Archive for April 12th, 2017
Elizabeth Kolbert reports in the New Yorker:
Next week, millions of Americans will celebrate Earth Day, even though, three months into Donald Trump’s Presidency, there sure isn’t much to celebrate. A White House characterized by flaming incompetence has nevertheless managed to do one thing effectively: it has trashed years’ worth of work to protect the planet. As David Horsey put it recently, in the Los Angeles Times, “Donald Trump’s foreign policy and legislative agenda may be a confused mess,” but “his administration’s attack on the environment is operating with the focus and zeal of the Spanish Inquisition.”
The list of steps that the Trump Administration has already taken to make America polluted again is so long that fully cataloguing them in this space would be impossible. Here’s a sample:
In February, the Department of Energy delayed putting into effect new energy-efficiency standards for, among other things, walk-in freezers, central air-conditioners, and ceiling fans. The new standards, according to the department’s own estimates, would prevent the emission of nearly three hundred million tons of carbon dioxide while saving consumers almost twenty-four billion dollars over the next three decades. (Ten states, led by New York, have sued the Administration over the delay.)
In March, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department announced their intention to roll back fuel-economy standards for cars that were set to go into effect in 2022.
Earlier this month, the E.P.A. announced its plans to review—and presumably revoke—President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a set of regulations aimed at reducing pollution from power plants. The Clean Power Plan would not only have cut carbon emissions by almost nine hundred million tons a year but also, according to E.P.A. figures, prevented more than thirty-five hundred premature deaths and ninety thousand asthma attacks annually. The plan is central to the commitments that the United States made under the Paris climate accord, which the Administration may or may not formally abrogate, but which it has apparently already informally abandoned.
Meanwhile, the Administration has proposed slashing the E.P.A.’s budget by thirty-one per cent, which is even more than it has proposed chopping the State Department’s budget (twenty-nine per cent) or the Labor Department’s (twenty-one per cent). The proposed cuts would entail firing a quarter of the agency’s workforce and eliminating many programs entirely, including the radiation-protection program, which does what its name suggests, and the Energy Star program, which establishes voluntary efficiency standards for electronics and appliances.
The zeal with which the Administration has attacked the environment recently prompted the comedian Bob Vulfov to imagine a set of National Geographicheadlines from the year 2030. “These Striking Photographs Show the Best On-Fire Lakes from Around the World,” one read. “Five Ways the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Should Use Its $400 Budget” was another.
How is it that a group as disorganized as the Trump Administration has been so methodical when it comes to the (anti) environment? The simplest answer is that money focusses the mind. Lots of corporations stand to profit from Trump’s regulatory rollback, even as American consumers suffer. Auto manufacturers, for example, had argued that the 2022 fuel-efficiency standards were too expensive to meet. (This is the case even though, when they accepted a federal bailout, during the Obama Administration, the car companies said that the standards were achievable.) Similarly, utilities have argued that the power-plant rules are too costly to comply with. Coal companies will probably benefit from the rollbacks. So, too, will oil companies, and perhaps also ceiling-fan manufacturers, though, in the case of the appliance standards, the affected manufacturers were at the table when the proposed regulations were drafted.
But, while money is clearly key, it doesn’t seem entirely sufficient as an explanation. . .
Words fail me. Paisley Dodds writes for AP:
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — In the ruins of a tropical hideaway where jetsetters once sipped rum under the Caribbean sun, the abandoned children tried to make a life for themselves. They begged and scavenged for food, but they never could scrape together enough to beat back the hunger, until the U.N. peacekeepers moved in a few blocks away.
The men who came from a far-away place and spoke a strange language offered the Haitian children cookies and other snacks. Sometimes they gave them a few dollars. But the price was high: The Sri Lankan peacekeepers wanted sex from girls and boys as young as 12.
“I did not even have breasts,” said a girl, known as V01 — Victim No. 1. She told U.N. investigators that over the next three years, from ages 12 to 15, she had sex with nearly 50 peacekeepers, including a “Commandant” who gave her 75 cents. Sometimes she slept in U.N. trucks on the base next to the decaying resort, whose once-glamorous buildings were being overtaken by jungle.
Justice for victims like V01 is rare. An Associated Press investigation of U.N. missions during the past 12 years found nearly 2,000 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers and other personnel around the world — signaling the crisis is much larger than previously known. More than 300 of the allegations involved children, the AP found, but only a fraction of the alleged perpetrators served jail time.
Legally, the U.N. is in a bind. It has no jurisdiction over peacekeepers, leaving punishment to the countries that contribute the troops.
The AP interviewed alleged victims, current and former U.N. officials and investigators and sought answers from 23 countries on the number of peacekeepers who faced such allegations and, what if anything, was done to investigate. With rare exceptions, few nations responded to repeated requests, while the names of those found guilty are kept confidential, making accountability impossible to determine.
Without agreement for widespread reform and accountability from the U.N.’s member states, solutions remain elusive.
Here in Haiti, at least 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers exploited nine children in a sex ring from 2004 to 2007, according to an internal U.N. report obtained by the AP. In the wake of the report, 114 peacekeepers were sent home. None was ever imprisoned.
In March, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced new measures to tackle sexual abuse and exploitation by U.N. peacekeepers and other personnel. But the proclamation had a depressingly familiar ring: More than a decade ago, the United Nations commissioned a report that promised to do much the same thing, yet most of the reforms never materialized.
For a full two years after those promises were made, the children in Haiti were passed around from soldier to soldier. And in the years since, peacekeepers have been accused of sexual abuse the world over.
In response to the AP’s investigation, the U.N.’s head of field support said Wednesday the international body was aware of shortcomings in the system. . .
