2009 - %3, August

Eco-News Roundup: Thursday, August 6

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Mad Men: More than $52 million has been spent on healthcare ads this year... so far.

Gas Ceiling: China refuses to limit its greenhouse gas emissions, but asks other countries to do so. [Yahoo News]

Dust in the Wind: Fallout dust from the WTC collapse caused 25,000 cases of asthma, study says. [ScienceNews]

 

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Video: Nomi Prins Dishes on Goldman

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 4:30 AM EDT

Former Goldman Sachs managing director Nomi Prins challenges the math behind Goldman's record profits on Bloomberg TV. (Sorry, can't seem to get this to embed right now...). For the details on why you pay for those profits--and the big bonuses to Goldman execs--read her piece. Sample: 

Since Goldman is trading big with our money, why not also use it to pay big bonuses? It's not like there are any strings attached. For the first half of 2009, Goldman set aside $11.4 billion for compensation—34 percent more than for the first half of 2008, keeping them on target for a record bonus year—even though they still owe the federal government $53.6 billion, a sum more than four times that bonus amount.

 

Revenge of the Nerds

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 2:26 AM EDT

Crunching numbers is the new cool thing:

“I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians,” said Hal Varian, chief economist at Google. “And I’m not kidding.”

The rising stature of statisticians, who can earn $125,000 at top companies in their first year after getting a doctorate, is a byproduct of the recent explosion of digital data. In field after field, computing and the Web are creating new realms of data to explore — sensor signals, surveillance tapes, social network chatter, public records and more. And the digital data surge only promises to accelerate, rising fivefold by 2012, according to a projection by IDC, a research firm.

They want to know what you're doing and what you're likely to buy next.  That's worth a lot of money.  Multivariate correlations and data cluster analysis are the new black.

Southern White Culture

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 12:42 AM EDT

Kathleen Parker muses on the Republican Party's woes:

Not all Southern Republicans are wing nuts. Nor does the GOP have a monopoly on ignorance or racism. And, the South, for all its sins, is also lush with beauty, grace and mystery. Nevertheless, it is true that the GOP is fast becoming regionalized below the Mason-Dixon line and increasingly associated with some of the South's worst ideas.

It is not helpful (or surprising) that "birthers" — conspiracy theorists who have convinced themselves that Barack Obama is not a native son — have assumed kudzu qualities among Republicans in the South. In a poll commissioned by the liberal blog Daily Kos, participants were asked: "Do you believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States of America or not?"

Hefty majorities in the Northeast, the Midwest and the West believe Obama was born in the United States. But in the land of cotton, where old times are not by God forgotten, only 47 percent believe Obama was born in America and 30 percent aren't sure.

Southern Republicans, it seems, have seceded from sanity.

Well, look, I like magnolia groves and bluegrass music too, but let's call a spade a spade.  Parker never actually uses the word "white" in her column, but later on she makes it clear that's what she's talking about.  Not "the South."  Not "Southern Republicans."  Southern whites.

Parker says Republicans need to "drive a stake through the heart of old Dixie," and she's right.  The rest of us need to help.

NOTE: Penultimate paragraph redacted on advice of my frontal lobe.

A New Thesaurus, Please

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 8:37 PM EDT

Here's an email I got today from Richard Viguerie's shop:

Dear conservative friend,

In one of the White House's creepiest acts yet, it has posted a blog, which amounts to asking citizens to turn in those opposing Obamacare.

They even set up an email address so citizens may tell the White House who is spreading "disinformation" (wink, wink) about Obamacare.

Can you believe it?  President Obama and his radical community organizers at the White House want literally to "keep track" of those who disagree with the government-run, potentially bankrupting health care bill, with its rationing of medical procedures to control costs, which Obama and Democrats in Congress are trying to ram through the system and into law.

They want information passed through "emails or even casual conversation."  How Orwellian is that?

Totalitarian regimes, such as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, used similar tactics (without email, of course) to keep tabs on dissidents and other critics of those regimes.

I love the parenthetical remark at the end: "without email, of course."  Wouldn't want to be historically inaccurate or misleading!

OK, fine.  Richard Viguerie is nuts and it's not fair to tar all of conservativedom by pretending he speaks for them.  But Steve Benen, who pointed out earlier today that one of the differences between lunacy on the left and lunacy on the right is that right wing lunacy frequently migrates from the fringe to serious political actors, informs me that Sen. John Cornyn (R–Tex.) is now serving up the same derangement:

Cornyn says this practice would let the White House collect personal information about people who oppose the President.

"By requesting citizens send 'fishy' emails to the White House, it is inevitable that the names, email, addresses, IP addresses and private speech of U.S. citizens will be reported to the White House," Cornyn wrote in a letter to Obama. "You should not be surprised that these actions taken by your White House staff raise the specter of a data collection program."

Cornyn asked Obama to cease the program immediately, or at the very least explain what the White House would do with the information it collects.

God save us.  Before long we're going to have start inventing new words to describe these guys.  My thesaurus is running dry.

Greening a 1930s House

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 8:31 PM EDT

In modern day Nottingham, Robin Hood is robbing the future to pay for the past.

Last year a U of Nottingham crew of merry men and merry women built a 1930s house. Now they're going to retrofit it with three energy efficiency upgrades designed to convert it from unbelievable energy inefficiency into a zero carbon home meeting the UK's targets for all new housing by 2016.

The 1930s house is an icon of its age, complete with open fires, single glazed windows, inefficient gas or electric water heating, and no insulation. Three million were built in the UK and are still a major part of current housing stock.

