2010 - %3, June

Pro-Life Movement Goes "Green"

| Thu Jun. 3, 2010 3:28 PM EDT

The pro-life coalition American Life League has a new tactic for convincing women not to use birth control: The Pill Kills the Environment campaign, set to launch this Saturday, June 5. From the "Talking Points" section of the campaign website:

Q: What can we do to help save our environment?
A: Educate! Educate the women in your life about the dangerous consequences the birth control pill can have, not only on them but on their preborn baby and all of the people in their community as well. The very fact that scientists are finding "intersex" fish, that is male fish with eggs in their testes, should be enough to alarm the environmentalists in your area and others that are concerned about protecting our environment. Scientists are finding that the presence of female hormones in our water is making male fish, frogs and river otters less masculine.

Oy. It's true that the hormones from birth control are a problem in waterways, but ALL's take on the subject lacks some serious perspective, to say the least. As we reported in an Econundrum on the subject:

Long-lasting devices like diaphragms create less waste than single-use rubbers, which can end up in sewers, clog waste treatment plants, and potentially pose a threat to wildlife. The Pill, while waste free, sends small amounts of estrogen into waterways, possibly harming fish. But whatever works for you—the toll of a few prophylactics is nothing compared to the environmental consequences of population growth.

For more on the environmental consequences of overpopulation, read MoJo environment reporter Julia Whitty's excellent piece on the issue here.

In the meantime, if you're worried about the pill's effect on the environment, you might be just the kind of person who would enjoy this. Endangered species condom!

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"Chick Cars" Don't, in Fact, Castrate Men

| Thu Jun. 3, 2010 3:18 PM EDT

Today, in press-releases-that-make-me-feel-stabby, LeaseTrader.com (whatever the hell that is) sent me this new “research” on the top 10 “chick cars” that shrink men’s testicles or something. On top of that, they also included the seven worst places to get caught driving said “chick cars,” which include sacred dude activities like hitting the gym, drinking at a sports bar, and participating in their weekly circle jerk.

From the release:

“Every guy should know there are just some cars he should never, under any circumstances, sit behind and drive. This goes for most cars made by Toyota or Volkswagen (cars that give off estrogen vibes) and driven by a guy, should get ready to be horribly ridiculed by his buddies.”

Dude bro! I thought we talked about the whole my-car-is-not-my-penis thing. Maybe you were too distracted by my estrogen vibe to pay attention.

I suppose it’s not that surprising that the idea of a gendered car exists or that certain members of the doucheoisie wouldn’t be caught dead in a Mini Cooper. After all, driving is fraught with gender stereotypes and assumptions, which, judging by this Freakonomics series, hasn’t really changed much despite other social and cultural victories women have won in the last hundred years. We can vote! And wear pants! We’re earning more degrees and have lower insurance rates. But God forbid we try to parallel park.  

If you care, here’s LeaseTrader’s list of cars that will castrate you:

Rand Paul Clashes With Rush Over "Spirit of The Radio"

| Thu Jun. 3, 2010 3:09 PM EDT

Kentucky senate candidate Rand Paul, the libertarian tea party fave, appears to be a Rush fanatic. His speeches sometimes quote a stanza  from the Canadian rock band's "Spirit of the Radio"--"Gilttering prizes and endless compromises/ Shatter the illusion of integrity"--a line that he believes illustrates the GOP's drift from its core values. He played the song at his May 17th primary election victory party and used another Rush song in a recent fundraising video. According to Robert Farmer, an attorney for Rush, Paul's former campaign manager told him on May 25th that "he and the campaign were big Rush fans."

The love doesn't appear to be mutual. Farmer has asked the Paul campaign to stop using Rush's songs. The campaign wouldn't agree to the demand, even after Farmer sent Paul a formal demand letter (PDF).  So yesterday Farmer took the dispute public with the Louiville-Courier Journal, which was also unable to get Paul to say whether he'd stop using the song. Perhaps Paul is concerned that if he compromises, it will shatter the illusion of his integrity.

