Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 17th, 2010

They know no shame at all

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Alex Seitz-Wald at ThinkProgress:

Transocean, Ltd., the giant oil contractor that leased its Deepwater Horizon rig to BP, held a “closed-door meeting” with shareholders Friday, “just days after” executives appeared before Congress to explain the company’s role in the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

As ThinkProgress noted, the meeting took place at the company’s headquarters in Zug, Switzerland, where Transocean relocated two years ago to avoid paying taxes.

Though CEO Steven Newman “ignored questions from reporters,” the company said in a statement that it would distribute $1 billion in dividends to shareholders:

The revelation that Transocean is distributing a $1 billion profit to shareholders as one of its drill sites leaks millions of gallons of oil into the sea is sure to inflame an already smarting debate over offshore drilling and the company’s role.[…]

To put the distribution in perspective, the amount of profit that Transocean plans to pay out in the next year is half of what Exxon ultimately paid for the Exxon Valdez disaster off the Alaska Coast.

It’s also more than double what BP has said they’ve spent on the cleanup to date.

Meanwhile, Transocean has “passionately argued” to limit its financial responsibility for the disaster. The company filed a court request last week to cap its liability under $27 million, a paltry sum considering BP has already spent over $450 million on cleanup, and analysts estimate the effort could ultimately cost up to $8 billion.

As Raw Story notes, Transocean has actually made money from the disaster, collecting over $400 million from insurers, leaving it with a profit of $270 million after the costs of the rig are subtracted.

As maritime attorney Jeff Seely told NPR, “They are the only people who have been compensated for this tragedy. The decedents [of the 11 workers killed in an explosion on the rig] haven’t been the compensated. The injured people who still are suffering, all the fishermen out in the Gulf that can no longer work haven’t been compensated.”

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

How Neocons avoid thinking

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They distract themselves with idiotic ideas. For example, Rachel Slajda reports for TPM LiveWire:

A new Miss USA was crowned last night, the first time a Muslim, Arab-American woman won the honor. But for Daniel Pipes, pipes-missusa-split2-cropped-proto-custom_2a neocon pundit who writes for the National Review and was a Bush appointee to the Peace Institute, that’s one too many.

On his blog yesterday, Pipes pointed out five other Muslim women who’ve won beauty contests in the U.S., Britain and France over the last five years. [Average: 1 per year. Outrageous!!!! – LG]

“They are all attractive, but this surprising frequency of Muslims winning beauty pageants makes me suspect an odd form of affirmative action,” he wrote.

That “suspicion is borne out,” he wrote, because of one pageant winner at North Carolina A&T University who wore a hijab under her crown.

Pipes does not explain why Miss A&T’s hijab proves his suspicion that a handful of Muslim beauty pageant winners are the result of some “odd form of affirmative action.”

Photo shows Daniel Pipes and the new Miss USA, Rima Fakih, who seems eminently qualified to win the contest without any “affirmative action.” Mr. Pipes, on the other hand, …

UPDATE: Here’s a better photo of the winner. I think she probably won on her merits (click to enlarge):

Noticeable lack of burqa in this photo.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 11:27 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Viktor Frankl on Our Search for Meaning

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Viktor Frankl is notably the author of Man’s Search for Meaning, which tells of his own search for meaning in uncertain circumstances. (He was a Jewish prisoner in a Nazi deathcamp.) It’s well worth reading, and I read it because for a time I was reading some good self-improvement books, and I noticed that every single one of them referenced Frankl’s book.

Dan Colman at Open Culture:

Viktor Frankl, a trained Austrian psychiatrist, spent five long years in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, eventually ending up in Auschwitz. During this time, he helped fellow prisoners cope with their ordeal and worked out a new approach to psychology called Logotherapy. This theory turned on Frankl’s belief that we’re all fundamentally driven by a “search for meaning.” It’s what makes us human, and we can continue this search even in the worst of situations. Not even the Nazis could take that away.  This belief sustained Frankl during his imprisonment, something he wrote about in his epic work of survival literature called Man’s Search for Meaning. (It’s a must-read.) The grainy footage above was recorded at a conference held in Toronto (probably during the 1960s). It gives you a quick introduction to a man who, despite personally confronting the worst humanity had to offer, still believed in our core goodness and possibilities.

via TED Best of the Web

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 11:19 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Obama and civil liberties

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I am amazed at the lack of outrage in this country as we gradually lose our civil rights. For example, Hillary Clinton has floated the idea of stripping citizenship from people if they should ever be suspected of being terrorists. Great: no due process, the very right that citizens have under the constitution, and no presumption of innocence that requires the state to prove guilt in open court, with the accused allowed to face and question the accusers—all that is gone, because you stop being a citizen as soon as you’re suspected.

And, of course, even if you are a citizen, Obama has now established a new precedent whereby you can be murdered by the government using secret evidence and no due process. Great! That should not result in any problems—except that the government’s record on identifying terrorists correctly is pretty bad. Quite a few at Guantánamo have been found to be innocent of any terrorist connection and ordered by the courts to be released.

Don’t worry, though! Obama is refusing to release them anyway—who cares about stupid old courts, anyway? Certainly not Obama and Holder.

At least twice, the US has kidnapped people, tortured the be-Jesus out of them, only to realize that they were the wrong people and completely innocent. Oops, says the US, our bad—and no, you have no legal recourse to sue the government for damages because we’re the government and we can do what we like to you and even kill you if we want, so you had better just shut up. And, of course, the US has tortured some to death, so we’ll never know whether those people were guilty of anything other than falling into the hands of the US.

That’s a bad direction to go. Kevin Drum:

I should have linked to this a couple of days ago, but better late than never. Here is Glenn Greenwald noting that recent anti-terrorist measures — some directly from President Obama and others not, but mostly with bipartisan support in Congress in either case — go well beyond what the Bush/Cheney administration ever proposed. Instead of merely targeting foreign nationals, these new proposal are aimed directly at American citizens:

A bipartisan group from Congress sponsors legislation to strip Americans of their citizenship based on Terrorism accusations. Barack Obama claims the right to assassinate Americans far from any battlefield and with no due process of any kind. The Obama administration begins covertly abandoning long-standing Miranda protections for American suspects by vastly expanding what had long been a very narrow "public safety" exception, and now Eric Holder explicitly advocates legislation to codify that erosion. John McCain and Joe Lieberman introduce legislation to bar all Terrorism suspects, including Americans arrested on U.S. soil, from being tried in civilian courts.

