Friday, July 20, 2012

7/19-7/20

First, some personal announcements. So, it turns out cancer is expensive. In just the five months since Aetna so graciously kicked me to the curb (look, they couldn't make $2 billion in annual profits if they actually paid for treatment now, could they? Why do you hate the free market?!), I've racked up $118,000 in bills. And that's despite the fact that I've received no chemo since early March. But an ablation and a couple scans later, things add up. So, we've got some new raffle items up in the webstore. Head on over and buy some raffle tickets for such prizes as Red Sox-Twins tickets, every Fugazi live recording ever, an autographed CD from Jack Quartet, and some lovely handmade tote bags. And we've still got t-shirts.

And now on to your daily-ish dose of internet sadness...

Sadly, I'm not the only one out there who has been kicked to the curb by our cruel private health insurance system:
I charged the second month of her medication on my credit card. Then, I drafted a letter to everyone we’d ever known.

Asking for help has never been a strength of mine. Sini is similarly disposed. But we were out of alternatives. We set up a page on the crowd-funding Web site Indiegogo. One of Sini’s best friends, a photographer, designed it. I wrote the copy. Another friend, a filmmaker, edited a video. And others agreed to spread the word. We modestly estimated the PICC treatment costs for the coming months (not including living expenses or the considerable debt already accrued) at $12,000. None of us expected to raise the full amount over the 60-day period, but any little bit would help.

One morning this May, about an hour after the campaign went live, I checked my phone while out running errands to see if anything had been donated. There was already $1,500 in pledges. I refreshed the browser to confirm that I was seeing correctly, and the number jumped another $300. I shakily drove home and opened the computer. We had raised more than $3,000. By the end of the first day, we had raised $8,000; by the end of the second, we had surpassed our goal.

Knowing that Sini would be able to continue her treatment was a magnificent relief. But what so blindsided me and filled my heart were the comments, e-mails, texts, Tweets and Facebook postings poured toward us in hundreds. Most of the donations were between $20 and $100, and the vast majority of these were from family, friends, New Yorkers and others who had performed or worked with Sini, or been helped by her work — and from other people suffering from late-stage Lyme (and other diseases that insurance fails to cover) thanking us for going public with our struggle, for raising awareness and helping them to feel less alone. Sini and I had both felt completely detached from our community for the past two years. Unmoored, and consumed by our situation, we had felt guilty requesting the help of these people from whom we had alienated ourselves. But it was as if they had just been waiting for us to ask.

Two months have passed, with two days left in the campaign, and we have raised over $19,000, a number beyond my wildest expectations. Because here is the thing: we didn’t expect anything. It is not our community’s responsibility to pay our exorbitant medical bills, to prevent our lives from being annihilated by the cost of illness. It is our government’s responsibility. Perhaps, for others like us, the Affordable Care Act will make a difference. My hope is that by the time the legislative changes trickle down to our lives, Sini’s health will have improved enough that she will no longer be in danger of being bankrupted by medical expenses.



Our continued modification of the desert landscape is driving dust storms here in the southwest. And climate change will make those haboobs worse:
The desert is not barren but teeming with organisms like algae, mosses and lichens that act as filaments holding a floor of sand and gravel together.

When that crust is disturbed by farming, roads, mining, or “hooves, bikes, wheels, boots,” Dr. Belnap said, “you have an area that’s ready to blow.”

Every desert has small areas of tall plants like sagebrush that protect soils. In deserts like the Mojave, there are large areas with rock cover. But in general, deserts are vulnerable.

Once a desert surface is disturbed, a chain reaction of events is set in motion that can prove damaging. The dust can cover snow on mountains, for example, resulting in faster and earlier snow melt. The soil underneath is then exposed to sunlight, which causes moisture to evaporate into the air rather than run off into streams and rivers.

The effect is measurable: for example, reduced runoff from snow melt has caused an annual 5 percent decrease in the amount of water entering the Colorado River, which experts say already faces the risk of significantly drying up. “This is now a really big deal,” Dr. Belnap said.

