2013 - %3, January

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 8, 2013

Tue Jan. 8, 2013 8:23 AM PST
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Ryan Schulte, security force platoon leader for Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah, uses his scans for security threats from the rooftop at the site of a key leader engagement in Farah City, Jan. 3. U.S. Navy photo by HMC Josh Ives/released.

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Why Is the Pentagon Blocking LGBT and Progressive Websites?

| Tue Jan. 8, 2013 4:01 AM PST
Rush Limbaugh's website is not banned by the Pentagon. John Aravosis, AMERICAblog

Gay and lesbian Americans have been able to serve openly in the military ever since President Obama repealed "Don't Ask Don't Tell" in September 2011. But online, some Pentagon computers appear to force the LGBT military community behind closed doors, blocking military users' access to LGBT advocates' and other progressives' websites, while conservative sites remain fully accessible, according to John Aravosis of AMERICAblog. The military now blames faulty computer software for the de facto censorship, but gay activists say the Department of Defense has known about the problem for over a year—and still hasn't fixed it.

Aravosisa journalist and activist who defended a US Navy sailor for challenging DADT in 1998learned from a military contact that his website was blocked on the Pentagon's official computer system. He then had several other contacts take screenshots of websites that were blocked on Pentagon computers. Aravosis discovered that LGBT websites like the Human Rights Campaign blog and OutServe-SLDN, a website co-founded by Air Force officer Josh Seefried that supports gay members of the military, were blocked. Progressive sites like Daily Kos made the blocked list as well. But the conservative websites of Andrew Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, as well as anti-gay rights groups like the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council, were accessible:

 

Zeke Stokes, a spokesman for OutServe, told Mother Jones that the organization and its 6,000 affiliated LGBT service members have been notifying the Pentagon and local commanders of this issue since the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell in 2011, but the Pentagon failed to adequately respond until this past weekend, when Aravosis pointed out the problem.

The Department of Defense issued a statement on Facebook on Friday that said it "does not block LGBT websites" deliberately. Rather, the pages "were denied access based on web filters blocking the Blog/Personal Pages" category. (Military officials have long blocked workers' access to websites they consider non-secure, personal timewasters, or otherwise unfit for consumption in office hours.) Aravosis tells Mother Jones he found this initial statement  "disturbing," because websites like Ann Coulter's blog and Red State, a conservative news blog, both appear to fall in this category, but were not blocked. "They didn't seem to recognize the possibility of a problem, and appeared to have no intent to investigate," he says.

But Aravosis was sent what he calls "a much better statement" from Pentagon Press Secretary George Little on Saturday, saying that "[t]he Department of Defense strongly supports the rights of gay and lesbian men and women in uniform" and "in certain instances, access may [be] limited to content not directly related to carrying out mission or professional duties." Little added that "some sites may have been unnecessarily blocked" and promised that the matter would be looked into.

     John Aravosis, AMERICAblog

Jeremy Hooper, activist and author of the pro-gay paean If It's a Choice, My Zygote Chose Balls, says his site, Good As You, was unnecessarily blocked. "[There is no valid reason] for a nine-year-old news site that features daily updated news, commentary, and yes, irreverence, geared towards the fight for equality to be filtered," he tells Mother Jones.

One reason the Pentagon may be blocking these sites (at least on some computers) is because it uses many different kinds of filtering software across the department, and one "information assurance" office may not have access to all the security settings. According to Aravosis, one of the DOD's site-blocking programs was developed by Blue Coat Systems, an American company whose wares have also been used by the repressive regime in Syria. On Blue Coat's website, the LGBT category is defined, not as housing sexually explicit content, but as containing "websites that provide reference materials, news, legal information, anti-bullying and suicide-prevention information, and other resources for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ("LGBT") people."

Richard Bejtlich, the chief security officer at the Arlington, Virginia-based info security firm Mandiant and an expert on Pentagon cybersecurity software, told Mother Jones that "it's possible that all LGBT sites are blocked by default and the military didn't know," or even that "the settings came from the whim of a single person, as these systems are typically not very well-controlled."

Bejtlich also points out that "blocks are generally not a censorship issue, but instead, DoD has found that the Russians or the Chinese are tunneling information and they shut everything down until they figure out what's going on. DoD could be falling back on that excuse."

Both Hooper and Stokes are willing to accept the Pentagon's explanation that the censorship is most likely a software mistake. "[A]ssuming this is an error that is corrected quickly, it shouldn't reflect badly," Stokes tells us, but he also points out that "appropriate attention has not been paid to fixing it until now, despite numerous requests."

