Monday, May 7, 2012


Toxics are everywhere and you should probably be concerned. But rather than limiting their use of toxics, the response of the chemical industry is to lie, lie, lie, fund phony front-groups, and stoke false fears of fire in order to continue manufacturing and selling highly dangerous and ineffective flame retardants. Profits over people:
Records show there was no dangerous pillow or candle fire. The baby he described didn't exist.

Neither did the 9-week-old patient who Heimbach told California legislators died in a candle fire in 2009. Nor did the 6-week-old patient who he told Alaska lawmakers was fatally burned in her crib in 2010.

Heimbach is not just a prominent burn doctor. He is a star witness for the manufacturers of flame retardants.

His testimony, the Tribune found, is part of a decades-long campaign of deception that has loaded the furniture and electronics in American homes with pounds of toxic chemicals linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility.

The tactics started with Big Tobacco, which wanted to shift focus away from cigarettes as the cause of fire deaths, and continued as chemical companies worked to preserve a lucrative market for their products, according to a Tribune review of thousands of government, scientific and internal industry documents.

These powerful industries distorted science in ways that overstated the benefits of the chemicals, created a phony consumer watchdog group that stoked the public's fear of fire and helped organize and steer an association of top fire officials that spent more than a decade campaigning for their cause.

Today, scientists know that some flame retardants escape from household products and settle in dust. That's why toddlers, who play on the floor and put things in their mouths, generally have far higher levels of these chemicals in their bodies than their parents.

Blood levels of certain widely used flame retardants doubled in adults every two to five years between 1970 and 2004. More recent studies show levels haven't declined in the U.S. even though some of the chemicals have been pulled from the market. A typical American baby is born with the highest recorded concentrations of flame retardants among infants in the world.

People might be willing to accept the health risks if the flame retardants packed into sofas and easy chairs worked as promised. But they don't.

The chemical industry often points to a government study from the 1980s as proof that flame retardants save lives. But the study's lead author, Vytenis Babrauskas, said in an interview that the industry has grossly distorted his findings and that the amount of retardants used in household furniture doesn't work.

"The fire just laughs at it," he said.

Other government scientists subsequently found that the flame retardants in household furniture don't protect consumers from fire in any meaningful way.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, has allowed generation after generation of flame retardants onto the market and into American homes without thoroughly assessing the health risks. The EPA even promoted one chemical mixture as a safe, eco-friendly flame retardant despite grave concerns from its own scientists about potential hazards to humans and wildlife.

Since the 1970s manufacturers have repeatedly withdrawn flame retardants amid health concerns. Some have been banned by a United Nations treaty that seeks to eliminate the worst chemicals in the world.

Chemtura Corp. and Albemarle Corp., the two biggest U.S. manufacturers of flame retardants, say their products are safe and effective, arguing that they have been extensively evaluated by government agencies here and in Europe.

"Flame retardants provide an essential tool to enable manufacturers of products to meet the fire safety codes and standards necessary to protect life and property in a modern world," John Gustavsen, a Chemtura spokesman, said in a written statement.

His company, Gustavsen said, strongly disagrees with the main findings of the Tribune's investigation.

Heimbach, the burn doctor, has regularly supported the industry's position that flame retardants save lives. But he now acknowledges the stories he told lawmakers about victims were not always factual.

He told the Tribune his testimony in California was "an anecdotal story rather than anything which I would say was absolutely true under oath, because I wasn't under oath."

Heimbach, a retired Seattle doctor and former president of the American Burn Association, also said his anecdotes were not about different children but about the same infant. But records and interviews show that the baby Heimbach said he had in mind when testifying didn't die as he described and that flame retardants were not a factor.

After the Tribune confronted chemical executives with Heimbach's questionable testimony, he offered, through his lawyer, another explanation for why his stories didn't add up: He intentionally changed the facts to protect patient privacy.

Yet the most crucial parts of his testimony — the cause of the fire and the lack of flame retardants — had nothing to do with privacy. Instead, they served to bolster the industry's argument that chemical retardants save lives.