….There is, of course, no moral difference between subjecting citizens and non-citizens to abusive or tyrannical treatment. But as a practical matter, the dangers intensify when the denial of rights is aimed at a government’s own population. The ultimate check on any government is its own citizenry; vesting political leaders with oppressive domestic authority uniquely empowers them to avoid accountability and deter dissent.

Aside from war and occupation, governments have far more coercive power against their own citizens than they do against residents of other countries. There are natural limits to what the U.S. government can do, say, to Chinese or French nationals in their own countries. But within the United States itself, the only restrictions on state power are largely legal, and without those legal limitations the federal government has an almost unlimited ability to exercise its coercive authority over anyone it chooses to. This is why the distinction between citizens and non-citizens is so important.

I am, fundamentally, an admirer of Barack Obama. I like his temperament, I like his worldview, and I like his management style. As I’ve said before, he has a habit of disappointing me just a little bit on an almost routine basis, but most of the time that doesn’t interfere with my basic admiration. The one exception has been his attitude toward civil liberties and terrorism. His early ban on torture was profoundly welcome, but aside from that he’s mostly continued Bush-era policies with only minor changes and then added to them things that Bush and Cheney could only have dreamed of. In this one area, I feel betrayed.

For a couple of reasons it’s funny that I feel this way. First, this is really nothing new. Democrats have been only marginally better than Republicans on these issues for years. The Clinton era was hardly a golden age of civil liberties, after all, and after 9/11 most of Bush’s infringements on civil liberties were supported — sometimes publicly, sometimes merely implicitly — by plenty of Democrats. Obama was one of those Democrats while he was a senator, and he’s still one of them now.

Second, unlike Glenn, I’m not a hardcore defender of civil liberties in every conceivable circumstance. Global terrorism really does blur the lines between traditional battlefields and domestic policing in ways that are tricky to resolve. Guantanamo and the broader issue of enemy combatants is, as I said several times while Bush was still in office, an excruciatingly difficult one. Even the operation of broad surveillance networks poses some genuinely complicated problems thanks to the technical architecture of modern communications systems.

But as difficult as a lot of these problems are generally, once the U.S. government starts targeting U.S. citizens without warrants or due process, we’ve crossed a bright line that’s dangerously corrosive. That includes the warrantless wiretapping and non-appealable no-fly lists of the Bush administration, and it includes assassinating Americans and removing Miranda protections under the Obama administration. They’re outrageous and dangerous transgressions no matter who’s doing them, and Obama needs to take a long, deep breath and reconsider how he’s handling these issues. In most things, Obama is famous for taking the long view and not letting day-to-day political considerations force his hand. He needs to start doing the same thing here.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 11:11 am

Atheism and death

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I’ve been following the on-going posts on Andrew Sullivan’s blog (written by his readers) on whether atheists are at a particular disadvantage with respect to mortality—e.g., fearing death more than the religious, etc.

So far it’s come out just as you would expect:  atheists and others who disbelieve in an afterlife (including quite a few Jews) don’t find death any more scary than the religious, so far as I can tell. Indeed, Sullivan seems much more obsessed and upset with his own death than I am with mine—and Woody Allen! My god!

From a pretty early age we learn various facts about the world—e.g., everybody poops, and everybody eventually dies. In fact, all that poop must die (eventually). This fact is easy to understand and, generally speaking, people don’t give it a lot of thought, in part because it doesn’t deserve a lot of thought (any more than our pooping). But for some few, the idea that they will die is overwhelming, and it’s hard to help them. You can’t simply say, "Get a life," even if you’re thinking it, because they will say that is exactly the problem.

But consider: you’ll die anyway, whether you worry about it or not, and all the time spent worrying is time not devoted to enjoying the life you have. So get a grip: enjoy life while you have it.

Here’s Kevin Drum bringing up an interesting idea on the topic:

I promise not to blather forever on the death and atheism meme, but I think I’ll do one more post on the subject just to finish things up. I wrote a few days ago that although knowledge of our inevitable death is unique to humans, it doesn’t define what it means to be human any more than a hundred other things that are unique to humans. Andrew Sullivan disagrees:

I find Kevin’s final statement unpersuasive. To be human is to be aware of our own finitude, and to wonder at that. Montaigne argued that to philosophize is to learn how to die. Camus put it differently: men die and they are not happy. For me, this last thing is our first thing as humans. It is our defining characteristic, even though some animals may experience this in a different way.

And our ability to think about this casts us between angels and beasts. It is our reality. Facing it is our life’s task.

I think I hardly have to say that this subject is light years outside my usual wheelhouse. So I don’t have a lot to say about it. But this attitude toward death surely sums up a vast chasm between the religious and the nonreligious. "Facing it is our life’s task"? I can’t even conceive of that. I think about death sometimes, just like everyone, and sometimes these thoughts bother me more than other times. But thinking about it all the time? Casting it as uniquely central to the human condition? That’s almost incomprehensible to me. Wondering about our own finitude is one thing — I imagine we all do that from time to time — but why should this be elevated above the human ability to create art, science, mathematics, love, war, poetry, trade, government, or ethics — or the ability to wonder in the first place? Why is learning how to deal with our eventual death the defining characteristic of being human? Not just because Montaigne said so, certainly.

There’s no answer, of course. Andrew thinks it is and I don’t. But I confess that even on an intellectual basis I have a hard time grasping this. Still, we can’t just let things rest there, can we? So instead, in an audacious effort to wrest this question away from the high-minded philosophers and transform it back into the kind of research and policy drudgery this blog excels at, here’s an odd and seemingly unrelated thought: are autistics less religious than the rest of us? In general, as you go further along the Asperger’s/autism spectrum are you less likely to believe in God and be concerned about death? And vice versa for those at the other end of the spectrum? I’m not sure why this conversation caused this particular question to pop into my head, but it did. Does anyone know if there’s any research on this subject?

