America is becoming an increasingly important oil producer — the continent holds 20% of the world's proven oil reserves — and much of that crude is buried in and around the Amazon basin. That puts the rain forest in mortal peril: as the global need for oil grows, we're like drug addicts willing to pawn our valuables to pay for the next fix. Yet the financial burden of protecting our most biodiverse forests — nearly all found in developing nations — can't fall only on poor nations like Ecuador. Each of us benefits from the existence of forest reserves like Yasuni, and each of us should share in the cost of preserving them. If we can't protect the rain forest in Yasuni from the drive for oil, we may not be able to protect it anywhere else.

An IOM report commissioned by the NIH suggests that chimpanzee research is not generally necessary or prudent:
The report is the result of a nearly two-year conflict over bringing semi-retired chimpanzees back into use as experimental subjects, which itself is only one confrontation in a continuing struggle over whether it is morally acceptable and scientifically useful to use chimps in invasive experiments.


Use of chimpanzees is on the wane already — partly because it is expensive — and the report covers only chimps owned or supported by the government, 612 of a total of 937 chimps available for research in the United States. So the immediate effect of the report may be small, and the overall controversy over use of chimps is sure to continue.

For invasive biomedical experiments, the report concluded that the use of chimps was justified when there was no other way to do the research — with other animals, lab techniques or human subjects — and if not doing the research would “significantly slow or prevent important advancements to prevent, control and/or treat life-threatening or debilitating conditions.”

There were two areas where the committee concluded that use of chimpanzees could be necessary. One was research on a preventive vaccine for hepatitis C. The committee could not agree on whether this research fit the criteria.

In the second area, research on immunology involving monoclonal antibodies, the committee concluded that it was not necessary because of new technology, but that because the new technology was not widespread, projects now under way should be allowed to reach completion.

For behavioral experiments, the report recommended that the research should be done only if animals are cooperative, and in a way to minimize pain and distress. It also said that the studies should “provide otherwise unattainable insight into comparative genomics, normal and abnormal behavior, mental health, emotion or cognition.”

The report also recommended that chimpanzees be housed in conditions that are behaviorally, socially and physically appropriate. All United States primate research centers are already accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, and Dr. Kahn said that this accreditation meets the committee’s recommendation.

That was one area where the Humane Society disagreed with the report. “That language,” said Mr. Pacelle, referring to the requirements for adequate cages and enclosures, “was disappointing to us.” 
The Humane Society is joined in its disappointment by others:
As I read the IOM report (made available one day early to the media), I felt distress for the 937 chimpanzees currently available for biomedical testing in U.S. facilities. The door that the IOM leaves open may well lead right to pain and distress for some of these chimpanzees.

As the editors of the magazine Scientific American noted when they supported a total ban two months ago, the United States is the only nation besides Gabon that allows its chimpanzees to be used in this way.

I suspect that some people will embrace the report as a step forward on behalf of chimpanzees. Some of the language is welcome, as when the report acknowledges the "moral cost" of using chimpanzees in invasive research. Still, in key passages, the report is weak.

Congressional inquiry led to the IOM's collaboration with the National Research Council in producing this report for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which funds the majority of federally sponsored biomedical projects using chimpanzees. The IOM report will help determine the fate of 176 chimpanzees currently in New Mexico, whom the NIH hoped to move back to a biomedical arena in Texas. Chimpanzee advocates believe these apes deserve to retire.

Aware that the quality of these chimpanzees' lives hang in the balance, I was powerfully struck by the differences between two sets of guidelines published in the IOM report: those for comparative genomics and behavioral research, on the one hand, and those for biomedical research on the other.

When it comes to genomics and behavioral research, the chimpanzees are, to a degree, in control. The apes must, the report says, be able to choose whether to participate in any given experiment. In the report's language, the chimpanzees must be "acquiescent." In addition, the research must be performed "using techniques that are minimally invasive, and in a manner that minimizes pain and distress."

These two criteria — voluntary participation in combination with minimal pain and distress — are absent from the guidelines for biomedical research. The focus in the biomedical guidelines is on ensuring chimpanzees are the only viable testing method for a line of research critical to human health.