In the last quarter-century, worldwide demand for flame retardants has skyrocketed to 3.4 billion pounds in 2009 from 526 million pounds in 1983, according to market research from The Freedonia Group, which projects demand will reach 4.4 billion pounds by 2014.

As evidence of the health risks associated with these chemicals piled up, the industry mounted a misleading campaign to fuel demand.


Citizens for Fire Safety actually is a trade association for chemical companies. Its executive director, Grant Gillham, honed his political skills advising tobacco executives. And the group's efforts to influence fire-safety policies are guided by a mission to "promote common business interests of members involved with the chemical manufacturing industry," tax records show.

Its only sources of funding — about $17 million between 2008 and 2010 — are "membership dues and assessments" and the interest that money earns.

The group has only three members: Albemarle, ICL Industrial Products and Chemtura, according to records the organization filed with California lobbying regulators. Those three companies are the largest manufacturers of flame retardants and together control 40 percent of the world market for these chemicals, according to The Freedonia Group, a Cleveland-based research firm.

Citizens for Fire Safety has spent its money primarily on lobbying and political expenses, tax records show. Since federal law makes it nearly impossible for the EPA to ban toxic chemicals and Congress rarely steps in, state legislatures from Alaska to Vermont have become the sites of intense battles over flame retardants.

Many of the witnesses supporting flame retardants at these hearings were either paid directly by Citizens for Fire Safety or were members of groups that benefited financially from Citizens for Fire Safety's donations, according to tax documents and other records.

At the same time, Citizens for Fire Safety has portrayed its opposition as misguided, wealthy environmentalists. But its opponents include a diverse group of public health advocates as well as firefighters who are alarmed by studies showing some flame retardants can make smoke from fires even more toxic.
Also, an accompanying video on the deceptive practices of the flame retardant industry. (The piece is part of a larger investigative series on the toxics industry and the toxics we are exposed to on a daily basis in the home.)

Frack first, disclose later, says the Obama administration in a desperately craven attempt to curry favor with Big Oil:
[I]n a significant concession to the oil industry, companies will have to reveal the composition of fluids only after they have completed drilling — a sharp change from the government’s original proposal, which would have required disclosure of the chemicals 30 days before a well could be started.

The pullback on the rule followed a series of meetings at the White House after the original regulation was proposed in February. Lobbyists representing oil industry trade associations and individual major producers like ExxonMobil, XTO Energy, Apache, Samson Resources and Anadarko Petroleum met with officials of the Office of Management and Budget, who reworked the rule to address industry concerns about overlapping state regulations and the cost of compliance.


In its original proposal that oil companies disclose the chemicals they intend to use in drilling before starting a well, the Interior Department was seeking to address the concerns of landowners and communities about potential pollution of groundwater.

But the industry objected, saying that the additional paperwork would slow the permitting process and potentially jeopardize trade secrets. The government then agreed to allow companies to reveal the contents of drilling fluids after the operation had been completed.

Interior Department officials said that having a record would allow scientists to trace any future contamination and that it did not matter whether the fluids were disclosed before or after drilling.
The Obama cheerleaders at CAP are not pleased with this weak attempt at transparency via after-the-fact disclosure:
The industry requirement, however, to disclose fracking chemicals only after drilling has occurred denies the public the information necessary to assuage public health concerns. DOI has the opportunity and obligation to model best practices for development of this natural resource on public lands. Disclosure after the fact not only jeopardizes public health but also effectively cuts the public out of discussions that affect their communities.

Also, in the interest of transparency, the disclosure of chemicals must be available on a public, government website. The draft rule proposes using an industry website to share information with the public, though this falls below standards set by many state governments who already have activated websites to provide this information to the public. As with the Toxic Release Inventory, this responsibility to protect all citizens who may be affected falls on the government, and it should not rely on industry to do so on its own.

Brazil's efforts to develop its energy infrastructure runs into environmental, labor, and indigenous concerns:
Even as they move to tap one of the world’s last great reserves of hydroelectric power, the Amazon basin, strikes and worker uprisings at the biggest projects are producing delays and cost overruns.

“No one burns anything if they’re satisfied,” said Altair Donizete de Oliveira, a union leader here in Brazil’s western frontier. He listed salaries, cramped living quarters and requests for more home visits among the grievances that were contributing to the festering tension among the laborers, who number in the tens of thousands at various work sites in the Amazon.