Pam Spaulding, founder of the LGBT blog Pam's House Blend, says that even if the censorship is unintentional, her site doesn't pose much of a security risk. "What is so subversive about anything I write here that the tender souls at the Pentagon need their eyes protected from?" she writes. "Do they think the content will give service members the vapors or make them catch THE GAY?"

Kevin Drum Talks Lead and Crime on Melissa Harris-Perry

Tue Jan. 8, 2013 4:01 AM PST

Six micrograms of lead exposurea quantity so small it's invisiblemay be enough to permanently alter a child's development and increase crime in a community. Watch Mother Jones political blogger Kevin Drum discuss his new cover story on lead on MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry.

Pioneering lead toxicologist Howard Mielke, who we interviewed recently, was also a guest on the show:

Kevin also joined a panel with Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed to discuss why Democrats didn't win a majority of seats in the House of Representitives, how the Dems can run better campaigns in the future, and Clinton's 1996 Welfare Reform Act:

 

On Civil Liberties, John Brennan Is No Worse Than Barack Obama

| Tue Jan. 8, 2013 4:01 AM PST
White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and President Barack Obama share a meal in February 2010.

Four years ago, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan withdrew his name from consideration to run the Central Intelligence Agency. On Monday, President Barack Obama announced Brennan was his pick for the job, following the resignation of David Petraeus over an extramarital affair.

In his 2008 letter taking himself out of contention for CIA director, Brennan referred to "strong criticism in some quarters prompted by my previous service with the Central Intelligence Agency." What Brennan meant was that he had defended coercive interrogation (except for waterboarding) and backed warrantless surveillance—approaches to counterterrorism that enraged civil libertarians and that Obama had rejected as a presidential candidate.

Brennan's nomination "raised concerns," the American Civil Liberties Union said Monday, and called on the Senate to "assess the role of the CIA—and any role by Brennan himself—in torture, abuse, secret prisons, and extraordinary rendition during his past tenure at the CIA, as well as review the legal authorities for the targeted killing program that he has overseen in his current position." 

Back in 2008, this sort of civil-liberties-based opposition to Brennan made sense. Obama had promised to reverse many of the Bush-era excesses in the war on terror. Having Brennan at the CIA was unacceptable to the left because it signaled not only that Obama wouldn't go after torturers or curtail violations of civil liberties, but also that the promised shift away from Bush-era policies would never come. 

Brennan didn't become CIA chief, but it hardly mattered: Obama's first term unfolded almost exactly as Brennan's liberal critics had feared. The Justice Department watered down its internal ethics investigation against Bush lawyers who sanctioned torture. It declined to prosecute CIA interrogators who went beyond even the "legalized" torture guidelines while prosecuting former CIA official John Kiriakou for talking about the program. The Obama administration expanded the use of targeted killing, blocked attempts to establish stronger oversight over government surveillance, and has repeatedly broken its promise of greater transparency in the war on terror, trotting officials like Brennan out to defend the administration's counterterrorism policies as legal while refusing to release the actual government documents justifying them. 

Brennan has, according to many reports on the internal dynamics of the Obama administration, advocated restraint in the use of targeted killing, despite publicly making unbelievably rosy assessments of drone strikes' impact on civilians. He has publicly defended the use of the civilian justice system to handle terror suspects, angering Republicans who tried to suggest that an FBI interrogation is akin to being interviewed on cable news. According to author Daniel Klaidman, Brennan also supported Obama's failed effort to close Guantanamo. Most of these positions are actually consistent with those of the late Bush administration, though the GOP's rightward shift makes it seem otherwise. The Senate should use Brennan's confirmation to scrutinize Obama administration policies—but it's unlikely that a different nominee would mean a different course. 

Everything that civil-liberties advocates feared might have come to pass if Brennan had been appointed at the CIA happened anyway. Which is to say that it's impossible to make a case against Brennan running the CIA that isn't also a case against Obama. It's Obama, not Brennan, who is ultimately responsible for the policies of the past four years. Those won't change unless Obama wants them to, whether Brennan runs the CIA or not.

Drought Lingers, Winter Wheat Crop Withers

| Tue Jan. 8, 2013 4:01 AM PST
Cheerios are not looking so cheery.

