Archive | March, 2012

The Supreme Court just wants to be popular – Healthcare Reform –

27 Mar

The legal issues would appear to be silly. So why’s the Supreme Court not only hearing this case, but giving so much time to it?

The Supreme Court has been under a cloud since Bush v. Gore, when it massively distorted the law in order to install its preferred candidate as president – a president who, it turned out, was one of the most incompetent in American history. Perhaps their rush to take this case is a bid for renewed legitimacy. It’s no great legal feat to say that silly arguments are silly, and on that basis to uphold the ACA [Affordable Care Act of 2010]. The Court generally occupies itself with hard cases, not easy ones. But this prominent case, which they have made even more prominent by dragging on argument for days, lets it say to all the Gore supporters (and the very large number of Bush supporters with buyers’ remorse) that, see, we’re nonpartisan and legitimate after all. As a legal matter, the answer is obvious, and as a political matter the advantages are delicious. Who could resist?

via The Supreme Court just wants to be popular – Healthcare Reform –

Too Smart to Fail: Notes on an Age of Folly | | Notebook | The Baffler

26 Mar

The pundits who got things wrong are still being taken seriousl.

A résumé filled with grievous errors in the period 1996–2006 is not only a non-problem for further advances in the world of consensus; it is something of a prerequisite. Our intellectual powers that be not only forgive the mistakes; they require them. You must have been wrong back then in order to have a chance to be taken seriously today; only by having gotten things wrong can you demonstrate that you are trustworthy, a member of the team. (Those who got things right all along, on the other hand, might be dubbed “premature market skeptics”—people who doubted the consensus before the consensus acknowledged it was all right to doubt.)

via Too Smart to Fail: Notes on an Age of Folly | | Notebook | The Baffler.

Japan in Uproar Over Censorship of Emperor’s Anti-Nuclear Speech – Michael McAteer – International – The Atlantic

26 Mar

Emperor Akihito expressed mild skepticism about nuclear power in a speech on the anniversary of the Fukushima disaster. Evening TV news and newspaper accounts failed to mention these remarks. Many Japanese fear the fix is on.

While [the Emperor’s] statement may seem more obvious than radical to outsiders, underneath the Imperial-grade Japanese understatement were two ideas that have become quietly explosive. First, he seemed to suggest that the nuclear crisis is not over, a “formidable task” yet to be overcome. This noticeably contradicts the government’s official stance that Fukushima has achieved a cold shutdown and, for all practical purposes, the crisis is over. Second, it implies that it is not yet safe for people to return to areas stricken with high levels of radiation, at least not before the “formidable task” is “overcome.” This, again, contradicts the government’s position that it is now safe for people to return to almost all areas and that neither Tokyo Electric Power Company nor the national government are obliged to assist in long term evacuations.

via Japan in Uproar Over Censorship of Emperor’s Anti-Nuclear Speech – Michael McAteer – International – The Atlantic.

The Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans Gives New Meaning to ‘Urban Growth’ –

25 Mar

New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward was devastated in Katrina. It’s coming back, slowly. What does this slow recovery teach us about resilience?

The closest analogy to what happened in the Lower Ninth, Blum says, is a volcanic eruption on the order of Mount St. Helens. The next closest is the tsunami that hit Japan’s northeast coast a year ago. This is what distinguishes the Lower Ninth from the most derelict neighborhoods in cities like Detroit and Cleveland. Katrina was not merely destructive; it brought about a “catastrophic reimagining of the landscape.” As in Japan, a surge of water destroyed most human structures. In much of the neighborhood, nothing remained — neither man, plants nor animals. The ecological term for this is simplification. “In 2007, before rebuilding started, when you went down there, it was like going to an agricultural field,” Blum says. “Literally it was wiped clean.”

What happened over the intervening years has made the Lower Ninth one of the richest ecological case studies in the world. Ecologists hypothesize that, after a catastrophic event, human communities and ecological communities return at the same rate. But this theory has not been tested in real time. Blum is among a coalition of scientists — ecologists, ornithologists, botanists, geographers and sociologists — that is studying the Lower Ninth’s recovery to learn how man, and the environment, will cope with future catastrophes.

via The Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans Gives New Meaning to ‘Urban Growth’ –

For Lawyer in Afghan Killings, the Latest in a Series of Challenging Defenses –

25 Mar

Legendary defense attorney, John Henry Browne, agrees to defend Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, charged with 17 counts of murder in Afghanistan.

“People understand that we have created these soldiers,” Mr. Browne said in an interview. “Your tax dollars, my tax dollars are funding this. We all have responsibility there. That’s why the government wants to paint him as a rogue soldier, because the government doesn’t want to take responsibility. I’m not sure if this is a good metaphor, but in the Frankenstein movies, Frankenstein was not the monster. The monster was Dr. Frankenstein, who created Frankenstein.”

“We’re putting these young men and women in impossible situations,” he continued. “I think the general public knows that, and I think this has brought to the public attention a dialogue about the war that the government would rather not have.”

via For Lawyer in Afghan Killings, the Latest in a Series of Challenging Defenses –

The birth of food-phobia – Food –

24 Mar

At the root of our anxiety about food lies something that is common to all humans — what Paul Rozin has called the “omnivore’s dilemma.” This means that unlike, say, koala bears, whose diet consists only of eucalyptus leaves and who can therefore venture no further than where eucalyptus trees grow, our ability to eat a large variety of foods has enabled us to survive practically anywhere on the globe. The dilemma is that some of these foods can kill us, resulting in a natural anxiety about food.