Brazil is leading a rush among South American nations to build an array of dozens of dams in the Amazon. The authorities expect at least 20 important hydroelectric projects, including the Jirau and Santo Antônio Dams here in Rondônia State, to be built in Brazil over the next decade. Elsewhere in the Amazon, work has begun on Brazil’s biggest dam project, Belo Monte, an effort to divert the Xingu River requiring more than $12 billion.

The advance of the projects has opened Brazil to criticism from environmental groups, which say that the displacement of indigenous peoples and the flooding of swathes of rain forest — potentially releasing large amounts of methane gas — outweigh the dams’ benefits.

But officials argue that Brazil needs the dams to meet the demand for electricity, which is predicted to surge 56 percent by 2021. President Dilma Rousseff forcefully defended the projects in April, accusing opponents of living in a “fantasy” realm if they thought Brazil could improve living standards with renewable energy alone.

“I have to explain to people how they’re going to eat, how they’re going to have access to water, how they’re going to have access to energy,” Ms. Rousseff said.

Brazil’s huge wager on the dams is illustrated by the urgency with which officials are assessing the labor problems at Jirau, which was stricken by a previous mutiny in 2011, when workers set fire to 35 sites that served as living quarters and 45 buses. Rondônia’s governor recently pleaded with Brasília to send troops to occupy the dam projects. Gilberto Carvalho, a top aide to Ms. Rousseff, said the unrest in April was “banditry” that required a strong response.
(The NYTimes offers this accompanying video, as well.)

The Heartland Institute gets even more insane with guilt by association tactics, comparing those who recognize the science on global warming with murders, despots and tyrants. As they admit, it was all about provocation — this coming from a group that claims they just want to have civil dialogue:
This provocative billboard was always intended to be an experiment. And after just 24 hours the results are in: It got people’s attention. “This billboard was deliberately provocative, an attempt to turn the tables on the climate alarmists by using their own tactics but with the opposite message.
And their explanation:
Are you saying anyone who believes in global warming is a mass murderer, tyrant, or terrorist?
Of course not. But we are saying that the ethics of many advocates of global warming are very suspect.
Oh yes, that seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation. We can play this game, too; want to give it a try, Wonkette?:
Q: Are you saying that everyone who works for or is affiliated with the Heartland Institute rapes children, drinks their own urine, or fists puppies?

A: Of course not. But we are saying that the ethics of many energy-corporation-sponsored critics of global warming are very suspect.
Andrew Sullivan chimes in on what this says about the larger conservative movement:
Large sections of the American right are now close to insane as well as depraved. And there is no Buckley to rein them in. Just countless Jonah Goldbergs seeking to cash in.

The planet's first mass extinction event driven by a single species, Homo sapiens, isn't good news:
The vast majority of living things that share our planet remain undiscovered or have been so poorly studied that we have no idea whether their populations are healthy, or approaching their demise. Less than 4 percent of the roughly 1.7 million species known to exist have been evaluated. And for every known species, there are most likely at least two others — possibly many more — that have not yet been discovered, classified and given a formal name by scientists. Just recently, for instance, a new species of leopard frog was found in ponds and marshes in New York City. So we have no idea how many undiscovered species are poised on the precipice or were already lost.

It is often forgotten how dependent we are on other species. Ecosystems of multiple species that interact with one another and their physical environments are essential for human societies.

These systems provide food, fresh water and the raw materials for construction and fuel; they regulate climate and air quality; buffer against natural hazards like floods and storms; maintain soil fertility; and pollinate crops. The genetic diversity of the planet’s myriad different life forms provides the raw ingredients for new medicines and new commercial crops and livestock, including those that are better suited to conditions under a changed climate.


Do we need to protect so many species? Or can we rely on ecosystems with a depleted number of parts? Recent results from a study of grassland ecosystems shed important new light on these questions. Seventeen grasslands with different numbers of species were created and then studied over many years. The analysis, published in Nature last fall, showed that more than 80 percent of the plant species contributed to the effective functioning of the ecosystems, causing, for instance, a greater buildup of nutrients in soils.