When I reached Farmer at his Toronto office today, he told me that Rush's beef with Paul is "completely a copyright issue" and has nothing to do with Paul's or Rush's political views. Though Rush is often considered to be a "libertarian" band, Farmer declined to elaborate on the political meaning behind the band's songs. "People listen to songs and they get different impressions about different things," he said. He laughed and went on: "Look, we're Canadians, this is a copyright issue; we don't want to affect any politics in the United States."

"What I find surprising about this, though, is that we still haven't had a response from Rand Paul or his campaign," he added.

Markey Intro's Bill to Fund Better Oil Spill Response R&D

| Thu Jun. 3, 2010 2:22 PM EDT

BP CEO Tony Hayward admitted Thursday that it is "an entirely fair criticism" that the company was not prepared for a deepwater oil blowout of this magnitude. "We did not have the tools you would want in your tool-kit," he told the Financial Times. It was already clear that the company didn't take safety planning very seriously; now one lawmaker has put forward a bill to force better preparation for this kind of disaster.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said Thursday he intends to introduce a bill following the Memorial Day recess that would force companies drilling in the Gulf of Mexico to begin paying royalties on some lands that are currently free, and redirect that money to the research and development of safety and spill-response technology.

"From junk shots to top hats, this spill shows that BP and the oil industry paid more attention to drilling ultra-deep instead of creating ultra-safe technologies to prevent and respond to a crisis," said Markey. He's calling it the "Oil Safety for Offshore Spills Fund" (or the Oil SOS for short).

Under a 1995 law, the Deepwater Royalty Relief Act, some oil producers in the Gulf received leases between 1996 and 2000 free of charge. The bill would seek to recoup those funds, and Markey says that could add up to $53 billion dollars in future royalties from companies drilling in the Gulf. His bill would also repeal some of the royalty relief granted in the 2005 energy bill.

Poll Wonkery Goes Big Time

| Thu Jun. 3, 2010 2:06 PM EDT

The New York Times announced today that it would begin hosting FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver's stat-wonkery site that shot to fame dissecting poll data during the 2008 election. Henry Farrell comments:

Newspapers have traditionally been highly allergic to statistics, charts and the like, in the belief that they turned readers off. FiveThirtyEight has demonstrated that there is a sort-of-mass readership for this kind of material, if it is presented in the right way. That the New York Times has bought the site — and is seeking to integrate Silver into its broader operations — suggests that it wants to tap into that market.

Hmmm. I guess "sort-of-mass" covers a lot of territory, but I have my doubts that the readership for heavy duty number crunching is any bigger than it's ever been. Instead, I'd guess that "presented in the right way" is really the operative phrase here. And that doesn't so much refer to the way Nate displays his results (though he does a very good job of it), but the fact that he's pretty clearly a liberal partisan. I don't mean that in the sense that he distorts his results to favor a liberal point of view — as far as I can tell, he doesn't — just that he's very good at addressing the topics that liberal readers are most interested in hearing about.

To a certain extent I think this is the future of political journalism. Readers of political reporting pretty clearly prefer a point of view, but in its more rarefied precincts that doesn't mean they want the obvious agit-prop of a Fox News or conservative talk radio. They want their facts more or less straight, which is what Nate provides, but they don't want to wade through thousands of words of junk to find the bits and pieces they're interested in. Rather, they want a guide who already knows what's important to them and puts it front and center. That's what FiveThirty-Eight.com provides. The fact that it's all number-centric is secondary.

Bloggingheads.tv: Corn & Pinkerton on the BP Oil Spill

Thu Jun. 3, 2010 1:46 PM EDT

Back by popular demand, David Corn and James Pinkerton faced off on Bloggingheads.tv in a wide-ranging discussion of the BP oil spill, the future of energy in America, and Al and Tipper's marital woes.

 

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Washington's Compulsive Gambling

| Thu Jun. 3, 2010 1:32 PM EDT

History, or the future (however you want to look at it), has a funny way of rearing up and biting leaders who think they know what they're doing. Take Barack Obama. Only weeks before the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, he made a "pragmatic" decision to give way on the expansion of deep-water drilling off US shores in return for political support on his energy bill that might never have added up to much. In the process, he said on camera: "It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don't cause spills. They are technologically very advanced." His decision, which left the oil industry's key lobbying outfit, the American Petroleum Institute, dancing for joy, doesn't look quite so pragmatic or advantageous now.

