Sifting Through The Swamp - Earlier this year, we rolled out our Weekly Primers — 500 word briefings for Prime subscribers on the topics TPM...
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What’s coming increasingly clear as the Gulf of Mexico turns black, is that the Bush administration’s coziness with the oil industry was worse than incompetent–it was criminal. The Minerals Management Service, already notorious for being in bed (literally, in some cases) with the industries it supposedly regulates, handed out drilling permits and environmental waivers like candy, in violation of its own rules and environmental law, often against the advice of its own geologists and biologists. Interior Secretary Salazar supposedly drained that swamp, but it turns out that the Obama administration either underestimated or ignored the degree of corruption, and many of their worst practices have continued. The inevitable result of all this hanky-panky is the worst oil spill and quite possibly the worst man-made environmental disaster in history. Funny, I don’t hear anybody chanting “Drill baby drill” anymore.
According to a recent paper by Lee S. Friedman, Donald Hedeker, and Elihu D. Richter, the lifting of the federal 55 mph speed limit in 1995 was responsible for 12,545 deaths between 1995 and 2005. That’s about 45 percent more American fatalities than we have suffered in 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan put together. And all those human tragedies are due not to weighty national security imperatives but to the fact that we all want to go just a little bit faster.
The continuing undersea gusher of oil 50 miles off the shores of Louisiana is not the only source of dangerous uncontrolled pollution spewing into the environment. Worldwide, the amount of man-made CO2 being spilled every three seconds into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding the planet equals the highest current estimate of the amount of oil spilling from the Macondo well every day. Indeed, the average American coal-fired power generating plant gushes more than three times as much global-warming pollution into the atmosphere each day—and there are over 1,400 of them.
Just as the oil companies told us that deep-water drilling was safe, they tell us that it’s perfectly all right to dump 90 million tons of CO2 into the air of the world every 24 hours. Even as the oil spill continues to grow—even as BP warns that the flow could increase multi-fold, to 60,000 barrels per day, and that it may continue for months—the head of the American Petroleum Institute, Jack Gerard, says, "Nothing has changed. When we get back to the politics of energy, oil and natural gas are essential to the economy and our way of life."
"End Child Labor Laws," suggests one helpful participant. "We coddle children too much. They need to spend their youth in the factories."
"How about if Congress actually do thier job and VET or Usurper in Chief, Obama is NOT a Natural Born Citizen in any way," recommends another. "That fake so called birth certificate is useless."
"A 'teacher' told my child in class that dolphins were mammals and not fish!" a third complains. "And the same thing about whales! We need TRADITIONAL VALUES in all areas of education. If it swims in the water, it is a FISH. Period! End of Story."
"Build a castle-style wall along the border, there is plenty of stone laying around about there." That was in the "national security" section of the new site.
"Legalize Marijuana, cause, like, alcohol is legal. Man. Also." That was in the "traditional values" section.
"I say, repeal all the amendments to the Constitution." ("American prosperity" section.)
"Don't let the illegals run out of Arizona and hide. . . . I think that we should do something to identify them in case they try to come back over. Like maybe tattoo a big scarlet 'I' on their chests -- for 'illegal'!!!" (Filed under "job creation.")
"Let kids vote!" recommended one. "Let's make a 'Social Security Lotto,' " proposed another. "What dope came up with the idea of criminalizing a parent's right to administer corporal punishment?" a third demanded.
Some contributors demanded action to uncover conspiracies involving the 9/11 attacks and the "NEW WORLD ORDER." One forward thinker recommended that we "build the city of the future somewhere in a non-inhabit part of the United States, preferably the desert."
Some of the uglier forces of the Internet found their way to the House Republican site. "I oppose the Hispanicization of America," said one. "These are not patriotic people." Another contributor had parody in mind (we hope): "English is are official langauge. Anybody who ain't speak it the RIGHT way should kicked out."
