Monday, November 14, 2011


The Republican War on the EPA is based on nonsense; decades of environmental regulation have not only saved lives, but saved money, as well:
Harvard Professor Dale W. Jorgenson, one of the deans of macroeconomic modeling who has been honing his model of the U.S. economy for decades, calculates that gross domestic product in 2010 was 1.5 percent higher because of the Clean Air Act of 1970. It turns out that protecting children from foul air leads to more productive adult workers.

That’s the moral equivalent of arguing for child labor laws by saying that keeping kids in school will increase their earnings as adults. But even this reductionist argument, focused only on a narrow definition of dollars and cents, works to show the benefits of cleaner air.

Overall, benefits of the 1970 Clean Air Act exceed costs by a factor of 30 to 1. The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments match that ratio: $1 of investments led to $30 in benefits — fewer children sick or dying, more productive workers, and healthier environs.

As for the more recent EPA regulations proposed by the Obama administration? Surprise, surprise, those wouldn't destroy the economy, either:
The regulations finalized and proposed by the Obama administration are likely to be of tremendous value to the nation, producing a wide range of significant health benefits. Further, the finding that the estimated costs of these regulations amount to only about one one-thousandth the size of the economy, as well as the extended period over which they will take effect, indicate that they would not be a major impediment to economic or job growth in the near-term or in the future.
In a slightly updated version of a recent blog post, David Cole questions the legality of the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki and what the government's secrecy says about the state of our democracy:
As American citizens we have a right to know when our own government believes it may execute us (and others) without a trial. In a democracy the state’s power to take the lives of its own citizens, and indeed of any human being, must be subject to democratic deliberation and debate. War of course necessarily involves killing, but it is essential that the state’s power to kill be clearly defined and stated in public—particularly when the definition of the enemy and the lines demarcating war and peace are as murky as they are in the current conflict.

Secret memos, with or without leaked accounts to The New York Times, are no substitute for legal or democratic process. As long as the Obama administration insists on the power to kill the people it was elected to represent—and to do so in secret, on the basis of secret legal memos—can we really claim that we live in a democracy ruled by law?

John Paul Stevens on our broken criminal justice system:

Ironically, during an age of increasing protection for civil rights, discrimination against both black suspects and black victims of crime steadily increased. Stuntz attributes this development, in part, to the expansion of prosecutorial and police discretion—in his view, “discretion and discrimination travel together.” For example, the discretionary authority to enforce posted speed limits has enabled state troopers to be selectively severe in making arrests, and to use those arrests to justify searches for evidence of drug offenses. While Stuntz does not suggest that such discriminatory enforcement of traffic laws is itself a national crisis, it provides one illustration of the negative effects of excessive enforcement discretion.

The result, Stuntz writes, has been a serious disadvantage to African-Americans in their encounters with the American criminal justice system. While only 10 percent of the adult black population uses illegal drugs, as does a roughly equal percentage—9 percent—of the adult white population, blacks are nine times more likely than whites to serve prison sentences for drug crimes. “And the same system that discriminates against black drug defendants also discriminates against black victims of criminal violence.” As “suburban voters, for whom crime is usually a minor issue,” have come to “exercise more power over urban criminal justice than in the past,” police protection against violent felonies has disproportionately extended to suburban neighborhoods rather than the urban centers where more black individuals reside.

The “bottom line,” Stuntz explains, has been that “poor black neighborhoods see too little of the kinds of policing and criminal punishment that do the most good, and too much of the kinds that do the most harm.” In this sense and others, Stuntz concludes, our criminal justice system has “run off the rails.”
Police brutality at Berkeley against Occupy protestors.

A Berkeley professor explains why she was protesting, and how she got arrested:
As to why I was there: as a tenured professor (and tenure can be defined as a right granted to occupy a position on campus without threat of eviction for expressing dissent) I wanted to express my concern about the double threat posed to the ideal of liberal education by the rising cost of tuition and, more generally, the burden of debt. On the one hand, as many have pointed out, rising costs limit access. On the other hand, the debt students incur as they pursue a liberal arts education also poses a threat to free inquiry, that central value of democratic society. Students are so concerned about their economic futures that they sometimes feel constrained in their choice of courses and majors, too anxious about acquiring the proper credentials for employment to explore areas of intellectual inquiry that might interest them but don't appear to have an instrumental value. When I was teaching Walden last month, I couldn't help but notice how incisively Thoreau diagnoses the effect of "insolvency" on the capacity to think and live freely; the time people spend reading and thinking, he suggests, is increasingly regarded as time "stolen" and "borrowed" from wage-earning.

