MoJo Blogs and Articles | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/rss/blogs_and_articles/sites/all/modules/patched/service_links/images/facebook.png http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en I'm Now a Certified and Legally Responsible Non-Harasser of Women http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/02/im-now-certified-and-legally-responsible-non-harasser-women <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_certificate_harassment.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Hey, look what I got. That's right: I've completed MoJo's required course on sexual harassment, no longer limited just to supervisors.</p> <p>This doesn't have much practical value, since I work at home and have no one to harass even if I wanted to. Nonetheless, I was eager to take the course. You see, I'm immersed in opinions about PC culture and diversity and the idiocy of it all etc. etc. But I have no personal experience of it. If you're talking about schools, I graduated 40 years ago and I have no kids. If you're talking about Silicon Valley or Wall Street, I have no clue about either. If you're talking about workplace harassment, it never really came up at any of my previous jobs, and I haven't participated in an actual workplace since 2001.</p> <p>So how was it? Pretty boring, really. If someone rejects your advances repeatedly, back off. Don't fire someone for rejecting you. Don't go into a woman's cubicle a dozen times of day to take a deep sniff. (Yes, that was a real example.) Don't spend three hours a day watching hardcore porn in your office. Don't go around telling black people they're "articulate" or Asian people that "of course" they're good at math. Don't lose your temper. Talk out your problems. Don't be an asshole.</p> <p>Of course I, along with almost everyone who reads this blog, is an overeducated know-it-all who finds all this stuff trivially obvious. That's not true of everyone by a long way, and stuff like this is probably useful for them. This was also a pretty breezy course, not like the 8-hour sessions that are apparently required at some places. (I guess. How would I know?)</p> <p>Bottom line: I didn't learn much, but I suppose plenty of people would. And it really wasn't very onerous. Mostly just common sense, not lefty indoctrination. So what's everyone complaining about?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 13 Feb 2016 12:17:16 +0000 Kevin Drum 296836 at http://www.motherjones.com Hooray! A Brand New Site For Creating Lots of Charts About Democracy. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/02/hooray-brand-new-site-creating-lots-charts-about-democracy <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The world is awash in charts these days. It's a great example of a simple proposition of economics: when something gets cheaper to produce, we produce a lot more of it. Just as computers turned a dozen daily pieces of mostly useful snail mail into hundreds of mostly useless emails, they've turned data laboriously collected by experts and then laboriously converted into clunky bars and lines by the art department into colorful masterpieces that can be created by pretty much everyone at the push of a button or a modest investment in learning Excel. Half the charts I produce for this blog come either directly from my good friends at the St. Louis Fed or indirectly by downloading their handy datasets into Excel.</p> <p>There are lots of sites that produce charts these days, with new ones popping up all the time. <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/02/12/open-data-and-15-million-new-measures-of-democracy/" target="_blank">Joshua Tucker</a> points us today to <a href="https://v-dem.net/en/" target="_blank">V-Dem,</a> which provides "15 million data points on democracy, including 39 democracy-related indices." The V-Dem website tells us that it is "a collaboration among more than 50 scholars worldwide which is co-hosted by the Department of Political Science at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden; and the Kellogg Institute at the University of Notre Dame, USA." So let's take a look.</p> <p>V-Dem is pretty easy to use: pick one or more countries, one or more variables, and a time period. Click "Generate Graph" and you're off. So let's take a look at a few that I drew more or less at random. Here's #1:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_vdem_paid_campaign_advertising_0.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 15px;"></p> <p>That's peculiar, isn't it? We're used to thinking of the United States as the king of money in politics, but we're actually the steady blue line right in the middle. Italy apparently spends more than us and Germany spends a lot more. But in the 2000s, Germany plummeted down to middle and Sweden skyrocketed up to the middle. By 2013 we were all pretty much the same.