The president undoubtedly already rues the day he ever put those words on the historical record. Imagine, however, that, in the same situation, he had done the difficult, unpragmatic thing and said something like: "It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs still cause spills and deep-water drilling is simply too dangerous for our planet, so I've decided, despite the obvious political problems involved, not to open up new, ever deeper, ever more sensitive or climatically extreme areas off our coasts to the oil industry. And I'm instructing my secretary of the interior to make sure that whatever drilling is already underway is safe." He'd be in a lot better shape right now, though the Gulf of Mexico wouldn't.

Similarly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his true-believer government thought that a flotilla of peace activists determined to break the blockade of Gaza by steaming towards it with humanitarian relief supplies would be easy enough to control in the usual tough-guy ways. Call in the military, treat the activists goonishly in international waters, and a lesson would be learned. And indeed, a lesson has been learned—by the Palestinians, the Turks, and others.

In the process, the Israelis managed to turn the Mavi MaMara into the SS Exodus (the famed ship of Jewish refugees assaulted by the British in 1947), the Palestinians into Jews, Gaza into Israel before its establishment, and themselves into the oppressive, imperial Britons. No small trick in a single night. The Israelis will surely rue the day they ordered an assault on the six-ship flotilla in international waters when, if they had let the ships through, nothing much would have happened. In this case, the path of seemingly least resistance—to wield force—may have profoundly changed the international equation to Israel's disadvantage.

And then, of course, there's the war in Afghanistan, which is for the time being largely out of American consciousness. On that war, Obama made another assumedly pragmatic decision on entering the Oval Office: it would be politically easier to expand the fighting there, blunt the momentum of the Taliban, and worry about withdrawal later. This, too, passed for pragmatism in Washington, especially for a Democratic president, supposedly vulnerable on national security issues and seeking a second term (something all American presidents desperately desire).

So, on December 1, 2009, he went to West Point and, with a reluctance you could feel—even naming the date in 2011 when his administration would begin a troop drawdown—gave his "surge" speech to the nation. He could have given quite a different speech.  (I even wrote a withdrawal speech for him whose key line was: "Ours will be an administration that will stand or fall, as of today, on this essential position: that we ended, rather than extended, two wars.") He would have taken flak. The media would have been an instant echo chamber of outrage and criticism. But he would have made it through and ended two wars. No such luck.

As a result, sooner or later he's likely to find himself in political hell. Things are already going poorly in Afghanistan, not so surprising since the war there is the foreign-policy equivalent of a poorly drilled, poorly capped deep-water well in the Gulf of Mexico. The only question is when the spill will begin gushing uncontrollably. Unfortunately, as crackerjack TomDispatch regular William Astore points out, the Obama administration and the US military high command are now hopelessly committed to a gambler's mentality in Afghanistan, which means that, as things get worse, the war will only expand. Escalating in Pakistan is clearly on the mind of American planners, a move guaranteed to be disastrous (which, of course, never stopped anybody). Extending the timeline for an American stay is another obvious option. Hard as it might have been to launch a withdrawal in December 2009, imagine just how politically difficult it will be, if things get worse, in 2011. Where's the value of "pragmatism" now?

Fiore Cartoon: Operation Overreaction

Thu Jun. 3, 2010 12:58 PM EDT

In case BP Oil the Movie wasn't enough entertainment for this summer, Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist Mark Fiore points us towards another summer blockbuster: Operation Overreaction! Starring the Israeli Defense Forces and an aid flotilla on its way to Gaza. Enjoy.

This cartoon requires Macromedia's Flash Player. If you don't see the cartoon above, download the player here.

Mark Fiore is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a website featuring his work.

Endangered Animals in BP's Wake

| Thu Jun. 3, 2010 12:36 PM EDT

As reporter Kate Sheppard blogged earlier, the growing, unphotographable wildlife death toll from the BP spill is incredible: 444 dead birds, 222 dead sea turtles, and 24 mammals (including dolphins). Some of the oil-slicked critters were already endangered, like this baby Kemp's Ridley sea turtle. Right now is nesting season for the endangered turtles, and they must swim through the Gulf of Mexico to get to their Mexican breeding grounds. But the Kemp's Ridley isn't the only endangered creature battling sticky oil: brown pelicans, who flew of the Endangered Species List in November, have nests and newborn hatchlings in the spill zone. Our reporter Julia Whitty has pics here.

