Archive for January 12th, 2008
My colleague covering the nation’s environment, Felicity Barringer, sent this note from California, where it seems some clarity is emerging in arguments over who gets to limit greenhouse gases from vehicles — the states or the United States.
Ever since the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Stephen G. Johnson, denied California’s request for a waiver allowing it to put new controls on greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and light trucks, the agency has repeatedly claimed that its new federal standard is more aggressive than California’s plan.
Now California has shot back and appears to have set the record straight.
Here’s how this fuel economy spat played out.
In a Dec. 19 letter to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Johnson wrote, “I strongly support this national approach to this national challenge which establishes an aggressive standard of 35 miles per gallon for all 50 states, as opposed to 33.8 miles per gallon in California and a patchwork of other states.”
Last week, when California and other states went to court to overturn the decision, an E.P.A. spokesman, Jonathan Shradar, said in a statement, “We now have a more beneficial national approach to a national problem which establishes an aggressive standard for all 50 states, as opposed to a lower standard in California and a patchwork of other states.”
The agency appears to have flunked this math test.
Comparing the California standard’s impact in 2016 with the federal standard’s impact in 2020 is like pitting two runners against each other, then letting one runner go four more minutes than his rival. If the runner with more time goes farther, that doesn’t mean he’s faster.
The agency had two ways to make a clean comparison. California has laid out a blueprint for its new mileage standards through 2020. The E.P.A. could compare the 35 miles-per-gallon standard with California’s 40.4 miles-per-gallon standard for that year. It hasn’t.
Or the E.P.A. could estimate how the new federal corporate average fuel economy standards will be phased in. Past practice indicates that the fuel-efficiency rules will be phased in slowly, with the most stringent requirements postponed until later years. Or they could be phased in evenly. Using such assumptions, the E.P.A. could compare the federal standard for the year 2016 against California’s. It hasn’t.
California regulators have. They spent the holidays figuring that, if the new CAFÉ standards are adopted at a steady rate, the emissions produced every year from 2011 to 2016 under the federal law would be higher than those allowed by the California law. By 2020, the projected California standards would cut 75 percent more emissions than the federal ones. Their findings are in a downloadable file here (pdf alert).
David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council, asked a sensible question in a blog item on the conflicting arithmetic: “If California’s standards are weaker, then why are the car companies so opposed to them?”
On Tuesday Mr. Shradar conceded, “it doesn’t appear as if we have that apples-to-apples comparison.” [That is, the EPA lied, out-and-out lied. - LG]
Shortly after Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians on Sept. 16, the firm “repaired and repainted its trucks immediately,” essentially “destroy[ing] evidence that Justice Department investigators hoped to examine.” Blackwater responded that any repairs “would have been done at the government’s direction.” The State Department refused to comment.
Adam Curtis exposes the public manipulation we sense but usually don’t understand. His BBC documentaries are legendary in Britain but practically unknown in the US. An American network executive who wouldn’t even let his name be used said “we would be crucified if we showed that here”. These documentaries are like a graduate course in how the American and British public has been herded like cattle since the end of World War I.
Each episode is about an hour and all are jaw dropping-ly insightful. Adam Curtis’s other BBC Documentaries, The Trap, The Mayfair Set, and Pandoras Box build on The Century of the Self and The Power of Nightmares.The Century of the Self episode 1 begins with, Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays. He went from Enrico Caruso’s publicist to WW1 propagandist and repackaged propaganda as “public relations”. Herbert Hoover applied his ideas to turn Americans into the consumers industry needed. Joseph Goebbels, is shown explaining how Bernays’ same ideas were used to turn the Germans into Nazi’s.
The Century of the Self episode 2 begins with Sigmund Freud’s daughter, Anna. Studies of traumatized soldiers in WW2 showed their upbringing made them psychologically vulnerable. Anna Freud popularized the idea that imposing conformity strengthened the ego. Thus leading to the conformity of the 50’s.
The Century of the Self episode 3 shows the overthrow of Anna Freud’s ideas and reverses them with the idea that it is society that is sick and individuals need to free themselves of it. Thus the counter culture and the self actualization movement. Industry no longer wanted to make standard products, they married their new products with expressing individuality. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provided a model for this and was used to elect Ronald Reagan.
The Century of the Self episode 4 shows how the public had become consumers of politics in the same way they had earlier become consumers of products. Focus groups determine policy, first for the Right, and then, to survive, for the Left, especially, Bill, Hillary, and Tony Blair.
The Power of Nightmares episode 1 is about the ideological revulsion to the consumer society created by industry and public relations. Simultaneously, Sayyid Qutb resolved to purge the Muslim world of Western consumerism while Leo Strauss resolved to make consuming Americans Crusaders for freedom around the world. Ayman Zawahiri was a student of Qutb and Paul Wolfowitz was a student of Strauss.