Another study, published in Science in January, showed that more species allow for better functioning in arid ecosystems, which support nearly 40 percent of the world’s human population. The bottom line is that many species are needed to maintain healthy ecosystems, and this is especially the case in a rapidly changing world because species take on new roles as conditions change.

Benefits provided by ecosystems are vastly undervalued. Take pollination of crops as an example: according to a major United Nations report on the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, the total economic value of pollination by insects worldwide was in the ballpark of $200 billion in 2005. More generally, efforts to tally the global monetary worth of the many different benefits provided by ecosystems come up with astronomically high numbers, measured in tens of trillions of dollars.

These ecosystem services are commonly considered “public goods” — available to everyone for free. But this is a fundamental failure of economics because neither the fragility nor the finiteness of natural systems is recognized. We need markets that put a realistic value on nature, and we need effective environmental legislation that protects entire ecosystems.

Lose the political battle? Well, just accuse your opponents of violating the Constitution and take the battle to the courts. And if the Supreme Court lets them get away with this shit, they'll lose even more credibility:
Seven minutes after the President signed the bill into law, the Republican Attorney General of Florida, along with 11 other Republican State Attorneys General, plus one Democrat from Louisiana, filed suit. Four of the Republican Attorneys General joined the suit over the objections of their State’s Democratic Governor. Virginia’s Republican Attorney General sued separately.

Bypassing the federal courthouse only six blocks from his office in Tallahassee, the Florida Attorney General sued more than 200 miles away in Pensacola, a jurisdiction that had no connection to any party or any issue in the case. What it had was a bench of three federal district court judges, all conservatives appointed by Republican Presidents. While this forum shopping was allowed under the federal rules, it accentuated the cynical view of our court system and partisan coloration of the case.

As the suits proceeded seven more states joined the Florida suit. Three were represented by their Republican Attorneys General. In the other four, however, the Attorneys General were Democrats, and they refused to sue, so the Republican Governors filed instead.

Seven months after a court-ordered deadline for adding new parties, in January 2011, four more Republican Attorneys General and one Republican Governor sought to bring their states into the litigation. Why the belated interest in the lawsuit? The November 2010 elections. The states’ leadership had changed from Democratic to Republican. Despite the missed deadline, the District Judge granted the motion to add the new parties less than 24 hours after it was filed -- without waiting for the federal government’s response. (The same Judge, in an unprecedented assertion of judicial power, later struck down not just the requirement that individuals purchase health insurance, but the entire Affordable Care Act, including provisions such as abstinence education far afield from the insurance mandate.)

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act have been unabashed about the partisan tinge of the challenges. With no apparent sense of irony, a Wall Street Journal editorial in January 2011 urged “Republican governors” to join the lawsuit. Tim Pawlenty, then a Republican candidate for President, echoed that call in the same partisan terms. And in a speech to the conservative Federalist Society, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell described the Republicans’ two pronged strategy: seeking repeal of the health care law in Congress while simultaneously attacking it in the courts.

To be sure, the increasing divergence in the political philosophies of the Republican and Democratic Parties may go a long way toward explaining the homogeneity of the opposing camps in the litigation. But it does not go all the way. In the adjudication of constitutional issues, designed to be insulated from the political rough and tumble, there is no reason to believe that all virtue is encamped on one side of the aisle, that party preference and constitutional rectitude precisely coincide. The health care litigation provides a case in point. Of the 47 Republican Senators who filed amicus briefs arguing that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, 10 had previously sponsored legislation mandating insurance coverage. Indeed, Senator Charles Grassley told Fox News on June 19, 2009 that there was “a bipartisan consensus to have individual mandates.”

Although Democrats are almost as consistent in defending the constitutionality of legislation as Republicans are in attacking it, their positions are not in parity. Legislation is presumed to be constitutional. It is Republican Attorneys General and Governors, supported by Republican members of Congress, who departed from the default position, who took the initiative to bring the challenges and who seek to displace the verdict of the elected branches of government. It is thus the lineup of the challengers of the law, not the defenders, that raises concerns about the democratic process. The seamless congruity between party affiliation and asserted constitutional grievance, viewed against the backdrop of the political u-turns key Republicans took to get there, are at the very least a signal the possibility that partisanship has escaped the confines of the legislature, that the plaintiffs seek to win in the courts the battle their brethren-in-arms lost in the Congress, and that the case presents policy choices vested in elected legislators, not constitutional issues suitable for judicial resolution.

