Archive for the ‘Business’ Category
No real surprise, I think. It seems like much of the government (including much of Congress) is now corrupt and simply working to line their pockets rather than to serve the public. And no one in power seems interested in doing anything about it—certainly not Obama.
Eric Zuesse reports:
Bloomberg News reported, on April 8th, that a Securities and Exchange Commission prosecuting attorney, James Kidney, said at his recent retirement party on March 27th, that his prosecutions of Goldman Sachs and other mega-banks had been squelched by top people at the agency, because they “were more focused on getting high-paying jobs after their government service than on bringing difficult cases.” He suggested that SEC officials knew that Wall Street would likely hire them after the SEC at much bigger pay than their government remuneration was, so long as the SEC wouldn’t prosecute those megabank executives on any criminal charges for helping to cause the mortgage-backed securities scams and resulting 2008 economic crash.
His ”remarks drew applause from the crowd of about 70 people,” according to the Bloomberg report. This would indicate that other SEC prosecutors feel similarly squelched by their bosses.
Kidney’s speech said that his superiors did not “believe in afflicting the comfortable and powerful.”
Referring to the agency’s public-relations tactic of defending its prosecution-record by use of what he considered to be misleading statistics, Kidney said, “It’s a cancer” at the SEC.
Two recent studies have provided additional depth to Kidney’s assertions, by showing that Obama and his Administration had lied when they promised to prosecute Wall Street executives who had cheated outside investors, and deceived homebuyers, when creating and selling mortgage-backed securities for sale to investors throughout the world.
President Obama personally led in this lying.
On May 20, 2009, at the signing into law of both the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act and the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, Obama said: “This bill nearly doubles the FBI’s mortgage and financial fraud program, allowing it to better target fraud in hard-hit areas. That’s why it provides the resources necessary for other law enforcement and federal agencies, from the Department of Justice to the SEC to the Secret Service, to pursue these criminals, bring them to justice, and protect hardworking Americans affected most by these crimes. It’s also why it expands DOJ’s authority to prosecute fraud that takes place in many of the private institutions not covered under current federal bank fraud criminal statutes — institutions where more than half of all subprime mortgages came from as recently as four years ago.”
Then, in the President’s 24 January 2012 State of the Union Address, he said: “Tonight, I’m asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis. (Applause.) This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans. Now, a return to the American values of fair play and shared responsibility will help protect our people and our economy.”
However, two years later, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice issued on 13 March 2014 its “Audit of the Department of Justice’s Efforts to Address Mortgage Fraud,” and reported that Obama’s promises to prosecute turned out to be just a lie. DOJ didn’t even try; and they lied even about their efforts. The IG found: “DOJ did not uniformly ensure that mortgage fraud was prioritized at a level commensurate with its public statements. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Criminal Investigative Division ranked mortgage fraud as the lowest criminal threat in its lowest crime category. Additionally, we found mortgage fraud to be a low priority, or not [even] listed as a priority, for the FBI Field Offices we visited.” Not just that, but, “Many Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSA) informed us about underreporting and misclassification of mortgage fraud cases.” This was important because, “Capturing such information would allow DOJ to … better evaluate its performance in targeting high-profile offenders.”
Privately, Obama had told Wall Street executives that he would protect them. . .
I haven’t seen any articles specifically stating it, but it seems evident that autism is a result of some neurological abnormality, and given the lavish use of poisonous chemicals in the US, it makes sense that having increasing amounts of such things in the environment will damage fetuses, and we would see that sort of damage increase over time as we increasing poison the environment. It truly doesn’t seem all that surprising.
This is not the sort of problem that the free market can solve. It requires government action from a functional government with the interests of the public as its guide. That’s not the sort of government we have.
I fell behind a lot, so I’m catching up. Some very interesting stories have emerged, but I will treat them briefly because I’ve discovered that I do enjoy non-computer time.
Here are three from Kevin Drum well worth the click:
A Criminologist Takes On the Lead-Crime Hypothesis
He finds the evidence unconvincing because he didn’t look at it.
The Right Wing Trains Its Hysterical Eye on Renewable Energy
Conservatives seem to hate renewable energy, presumably because businesses can’t make so much money from it as from oil and coal.
Wind Turbines Don’t Kill Very Many Birds
Very good article to bookmark. A chart from the article:
Rejecting wind turbines because they kill birds is straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel.
