Thursday, December 1, 2011


Who needs a legitimate environmental review when you can not have a legitimate environmental review instead? Fortunately, Bernie is fighting for reason and sanity, as always:
“I will vigorously oppose any efforts by Republicans in Congress to legislate a rubber-stamp approval for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline,” Bernard Sanders, an independent from Vermont, said in a statement. “At a time when the State Department inspector general is conducting a special inquiry into possible conflicts of interest related to the State Department’s handling of this project, it is completely inappropriate to try to short-circuit the thorough environmental review process federal law requires.”
But it's not just the Keystone XL pipeline that poses a dangerous threat. Archbishop Desmond Tutu recognizes this, too:
"Canada, you were once considered a leader on global issues like human rights and environmental protection," says a new statement signed by Tutu and other South African leaders that was published in newspapers Tuesday. "Today you're home to polluting tarsands oil, speeding the dangerous effects of climate change."


"For us in Africa, climate change is a life and death issue," said the statement. "By dramatically increasing Canada's global warming pollution, tarsands mining and drilling makes the problem worse, and exposes millions of Africans to more devastating drought and famine today and in the years to come."
Hmm, maybe we should give up the addiction to dirty fuels altogether? As Elizabeth Kolbert astutely notes in a brief piece on fracking, the technological costs of extracting hard-to-reach fuel sources will keep dropping, but the price humanity and the planet will have to pay is simply unacceptable:
Every kind of energy extraction, of course, poses risks. Mountaintop-removal mining, as the name suggests, involves “removing” entire mountaintops, usually with explosives, to get at a layer of coal. Coal plants, meanwhile, produce almost twice the volume of greenhouse gases as natural-gas plants per unit of energy generated. In the end, the best case to be made for fracking is that much of what is already being done is probably even worse.

The trouble with this sort of argument is that, in the absence of a rational energy policy, there’s no reason to substitute shale gas for coal. We can combust them both! The way things now stand, there’s nothing to prevent us from getting wasted mountains and polluted drinking water, and a ruined climate to boot. In the coming decades, ever-improving technologies will almost certainly make new sources of hydrocarbons accessible. At some point, either we will outgrow our infatuation or we will burn our way to a very dark place.
One way to push back against the lunacy of fracking would be to make sure the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act are utilized to protect the public and the environment from the contamination risks posed by hydraulic fracturing. Unfortunately, the Clean Water Act is under attack.

A great series of tweets from Alex Steffen on the scope of the climate change problem and the need for grounded optimism. And if you think those tweets are related to Revkin's “straight talk” post I shared yesterday, you'd be right.

Steffen's Twitter feed also links to this important article about Walmart's perpetuation of sprawl, despite the company's supposed greening and commitment to sustainability (from an on-going series in Grist on Walmart's unsustainability):
Walmart's imprint on our landscape is "their most serious legacy for the environment," according to Kaid Benfield, director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "In terms of global warming, it's a huge issue," he notes. "Our per-person emissions are much higher in sprawl locations than they are in more walkable locations."

In fact, it's likely that Walmart's land-use impacts indirectly contribute more CO2 to the atmosphere than all of its reported greenhouse gas emissions combined, including those from the electricity that powers its stores and the fuel that runs its trucks.

And, yet, land use is utterly absent from Walmart's sustainability program. Its 2007 sustainability assessment briefly mentions "the unintended consequences associated with land development." But annual sustainability reports since then have been silent on the issue. Words and phrases like sprawl, compact, mixed-use, pavement, impervious, runoff, auto-oriented, household driving, transit, and pedestrian do not appear anywhere in these reports.
As Steffen reminds us, what Walmart represents is “incompatible with a livable future for humanity.” Yet, bright green that he is, he's quick to note that eschewing sprawl, auto dependence and all that nonsense is a win-win for us all.

Oh, how lovely, 3/5th of our Senate doesn't care for the Constitution and wants to further militarize the US:
A related provision would create a federal statute saying the government has the legal authority to keep people suspected of terrorism in military custody, indefinitely and without trial. It contains no exception for American citizens. It is intended to bolster the authorization to use military force against the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which lawmakers enacted a decade ago.

The administration has strongly opposed the mandatory military custody provision, saying it “would raise serious and unsettled legal questions and would be inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets.”
Given just how atrocious Obama's record (especially compared to his campaign-era rhetoric) has been on civil liberties and that he's generally embraced the idea of the overreaching executive branch, it's quite telling that the administration believes this goes too far.