I note the same narrowly pragmatic thinking in the haste with which the police acted and Chancellor Birgeneau's justification for his decision to authorize the police action: "We simply cannot afford to spend our precious resources and, in particular, student tuition, on costly and avoidable expenses associated with violence or vandalism." No one wishes to "waste" resources in this climate. Yet if one follows this logic one can see the looming threat: lawful assembly, peaceful dissent, and free inquiry—even so-called “breadth requirements”--can all entail some cost. They interfere with “getting and spending.” Dissent, like free inquiry, is sometimes inefficient. Dissent doesn't always have a "deliverable." But it takes time to determine a just answer to “What is to be done?’.

And a completely disproportionate response towards protestors in Chapel Hill. Assault rifles? Really? More than 20 heavily armed officers to arrest seven unarmed people?

All because the protestors were occupying a building that had been empty for years. Creative, adaptive re-use for the greater good? Nope, the police chose to protect property:

The raid at Chapel Hill illustrates a few interesting aspects that have become systemic to the entire police response to the Occupy movement.

First, there is the conflation of damage to property with “violence,” and it’s unclear how these “traps” or barricades actually damaged the property value of an already abandoned car dealership, but let’s set aside that vague accusation for the time being.

Even if the demonstrators were damaging property, “violence” is usually only considered dire when it’s directed at human beings, not at an abandoned car dealership. If society was to get really serious about “violence” applying to inanimate objects and the environment, then every multinational conglomerate on the face of the earth could be charged as being criminally liable.

Consider major companies that seek to seize private property under eminent domain laws. For example, right now in Nebraska lawmakers are debating tightening eminent domain rules for procuring land during discussions related to the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL oil pipeline. Here we have a major company, TransCanada Corp, proposing destroying property owners’ land, not to mention the environment. Put another way, it’s like dynamiting a billion car dealerships simultaneously. But since the criminals wear suits instead of bandanas across their faces, the police ignore such crimes.

Could the days of torturing chimps in the name of research be numbered?

People want to know where their food is from. Marketers' response? Aspirational provenance.

Coffee as luxury drink. Is the era of cheap coffee coming to an end?:
In Colombia, the world’s third-biggest coffee producer, agricultural scientist Peter Baker has watched while record rainfall, increased heat, and frequent plagues have devastated farms across the country’s Andean coffee- growing region. It was 2005 when Baker “started to think seriously that climate change was not just about the future but was already happening.” Today, the signs are plentiful. Average temperatures have risen nearly 2 degrees in some areas over the past 30 years, “especially nighttime minimum temperatures,” says Baker, “a tell-tale signature of [man-made] climate change.” Hotter, rainier weather nourishes pests and disease, particularly coffee rust, a fungal plague that’s ascended Colombia’s mountain peaks, which were formerly too chilly for the organism. Heavy rains damage Arabica’s delicate blossoms—the same blossoms that eventually turn into coffee cherries, whose seeds are coffee beans. As heat and pests climb Colombia’s mountains, “the lower limit at which coffee is grown is starting to go up,” says Baker. As growers move higher into the mountains, they run into another problem: mountains have tops.

“Over the last four or five years nearly every farmer in every country I work with has experienced climate events that they’ve described as completely out of whack,” says Watts, who helped found Intelligentsia in Chicago 16 years ago. “And these are people that have been growing coffee on those farms for 20, 30, 40 years. ... They’re seeing rain when they had droughts before; they’re seeing droughts when they usually have a lot of rain. They’re seeing hail and frost in places where it didn’t exist before.” Extreme weather events “are happening simultaneously in every part of the coffee-growing world,” he adds.

The result? Between 2006 and 2009, the Colombian yield shrank by a quarter—from 12 million bags to 7.8 million, the lowest yield in 33 years. The forecast doesn’t look good for the rest of the coffee-growing world, either: more pests in East Africa, more hurricanes in Central America, more droughts in Indonesia. Global coffee stockpiles are close to record lows. “There is simply not enough coffee in the world,” Jose Sette, now the former executive director of the International Coffee Organization, told Bloomberg in February. Combine this with other economic realities—the rising cost of fertilizer and the fact that young people, bound for the cities, aren’t following in their parents’ coffee-growing footsteps—and you can understand the term that Peter Baker has coined as a warning: “peak coffee.” Just like with oil, the world is maxing out the volume of coffee it can sustain.

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