Sullivan: "Facing death is our life’s task." I would love to see a proof of that. I suspect that it’s just an empty statement, and certainly doesn’t apply universally. Our "life’s task" varies enormously by age and situation, anyway: first, it’s to get fed; then (in succession, not especially rapid) to learn to walk, to learn to talk, to find friends and a mate, to find a way to continue to be fed and sheltered, etc. I think for most people, facing death is an extremely low priority, as it should be. Much more interesting things to deal with.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 11:01 am

Posted in Daily life

Finding savings in the DoD budget

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It shouldn’t be difficult:

country-distribution-2008

It looks an awful lot as though the US could comfortably cut its military expenditures in half and still be away ahead of other countries (for example, we’d still spend around 3.5 times as much as China, instead of 7 times as much as we do now.

And it’s not as though we don’t need the money: we could immediately put it to work rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, strengthening education from pre-school through graduate studies, subsidize a superb national railway system, and so on.

But Congress is in thrall to military contractors, a source of a steady stream of bribes contributions, and so no action will be taken. Congress spends an amazing amount of effort working AGAINST what is in the country’s interest in favor of working FOR the interests of big businesses (which give Representatives and Senators lots of nice money).

Steve Benen:

It’s not common to find cabinet secretaries calling for less money for their department, which helps make Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ recent efforts are the more admirable.

There has been a feeding frenzy at the Pentagon budget trough since the 9/11 attacks. Pretty much anything the military chiefs and industry lobbyists pitched, Congress approved — no matter the cost and no matter if the weapons or programs were over budget, underperforming or no longer needed in a post-cold-war world.

Annual defense spending has nearly doubled in the last decade to $549 billion. That does not include the cost of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, which this year will add $159 billion.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has now vowed to do things differently. In two recent speeches, he declared that the nation cannot keep spending at this rate and that the defense budget "gusher" has been "turned off and will stay off for a good period of time." He vowed that going forward all current programs and future spending requests will receive "unsparing" scrutiny.

Gates hasn’t recommended cuts to the Pentagon budget, but he has suggested slowing its growth, trimming the bureaucracy, and eliminating specific ineffective and/or unnecessary weapons systems. Given the nation’s larger budget challenges, the Defense Secretary believes existing military spending is simply unsustainable — and he’s right.

Congress, however, doesn’t quite see it that way.

Lawmakers from both parties are poised to override Gates and fund the C-17 cargo plane and an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — two weapons systems the defense secretary has been trying to cut from next year’s budget. They have also made clear they will ignore Gates’s pleas to hold the line on military pay raises and health-care costs, arguing that now is no time to skimp on pay and benefits for troops who have been fighting two drawn-out wars.

The competing agendas could lead to a major clash between Congress and the Obama administration this summer. Gates has repeatedly said he will urge President Obama to veto any defense spending bills that include money for the F-35’s extra engine or the C-17, both of which he tried unsuccessfully to eliminate last year.

Members of Congress, rhetoric about spending cuts and eliminating waste notwithstanding, recognize the political benefits associated with more spending on Defense programs. The Pentagon, then, is the only part of the government that asks Congress for less money, and gets more than it requested.

Gates, to his enormous credit, had considerable success on this front last year, getting the kind of spending cuts the Bush/Cheney administration couldn’t. This year may prove more difficult, but I’m glad the administration, and the Pentagon in particular, is tackling this effort.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 10:42 am

More dangerous police misbehavior in the War on Drugs`

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I notice that in the War on Drugs, those injured and killed are people, not drugs. Maybe we should negotiate a peace with drugs so that so many people don’t get wounded or killed. John Cole at Balloon Juice:

Assholes:

Preliminary information indicates that members of the Detroit Police Special Response Team approached the house and announced themselves as police, Godbee said, citing the officers and at least one independent witness.

“As is common in these types of situations, the officers deployed a distractionary device commonly known as a flash bang,” he said in the statement. “The purpose of the device is to temporarily disorient occupants of the house to make it easier for officers to safely gain control of anyone inside and secure the premise.”

Upon entering the home, the officer encountered a 46-year-old female inside the front room, Godbee said. “Exactly what happened next is a matter still under investigation, but it appears the officer and the woman had some level of physical contact.

“At about this time, the officer’s weapon discharged one round which, tragically, struck 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley Jones in the neck/head area.”

Yes, this was a murder investigation, but why is it COMMON for police to be throwing god damned grenades into people’s houses? You think that might be the problem? Did they have somewhere else to be? Couldn’t they wait until the morning? Are stake-outs just in the movies these days?

I’m surprised they didn’t charge the family with child endangerment like they did in Missouri.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 10:33 am

Texas Textbooks Proposal: Students Must Discuss Gutting Social Security, Explain How U.N. Undermines U.S.

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Justin Elliott at TPMMuckraker:

With the long-running Texas history textbooks standards fight scheduled to end with a final vote by the State Board of Education Friday, arch-conservative board member Don McLeroy is proposing a new set of changes that read like a tea party manifesto.

The new amendment (.pdf), which is expected to get a vote on Thursday, would require high school history students to "discuss alternatives regarding long term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, given the decreasing worker to retiree ratio" and also "evaluate efforts by global organizations to undermine U. S. sovereignty."

McLeroy, who will leave the board at the end of the year after a primary election loss, says the first provision "is a critical thinking skills item, and it is also relevant to assessing the policies of the various ideologies that have shaped where we are as Americans."

As justification for that second item, McLeroy writes: "Threats of global government to individual freedom and liberty include the votes of the U. N. General Assembly, the International Criminal Court, the U. N. Gun Ban proposal, forced redistribution of American wealth to third world countries, and global environmental initiatives."

Check out all the proposed changes here (.pdf).

And stay tuned, TPMmuckraker will have more coverage later this week.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 10:27 am

Israel blocks Noam Chomsky’s entrance

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Israel takes steps to keep dangerous ideas out of their country. Associated Press:

An Israeli official says academic and polemicist Noam Chomsky, who is a fierce critic of Israel, has been denied entry to the country.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said Chomsky was turned away for "various reasons" but declined to elaborate. Chomsky was trying to cross the Allenby Bridge from Jordan. He was scheduled to deliver a lecture at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank.

Haddad said her ministry was looking into allowing him to enter only the West Bank.

Chomsky told Channel 10 TV from Jordan Sunday: "I’ve often spoken at Israeli universities."

Chomsky is one of Israel’s harshest academic critics. After Israel’s 2009 war in Gaza, he was quoted as saying, "supporters of Israel are in reality supporters of its moral degeneration."