</p> <p>Of course, I have no idea what this is based on. In theory, I could download the codebook and eventually decipher the data sources, but you can probably guess what the odds of that are. So for now it remains a bit of a mystery. Here's #2:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_vdem_political_party_cohesion.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 15px;"></p> <p>This one is less surprising. It tells us that in the mid-1900s American political parties weren't very cohesive. Then around 1980 they started to become much more cohesive, looking more and more like parliamentary parties in Europe. Oddly, though, V-Dem thinks that Democrats and Republicans got a bit <em>less</em> cohesive around 2005. This contradicts the conventional wisdom enough that it might be worth someone's while to look into it. #SlatePitch, anyone? Here's #3:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_vdem_womens_political_participation.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 15px;"></p> <p>Sweden and Germany are the winners here, unsurprisingly. But the US does pretty well too. We've gone from a distant fourth place in 1972 (among the seven countries shown) to a close tie for first. Of course, everyone else has gotten a lot better too. In fact, if you want to zoom way in for the details and take a glass-half-empty approach to things, we're actually in last place now. We were doing pretty well until 1993, but since then we've made almost no progress. Once again, if this is true it would be interesting to investigate. What happened in 1993 to suddenly blunt the rise of women's participation in politics?</p> <p>So that's that. On the upside, there's a lot of data here and it's pretty easy to generate colorful charts out of it. It's interesting too. Three out of three random charts that I created instantly posed challenges to the received wisdom that might benefit from further study. On the downside, it's difficult to figure out the source of the indices or to download the data series themselves unless you're willing to download the entire dataset and load it into your statistical app of choice. That makes further study hard for non-experts. Nothing's perfect, I guess.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 13 Feb 2016 11:52:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 296831 at http://www.motherjones.com The Horrible Chemicals That Make Your Winter Gear Waterproof http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/02/ski-clothing-waterproof-pfoa-pfcs-perfluourochemicals-health-risks <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Ever since our early ancestors left the fertile sauna of Africa and headed North, we humans have been searching for ways to fend off sleet and snow and rain and cold. The Inuit <a href="http://angelasancartier.net/inuit-and-arctic-dress-materials-technology">once relied on</a> seal and whale intestines to get the job done. Nowadays, we rely on waterproof synthetics.</p> <p>These modern fabrics represent a certain kind of progress, but they also have a worrisome downside. Some of the fluorocarbon chemicals used in their manufacture are dangerous for our health, and are so stable that their residues will persist in the environment, quite literally, until the next Ice Age. What's more, there's no guarantee that the industry's latest alternatives, which are marketed as safer, are much of an improvement.</p> <p>To make their fabrics repel water&mdash;causing it to bead up and fall away rather than penetrate the material&mdash;most manufacturers rely on perfluorocarbons (PFCs), the same chemicals used to make nonstick cookware and cupcake wrappers. Some PFCs escape into the atmosphere and into wastewater during production&mdash;and small amounts can turn up as residue on the clothing itself.</p> <p>PFCs have been around since the 1950s, but we didn't know a lot about their effects until the early 2000s, when scientists began releasing data on PFC toxicity and their persistence in the environment. A particularly troublesome PFC is perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a suspected human carcinogen that has been linked to cancer, kidney damage, and reproductive problems in rats. It may also pose human health risks if it accumulates in drinking water at levels as miniscule as 1 part per trillion&mdash;the <a href="http://www.ewg.org/release/tiny-concentrations-teflon-chemical-harmful-public-health" target="_blank">equivalent</a> of less than one teaspoon in 1,000 Olympic swimming pools' worth of water. <a href="jama.jamanetwork.com:article.aspx%3Fvolume=307&amp;issue=4&amp;page=391">One study</a> also associated elevated exposure to PFCs, including PFOA, with weakened immune responses in children.</p> <p>The makers of PFCs have been the subject of several <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/magazine/the-lawyer-who-became-duponts-worst-nightmare.html?