Within the confines of the legislature, political partisanship plays a useful, perhaps even an essential role. But it has no valid place in the judicial process. Our constitutional democracy rests on the principle of majority rule, and the majority rules through their elected representatives in Congress and the Executive Branch. The circumstances where the Supreme Court may override decisions of the majority and declare a law unconstitutional are few, primarily when the political process breaks down -- as when minorities are excluded -- or when the most fundamental individual rights are at stake. It is generally accepted that the Court should not nullify a Congressional act unless it is unmistakably clear that the law at issue violates the Constitution. When courts defer in this manner to outcomes of legislative debates, rather than re-enacting the drama, the factiousness of the legislative process recedes -- or at least it should. The Court derives legitimacy by remaining above the political fray. It diminishes that capital when it constitutionalizes political controversies, and particularly when it does so by picking a side in a partisan dispute. The Court is not, as some have claimed, immune from public cynicism. Polls show that its standing has eroded of late as it has displaced the judgments of the political branches.

Glenn Greenwald on the acquiescence of the judicial branch and its fealty to whatever the executive claims when it comes to the War On Terror:
[O]f all the American institutions that have so profoundly failed in the wake of 9/11 to protect the most basic liberties — Congress, both political parties, the establishment media, the Executive Branch, the DOJ specifically — none has been quite as disgraceful as the federal judiciary, whose life tenure is supposed to insulate them from base political pressures that produce cowardly and corrupted choices. And yet, just consider these two facts:
(1) not a single War on Terror victim — not one — has been permitted to sue for damages in an American court over what was done to them, even when everyone admits they were completely innocent, even when they were subjected to the most brutal torture, and even when the judiciary of other countries permitted their lawsuits to proceed; and,
(2) not a single government official — not one — has been held legally accountable, either criminally or even civilly, for any War on Terror crimes or abuses; perversely, the only government officials to pay any price were the ones who blew the whistle on those crimes.
That is how history will record the behavior of American federal judges in the face of the post-9/11 onslaught of anti-Muslim persecution and relentless erosions of core rights.

Even worse, if you’re a Muslim accused of any Terror-related crime, your conviction in a federal court is virtually guaranteed, as federal judges will bend the law and issue pro-government rulings that they would never make with a non-Muslim defendant; conversely, if you’re a government official who abused or otherwise violated the rights of Muslims, your full-scale immunity is virtually guaranteed. Those are the indisputable rules of American justice. So slavish and subservient are federal judges when it comes to Muslim defendants that if you’re a Muslim accused of any Terror-related crime, you’re probably more likely at this point to get something approximating a fair trial before a Guantanamo military tribunal than in a federal court; that is how supine federal judges have been when the U.S. Government utters the word “terrorism” in the direction of a Muslim or any claims of “national security” relating to 9/11.

Clean Halls, an over-reaching NYPD program discussed by Matt Taibbi in a piece I shared here a while back, is being criticized yet again for its overzealous approach:
Critics of Clean Halls argue that while the program may have legitimate crime-fighting origins, the opaqueness surrounding it has allowed the program to expand unchecked. "I want the police to be involved," said Jacqueline Yates, a 53-year-old former correctional officer and resident of a Clean Halls building in the Bronx. "We need them, there is no doubt about that. It's the way they go about policing."

Yates, who is one of 13 plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said Clean Halls has defined the past few years of her life: Visitors have stopped coming for Sunday dinners, stymied by frequent searches as they leave the building. And she has taken up a semi-permanent post near her fourth floor window, intervening two to three times a week, she said, when her sons are searched by police in their courtyard.

While residents in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods may never hear of Clean Halls, people in several parts of the Bronx said that the program's implementation is so intrusive and haphazard that it has placed parts of the borough under siege. Frequent searches and baseless arrests, they said, are not merely inconveniences. They also deepen a long-standing schism between law enforcement and neighbors, disrupt employment and schooling, and discourage visits from family and friends, unraveling community ties.
Clean Halls isn't the only NYPD program they're under fire for. And more.