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 10:25 am

The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment

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Peter Beinart in the NY Review of Books:

In 2003, several prominent Jewish philanthropists hired Republican pollster Frank Luntz to explain why American Jewish college students were not more vigorously rebutting campus criticism of Israel. In response, he unwittingly produced the most damning indictment of the organized American Jewish community that I have ever seen.

The philanthropists wanted to know what Jewish students thought about Israel. Luntz found that they mostly didn’t. “Six times we have brought Jewish youth together as a group to talk about their Jewishness and connection to Israel,” he reported. “Six times the topic of Israel did not come up until it was prompted. Six times these Jewish youth used the word ‘they‘ rather than ‘us‘ to describe the situation.”

That Luntz encountered indifference was not surprising. In recent years, several studies have revealed, in the words of Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College and Ari Kelman of the University of California at Davis, that “non-Orthodox younger Jews, on the whole, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders,” with many professing “a near-total absence of positive feelings.” In 2008, the student senate at Brandeis, the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored university in America, rejected a resolution commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the Jewish state.

Luntz’s task was to figure out what had gone wrong. When he probed the students’ views of Israel, he hit up against some firm beliefs. First, “they reserve the right to question the Israeli position.” These young Jews, Luntz explained, “resist anything they see as ‘group think.’” They want an “open and frank” discussion of Israel and its flaws. Second, “young Jews desperately want peace.” When Luntz showed them a series of ads, one of the most popular was entitled “Proof that Israel Wants Peace,” and listed offers by various Israeli governments to withdraw from conquered land. Third, “some empathize with the plight of the Palestinians.” When Luntz displayed ads depicting Palestinians as violent and hateful, several focus group participants criticized them as stereotypical and unfair, citing their own Muslim friends.

Most of the students, in other words, were liberals, broadly defined. They had imbibed some of the defining values of American Jewish political culture: a belief in open debate, a skepticism about military force, a commitment to human rights. And in their innocence, they did not realize that they were supposed to shed those values when it came to Israel. The only kind of Zionism they found attractive was a Zionism that recognized Palestinians as deserving of dignity and capable of peace, and they were quite willing to condemn an Israeli government that did not share those beliefs. Luntz did not grasp the irony. The only kind of Zionism they found attractive was the kind that the American Jewish establishment has been working against for most of their lives.

Among American Jews today, there are a great many Zionists, especially in the Orthodox world, people deeply devoted to the State of Israel. And there are a great many liberals, especially in the secular Jewish world, people deeply devoted to human rights for all people, Palestinians included. But the two groups are increasingly distinct. Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster—indeed, have actively opposed—a Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.

Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral. If the leaders of groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations do not change course, they will wake up one day to find a younger, Orthodox-dominated, Zionist leadership whose naked hostility to Arabs and Palestinians scares even them, and a mass of secular American Jews who range from apathetic to appalled. Saving liberal Zionism in the United States—so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel—is the great American Jewish challenge of our age. And it starts where Luntz’s students wanted it to start: by talking frankly about Israel’s current government, by no longer averting our eyes.

Since the 1990s, journalists and scholars have been describing a bifurcation in Israeli society. In the words of Hebrew University political scientist Yaron Ezrahi, “After decades of what came to be called a national consensus, the Zionist narrative of liberation [has] dissolved into openly contesting versions.” One version, “founded on a long memory of persecution, genocide, and a bitter struggle for survival, is pessimistic, distrustful of non-Jews, and believing only in Jewish power and solidarity.” Another, “nourished by secularized versions of messianism as well as the Enlightenment idea of progress,” articulates “a deep sense of the limits of military force, and a commitment to liberal-democratic values.” Every country manifests some kind of ideological divide. But in contemporary Israel, the gulf is among the widest on earth.

As Ezrahi and others have noted, …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 10:23 am

Prelate’s Record in Abuse Crisis

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It’s astonishing to me the lengths to which the Catholic church will go to protect its wealth. It’s as if God had appeared on earth—well, I guess they think He did—and said, “Job number 1: Preserve your wealth!” In fact, God’s comments about wealth were all quite negative, including an injunction to give it all away. I guess the Catholic church feels that it can ignore God.

Serge Kovaleski in the NY Times:

In 2002, at the height of the sexual abuse crisis confronting the Roman Catholic Church in America, Timothy M. Dolan arrived in Milwaukee as the new archbishop, succeeding a prelate who had been caught up in scandal. To abuse victims who had felt rebuffed by the church, Archbishop Dolan — warm, down to earth — seemed a bright beam of hope.

He listened to them, wept with them and vowed to change the way the archdiocese dealt with the molestation of children by priests. But just months later, he handwrote a letter to Peter Isely, a victim and an advocate whose wife worried that the new archbishop would let him down.

“Listen to her,” Archbishop Dolan wrote. “Do not put your trust in me. You often speak eloquently about your own imperfection and sin. I’m in the same boat. I am imperfect, sinful, struggling, clumsy.”

His message was to trust only in God. And his warning proved accurate: He would disappoint many victims.

Days before the letter, they learned that Archbishop Dolan had instructed lawyers to seek the dismissal of five lawsuits against the church. Over the next six years, advocates would lament that he resisted many of their appeals for change, from opening church records on predatory priests to offering victims more comprehensive help.

Archbishop Dolan of Milwaukee is now Archbishop Dolan of New York, one of the church’s most visible leaders. As the scandal has reignited in recent months, focusing scrutiny on bishops from Ireland to India, he has used his influential post to defend Pope Benedict XVI from criticism that he was slow to move against priests.

The archbishop himself has struggled with the crisis during the decade since it struck the church in America with startling force. While sexual abuse has not confronted him as a major issue in New York, it loomed large in Milwaukee and in his previous assignment as a bishop in St. Louis. And a close look at his record there, largely unexamined since his arrival in New York about a year ago, shows how he tried — not always successfully — to accommodate competing demands.

One of a generation of bishops who came to the job after many of their predecessors were discredited, Archbishop Dolan faced a daunting set of challenges: assuaging not only abuse victims but also a church hierarchy worried about ruinous damages awards, parishioners angry over payments to victims, and his own priests, some perhaps falsely accused. It was a diplomatic gantlet many recent bishops have had to walk, and Archbishop Dolan trod it with particular care.

A genial conciliator, he consoled victims and created a fund to pay for compensation and counseling. He helped remove a dozen priests from ministry and disclosed the names of dozens more.