Why would the biomedical guidelines differ? Why do they not speak to the issues of chimpanzee acquiescence or pain and distress? The answer is all too clear: biomedical research would grind to a halt, because no chimpanzees would elect to endure the multiple needles, surgeries, or other invasive procedures involved. The apes would refuse to be "acquiescent" in their own pain and distress.

The shameless apologists for America’s plutocracy believe that a one-year drop in the incomes of the richest of the rich somehow negates all concerns regarding income inequality, just because we're now back to the inequality levels of the late Clinton years (and still far exceeding those of the pre-Reagan years):
The share of income received by the top 1 percent — that potent symbol of inequality — dropped to 17 percent in 2009 from 23 percent in 2007, according to federal tax data. Within the group, average income fell to $957,000 in 2009 from $1.4 million in 2007. Analysts say the drop largely reflects the stock market plunge, and most think top incomes recovered somewhat in 2010, as Wall Street rebounded and corporate profits grew.

Critics of the Occupy Wall Street movement say the falling incomes at the top show that concerns about inequality are outdated.


“We don’t want to spend years focused on income inequality, only to learn that the financial crisis fixed it for us,” wrote Megan McArdle in a blog post for The Atlantic.

“Get a time machine, Occupy Wall Street,” wrote James Pethokoukis, a blogger at the American Enterprise Institute.

But Jared Bernstein, a former Obama administration official, said that after previous market-related dips, income inequality only soared to new highs. “If you believed the inequality problem had been solved in the early 2000s, you would have been proven terribly wrong,” said Mr. Bernstein, now of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

While top incomes probably rose in 2010, most analysts doubt they returned to their 2007 peak, since stocks remain about 20 percent lower. Mr. Kaplan argues that new restraints on Wall Street will keep the income shares of the rich below those earlier levels, a view Mr. Bernstein disputes.

“The structural forces driving inequality remain very much in place,” he said.

The income shares of the top 1 percent became a common metric of inequality after a 2003 study by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanel Saez, which traced trends back to 1913. It peaked at 24 percent in 1928, just above its 2007 level. Mr. Saez, of the University of California, Berkeley, sides with those who think the rich will soon get richer.

“Barring an economic cataclysm ahead, top earners will be recovering faster than the other 99 percent,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The inequality problem is not going away and won’t until drastic policy changes are made (as happened during the New Deal).”
And as the wealthiest again get wealthier, they'll no doubt continue to set the political agenda, ensuring that they continue to accrue more wealth by exploiting the rest of us. After all, they already dominate campaign spending:
In the 2010 election cycle, 26,783 individuals (or slightly less than one in ten thousand Americans) each contributed more than $10,000 to federal political campaigns. Combined, these donors spent $774 million. That's 24.3% of the total from individuals to politicians, parties, PACs, and independent expenditure groups. Together, they would fill only two-thirds of the 41,222 seats at Nationals Park the baseball field two miles from the U.S. Capitol. When it comes to politics, they are The One Percent of the One Percent.

A Sunlight Foundation examination of data from the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics reveals a growing dependence of candidates and political parties on the One Percent of the One Percent, resulting in a political system that could be disproportionately influenced by donors in a handful of wealthy enclaves. Our examination also shows that some of the heaviest hitters in the 2010 cycle were ideological givers, suggesting that the influence of the One Percent of the One Percent on federal elections may be one of the obstacles to compromise in Washington.

The One Percent of the One Percent are not average Americans. Overwhelmingly, they are corporate executives, investors, lobbyists, and lawyers. A good number appear to be highly ideological. They give to multiple candidates and to parties and independent issue groups. They tend to cluster in a limited number of metropolitan zip codes, especially in New York, Washington, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

In the 2010 election cycle, the average One Percent of One Percenter spent $28,913, more than the median individual income of $26,364.
Not surprisingly, both parties are more and more dependent on these donors:
Sunlight's report, "The Political One Percent of the One Percent," said these donors combined spent $774 million — 24.3 percent of all money from individuals that went to candidates, PACS, political parties and independent expenditure groups in the 2010 midterms, which swept Republicans into control of the House.