Yet the West was not always a dusty place, she said. Starting in the 1850’s, the massive westward migration of people and grazing animals trampling across the fragile terrain led to a gradual erosion of the soil, spawning the modern idea of the dust-choked western landscape with blowing tumbleweed.

The organisms that make up the crust are cryptobiotic, meaning that their metabolism shuts down when it’s dry. Damaged crypto can only grow back when it’s wet.

“We can’t put the desert back together again like we put Pennsylvania back together after strip mining ended there,” Dr. Belnap said. “We don’t get much rain here.”

With climate change, she said, the problem is only going to get worse. But the good news is that something can be done, she added. “We need to map vulnerable areas and stay off them, and we can plant areas as well,” she said. “But we need to make this a priority.”

Most of the dust problem originates at small-point sources like abandoned croplands outside Phoenix and in northeastern Arizona where decades of coal mining have damaged aquifers and caused dry conditions.

Tackling such areas could address a large part of the problem, Dr. Belnap said, but ultimately it will take money and the political will.

[...]

Policy decisions can be thorny for those agencies, she said. “It’s going to be very politically loaded,” Dr. Belnap said. “You go to Joe Rancher and tell him he can’t put his cattle there, you’re affecting his livelihood.”


Another report from the Annals of Corporatization of Public Space:
Sales of naming rights represent the seizure and control of the public sphere by private interests. First, corporations fund broad anti-tax campaigns, which starve public goods and services. Then financiers—the corporate vanguard—take advantage of the resulting fiscal desperation by offering superficially attractive swap deals. The swaps turn out to have disastrous consequences for municipalities. At that point, public authorities are reeling, willing to sell even the names of stations to the highest bidder. Corporations are poised to become the “white knight” of public transit, conveniently obscuring their role in creating the political and economic crises that their charity and advertising money barely dents. Whatever scholars say about the history of this neoliberal conquest, the popular image will persist: Barclays or AT&T is saving our city.

What Barclays now stands for—rapacious financialization and outright fraud—directly offends the values that public transit represents. Perhaps its yearly $200,000 payments can fund two or three union jobs. But if we were really serious about both raising employment and reducing inequality, we would tax our cash-hoarding corporate behemoths, not beg them for ad money.

As it is, we have difficulties even getting them to pay the historically low rates that they owe. The IRS is now battling U.S. banks over a series of dubious transactions that none other than Barclays structured for them. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at issue in deals that Barclays itself billed as [PDF] “double dip[s],” “free money” for the banks involved because of the “ability of both parties to obtain credits for” taxes. Barclays is but one of many London financial firms that have invested thousands of hours of brilliant accountants’ and lawyers’ time to find ever more recherch√© tax avoidance schemes. It is time to impose simple exactions on them to support basic infrastructure in the countries in which they do business.

For example, Barclays had $50 billion in revenue in 2011. One percent of that is $500 million—a paltry sum for the company to pay to continue doing business in the United States, given that it’s already paid $450 million in fines to secure a non-prosecution agreement and end regulatory investigations of its Libor misconduct. Just one percent of that one percent levy would more than pay for the naming rights now sacrificed by the MTA—and leave $495 million to support our crumbling infrastructure.

As for the other transit agencies considering naming rights deals, they should resist. As it is, we’re only a few steps away from David Foster Wallace’s dystopic vision of the sale of each calendar year to corporate interests. (In the novel Infinite Jest, much of the action occurs in the Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment). A city’s streets and stations should reflect the history of its people, not the rootless corporations that have already made over so much space in their own image. Let the banks and cable companies advertise all they want within public spaces. The names of the spaces themselves should be off-limits.


