Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Break From Blogging

It's been a busy couple of weeks, but I'll start sharing the glory of the intertubes soon once again.

In the meantime, please take a look at the other project that's been occupying my time as of late:

Monday, February 13, 2012


Obama decided that the canard of “religious liberty” warrants treating women's health as an exception:
For feminists and reproductive rights advocates, this fight is about equality—about “the right of individual women to be free from discrimination in their health care plans.”  From this point of view, part of what is at stake here is the normative principle that the full panoply of gynecological health services, from STD testing and treatment to contraception, is part of the same continuum of basic health care.  A health care system that treats certain services having to do with women and sexuality differently than it treats all other services is a discriminatory health care system.  In this connection, the Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health note that “[b]irth control pills are not just for contraception—they help manage conditions like [this patient’s] as well as lower the risk for certain cancers. All families need affordable access to medications that safeguard their health, including birth control.”  The strongest (and most strongly feminist) version of this argument is that control over reproduction is essential to equality; therefore reproductive health care must be treated the same as all other health care.  From this point of view the new Obama compromise is unsatisfying.  It treats one segment of women’s health differently from all others, separating it out and dignifying the view that it is morally different and perhaps more objectionable.
Yet the GOP and the most conservative Catholics, who believe that liberty and freedom mean being able to treat women as second-class citizens aren't happy. And they won't be satisfied so long as women aren't put in their proper place. After all, they've already shown their hand (h/t Ale):
Because, of course, this isn’t about religious liberty, as the bishops admitted long ago. “We consider [birth control] an elective drug,” the bishops’ spokesman told the Daily Beast’s Dana Goldstein last summer, before the guidelines to fully cover contraception were adopted. “Married women can practice periodic abstinence. Other women can abstain altogether. Not having sex doesn’t make you sick.” While this may not be realistic or good public-health policy, at least it’s honest about what world they really want for women.
Says the always-thoughtful Amanda Marcotte:
This was never about religious liberty. It was always about three things: 1) An attempt to chip away at health care reform 2) a chance to assert their belief that an employer actually owns their employee and should be able to go so far as to control her sex life and 3) a deep-set fear and hostility to women’s liberation. It is the last that is strongest and most compelling to right-wingers. Now that the fig leaf of “religious liberty” has been taken from those who want to remove an individual woman’s religious liberty to decide for herself whether or not to use contraception, the rhetoric has returned to panicking over how contraception is something only dirty sluts use, making over 99 percent of American women dirty sluts.

The USCCB immediately reverted to attacking contraception as a great evil undermining society, stating that contraception is not preventive services on the grounds that “pregnancy is not a disease.” (Since the Catholic Church permits women to prevent pregnancy through abstinence, it’s clear this belief is only an inch deep, and a fig leaf for anti-sex attitudes.) They also falsely claimed that the policy covers abortion, a claim which in and of itself violates the Ten Commandments, specifically the one forbidding believers from bearing false witness. Sean Hannity lost it, characterizing the 99 percent of American women who have used contraception as not responsible. This group of supposedly irresponsible people almost surely includes Hannity and his wife, as they’ve only had two children, despite being married since 1993.

Why so much anger and fear from the right over this? We can eliminate their claims of “religious liberty,” since Obama addressed that. So why so scared? After all, contraception is, as noted, already widely popular. It’s not like making it free is going to usher in some new era where women are going to just start thinking they can have sex like free people. Women already think that. And even if they were able to get Obama to back down on the question of religiously-affiliated secular institutions like hospitals and universities, that would still mean the majority of women get co-pay-free contraception from their employers. So why all the fuss?

I think it’s because this is about more than birth control. This fight is much larger than that, and goes to whether or not we’re going to define women as full citizens whose right to live as free and empowered as men will be a priority for our government and society going forward. Liberals can often be the sorts who miss the forest for the trees. When we see “free birth control,” we mainly think in pragmatic, immediate terms about the effects: lower unintended pregnancy rates, lower abortion rates, health care savings, better educational and employment opportunities, money saved that women can invest in other ways, and more options for women. But the symbolic value of empowering women in this way can have even larger ramifications, and that is what I believe scares the right so much.
Or, put another way, what about the health and religious freedom of the insured?:
Contraception is about maternal, infant and child health; it is about desired family size, family formation, and the most basic and profound choices individuals can make — whether, when and with whom to bear and raise a child. It is also about medically-indicated conditions which women face for which birth control is prescribed. It is a foundational issue for the social and economic participation of women. It is an individual human rights issue. And every domestic and international medical body with any legitimacy recognizes it as such. It is not about the religious freedom of religious institutions a la Citizens United, but about the health and religious freedoms of individuals, the vast majority of whom clearly disagree with the teachings of the Catholic Church.


And let's remember one thing: Well before the issue of the exemptions came up, the Bishops were fighting inclusion of contraception per se in the definition of preventive care. They did not want contraception to be included as part of the primary preventive care package of insurance coverage for anyone under any employer. So this is about their attempt to control public health a la Nicaragua, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Kenya and other countries where they have succeeded in severely diminishing women's access to care across the board and where, as a consequence, unsafe abortion and other causes of maternal death are among the leading killers of women ages 15 to 49. For this reason as well, this decision has implications for women's lives not just in the United States, but literally throughout the world.
So long as “religious liberty” is being used as a cover for an assault essential women's health services, there's no reason to make exceptions for it:
Whose conscience is it? The regulation doesn’t require anyone to use birth control. It exempts any religious employer that primarily hires and serves its own faithful, the same exclusion offered by New York and California from the contraception mandate in state insurance laws. (Of the other states that require such coverage, 15 offer a broader opt-out provision, while eight provide no exemption at all.) Permitting Catholic hospitals to withhold contraception coverage from their 765,000 employees would blow a gaping hole in the regulation. The 629-hospital Catholic health care system is a major and respected health care provider, serving one in every six hospital patients and employing nearly 14 percent of all hospital staff in the country. Of the top 10 revenue-producing hospital systems in 2010, four were Catholic. The San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West, the fifth biggest hospital system in the country, had $11 billion in revenue last year and treated 6.2 million patients.

These institutions, as well as Catholic universities — not seminaries, but colleges and universities whose doors are open to all — are full participants in the public square, receiving a steady stream of federal dollars. They assert — indeed, have earned — the right to the same benefits that flow to their secular peers. What they now claim is a right to special treatment: to conscience that trumps law.
After all, why should employers have any say over which health services their employees use?:
[I]t is not clear why the religious beliefs of any employer or insurer should take precedence over those of its employees or enrollees. Expanding the exemption would affect millions of teachers and guidance counselors, doctors and nurses, clerks and janitors, by interfering with their access to preventive health care that they deem necessary and in line with their own religious and moral beliefs. Indeed, the opposition to contraceptive use by some religious leaders does not reflect the beliefs of the laity: 99 percent of U.S. women who have ever had sex with a man have used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning, and that figure is virtually the same across religious groups, including 98 percent among sexually experienced Catholic women. For those employees who do adhere to their employer’s religious position on contraception, providing coverage of contraception would not in any way force them to use it in violation of their beliefs.

Objections to financial entanglement with someone else’s use of contraception are also problematic. It is difficult to see why an employer has any more right to veto an employee’s use of her health benefits than it does to veto her use of her salary, sick leave, or other aspects of her compensation for the same contraceptive services. Moreover, everyone paying for insurance is paying for some services they expect never to need or use, and allowing individuals to pick and choose what specific benefits to cover would undermine the ability of insurance to pool peoples’ risks. That type of self-selection is what leads insurers to impose the sort of restrictions on coverage—such as limitations for preexisting conditions or maternity care—that the ACA was designed to eliminate.
And let's not lose sight of the fact that this is a question of women's health — and that there are real-life consequences to refusing to pay for women's health:
[W]e should be talking about real women affected by this policy, like the unnamed Georgetown law student with polycystic ovarian syndrome featured in the Times, who lost an ovary after falling prey to the “pro-life” insurance compromises at her institution. Or why the millions of women who get their insurance through a Catholic institution and use birth control should be subject to different rules than their fellow citizens.

One Catholic bishop insisted, with no sense of irony whatsoever, that “people of faith cannot be made second-class citizens.” Apparently women are another story.
Perhaps it's all said best in comic form:

Komen may have recognized they made a mistake in politicizing their organization, but let's not forget about how they still epitomize the privatization of the public sphere, and are often as interested in slapping their name on more and more products than actually accomplishing real change:
Thanks to Brinker, “breast cancer has blossomed from wallflower to the most popular girl at the corporate charity prom.” Her numbers are indeed impressive. Brinker brought in $420 million in FY2010 alone, and spent a whooping $141 million on public education campaigns. In a public health climate scrambling just to keep ahead of emergency care, that kind of investment in prevention is extraordinary. Brinker has responded to criticism that she is branding a disease, by telling the grey lady that “America is built on consumerism … To say we shouldn’t use it to solve the social ills that confront us doesn’t make sense to me.”


The Komen Foundation PR debacle may be over, but it illuminates a much larger disaster built into the charity model of social justice work. If there were adequate public funding for health care, including preventive screenings, the private pullout would barely register on our radars. And coming from a group whose CEO served as an Ambassador for Bush42, this kind of politicization of basic life chances should hardly surprise us. What do you expect when the social safety net is replaced by corporate benevolence? And more to the point, what are the other unseen consequences of abdicating a critical state function?


The result is that the most vulnerable women do no receive necessary help, while rich women race for the cure. In the glossy 2010 report, the foundation touts $40 million in community grants targeting women of color. That’s a nice chunk of change, but is nearly $10 million less than the foundation spent on advertising in the same year. Ironically, Nancy Brinker sees her emphasis on consumer product tie-ins as the “democratization of a disease.” Lots of consumers undoubtedly feel the same way, assuaging their guilt, fears, and grief at the check-out counter. But buying a key-chain isn’t real democratic participation. As citizens concerned about public health, we should be demanding publicly funded healthcare for all, and insisting on a health system whose egalitarianism would be ingrained in its very structure, not cited as an incidental byproduct of corporate goodwill.


Komen Foundation v. Planned Parenthood has been decided in the court of public opinion, but the larger problems remain. The controversy helps identify the twin evils that we face: the privatization of basic life chances, and placation of progressive political impulses through capitalist accumulation.
[T]hat's all Komen is – a consulting firm that helps large corporate clients sell more of their products through pinkwashing campaigns. By slathering everything from pasta to baseball bats to perfume to fast food with the Pink Imprimatur, consumers are led to believe that their purchases are making meaningful contributions to breast cancer research. Somewhere down the line a few cents per purchase may trickle into those bloated coffers, but the immediate and motivating effect of that pink packaging is to get you to buy things. In short, Komentm is a group of salespeople selling image. Whatever money benefits the sick, researchers, or recovering patients is ancillary. Getting those big, fat tax-exempt checks from their Partners for the Curetm is what drives their business model.