With Stand Your Ground laws, murder gets to be written off as self-defense — even when the shooter instigates any confrontation:
1) Man in vehicle nearly runs over pedestrian in Taco Bell drive-through.
2) Pedestrian is upset and shouts “What the hell, you almost hit me,” “Watch where the fuck you're going,” and swings his fists in the air.
3) Driver claims to be threatened and scared — though admits he doesn't feel his life is in danger.
4) Nevertheless, because the pedestrian's dog is in the way of his car, thereby preventing him from getting his Taco Bell drive-through order, he feels “he had no other options” but to grab a loaded gun and shoot the man.
5) Pedestrian dies at the scene.
6) Shooter claims to police that the dead man was wielding a three-foot metal pipe.
7) No pipe is found.
8) Shooter is not charged because of Arizona's Stand Your Ground law.
9) Oh, and that law of ours? Because we're awesome, it's called the Make My Day law. Fuck yeah, Arizona.

There is nothing to debate when intellectually dishonest hacks like Naomi Schaefer Riley start the dialogue by tossing grenades:
In short, so long as the Naomi Schaefer Rileys of the world enjoy perverse incentives for generating controversy, that’s what they’re going to do. For example, rather than engaging with her critics (or the people she attacked), Ms. Schaefer Riley chose instead to toss fuel atop the fire.


The editor’s response to this firestorm is pathetic. A more honest and interesting post might have said something about the political economy of blogging, about the nature of the discourse that the CHE is hoping to foster by publishing Ms. Schaefer Riley, or even about the importance of free speech (as distinct from academic freedom). Instead, what we get is, “Please join the debate.” No, thank you. Ms. Schaefer Riley has no interest in honest debate.
Henry Farrell has some more thoughts on the matter:
A pro-tip: when you want to write a post entitled The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations, it is a good idea, at the very minimum to, you know, actually ‘just read’ the fucking dissertations yourself. Whiny follow-up posts explaining that “it is not my job to read entire dissertations before I write a 500-word piece about them” and that “there are not enough hours in the day or money in the world to get me to read a dissertation on historical black midwifery,” might lead the enquiring reader to suspect that you’re a lazy, incompetent hack. Actually reading the posts in question might lead the aforementioned reader to suspect a variety of other things too.
And The Chronicle takes to Twitter to defend their publication of this dreck.

Krugman on how to end the current depression:
The depression we’re in is essentially gratuitous: we don’t need to be suffering so much pain and destroying so many lives. We could end it both more easily and more quickly than anyone imagines—anyone, that is, except those who have actually studied the economics of depressed economies and the historical evidence on how policies work in such economies.

The truth is that recovery would be almost ridiculously easy to achieve: all we need is to reverse the austerity policies of the past couple of years and temporarily boost spending. Never mind all the talk of how we have a long-run problem that can’t have a short-run solution—this may sound sophisticated, but it isn’t. With a boost in spending, we could be back to more or less full employment faster than anyone imagines.

But don’t we have to worry about long-run budget deficits? Keynes wrote that “the boom, not the slump, is the time for austerity.” Now ... is the time for the government to spend more until the private sector is ready to carry the economy forward again. At that point, the US would be in a far better position to deal with deficits, entitlements, and the costs of financing them.

Meanwhile, the strong measures that would all go a long way toward lifting us out of this depression should include, among other policies, increased federal aid to state and local governments, which would restore the jobs of many public employees; a more aggressive approach by the Federal Reserve to quantitative easing (that is, purchasing bonds in an attempt to reduce long-term interest rates); and less timid efforts by the Obama administration to reduce homeowner debt.
Essentially, the current strategy is to punish those who are already suffering and have been screwed over time and time again. Or, if you prefer, in comic form:

No government interference! Well, it depends — liberty for markets, but not for citizens:
There is a deep tension in contemporary US political thought between the notion of freedom that tends to dominate in the socio-economic domain and the concept of liberty that predominates in the penal sphere. In socio-economic matters, the idea of freedom tends to be shaped by classic economic liberalism: the belief that an invisible hand shapes favorable public outcomes, that individuals need robust protection from the government, that the state should refrain from interfering in commerce and trade. In the law enforcement and punishment context, by contrast, the dominant way of thinking about liberty gives far more ground to the government, to the police and to the state security apparatus.