"It's the 1 percent of the 1 percent who account for almost a quarter of all individual campaign contributions," says Lee Drutman, a data fellow with Sunlight.

Looking at the absolute top tier, Drutman says just 17 individuals gave more than $500,000 each.

"We know that money is not equally given by all Americans," says Drutman. "There are very few Americans who can afford to write the kind of big checks that candidates depend on. What surprised us when we did this analysis was just how incredibly concentrated this giving was."

Drutman found that over the past 20 years, the $10,000-plus donors have accounted for an ever bigger share of political contributions. He says everybody — not just candidates — leans harder on the wealthy as campaign spending escalates.

"Parties want to be able to tap into donor networks of people who can give $10,000, $20,000 to the party. And both parties and candidates, both, want to be able to tap into networks who can give unlimited sums of money to independent expenditure groups," says Drutman.


The biggest category, donors with corporate ties, gave slightly more to Republicans.

The much smaller categories, ideological givers and lawyer-lobbyists, tilted Democratic.

While the Obama campaign and others emphasize their success with small givers, Drutman says there's no mistaking the economic class of the group he looked at.

"These elite donors on average give $29,000 per electoral cycle. That's more than what half of Americans earn in a single year," Drutman explains.
Political scientist John Sides goes to the data and explains what precisely is so problematic about the capture of our political structures by the 1%, especially when the needs, wants and desires of the one-percent don't align with the rest of us:
A second study, authored by the political scientists Benjamin Page, Fay Lomax Cook, and Rachel Moskowitz and recently released by the Russell Sage Foundation, found that the politics of the very wealthy are strikingly different.


Other scholars have found that, when the attitudes of the wealthy and less wealthy diverge, policy is much more in line with the attitudes of the wealthy. The activism evident in the Chicago sample may explain why: they do much more to articulate their views to politicians. (Of course, politicians themselves are often in the 1 percent.) These inequalities in political voice may then give rise to policies that perpetuate unequal outcomes.

Excessive force wielded by campus cops in the UC system is nothing new:
[I]t wasn't just the recent heavy-handed response by campus police that outraged the faculty members. It was the fact that University of California police have been aggressively attacking students for years. And, despite independent commissions telling them repeatedly to clean up their act, seemingly nothing has changed.

"[Birgeneau's comments] do not negate the repeated pattern of the use of excessive force against non-violent protests," Berkeley sociology professor Barrie Thorne said at the Monday meeting.

Professor Anaya Roy criticized the administration for ordering police to clear out the protesters, and for blaming students for the clashes.

"The chancellor has apologized and I appreciate that apology, but an apology is appropriate for an isolated episode," Roy said. "What were the lessons learned two years ago?"

The November Occupy Cal protests, though aligned with the national Occupy Wall Street movement, are more a part of a series of protests that began several years ago, rallying against tuition hikes and the privatization of California's higher education institutions. Tuition and fees for UC students may rise as much as 82 percent in the next four years.


The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has flagged eight of the 10 UC campuses for maintaining unconstitutional policies against free speech. This is because the campuses have not made changes, despite a 2009 memo by UC President Mark Yudof directing campus police and administration officials to fix the problems.

Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE, said it seemed to him that campus police have been increasingly overreacting during incidents.

The assault on women's health continues; in my home state of Ohio, the GOP is trying to ram through the most restrictive, draconian anti-abortion law anywhere in the country:
Dr. Matthew Mingione, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist in Columbus, said one of his patients was devastated to learn her pregnancy was in the abdomen, not in the uterus. It was attached to a major blood vessel, creating a high risk that she could bleed to death.

“(She) had a safe abortion at 12 weeks with minimally invasive techniques, saving her life,” Mingione testified. “If House Bill 125 had been law, we would have had to wait for her iliac vessels to rupture before intervening in order to be sure that this was an imminent threat to (her) life.”

House Bill 125, introduced by Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be medically detected, usually six or seven weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. It passed the House in June and is under review in the Senate.

