2010 - %3, October

Dispersant Maker Ups Lobbying Spending

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

One thing BP's oil spill laid bare both how little data the government has on dispersants, which were used in unprecedented volumes in the Gulf, how poorly regulated these chemicals are. Since the disaster, several bills have been floated to tighten rules on the use of the chemicals, and the Environmental Protection Agency has signaled that it plans to take a closer look at how dispersants would be used in future spills. It's probably little surprise, then, that the company that manufactured BP's brand of choice, Corexit, has been beefing up its lobbying presence in Washington.

Nalco, the Illinois-based chemical company that produces Corexit, spent $90,000 on federal lobbying in the third quarter of 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, bring its 2010 total so far up to $350,000. That brings the company's total since the BP spill to $290,000—far more than the company has spent in the past decade. Nalco's 2009 lobbying tab was just $90,000. The company spent no money on lobbying in 2008.

Of course, there's more attention being paid this year to the dispersant products Nalco sells. A draft report from the National Oil Spill Commission found that the government's lack of planning for dispersant use "handicapped" the response effort. I recently wrote about the much-needed overhaul of chemical policy, and both EPA and Congress have signaled that policy changes are coming. There have been multiple lawsuits over dispersants, most recently one from shrimpers and environmental groups calling for the EPA to stop further use of the chemicals until evaluation is completed.

The government's lax oversight of dispersants facilitated BP's unprecedented use of the chemicals in the Gulf. Over the course of the spill, 1.84 million gallons of Corexit was sprayed on the surface and injected at the spill site—despite the fact that the short—and long-term effects of the chemicals are poorly understood.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 28, 2010

Thu Oct. 28, 2010 5:30 AM EDT

A group of Afghan Commandos, with 3rd Commando Kandak, and U.S. Special Forces Soldiers, with Special Operations Task Force - South, wait to board a CH-47 Chinook helicopter before an operation to rid insurgents from PanjwaÕi District, Oct. 15, 2010, in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Daniel P. Shook/Special Operations Task Force - South

Voter Fraud, Take 2

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 8:11 PM EDT

Kevin Williamson says I'm wrong to say that voter fraud is practically nonexistent. After all, maybe there really is lots of fraud, but nobody is getting convicted of it so we don't know about it.

Well, OK. That's pretty hard to argue with. But I'd still like to see some evidence that it's actually widespread. And unluckily for me, says Williamson, "Kevin Drum has really, really bad timing, I think." This is based on three examples of voter fraud that turned up just this week. So let's roll the tape:

  • Example #1 is some guy who ran for a seat on the Daytona Beach City Commission back in August and apparently requested 92 absentee ballots under suspicious circumstances. Today he was arrested and charged with committing absentee ballot fraud.
  • Example #2 concerns Patrick Murphy, running for Congress in Pennsylvania, who has done — something. I can't quite tell what. "Flooded" the post office with absentee ballot requests is one version of the story. "Fooled" voters into requesting absentee ballots they didn't need is another version. Created a mailer that looked really official, goes another. But I can't tell what's really going on here. At worst, it appears that Murphy is nudging people to request absentee ballots even though they might not actually be absent on election day. On a corruption scale of 1-100, this rates about a 1.5.
  • Example #3 concerns some felons who apparently voted in Hennepin County in 2008. According to the local prosecutor, "The rate of alleged fraud amounted to about 0.00006 percent of ballots cast....'There was no evidence of any organized effort to enable or promote this activity,' he said."

So that's one (alleged) crook in an obscure municipal race, one election mailer that opponents have objected to, and a tiny bit of unorganized (and quite possibly unintentional) fraud two years ago. That's really not a very impressive tally.

But look: the point isn't that there's no voter fraud. Of course there is. It's a big country. If 50 million people vote and 0.01% of the votes are fraudulent, that's 5,000 fraudulent votes. That might seem like a lot, but it would actually be an indication of a really, really clean election system.

In any case, nobody is suggesting we shouldn't police elections. What I am suggesting is that mountains of evidence demonstrate that the actual incidence of voter fraud is minuscule and nearly always freelance. Nonetheless, every two years Republicans whip up a towering hysteria over the specter of massive organized efforts to steal the election from them. Efforts that quite plainly don't exist. And since no party in its right mind would spend gobs of time and money fighting a tiny problem that affects virtually no actual election results, they must have some other motive for doing this. What might that be?

Cool Tools for Tracking Campaign Cash

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 7:29 PM EDT

If you're trying to make sense of the $2 billion being spent in anticipation of next Tuesday's election, here's a few nifty tools. Maplight.org and Wired have teamed up to create the Influence Tracker, which compiles the latest data on members of Congress' haul during this election cycle as well as their biggest donors. Nice touch: logos of each member's top corporate sponsors.

The Sunlight Foundation's Influence Explorer app creates similar snapshots of canddiates' war chests, but includes challengers who aren't currently members of Congress. Nice 20th-century touch: For $2, you can mail a copy of the data directly to friends and family in postcard form.

 

Worried About the Mortgage

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 6:31 PM EDT

Via Joe Klein, here's a Washington Post poll asking people if they're concerned about making their rent or mortgage payment:

As Klein says, let's concede that there might be some exaggeration here. And that at least a bit of this represents people who knowingly took out mortgages they knew they couldn't afford. It's still a helluva lot, especially considering that about a quarter of all Americans own their homes outright and, by definition, aren't worried about making their mortgage payment. A bit of arithmetic tells us that among people who actually have a rent or mortgage commitment in the first place, something like three-quarters are worried about having enough money to pay it. Yikes.