Dahlia Lithwick expresses some righteous indignation over this John Yoo-style, Constitution-shredding nonsense:
So forget the presumption of innocence. Forget the protections of the Constitution. If you are suspected of terrorism, you may be held indefinitely, maybe even shipped off to Guantanamo. And in this war that will last forever and play out on every square inch of the planet, the chances that these new powers will ever be rolled back are negligible. Even long after the war on terror has waned.

Now, perhaps you suspect these thorny questions about the handling of terrorists are best left to the experts, and that the Senate was simply listening to them. Such suspicions would be unfounded. The secretary of defense, the director of national intelligence, the director of the FBI, the CIA director, and the head of the Justice Department’s national security division have all said that the indefinite detention provisions in the bill are a bad idea. And the White House continues to say that the president will veto the bill if the detainee provisions are not removed. It sees the proposed language as limiting its flexibility.

There may be no good outcome here. It could be an unholy victory for both the prospect of unbridled executive power and for the collapse of any meaningful separation between domestic law enforcement and military authority. The law manages to expand the role of the military in domestic terror prosecutions and also limit the authority of the civilian justice system to thwart terrorism. These were legal principles to which even the Bush administration said they adhered.


One of the two Republican senators to vote for the Udall Amendment yesterday was Sen. Rand Paul, who quoted Thomas Jefferson: “The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become instruments of tyranny at home.” No. Truer. Words. At this moment in America we seem to be so fond of dividing Americans into us and them that we have created all sorts of intriguing new legal double standards for the thems. Don’t think for a minute that these new powers will be used only against suspected terrorists. We already know that suspected illegal immigrants, suspected environmental activists, and suspected protesters have very different legal rights—which is to say, far more limited rights—than anyone else. And as Benjamin Wallace Wells detailed last August, the landmark anti-terror legislation known as the Patriot Act has, in the 10 years since its passage, been used in 1,618 drug cases and 15 terrorism cases. You’d never know it from watching the GOP hopefuls joyfully demonize women, immigrants, the poor, the prisoners, OWS protesters, and union members, but at some point, them always becomes us.

Science is inherently political; that doesn't mean — despite the standard GOP talking points — it need be politicized:
At its core, science is a reliable method for creating knowledge, and thus power. Because science pushes the boundaries of knowledge, it pushes us to constantly refine our ethics and morality, and that is always political. But beyond that, science constantly disrupts hierarchical power structures and vested interests in a long drive to give knowledge, and thus power, to the individual, and that process is also political.


But the simple statement of an observable fact is a political act that either supports or challenges the current power structure. Every time a scientist makes a factual assertion—Earth goes around the sun, there is such a thing as evolution, humans are causing climate change—it either supports or challenges somebody's vested interests.


Wishing to sidestep the painful moral and ethical parsing that their discoveries sometimes compel, many scientists today see their role to be the creation of knowledge and believe they should leave the moral, ethical, and political implications to others to sort out. But the practice of science itself cannot possibly be apolitical, because it takes nothing on faith. The very essence of the scientific process is to question long-held assumptions about the nature of the universe, to dream up experiments that test those questions, and, based on the observations, to incrementally build knowledge that is independent of our beliefs and assumptions. A scientifically testable claim is utterly transparent and can be shown to be either most probably true or false, whether the claim is made by a king or a president, a pope, a congressperson, or a common citizen. Because of this, science is inherently antiauthoritarian, and a great equalizer of political power.