If approved and signed, the legislation will give Ohio the most restrictive abortion law in the nation. Critics — who include those on both sides of the debate — say the proposal is clearly unconstitutional and not likely to withstand a court challenge.
At the same time, the federal government releases a new report showing just how rampant misogyny and violence still are:
Nearly one in five women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an attempted rape at some point, and one in four reported having been beaten by an intimate partner. One in six women have been stalked, according to the report.

“That almost one in five women have been raped in their lifetime is very striking and, I think, will be surprising to a lot of people,” said Linda C. Degutis, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted the survey.

“I don’t think we’ve really known that it was this prevalent in the population,” she said. 
As Jane Brody points out, the victimization of women who have been assaulted doesn't end with the initial act of violence:
Experts on sexual assault and rape report that even today, despite improvements in early sex education and widespread publicity about sexual assaults, the overwhelming majority of both felony and misdemeanor cases never come to public or legal attention.

It is all too easy to see why. More often than not, women who bring charges of sexual assault are victims twice over, treated by the legal system and sometimes by the news media as lying until proved truthful.

“There is no other crime I can think of where the victim is more victimized,” said Rebecca Campbell, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University who for 20 years has been studying what happens legally and medically to women who are raped. “The victim is always on trial. Rape is treated very differently than other felonies.”

So, too, are the victims of lesser sexual assaults. In 1991, when Anita Hill, a lawyer and academic, told Congress that the Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her repeatedly when she worked for him, Ms. Hill was vilified as a character assassin and liar acting on behalf of abortion-rights advocates.

Credibility became the issue, too, for Nafissatou Diallo, an immigrant chambermaid who accused the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, of forcing her to perform fellatio in a Manhattan hotel room. Prosecutors eventually dropped the case after concluding that Ms. Diallo had lied on her immigration form and about other matters, though not directly about the encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn.

When four women, two of whom identified themselves publicly, said they had been sexually harassed by Herman Cain, the Republican presidential hopeful, they, too, were called liars, perhaps hired by his opponents.


“DNA technology has not made a dramatic change in how victims are treated,” Dr. Campbell said in an interview. “We write off a lot of cases that could be successfully prosecuted. It’s bunk that these cases are too hard to prosecute.”

Victims must be better supported with better forensics, investigations and prosecutions, Dr. Campbell said. “This is a public safety issue. Most rapists are serial rapists, and they must be held accountable.”


Among female victims, nearly three-quarters are assaulted by men they know — friends, acquaintances or intimate partners, according to federal statistics.

But fewer than 40 percent of rapes and sexual assaults are reported to the police. Underreporting is more common among male victims and women raped by acquaintances or domestic partners. Only one-quarter of rapes are committed by strangers.

The result of underreporting and poor prosecution: 15 of 16 rapists will never spend a day in jail, according to the network. Dr. Judith A. Linden, associate professor of emergency medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, reported in The New England Journal of Medicine in September that in the United States, “fewer than half of rape cases are successfully prosecuted.”

Victims may be reluctant to report a rape because they are embarrassed, fear reprisals and public disclosure, or think they won’t be believed. “Victims often think they somehow brought it on themselves,” said Callie Rennison, a criminologist at the University of Colorado in Denver. “Rape is the only crime in which victims have to explain that they didn’t want to be victimized.”

No surprise here: Obama drops his threat to veto the National Defense Authorization Act. The executive-power creep continues unabated:
[T]here are real dangers to codifying these powers in law with bipartisan Congressional support as opposed to having the President unilaterally seize them and have some lower courts recognize them. Instead, it’s a reflection of how horrible the civil liberties status quo has become under the Bush and Obama administration. This is the reason why civil libertarians have been so harshly critical of this President. It’s the reason civil liberties groups have been saying things like this even when saying them was so unpopular: it’s because Obama has, for three years now, been defending and entrenching exactly the detention powers this law vests, but doing it through radical legal theories, warped interpretations of the 2001 AUMF, continuities with the Bush/Cheney template, and devotion to Endless War and the civil liberties assaults it entails. See the newspaper excerpts below for more proof of this.