Weather is a complex, multi-tiered phenomenon, and no event can be tied to a single cause. But we do know that climate change likely increases the incidence and severity of droughts. Last summer's widespread drought, which took big bites out of the US corn and soy crop, has lingered through the winter in large swaths of the country—and is now stunting winter wheat, which is planted in the fall and is harvested in early summer.  Winter wheat is responsible for 70 percent of the annual US wheat crop.

"About 61 percent of the country is mired in a dry spell that the government says will last at least until March in states growing the most winter wheat," Bloomberg reports. In Kansas, the heartland of US wheat production, the problem is particularly bad—the entire state is in drought. Winter wheat goes dormant during the winter months before resuming growth in the spring, so it's still too early to say what the effect will be on crop yields. But in some places, damage is already severe. Rosie Meier, a grain merchandieser at the Great Bend Co-op in Great Bend, Kansas, told Bloomberg, "About 30 percent of the winter wheat in central Kansas has already failed, with further damage likely unless there is rain."

Wheat prices jumped 19 percent in 2012, pushed up by bad weather globally and competition for acreage from other crops like corn. This year looks like more of the same—hotter-than-normal weather in wheat powerhouse countries Russia and Argentina (which is enduring its "worst dry spell in 85 years") is severely crimping production, Bloomberg reports, citing USDA projections.

Globally, wheat stocks are dropping as consumption rises and production drops. FAO

As a result, a Bloomberg poll of 32 crop analyst estimates that wheat prices will jump as much as 25 percent this year—on top of last year's 19 percent jump. The chart to the right shows why wheat prices are so volatile. It tracks total global wheat stocks—the stuff left over in storage at the end of each year—against total annual consumption ("utilization") and production. Note that as recently as 2003, annual wheat consumption was much less than than the amount stored. Now that situation is reversed, and the world is expected to consume more than it produces.

The resulting high prices won't much affect the cost of your daily loaf—here in the US, wheat makes of a small fraction of the factors driving the retail price of bread. In developing countries, though, commodity price fluctuations can have an immediate and severe impact on food prices. Lest we forget, high wheat prices in 2010 and 2011 largely fueled the Arab spring. "Wheat is the biggest dietary staple in much of the region, providing cheap nutrition in bread, pasta and couscous," The Wall Street Journal reported in 2011.

Of course, the current particular bout of decreased rain fall in wheat-intensive regions could be pure happenstance—it could be driven by other factors besides climate change. But it gives us a taste of what it will be like to grow sufficient food as the world heats up. In two posts last year, I looked at the challenges climate change presents for food production and possible solutions.

Obama Administration Interrogating Terror Suspects Locked Up Abroad (Again)

| Tue Jan. 8, 2013 4:01 AM PST

Remember rendition? Many people believe the practice of having terrorism suspects interrogated overseas was supposed to end when George W. Bush left office. But President Barack Obama said he'd end torture, not renditions—and last week, the Washington Post reported that they're still happening. That's true in some sense, but as Mother Jones and others have reported, the Obama administration's use of foreign regimes to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects has avoided Bush-style renditions in favor of a different practice known as proxy detention.

Law professor and national security expert Steve Vladeck explained the difference between the Bush and Obama renditions on the Lawfare blog last week. The two most famous cases of Bush-era extraordinary rendition are those of Maher Arar and Khaled El-Masri, two men whom, as Vladeck noted, "were illegally sent by the United States to third-party countries where they could be interrogated (and tortured) in a manner that would have been unlawful if conducted by U.S. officials." The case in the Post story is different, in that it involves arrests by local authorites who later transferred the detainees to the United States, and that there's no torture alleged. This case indeed involves prisoner transfers from one country to another, but the details are completely different. The Post story, Vladeck argued, "is equating apples to oranges in a context in which nuance matters."

Here's the meat of the Post's story:

The three European men with Somali roots were arrested on a murky pretext in August as they passed through the small African country of Djibouti. But the reason soon became clear when they were visited in their jail cells by a succession of American interrogators.

U.S. agents accused the men — two of them Swedes, the other a longtime resident of Britain — of supporting al-Shabab, an Islamist militia in Somalia that Washington considers a terrorist group. Two months after their arrest, the prisoners were secretly indicted by a federal grand jury in New York, then clandestinely taken into custody by the FBI and flown to the United States to face trial....

The men are the latest example of how the Obama administration has embraced rendition — the practice of holding and interrogating terrorism suspects in other countries without due process — despite widespread condemnation of the tactic in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In the September/October 2011 issue of Mother Jones, I reported on several cases of suspected proxy detention of American citizens, and confirmed, via multiple FBI sources, that the bureau does in fact share information with foreign security services that leads to the arrests and detentions of both foreigners and Americans abroad—and that US officials interrogate American and foreign-born terrorism suspects in foreign custody.