A video interview with transcript at Democracy Now! Their blurb:
Award-winning journalist Matt Taibbi is out with an explosive new book that asks why the vast majority of white-collar criminals have avoided prison since the financial crisis began, while an unequal justice system imprisons the poor and people of color on a mass scale. In The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, Taibbi explores how the Depression-level income gap between the wealthy and the poor is mirrored by a “justice” gap in who is targeted for prosecution and imprisonment. “It is much more grotesque to consider the non-enforcement of white-collar criminals when you do consider how incredibly aggressive law enforcement is with regard to everybody else,” Taibbi says.
An incredibly cynical and mean-spirited—but very vigorous—effort is underway to prevent the government from simplifying filing tax returns. The power behind the effort: companies that sell tax-preparation software. I know that many will think, “So what? Business as usual.” Our expectation nowadays is that business decisions are made without any regard for morality, that morality does not belong in the business world, and any moral concern must immediately defer to profit.
This is an enormously bad idea and trend. It means, for example, that businesses are free to poison our drinking water if that is profitable for them. So they do it. Repeatedly, while we simply watch, get sick, and die.
Liz Day writes in ProPublica of the current effort to screw the public:
Over the last year, a rabbi, a state NAACP official, a small town mayor and other community leaders wrote op-eds and letters to Congress with remarkably similar language on a remarkably obscure topic.
Each railed against a long-standing proposal that would give taxpayers the option to use pre-filled tax returns. They warned that the program would be a conflict of interest for the IRS and would especially hurt low-income people, who wouldn’t have the resources to fight inaccurate returns. Rabbi Elliot Dorff wrote in a Jewish Journal op-ed that he “shudder[s] at the impact this program will have on the most vulnerable people in American society.”
“It’s alarming and offensive” that the IRS would target the “the most vulnerable Americans,” two other letters said. The concept, known as return-free filing, is a government “experiment” that would mean higher taxes for the poor, two op-eds argued.
The letters and op-eds don’t mention that, as ProPublica laid out last year, return-free filing might allow tens of millions of Americans to file their taxes for free and in minutes. Or that, under proposals authored by several federal lawmakers, it would be voluntary, using information the government already receives from banks and employers and that taxpayers could adjust. Or that the concept has been endorsed by Presidents Obama and Reagan and is already a reality in some parts of Europe.
So, where did the letters and op-eds come from? Here’s one clue:
Rabbi Dorff says he was approached by a former student, Emily Pflaster, who sent him details and asked him to write an op-ed alerting the Jewish community to the threat.
What Pflaster did not tell him is that she works for a PR and lobbying firm with connections to Intuit, the maker of best-selling tax software TurboTax.
“I wish she would have told me that,” Dorff told ProPublica.
The website of Pflaster’s firm, JCI Worldwide, had listed Intuit among its clients, but removed it after ProPublica contacted them. Pflaster said Intuit had been listed by mistake, but added that the firm does work for the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a trade group of which Intuit is a member. Pflaster also said her firm has reached out to multiple groups and encouraged them to share information about the “flaws” of return-free filing.
The only CCIA member that’s involved with tax preparation software is Intuit, and it’s also the only member of the group that has taken a public position on return-free tax filing.
Intuit has long worked against return-free filing. (See How the Maker of TurboTax Fought Free, Simple Tax Filing.) The company has said in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it views free government tax preparation as a risk to its business.
Last year, the company spent more than $2.6 million on lobbying, some of it to lobby on four bills related to the issue, federal lobbying records show.
Both Intuit and CCIA declined to answer questions about their connections to the letters and op-eds. . .
Continue reading. There’s a good graphic at the link.
To my mind, this is close enough to evil as to make no difference.
The SEC pretty clearly currently sees it job as running interference for Wall Street against the Federal government, becoming an agency that protects rather than regulates Wall Street. The degree to which the SEC studiously avoided investigating Bernie Madoff is one prime example, but the trend continues.
Eric Zuesse has an article in Counterpunch that the SEC is simply corrupt. He spells out the evidence in detail.
Robert Schmidt’s article in Bloomberg News spells out the case an SEC prosecutor made in his retirement speech against SEC leadership. That article begins:
A trial attorney from the Securities and Exchange Commission said his bosses were too “tentative and fearful” to bring many Wall Street leaders to heel after the 2008 credit crisis, echoing the regulator’s outside critics.