GDP growth does not equal progress (.pdf):
[E]ven as it has become the dominant economic measure and benchmark of progress, it is increasingly understood that GDP obscures or excludes essential aspects of welfare and sustainability in our economy and society, and as a consequence, greatly limits how we gauge policy needs and develop policy responses. This is not to say that GDP or the broader system of national accounts should be dismantled or ignored. Any credible reform agenda in this area recognizes that the system of national accounts provides important information about a range of economic realities, including personal income, savings, and consumption, gross and net capital formation, imports and exports, and net foreign investment; and as a summary measure, GDP is a good general barometer of levels of economic activity. Obviously, we should not stop using this system as a source of economic information.

The problem lies in how GDP has come to play such a defining role in public debates about economic performance and social progress, and ultimately in policy-making. In an economic narrative dominated by the growth rate of GDP, significant and growing problems at the household level, in societal conditions and well-being, in environmental welfare, and in other key dimensions of our stability and progress as a nation, are held at the margins of debate, many steps removed from public attention let alone serious political action.

The case against GDP can be broken down in seven basic ways:
1. Distribution: GDP tells us nothing about how growth is distributed at the household level. For example, while U.S. GDP more than doubled over the last 30 years, median household income grew only 16 percent. Nearly all of the GDP growth went to the top 20 percent and most of those gains went to the top 10 percent of households. Whether GDP goes up or down, it gives us no sense of who is benefiting from the gains or how the average household is faring.
2. Quantity vs. Quality: GDP measures the quantity of goods and services but not the quality. Money spent on alcohol and gambling is just as “good” by GDP standards as money spent on books and exercise. What is good for GDP is often harmful by other important criteria such as health and social well-being.
3. Defensive Expenditures: GDP does not distinguish between expenditures that positively increase human welfare, such as college tuition, and “defensive expenditures” that protect against threats to current welfare, such as cleaning up industrial disasters, treating socially-conditioned diseases (smoking-related, obesity, etc.), and military spending to protect national interests from real or perceived threats.
4. Real Economic Value vs. Borrowed and Speculative Gains: GDP tells us nothing about the sustainability of economic activity. Consumption financed by borrowing adds to GDP just like consumption financed by real gains in household buying power. Financial services add to GDP whether by allocating capital for productive investment or by fueling gigantic asset bubbles with speculation and transfer of risk.
5. Depletion of Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services: GDP essentially ignores environmental problems. Economic activity that depletes natural resources is just as valuable, by GDP standards, as economic activity fueled by renewable resources. Activities that contribute to global warming add value to GDP today even as they threaten massive economic costs in the future due to climate change impacts.
6. Non-Market Activities: GDP tells us nothing about the value generated by non-market services provided in the household, in the public sector, in civil society, and in the broader ecological systems that surround us. The human and social capital generated by parenting, education, voluntarism, community activities, green spaces and other aspects of public planning, etc., are not measured by GDP even though they substantially affect economic well-being and the overall productivity of society. So too, public output—the value generated by public spending in many areas—is not accounted for; nor is the output or social value of charitable services.
7. Social Well-Being: GDP does not always track with indicators of social well-being, such as rates of poverty, literacy, and life expectancy. For example, the United States ranks near the top for per capita GDP but at the same time has the highest poverty and incarceration rates in the advanced world. Likewise, levels of subjective well-being, including life satisfaction, feelings of security and autonomy, and trusting one’s neighbors, are often higher in poorer countries with strong family and community structures than in wealthy countries characterized by social atomization and mass-consumerism. 
In short, GDP ignores many “bads” from economic activity, counts many “bads” as goods, and fails to count many important goods that are not transacted in markets. While these shortcomings can be addressed as technical weaknesses in a particular statistical model, fixing GDP, or going “beyond GDP” with other measures, is not simply a problem of fixing the methods. Rather, the deeper problem is the economic model lying behind GDP and reinforced by our over-reliance on GDP. Depending on GDP promotes an economic model devoted to “growth at all costs,” where “more” is equated with “better” and an expanding economy equals social progress even as average households do not benefit and the critical non-market dimensions of our lives and nation—our human, social, and environmental capital—are depleted for lack of adequate investments and protections. Changing our economic feedback system is a crucial step for refocusing public concern and bringing new policy demands into the mainstream of debate and decision-making about the nation’s future.

Tyrone Hayes is a bad-ass:
Hayes is a 5-foot-3 fireplug of a man with a gentle voice and an easy grin who favors black suits when he's on the lecture circuit and sweatshirts and running shorts the rest of the time. He is an unusual breed. You will find few other faculty members who keep their money and identification in a child's Spider-Man sock rather than a wallet, or run their daily 12-mile commute, or compose raps about their research and perform them at scientific meetings. The pool of endocrinologists and herpetologists who might casually mention lunching on homemade raccoon curry is also minuscule. And most scientists, upon discovering that trace amounts of one of the nation's top-selling herbicides cause gender-bending abnormalities in frogs, would have been content to publish their results and let the regulators and manufacturers fight it out.

But Hayes is not like other scientists. To be sure, he publishes in all the right journals and presents his work at the key scientific meetings, but he has also spearheaded a public outcry against atrazine, testifying at government hearings, appearing in all forms of media, and even launching, an anti-atrazine website.

All of this has earned Hayes something approaching rock-star status. He has been the subject of a children's book (The Frog Scientist), travels the world giving lectures, and by his estimate has appeared in a dozen documentaries. And while scores of researchers have described atrazine's worrisome effects, it is Hayes' knack for drama that has brought attention to the problem. Without him, atrazine might not be undergoing its third Environmental Protection Agency review in less than a decade, and Syngenta, the chemical's Swiss manufacturer, might not be facing lawsuits in state and federal courts by plaintiffs from 40 Midwestern water districts who claim atrazine has contaminated their drinking water. "He's a remarkable person," says David Skelly, a Yale ecologist who has served on two of the advisory panels that help the EPA vet atrazine research. "And he's become the personality associated with this issue because he's a remarkable person."

Yet over the years, Hayes has become engaged in a remarkably antagonistic sort of symbiosis with Syngenta. Company reps trail him from one speaking engagement to the next; Hayes, in turn, bombards Syngenta with a steady flow of emails laced with profane verses, academic taunts, and even accounts of his dreams. When a batch of these emails became public in 2010, Hayes' supporters and critics alike were stunned. Here was one of the top scientists in his field, provoking one of the world's largest agrichemical companies with crude sexual innuendos and LL Cool J-inspired raps:
tyrone b hayes is hard as hell 
battle anybody, i don't care who you tell 
you object! you will fail!
mercy for the weak is not for sale

Over time, these tense interactions escalated into the kind of verbal jostling you'd expect in a high school hallway. Syngenta officials, according to Hayes, have made derogatory remarks about his appearance, his speaking style, and even his sexual proclivities, which sounds implausible until you consider that Syngenta's PR firm, Jayne Thompson & Associates, once proposed a covert media campaign to discredit the court system in an Illinois county where judges are presiding over an atrazine lawsuit.

At one conference in 2005, he contends, Syngenta staff scientist Tim Pastoor accused him of "cherry-picking data" and asked if he cherry-picked his dates as well. Hayes responded in an email: "don't worry...daddy has no intentions of picking your cherry." At another meeting, Pastoor asserted that atrazine was a vital tool for US farmers. Hayes emailed him to ask, "How long have YOU been a 'vital tool'?" adding, "I've got your vital tool right here."

While there was a certain frat boy humor to this scientific smack talk, there was also an element of psychological warfare. After Hayes gave a lecture at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry confab in 2007, he received an email from Syngenta scientist Alan Hosmer, whom he knew from his EcoRisk days: "You lost and everyone at SETAC was calling you an entertaining fraud," Hosmer wrote.

Hayes felt the message was designed to arouse a black academic's worst anxieties: the fear of being seen as a buffoon or an affirmative-action mistake. This time, Syngenta reps received a six-page email response titled: "I OWN THIS: A MADMAN'S MANIFESTO." In it, Hayes bragged of his fame ("I get paid $10,000 for talking for an hour"), ridiculed Syngenta's research ("nothing you have done can touch the quality of my work"), and waxed poetic about how his kids attend the fancy "white private schools" that were unavailable to him. He also deployed his favorite phrase—"I don't give a fuck"—shortened to an acronym: "IDGAF! Come on????? you think I care about propriety and professionalism?...I have used the 'F-word' in my talks, have quoted DMX, Busta Rhymes, Tyra Banks, Marvin Gaye...I pack the room, have em' call out security...and have been invited back every year. That's my house, Trick!"
Things came to a head in February 2010, when Syngenta's Pastoor buttonholed Hayes in the Illinois Statehouse as Hayes prepared to testify before an Assembly committee. "Who's taking care of your family and your lab when you're traveling so much, Tea Bag?" Pastoor allegedly said. "Don't you worry about that?" The episode ended, Hayes claims, with Pastoor saying: "Next time you give a talk, I'm going to bring some of my good old boys and let you tell them how atrazine is making them gay. That should be fun. How about that, Tea Bag?"

Hayes was mystified: Was Pastoor referring to his initials, T.B. Hayes, or to the sexual act known as "teabagging"? Either way, he saw it as an effort to unnerve him prior to his testimony. "He wants me to think that if I go out for a run tonight, some people in a pickup truck are going to come," he says. Pastoor did not respond to my requests to get his side of the exchange; Syngenta's spokeswoman replied that "Dr. Hayes' unfounded allegations are not relevant to serious scientific or public policy discussions."

Hayes dashed off a furious rhyming response to Pastoor, Hosmer, and Syngenta attorney Alan Nadel. The next day, a message from Nadel to Pastoor landed back in his mailbox, clearly cc'd by accident: "Tim: I think you did hit a nerve. Alan." Hayes took it as proof that Syngenta officials were plotting to get under his skin. "They're probably Googling: 'Things that black people don't like to hear,'" he says.

A cooler head might have filed the emails away and gone back to his frogs. But Hayes was infected by an acute case of esprit d'escalier. He continued bombarding his nemeses with hip-hop battle taunts until that July, when Syngenta filed an ethics complaint with UC-Berkeley charging that the emails were not only "aggressive, unprofessional and insulting, but also salacious and lewd." It also went public with 102 pages of Hayes' emails. Exhibit A:
ya outa' luck...bouta show you how it is right now 
see you're ****ed...(i didn't pull out) and ya fulla my j*z right now!

We're living in a chemical landscape. Yet, the Obama administration keeps dragging its feet on regulating toxics (h/t Katelyn):
[T]he 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act specifically grants the EPA the authority to create a list of troubling compounds. Companies are “screaming bloody murder,” she said, because they fear a backlash from concerned consumers and worry further regulation of named chemicals could follow.

