OSHA: Where Good Laws Go To Die

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 11:16 AM EST

sherron_watkins_gal.jpg In 2002, when Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley act to tighten up corporate governance standards in the wake of Enron, it included a measure to protect and encourage corporate whistleblowers, people like Enron's Sherron Watkins. Business grudgingly accepted the law, while reformers like Taxpayers Against Fraud called the statute "the single most effective measure possible to prevent recurrences of the Enron debacle and similar threats to the nation's financial markets."

Apparently, though, the reformers didn't read the fine print: Big business groups managed to get enforcement of the new law vested with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a notoriously toothless agency in the Labor Department. Not surprisingly, OSHA hasn't given whistleblowers any more protection than it has to poor workers in meatpacking plants.

In a new law review article out this fall, University of Nebraska professor Richard Moberly calculates that in the first three years after Sarbanes-Oxley, only 13 out of 491 employees who filed complaints with OSHA found any sort of relief for their claims of retaliation and other repercussions resulting from blowing the whistle. Only six succeeded on appeal. Moberly concludes that, among other things, OSHA has no idea what it's doing and that—surprise—even if it did, the agency was underfunded and couldn't really handle the workload. The whistleblower provision is one of those great examples of big business touting its commitment to reform by supporting a tough new law while virtually ensuring that it will never actually have to reform anything.

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"I Can Be President": Fake Signs at the Clinton Campaign?

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 12:32 AM EST


You see some weird things on the campaign trail. The other day, I was walking through a Holiday Inn when I stumbled upon Bill Richardson and John Edwards working out in the same exercise room, no more than ten feet apart, staring straight ahead and not speaking. Talk about a "Welcome to Iowa" moment.

Another thing I've seen, and this is probably unique to Iowa, not campaign trails everywhere, is roadkill. I don't mean that in any figurative sense. I don't mean the best intentions of the Founding Fathers have been turned into roadkill by the vulgarity and corruption of modern American politics. I mean dead animals with their carcasses on the shoulder and their blood splattered all over the highway. Never have I seen so many dead animals, nor dead animals so large, nor so much blood on the road. It's like someone is playing a game of Grand Theft Auto on Iowa's highway system.

How's that for insightful political commentary?

But today at a Hillary Clinton campaign stop (I've got an article on my experiences with the Clinton campaign coming out tomorrow), I saw something that might take the cake. The Clinton campaign has pre-made signs that have the words "I Can Be President" written on them in a sloppy, childlike script. The signs are all written with red and blue paint, and all of them appear to be painted in the same hand. At today's event in a weird fake barn, I saw a staffer holding one, a woman in the audience holding one, and two more sitting along the wall.

My suspicion is that the signs are made by the campaign staff and are intended to be handed out to adorable five-year-old girls who then sit in the crowd or behind the senator during events, to make sure the networks get a camerafull of the hope Clinton's campaign inspires in young girls across America. The signs may be made to look childlike so it appears supporters brought the signs from home. Except when no young girls show up to your event (as none did today), you're stuck with pre-made signs sitting along the wall.

Political reporters are so ho-hum about the artifice of campaigns that not one seemed to care or even notice.

The one sign that made it's way into the hands of an audience member is visible in the photo above. The senator's head is the white dot in the middle of the shot.

2007 Now Deadliest Year of Iraq War for U.S. Military

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 8:33 PM EST

Joe Lieberman thinks "the tide has turned in Iraq and we're winning that war." He's entitled to his opinion. The fact that 2007 is now officially the deadliest year of the Iraq War for the American military, with 853 soldiers dead, would suggest that he is wrong.

Expect Less PVC at Target

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 5:09 PM EST

target.jpgRetail giant Target has announced plans to reduce its use of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), particularly in goods geared toward children, like bibs and lunchboxes. PVC isn't good for anyone (the EPA says it can cause a whole mess of health problems, including cancer), but it's especially bad for kids, since it contains lead.

The company's goal is to offer PVC alternatives to most toys by fall of 2008. Wal-Mart has promised to completely eliminate PVC products by 2009.

This trend of mega-retailer self awareness is good news, especially considering the fact that Consumer Product Safety Commission officials are off gallivanting around the world on the toy industry's dime.

iTunes for Magazines?

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 5:07 PM EST

Heard of Maghound? Will it be the magazine industry's iTunes or Netflix? Read more about Time's soon-to-be service on The Riff.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Powers British Lighthouse

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 4:59 PM EST

Southgarelighhousehistoryone.jpg New Scientist reports how the South Gare lighthouse at Redcar on England's North Sea coast is now powered by a hydrogen fuel cell:

The Soviet Union once powered lighthouses on its Arctic coast using radioactive batteries, leaving its successors the problem of disposing of the nuclear waste. Now a cleaner technology is being harnessed to power lighthouses in remote places: fuel cells. A consortium led by CPI of Wilton, Teesside, UK, is using a fuel cell to power the South Gare lighthouse at Redcar on England's North Sea coast. It was previously prone to power outages when the mains power cable was damaged by the wind and heavy seas. CPI has proofed its fuel cell against the ravages of salty air and seawater, and has developed a novel water-based cooling system for it, too.