In the mind of today's conservative, only the rich add any value to the world. The rest of us are just leeches:
[T]he real idea the right is appealing to here is the idea of the "job creator." It goes beyond the person who gets by on his own without any help from the government or the public at large. It's the idea that the rich create all the value of the economy. They are, as John Paul Rollert put it in a great post wondering what Adam Smith would think of "job creators," the visible hand of the economy. The rich are, as people at the Mitt Romney fundraiser put it, "the engine of the economy" who all the other people "rely" on for their survival. (I'm assuming. I would have meant it the other way around, but I wasn't at that fundraiser.) The economy isn't something we create together. It is something the rich create for everyone else.

And, crucially, rather than being a myth or a fairy tale conservatives tell themselves, this idea of the "job creator" is the basis for current policy-making on the right. As Texas Governor Rick Perry put it during the primary, “America is not going to move forward until we remove restrictions of over-taxation, over-regulation and over-litigation on the job creators and free them so the jobs can be created.” Charles Krauthammer argues on TV that we have a capital strike that's holding back the economy. John Boehner gives speeches where he argues "private-sector job creators in particular — are rattled by what they’ve seen out of this town over the last few years. My worry is that for American job creators, all the uncertainty is turning to fear that this toxic environment for job creation is a permanent state. Job creators in America are essentially on strike."

Speeches like these diagnose the problem, and then it turns into policy. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's policy plans for job creation operate under the assumption that those at the top of the economic pyramid are being held in check. His Day One proposals include “the elimination of Obama-era regulations that unduly burden the economy or job creation," “revers[ing] the executive orders issued by President Obama that tilt the playing field in favor of organized labor," cutting corporate taxes, eliminating the estate tax, and a variety of other policy designed to give the "job creators" a firmer hand in controlling the economy. His education policy includes putting private actors in charge of everything, especially putting commercial banks back into the sweet spot of collecting government-insured money and expanding how easy it is for for-profit colleges to qualify for federal money. Presumably he does this because the private is always superior to the public, regardless of how much the business model appears to be a vacuum for subsidies. His tax and social safety net policy focus on boosting the earnings of those at the top of the pyramid on the backs of those at the bottom.

These policies include no hint that the economy is stuck due to inadequate demand or the weak purchasing power of the middle and working classes and the delinking of wages and productivity. There's no mention of the need to expand education and infrastructure to create the economy of the 21st century. There's absolutely no sense that the economy encourages the most innovative or entrepreneurial when there is full employment and a portable social safety net that provides economic security. And it is light-years away from the observation that society is a system of cooperation in which the value in the economy is created together.
But the rich just aren't like you and me:
It’s no secret that, at this point, many of America’s richest men — including some former Obama supporters — hate, just hate, President Obama. Why? Well, according to them, it’s because he “demonizes” business — or as Mitt Romney put it earlier this week, he “attacks success.” Listening to them, you’d think that the president was the second coming of Huey Long, preaching class hatred and the need to soak the rich.

Needless to say, this is crazy. In fact, Mr. Obama always bends over backward to declare his support for free enterprise and his belief that getting rich is perfectly fine. All that he has done is to suggest that sometimes businesses behave badly, and that this is one reason we need things like financial regulation. No matter: even this hint that sometimes the rich aren’t completely praiseworthy has been enough to drive plutocrats wild. For two years or more, Wall Street in particular has been crying: “Ma! He’s looking at me funny!”

Wait, there’s more. Not only do many of the superrich feel deeply aggrieved at the notion that anyone in their class might face criticism, they also insist that their perception that Mr. Obama doesn’t like them is at the root of our economic problems. Businesses aren’t investing, they say, because business leaders don’t feel valued. Mr. Romney repeated this line, too, arguing that because the president attacks success “we have less success.”

This, too, is crazy (and it’s disturbing that Mr. Romney appears to share this delusional view about what ails our economy). There’s no mystery about the reasons the economic recovery has been so weak. Housing is still depressed in the aftermath of a huge bubble, and consumer demand is being held back by the high levels of household debt that are the legacy of that bubble. Business investment has actually held up fairly well given this weakness in demand. Why should businesses invest more when they don’t have enough customers to make full use of the capacity they already have?