In the more than 35 years since Congress passed the law, known as TSCA, the EPA hasn’t used its power to flag chemicals of concern. The current proposal is part of the agency’s attempt to make the most of its authority under TSCA, which has faced fierce criticism from environmental groups and some in Congress as out of date and ill equipped to address risks from the vast array of industrial chemicals now in use. Perennial attempts in Congress to overhaul the law have failed.

Soon after taking over as EPA administrator, Jackson signaled that the agency would focus on improving regulation of toxic substances. “Assuring chemical safety in a rapidly changing world, and restoring public confidence that EPA is protecting the American people is a top priority for me, my leadership team, and this Administration,” she said in a 2009 speech.

But many of the agency’s efforts, such as the “chemicals of concern” list, have encountered resistance — including from within the administration. “A very disturbing pattern has developed with OIRA’s review of EPA proposals to better ensure chemical safety: Long delays — far in excess of the mandated 90 days — have become routine,” Richard Denison, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement.

The GOP's War On Poor continues. Meanwhile, the education gap between rich and poor grows:
It is a well-known fact that children from affluent families tend to do better in school. Yet the income divide has received far less attention from policy makers and government officials than gaps in student accomplishment by race.

Now, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.

“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.

In another study, by researchers from the University of Michigan, the imbalance between rich and poor children in college completion — the single most important predictor of success in the work force — has grown by about 50 percent since the late 1980s.

The changes are tectonic, a result of social and economic processes unfolding over many decades. The data from most of these studies end in 2007 and 2008, before the recession’s full impact was felt. Researchers said that based on experiences during past recessions, the recent downturn was likely to have aggravated the trend.

“With income declines more severe in the lower brackets, there’s a good chance the recession may have widened the gap,” Professor Reardon said. In the study he led, researchers analyzed 12 sets of standardized test scores starting in 1960 and ending in 2007. He compared children from families in the 90th percentile of income — the equivalent of around $160,000 in 2008, when the study was conducted — and children from the 10th percentile, $17,500 in 2008. By the end of that period, the achievement gap by income had grown by 40 percent, he said, while the gap between white and black students, regardless of income, had shrunk substantially.

That old mall no one goes to anymore takes a Jane Jocobs-esque turn?:
Designers in Buffalo have proposed stripping down a mall to its foundation and reinventing it as housing, while an aspiring architect in Detroit has proposed turning a mall’s parking lot there into a community farm. Columbus, Ohio, arguing that it was too expensive to maintain an empty mall on prime real estate, dismantled its City Center mall and replaced it with a park.

Even at many malls that continue to thrive, developers are redesigning them as town squares — adding elements like dog parks and putting greens, creating street grids that go through the malls, and restoring natural elements like creeks that were originally paved over.

“Basically they’re building the downtowns that the suburbs never had,” along with reworking abandoned urban malls for nonshopping uses, said Ellen Dunham-Jones, a professor at the College of Architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The efforts reflect a shift in how Americans want to shop today: rather than going to big, overwhelming malls, many prefer places where stores can be entered from the street, featuring restaurants, entertainment and other Main Street mainstays. Also, as commuters in urban areas shift to public transportation, the giant parking lots are no longer needed.

That supposed war on religion? Yeah, it's bunk.

Victory! Trader Joe's finally decides that the tomato-pickers deserve to be treated a bit better.

No more bottled water in the Grand Canyon!

And if Ron Paul has his way, no Grand Canyon at all. (When we were up at the Grand Canyon a couple weeks ago, we did see a car with a Ron Paul 2012 bumper sticker. If not so depressing, the cognitive dissonance would be hilarious.)

New LCV Scorecard. Ron Paul doesn't do well.

ProPublica has a nice run-down of fracking rules.

Abandoned housing tracts store carbon; my fellow urban ecologist friends will not be surprised by this.

But tree cover in urban areas appears to be decreasing.

Increasing water supply through wastewater reuse. People still think it's icky, unfortunately.

New studies on energy efficiency.

Dispose rubber well, or else you're a bird-killer.

The EPA needs to act on soot.

Stop buying gold and supporting this horrible shit, please.

Healthy communities require safe streets.

Frothy Mix is railing against the politicization of science? By ignoring science and replacing it with his ignorant anti-science ideology? Yes, he is. (Wait, is Rick himself an unproven theory? Teach the controversy!) And Newt is trying to one-up him by proposing we get rid of the EPA.

Though neither Newt or Ol' Frothy are quite as despicable as bottom-feeding shitsack Steve King, the racist moron who believes that energy and water-use efficiency represent existential threats to the very concept of freedom and liberty.

Speaking of Frothy Mix, what's his take on (that horribly ungodly act of) masturbation?

New tricks to achieve old goals: the GOP attempts to “resegregate” The South.

Obama is a moderate. And he's a coward and complete hypocrite. Though I suppose we shouldn't expect any better from someone who's the very epitome of a corporate Democrat. Yay for hope and change!

Racial and ethnic shifts in metro America.

Shocking news: Muslims should not be treated as the enemy. But that's not stopping the NYPD from criminalizing an entire religion.

The banks may be the big winner in the new mortgage relief package.

Pankaj Mishra is impressed with Katherine Boo's debut book.

Porn books and libraries.

The clichéd language of ESPN. (ESPN loves Tebow, by the way.)

Fellow cat-lovers: the reason you're batshit crazy is because of your cat. Parasites are awesome.

Ricekrispiehenge and other ways to play with your food.

Sweet Jesus, this was a real article. This response is hilarious.

Attention male critics: please stop bring sexist assholes.

So much good music: new releases from Islands, Brooklyn Rider, and Shearwater.

Heather's Happy Link of the Day: a new post on her blog, which mostly showcases just how awesome she is at making things for me that I probably don't deserve. (It also showcases her wit, which vastly exceeds mine. Yeah, she settled.) Also: a goddamned hammerhead shark just ATE MY FACE.

Your Bonus Happy Link of the Day, featuring The Dude:

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Taking a break from blogging for the next week to “celebrate” the One-Year Cancerversary by escaping from Phoenix to Flagstaff for the week, so don't expect to see much on here until 2/11 or so. But before the break, here's what's likely to be your last link dump for the next few days...

Komen retreats. A victory for women's health, no doubt, but let's keep in mind that the radical right has now equated abortion with women's health, so these battles will continue for a long time (h/t Mary); those of us who support women's health have a long battle to fight:
The initial, disheartening move to end funding, ostensibly due to the latter's being "under investigation" (a bogus congressional investigation spurred by the right wing) was clearly politically motivated, despite weak denials from Komen officials. It's unleashed a hail of criticism and controversy that seems as large, if not even larger, than when Planned Parenthood was under threat of being defunded by the federal government. Whether Americans were suspicious of Komen to begin with or just fed up with the politicization of women's health, this feels like the last straw.

The reality is that between the backlash and the uncomfortable facts that have been bubbling to the surface about Komen's way of conducting business, the story has shifted from the war on Planned Parenthood to the campaign against the truth being waged by "Big Pink."


As heartening as the outpouring and the reversal has been, and as satisfying as it's been on some level to watch Komen's PR strategy implode, the initial decision is still bad news, and it comes after a year of bad policy. One of the primary items on the right-wing agenda since the GOP swept into Congress in 2010 has been to isolate, ostracize, harass and shame Planned Parenthood. They've tried to de-fund it at the federal and state levels and launched a bogus investigation. Planned Parenthood and all abortion providers are part of a never-ending paranoid obsession. Many bloggers have been comparing it to the Salem, Massachusetts hysteria, the kind of witch-hunt that taints everyone by association.

They've already succeeded in making abortion a pariah among medical procedures, the only one not funded by Medicaid, the only one hushed up and shunted aside. Now they're trying to extend that blacklist to Planned Parenthood, and backlash aside, Komen's move shows that this relentless campaign has met with some success.
As Jill Lepore notes:
The people who have urged Komen to stop supporting Planned Parenthood aren’t opposed to breast-cancer screenings; they’re opposed to other services Planned Parenthood provides, which include contraception and abortion. But a campaign to sever the ties between a foundation that’s raising money to find a cure for breast cancer and a health-care provider that advocates for reproductive rights exposes more than a division over contraception and abortion. It exposes a gruesome truth about politics in this country.

In American politics, women’s bodies are not bodies, but parts. People like to talk about some parts more than others. Embryos and fetuses are the most charged subject in American political discourse. Saying the word “cervix” was the beginning of Rick Perry’s end. In politics, breasts are easier to talk about. I first understood this a few years ago, when I was offered, at an otherwise very ordinary restaurant, a cupcake frosted to look like a breast, with a nipple made of piped pink icing. It was called a “breast-cancer cupcake,” and proceeds went to the Race for the Cure.

Dividing women’s bodies into parts, politically, has only adversely affected women’s health. Planned Parenthood started offering cancer screenings in the early nineteen-sixties. At the time, the organization’s medical director, Mary Steichen Calderone, tried to convince the American Cancer Society to help pay for Pap smears, which can catch cervical cancer early, for poor women who came to Planned Parenthood clinics for contraception. The Cancer Society refused, not wanting to be affiliated with an organization that provided birth control at a time when, in many parts of the country, it was not only controversial—as it remains today—but also illegal. (It was only in 1965 that the Supreme Court ruled, in Griswold v. Connecticut, that contraception was protected under a Constitutional right to privacy.) “It was such a pity,” Calderone later said in an interview, “because here were these women going to be seen regularly, once a year or once every two years. They would have been ideal to give Pap smears to.”

The women’s-health movement, which began in the nineteen-seventies, tried to explain that women’s bodies are not parts, but bodies, and that health care for women must, at a minimum, meet the standards of health care for men. This week’s dissolution of a bond between the nation’s largest funder of breast-cancer research and one of the largest providers of women’s health services suggests just how dismally that effort has failed.

By now, this is, obscenely, a story about partisan divisions, as if some parts of women’s bodies are Democratic and other parts are Republican. The current president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, a former deputy chief of staff for Nancy Pelosi, is the daughter of the former Texas governor Ann Richards, a prominent Democrat. Susan G. Komen for the Cure was founded in 1982 by Nancy Goodman Brinker, a Texas Republican who went on to serve in the Bush Administration. Karen Handel, Komen’s senior vice-president for public policy, is a Republican who ran for governor of Georgia in 2010. On Thursday, twenty-two Democratic Senators sent Komen a letter asking the group to reverse its decision, Planned Parenthood reported receiving a flood of donations, and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged to match those donations with up to a quarter of a million dollars of his own money.

Brinker has published a number of books, including “Promise Me: How a Sister’s Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer.” She named the foundation after her sister Susan G. Komen, who died of breast cancer at the age of thirty-six.