There is little in this world I find more satisfying that deserved take-downs of charlatans, frauds, and assorted other hacks. We get two good pieces this week. First, Belén Fernández, writing in Guernica says this about Thomas Friedman:
Friedman’s writing is characterized by a reduction of complex international phenomena to simplistic rhetoric and theorems that rarely withstand the test of reality. His vacuous but much-publicized “First Law of Petropolitics”—which Friedman devises by plotting a handful of historical incidents on a napkin and which states that the price of oil is inversely related to the pace of freedom—does not even withstand the test of the very Freedom House reports that Friedman invokes as evidence in support of the alleged law. The tendency toward rampant reductionism has become such a Friedman trademark that one finds oneself wondering whether he is not intentionally parodying himself when he introduces “A Theory of Everything” to explain anti-American sentiment in the world and states his hope “that people will write in with comments or catcalls so I can continue to refine [the theory], turn it into a quick book and pay my daughter’s college tuition.”
And (paywall-protected, unfortunately) David Bromwich assesses the continuing war on reality perpetuated by neo-imperialist warmonger Niall Ferguson:
Ferguson has not, in fact, launched his inquiry into the rise and fall of civilizations from an inward mastery of the named virtues or values of any particular civilization. Rather, his questions, and the answers that sometimes seem to hit before a question is asked, are dictated by habits, traits, and products of the very recent West, framed in an idiom strongly associated with American schools of management. The almost-personified West whose triumph he celebrates, and whose future he prognosticates, was shaped from the first, Ferguson wants us to believe, by six “killer apps”: elements comparable to the applications you download to enhance a smart phone.

The killer apps are “competition” (which, to make a proper “launch-pad” for states and economies, requires “a decentralization of both political and economic life”), “science,” “property” rights, “medicine,” “the consumer society,” and the “work ethic.” These make an absurd catalog. It is like saying that the ingredients of a statesman are an Oxford degree, principles, a beard, sociability, and ownership of a sports car. Ferguson’s killer apps of the West—both the idea and the phrase—in less than a decade will date the book as reliably as the adoption by a pop psychologist in 1966 of the word “groovy.”
Sure, picking on Friedman and Ferguson is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, but given that far too many folks still treat these fools like they should be taken seriously, it's always appropriate to be reminded that they're idiots.

And while Andrew Sullivan isn't nearly the hack that his college-friend Ferguson and Friedman are, he does warrant special scorn for his decade-plus long effort to make research on race, genes, and intelligence/IQ respectable. Henry Farrell offers all that needs to be said here, while Ta-Nehisi Coates' three blog posts on the topic are worth reading, as well.

The race-IQ essentialists would do well to acquaint themselves with the arguments of Elizabeth Spelke, who made the following point in the uproar over Larry Summers' argument that those with the lady-bits might just lack the proper intellectual capacities to thrive in the STEM disciplines; the bottom line is that whatever supposed differences are discovered (keeping in mind that the Flynn Effect shows these differences to be far from non-malleable) likely don't mean jack-shit when it comes to our complex, modern societies, in which a crude measure of intelligence can only predict so much:
Dr. Pinker argued that there were small but important biological differences in how male and female brains worked. Dr. Spelke argued that these differences were minor, and that evolutionary psychology had no part to play in the debate.

“The kinds of careers people pursue now, the kinds of choices they make, are radically different from anything that anybody faced back in the Pleistocene,” Dr. Spelke said at the close of the debate. “It is anything but clear how motives that evolved then translate into a modern context.”

Further news on the creepy extent to which your privacy no longer exists

As if their vicious gay-hating bullshit isn't enough, now Chik-fil-A is trying to abuse IP law against an advocate for local agriculture.

Given the subsequent rise of the Tea Party, this finding, assuming it stands up to further review, certainly doesn't come as a surprise.

And it is, of course, those lunatics and their ilk that now are ruling the GOP. But as Scott Horton notes, let us not take any joy in the fact that one of the two major parties has taken a stance against logic, reason, or effective governance — these traits simply are bad for the very nature of our democracy:
At a time of mounting crisis, when much of the world is looking to the United States for leadership and initiative, the celebration of sleaze and ignorance that has marked the Republican primary is damaging the reputation of the nation as a whole. Even those who despise the G.O.P. should be concerned about the depths to which the party has sunk.
Really, how can we possibly take these clowns seriously when they propose idiotic nonsense like this? They truly have no interest in governing, or doing anything other than assisting the plutocrats in whatever way possible:
In addition, Senate Republican leaders would go after “millionaires and billionaires,” not by raising their taxes but by making them ineligible for unemployment compensation and food stamps and increasing their Medicare premiums. Democrats said that this part of the Republican proposal was not serious, pointing out that high earners were already ineligible to receive food stamps.

Potato chips, class, and authenticity. What kind of authenticity are you seeking: healthy and natural or traditional and grounded in down-home American values?

Another sampling of Tuareg rock, this time from Bombino. His interview and live performance at KCRW from a couple months ago is a must-watch, as well.

New Morrissey? Live on Conan? Yes, please, thank you very much:

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