Wildlife tolls can only be expected to climb, especially as endangered manatees continue migrating to the Gulf's warm waters. One manatee in particular, named "Bama," is worrying wildlife biologists as she makes her way back to the Gulf. Bama's tagged, so biologists can watch her movements and her proximity to the spill zone. "We know that she's not the only animal out there... But we think it's very likely that she's just reflective of other animals that are also making the same regular seasonal migration," Dr. Carmichael of the Alabama Dauphin Island Sea Lab told a Florida news station. Aside from manatees, the Gulf is home to dozens of threatened or endangered species, from the gulf sturgeon to the wood stork, not to mention plants and insects. Some of these animals live nearly exclusively in wildlife preserves, but that won't keep the oil out: there are 34 national wildlife refuges at risk from spill-related pollution, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.


 

Is the Government Low-Balling the Spill Size?

| Thu Jun. 3, 2010 12:15 PM EDT

Last week, experts assembled by the federal government announced the preliminary findings of efforts to analyze the amount of oil gushing out of the Gulf well. The head of the effort announced at a press briefing that the scientists' best estimate is that 12,000 to 19,000 barrels of oil are spewing into the ocean each day—two to four times more than the government's initial assessment. But the group's own preliminary report on the spill size, which was provided to Mother Jones by congressional investigators, indicates that the range announced to the press may still be significantly understating the scale of the spill.

The head of the spill rate team, US Geological Survey Director Dr. Marcia McNutt, explained in a call with reporters last week that the 12,000 to 19,000 barrel figure was based on the "area of overlap" between estimates from several teams who had separately assessed satellite images of the spill area and video footage of the spill site.

But a close reading of the preliminary report (which was posted online, but is more detailed than what was sent to reporters last week) indicates that the figures were drawn from just one team—which was only analyzing oil on the surface of the water, via satellite images and remote sensing equipment. We already know that the unprecedented volume of chemical dispersants used by BP has pushed massive quantities of oil under water. Other oil has been burned off, skimmed from the top, and evaporated. McNutt said the group attempted to correct for dispersed oil, but the report indicates that the process for doing so was far from precise; the team just doubled the total from the amount that sensors and satellites show. Using video footage—which can capture oil both on and below the surface of the ocean—would be far more accurate. And indeed, the team using video footage to analyze the spill estimated that 12,000 to 25,000 barrels of oil were leaking from the site each day.

Even worse, that analysis could still be under-reporting the real size of the spill. Some of the experts on that team said their analysis had been compromised by the poor quality of the video footage provided by BP, which was little better than a You-Tube clip. Higher quality video, as one team member testified to Congress, is essential to producing an accurate calculation.

The preliminary report also suggests that the government has not come up with a precise way to account for oil that could be hard to measure due to BP's heavy dispersant use (993,000 gallons as of yesterday). Here's a description of the methodology from the team that came up with the 12,000 to 19,000 figure (which includes a Rumsfeldian reference to "unknown unknowns"):

Corrections are then made for the amount of oil that was evaporated, skimmed, burned, and dispersed either subsea or on the sea surface. These corrections nearly double the total amount of oil as of May 17th. The total oil is then divided by the number of days to get an average rate. This method is not without its biases that might not be captured by formal uncertainty bounds as well. For example, all of the corrections made to the surface oil were to add in losses of oil to the system. To the extent that there are other unknown processes that remove oil naturally from the system that are unaccounted for, there may be “unknown unknowns” in this analysis as well.

"I have no clue what it means mathematically to say 'unknown unknowns,'" the congressional investigator tells Mother Jones—adding that the 12,000-19,000 range is likely "low-balling" the size of the spill.

Like the 5,000-barrel-per-day estimate that came before it, the media has now latched onto the 12,000 to 19,000 figure. But if this report is any indication, the real size of the spill remains the biggest known unknown of all.

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