_r=0">blockbuster</a> <a href="https://theintercept.com/2015/08/11/dupont-chemistry-deception/">expos&eacute;s</a>&mdash;PFOA most recently made headlines as the culprit <a href="http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/welcome-to-beautiful-parkersburg/">poisoning residents</a> of Parkersberg, West Virginia. These compounds have a very long biological half-life&mdash;specifically, it takes our bodies more than four years to flush out half of the PFCs currently residing in our tissues. As such, the US Environmental Protection Agency <a href="http://www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/long-chain-perfluorinated-chemicals-pfcs">warns</a> that "it can reasonably be anticipated that continued exposure could increase body burdens to levels that would result in adverse outcomes."</p> <p>Because PFOA and its precursors virtually never go away, they accumulate in nature and eventually find their way back to us. Researchers have found the chemical in remote parts of the Arctic, in soil and dust, in fish and meat, in human tissue, and in drinking water throughout the United States. (To find out if your county's water has tested positive for the chemical, see <a href="http://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2015/08/your-drinking-water-contaminated-toxic-non-stick-chemicals">this map</a>).</p> <p>In 2006, the EPA asked major chemical manufacturers, including DuPont and 3M, to <a href="http://www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/20102015-pfoa-stewardship-program">set a goal</a> of eliminating PFOA and its precursors from both emissions and products by January 31, 2015&mdash;their final reports are due by the end of this month. The European Union has also proposed restrictions on the substance. So problem solved, right? You no longer need to fret about the chemicals used to make your sweet new neon ski parka?</p> <p>Well, not exactly. There are reasons to stay worried. For one, the EPA's phaseout program was voluntary, and it includes no mandate that clothing manufacturers must also remove PFCs from their supply chains. (The EPA does say that it is working on a rule that would require clothing companies that import fabrics made with PFOA to subject themselves to the agency's review). Greenpeace <a href="http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/publications/detox/2016/Leaving-Traces.pdf">tested</a> 40 pieces of outdoor clothing and gear it had purchased in late 2015, and reported that PFOA is "still widely present" in name-brand products, including items from the North Face, Patagonia, and Mammut.</p> <p>Patagonia calls Greenpeace's assessment "not accurate," and says it has mostly phased out PFOA. Mammut says it has eliminated the chemical entirely&mdash;as does North Face, <a href="http://neverstopexploring.com/2016/01/22/the-north-face-remains-committed-to-creating-products-responsibly/" target="_blank">starting with its spring 2015 line</a>. Some of the products Greenpeace tested may have been manufactured before phaseout efforts were complete.</p> <p>Most of the sportswear manufacturers have replaced PFOA, which has an eight-carbon backbone, with six-carbon (C6) PFCs. Mammut, for example, <a href="http://www.mammut.ch/INT/en/cr/planet/pfc">says</a> it is provisionally using a "responsible" and "PFOA-free" C6 chemistry, while Marmot, another outdoor clothing brand, argues that C6 "is the safest alternative for the environment."</p> <p>It's true that these shorter PFCs don't remain in our bodies as long as PFOA does. Still, "the C6 chemicals don't seem to be the magic coating for your clothing that you're looking for," says Environmental Working Group senior scientist David Andrews. Like PFOA, the shorter compounds persist in the environment, which is one reason why Greenpeace, EWG, and plenty of <a href="http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1509934/#r7" target="_blank">other scientists around the globe</a> don't consider them safe alternatives. In addition, as Patagonia <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/pdf/en_US/pfoa_and_flourochemicals.pdf">explains</a>, "the shorter-chain structure also tends to perform less effectively in repellency tests." Which means a larger quantity may be needed to achieve the same result.</p> <p>Manufacturers in the United States are not required to test chemicals for safety before using them in products, and the health effects of the shorter-chain PFCs are as yet a mystery. But "the short-chain chemicals show a lot of the same characteristics as their longer predecessors," EWG's Andrews told me.