So they know about it and they do nothing about it.
The Energy Star program costs very little and greatly increases the efficiency of consumer products through free-market competition. It’s hard to see any reason to kill the program, but reasoning is not held in high esteem on the extreme conservatives that now seem to have a lock on our government. Evan Halper reports in the LA Times:
Commercial real estate giant CBRE is always on alert for shifts in federal government policy that might impact its vast property management and investment business.
But the Los Angeles-based Fortune 500 company never anticipated an effort to eliminate a voluntary, cost-effective initiative that has saved its customers millions of dollars and had almost no critics.
In a reflection of how much influence a handful of free-market think tanks wield over the White House, the Trump administration has decided the immensely popular Energy Star program must go.
The fight centers on the Environmental Protection Agency’s 25-year-old effort to boost efficiency in products and services by encouraging companies to compete for coveted, government-issued labels that certify a product or property meets high standards for saving energy and costs.
Functioning like a government seal of approval, the Energy Star program costs taxpayers a pittance and is widely beloved by the 16,000 companies and organizations that participate. Now it is fast becoming a test case of how committed the Trump administration is to pursuing the agenda of once-fringe groups seeking to slash government programs wherever they can.
“Never in my wildest thoughts have I considered something like this,” said Dave Pogue, who leads the sustainability efforts at CBRE. He said the program helped the firm cut energy use at its properties by 16% over the last decade.
The proposal has been met with shock across party lines. Christie Todd Whitman, who ran the EPA during the administration of George W. Bush said, “not in a million years” would she have targeted Energy Star. “There was no reason to,” she said. “It was a no-brainer. It worked, and it hardly cost any money.”
But in a Trump administration eager to roll back federal government action to confront climate change, Energy Star has come under scrutiny. The plan to jettison the program from the federal government, now embedded in the White House budget blueprint, emerged after Trump placed Myron Ebell, a prominent climate skeptic, in charge of his EPA transition team.
Ebell’s team disbanded in January and did not write Trump’s budget plan, which envisions a privatization scheme where industry would set its own definitions for what products are efficient and police standards itself. But the team provided the administration with a confidential list of proposals aimed at helping the president fulfill his stated goal during the campaign of shrinking the agency as much as possible. Ebell has been one of the most visible critics of voluntary government energy efficiency programs like Energy Star.
“The EPA is meant to improve environmental quality,” said Ebell, director of environmental initiatives at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank on the forefront of disputing the scientific consensus on climate change, as well as the health impacts of tobacco. “I’m not sure what that has to do with how much energy consumers use. But a great deal of the work at EPA has been dedicated to that. The president made clear during the campaign he will get rid of as much of that as he possibly can.”
The voluntary program’s legions of loyalists say Energy Star has everything to with environmental quality. The nation’s biggest companies compete aggressively to win Energy Star labels for their products, which signal to consumers that everything from the air conditioners they purchase at Best Buy to the buildings where they lease office space engage advanced technologies to use the least possible amount of power. The eagerness to meet consumer demand for that seal of approval has driven firms to invest big in cutting energy use.
Energy Star has been a pillar of the federal government’s effort to fight climate change, with the EPA boasting that it has kept some 2.8 billion tons of greenhouse gas from escaping into the atmosphere — or roughly the equivalent produced from powering 36 million homes with electricity each year. It has enabled consumers and businesses to cut their energy bills more than $30 billion per year.
At an annual cost of $60 million to taxpayers, it is easily the cheapest and least burdensome initiative the federal government runs to help Americans lower their energy consumption. States have latched onto the program, awarding their own rebates and other incentives to utility customers who use Energy Star products.
Until Trump took office, the voices of a handful of free-market think tanks that dismissed the program as unnecessary government meddling had barely registered in Washington. Now they have the ear of the White House.
“I just think it is something government should not be doing,” Ebell said, “and therefore we should get rid of it. If it has value, private industry can pick it up.” He blames the program for pushing companies to place too much focus on efficiency, saying it leaves consumers with inferior products to choose from. The climate benefits the EPA has boasted about don’t impress Ebell, who accuses scientists of exaggerating the threat of global warming. . .
There’s not much point in rebutting the arguments of conservatives today, since they so frequently argue in bad faith. I’m thinking the US is headed in a very bad direction indeed. (Have you noticed how much government agencies—local, county, state, and federal—are increasingly refusing to provide to the public information on their decisions, procedures, and operations? How police are so seldom held accountable for misconduct? The pattern is clear, and we’ve seen where it goes.
The actual reason for killing Energy Star is that the conservative business mindset actively opposes providing information to customers. It took a fierce battle to get the nutrition facts label on processed foods, for example: the companies making those foods did not want to provide information to the customers. Apparently companies making appliances do not want customers to know how efficient the appliance is. If the customer can’t learn the efficiency rating, the initial cost of the appliance can be cut (or, more likely, profits can be boosted) since (say) insulation ratings can be reduced. This means the appliance will cost the customer more to operate, but of course the appliance manufacturer doesn’t pay that cost and so doesn’t care. So long as the customer can be kept ignorant of the operating costs, those costs are not a factor in the purchase decision, and the manufacturer can make more money.
I really like this Chiseled Face brush, which turned out to be a limited edition—at least, I’ve not seen its return. The grain in the handle and the shape of the handle are pleasing to me, and the Plissoft knot is soft and efficient.
The brush made a really excellent lather quite easily from Barrister & Mann’s Leviathan this morning, and with the iKon X3 riding on a UFO handle, I easily achieved a great shave—pleasant experience, smooth result, no problems. A splash of Leviathan aftershave and I’m ready for the day.