Two and a half centuries ago, Benjamin Franklin’s sister Mary was thirty-seven, nearly the same age as Susan Komen, when she died of the same disease. When Franklin’s sister Jane wrote to her brother in 1731, she didn’t only tell him about Mary. She also wrote that, although her first child had died before reaching his first birthday, she had given birth again, and her second baby, thank God, was thriving. But she had more “melancholy news”: another sister, Sarah, had died. She was thirty-two, and likely pregnant. She left behind five children, the oldest only eight, the youngest eighteen months. “She was a good woman,” Franklin wrote back. He named his only daughter after her.

Jane went on to have twelve children. She named two of her daughters after her sisters. Her daughter Mary died at nineteen. Her daughter Sarah died at twenty-seven. “She was always appeared to me of a sweet and amiable temper,” Franklin wrote Jane. She left behind four children under the age of seven, including daughters also named Sarah and Mary. For the unending pregnancies and difficult deliveries that felled young women, he had no cure. There was no cure. Not then.
Meanwhile, over at Jezebel, a fairly full accounting of what is some truly staggering hypocrisy of the part of Komen (h/t Ale).

What can those of us concerned with sustainability do when the crazed Teabaggers think we're part of a global hegemonic UN plot to steal their property, their money, and their women?:
“Down the road, this data will be used against you,” warned one speaker at a recent Roanoke County, Va., Board of Supervisors meeting who turned out with dozens of people opposed to the county’s paying $1,200 in dues to a nonprofit that consults on sustainability issues.

Local officials say they would dismiss such notions except that the growing and often heated protests are having an effect.

In Maine, the Tea Party-backed Republican governor canceled a project to ease congestion along the Route 1 corridor after protesters complained it was part of the United Nations plot. Similar opposition helped doom a high-speed train line in Florida. And more than a dozen cities, towns and counties, under new pressure, have cut off financing for a program that offers expertise on how to measure and cut carbon emissions.

“It sounds a little on the weird side, but we’ve found we ignore it at our own peril,” said George Homewood, a vice president of the American Planning Association’s chapter in Virginia.

The protests date to 1992 when the United Nations passed a sweeping, but nonbinding, 100-plus-page resolution called Agenda 21 that was designed to encourage nations to use fewer resources and conserve open land by steering development to already dense areas. They have gained momentum in the past two years because of the emergence of the Tea Party movement, harnessing its suspicion about government power and belief that man-made global warming is a hoax.

In January, the Republican Party adopted its own resolution against what it called “the destructive and insidious nature” of Agenda 21. And Newt Gingrich took aim at it during a Republican debate in November.


Roanoke’s Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 to renew its Iclei financing after many residents voiced their support.

“The Tea Party people say they want nonpolluted air and clean water and everything we promote and support, but they also say it’s a communist movement,” said Charlotte Moore, a supervisor who voted yes. “I really don’t understand what they want.”
The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy's Anthony Flint covered some of this material a few months ago. The important question, as I see it, is how we can possibly lead to constructive engagement and potentially find common ground with folks like these. If we can't and sustainability thinking gets labeled as a politicized, collectivist, left-wing enterprise, then we've got no hope in reaching a more sustainable future world.

Jon Chait chimes in with more on Romney:
Why does Romney say this? He wants to inoculate himself from the charge that his program would disproportionately help the rich. (A charge that happens to be true, but never mind that, either.) But disclaiming any intention of helping the rich is dangerous stuff in a Republican primary. So he has to balance it off by disclaiming any intention of helping the poor, either. The rich and poor — both doing great! (Also, Romney will be sure that neither rich nor poor are permitted to sleep under bridges.)

The positive side of this is that Romney is not singling out the poor as parasites, in the classic tradition of Ronald Reagan’s "welfare queen", Phil Gramm’s welfare wagon, or countless others. Romney’s profession of indifference to the poor is a relatively decent sentiment in the context of modern conservatism. On the other hand, the idea that the middle class and not the poor is “hurting the most” is utterly absurd. It’s also worth noting that his budget proposal would require enormous cuts in programs for low-income people.

It may not be true that, at a personal level, Romney doesn’t care about the poor. He probably does. But his platform doesn’t. In that sense, his slip-up was a gaffe in the classic sense of admitting what he actually thinks.
Charles Blow shreds Romney's nonsense, as well:
First, a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities last month pointed out that Romney’s budget proposals would take a chainsaw to that safety net. The report points out that cuts proposed by Romney would be even more draconian than a plan from Representative Paul Ryan: “Governor Romney’s budget proposals would require far deeper cuts in nondefense programs than the House-passed budget resolution authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan: $94 billion to $219 billion deeper in 2016 and $303 billion to $819 billion deeper in 2021.”

What does this mean for specific programs? Let’s take the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, since “food stamps” have been such a talking point in the Republican debates. The report says the Romney plan “would throw 10 million low-income people off the benefit rolls, cut benefits by thousands of dollars a year, or some combination of the two. These cuts would primarily affect very-low-income families with children, seniors and people with disabilities.”

Does that sound like a man trying to “fix” our social safety nets? Absolutely not. Romney is so far up the beanstalk that he can no longer see the ground.

Then let’s take the fact that a report last month by the Tax Policy Center found that his tax plan would increase after-tax income for millionaires by 14.5 percent while increasing the after-tax income of those making less than $20,000 by less than 1 percent and of those making between $30,000 and $40,000 by less than 3 percent.

For a man who’s not worried about the rich, he sure seems to want them to rake in more cash.


Then there is the “ample safety net” nonsense. No one who has ever been on the low end of the income spectrum believes this, not even Republicans. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in October, even most Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who make less than $30,000 a year, which accounts for about a quarter of all Republicans, say that the government doesn’t do enough to help the poor. Only a man who has never felt the sting of poverty or seen its ravages would say such a thing.

But perhaps the most pernicious part of his statement was the underestimating of the rich and poor and the elasticized expansion of the term “middle income” or middle class. Romney suggests that 95 percent of Americans are in this group. Not true.

According to the Census Bureau, the official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent.

And that’s the income poor. It doesn’t even count the “asset poor.” A report issued this week by the Corporation for Enterprise Development found that 27 percent of U.S. households live in “asset poverty.” According to the report, “These families do not have the savings or other assets to cover basic expenses (equivalent to what could be purchased with a poverty level income) for three months if a layoff or other emergency leads to loss of income.”

As far as Romney goes, it's not the only stupid thing he's said this week. And yet again, he's wrong.

What should be the relationship between Occupy and the police state?:
It’s backwards to regard the legitimacy enjoyed by the police as something that ought to motivate Occupy activists to avoid conflict with them. This is not to say that provoking fights with the cops should be a goal of protests—this, I agree, is generally a tactical mistake. But it is also a mistake to think conflict can always be avoided, if only protesters are perfectly polite and peaceful and obedient. Attempting to avoid such conflict at all costs leads to a cycle in which whatever protesters are doing is continually redefined as “violence” in order to justify crackdowns, even as activists themselves accept more and more restrictions on their freedom to act. Rather than fretting about the public relations consequences of the police attacks on Occupy, we need to fight back hard against the rhetoric that defines all resistance to power as impermissible violence, whether it’s UC Davis students sitting on the sidewalk or Palestinian kids throwing rocks at armored battalions of Israeli soldiers.

So long as the police—and more importanly, the politicians who control them—can define the limits of permissible protest and lie to the public with impunity, they are free to take whatever repressive measures they wish, all the while blaming everything on the actions of the protesters. The legitimacy of the police is a cause of police violence, and therefore the only way to ultimately reign in the cops is to tear away their veil of public support. It’s worth remembering that when the tide turned in the Egyptian revolution, it wasn’t because the cops stood down in the face of mass protests; it was because they were literally chased off the streets.

Delegitimizing police is one possible good outcome of the Occupy movements. My sense, at least from anecdotal evidence, is that some of the folks who participated in or observed the Occupy protests were genuinely shocked by the authoritarianism and brutality of the cops. Perhaps just as significant are the indications that the media, at least in New York, is starting to get tired of being pushed around by the police department.

The extreme anti-gay climate in the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota (the very same district where Michele Bachmann made her claim to homophobic fame) is fomenting the flames of bullying and quite possibly leading to a suicide epidemic:
Sam's death lit the fuse of a suicide epidemic that would take the lives of nine local students in under two years, a rate so high that child psychologist Dan Reidenberg, executive director of the Minnesota-based Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, declared the Anoka-Hennepin school district the site of a "suicide cluster," adding that the crisis might hold an element of contagion; suicidal thoughts had become catchy, like a lethal virus. "Here you had a large number of suicides that are really closely connected, all within one school district, in a small amount of time," explains Reidenberg. "Kids started to feel that the normal response to stress was to take your life."

There was another common thread: Four of the nine dead were either gay or perceived as such by other kids, and were reportedly bullied. The tragedies come at a national moment when bullying is on everyone's lips, and a devastating number of gay teens across the country are in the news for killing themselves. Suicide rates among gay and lesbian kids are frighteningly high, with attempt rates four times that of their straight counterparts; studies show that one-third of all gay youth have attempted suicide at some point (versus 13 percent of hetero kids), and that internalized homophobia contributes to suicide risk.

Against this supercharged backdrop, the Anoka-Hennepin school district finds itself in the spotlight not only for the sheer number of suicides but because it is accused of having contributed to the death toll by cultivating an extreme anti-gay climate. "LGBTQ students don't feel safe at school," says Anoka Middle School for the Arts teacher Jefferson Fietek, using the acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning. "They're made to feel ashamed of who they are. They're bullied. And there's no one to stand up for them, because teachers are afraid of being fired."

The Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights have filed a lawsuit on behalf of five students, alleging the school district's policies on gays are not only discriminatory, but also foster an environment of unchecked anti-gay bullying. The Department of Justice has begun a civil rights investigation as well. The Anoka-Hennepin school district declined to comment on any specific incidences but denies any discrimination, maintaining that its broad anti-bullying policy is meant to protect all students. "We are not a homophobic district, and to be vilified for this is very frustrating," says superintendent Dennis Carlson, who blames right-wingers and gay activists for choosing the area as a battleground, describing the district as the victim in this fracas. "People are using kids as pawns in this political debate," he says. "I find that abhorrent."

Ironically, that's exactly the charge that students, teachers and grieving parents are hurling at the school district. "Samantha got caught up in a political battle that I didn't know about," says Sam Johnson's mother, Michele. "And you know whose fault it is? The people who make their living off of saying they're going to take care of our kids."

Located a half-hour north of Minneapolis, the 13 sprawling towns that make up the Anoka-Hennepin school district – Minnesota's largest, with 39,000 kids – seems an unlikely place for such a battle. It's a soothingly flat, 172-square-mile expanse sliced by the Mississippi River, where woodlands abruptly give way to strip malls and then fall back to ­placid woodlands again, and the landscape is dotted with churches. The district, which spans two counties, is so geographically huge as to be a sort of cross section of America itself, with its small minority population clustered at its southern tip, white suburban sprawl in its center and sparsely populated farmland in the north. It also offers a snapshot of America in economic crisis: In an area where just 20 percent of adults have college educations, the recession hit hard, and foreclosures and unemployment have become the norm.