The practice may not be as bad as grabbing Abu Omar from the streets of Milan and whisking him away to Egypt for torture. But proxy detention still raises civil liberties groups' hackles, because proxy detainees are granted fewer rights, and subjected to harsher interrogations (and sometimes abuse, allegedly) under foreign custody than they would be if they were arrested in the United States. Today, instead of imprisoning terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay, as we did during the Bush administration, we're either blowing them up with drones or having our allies abroad pick them up and do the detaining (and sometimes the interrogating) for us. So the revelation in the Post story wasn't necessarily surprising: If US government officials are willing to have nasty foreign regimes pick up American citizens, they likely wouldn't think twice about nudging Djibouti to arrest a few Swedes.

Civil libertarians worry that proxy detention is a way for the US government to avoid granting terrorist suspects due process rights they would have if they were in US custody. But the FBI's justification for sharing information that leads nasty regimes to arrest terrorist suspects is simple, as one FBI source explained to me in 2011: If the Saudis knew one of their citizens who they believed to be a terrorist was coming to the United States, we'd want them to tell us about it. Shouldn't we be willing to tip them off if Americans—or, in this case, two Swedes and a Brit*—we believe are involved with terrorism are traveling in their country?

The answer the FBI source was looking for was "yes, we should tip off the Saudis if we think an American-born terrorist is in their country, even if we think that person might be tortured"—and there's legal documentation that this has happened at least once. While I was researching my 2011 proxy detention story, I read a series of depositions given by FBI officials in an FBI agent's whistleblowing lawsuit against the FBI. They indicated that in 2002, the United States revealed the identity of an American under FBI investigation to the Saudi secret police, despite fears that the American, who was unnamed in the depositions, might be tortured in Saudi custody.

Not long after, in June 2003, the Saudi secret police arrested and interrogated Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, an American suspected of involvement with Al Qaeda. (There is reason to suspect that Abu Ali was the American whose identity was shared with the Saudis, but since his name wasn't mentioned in the depositions, there's no proof.) Civil rights groups and Abu Ali's legal team sued in federal court, saying Abu Ali had been detained at the behest of the United States. A federal judge ordered the government to release more details about Abu Ali's case, but before that could happen, the Saudis extradicted Abu Ali to the US, where he was tried and convicted of material support for terrorism. Abu Ali would later claim he had been tortured in Saudi custody.

Today, years after Abu Ali's conviction, allegations of proxy detention continue to pop up. I've devoted special attention to covering reports involving Americans detained abroad, since American citizens have rights under US law that foreigners do not. (The most recent report surfaced in April 2012, when Yonas Fikre, an American Muslim now living in Sweden, claimed he, too, was a victim of proxy detention, and that he was tortured.) But any case in which someone is detained abroad allegedly at the request of the US government deserves our attention, because if the government is tapping allies' security forces to skirt due process rules overseas, how long before it decides due process is also too burdensome at home?

Matthew Waxman, also a law professor who blogs at Lawfare, wrote last week that he thinks these sorts of proxy detentions are "going on — at least indirectly — more than we know publicly." The problem for the FBI, though, is that if it chooses to take formal custody of proxy detainees, and return them to the US for trial, it's likely that more of these sorts of stories will come out, potentially exposing sensitive intelligence cooperation with foreign regimes—and those regimes' misbehavior.

*Correction: It was two Swedes and a Brit, not three Swedes.

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Coral Fights Back Against Warming Seas

| Tue Jan. 8, 2013 4:01 AM PST

Different colonies of Acropora hyacinthus, one species examined by the Stanford team, showed different levels of heat tolerance depending on which pool they were in.

In the world of coral reefs, most of the news is pretty gloomy. Rising ocean temperatures have led to massive die-offs from Indonesia to Florida; emissions-driven acidity could dissolve corals' structure-building ability in 20 years; rising sea levels threaten to block sunlight even from healthy reefs; and in November NOAA called on Congress to afford endangered species status to over 60 species. A blunt, unsparing editorial in the Times this summer slathered on the melodrama: Coral reefs are being pushed "into oblivion... there is no hope."