This tension, when it gets acute, gives rise to what I would call "two-faced" or "Janus-faced liberalism". Over the last 40 years, during a period characterized by increased faith in free markets, in deregulation, and in privatization, America's Janus-faced liberalism has worsened and fueled the uniquely American paradox of laissez-faire and mass incarceration. In the country that has done the most to promote the idea of a hands-off government, our government runs, paradoxically, the single largest prison system in the whole world.
Philosopher Michael Sandel has some thoughts on related topics and questions why we have granted such primacy to the market and what the moral implications of this are, in an interview with Guernica about his recent book (h/t Sourav):
Over the past three decades, markets and market thinking have been reaching into spheres of life traditionally governed by non-market norms, and we haven’t really debated this. As a result, we’ve drifted from having a market economy to becoming a market society.

By a market society, I mean a place where market values and market relations increasingly govern the whole of life where everything is up for sale—family life, personal relations, health, education, civic life. What the book suggests is that we need to debate where markets serve the public good and where they don’t belong.


I think we do hesitate as a society to debate questions such as these and I think that’s for two reasons. First, we take markets and market values for granted to such a degree that we sometimes don’t even notice the dilemmas which derive from markets. One aim of the book is to invite us to take notice of the extent to which market values and market thinking have become pervasive in our everyday lives.

But I think a second obstacle to a morally robust debate about the limits of money and markets in our society is that such a debate would require us to reason together in public about some big and controversial ethical questions that touch on moral and sometimes spiritual values about the meaning of goods, where people disagree very often, whether we’re talking about the meaning of teaching and learning or of health or of procreation, family life, civic duties and obligations, how properly to value nature and the environment. These all raise big ethical questions on which we disagree. And I think we have a tendency to shy away from public debate that touch on questions on the good life and the meaning of goods and how to value various goods and social practices such as these. We need to overcome that reluctance, if we’re to improve the state of our public discourse.

One of the reasons that public discourse is impoverished today is that it doesn’t address some of the biggest moral questions our society faces, and one of the reasons it doesn’t is we sometimes think we should ask citizens to leave their moral and spiritual convictions outside when they enter the public sphere. So one goal of the book is to couch public debate about the moral limits of the role of markets in our society. Another goal is to encourage a kind of public debate that welcomes moral and spiritual convictions and arguments whatever their sources and that encourages us to lift up our public discourse by engaging more directly with the big questions that people care about that we too rarely debate in public. I think one of the effects of the market triumphalism of the last three decades is that our politics has been emptied out of substantive moral discourse, and as a result democratic politics is increasingly unsatisfying. Not only in this country, but in many democratic countries, democratic politics is increasingly about narrow managerial, technocratic concerns rather than with larger questions of ethics and justice and the meaning of the common good. So one aim of the book is to contribute to a morally more robust democratic discourse.

In a discussion about Occupy, urban spaces, and his new book, Marxist geographer David Harvey succinctly discusses the political change that needs to occur in order to realize the right to the city:
There’s a political step that I think that we should take and be very clear about. This is what was so impressive about the Chilean student movement. They recognized very clearly that the situation they’re in was defined by what happened under Pinochet. Now Pinochet is dead, but they’re still living with the legacy of Pinochet. What they are struggling with is what you might call “Pinochetism.” In this country Reagan is long gone, but Reaganism has been doubled down on by the Republican Party in particular, but also accepted by large chunks of the Democratic Party. So we’ve got to go after Reaganism. In Britain, Thatcher is long gone, but we’ve got Thatcherism. In Egypt, Mubarak is gone, but Mubarakism is still there. So we’ve got to go after the systems of power and the systems of appropriation of wealth that have become pretty universalized right now, and we’ve got to see this as a real serious point of confrontation. As Warren Buffett says when asked if there’s class struggle, “Sure, there’s class struggle. It’s my class, the rich, who have been waging it, and we’ve been winning.” Our task, I think, is to turn it around and say, “His class shall not win.” And in order to do that, we've got to get rid of the whole neoliberal way of organizing contemporary capitalism. 