For years, the area has also bred a deep strain of religious conservatism. At churches like First Baptist Church of Anoka, parishioners believe that homosexuality is a form of mental illness caused by family dysfunction, childhood trauma and exposure to pornography – a perversion curable through intensive therapy. It's a point of view shared by their congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who has called homosexuality a form of "sexual dysfunction" that amounts to "personal enslavement." In 1993, Bachmann, a proponent of school prayer and creationism, co-founded the New Heights charter school in the town of Stillwater, only to flee the board amid an outcry that the school was promoting a religious curriculum. Bachmann also is affiliated with the ultraright Minnesota Family Council, headlining a fundraiser for them last spring alongside Newt Gingrich.

Though Bachmann doesn't live within Anoka-Hennepin's boundaries anymore, she has a dowdier doppelgänger there in the form of anti-gay crusader Barb Anderson. A bespectacled grandmother with lemony-blond hair she curls in severely toward her face, Anderson is a former district Spanish teacher and a longtime researcher for the MFC who's been fighting gay influence in local schools for two decades, ever since she discovered that her nephew's health class was teaching homosexuality as normal. "That really got me on a journey," she said in a radio interview. When the Anoka-Hennepin district's sex-ed curriculum came up for re-evaluation in 1994, Anderson and four like-minded parents managed to get on the review committee. They argued that any form of gay tolerance in school is actually an insidious means of promoting homosexuality – that openly discussing the matter would encourage kids to try it, turning straight kids gay.

"Open your eyes, people," Anderson recently wrote to the local newspaper. "What if a 15-year-old is seduced into homosexual behavior and then contracts AIDS?" Her agenda mimics that of Focus on the Family, the national evangelical Christian organization founded by James Dobson; Family Councils, though technically independent of Focus on the Family, work on the state level to accomplish Focus' core goals, including promoting prayer in public spaces, "defending marriage" by lobbying for anti-gay legislation, and fighting gay tolerance in public schools under the guise of preserving parental authority – reasoning that government-mandated acceptance of gays undermines the traditional values taught in Christian homes.

At the close of the seven-month-long sex-ed review, Anderson and her colleagues wrote a memo to the Anoka-Hennepin school board, concluding, "The majority of parents do not wish to have there [sic] children taught that the gay lifestyle is a normal acceptable alternative." Surprisingly, the six-member board voted to adopt the measure by a four-to-two majority, even borrowing the memo's language to fashion the resulting districtwide policy, which pronounced that within the health curriculum, "homosexuality not be taught/addressed as a normal, valid lifestyle."

The policy became unofficially known as "No Homo Promo" and passed unannounced to parents and unpublished in the policy handbooks; most teachers were told about it by their principals. Teachers say it had a chilling effect and they became concerned about mentioning gays in any context. Discussion of homosexuality gradually disappeared from classes. "If you can't talk about it in any context, which is how teachers interpret district policies, kids internalize that to mean that being gay must be so shameful and wrong," says Anoka High School teacher Mary Jo Merrick-Lockett. "And that has created a climate of fear and repression and harassment."

Suicide is a complex phenomenon; there's never any one pat reason to explain why anyone kills themselves. Michele Johnson acknowledges that her daughter, Sam, likely had many issues that combined to push her over the edge, but feels strongly that bullying was one of those factors. "I'm sure that Samantha's decision to take her life had a lot to do with what was going on in school," Johnson says tearfully. "I'm sure things weren't perfect in other areas, but nothing was as bad as what was going on in that school."

Your reliance upon your GPS is killing your spatial abilities; kill your GPS and read a real map, damn it!:
[S]houldn’t we just accept that GPS is a good substitute for old-fashioned maps? No. Navigational devices can be time-savers, but they can easily become crutches. Break your GPS, and you may find yourself lost.

And there is more: The psychologist Eleanor A. Maguire and her colleagues at University College London found that spatial experience actually changes brain structures. As taxi drivers learned the spatial layout of London, the gray matter in their hippocampal areas — that is, the areas of the brain integrating spatial memories — increased. But if the taxi drivers’ internal GPS grew stronger with use, it stands to reason that the process is reversible after disuse. You may degrade your spatial abilities when not training them, as with someone who learned a musical instrument and stopped playing.

Navigating, keeping track of one’s position and building up a mental map by experience is a very challenging process for our brains, involving memory (remembering landmarks, for instance) as well as complex cognitive processes (like calculating distances, rotating angles, approximating spatial relations). Stop doing these things, and it’ll be harder to pick them back up later.

How to avoid losing our mental maps? The answer, as always, is practice.

Next time you’re in a new place, forget the GPS device. Study a map to get your bearings, then try to focus on your memory of it to find your way around. City maps do not tell you each step, but they provide a wealth of abstract survey knowledge. Fill in these memories with your own navigational experience, and give your brain the chance to live up to its abilities.

Be wary of companies that make billions of dollars off of selling your private data. And be even more concerned about the consequences of what it all means for you — especially since the data aggregators seem to be accountable to no one. You're being used:
Ads that pop up on your screen might seem useful, or at worst, a nuisance. But they are much more than that. The bits and bytes about your life can easily be used against you. Whether you can obtain a job, credit or insurance can be based on your digital doppelgänger — and you may never know why you’ve been turned down.

Material mined online has been used against people battling for child custody or defending themselves in criminal cases. LexisNexis has a product called Accurint for Law Enforcement, which gives government agents information about what people do on social networks. The Internal Revenue Service searches Facebook and MySpace for evidence of tax evaders’ income and whereabouts, and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has been known to scrutinize photos and posts to confirm family relationships or weed out sham marriages. Employers sometimes decide whether to hire people based on their online profiles, with one study indicating that 70 percent of recruiters and human resource professionals in the United States have rejected candidates based on data found online. A company called Spokeo gathers online data for employers, the public and anyone else who wants it. The company even posts ads urging “HR Recruiters — Click Here Now!” and asking women to submit their boyfriends’ e-mail addresses for an analysis of their online photos and activities to learn “Is He Cheating on You?”

Stereotyping is alive and well in data aggregation. Your application for credit could be declined not on the basis of your own finances or credit history, but on the basis of aggregate data — what other people whose likes and dislikes are similar to yours have done. If guitar players or divorcing couples are more likely to renege on their credit-card bills, then the fact that you’ve looked at guitar ads or sent an e-mail to a divorce lawyer might cause a data aggregator to classify you as less credit-worthy. When an Atlanta man returned from his honeymoon, he found that his credit limit had been lowered to $3,800 from $10,800. The switch was not based on anything he had done but on aggregate data. A letter from the company told him, “Other customers who have used their card at establishments where you recently shopped have a poor repayment history with American Express.”

Even though laws allow people to challenge false information in credit reports, there are no laws that require data aggregators to reveal what they know about you. If I’ve Googled “diabetes” for a friend or “date rape drugs” for a mystery I’m writing, data aggregators assume those searches reflect my own health and proclivities. Because no laws regulate what types of data these aggregators can collect, they make their own rules.

In 2007 and 2008, the online advertising company NebuAd contracted with six Internet service providers to install hardware on their networks that monitored users’ Internet activities and transmitted that data to NebuAd’s servers for analysis and use in marketing. For an average of six months, NebuAd copied every e-mail, Web search or purchase that some 400,000 people sent over the Internet. Other companies, like Healthline Networks Inc., have in-house limits on which private information they will collect. Healthline does not use information about people’s searches related to H.I.V., impotence or eating disorders to target ads to people, but it will use information about bipolar disorder, overactive bladder and anxiety, which can be as stigmatizing as the topics on its privacy-protected list.

In the 1970s, a professor of communication studies at Northwestern University named John McKnight popularized the term “redlining” to describe the failure of banks, insurers and other institutions to offer their services to inner city neighborhoods. The term came from the practice of bank officials who drew a red line on a map to indicate where they wouldn’t invest. But use of the term expanded to cover a wide array of racially discriminatory practices, such as not offering home loans to African-Americans, even those who were wealthy or middle class.

Now the map used in redlining is not a geographic map, but the map of your travels across the Web. The term Weblining describes the practice of denying people opportunities based on their digital selves. You might be refused health insurance based on a Google search you did about a medical condition. You might be shown a credit card with a lower credit limit, not because of your credit history, but because of your race, sex or ZIP code or the types of Web sites you visit.

Data aggregation has social implications as well. When young people in poor neighborhoods are bombarded with advertisements for trade schools, will they be more likely than others their age to forgo college? And when women are shown articles about celebrities rather than stock market trends, will they be less likely to develop financial savvy? Advertisers are drawing new redlines, limiting people to the roles society expects them to play.

Data aggregators’ practices conflict with what people say they want. A 2008 Consumer Reports poll of 2,000 people found that 93 percent thought Internet companies should always ask for permission before using personal information, and 72 percent wanted the right to opt out of online tracking. A study by Princeton Survey Research Associates in 2009 using a random sample of 1,000 people found that 69 percent thought that the United States should adopt a law giving people the right to learn everything a Web site knows about them. We need a do-not-track law, similar to the do-not-call one. Now it’s not just about whether my dinner will be interrupted by a telemarketer. It’s about whether my dreams will be dashed by the collection of bits and bytes over which I have no control and for which companies are currently unaccountable.

The greenest home is the home you don't have to build. Kaid Benfield adds more.

Gasland director Josh Fox responds to his recent arrest.

More on the vile attacks on Michael Mann. Fortunately, Penn State is standing up for Mann against the smear campaign.

The orange Oompa Loompa who serves as speaker of the House wants to eliminate all federal funding for transit. It's an “unprecedented assault.

New research suggests that the tropics could sequester more carbon than previously believed.

The poultry industry is a sad place for chickens and for ethical behavior.

There is much sadness of pig farms, as well.

The sad story of Little Albert; academic ethics go awry in yet another story of sadness (h/t Wifey).

An interesting piece on violence at the Wind River Indian Reservation, though as Katelyn notes: “written too much as spectacle, not substance.”

Mark Engler finally gets around to hearing the great This American Life piece on Apple's sketchy supply chain. (And let me plug the great TAL piece from this past weekend; transcript now available.)

The complexity of merging two major airlines: BusinessWeek takes a look at the difficulty of beinging together Continental and United.

Coercive citations and academic publishing (pay-walled).

WayneAndWax on the Megaupload shut-down.

Super Bowl too low-brow for you? Well, class it up by reciting Langston Hughes and Robert Frost.

Delightful! A wonderful series of Leonard Cohen covers.