Coral are not exactly the most dynamic animals in the ocean: They take decades to grow and are then rooted at the mercy of their environment, so they don't inspire much confidence when it comes to adapting to climate change. But a study out Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science from a group of Stanford geneticists suggests that coral might have more of a fighting spirit than we gave them credit for.

In 2000, ecologist Dan Barshis was with a research group in American Samoa, wading through tide pools, when he noticed that coral in some pools seemed healthy, despite being bathed in water much warmer than corals can normally survive, and despite the fact that individuals of the very same species were on their deathbeds in pools just down the beach. Corals get stressed when water temperatures rise, especially when it happens quickly; under enough stress, they'll boot out the symbiotic algae that photosynthesize sunlight for the coral's food and give the coral its signature color palette, leaving the coral pale—hence the term "bleaching"—and starving.

underwater lab
An experimental transplant setup where Steve Palumbi, Dan Barshis, and coauthor Francois Seneca moved corals from the moderate pool into the more extreme pool and vice versa to investigate whether all corals can acquire increased stress tolerance in the more extreme pool. Photo by Dan Griffin-GG Films

But the coral Barshis saw looked inexplicably happy, and over the next several years he found that the reason why is all about training. Barshis compared the genes of the heat-resistant corals and their more fragile bretheren under a range of water temperatures. He found that, in both groups, heat changed the way hundreds of genes were expressed. But in the heat-resistant group, 60 of these genes were flipped on all the time, and helping to crank out heat-resilient proteins and antioxidants. Using records of the pools' temperatures, Barshis found that the strongest corals came from pools that were consistently but briefly exposed to high temperatures during low tides over time. He thinks the repeated exposure helped condition the corals to build up their tolerance, like an athlete building endurance through weight training, only on the level of DNA.

"It kinda comes down to what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," he says.

David Brooks is Too Pessimistic

| Mon Jan. 7, 2013 10:54 PM PST

David Brooks says that spiraling Medicare costs, which the American public shows no willingness to rein in, are going to inexorably squeeze out other programs over the next couple of decades:

Advocates for children, education and the poor don’t even try to defend their programs by lobbying for cutbacks in Medicare. They know that given the choice, voters and politicians care more about middle-class seniors than about poor children.

So far, defense budgets have not been squeezed by the Medicare vice. But that is about to change....As the federal government becomes a health care state, there will have to be a generation of defense cuts that overwhelm anything in recent history.

This, he says, is why Obama has nominated Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary. Obama knows that the defense budget needs to be cut, and he thinks Hagel is the guy who can do it.

Although I agree that Obama wants Hagel to cut Pentagon spending, I'm less pessimistic than Brooks about healthcare funding for two reasons. First, Brooks thinks that "Democrats had their best chance in a generation to raise revenue just now, and all they got was a measly $600 billion over 10 years." That's true, but this was an outcome based on the politics of 2012. Healthcare is a long-term problem, and the politics of taxes may change dramatically as the necessary tradeoffs become clear and political coalitions change in the future. I wouldn't be at all surprised if taxes rise fairly significantly over the next decade, especially if the Republican Party continues its headlong plummet into regional and demographic oblivion and can no longer offer any serious opposition to tax increases.

Second, Brooks says flatly that "there are no conceivable tax increases that can keep up" with projected Medicare outlays. But this simply isn't true. Even the usual scary CBO projections only suggest that federal healthcare spending (Medicare+Medicaid+CHIP+Obamacare) will rise from about 5 percent of GDP today to about 9 percent of GDP by 2035. That's nothing to sneeze at, but at the same time it's hardly inconceivable that we can raise taxes by 4 percent of GDP over the next two decades. That's a very long time to assume that American politics will stay the same as it is today.

What's more, there's some good news on the healthcare front: we're now in our third straight year of low growth rates for healthcare spending—and that's before any of Obamacare's cost containment measures have kicked in. Is this just due to the recession? Maybe, but it's actually part of a long-term trend that's surprisingly promising looking. Sarah Kliff rounds up the evidence here. Beyond that, Obamacare's various cost-control initiatives are likely to have some effect, and so will public pressure eventually.

Put it all together, and it's entirely possible that federal healthcare spending will rise by only about 3 percent of GDP over the next 20 years. That's a lot of money, but it's not Armageddon. And trying to forecast anything farther out than that is a mug's game. We simply have no idea what the medical world will look like that far in the future.