But never mind. Because the rich are different from you and me, many of them are incredibly self-centered. They don’t even see how funny it is — how ridiculous they look — when they attribute the weakness of a $15 trillion economy to their own hurt feelings. After all, who’s going to tell them? They’re safely ensconced in a bubble of deference and flattery.
One thing that makes them different? Their ability to buy elections, thanks to SCOTUS:
Back in the Watergate days, American Airlines funneled secret money to the Nixon campaign through Beirut. It was complicated, shady, and illegal. These days, as the New York Times has explained, corporations can give millions legally to party conventions, getting special perks. And thanks to Citizens United and the FEC, corporations have the same leeway as individuals to give to super PACs, the U.S. Chamber, and other groups.

In Watergate, illegal donations bought tremendous influence, but at a risk. Lifting the cloud of illegality has simply emboldened big donors. This is the point Justice Kennedy missed when he said that “independent” expenditures—money that goes to groups that help candidates get elected, rather than candidates themselves—doesn’t corrupt or create the appearance of corruption. And it’s the point Matt Bai missed in his New York Times Magazine article this week, by claiming that Citizens United did not make much difference to the world of campaign spending. Before the chain of events unleashed by the 2010 Supreme Court ruling, if Sheldon Adelson tried to give $100 million to outside groups to support a presidential candidate, he would have faced a criminal investigation and potential charges. The big 527s from previous elections, including the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and Americans Coming Together, faced hefty fines for trying to do illegally what super PACs can now do legally: specifically, setting up a group to take unlimited contributions to influence federal elections.

There is one big danger today that does hark straight back to Watergate. It’s the proliferation of secret 501(c)(4) groups that take money without publicly disclosing their contributors. The people and companies who give to these groups are not revealed to the public, though of course they are often eager to reveal their identity to the politicians they are supporting. These contributors get all the perks of influence without any of the public scrutiny. And if we can’t trace their connections to the actions of elected representatives, we’re much less likely to find out about illegal quid pro quo. Which is why we should improve our disclosure laws—which Republicans have refused to do because they see electoral advantage in secrecy.

But even with better disclosure laws, we’d still be in worse shape now than we were at the time of Watergate. Increasingly, large sums contributed by the wealthy affect who wins elections and what the winners do once in office. Even well-meaning officials who won’t want to bend to the Sheldon Adelsons of the world have to find other friends with cash so that they can fight back. Those friends will want their own special access, and the people they help elect have every incentive to give it to them.

The new campaign finance order isn’t held up by paper bags full of cash. That’s the old way. When corruption is conveniently legal, you can pay by check or credit card.


Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that the right course of action is to keep up Paterno's statue at Penn State, in order to remind everyone of the institution's complicity in the Sandusky scandal:
In Columbia, S.C., there stands a statue of Ben Tillman, the populist South Carolina senator who helped found Clemson University and, in his spare time, defended lynching from his august national offices. For years there have been calls to remove Tillman’s statue, emanating from those who think it a shame to continue to honor him. But in a democracy, memorial statues are not simply comments on their subjects, but comments on their makers. That Americans once saw fit to honor a man who defended terrorism from the Senate floor is a powerful statement about our identity and history.

Whereas Tillman’s most spectacular sins were known at the time of his lionization, Paterno’s only later came to light. And yet the central sin that now haunts Happy Valley has long been in evidence — a tragic myopia. The Freeh report noted that a janitor who’d witnessed one of Sandusky’s rapes declined to report it, fearing that Penn State would close ranks to protect the football program. It is easy to talk about what we would do were we in the janitor’s place. Much harder is to conclude that we might be susceptible to the same fear, that living in a culture where football is a creed, we too might tremble before the nation’s wrath.

The problem here is not that Paterno shamed Happy Valley, but that Happy Valley, through its broad blindness, has shamed itself. Last week an artist who’d once painted Paterno with a halo altered his mural by removing it. This effort has less to do with the better rendering of Paterno and more to do with escaping the shame of hasty canonization.

