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!

No comments:

Post a Comment