&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, as a class, PFCs raise all sorts of red flags. In 2014, 200 scientists from around the world signed the "<a href="http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1509934/">Madrid Statement</a>," a document calling for more research on PFC toxicology and urging governments around the world to restrict their use for nonessential purposes. "We should probably have more oversight into this whole class of chemicals," Andrews says. "It took decades to show how bad PFOA is."&nbsp;</p> <p>Outdoor clothing makers acknowledge these concerns&mdash;"it may be preferable to search for fluorocarbon-free water repellent as a long term solution," notes Patagonia&mdash;but they insist their hands are tied. The North Face's "<a href="http://www.thenorthface.co.uk/blog/eu/en/chemical-responsibility">chemical responsibility</a>" web page, assures that the company hopes to phase out "fluorinated DWR" (that's durable water repellent) by 2020, but notes that "short-chain DWR is currently the best available viable alternative."</p> <p>Several clothing companies say the durability of their products&mdash;made possible by PFC chemistry&mdash;is key to their environmental friendliness. As Patagonia's spokesman put it: "Abandoning PFCs and moving to currently available alternatives would have an even greater negative impact on the environment because the lifespan of our gear would be greatly reduced, requiring replacement far more quickly, which of course carries significant costs&mdash;carbon emissions, water usage, waste output, bigger landfills, and more." He added that the company is still committed to finding an alternative, and that it has partnered with a Swiss firm working at the "cutting edge of chemical treatments that don't harm the planet."</p> <p>There is at least one safer option currently floating around. A company called Nikwax sells a PFC-free waterproofing product akin to the rubber in the soles of your shoes: You cover your jacket with the Nikwax gel, toss it in the wash, and presto&mdash;it's coated with <a href="http://nikwax-usa.com/en-us/how_nikwax_works/introduction.php">a network</a> of elastic water-repellent molecules. The problem is that Nikwax is a direct-to-consumer product, meant to go on the jacket you've already bought. In that sense, it doesn't help solve the PFC conundrum.</p> <p>But that could change. In January, P&aacute;ramo, a small British brand partnering with Nikwax, became the <a href="http://myoutdoors.co.uk/news/industry-news/item/901-paramo-1st-outdoor-company-to-sign-up-to-greenpeace-detox-commitment">first company in the outdoor industry</a> to completely eliminate PFCs from its manufacturing process. Italian climber David Bacci wore P&aacute;ramo's threads as <a href="http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/detox-outdoors-high-performance-without-PFCs/blog/55419/" target="_blank">he scaled</a> the Patagonian peaks Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres, and <a href="http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/patagonia-detox-expedition-extreme-climbing-cerro-torre-without-pfcs/blog/55289/" target="_blank">wrote that</a> clothing "worked perfectly" and kept him "dry and warm in extreme conditions."</p> <p>Nikwax North America president Rick Meade says he thinks the publicity around fluorinated chemicals will lead to some "dramatic shifts of interests to consumers in the next one to three years." For now, until more clothing companies commit to ditching PFCs, your snow outfit will most likely be made with a PFOA cousin that's coated in mystery.</p></body></html> Environment Corporations Econundrums Health Science Sat, 13 Feb 2016 11:00:15 +0000 Maddie Oatman 296656 at http://www.motherjones.com It’s Not Just Flint. There’s an Ugly History of Lead Poisoning and the Poor in the US. http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/02/flint-lead-poisoning-america-toxic-crisis <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><em>This <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176101/" target="_blank">story</a> first appeared on the </em><a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/" target="_blank">TomDispatch</a><em> website.</em></p> <p>"I know if I was a parent up there, I would be beside myself if my kids&rsquo; health could be at risk," said President Obama on a <a href="http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2016/01/16/president-obama-declares-emergency-flint/78898604/" target="_blank">recent trip</a> to Michigan.</p> <p>"Up there" was Flint, a rusting industrial city in the grip of a "water crisis" brought on by a government austerity scheme.&nbsp; To save a couple of million dollars, that city switched its source of water from Lake Huron to the Flint River, a long-time industrial dumping ground for the toxic industries that had once made their home along its banks.&nbsp; Now, the city is enveloped in a public health emergency, with elevated levels of lead in its water supply and in the blood of its children.