Access to transit improves equity: an example from Denver.

Increased biodiversity leads to more productive ecosystems — yet another insight gained from the long-term field experiments at Cedar Creek. (Well done, Pops Tildebeest.)

What to do with fracking wastewater?

Some good news on climate change: Greenland's glaciers are sliding into the ocean more slowly than previously estimated. So it'll only be one meter and not three of sea-level rise this century! Rejoice!

It's not just increasing food production that's important, but reducing food waste, too.

A global, intergovernmental panel on biodiversity and ecosystem services is on its way.

Organic farmers, on average, don't earn more than conventional farmers.

ALEC pushing for water privatization.

Enviros take on the feds over coal lease sales.

Advertised fuel efficiency and actual fuel efficiency aren't always the same.

Big trees matter.

Representing our chard values.

Frank Pasquale on the stateless superrich.

The richer the rich get, the better it is for society. Philanthropy is bad. And increasing income inequality will benefit everyone. Um, what?

The individual mandate is most definitely a tax. And therefore, the ACA is most definitely constitutional.

The political fight over health care is only beginning.

There is no GOP War On Women. Nope. No such thing.

In Kansas, the War On Women goes completely nuts: the state is considering mandating medical providers to give false information and thoroughly debunked “research” suggesting a link between abortion and cancer.

Your breasts are total jerks and are trying to kill you.

Recent natural selection in humans.

Post-racial America!: “He was like, ‘Here I am, I’m black and I’m proud,’ ” said Lesia Felsoci, a bank employee drinking a beer in an Applebee’s. “To me, he didn’t have a platform. Black people voted him in, that’s why he won. It was black ignorance.”

More on “hipster racism.” (h/t Marci)

Anti-immigrant extremism and white supremacists in Arizona. (But no, they're not anti-immigrant, white supremacist vigilantes — they're humanitarians and saviors!: “[Hughes] said he and others get a bad rap from their critics and the media. He characterized their border patrols as humanitarian missions that have resulted in the rescue of illegal immigrants who were lost and in danger.”)

How to make it more difficult to be tracked on the interwebs.

Seize first, find evidence of copyright infringement later. Thanks, RIAA. (h/t Sourav)

Meanwhile, the FBI is working to ensure all websites have a backdoor built in for easy government surveillance

Glenn Greenwald has more on the continually creeping National Surveillance State.

Caramelizing onions takes a lot more than five or ten minutes.

The ethics of eating meat: the winning essay.

Ben Zimmer goes meta.

The creation of suburbia also killed men's hats.

Five myths about contemporary classical music.

A beginner's guide to Elliott Carter. Personally, I suggest starting with his string quartets and his clarinet concerto.

Pianist (and blogger) Jeremy Denk's debut on Nonesuch, featuring some great études by Ligeti and Beethoven's beautiful Piano Sonata No. 32, in C Minor, Op. 111 is streaming on NPR's site. (I was mostly familiar with Ligeti's chamber work, not his solo piano compositions, so this was quite an eye-opener for me. And if you want to hear more Ligeti, check out this greatand cheap! — box set.)

Another excerpt from my boy Doug Mack's new book published at the HuffPo.

Speaking of Mr. Mack, an autographed copy of his book is being raffled off. By me. Also being raffled, autographed cookbooks by Mario Batali and Spike Mendelsohn. Raffle tickets for each book will be available for $5 here. #rafflesforcancermoney

Sad news for Phoenicians: the Downtown Public Market is closing. Boo.

Heather's Happy Link Of The Day: the six-week chemo vacation was celebrated with tasty homemade tacos and tasty beer.

What do Republican women really want?:

SFJ offers a touching, heartfelt tribute to Adam Yauch.

“Pass me the scalpel / I'll make an incision / I'll cut off the part of your brain that does the bitchin’ / Put it in formaldehyde and put it in the shelf / And you can show it to your friends and say: ‘That's my old self’”

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