And finally, your Happy Link of the Day: today featuring a contribution from Kyle, rather than Wifey:

Friday, February 3, 2012


(h/t Katelyn)

The backlash against Komen continues (h/t Ale):
Definitely myths: 
1. Planned Parenthood mostly does abortions. In fact, only about three percent of services provided by PP are abortions. The vast majority of their efforts and funds go to well-woman care, care for women who are or want to be pregnant, STD tests, Pap tests, basic gynecology services, education, and, yeah, breast exams, among a bunch of other things. PP provides health care for millions of men and women who might not otherwise be able to afford it. The Komen funds paid for 170,000 breast cancer screenings and 6,400 mammogram referrals a year–that’s 170,000 women who might have breast cancer and not know about it until it’s too late.

2. There’s a link between abortion and breast cancer. This one’s been thrown out a lot recently–”Why would Komen give money to Planned Parenthood when there’s a proven connection between abortion and breast cancer?” Well, first of all, see #1. Second, that connection doesn’t exist. A National Cancer Institute workshop of more than 100 experts studying findings on cancer and pregnancy “concluded that having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.” (What is linked to breast cancer? Full-term pregnancy.) Says the American Cancer Society, “… [T]he public is not well-served by false alarms. At this time, the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer.”

3. Planned Parenthood doesn’t provide mammograms. Planned Parenthood clinics don’t perform mammograms on site (and PP doesn’t claim otherwise). (My gynecologist doesn’t, either–mammograms are performed by radiologists, not gynecologists.) Instead, PP refers women to radiology offices for the procedure and then foots the bill themselves. If you got pissed off when you mom said she got you a massage for your birthday and then handed you a gift certificate and not an actual masseuse, this will bother you. Otherwise, you’re probably okay with it.

Probably a myth: 
Komen’s de-funding of Planned Parenthood isn’t politically motivated. Now, it would be irresponsible and potentially libelous to say that Komen’s newest excuse is utter and fetid bullshit. But I can point out that just days ago, the excuse was that PP is under investigation, and Komen’s new self-imposed policy is not to partner with organizations that are under investigation. Now it appears they totes forgot to mention that it’s also (or possibly instead; their stories are not entirely clear here) because their “new granting strategies and criteria”… do something, and something about impact, and never turning their backs on the women who need them the most, and nothing hinting at why PP no longer figures into all of that. Like I said, I can’t declare outright that Nancy Brinker is a filthy liar. I can, however, point out a couple of things that are

Not myths: 
1. Komen’s new senior vice president, Karen Handel, is openly and explicitly anti-Planned Parenthood. When she ran for governor of Georgia in 2010, her platform was de-funding Planned Parenthood.
First, let me be clear, since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood. During my time as Chairman of Fultno County, there were federal and state pass-through grants that were awarded to Planned Parenthood for breast and cervical cancer screening, as well as a “Healthy Babies Initiative.” … Since grants like these are from the state I’ll eliminate them as your next Governor.

2. The brand-new “Komen doesn’t fund organizations that are under investigation” policy is… questionable. According to Komen board member John D. Raffaelli, the policy was put in place after the Congressional investigation started, basically to give Komen an excuse to stop funding them:
John D. Raffaelli, a Komen board member and Washington lobbyist, said Wednesday that the decision to cut off money to 17 of the 19 Planned Parenthood affiliates it had supported was made because of the fear that an investigation of Planned Parenthood by Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, would damage Komen’s credibility with donors. 
… “People don’t understand that a Congressional investigation doesn’t necessarily mean a problem of substance,” Mr. Raffaelli said. “When people read about it in places like Texarkana, Tex., where I’m from, it sounds really bad.”
So the Komen board voted that all of its vendors and grantees must certify that they are not under investigation by federal, state, or local authorities. But for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, being the target of partisan investigation is part of doing business. So Komen’s new rule effectively ended their longtime partnership and seemed to the health services provider an unacceptable betrayal of their common mission to save women’s lives. 
… When Komen’s board voted on the policy, several members asked who would be affected by the new policy. Elizabeth Thompson, Komen’s president, said, according to Mr. Raffaelli, “Planned Parenthood is the only one we know of. If we find others, those would be impacted, too.”
The Atlantic has more background on this one.

3. The congressional investigation that’s causing so much trouble was initiatives by an anti-choice organization. I’ll give you a moment to recover from your shock. Stearns’s investigation came at the urging of the group Americans United for Life via 30 pages of unsupported accusations guaranteed to keep investigators digging for a good, long time. This is despite the fact that under the Hyde Amendment, Planned Parenthood has to submit yearly audits anyway–which have never turned up any wrongdoing. Your tax dollars at work.
It's part of a anti-women's-health witch hunt, says Amanda Marcotte:
[A] supposedly anti-cancer charity just threw their lot in with people who believe that cancer shouldn't be prevented if it's linked to sexually transmitted diseases. Objectively pro-cancer, at least for women they deem slutty, i.e. about 95% of us.

Reading Tracy-Clark Flory's coverage of the story, I had a revelation. It came after reading this quote:
Cynthia A. Pearson, executive director of the National Women’s Health Network, doesn’t buy the foundation’s explanation, either. “That’s specious,” she said. Instead, Pearson says, “Komen’s chicken. Komen’s caving to pressure.” This is what antiabortion activists do so well: “They will target the providers and the people who relate to the providers,” she says. That’s because “they can’t make Planned Parenthood stop providing abortions” and “they can’t find any evidence that Planned Parenthood is inappropriately using federal funds.” 

That's when I realized that anti-choicers do this so well because the war on reproductive health care is basically a witchhunt, and the religious fundamentalists behind it are the modern day version of medieval paranoids of old who believed that women who didn't conform to their exacting standards were consorting with Satan. In fact, considering the span of time and cultural change, the fact that the argument hasn't changed at all---they really do believe pro-choice health care providers are consorting with Satan---is almost startling. It's like they lifted it directly from their medieval ancestors. Except, instead of condemning witches to the stake, they simply want to keep them from doing their jobs, and allowing the other witches, i.e. women whose sexual choices they disapprove of, suffer from various afflications ranging from forced childbirth to death from cervical cancer as a warning to others to stay away from the devil's playground of sexual pleasure. And like traditional witch hunters, they have lurid imaginations, and project all their strange fantasies onto their targets, which is why abortion providers or even just pro-choice clinics have been accused of everything from running sex trafficking rings to instigating genocide to putting fetuses in food. And that's on top of the lurid accusations flung at the kinds of women who might visit a Planned Parenthood, especially unmarried young women. Those women are accused of creating sex cults around Plan B, organizing orgies for the strange purpose of getting really colorful penises in the room, and of using abortion as "birth control", i.e. preferring the no-doubt unequalled pleasures of a good uterus scraping to boring old pill use. I've definitely seen some medieval-style flights of fancy aimed at me personally, including a blogger putitng up a picture of me in a red sweater to make insinuations about the kind of woman who wears red. No, I'm serious.

But the most salient feature of a witch hunt is that the witch hunters, in their paranoia, are always looking to expand the circle of "guilt". They imagine demons in every corner, and vast conspiracies promoting what they believe is evil that need to be rooted out. In medieval witch hunts, if someone who didn't like you remembered you buying a chicken from the accused witch, you better fall to your knees and start accusing the accused of putting a curse on your family, or you might be assumed to be guilty, too. That's basically what's going on here. Because of the witch hunt logic, it does seem to be that more and more of women's health care is being rolled up under the word "abortion", which is why anti-choicers blithely claims that's all Planned Parenthood does. You can point out repeatedly that 97% of its services are not abortion, but in their mind, that's like saying that the accused witch spent some of her time not doing witchcraft. In their minds, while she slept she was consorting with Satan, and time spent with her pet cat now is her consorting with a familiar. I can't tell you how many times I've been called a "baby killer". Even if you are stupid enough to believe that abortion is killing babies, that accusation doesn't make sense; I've never had nor performed an abortion. But that's the point. The word "abortion" for anti-choicers long ago ceased to mean "terminating a pregnancy". Now it's just a catch-all scare term to be flung around whenever you want to whip people into a frenzy of hatred over women's liberation, especially women's sexual liberation. Anyone who thinks breast cancer can be neatly cordoned off from this growing circle of hate for all things women's health care is fooling themselves. That's not how witch hunts work. The fear here is not about fetuses or babies per se, but a deep-set fear of female sexuality. Already anti-choicers have scooped breast cancer under the umbrella "abortion", claiming that abortion causes breast cancer. (It doesn't.) Komen would rather side with people who see breast cancer as god's judgment on you for having an abortion rather than side with people support comprehensive health care for women. That tells you all you need to know about their organization. I'm all for picking up your sneakers and taking up running as a hobby, but recommend now you do it for you, and not for the ever-elusive cure for cancer.
There's a good reason for the skepticism towards Komen:
Skeptical commentators are speculating that Komen bowed to political pressure. As conservatives increasingly targeted Planned Parenthood in recent months, various organizations explicitly upped the ante with Komen over their support of the non-profit. The Southern Baptists pulled their Pink Bible program, which produced a dollar for Komen with every Bible sold. Last April, Komen hired as vice president for public policy Karen Handel, a failed Republican candidate with a long online history of hostility to Planned Parenthood and contraception in general. And then it enacted its new rule.

The skepticism is further fueled by the weirdness of a rule letting any city council member or random state legislator decide to defund a Komen grantee just by starting an "investigation." The Department of HHS rejected Stearns' invitation to look into Planned Parenthood months ago, and, even if he were dead on, Stearns isn't suggesting there's something wrong with Planned Parenthood's cancer screening. What if the IRS was looking into a hospital's tax status? Or almost any member of the Arizona legislature was worrying that an in-state facility with Komen money was harboring illegal immigrants? Would Komen have to pull their funding too?

In a ghastly coincidence, the same day Komen pulled the money from Planned Parenthood because Stearns thought they were spending federal funds on abortions, the Journal of the America Medical Association published a damning study that almost half of women receiving second surgeries after lumpectomies didn't need the procedure. Painful, disfiguring, unnecessary surgery. At least three of the four sites studied in the JAMA report -- the University of Vermont, Kaiser Permanente Colorado, and the Marshfield Clinic -- has a relationship with the Komen Foundation. Kaiser Permanente is a "corporate campaign partner," the University of Vermont received a research grant, the Central Wisconsin Komen affiliate sponsors programs at the Marshfield Clinic. Maybe Komen should concentrate their granting criteria on whether the recipients are actually helping cancer patients.
Komen is definitely having a hard time justifying their actions. On the bright side, Planned Parenthood has already made up for the money they lost. Meanwhile, high-ranking Komen employees who are upset are resigning in protest. And on a related note: here's your anagram of the day. And in summary: let's stop beating around the bush — this decision was completely driven by the politics of the anti-women's health crowd and Komen gave in.