Second, as I documented at length last week, Obama’s veto threat was never about substantive objections to the detention powers vested by this bill; put another way, he was never objecting to the bill on civil liberties grounds. Obama, as I documented last week and again below, is not an opponent of indefinite detention; he’s a vigorous proponent of it, as evidenced by his continuous, multi-faceted embrace of that policy.

Obama’s objections to this bill had nothing to do with civil liberties, due process or the Constitution. It had everything to do with Executive power. The White House’s complaint was that Congress had no business tying the hands of the President when deciding who should go into military detention, who should be denied a trial, which agencies should interrogate suspects (the FBI or the CIA).
Such decisions, insisted the White House, are for the President, not Congress, to make. In other words, his veto threat was not grounded in the premise that indefinite military detention is wrong; it was grounded in the premise that it should be the President who decides who goes into military detention and why, not Congress.

Even the one substantive objection the White House expressed to the bill — mandatory military detention for accused American Terrorists captured on U.S. soil — was about Executive power, not due process or core liberties. The proof of that — the definitive, conclusive proof — is that Sen. Carl Levin has several times disclosed that it was the White House which demanded removal of a provision in his original draft that would have exempted U.S. citizens from military detention (see the clip of Levin explaining this in the video below). In other words, this was an example of the White House demanding greater detention powers in the bill by insisting on the removal of one of its few constraints (the prohibition on military detention for Americans captured on U.S. soil). That’s because the White House’s North Star on this bill — as they repeatedly made clear — was Presidential discretion: they were going to veto the bill if it contained any limits on the President’s detention powers, regardless of whether those limits forced him to put people in military prison or barred him from doing so. Any doubt that this was the White House’s only concern with the bill is now dispelled by virtue of the President’s willingness to sign it after certain changes were made in Conference between the House and Senate. Those changes were almost entirely about removing the parts of the bill that constrained his power, and had nothing to do with improving the bill from a civil liberties perspective.
It's enough to make you pine for a president who actually understands constitutional law. Oh wait.

SOPA is terrible, even with its new revisions. Two posts from Balkinization offer in-depth analyses as to why. At the same time, David Rees comes out of retirement from political cartooning to revive Get Your War On as Get Your Censor On, now taking on SOPA, And if you're concerned about SOPA, as you rightly should be, contact your elected officials.

How does anesthesia work? Turns out that we're still not really sure.

What's Victoria's Secret? Child labor in Burkina Faso, perhaps?

Independent book stores as “third places”: a place for communal gathering and celebration of neighborhoods and community — a rejoinder to Farhad Manjoo’s recent Slate piece (filled with the all-too-common Slate trope of contrarianism-for-contrarianism's sake).

The behavior exhibited by Lowe's, to give in to a bunch of hateful, ignorant fucks and elevate hate speech to the level of legitimate discourse is absolutely pathetic. More on their cowardly behavior from Alyssa Rosenberg, Amy Davidson, SAALT, and a great Daily Show clip from Jon Stewart:

Grad students fight for their right to organize.

Yet another negative of our completely and utterly failed War on Drugs: marijuana cultivation throughout federal forests:
At these sites — which typically cover 10 to 20 acres and include armed guards and counter-surveillance methods — operators usually clear large areas of native vegetation; spray voluminous amounts of herbicides, rodenticides, and pesticides; and divert thousands of gallons of water daily from streams, lakes, and drinking water supplies. In California alone, Ferrell said, the Forest Service has removed more than 130 tons of trash, 300 pounds of pesticides, and nearly 260 miles of irrigation piping from 335 illegal cultivation sites. According to Ferrell, cleaning and restoring the sites costs about $15,000 per acre.
Simple solution: legalize it.

Sweden may indeed have a generally well-deserved reputation for environmental protection, but their forestry laws are promoting unsustainable logging practices.

Shifting vacation patterns due to climate change.

Empathy among rats.

Baby sloths: SO CUTE.

Heather's Murder-Friendly Happy (?) Link of the Day.