“He changed our experience in Milwaukee,” said Ralph Leese, 58, who received a financial settlement for his repeated abuse by a priest. “He made you feel like he knew where you were coming from, almost like the abuse had happened to him.”

But like bishops before him, the archbishop was also a tough defender of the church’s interests, clergy and bank balances. In Milwaukee, he worked in an unusually public and personal way to limit lawsuits and settlements. He declined to post the names of abusive priests who belonged to religious orders, though some other bishops have done so…

Continue reading. That’s the ticket! As Jesus said, “Follow the money! And when you get money, protect it at all costs! That’s the essence of my teaching.”

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 10:20 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

The End of Magical Oil

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From the Atlantic:

Lisa Margonelli is a writer on energy and environment. She spent four years and traveled 100,000 miles to write her book, Oil On the Brain: Petroleum’s Long Strange Trip to Your Tank.

Here’s her article:

Until this horrifying video of oil barreling out of the well drilled by the now drowned Deepwater Horizon rig surfaced a few days ago, few Americans had given the deepwater wells of the Gulf much thought — but all of us were getting more and more dependent upon them.

Between 1995 and 2004, deepwater production grew by 535 percent — an unimaginably high, Madoff-like rate in a country with tapped oil reserves and a driving habit that gobbles up a quarter of the world’s oil production. If we glimpsed these wells at all, they were in a Jules Verne-like dreamscape of triumphant technology presented in an oil company ad. Dangers? We didn’t think of them. These wells were not on the east and west coasts, where the politically-empowered environmentalists worry about their views. And they weren’t in the pristine white north, so dear to many of us who’ve never been there.

Deepwater wells were in the Gulf — the official sacrifice zone for U.S. energy policy — where a critical mass of our refineries, a tangle of marine terminals, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and many decades of oil exploitation have sullied waters and local politics as far back as anyone can remember. Until it appeared on YouTube, this was “magic” oil, miraculously plugging the gap in our unspoken energy policy of increasing imports while yakking ineffectually about energy independence. Magically, too, its seemingly sacrifice-free growth was projected to jump by 62 percent to 2.1 million barrels a day by 2016 — nearly 43 percent of the whole U.S.’s straggling domestic oil production in 2008.

Now, as BP eerily prepares to drop a “top hat” over this ever larger spill, it’s time to re-examine this magic oil, and the trick that brought it to us.

Deepwater drilling had an improbable, unbelievable, giddy rise from its birth in 1993. Every well was pushing the envelope, either of depth in the water or the depth of the drillbit beneath the crust. “Every well I did was the deepest ever,” an oil industry professional told me, yesterday. “I worked on 20 wells that set records. Every guy that did my job had worked on 20 wells that set records. We were sprinting, breaking records right and left. Everything they did had never been done before.” For 17 years the deepwater rigs were jamming on the edge of the envelope.

As the demand for deepwater oil grew, so did the demand for deepwater rigs, each differently designed than the last. “A year and half ago there were 35 drillships like the Deepwater Horizon,” an officer on a Transocean drillship told me, “and by 2016 there will be 65. There’s a very limited number of people with the experience to be officers on them. And that pool is getting diluted.The age of the captains on these ships is falling from the mid 40’s to the mid-30’s.” The International Association of Drilling Contractors recently bemoaned a coming shortage of professionals.

And they were drilling into trickier and trickier formations. By 2008, 25 to 30 percent of remaining reservoirs in the Gulf had pressure issues, which the industry and the MMS were trying to figure out how to manage.

Deepwater was, in other words, an increasingly risky business in risky conditions, with new equipment, people, and practices. If it sounds a bit like the conditions that led to the financial meltdown, perhaps it was, particularly when you factor in the behavior of the regulator. The MMS, the proxy for American citizens, had put its faith in magic rather than in regular inspections and regulation. Like those of us driving around madly on land, who preferred not to think about the risks of this oil, the MMS didn’t pay much attention to the details, and sometimes even violated the law to assist in oil extraction.

As industry sprinted, the MMS shuffled.  Since 1997, it appears to have issued only one notice on Deepsea BOP (Blow Out Preventer) inspections ( NTL No.2009-G07). Puzzlingly, this notice issued some clarifications on modifications to the BOP’s, which include an interesting sentence: “Failure of a choke line installed below a bottom ram could result in a blow out.”  (Perhaps that has something to do with some of the  info on the lack of schematic drawings for the BOP’s and the fact that they’d never been “emergency” tested since they had been placed on the seabed, according to Congressman Bart Stupak’s statement.) In any case, here was a regulator trying to stay on top of an industry that was moving the needle with every well, and it only issued one notice on the BOP in 13 years.

In addition to the famous scandal around sex and drugs, the  MMS had more insidious issues with industry. In 2001 it worked on Project Deep Sea Spill, which modeled an underwater spill much smaller than the Deepwater Horizon, but kept the information proprietary among the 12 cooperating oil companies for four years.

And so now, we are not only faced with an extraordinarily large, frightening, and nearly unthinkable oil spill, we are also facing the end of magical oil. Like the financial crisis, there are physical issues to deal with now, but in the future there will be a crisis of confidence in the oil industry and in government’s ability to regulate it. And at the same time, all of that new oil will not flow magically toward our shores, lubricating our lifestyle, allowing us to glide on without an explicit energy policy. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that this is merely a large oil spill. It is much more.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 10:04 am

Hemp-History Week

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From an email:

Today marks the start of the 1st Annual Hemp History Week, which is taking place between now and May 23, 2010.  As a national grassroots education campaign, 185 events have been planned nationwide in 32 states with the goal of renewing strong support for hemp farming in the U.S.  In addition to events across the country, organizers also plan to collect tens of thousands of hand-signed postcards addressed to President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder asking them to end the ban on hemp farming and let farmers once again grow the versatile and profitable crop.

Hemp History Week volunteers across the country have researched the history of hemp farming and manufacturing in their regions before the crop was essentially banned by its misclassification as a drug.  Among this re-discovered history are the diaries of USDA Chief Botanist Lyster Dewey who bred hemp cultivars extensively in the Washington, DC area during the early part of the 20th Century, primarily at Arlington Farms on which the Pentagon was built.  The diaries and personal photos of the USDA’s top expert on fiber production for more than 45 years reveal a treasure trove of information on hemp farming research by the U.S. Government from the 1890’s to the 1940’s.  This and other research will be presented at scheduled public events this week, along with presentations by local politicians such as David Norris, Mayor of Charlottesville, VA; prominent business leaders such as David Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps; and others who support hemp farming in the United States.  Events are planned in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, North Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas and Washington, D.C. among other states. 