James Kidney, who joined the SEC in 1986 and retired this month, offered the critique in a speech at his goodbye party. His remarks hit home with many in the crowd of SEC lawyers and alumni thanks to a part of his resume not publicly known: He had campaigned internally to bring charges against more executives in the agency’s 2010 case against Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS)
The SEC has become “an agency that polices the broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors,” Kidney said, according to a copy of his remarks obtained by Bloomberg News. “On the rare occasions when enforcement does go to the penthouse, good manners are paramount. Tough enforcement, risky enforcement, is subject to extensive negotiation and weakening.” . . .
And Pam Martens at Wall Street on Parade reviews the corruption of Wall Street and the SEC in a good summary article. From that article:
On June 28, 2006, Gary Aguirre, a former SEC attorney, testified before the U.S. Senate on the Judiciary. During his final days at the SEC, Aguirre had pushed to serve a subpoena on John Mack, the powerful former official of Morgan Stanley, to take testimony about his potential involvement in insider trading. Mack was protected; Aguirre was fired via a phone call while on vacation — just three days after contacting the Office of Special Counsel to discuss the filing of a complaint about the SEC’s protection of Mack.
Aguirre told the Senate hearing that the SEC had thrown a “roadblock” in his investigation because the suspected insider trader had “powerful political connections.” Aguirre returned on December 5, 2006 to testify further before the Senate Judiciary Committee, providing the following additional insights: . . .
These three articles are worth reading to understand how utterly our institutions (and the Obama Administration) have failed us in reining in Wall Street. Of course, Obama got a substantial amount of campaign money contributed from Wall Street. I assume letting Wall Street do as it wants was the quid pro quo.
Julian Sanchex has an excellent article in The Guardian. Thanks to CrankyObserver for the link. The article begins:
The American intelligence community is forcefully denying reports that the National Security Agency has long known about the Heartbleed bug, a catastrophic vulnerability inside one of the most widely-used encryption protocols upon which we rely every day to secure our web communications. But the denial itself serves as a reminder that NSA’s two fundamental missions – one defensive, one offensive – are fundamentally incompatible, and that they can’t both be handled credibly by the same government agency.
In case you’ve spent the past week under a rock, Heartbleed is the name security researchers have given to a subtle but serious bug in OpenSSL, a popular version of the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol – successor to the earlier Secore Sockets Layer (SSL) – that safeguards Internet traffic from prying eyes. When you log in to your online banking account or webmail service, the little lock icon that appears in your browser means SSL/TLS is scrambling the data to keep aspiring eavesdroppers away from your personal information. But an update to OpenSSL rolled out over two years ago contained a bug that would allow a hacker to trick sites into leaking information – including not only user passwords, but the master encryption keys used to secure all the site’s traffic and verify that you’re actually connected to MyBank.com rather than an impostor.
It’s exactly the kind of bug you’d expect NSA to be on the lookout for, since documents leaked by Edward Snowden confirm that the agency has long been engaged in an “aggressive, multi-pronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies”. In fact, that effort appears to have yielded a major breakthrough against SSL/TLS way back in 2010, two years before the Heartbleed bug was introduced – a revelation that sparked a flurry of speculation among encryption experts, who wondered what hidden flaw the agency had found in the protocol so essential to the Internet’s security.
On Friday, . . .
Greg Gordon has a very telling article in McClatchy. The first paragraph:
In sworn testimony last year, General Motors’ lead engineer in dealing with a faulty ignition switch repeatedly denied having any knowledge of a part change although he personally signed off on the redesign in 2006, excerpts of his deposition show.
He flat-out told a bald-faced lie.
James Fallows has another very useful post on responding to the Heartbleed situation
Good news—and for them as well, since they will get their full salary while on suspension: an extended paid vacation.
I hope the two engineers will face criminal charges and be required to defend their actions in open court. They deserve severe punishment, as at least 13 families are willing to testify. (Who knows how many others died with the wreck simply deemed “an accident”?)
From the article at the link:
G.M. did not name the engineers. But an investigator briefed on the matter said they were Raymond DeGiorgio, the lead ignition switch engineer for small cars including the Cobalt, and Gary Altman, an engineering manager for the Cobalt. Bloomberg News first identified the engineers.