Romney's “the poor have it great and are living the high life, just like the rich” comment has drawn plenty of thoroughly-deserved mocking, but the real issue here is that he truly believes the safety net for the poor is sufficient:
The most obvious take-away is that the poor receive a near-middle class lifestyle off the generosity of the government, and don’t even have to pay or work for it. Here’s Bethany Mandel at Commentary: ”Compare this $28,000 [of means-tested programs] to what the average middle class American receives from the government in comparable subsidies, $0.”

Or as this Lucky Ducky cartoon put it:

Atrios is completely right that Romney “isn’t saying fuck the poor. He’s saying that the really poor actually have it really really good! The government basically gives them free cars and housing and medical care and food stamps they can use at the liquor store etc. The rest of you struggling to get by, you don’t get anything. In fact, the really poor (and we know who they are) are taking your hard earned money.” As Joshua Cohen tweeted, it’s a view where the poor aren’t people who happen to make a small income but instead a separate group that exists entirely outside the labor market.

It’s interesting that Mandel thinks Romney’s statements are a liability to him on the right: “To the right, it verifies that Romney is as liberal as they fear, complacent with the welfare state as it currently stands.”
And even more disturbingly, his budgetary priorities would cut even more holes in the safety net:
Though Gov Romney recognized that “…we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers…” he neglected to make the following four points:
1) his budget slashes, and I mean SLASHES, domestic spending outside of defense.

2) he’s endorsed Rep Paul Ryan’s budget (now the House Republican Budget) which gets two-thirds of its $4.5 trillion in cuts from low-income programs (and uses the cuts to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy).

3) the Gov’s own tax plan actually raises taxes on those in the bottom fifth of the income scale (by $160 per year; by getting rid of a refundable credit for poor kids and cutting the EITC relative to current policy)—while cutting taxes for the top 0.1% of households (avg inc: $8.3 million) by about $460K/year.

4) he’s said he wants to block grant these low income safety net programs–i.e., instead of the federal program, states run it based on an annual grant, a fixed amount that does not go up or down based on need–and that’s a great way to rip some big holes in the safety net.

On #1 and #2, see here. Remember those Ryan cuts I warned about above? Well, according to my CBPP colleagues Van de Water and Kogan:
Governor Romney’s budget proposals would require far deeper cuts in nondefense programs than the House-passed budget resolution authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan: $94 billion to $219 billion deeper in 2016 and $303 billion to $819 billion deeper in 2021.” 
Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would face cumulative cuts of $946 billion through 2021. Repealing the coverage expansions of the 2010 health reform legislation, as Governor Romney has proposed, would achieve more than the necessary savings. But it would leave 34 million people uninsured who would have gained coverage under health reform.

Cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) would throw 10 million low-income people off the benefit rolls, cut benefits by thousands of dollars a year, or some combination of the two. 
On #4, if you want to see what block granting does to safety net programs, exhibit one is TANF. My colleagues Donna Pavetti and Liz Schott point out that the program has become much less elastic to the business cycle. In fact, its block grant has been frozen for 15 years!

The figure compares its responsiveness in the Great Recession to that of SNAP (formerly ‘food stamps’), a national program (not a block grant) which remains quite countercyclical. But if Mitt block grants it, that will change.

It’s one thing—and it’s a good thing—to recognize the importance of the safety net in the economic lives of the poorest among us. But it’s quite another indeed to go after it the way Gov Romney does in his budget endorsements and proposals.
As this story on NPR this morning noted, the number of vulnerable families relying on the safety net is quite high, and they would see the safety net destroyed, not repaired under a Romney presidency:
SHAPIRO: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has warned that the safety net is becoming a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency. But Romney supports Paul Ryan's budget plan. Poverty experts say that plan and the other policies Romney endorses do not repair the safety net at all despite Romney's claims. Beth Mattingly is director of research on vulnerable families at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute.

BETH MATTINGLY: It appears, to me, by and large, that a lot of those proposals aim to weaken rather than strengthen the social safety net by providing less funding, by really trying to restrict eligibility, restrict access.

SHAPIRO: She also says the numbers Romney cites are way off. In his CNN interview, he said if you set aside the very rich and very poor...

ROMNEY: I'm concerned about the very heart of America, the 90, 95 percent of Americans who right are now struggling.

MATTINGLY: That is certainly not an accurate breakdown of those who are in poverty.

SHAPIRO: Mattingly says the federal government's definition of poverty includes about 15 percent of Americans. But when you look at those who depend on the social safety net, the numbers are far higher.

MATTINGLY: When you consider all of the non-cash safety net programs, as well as all of the work-related and whatnot expenses, it comes up to over a third.
Krugman cuts through the rhetoric and offers his comprehensive take(-down) on Romney's anti-poor plans:
First of all, just a few days ago, Mr. Romney was denying that the very programs he now says take care of the poor actually provide any significant help. On Jan. 22, he asserted that safety-net programs — yes, he specifically used that term — have “massive overhead,” and that because of the cost of a huge bureaucracy “very little of the money that’s actually needed by those that really need help, those that can’t care for themselves, actually reaches them.”

This claim, like much of what Mr. Romney says, was completely false: U.S. poverty programs have nothing like as much bureaucracy and overhead as, say, private health insurance companies. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has documented, between 90 percent and 99 percent of the dollars allocated to safety-net programs do, in fact, reach the beneficiaries. But the dishonesty of his initial claim aside, how could a candidate declare that safety-net programs do no good and declare only 10 days later that those programs take such good care of the poor that he feels no concern for their welfare?

Also, given this whopper about how safety-net programs actually work, how credible was Mr. Romney’s assertion, after expressing his lack of concern about the poor, that if the safety net needs a repair, “I’ll fix it”?

Now, the truth is that the safety net does need repair. It provides a lot of help to the poor, but not enough. Medicaid, for example, provides essential health care to millions of unlucky citizens, children especially, but many people still fall through the cracks: among Americans with annual incomes under $25,000, more than a quarter — 28.7 percent — don’t have any kind of health insurance. And, no, they can’t make up for that lack of coverage by going to emergency rooms.

Similarly, food aid programs help a lot, but one in six Americans living below the poverty line suffers from “low food security.” This is officially defined as involving situations in which “food intake was reduced at times during the year because [households] had insufficient money or other resources for food” — in other words, hunger.

So we do need to strengthen our safety net. Mr. Romney, however, wants to make the safety net weaker instead.

Specifically, the candidate has endorsed Representative Paul Ryan’s plan for drastic cuts in federal spending — with almost two-thirds of the proposed spending cuts coming at the expense of low-income Americans. To the extent that Mr. Romney has differentiated his position from the Ryan plan, it is in the direction of even harsher cuts for the poor; his Medicaid proposal appears to involve a 40 percent reduction in financing compared with current law.

So Mr. Romney’s position seems to be that we need not worry about the poor thanks to programs that he insists, falsely, don’t actually help the needy, and which he intends, in any case, to destroy.

Still, I believe Mr. Romney when he says he isn’t concerned about the poor. What I don’t believe is his assertion that he’s equally unconcerned about the rich, who are “doing fine.” After all, if that’s what he really feels, why does he propose showering them with money?

And we’re talking about a lot of money. According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, Mr. Romney’s tax plan would actually raise taxes on many lower-income Americans, while sharply cutting taxes at the top end. More than 80 percent of the tax cuts would go to people making more than $200,000 a year, almost half to those making more than $1 million a year, with the average member of the million-plus club getting a $145,000 tax break.

And these big tax breaks would create a big budget hole, increasing the deficit by $180 billion a year — and making those draconian cuts in safety-net programs necessary.

Which brings us back to Mr. Romney’s lack of concern. You can say this for the former Massachusetts governor and Bain Capital executive: He is opening up new frontiers in American politics. Even conservative politicians used to find it necessary to pretend that they cared about the poor. Remember “compassionate conservatism”? Mr. Romney has, however, done away with that pretense.

At this rate, we may soon have politicians who admit what has been obvious all along: that they don’t care about the middle class either, that they aren’t concerned about the lives of ordinary Americans, and never were.
As far as concern regarding the poor goes, Ta-Nehisi Coates makes a cogent point about how little the poor matter in American politics; the poor are the free-loaders, it's the hard-working middle class that matters:
I'm more interested in the deeper connotations that you hear both from Romney, most Republicans and most Democrats that somehow equates virtue, and I would argue even patriotism, with being "middle class."

I enjoyed the President's google hangout, the other day, but it was striking how hard he--and his interlocutors--stressed the fact that they were "playing by the rules," "hard-working." and "middle class." As someone with a parent, and siblings, and friends, who were raised in public housing or, at different points, on some sort of other government assistance, I find this framing interesting. My grandmother raised three daughters in Gilmore Homes. You would not have found (rest her soul) a more hard-working, playing by the rules person in any class. My grandmother was the American that so many hard-working/rules-playing citizens believe themselves to be.

But the implication of a middle-class patriotism holds that the poor do not work hard, and do not play by the rules. Their poverty is a moral stain. It's rather sad to see ostensible progressives reinforcing this message. Perhaps in the case of Obama it's matter of democracy and market. Perhaps he's talking to the people who are most likely to vote.

Still, for his next google hang-out, it really would be nice if he had someone from the projects or the impoverished regions of Appalachia who "worked hard," I understand that he has to go with the market. But it'd be nice to see him influencing as well as serving the market.

I'm sorry, but I don't have such expectations for Mitt Romney.
On second thought, the rich and poor are really just the same, right?:

A war on undocumented workers (And potentially union-organizing) at Pomona College:
The dining hall workers had been at Pomona College for years, some even decades. For a few, it was the only job they had held since moving to the United States.

Then late last year, administrators at the college delivered letters to dozens of the longtime employees asking them to show proof of legal residency, saying that an internal review had turned up problems in their files.

Seventeen workers could not produce documents showing that they were legally able to work in the United States. So on Dec. 2, they lost their jobs.

Now, the campus is deep into a consuming debate over what it means to be a college with liberal ideals, with some students, faculty and alumni accusing the administration and the board of directors of betraying the college’s ideals. The renewed discussion over immigration and low-wage workers has animated class discussions, late-night dorm conversations and furious back and forth on alumni e-mail lists. Some alumni are now refusing to donate to the college, while some students are considering discouraging prospective freshmen from enrolling.

For the last two years, many of the dining hall workers had been organizing to form a union, but the efforts stalled amid negotiations with the administration. Many on campus believe that the administration began looking into the employees’ work authorizations as a way to thwart the union effort, an accusation the college president, David W. Oxtoby, has repeatedly denied. But that has done little to quell questions and anger among the fired workers and many who support their efforts to unionize.

“We were here for a very long time and there was never a complaint,” said Christian Torres, 25, a cook who had worked at the college for six years. “But now all of the sudden we were suspect, and they didn’t want us to work here anymore.”