A complete listing of Hemp History Week events is available at: HempHistoryWeek.com/events

Hemp History Week supporters include Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, who submitted an official statement in support of Hemp History Week to Congress earlier this month. "Hemp was an important crop for George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and thousands of American farmers until it was outlawed completely in 1970 by the Controlled Substances Act. I know many farmers in my district could benefit greatly from the renewed freedom to rotate industrial hemp into their growing seasons. Hemp History Week will help other elected officials learn about America’s rich hemp heritage along with the tremendous benefits of growing hemp in America once again," explains Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

In addition to volunteer-run events nationwide, natural product retail outlets are also participating in Hemp History Week by sampling best-selling hemp products in their stores including: Nature’s Path’s Hemp Plus™ Granola Cereal, Sunny Hemp™ Granola Bars and Hemp Plus™ Waffles; Living Harvest Foods Tempt™ hemp milk and frozen desserts; Nutiva’s organic shelled hemp seed; Manitoba Harvest Hemp Pro™ 70 and Hemp Pro™ 50 protein powders and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. Participating stores include Mom’s Organic Market in the Washington, D.C. region as well as Westerly Natural Market in New York City, Earthfare in North Carolina, Henry’s Farmers Markets, Rainbow Grocery and Jimbo’s Naturally in California, New Seasons Market in Portland, Oregon, in addition to local co-ops throughout the country.

Sustainable hemp seed, fiber and oil are already used in nutritious food, textiles, body care and even auto-parts. Companies like Ford Motors, Patagonia, and The Body Shop, in addition to Hemp Industries Association members are using imported hemp in their products today.

For the last four growing seasons, farmers in North Dakota have received licenses from the North Dakota Department of Agriculture to grow industrial hemp. Despite the state’s authorization to grow hemp, these farmers risk raids by federal agents and forfeiture of their farms if they try to grow the crop, due to the [pig-headed – LG] failure of the Drug Enforcement Administration to distinguish non-drug industrial hemp from drug types of Cannabis.

Grown commercially in Canada since 1998, hemp has become one of the most profitable crops per acre for farmers north of the U.S. border. Due to its many benefits – a reusable resource in every aspect and offering a long list of health and nutritional benefits – hemp is one of the fastest growing industries in natural foods. Hemp seed and oil is a rich source of the Omega-3 & 6 essential fatty acids in an optimum ratio, including the Super Omegas Stearidonic Acid (SDA) and Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA). Hemp’s protein is second only to soybeans in completeness, containing all 10 essential amino acids, with no enzyme inhibitors, thus making it more easily digestible. Hemp seed is also a good source of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E and iron, as well as dietary fiber. Simply put, hemp seed is a gluten-free superfood.

Hemp History Week – May 17-23, 2010 is an unprecedented industry-wide project initiated by The Hemp Industries Association and Vote Hemp, involving hundreds of hemp manufacturers and retailers. The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) is a non-profit trade group representing hemp companies, researchers, farmers and supporters. Vote Hemp is a national, single-issue, non-profit advocacy group founded in 2000 by members of the hemp industry to remove barriers to industrial hemp farming in the U.S. through education, legislation and advocacy. While 16 states have passed pro-hemp farming legislation to date, Hemp History Week organizers want to influence significant policy changes on the federal level as well.

For further information and a list of sponsors, go to: HempHistoryWeek.com

About Vote Hemp

Vote Hemp is a national, single-issue, nonprofit organization dedicated to the acceptance of and free market for industrial hemp, low-THC oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, and to changes in current law to allow U.S. farmers to grow the crop.

Web Site: http://www.VoteHemp.com

About the Hemp Industries Association

The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) represents the interests of the hemp industry and encourages the research and development of new products made from industrial hemp, oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis.

Web Site: http://www.HempIndustries.org

Our drug laws are incredibly stupid. Here’s hoping the country can come to its senses.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 9:47 am

Species extinctions happening before our eyes

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John Cook at Skeptical Scientist:

In the past, research has predicted that global warming could lead to the extinction of more than one-fifth of animal and plant species. This research has largely been based on theoretical models. However, now observations can confirm whether reality matches theory. The paper Erosion of Lizard Diversity by Climate Change and Altered Thermal Niches (Sinervo 2010) compares global observations of lizard populations from 1975 to present day. The result? Rapidly warming temperatures are causing lizard species to go extinct before our eyes.

How does climate change affect lizard populations? While lizards bask in the morning sun to warm up, they retreat to the shade when temperatures get too hot to avoid heat stress. As it gets hotter, they have less time to forage for food. Warmer springs are particularly devastating as this is when lizards reproduce and need extra food.

Sinervo 2010 first analysed observations of lizard populations in Mexico. Since 1975 when observations began, 12% of local populations have gone extinct. Looking at weather station data, they found a correlation between the change in maximum temperature and local extinctions. The number of hours that lizards were forced to retreat to shade were significantly higher at extinction sites.

There are two ways species can compensate for climate change: adapt or migrate. Temperatures are changing too rapidly for most species to evolve in order to adapt to warmer temperatures. That leaves migration. What is being observed is species are relocating to cooler regions in response to warming temperatures. Lizard populations from lower elevations are expanding up to cooler, higher habitats. This appears to be exacerbating extinction of species already living in higher elevations.

Another important result they found is if we manage to reduce CO2 emissions over the next few decades, this will reduce the number of species extinctions in 2080 but have little effect on the extinctions by 2050. A slow down in global warming will lag atmospheric CO2 levels by decades. This lead the authors to conclude that lizards have already crossed a threshold for extinctions.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 9:40 am

Eliminate tax subsidies for oil companies

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Another reason for oil company profitability, besides that they don’t clean up their messes, is that taxpayers underwrite a good portion of their expenses. Sima J. Gandhi is a Senior Policy Analyst with the economic policy team at Climate Progress and she writes of how the country could save $45 billion over the next 10 years:

President Obama’s 2011 budget proposes to eliminate nine different tax expenditures that primarily benefit oil and gas companies. Cutting these special tax deductions, preferences, and credits would save the government about $45 billion over the next 10 years.  CAP’s Sima Gandhi has the story in this repost:

CAP has previously argued for eliminating tax expenditures for multibillion-dollar oil companies such as BP, ExxonMobil, and Chevron that would be profitable even without government subsidies. Here are the tax expenditures that the Obama administration has targeted for elimination.