The Bloomberg News article is worth the click. Offenses included perjury, but that doesn’t seem to be that big a deal anymore (cf. James Clapp).
Paul Krugman has an interesting book review in the NY Review of Books:
Capital in the Twenty-First Century
by Thomas Piketty, translated from the French by Arthur Goldhammer
Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 685 pp., $39.95
Thomas Piketty, professor at the Paris School of Economics, isn’t a household name, although that may change with the English-language publication of his magnificent, sweeping meditation on inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Yet his influence runs deep. It has become a commonplace to say that we are living in a second Gilded Age—or, as Piketty likes to put it, a second Belle Époque—defined by the incredible rise of the “one percent.” But it has only become a commonplace thanks to Piketty’s work. In particular, he and a few colleagues (notably Anthony Atkinson at Oxford and Emmanuel Saez at Berkeley) have pioneered statistical techniques that make it possible to track the concentration of income and wealth deep into the past—back to the early twentieth century for America and Britain, and all the way to the late eighteenth century for France.
The result has been a revolution in our understanding of long-term trends in inequality. Before this revolution, most discussions of economic disparity more or less ignored the very rich. Some economists (not to mention politicians) tried to shout down any mention of inequality at all: “Of the tendencies that are harmful to sound economics, the most seductive, and in my opinion the most poisonous, is to focus on questions of distribution,” declared Robert Lucas Jr. of the University of Chicago, the most influential macroeconomist of his generation, in 2004. But even those willing to discuss inequality generally focused on the gap between the poor or the working class and the merely well-off, not the truly rich—on college graduates whose wage gains outpaced those of less-educated workers, or on the comparative good fortune of the top fifth of the population compared with the bottom four fifths, not on the rapidly rising incomes of executives and bankers.
It therefore came as a revelation when Piketty and his colleagues showed that incomes of the now famous “one percent,” and of even narrower groups, are actually the big story in rising inequality. And this discovery came with a second revelation: talk of a second Gilded Age, which might have seemed like hyperbole, was nothing of the kind. In America in particular the share of national income going to the top one percent has followed a great U-shaped arc. Before World War I the one percent received around a fifth of total income in both Britain and the United States. By 1950 that share had been cut by more than half. But since 1980 the one percent has seen its income share surge again—and in the United States it’s back to what it was a century ago.
Still, today’s economic elite is very different from that of the nineteenth century, isn’t it? Back then, great wealth tended to be inherited; aren’t today’s economic elite people who earned their position? Well, Piketty tells us that this isn’t as true as you think, and that in any case this state of affairs may prove no more durable than the middle-class society that flourished for a generation after World War II. The big idea of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that we haven’t just gone back to nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to “patrimonial capitalism,” in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties.
It’s a remarkable claim—and precisely because it’s so remarkable, it needs to be examined carefully and critically. Before I get into that, however, let me say right away that Piketty has written a truly superb book. It’s a work that melds grand historical sweep—when was the last time you heard an economist invoke Jane Austen and Balzac?—with painstaking data analysis. And even though Piketty mocks the economics profession for its “childish passion for mathematics,” underlying his discussion is a tour de force of economic modeling, an approach that integrates the analysis of economic growth with that of the distribution of income and wealth. This is a book that will change both the way we think about society and the way we do economics.
What do we know about economic inequality, and about when do we know it? . . .
Do not live or spend much time near fracking sites: the government is failing to regulate fracking and when businesses are given the opportunity, they poison the environment. Lisa Song and Jim Morris report at McClatchy:
People in natural gas drilling areas who complain about nauseating odors, nosebleeds and other symptoms they fear could be caused by shale development are usually told by state regulators that monitoring data show the air quality is fine.
But a new study suggests that the most commonly used air monitoring techniques often underestimate public health threats because they don’t catch toxic emissions that spike at various points during gas production. The study, reported this week in the peer-reviewed journal Reviews on Environmental Health, was conducted by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, a nonprofit based near Pittsburgh.
A health survey the group released last year found that people who live near drilling sites in Washington County, Pa., in the Marcellus Shale, reported symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, breathing difficulties and nosebleeds, all of which could be caused by pollutants known to be emitted from gas sites. Similar problems have been reported by people who live in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas.