The pimped out 1930s upgrade will bristle with more than 100 sensors to monitor energy use, temperature, and humidity, making it one of the most sophisticated research houses in the world.

During the next 2 weeks the old house will be enriched with modern tech: cavity wall insulation, loft insulation, draft proofing, double glazing, and energy-saving appliances and equipment.

In the end, the house will prove a test facility for measuring which of many energy efficiency upgrades are most cost effective.

In the meantime, U of Nottingham fellow Changhong Zhan and his family have been living in the old house, while researchers monitor their energy consumption and the building’s energy loss.


Apparently, it's been uncomfortable for the family without central heating. They've been dependant on inefficient electrical heaters. To save electricity and money, they've stayed in one room, normally the dining room, and subsequently shivered during sleep and showers. They've used hot-water bottles to keep warm and save electricity (hey, I like hot-water bottles). To stifle drafts, they've squeezed papers into gaps in windows and doors.

Sound familiar?

When the researchers tried to pressurize the house to find the areas of worst heat loss, they couldn't, because the house was too full of holes.

Millions of Britons live in similarly leaky homes, adding significantly to the third of CO2 emissions caused by housing in that country. 

Lots of American homes leak too. Where's our Robin Hood?
 

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Charles Bowden on NPR

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 7:20 PM EDT

Charles Bowden and I recently went on the Kathleen Dunn Show on Wisconsin Public Radio to discuss Mother Jones' Drug War special report, the decriminalization of marijuana, and the case of Emilio Gutiérrez Soto. Once you've listend to Charles Bowden's John Wayne-like voice, go back and re-read "We Bring Fear." It'll sound different.

Listen here. (Note, you may need to install Realplayer or VLC.)

CA Climate Strategy: Learn to Adapt

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 6:54 PM EDT

The California National Resources Agency released its Climate Adaptation Strategy on August 3, urging the state to prepare for the looming effects of global climate change. This comes on the heels of a (nearly) national movement in which two thirds of states enacted Climate Action Plans suggesting individual ways that states could mitigate the regional impacts of climate change.

California's strategy is one of only seven adaptation-specific plans currently in the works.  But it highlights the transition from a widespread campaign to stop climate change to an effort to brace for the impacts that are nearly guaranteed within the next few decades. "It used to be that you'd get slapped in the face for talking about adaptation," says Tony Brunello, the deputy secretary of climate change and energy for the CNRA. "It was seen as doing nothing and taking away from mitigation efforts."

But that view changed once climate change became a hot button national issue, embraced as reality by scientists and most American politicians. Brunello notes that the adaptation strategy has not been bogged down by the usual reluctance toward adaptation becuase California has a reputation as a leader on climate change legislation. But, he says, "we are only playing with half a deck. People have to start paying attention the the effects that are already going to impact California."

Quote of the Day

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 3:18 PM EDT

From Rory Stewart, director of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard’s Kennedy School and advisor to the Obama administration on Afghanistan and Pakistan:

It’s like they're coming in and saying to you, "I'm going to drive my car off a cliff. Should I or should I not wear a seatbelt?" And you say, "I don't think you should drive your car off the cliff." And they say, "No, no, that bit's already been decided — the question is whether to wear a seatbelt." And you say, "Well, you might as well wear a seatbelt." And then they say, "We've consulted with policy expert Rory Stewart and he says ..."

Plus there's this about our military strategy in Afghanistan: "The policy of troop increases will look ridiculous in 30 years."  Read the whole thing.

(Via Steve Hynd.)

Blackwater Responds to Murder Allegations

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 2:57 PM EDT

Two ex-Blackwater employees (or individuals claiming to be) say the company and its enigmatic founder, Erik Prince, murdered—or arranged for the murders—of people cooperating with federal authorities investigating the controversial security firm. Blackwater, which renamed itself Xe earlier this year, says it "questions the judgement of anyone who relies upon" the anonymous declarations filed Monday in connection with a series of civil suits brought on behalf of Iraqi civilians. It calls the accusations—which also include charges of weapons smuggling, money laundering, and a "wife-swapping and sex ring" run out of the company's Moyock, North Carolina headquarters—"unsubstantiated," "offensive," and slanderous.

Earlier today, Blackwater/Xe spokeswoman Stacy DeLuke emailed me the company's statement on the allegations. I've updated my post from yesterday with the company's comments. Given the nature of the charges, I'm reprinting them again here (typos and all).

The proper place for this case to be litigated is in the Court, and we will respond fully in our reply brief (which will be filed on August 17) to the anonymous unsubstantiated  and offensive assertions put forward by the plaintiffs. Because the plaintiffs have chosen inappropriately to argue their case in the media, however, we will also say this:

- The  brief filed by Plaintiff includes two anonymous affidavits state that  their "information" has been provided to the Justice Department -- we can gauge the credence given to those statements --  which hold no water. When the indictments were announced, the United States Attorney the United States Attorney made a point of stating that "[t]he indictment does not charge or implicate Blackwater Worldwide"; "[i]t charges only the actions of certain employees for their roles in the September 16 shooting." He emphasized that the indictment was "very narrow in its allegations": "Six individual Blackwater guards have been charged with unjustified shootings . . .  not the entire Blackwater organization in Baghdad.  There were 19 Blackwater guards on the . . . team that day . . . .  Most acted professionally, responsibly and honorably.  Indeed, this indictment should not be read as accusation against any of those brave men and women who risk their lives as Blackwater security contractors."

- It is obvious that Plaintiffs have chosen to slander Mr. Prince rather than raise legal arguments or actual facts that will be considered by a court of law. We are happy to engage them there.

-We question the judgment of anyone who relies upon and reiterate anonymous declarations. 

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