Reports are the fuel cell is working well, and the lighthouse is visible from 25 miles out at sea, as it always was.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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Dwindling Parrotfish Key To Coral Reef Survival

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 4:34 PM EST


A study finds the future of the Caribbean's failing coral reefs tied to fish with an equally uncertain future. The University of California Davis reports on a study of reefs overrun by marine algae (seaweeds) after a plague in 1983 killed virtually all the plant's natural grazers, sea urchins. (Read more about this in MoJo's The Fate of The Ocean.) With urchins gone, the corals' only line of defense against algae is parrotfish—also grazers. But parrotfish are disappearing from overfishing, allowing algae to outcompete corals on the reef.

The researchers created a mathematical model of the reef, then looked at what the future holds, investigating a process known as hysteresis: whereby an effect lags behind its cause. "The idea of hysteresis is that you go over a cliff, then find the cliff has moved," said UC Davis theoretical ecologist Alan Hastings. "Going back is harder than getting there. In this case, the loss of sea urchins sent the reef off the road, and now the only guardrail is the parrotfish. Our model showed that if we overfish parrotfish, and the reef goes off the cliff, we would need four times the fish we have now to bring the reef back."

The authors suggest that local authorities act now to reduce parrotfish deaths, including outlawing fish traps. They also call on anyone visiting the Caribbean and sees parrotfish on a restaurant menu to voice their concern to the management.


Well—as the pithy bumpersticker says—at least the war on the environment is going well.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Can We Talk? The 'Cos and Black Conversation

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 4:20 PM EST

It's hard to tell whether what Bill Cosby is continuing is a crusade or a tirade, but so far, critics are voting for the second. As usual, average black folks are caught in the crossfire.

In May 2004, Cosby addressed the gala 50th commemoration of Brown v Board (full text here) in a capacity-crowded Constitution Hall in DC. Rather than celebrate the victory and its attendant successes, "America's Granddad" railed at length against a black sloth, nihilism, poor parenting and moribund morality that he believes worse than racism ever was. Here's a taste:

We cannot blame white people. White people -- white people don't live over there. They close up the shop early. The Korean ones still don't know us as well -- they stay open 24 hours....
50 percent drop out rate, I'm telling you, and people in jail, and women having children by five, six different men. Under what excuse? I want somebody to love me. And as soon as you have it, you forget to parent. Grandmother, mother, and great grandmother in the same room, raising children, and the child knows nothing about love or respect of any one of the three of them. All this child knows is "gimme, gimme, gimme." These people want to buy the friendship of a child, and the child couldn't care less. Those of us sitting out here who have gone on to some college or whatever we've done, we still fear our parents. And these people are not parenting. They're buying things for the kid -- $500 sneakers -- for what? They won't buy or spend $250 on Hooked on Phonics.

Let's just say the speech got noticed; three and a half years later, he's still pugnaciously facing off with his detractors who think Cosby is further entrenching racist stereotypes and victim-blaming. The blowback seems only to energize him.

Livin' It Up in the Hotel Islamofascism?

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 3:56 PM EST

The Eagles have always annoyed me ("Hotel California" ranking as the number one depressing song ever to be played at parties), but I can't let a right-wing critique of the boring 70s band go without a fight.

Warner Todd Huston this week dissed The Eagles' new album, Long Road Out of Eden, in his blog on the website NewsBusters: Exposing and Combating Liberal Media Bias for "attacking the integrity" of the United States and forgetting to mention the "Islamofascists trying to blow us all up" in their lyrics. Sure, it's important to be cognizant of terrorist activity, but what lyrics could possibly rhyme with the word "islamofascism?"

First of all, since when do we expect concise political commentary from The Eagles? Personally, the band's songs are more likely to conjure up yawns from me than activism. Second of all, why is Huston wasting almost 2,000 words on an essay dissing a laid-back, folk-rock-pop band that hasn't released a studio album in 28 years? Surely there are other bands, artists, and organizations out there with much more influence and a bigger following who are much more worthy of some conservative backlash.

Bipartisan Effort To Strengthen War Powers Act

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 3:40 PM EST

A bipartisan group of six congressmen—Jones (R-NC), Delahunt (D-MA), Abercrombie (D-HI), Brady (D-PA), Gilchrest (R-MD) and Ron Paul (R-TX)—have introduced a bill strengthening the 1973 War Powers Act. This is an important development for those who care about boring old things like democracy, yet it's gotten little attention online and almost none in the regular media.

To learn more, start with an impressively honest column by George Will and Chris Weigant's useful analysis. You can also check out the bill itself, press releases from Delahunt and from Jones, and well as stories from the Sun-Journal in North Carolina, Voice of America and CNS News.