While residents want to know whether gas drilling is affecting the air near their homes – where emissions can vary dramatically over the course of a day – regulators generally use methods designed to assess long-term regional air quality.
They’re “misapplying the technology,” said lead author David Brown, who conducted the study with three of his colleagues at the Environmental Health Project. . .
Amazing to see something so well established and working so well in other countries being seriously considered in the US. But indeed the states are supposed to be the laboratories of democracy, so I hope this effort comes to fruition so we can see here what it would be like. (Of course, insurance companies and medical profession will undoubtedly do all they can to undermine and sabotage the effort: that’s the American way!)
Only by sending responsible parties to prison, as well as fining the corporation that failed to supervise them adequately, can the sort of corporate crime like the Ford Pinto (gas tank) and the Chevy Cobalt (ignition switch) be curtailed. Read this post and see whether you agree. Holding accountable the persons responisble just seems basic common sense and decency. You don’t get carte blanche because you’re acting as an employee. The law still applies, and a crime committed in a corporate context should be treated exactly as a crime in the civilian context. Because someone is part of the corporate “person” does not mean they relinquish their own personhood.
Take a look. The article at the link begins:
The Heartbleed Bug is a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL cryptographic software library. This weakness allows stealing the information protected, under normal conditions, by the SSL/TLS encryption used to secure the Internet. SSL/TLS provides communication security and privacy over the Internet for applications such as web, email, instant messaging (IM) and some virtual private networks (VPNs).
The Heartbleed bug allows anyone on the Internet to read the memory of the systems protected by the vulnerable versions of the OpenSSL software. This compromises the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to encrypt the traffic, the names and passwords of the users and the actual content. This allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications, steal data directly from the services and users and to impersonate services and users.
What leaks in practice?
We have tested some of our own services from attacker’s perspective. We attacked ourselves from outside, without leaving a trace. Without using any privileged information or credentials we were able steal from ourselves the secret keys used for our X.509 certificates, user names and passwords, instant messages, emails and business critical documents and communication.
How to stop the leak? . . .
Nowadays one has to wonder what is the likelihood that this security leak is due to NSA intervention in the development process (cf. the flawed encryption algorithm that NSA paid RSA to implement—an algorithm that RSA now recommends you do not use.)
However, the article at the link given above is pretty exhaustive and it attributes the problem to a programming error.
It seems very much as though common sense were in short supply these days. Read Matthew Yglesias’s article for a fine example stupid and pointless rules.
Right now it sees its mission as assisting the industry it’s supposed to regulate and abandoning the role of protecting investors. Pam Martens writes at Wall Street on Parade:
The fallout from the new book, “Flash Boys” by Michael Lewis continues. Yesterday, Jonathon Trugman wrote in the New York Post that “These traders who use the HOV lane to get ahead of investors could not do their trades without the full knowledge and complicity of the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq.”
Trubman went on to compare the two best known stock exchanges in the U.S. to houses of ill repute, writing: “What is clearly unfair and unethical — and, frankly, ought to be outlawed — is how the exchanges have essentially taken on the role of running a high-priced, high-frequency brothel…”
While it’s true that the New York Post might possibly overuse sexual analogies (on August 10, 2011 it ran a front page cover comparing the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a “hooker’s drawers”), in this instance Trugman is spot on.
Not only are the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq allowing high frequency traders to co-locate their computers next to the main computers of the exchanges to gain a speed advantage over other customers at a monthly cost that only the very rich can afford to pay but they’re now tacking on infrastructure charges that price everyone out of efficient use of the exchanges except the very top tier of trading firms.
Lewis writes in “Flash Boys” that “both Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange announced that they had widened the pipe that carried information between the HFT [high frequency trading] computers and each exchange’s matching engine. The price for the new pipe was $40,000 a month, up from the $25,000 a month the HFT firms had been paying for the old, smaller pipe.”
By late 2011, according to Lewis, “more than two-thirds of Nasdaq’s revenues derived, one way or another, from high-frequency trading firms.”
And we’ll take Trugman’s analogy one step further: . . .
Very interesting profile of the artist who first created the icons for the new Apple Macintosh. It begins:
Thirty years ago, as tech titans battled for real estate in the personal computer market, an inconspicuous young artist gave the Macintosh a smile.
Susan Kare “was the type of kid who always loved art.” As a child, she lost herself in drawings, paintings, and crafts; as a young woman, she dove into art history and dreamed of being a world-renowned fine artist.