1. Intangible drilling costs. Firms engaged in the exploration and development of oil or gas properties may expense (deduct in the year paid or incurred) certain types of drilling expenditures from their taxes. These costs include wages, fuel, repairs, hauling, and supplies related to and necessary for drilling and preparing wells for the production of oil and gas. Other companies incurring similar types of costs must recover this cost over the life of the investment. The administration expects that eliminating this subsidy will produce budget savings of about $7.839 billion over 10 years.

2. Deduction for tertiary injectants. Tertiary, or enhanced oil recovery, methods increase the amount of oil that a company can extract from a well by an additional 5 percent to 15 percent according to some research. This tax expenditure subsidizes the costs of tertiary injectants—the fluids, gases, and other chemicals that are pumped into oil and gas reservoirs as part of this process. The subsidy essentially gives companies government money for acting in ways that will enhance their profits. It allows companies to expense the costs of tertiary injectants, even though such costs should be recovered over time. Companies can alternatively choose to deduct these costs as an intangible drilling cost.The administration expects that eliminating this subsidy will produce budget savings of about $67 million over 10 years.

3. Percentage depletion allowance. Percentage depletion allows an independent oil company to deduct from its taxes about 15 percent from the revenue generated from a well, even if that amount exceeds the well’s total value. This means that oil companies take a deduction as long as a well is producing oil, without regard to how much, or whether, the well is still declining in value. Companies in other industries are only allowed to deduct an amount that represents the decline in their investment’s value that year. The administration expects that eliminating this subsidy to produce budget savings of about $10 billion over 10 years.

4. Passive investments. The government generally only allows investors to deduct a limited amount of losses from “passive activities” such as renting land in order to prevent tax shelters. Yet oil and gas properties are exempt from this rule. This gives oil and gas companies a competitive edge over other types of energy companies. The administration expects that eliminating this subsidy will produce budget savings of about $180 million over 10 years.

5. Domestic manufacturing tax deduction. Companies that manufacture, produce, or extract oil and gas or any primary derivative receive a manufacturing subsidy provided that the product was made in the United States. But since removing oil does not affect the production of oil, the subsidy does not significantly affect business decisions and eliminating the subsidy would not affect consumer prices. The subsidy is essentially a throwaway for oil companies. The tax expenditure is provided through a deduction for 9 percent of income, subject to a limit of 50 percent of the wages paid that are allocable to domestic production during the taxable year. The administration expects that eliminating this subsidy will produce budget savings of about $17.3 billion over 10 years.

6. Geological and geophysical expenditures. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 created this tax subsidy, which allows companies to deduct the costs associated with searching for oil, recovering the costs over a two-year period. The administration expects that scaling back the amortization period to seven years would produce budget savings of about $1.1 billion over 10 years.

7. Foreign tax credit. This credit is intended to prevent the double taxation of income that is taxed abroad but also subject to tax in the United States. Yet companies, particularly oil companies, have managed to exploit this subsidy even when they don’t pay income taxes abroad. In total, adjusting the rule would prevent companies from avoiding about $8.5 billion in taxes over a 10-year period.

8. Enhanced oil recovery credit. Companies receive a 15 percent income tax credit for the costs of recovering domestic oil when they use “enhanced oil recovery” methods to extract oil that is too viscous to be extracted by conventional primary and secondary water-flooding techniques. The EOR credit is nonrefundable and is allowed if the average wellhead price of crude oil (using West Texas Intermediate as the reference) in the year before the credit is claimed is below the statutorily established threshold price of $28 (as adjusted for inflation since 1990) in the year the credit is claimed. Oil prices in fiscal year 2006 were too high for companies to receive this subsidy, but the subsidy remains in existence. Its elimination is not expected to produce budget savings.

9. Marginal well production. This provision provides a subsidy for oil and gas produced from certain types of oil and gas wells. These wells include those that produce heavy oil and those with an average production within a statutorily specified range. Oil prices were too high for companies to receive this subsidy in fiscal year 2006, but the subsidy remains in existence. Its elimination is not expected to produce budget savings.

The total government savings from eliminating these subsidies is projected to be $45 billion over 10 years.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 9:37 am

Anatomical push toward criminal career?

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Interesting article in the NY Times by Patricia Cohen:

Poverty, greed, anger, jealousy, pride, revenge. These are the usual suspects when it comes to discussing the causes of crime. In recent years, however, economists have started to investigate a different explanation for criminal activity: physical attributes.

A small band of economists has been studying how height, weight and beauty affect the likelihood of committing — or being convicted of — a crime. Looking at records from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, they have found evidence that shorter men are 20 to 30 percent more likely to end up in prison than their taller counterparts, and that obesity and physical attractiveness are linked to crime.

“The profession has developed a large interest in biology,” what some refer to as anthropometric economics or history, said Gregory N. Price, an economist at Morehouse College and one of the authors of a paper on height and crime.

There is already a sizable stack of research that examines the connections between physical characteristics and the labor market. Economists have found, for example, that every inch of additional height is associated with a nearly 2 percent increase in earnings; that employees rated beautiful tended to earn 5 percent more an hour than an average-looking person, while those rated as plain earned 9 percent less; that obesity can cause a drop in white women’s earnings.

To make a point about income tax, Gregory Mankiw, an economist at Harvard and the former chairman of President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, has facetiously proposed taxing taller people more, since someone 6 feet tall can be expected to earn $5,525 more a year than someone who is 5-foot-5, after accounting for gender, weight and age.

Linking physical traits to criminality may sound like a throwback to the biological determinism advocated by 19th-century social Darwinists who believed that there was a genetic predisposition for wrongdoing. Practitioners are quick to distance themselves from such ideas.

Mr. Price, for example, argues that crime can be viewed, at least partly, as an “alternative labor market.” If individuals with certain physical attributes are disadvantaged in the labor force, they may find crime more attractive, he said.

H. Naci Mocan, an economist at Louisiana State University and an author of a paper on crime and attractiveness, explained that theories about the relationship between weight, height or beauty and the labor force emerged because “economists looking at standard determinants — like education, experience, productivity, human capital — found that they could only explain some of the variation in wages.”