Mr. Torres, who still greets dozens of people on campus by first name, had been one of the primary leaders of the effort to create a union until he lost his job in December.

Dr. Oxtoby said the board of trustees received a “specific, credible complaint” from an employee in early 2011 about the college’s hiring policies and moved to investigate the accusations.


Dr. Oxtoby and the college’s trustees repeatedly said there was no choice but to fire the workers. In a letter from the law firm, lawyers for the college said the college would have left itself open to investigation and punishment from federal immigration authorities had it not fully examined the employment files.

Pomona is part of a consortium of seven colleges whose campuses intertwine here. In December, a day before the Pomona workers were fired, a human resources officer at Scripps College, another member of the consortium, called seven employees there asking them to complete a new work authorization form.

The next day, the Scripps president, Lori Bettison-Varga, sent an e-mail to students and the staff saying that “as soon as the calls came to the attention of the President’s Office, they were halted.” Further, she said that employment forms were stored off campus, and added, “There is no reason for any further questions or actions to be pursued.” A spokeswoman for the college said that the human resources official was not acting on any complaint.

That e-mail only prompted more anger and suspicion among those involved at Pomona, who argued that Scripps showed that the college could have taken less aggressive measures.

While the investigation of the workers’ immigration records has generated the most controversy, it was hardly the first time that students had vocally criticized the administration’s treatment of the people who served their food each day. Months before, students had complained that renewed enforcement of a rule barring dining hall employees from talking to students in the cafeteria during their breaks was a way to stop any union effort.
Speaking of anti-unionization battles, the public unions in Arizona that are about to get crushed by the lunatic Teabaggers who run this state were totally caught off-guard by the insane actions of the legislators here:
Union members were searching for a way out of the wilderness on Wednesday in Arizona as the Republican-controlled Senate moved ahead quickly on several bills that could devastate organized labor in the state.

The measures caught many union leaders by surprise, being introduced on Monday night and passed in committee less than 48 hours later.

At issue is a sweeping series of restrictions that would, among other things, ban unions that represent workers in state, county or city governments from engaging in any type of negotiations that affect the terms of their employment. That includes teachers, prison workers and the state’s powerful police and firefighters unions. The move would take away much of the power those unions have and turn them into something more akin to trade groups.

In interviews with TPM throughout the day, union leaders seemed to still be catching their collective breath. With their Democratic allies outnumbered 21-9 in the Senate, the unions appeared to have no clear or coordinated strategy about how they were going to fight the measures, which will need to pass at least one more committee before going to a full vote of the Senate and then moving on to the House.

“The whole thing is a surprise,” said Pete Gorraiz, president of the United Phoenix Fire Fighters Association. “It steamrolled right through.”


Meanwhile, Brian Livingston, the head of the Arizona Police Association, said he hoped there still might be a way to convince Republicans in the Senate to vote against the package. He said his group, which is the largest police union in the state, was already talking to a number of senators from both sides of the aisle to figure out if a compromise could be reached.

“There are a lot of discussions going on right now,” Livingston said. “We are hoping now because the bills were passed by committee that we can get that dialogue to take place.”

Livingston said he thought the senators had been fed “misinformation” by the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank in Phoenix that helped write the bills.

A member of the institute told TPM on Tuesday that his organization believes the state could eventually save $550 million a year by stripping away collective bargaining and other union practices. He also said what happened last year in Wisconsin was “moderate” compared to Arizona’s bills.

But Livingston said the lawmakers needed to be reminded of the facts on the ground, like the dangers of police work and the reality that unions in Arizona aren’t as powerful as many of their critics make them out to be.

Still, Livingston didn’t know what exactly his organization would do if the bills become law.

“It would cause utter chaos,” he said. “You will see a devastating effect to employee morale. You will see, I believe, a hampering of the good services that our services provide to the public as we know it.”
Meanwhile, Indiana's new-found status as a “right-to-work” state lets it join a race-to-the-bottom:
While conservatives will cheer Indiana’s action, you can expect the most common reaction on the Right to stray from the traditional line that other states should emulate it. Despite the renewed popularity of states’ rights rhetoric, anti-labor ideologues have recently begun demanding a national “right-to-work” law, as was reflected when Rick Santorum got beaten up by his rivals in a SC candidates’ debate for having voted against such a measure.

“States’ rights,” of course, is not the only conservative principle anti-labor zealots are willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of greater workplace power for “job-creators;” the very essence of right-to-work laws, federal or state, is to outlaw freedom of contract, since employers and unions are prohibited from signing agreements that require payment of dues in exchange for legally required collective bargaining representation.

Most supporters of “right-to-work” laws don’t even both to get into their pros and cons, just taking it for granted that unions are a bad thing and that workers struggling under their yoke would give anything to regain the right to flex their muscles in individual negotiations with their employers (joke!).

But as someone who grew up in the right-to-work Deep South, I can assure Indianans that from a psychological point of view they are about to enter a brave new world where an ever-neurotic desire to keep corporations happy always seems to trump any consideration of fair play or workers’ rights. Welcome to the Old South, Hoosiers! Misery loves company.

Indeed, it may be true that the beef industry has gotten better over the course of the past few decades, but the environmental and ethical problems still remain when it comes to factory-farmed meat — and after all, efficiency in this context often means treating animals even more poorly than before:
[A] study wants to rectify beef's image as an environmental miscreant. It says modern beef production is a lot kinder to the environment than it was 30 years ago.

Jude Capper, an assistant professor of dairy science at Washington State University who did the study, found that cattlemen used 33 percent less land, 12 percent less water, 19 percent less feed and 9 percent less fossil fuel energy in 2007 to produce the same amount of beef as they did in 1977. How? Mainly by getting more meat out of fewer cows.

"[The industry] knows far better how to care for, feed and manage cattle," Capper tells The Salt. Her study, which appeared in the Journal of Animal Science, was produced at the request of—and with some funding from—the industry.

Environmentalists agree that beef production is a lot more efficient than it used to be. But there are still problems, according to Chuck Benbrook, chief scientist at The Organic Center.

Consider the typical beef cow's diet. Corn, the food of choice at industrial feedlots to fatten cattle for slaughter, is a cheap and calorie-dense food source. But cows are designed mainly to digest grass, and a grain-heavy diet can over time irritate the digestive tract, which can require antibiotics as treatment. Benbrook says the huge quantity of antibiotics now being pumped into beef cattle for this and other health problems is bad for humans.

Capper's study also doesn't address the "downstream" effects of concentrated operations and their waste, environmentalists say. As feedlots get bigger, so do manure piles, says Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"Think of a sponge," Gurian-Sherman tells The Salt. "You sprinkle a little water on it and the sponge will absorb it. If you put too much on it, it goes through. Feedlots often put way too much manure on nearby crops—more than can be absorbed—and it goes through into the groundwater or runs into streams."

Capper responds that it's that impossible to measure the effects of cattle manure on groundwater. But she says farms release less nitrogen and phosphorus, two nutrients in waste that can pollute waterways, than before.

Water is another point of contention. Gurian-Sherman says he's concerned that the industry has relocated to regions where water is scarce. "Feedlots have moved somewhat from California and Eastern states towards the drier parts of the great plains [which] exacerbates water issues [in those areas]," he says.

Beef still doesn't stack up that well against other meats, in terms of the resources that go into it. "Beef production is an inefficient way to produce food," says Gurian-Sherman. He says it takes more than twice the grain to produce a pound of beef as is required to produce a pound of chicken.

The biggest challenges towards reaching sustainability? A Momentum special issue asks 20 experts for their solutions. In one of the interviews worth reading (in addition to the Gleick interview I highlighted recently), urban sustainability expert Alex Steffen argues for a more holistic, integrated approach to zoning decisions:
So you're arguing not for shutting down public hearing process, but for letting cities decide on projects by whole classes of projects rather than individual cases?
Yes, exactly. You don’t get the pace of change that’s needed out of case-by-case evaluations. If you're willing to make tough choices right up front, we know it’s possible to do a lot of this stuff without taking away anything that people love about their cities. In fact, we can add value to people's neighborhoods.

There’s a great plan for the city of Melbourne, which they presented at TEDx Sydney. The city’s growing quickly, needs to add a million people over the next decade or two, but they don’t want that to be sprawl. So they took a digital map of the city and blocked off everything that’s currently single family residences, everything that’s a historical building, everything that’s green space, working industrial land, and other things people are vociferous about valuing. That left a fairly small percentage of land. But they showed that if they concentrated density in those corridors, they could add a million people without expanding the city at all, and it would add all these benefits, like better public transit and such. You can dramatically increase the density of places without taking away things people want—and actually adding things they want but couldn’t afford today—because the average suburb isn’t dense enough to financially support a tram or the like. But if you add a dense core that can support that, suddenly even the people around it, in their single-family homes, get the benefit, too. I call that “tent-pole density,” where extremely high density in a small area brings up the average for a whole neighborhood, even when the rest of the neighborhood doesn't change. I think it’s a really important concept, one that most people don't get.

We’ve run out of time for incremental approaches. For carbon-neutral cities, there are things worth talking about in how our consumption patterns can change—sharing goods, etc.—but those are a fraction of the impacts of transportation and building energy use. If we need to choose priority actions, the most important things are to densify, provide transit, and green the buildings.

The Pro-Pollution caucus isn't giving up on Keystone.

Nor are they giving up on Drill Everywhere, All The Time, Damn the Consequences.

And while they're at it, why not also just propose the worst transportation bill ever? No really, it's a godawful, no-good, terrible bill — one with particular antipathy towards transit. Truly “the worst,” to be precise.

Oh, how lovely: the reality-denying pro-climate change morons are at it again, now running a harassment and intimidation campaign against Michael Mann. Even Revkin believes the campaign is some truly despicable shit. Meanwhile, “Willard” Mittens Romney, formerly a moderate, is now buying into the looniest of the climate change denial conspiracy theories.

Is there actually an on-going jellyfish invasion?

More federal land opens up for wind power.

The Sierra Club and the millions it took from the natural gas industry.

Is sugar killing you? A group of UCSF scientists are calling for sugar to be regulating in a manner akin to alcohol (paywalled). (Gary Taubes had a long profile of Laudig in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine last April that covers much of this, too.)

Increasing teacher salaries is apparently a Biblical sin.

Having female role models improves female adolescents’ attainment (paywalled).

Affirmative action is good for women, and not bad for everyone else (paywalled).

Success in the movement for open-access and against opponents like Elsevier?

Where are the jobs at in this post-recession world?

AllMusic takes a look at 1986. (Bonus: some Spotify playlists included.)

Check out the new video from The Magnetic Fields.

As I've already noted, Leonard Cohen's new album is brilliant. And if you want to get into more Cohen, this primer from the A/V Club is a good place to start. (h/t/ Wifey)