But when a chance encounter in 1982 reconnected her with an old friend and Apple employee, Kare found herself working in a different medium, with a much smaller canvas — about 1,024 pixels. Equipped with few computer skills and lacking any prior experience with digital design, Kare proceeded to revolutionize pixel art.
For many, Susan Kare’s icons were a first taste of human-computer interaction: they were approachable, friendly, and simple, much like the designer herself. Today, we recognize the little images — system-failure bomb, paintbrush, mini-stopwatch, dogcow — as old, pixelated friends.
But Kare, who has subsequently done design work for Microsoft, Facebook, and Paypal, has also become her own icon, immortalized in the annals of pixel art. We had a chance to interview her; this is her story. . .
Max Ehrenfreund in the Washington Post has a good interview exploring the way the stock market is rigged:
A small group of financial firms are using their technological superiority to skim the top off the market, Michael Lewis claims in his new book “Flash Boys.” There’s an increasingly heated debate over whether the practices, known as high-frequency trading, are harmful or helpful. Lewis, for his part, says the market is “rigged,” and several federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, are now looking into what Charles Schwab recently labeled “a growing cancer.”
Sophisticated and expensive computers allow high-frequency traders to take advantage of minuscule differences in price among the many exchanges where securities are bought and sold. Some firms pay to place their computers on the site of a stock exchange to be sure their access to price data is as fast as possible, a practice known as colocation; others will use technology to obscure their trading intentions for a few crucial thousandths of a second. Lewis’s book tells the story of Brad Katsuyama, a former trader at the Royal Bank of Canada in New York. Katsuyama opened a new stock exchange last year to give investors protection from HFT.
Lewis is not the first to cry foul on these strategies. Eric Scott Hunsader, the founder of Nanex, has made himself immensely unpopular in some circles for his outspoken and persistent criticism of HFT, which he first encountered during the “flash crash” of 2010. Bloomberg called him the “nemesis” and “scourge” of the HFT world.
I asked Hunsader to talk about the book, the new stock exchange, and his long career in financial technology. The conversation focused on the Securities and Exchange Commission ruling in 2007 that allowed what we now know as high-frequency trading. The transcript, edited for length and clarity, is below.
Wonkblog: When I was a kid, I can remember my grandpa showing me how to look up stock prices in the newspaper. And there were exactly three exchanges. Oftentimes the prices were in fractions — one-eighth, three-quarters, and so on. And then, it wasn’t long after that that I was showing him how to look up stock prices online. I’m wondering if you can talk about the transition into electronic trading — and you think that at least initially, it was good for everybody. Is that right? . . .
An interesting and reasonably lengthy article in the Washington Post by Lydia DePillis:
MONTEGUT, La. — After a century of oil exploration, the wetlands of Southern Louisiana have been cut to ribbons. Companies dug deep channels to lay pipe and ferry black gold out of the bayous, but never stitched them up; the open sores now funnel sand out to sea and allow saltwater to corrode vegetation that held the land in place. Largely as a result, the coastal buffer zone is 25 percent smaller than it used to be back in 1932, and still losing about a football field’s worth of land every hour — leaving towns inland ever more vulnerable to the next giant storm.
Right now, there’s a huge fight underway in Baton Rouge that will determine whether industry pays to protect what’s left. If it doesn’t, it’s not clear who will.
Here’s the quick version: Last summer, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East sued 97 oil companies for decades of negligence. The proceeds could provide a good chunk of the state’s $50 billion coastal restoration plan, which is still mostly unfunded. The state’s oil industry-backed Republicans, however, are scrambling to derail the suit — and just might be able to, with a bill that would essentially deprive the flood authorities of any power to litigate large environmental cases, now or in the future. If that happens, environmental groups are maneuvering to join the suit, or file another one that would accomplish the same thing.
And the consequences are not just abstract. The 711,000 residents of Louisiana’s five most coastal counties live in an ever more precarious reality — and few more so than the denizens of Isle de Jean Charles, a filigree of sandbars an hour southeast of New Orleans. Many of its residents can’t or won’t move away, either because it’s all they’ve ever known, or because the very industry flushing the land from beneath their feet is still the biggest source of vitality the region has. A walk through town shows us just how deep those conflicts run. . .