Brooks is right that healthcare costs are by far the most important part of the federal budget going forward. Every other component of the budget is growing either slowly (Social Security) or not at all (domestic spending and defense spending). But he's not right that healthcare will inevitably swallow everything else. We can afford to spend another 3 or 4 points of GDP if we need to, and the political climate of today isn't necessarily the political climate of tomorrow. By the end of the decade, raising taxes modestly might not be quite the impossibility that it is today.

Will Thorium Nuclear Energy Save Us All?

| Mon Jan. 7, 2013 7:37 PM PST

Even in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which half-drowned our biggest metropolis, Congress is still ostriching on climate change and thinking about chopping clean-energy programs as part of fiscal cliff, part II. Meanwhile, China, which has been leading the way on futuristic ideas from offshore wind energy to high-speed rail, is spearheading the development of nuclear energy derived from thorium, a naturally occurring radioactive element.

The Telegraph reports that the politically connected industrialist Jiang Mianheng is bankrolling a $350 million project at China's National Academy of Sciences to develop thorium power, which would be used to fuel molten-salt reactors, as opposed to old school uranium-fueled water reactors, and which would be much cleaner and meltdown-safe.

How Did Lead Get Into Our Gasoline Anyway?

| Mon Jan. 7, 2013 2:58 PM PST

In my article about lead and crime, I didn't spend any time talking about the history of lead as a gasoline additive. Why? Because the piece was already 6,000 words long and I figured that adding to its length with a history lesson would detract from the primary point I wanted to make.

Nonetheless, the history of tetraethyl lead (TEL) has lessons to teach us. Its origins as a gasoline additive began in the 1920s, when it was perfected by GM as an anti-knock compound for high-compression engines. But GM—controlled at the time by DuPont— knew perfectly well that there was already an effective anti-knock additive available: ethanol. Motor fuel made up of about 80% gasoline and 20% ethanol worked beautifully. In "The Secret History of Lead," published in 2000 in The Nation, Jamie Lincoln Kitman explains what happened next:

From the corporation's perspective, however, the problems with ethyl alcohol were ultimately insurmountable and rather basic. GM couldn't dictate an infrastructure that could supply ethanol in the volumes that might be required. Equally troubling, any idiot with a still could make it at home, and in those days, many did. And ethanol, unlike TEL, couldn't be patented; it offered no profits for GM. Moreover, the oil companies hated it, a powerful disincentive for the fledgling GM, which was loath to jeopardize relations with these mighty power brokers. Surely the du Pont family's growing interest in oil and oil fields, as it branched out from its gunpowder roots into the oil-dependent chemical business, weighed on many GM directors' minds.

In March 1922, Pierre du Pont wrote to his brother Irénée du Pont, Du Pont company chairman, that TEL is "a colorless liquid of sweetish odor, very poisonous if absorbed through the skin, resulting in lead poisoning almost immediately." This statement of early factual knowledge of TEL's supreme deadliness is noteworthy, for it is knowledge that will be denied repeatedly by the principals in coming years as well as in the Ethyl Corporation's authorized history, released almost sixty years later. Underscoring the deep and implicit coziness between GM and Du Pont at this time, Pierre informed Irénée about TEL before GM had even filed its patent application for it.

Read the whole thing for much, much more. David Roberts goes a step further, lamenting that we repeat the mistakes we made with lead over and over with other compounds:

We start using something before we understand whether it’s safe. We begin to discover it’s not safe. Industry obscures the science and viciously battles off regulation for as long as possible, forecasting economic doom. Lots of people get sick and die while they do so. Finally some regulations are put in place. The costs of complying turn out to be lower than anyone predicted. The benefits turn out to be much greater than anyone predicted. The pollutant turns out to be more harmful than originally thought. Despite all of the above, industry continues battling efforts to further reduce the pollutant, while claiming credit for the benefits of reducing it as much as they were forced to.

Over and over and over, this story plays out. Yet with each new pollution fight, it’s as though we’ve never had all the previous ones. (See: chlorofluorocarbons, mercury, smog, phthalates, etc.)

This is especially true of compounds like lead, that primarily affect children. If you test lead at moderate levels on adults, you can massage the data pretty easily to show only mild effects. If you test on children over the course of a single year, you can also massage the data to show only mild effects. The problem is that it takes years for the effects of lead on brain development to show up. The kind of research it takes to demonstrate these effects is expensive, and industry obviously has no incentive to fund it. So it doesn't get done.

In the end, of course, the research was eventually done. And it turned out that as more research was done, lead's horrors multiplied. The most recent research, which links lead with aggression and violent crime, is merely the latest in a long string of ill effects that can be laid at lead's doorstep.