The Will to Win

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 5:21 PM EDT

Mark Thompson writes about the conduct of war:

When I think of wars I've known, they seem to boil down to a three-legged stool: capability, will and time. The U.S. always has plenty of capability; will and time — not so much. Dollars can buy capability, but not the other two.

I think this is a dangerous misconception. He's talking about Afghanistan, a war that's been going on for nearly a decade. Despite the famous impatience of the American public, the United States has had plenty of time. What it's lacked is capability. It's possible that more resources earlier might have helped, but that's not a sure thing by any stretch. This is not a war that can be won simply by pouring more resources into it. One of these days this is something we have to get straight about.

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Arkansas School Board Facebooker: Gays Should Die

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 5:07 PM EDT

 Image courtesy of Advocate.com Image courtesy of Advocate.comUPDATE: McCance apologized on CNN.com for his comments and announced that he will resign from the school board.

***

Did you wear purple on October 20 to call attention to gay teen suicides related to bullying? Well, Advocate.com reports that one Arkansas school board member was so outraged by the request that he support LGBT youth by donning a shade of prune that he wrote this on his Facebook page:

"Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE."

Thus far Cilnt McCance hasn't explained his antigay remarks.

Meanwhile, a Facebook page is calling for McCance to be fired. The page had 17,589 members as of 3pm EST Wednesday.

The Arkansas Department of Education released this statement Tuesday: "The Arkansas Department of Education strongly condemns remarks or attitudes of this kind and is dismayed to see that a school board official would post something of this insensitive nature on a public forum like Facebook. Because Mr. McCance is an elected official, the department has no means of dealing with him directly. ... "

Does this mean he'll get to keep his job?

[H/T: Mother Jones reader Larry]

SF Too Pretty to Win World Series

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 2:14 PM EDT

In a sterling op-ed today in the Dallas Morning News, columnist Steve Blow says the Giants don't "deserve" to win the World Series for a number of reasons. Among them, San Franciscans are effete and we don't have enough Regular Joes "like Regular Joe Barton, who represents Arlington in Congress." Maybe Blow has forgotten it was Barton who apologized to BP? The same Joe Barton who said the government trying to secure money to help spill-affected Gulf residents was a "shake down"? If that's a Regular Joe, then Blow's right, we don't have many of those in San Francisco. A few more choice reasons Blow think the Giants shouldn't win the Series, below. None of them are based on the ability to play baseball.

•"The mayor of San Francisco is a guy named Gavin Newsom. Yes, Gavin Newsom. And if the name isn't debonair enough, you should see him. He looks like a movie star or male model."

"The Giants are all decked out in Halloween black and orange—the only holiday devoted to evil spirits."

•"In San Francisco, Giants fans sip hot chocolate and wear coats and jackets to games all summer long."

 

The Price of Fiscal Honesty

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 2:02 PM EDT

Jon Cohn writes today about the successful Republican attempt to create enormous opposition to healthcare reform among senior citizens. How? By demagoguing the $500 billion in Medicare cuts contained in ACA, of course. Then he says this:

But even to the extent that seniors hold different views, it's surprising they believe Republicans will keep Medicare sacrosanct. After all, this is the party that opposes government-run insurance (which Medicare is) and has tried repeatedly to privatize the program. Young Guns, the new book by three House Republican leaders, calls for turning Medicare into a voucher program that would dramatically reduce the program's guaranteed benefits — an idea that, as [Marilyn Werber] Serafini points out in a separate story, seniors strongly oppose.

I'd guess that two things are going on here. First, seniors just tend to be more conservative than other age groups and also a lot more resistant to change. So a lot of what we're seeing is Republicans pushing on an open door. Second, seniors aren't reading Young Guns. They're watching Fox News and reading stuff on tea party email lists, something that would turn anyone's brain to mush. What's worse, there's not even any pushback from Democrats to any of this. After all, what can they say? Yes, we cut Medicare spending, but it won't have any actual effect? Good luck with that. They're stuck.

This is one of the reasons why I think moderate conservatives give Democrats way too little credit for their relatively honest funding of ACA. Were there some optimistic assumptions there? Sure. Are some of the cost control measures not going to work as well as they hope? Sure. To about the 80% level, though, Democrats really did insist that ACA be fully funded. By ordinary political standards that's pretty impressive, and by recent Republican standards it's just a plain miracle. And it was a pretty costly piece of fiscal honesty too. A big part of how ACA was funded comes from that $500 billion Medicare cut, and that's just a flat out electoral disaster. It may have been necessary, but there's no question that Democrats are going to pay for it at the polls. They really deserve a little more credit for that.

Does Your Birth Control Really Turn Male Fish Female?

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 1:59 PM EDT

A few months back, I blogged about a pro-life group's weird environmental campaign. The American Life League basically said women should feel guilty about taking birth control because it ends up in rivers and "is making male fish, frogs and river otters less masculine."

Turns out that campaign is not only annoying, it's also based on faulty information. A new study from UC-San Francisco found that only a very small fraction of estrogen in waterways comes from oral contraceptives. Other sources include landfills, non-contraceptive pharmaceuticals, soymilk and biodiesel factories, but quite a bit comes from big farms. From Chemical & Engineering News:

The UC San Francisco researchers also found that runoff from large animal farms could contribute to waterway contamination, in part because – unlike household waste – livestock effluents are untreated. A study conducted in the United Kingdom estimated that even if only 1% of the estrogens produced by farm animals reached waterways, they would make up 15% of the estrogens in the water. The data suggest that animal farm runoff should be treated before being released into the environment, Wise says.

And considering the heavy antibiotic use on most factory farms, I'm guessing estrogen isn't the only thing going from farms into waterways.