These days, our fears rest not on wariness about that new plant we just came across in the wild, but on fears about what has been done to our food before it reaches our tables. These are the natural result of the growth of a market economy that inserted middlemen between producers and consumers of food. In recent years the ways in which industrialization and globalization have completely transformed how the food we eat is grown, shipped, processed, and sold have helped ratchet up these fears much further.

So maybe more of us have to start our own gardens, or till a plot in a community garden. And maybe we need to rethink our way of life, top to bottom so we have more time to prepare our own food.

via The birth of food-phobia – Food –

Gulf Dolphins Exposed to Oil Are Seriously Ill, Agency Says –

24 Mar

Dolphins in Barataria Bay off Louisiana, which was hit hard by the BP oil spill in 2010, are seriously ill, and their ailments are probably related to toxic substances in the petroleum, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggested on Friday.

As part of an ongoing assessment of damages caused by the three-month spill, which began with an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico, NOAA scientists performed comprehensive physicals last summer on 32 dolphins from the bay. They found problems like drastically low weight, low blood sugar and, in some cases, cancer of the liver and lungs.

Yet the most common symptom among the dolphins, found in about half the group, was an abnormally low level of stress hormones like cortisol. Such hormones regulate many functions in the animal, including the immune system and responses to threats. Scientists said the dearth of hormones suggested that the animals were suffering from adrenal insufficiency.

via Gulf Dolphins Exposed to Oil Are Seriously Ill, Agency Says –

Obama’s Afghanistan Disaster – James Kitfield – International – The Atlantic

23 Mar

“War is hell” is no mere clilche.

The U.S. military’s inadvertent burning of Korans in Afghanistan triggered a backlash that left almost 40 dead, including six American service members, culminating in this week’s horrific killing of 16 Afghan civilians–allegedly by a U.S. soldier. These events may or may not represent a milestone in the Afghan war. Having stared into the abyss of the recent riots over the Koran burnings, both governments have stepped back and attempted to calm matters. What already seems clear, however, is that real life is defying the Obama administration’s determined portrayal of a war that is winding down toward a negotiated settlement and a relatively smooth transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2013.

via Obama’s Afghanistan Disaster – James Kitfield – International – The Atlantic.

Meanwhile, suicides are on the rise in the US military:

From 1977 to 2003, suicide rates in the Army closely matched the rates of suicide in the civilian population, and were even on a downward trend. But after 2004, the rates began to climb fast, outpacing the rates in civilians by 2008.

In 2007 and 2008 alone, 255 active duty soldiers committed suicide. The vast majority of the suicides since 2004 were by men; and 69 percent had seen active combat duty. Nearly half were between ages 18 and 24. And 54 percent of those who committed suicide were from among the lower ranks of enlisted personnel.

‘Big Government’ Isn’t the Problem, Big Money Is | The Nation

23 Mar

Too many institutions are too big. Bigness always grows until it falls apart. Bigness Fails.

Homeowners can’t use bankruptcy to reorganize their mortgage loans because the banks have engineered laws to prohibit this. Banks have also made it extremely difficult for young people to use bankruptcy to reorganize their student loans. Yet corporations routinely use bankruptcy to renege on contracts. American Airlines, which is in bankruptcy, plans to fire 13,000 people—
16 percent of its workforce—while cutting back health benefits for current employees. It also intended to terminate its underfunded pension plans, until the government agency charged with picking up the tab screamed so loudly that American backed off and proposed to freeze the plans.

Not a day goes by without Republicans decrying the budget deficit. But its biggest driver is Big Money’s corruption of Washington. One of the federal budget’s largest and fastest-growing programs is Medicare, whose costs would be far lower if drug companies reduced their prices. It hasn’t happened because Big Pharma won’t allow it. Medicare’s administrative costs are only 3 percent, far below the 10 percent average of private insurers. So it would be logical to tame rising healthcare costs by allowing any family to opt in. That was the idea behind the “public option.” But health insurers stopped it in its tracks.

via ‘Big Government’ Isn’t the Problem, Big Money Is | The Nation.

How the rich took over airport security – Transportation Security Administration –

23 Mar

Score another win for the Corpstate. The war on terror is a scam to funnel more tax money into the military-industrial complex and to exert more and tighter control over US citizens. Now the rich are being given free front-row seats at TSA security theater in airports. Airlines allow fatcats to go to the head of the line and the government’s testing a program that does the same.

In other words, if you do not fly frequently — and most low-income and middle-income Americans cannot afford to — you would not be allowed to take part in this public government program. In true crony capitalist fashion, the precheck program blurs the line between the government’s security function and the airlines’ purely commercial frequent flier programs.

The precheck program is advertised as an experimental program, holding out the possibility that after a period in which they are subject to more scrutiny than affluent business travelers, low-income grandmothers traveling to visit their grandchildren at last will be able to take part. More likely, the precheck program would never be extended to the masses rather than the classes. It would simply become another permanent perk of the elite, whose members would have no incentive to lobby for democratizing the program — rather the contrary.

via How the rich took over airport security – Transportation Security Administration –