Arguing for the statue’s removal, the legendary coach Bobby Bowden said he wouldn’t want Sandusky’s crimes “brought up every time I walked out on the field.” That’s the point. Sandusky’s crimes should never be forgotten, nor should the crimes of the broader community. It is shameful to deify men who put nationalist ritual before children. But it is more shameful to pretend that this elevation was achieved by Joe Paterno’s singular hand.

Removing the Paterno statue allows Happy Valley to forget its own compliance in a national crime, to expunge its own culpability in its ruthless pursuit of glory. The statue should remain, and beneath it there should be a full explanation of Sandusky’s crimes, Paterno’s role and some warning to all of us who would turn a pastime into a god and elect a mortal man as its avatar.


What does this drought, the worst this country has seen in some 50 years, tell us about the future? The news isn't good: “[I]s this a glimpse at our hotter, drier future? It appears so. While severe dry spells can (and do) occur naturally, some recent U.S. droughts have been linked to the broad-scale warming of the planet. And if greenhouse gas emissions keep rising and temperatures keep ticking upward, scientists say, we can likely expect more serious and persistent droughts in the years ahead.”

Because of a cruel feedback, increased drought means more extreme heat.

Sprawl exacerbtes drought.

Crop losses in this year's extreme drought already match last year's. And there's much summer still left.

Thanks to the drought, food supplies are at risk.

The reduced harvest means you'll feel the hit in your pocketbook as food prices go up.

Drought in the US, but global concerns over both food and fuel.

Yet, Republicans in the House don't even want to discuss climate change.

Ideology and how we perceive temperature. (h/t Andrew)

An invasive species success story. Also, poo.

Linking bladder infections and CAFOs.

China reaches per capita carbon emissions that rival Europe.

The fight for global resources: it's gonna get worse.

New York can't manage the oil and gas wells they have now, so why should we expect they'll be able to properly regulate fracking?

Copenhagen's bicycle superhighway. This is probably what my friends Miller and Adele dream of.

Canada's war on science.

As best I can tell, the GOP's organizing doctrine seems to be equal parts spite and cruelty — killing public radio and television, AmeriCorps, a healthy eating program championed by the first lady, and most appallingly, new rules to protect construction workers and miners.

And more on the GOP's opposition to policies that will save the lives of coal miners and protect them from black lung.

Johnson had his War On Poverty, the GOP has its War On The Poor.

Redefining basic arithmetic in order to further perpetuate the GOP's War On Women, War On Dark-Skinned People Voting.

The racist law-breaking disgrace that is America's Most Despicable Sheriff: what Sheriff Joe's lunatic birther crusade tells us about his approach to SB1070. (Hint: if you're brown, it doesn't matter what your papers say, because he'll make sure they're considered to be fraudulent.)

Big Ag owns the House GOP. And as such, the Farm Bill looks atrocious.

Mapping stop and frisk.

Every single word uttered by Guantanamo Bay detainees in trial is classified.

Krugman on the rise of financialization.

Drug development is still a long ways away, but the Cancer Genome Project provides new hope to defeating colon cancer.

Young adults and cancer: support is lacking.

Surgery for early-stage prostate cancer may not be wise.

Stream the entire Bikini Kill catalog.

Flying foxes in the city.

Squid sex!

Physics For The Ladies. And more.

Oh, sweet eggcorns.

Turing machine meets tea vending machine.

People are not especially good at quantitative tasks. And marketers take advantage of this.

Strange, disturbing pictures in the aftermath of a horrible industrial disaster. (h/t Peter)

Beautiful pictures from National Geographic readers.

Docile and begging for death, the zebra traverses the African plain, counting down the seconds until a predator tears the flesh from its bone”:


Heather's Happy (ok, not so happy this time, since the subject of the article was rather gloomy) Link of the Day: interviewing Nick Drake, circa 1970.

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