But Republicans might want to take a hard look at the suggestion that "we need to reframe the discussion" about the BP oil spill to counteract the "environmental whackos" worried about wildlife. Republicans, this person proposed, should argue that "BP is creating a new race of faster dolphins. These fish are unable to compete against the fish of other countries, but now their increased lubrication will allow them to fly through the water. Faster fish = good."
Mark Blaxill, an editor-at-large for the Age of Autism blog and a director of SafeMinds, an organization that investigates the role of mercury in autism, said Wakefield will continue to have his support, as well as the support of others who seek "safe" vaccines for children.
"It's a bad thing happening to a good man," Blaxill, who has an autistic daughter, told AOL Health Monday. "The charges are untrue and the so-called court was a travesty of justice. This was a political trial and [Wakefield] is being made a victim of the policy of the U.K. government and the pharmaceutical industry. This is a victory for industry and not for our children." ...
"When I look and listen to Andy Wakefield and I look and listen to opponents, there's really no contest as to who is the most credible," Blaxill said. "It is really despicable what the industry and public authorities are doing to Andy and to all of us who pay attention to the headlines, which are dominated by propaganda. It's our job to get up every day and tell the truth. That's why all of us are advocates and activists."
The oceans are being emptied of fish. A forthcoming United Nations report lays out the stark numbers: only around 25% of commercial stocks are in a healthy or even reasonably healthy state. Some 30% of fish stocks are considered collapsed, and 90% of large predatory fish — like the bluefin tuna so prized by sushi aficionados — have disappeared since the middle of the 20th century. More than 60% of assessed fish stocks are in need of rebuilding, and some researchers estimate that if current trends hold, virtually all commercial fisheries will have collapsed by mid century.
But there's also a major problem with overcapacity — or the simple excess of fishermen — thanks to the $27 billion in subsidies given to the worldwide fishing industry each year. Those subsidies — especially the billions that go to cheap diesel fuel that makes factory fishing on the high seas possible at all--have created an industry bigger than the oceans can support. The U.N. estimates that the global fleet consists of more than 20 million boats, ranging from tiny subsistence outfits to massive trawlers. Together they have a fishing capacity 1.8 to 2.8 times larger than the oceans can sustainably support. Our tax money is essentially paying fishermen to strip mine the seas.
Right now, for example, fishing boats aren't required to have an identification code from the International Maritime Organization, the only globally recognized identifier for shipping. Establishing the requirement would help distinguish the good guys from the bad guys, particularly if the information is shared among all ports. "Accountability," Flothmann writes, "requires transparency."
Humans are consuming marine animals in such massive numbers that the balance of ocean life has already been drastically upset since the beginning of large-scale industrial fishing in the 1950s.
The culprit for this sudden change in the ocean’s ecosystem is what University of British Columbia scientist Daniel Pauly describes as “fishing down the marine food webs.”1 What this means is that overfishing of alpha-predators like tuna and salmon—whose populations are rapidly dwindling—has caused us to begin eating lower down the ocean’s food chain. In the absence of their predators, species a step further down the chain experience a temporary population boom, creating an illusion of abundance for fishers, who begin the process of fishing them out of existence—and so on, all the way down to bottom-feeders and, eventually, plankton.
If this trend continues unabated, Pauly suggests, the future of seafood will be an unvarying supply of “jellyfish sandwiches.”2 An initially skeptical scientific community has confirmed Pauly’s fears, even going so far as to project an approximate date by which the world’s seafood supply will have run out based on the current rate of ocean fishing: That date could be as soon as 2050, according to a 2006 paper on the effects of overfishing published in the journal Science.3
And fish are not the only marine animals to suffer from aggressive commercial fishing practices. Techniques such as “bottom trawling” (in which nets are dragged thousands of miles across the ocean floor) and longlining (using large numbers of baited hooks on an extended line) indiscriminately destroy entire habitats of deep-sea species and devastate populations of dolphins, whales, sea turtles, seabirds, and other marine animals who are trapped in the nets or hooks as “bycatch.”