The Power of Nightmares episode 2 shows Bin Laden and the Neo cons fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan and how the Soviet collapse left both without an enemy to herd their public with.
The Power of Nightmares episode 3 shows how 911 was used to give those “with the most fear, the most power” and how the Neo cons recreated the terrorist threat.
For more than 40 years, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has been the pillar of the framework for transparent government – the primary advocacy instrument for deterring and exposing unchecked executive power. However, since 9/11, FOIA has been hobbled by a doctrine of secrecy executed with administrative delays and ploys to keep government records “in the shadows.”
The OPEN Government Act, signed into law on December 31, is the first legislative update to FOIA since 1996 and a reassertion of checks and balances. Now it will be easier for people to get information from their government. The law provides for an online tracking system for requesters, a government-wide office to deal with disputes and concerns, penalties for offices that take too long to respond, a limit to agency “search” and “duplication” fees, and reimbursement of attorney fees in some situations where requesters must go to court.
But it wasn’t easy.
The FOIA improvement became law only after months of obstruction, foot-dragging and secret holds. There is no doubt we had some solid champions in Rep. Waxman (D-CA), Sen. Leahy (D-VT), and Sen. Cornyn (R-TX) who kept the bill alive in shark-infested waters. However, it might have never passed it at all without good, old-fashioned rabble rousing.
After the bill passed the House in March 2007 by a huge margin, an anonymous senator placed a “secret hold” on it. Proponents decried the stubborn irony of preventing more access to our government records with secret holds and other back-door maneuvering by the White House. Calls and emails poured into congressional offices, news articles and blog posts demanded the holder be revealed.
We (the rabble) finally outed Senator Kyl as the secret holder. Once exposed, Kyl surprisingly began to negotiate. Not surprisingly, Kyl was representing the terms of the White House. Still, the bill began to move, and finally passed the Senate by unanimous consent.
But it was not yet time for champagne.
It turned out that there were some issues with the bill that passed. Some of us suspected foul play and poison pills . . . more noise and negotiations ensued. Suddenly an imperfect, but passable fix bill emerged in December. It was quickly pushed through at congressional warp speed with veto-proof support. Perhaps everybody needed a win – to quiet the rabble. In the end, even Bush could not refuse to sign the bill into law.
But this hard-fought battle is only a half-victory.
To be sure, the new law will tear down some of the bureaucratic blockade often used intentionally to prevent government operations from seeing the light of day. Still, even with this victory, the rule-making authority of the executive branch makes it possible for the “War on Terror” to continue to be used to obviate the “informed consent of the governed.” The Ashcroft doctrine of withholding documents as long as some argument for a “sound legal basis” exists still stands. This policy is a reversal of the Clinton-Reno instruction to officials to interpret FOIA in favor of disclosure – unless it was “reasonably foreseeable that disclosure could be harmful.”
We can expect the Bush-Cheney Administration will use every tactic available to keep their deeds under a cloak of secrecy. Ready the rabble.
Make a pinhole in a piece of cardboard. Bring your eye close to it and look through the pinhole as you rotate the card. You will see the network of your retinal capillaries against the background of a cloudy sky. How does this happen?
This is a fascinating phenomenon known as Purkinje shadows, after the Czech physiologist and neuroanatomist Jan Evangelista Purkinje. It also illustrates an excellent argument against intelligent design.
In the human eye, light passes through all the nerve fibres and blood vessels before reaching the photoreceptors. This curious arrangement means that the blood vessels cast shadows, and it explains why the capillaries can be seen if you look through a moving pinhole. Surely a master creator wouldn’t have made a mistake like that. After all, the squid eye is designed the other way around, which raises the possibility that the mythical intelligent designer of life considers cephalopods a higher form of life than humans.
The reason we don’t normally see the shadows of the blood vessel is because the human eye is incapable of registering a stationary image. We can see things that don’t move, such as statues or doors, only because our eyes are continually making tiny movements which ensure that their image jiggles across our retina. Because the blood vessels are part of the eye they move with it and usually remain invisible. Using sophisticated eye-tracking equipment it is possible to completely stabilise a retinal image. When this happens the image disappears, a phenomenon called Troxler’s fading. If our eyes were completely still we’d be almost blind. Intelligent design, huh?
Moving a pinhole across the pupil changes the direction of light reaching the back of the eye, which has the effect of “moving” the capillaries relative to the retina, making them visible. An even better way to see the blood vessels in your own eye is to put a small bright pen torch near the white part of the eye (while being careful not to poke yourself).
Following the standard advice on healthy living really does add years to your life. A study of death rates in 20,000 people has found that being physically active, eating enough fruit and veg, not smoking, and keeping your alcohol intake below 15 units a week can add 14 years to your life – no matter how fat and unhealthy you are otherwise (PLoS Medicine, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0050012).