“This is very new,” Mr. Mocan said of the research into crime. “It opens up our horizons a little more.”

A link between a physical attribute and salary, or crime, does not necessarily mean cause and effect…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 9:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Law, Science

Rarity and Power: Balance in Collectible Object Games

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Interesting article in Game Studies:

Abstract

For collectible card games (CCGs), game designers often limit the availability of cards that have a particularly powerful gameplay effect. The conventional wisdom is that the more powerful a card is, the more rare it should be. The long-term implications of such an approach can have negative consequences on a game’s suitability for casual play. Digital Addiction (a company that produced online, collectible card games in the 1990s) developed a different game design philosophy for balancing collectible card games. The approach called for the most obviously and generally useful cards to be the most common and to equate rarity to specialization rather than raw power.

Keywords: Game design, collectible card games, CCG, game balance, Sanctum, Magic: The Gathering

Introduction

This paper explores the complex game balancing issues inherent to collectible card games. It begins with an overview of the Magic: The Gathering card game and follows with comparative case studies of Sanctum and Trading Card Baseball, both of which were online collectible “card” games. Sanctum’s game designers, after experiencing early balancing problems, developed a game design philosophy that attempts to address the issue every collectible card game faces: the fact that game play advantage can be purchased. When Sanctum’s game designers later created Trading Card Baseball, they attempted to address this issue holistically by taking advantage of baseball’s statistical nature.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Games

Making Big Oil pay for the damages they caused

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Oil is immensely profitable mainly because the oil industry manages to externalize most of the costs (pollution, global warming, etc.)—and they are eager to follow that pattern in the Gulf spill, hoping that they can get taxpayers to pay for the damage. From the Center for American Progress in an email:

The consequences of oil company malfeasance and our nation’s broader addiction to fossil fuels became starkly apparent with the disastrous explosion and resulting spill at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The cost of the Gulf Coast disaster could be as high as $14 billion, and many fear that the American taxpayers will ultimately pick up the tab. However, if the right policies are enacted, Big Oil could be made to pay the costs for its own disasters, and taxpayers would be spared another bailout. By increasing the cap on oil industry liability for disasters and ending wasteful taxpayer subsidies of the oil industry, oil companies like BP and ExxonMobil will finally have to pay their fair share for the "costs of the health, safety, and environmental damages they cause." The only thing that stands in the way are industry-friendly members of Congress who put the profits of Big Oil above the welfare of average Americans.

AVOIDING RESPONSIBILITY: The oil industry has a history of skirting responsibility for its economic and environmental disasters. During the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, almost 11 million gallons of oil poured into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. After the spill, a court set punitive damages at $5 billion. Exxon litigated against the decision for nearly 20 years until 2005, when the Supreme Court reduced the company’s damages to only $500 million. Exxon paid about $300 million after taking its tax deduction for punitive damages. The company’s profits that same year totaled $36.1 billion. Unfortunately, Exxon’s case is not unique, as other oil companies have also done everything they can to keep from paying for their disasters. Transocean, a contractor involved in the Deepwater Horizon incident, has already petitioned a court to limit its liability to $27 million dollars, citing a law passed in 1851. An investigation by ProPublica finds that the average penalty paid for violations by offshore drillers over the past 12 years was only $45,000. Meanwhile, daily profit for the first quarter of 2010 was a whopping $62 million. When breaking the law involves so little risk, companies have little incentive to follow it in the first place. Additionally, oil companies take advantage of the current tax code to shirk their tax responsibilities. ExxonMobil, for example, "uses 122 foreign subsidiaries, including 32 countries that are officially labeled tax havens to dodge U.S. taxes," including in the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 9:27 am

BP chose more toxic, less effective oil dispersant manufactured by company with ‘close ties’ to oil giant

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Alex Seitz-Wald at ThinkProgress:

As BP believes it has finally made progress plugging the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, it has managed to prevent much of the oil already released from washing onshore by using huge quantities of oil dispersants. BP rounded up a “third of the world’s available supply of dispersants” and has been deploying them aggressively. But Greenwire reports that the chemical BP is using is more toxic and perhaps even less effective than other available dispersants:

So far, BP has told federal agencies that it has applied more than 400,000 gallons of a dispersant sold under the trade name Corexit and manufactured by Nalco Co., a company that was once part of Exxon Mobil Corp. and whose current leadership includes executives at both BP and Exxon. And another 805,000 gallons of Corexit are on order, the company said, with the possibility that hundreds of thousands of more gallons may be needed if the well continues spewing oil for weeks or months.

But according to EPA data, Corexit ranks far above dispersants made by competitors in toxicity and far below them in effectiveness in handling southern Louisiana crude.

Of 18 dispersants whose use EPA has approved, 12 were found to be more effective on southern Louisiana crude than Corexit, EPA data show. Two of the 12 were found to be 100 percent effective on Gulf of Mexico crude, while the two Corexit products rated 56 percent and 63 percent effective, respectively. The toxicity of the 12 was shown to be either comparable to the Corexit line or, in some cases, 10 or 20 times less, according to EPA.

BP “shares close ties” with Nalco. A BP board member who served as an executive at the company for 43 years also sits on Nalco’s board, and critics suggest there may be a conflict of interest in BP’s choice of Corexit. “It’s a chemical that the oil industry makes to sell to itself, basically,” said Defenders of Wildlife’s Richard Charter. While use of dispersants helps keep oil off beaches and out of wetlands, “[s]cientists warn that the dispersed oil, as well as the dispersants themselves, might cause long-term harm to marine life.” Even Nalco admits the chemicals pose “moderate” environmental hazard, but Pro Publica noted that dispersant ingredients are kept secret under trade laws, so it’s difficult to know the potential fallout from using them. A Corexit product was used to cleanup the Exxon Valdez spill, and workers suffered health problems“including blood in their urine and assorted kidney and liver disorder.”

UPDATE: Climate Progress’ Joe Romm notes that as toxic as Corexit is, dispersed oil is more toxic.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 9:23 am

D.R. Harris Almond shave stick

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A superb lather from the D.R. Harris shave stick, thanks in part to the Rooney Style 3,1 Super. Then a very smooth shave thanks to the nearly new Swedish Gillette blade and the Slant Bar. A splash of New York on my amazingly smooth face, and I’m ready to go.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2010 at 9:19 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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