Richard Green flies into a rage over remarks by Peter Wallison, who declares that
Indeed, the modern era of rapid economic growth commenced after both Democratic and Republican presidents undertook to lift costly and stultifying New Deal regulations.Green points out that growth has actually been slower since the big rightward shift circa 1980. But what he doesn’t seem to realize is that Wallison is just following the party line. Read almost any conservative commentator on economic history, and you’ll find that the era of postwar prosperity — the gigantic rise in living standards after World War II — has been expunged from the record.
You can see why: the facts are embarrassing. Here’s a rough-cut version. The blue line, left scale, shows median family income in 2008 dollars; the red line, right scale, shows the top marginal tax rate, a rough indicator of the overall stance of policy. Basically, US postwar economic history falls into two parts: an era of high taxes on the rich and extensive regulation, during which living standards experienced extraordinary growth; and an era of low taxes on the rich and deregulation, during which living standards for most Americans rose fitfully at best.
For the past few months, much commentary on the economy — some of it posing as reporting — has had one central theme: policy makers are doing too much. Governments need to stop spending, we’re told. Greece is held up as a cautionary tale, and every uptick in the interest rate on U.S. government bonds is treated as an indication that markets are turning on America over its deficits. Meanwhile, there are continual warnings that inflation is just around the corner, and that the Fed needs to pull back from its efforts to support the economy and get started on its “exit strategy,” tightening credit by selling off assets and raising interest rates.
And what about near-record unemployment, with long-term unemployment worse than at any time since the 1930s? What about the fact that the employment gains of the past few months, although welcome, have, so far, brought back fewer than 500,000 of the more than 8 million jobs lost in the wake of the financial crisis? Hey, worrying about the unemployed is just so 2009.
But the truth is that policy makers aren’t doing too much; they’re doing too little. Recent data don’t suggest that America is heading for a Greece-style collapse of investor confidence. Instead, they suggest that we may be heading for a Japan-style lost decade, trapped in a prolonged era of high unemployment and slow growth.
There is no action so stupid that you can’t persuade someone to do it by getting celebrity endorsement. Even the barmiest advice on everything from medical decisions to diets will have happy idiots queuing up to listen, if it comes from the mouth of someone who was once on TV. Such recommendations can be disastrous, but they can be beneficial if the people in question are wise and knowledgeable, from village elders to community leaders. This is all part of the same trend – the human penchant for apeing individuals with high status. And now, it seems that we aren’t the only species that does this. Chimpanzees have the same inclination for apeing those with prestige.
We know that chimps can pick up new traditions from one another, with different groups enjoying rich and diverse cultures. Much of this understanding is thanks to work from scientists like Victoria Horner, Andrew Whiten and Frans de Waal at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Now, the same team have found that when it comes to passing on traditions, some chimps are more influential than others. Given a choice between two individuals, chimps tend to copy the actions of the older, higher-ranking one.
Groups of wild chimps certainly have cultural differences but equally, field researchers have found that the vast majority of innovations never spread. Chimps also get ‘stuck’ on familiar techniques. They’re reticent to adopt a new strategy, even if it’s more efficient.
Horner’s new results could help to explain why. It seems that in chimp societies, subordination is the mother of invention. Most innovations are the work of low-ranking individuals, trying to avoid competition from their superiors. Ironically, these individuals are the least likely to be aped by their fellow apes. Only if they rise through the ranks do they stand a chance of significantly passing on their new behaviours to their colleagues.
When do we ask the Sierra Club to pick up the tab for this leak? Everybody's focused on BP and Halliburton and Transocean...The greeniacs have been driving our oil producers off the land.
President Bush’s greatest failure was not Iraq, Afghanistan or Katrina. It was his failure of imagination after 9/11 to mobilize the country to get behind a really big initiative for nation-building in America. I suggested a $1-a-gallon “Patriot Tax” on gasoline that could have simultaneously reduced our deficit, funded basic science research, diminished our dependence on oil imported from the very countries whose citizens carried out 9/11, strengthened the dollar, stimulated energy efficiency and renewable power and slowed climate change. It was the Texas oilman’s Nixon-to-China moment — and Bush blew it.
Had we done that on the morning of 9/12 — when gasoline averaged $1.66 a gallon — the majority of Americans would have signed on. They wanted to do something to strengthen the country they love. Instead, Bush told a few of us to go to war and the rest of us to go shopping. So today, gasoline costs twice as much at the pump, with most of that increase going to countries hostile to our values, while China is rapidly becoming the world’s leader in wind, solar, electric cars and high-speed rail. Heck of a job.
Take a deep breath and relax. These demons are not about to unleash hell upon you. ...
Look, the internet is nothing at heart more complex than other forms of public communication, like a noticeboard in a hallway. You pin open and private notes to the board, to be read by all and individuals. Sometimes others read what you put on that board who you didn’t intend to, so you take precautions, right? You don’t put private details that you do not want everyone to read on that noticeboard. ...
These are not the demons that they are painted to be, and we have a lot of demons to choose from these days. Child abuse is one of them. I doubt that there is any more child abuse today, proportionally, than there was in 1900, 1950 or even 20,000 BCE. Humans tend to treat their kids much the same in all places. What has changed is not the rate of abuse, but the reporting, and when you can hear about things daily that happen thousands of kilometres away rather than only in your own village or suburb, it raises the rate of fear and anxiety. We don’t need demons.
Child pornography is not about to warp your kids minds or put them at risk – we should prevent it, but not surrender everything about the internet that makes it great, and certainly not everything about our rights that makes this the most peaceful, best educated, healthiest, most survivable period in history in many places in the world, including mine. My predecessors and ancestors fought for those rights. I don’t want to see them restricted because we fear demons.
In a 50th anniversary essay in the journal Science, the primatologist William C. McGrew begins by hailing the progression of chimpanzee studies from field notes to “theory-driven, hypothesis-testing ethnology.”
He tactfully waits until the third paragraph — journalists call this “burying the lead” — to deliver the most devastating blow yet to human self-esteem. After noting that chimpanzees’ “tool kits” are now known to include 20 items, Dr. McGrew casually mentions that they’re used for “various functions in daily life, including subsistence, sociality, sex, and self-maintenance.”
Sex? Chimpanzees have tools for sex? No way. If ever there was an intrinsically human behavior, it had to be the manufacture of sex toys. ...
I couldn’t imagine how chimps managed this evolutionary leap. But then, I couldn’t imagine what they were actually doing. Using blades of grass to tickle one another? Building heart-shaped beds of moss? Using stones for massages, or vines for bondage, or — well, I really had no idea,...
...the bizarre episode in 2000 and 2001 when a mainstream view among right-of-center economists was that the nation was facing a threatening situation in the form of possible elimination of the national debt. That’s right, the Clinton administration’s budgeting had not only eliminated the budget deficit, but was seen as possibly leading toward paying off all the accumulated debt of the Reagan years. And the right was afraid!
The idea was that we might pay off the national debt and then decide to put further surpluses into what we nowadays term a “sovereign wealth fund.” Specifically, the Social Security trust fund could have been transformed from an accounting rule into an independently managed fund that would hold a diversified portfolio of financial assets. This, in turn, would make it possible to fund future Social Security benefits without dramatically impacting the rest of the federal budgetary situation.
The official view on the right was that this would be a disastrous situation that led to undue government meddling and horrifying socialism. The reality, however, is that a large and diverse set of countries—from Norway to Singapore to Abu Dhabi—successfully manage sovereign wealth funds. Indeed, conservatives regularly cite Singapore’s mandatory savings approach to social insurance seemingly without noticing (or at least without mentioning) that it substantially takes the form of just this sort of publicly managed collective investment in financial assets.
“Our country has been hijacked by a bunch of religious nuts. But how easy it was. That's a little scary.” — Investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize winning author Seymour Hersh, 2004