</p> <p><a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com" target="_blank"><span class="inline inline-left"><img alt="" class="image image-preview" height="33" src="http://motherjones.com/files/images/tdispatch-notch.jpg" title="" width="100"></span></a></p> <p>The price tag for replacing the lead pipes that contaminated its drinking water, thanks to the corrosive toxins found in the Flint River, is now <a href="http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2016/01/07/flint-water/78404218/" target="_blank">estimated</a> at up to $1.5 billion. No one knows where that money will come from or when it will arrive.&nbsp; In the meantime, the cost to the children of Flint has been and will be incalculable.&nbsp; &nbsp;As little as a few specks of lead in the water children drink or in flakes of paint that come off the <a href="http://lydiadenworth.com/articles/poison-hid-home/" target="_blank">walls</a> of old houses and are ingested can change the course of a life. The amount of lead dust that covers a thumbnail is enough to send a child into a coma or into convulsions leading to death. It takes less than a tenth of that amount to cause IQ loss, hearing loss, or behavioral problems like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia. The <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/acclpp/blood_lead_levels.htm" target="_blank">Centers for Disease Control</a> (CDC), the government agency responsible for tracking and protecting the nation's health, says simply, "No safe blood lead level in children has been identified."</p> <p>President Obama would have good reason to worry if his kids lived in Flint.&nbsp; But the city's children are hardly the only ones threatened by this <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Lead-Wars-Politics-Americas-California/dp/0520273257/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1454274062&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=lead+wars" target="_blank">public health crisis</a>.&nbsp; There's a lead crisis for children in <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22994280" target="_blank">Baltimore, Maryland</a>, <a href="http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/smelter-was-to-blame-for-children-s-woes-in-herculaneum/article_e566a8fd-8845-5568-a2a3-32a87f7dd27f.html" target="_blank">Herculaneum, Missouri</a>, <a href="http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2016/01/26/Ohio-EPA-knew-about-lead-issues-in-Sebring.html" target="_blank">Sebring, Ohio</a>, and even the nation's capital, <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/blood_levels.htm" target="_blank">Washington, DC</a>, and that's just to begin a list.&nbsp; State reports <a href="http://www.philly.com/philly/health/20160205_Is_lead_poisoning_in_Pa___N_J__even_worse_than_Flint.html" target="_blank">suggest</a>, for instance, that "18 cities in Pennsylvania and 11 in New Jersey may have an even higher share of children with dangerously elevated levels of lead than does Flint." Today, scientists agree that there is no safe level of lead for children and at least half of American children have some of this neurotoxin in their <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/" target="_blank">blood</a>.&nbsp; The CDC is especially concerned about the more than 500,000 American children who have substantial amounts of lead in their bodies. Over the past century, an untold number have had their IQs reduced, their school performances limited, their behaviors altered, and their neurological development <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1257652/" target="_blank">undermined</a>. &nbsp;From coast to coast, from the Sun Belt to the Rust Belt, children have been and continue to be imperiled by a century of industrial production, commercial gluttony, and abandonment by the local, state, and federal governments that should have protected them.&nbsp; Unlike in Flint, the "crisis" seldom comes to public attention.</p> <h3 class="subhed">Two, Three... Many Flints</h3> <p>In Flint, the origins of the current crisis lay in the history of auto giant General Motors (GM) and its rise in the middle decades of the twentieth century to the status of the world's largest corporation. GM's Buick plant alone once occupied "an area almost a mile and a half long and half a mile wide," <a href="http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1937/01/10/page/6/article/flint-hub-city-in-operations-of-seneral-motors/" target="_blank">according</a> to the Chicago Tribune, and several Chevrolet and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisher_Body" target="_blank">other</a> GM plants literally covered the waterfront of "this automotive city." Into the Flint River went the toxic wastes of factories large and small, which once supplied batteries, paints, solders, glass, fabrics, oils, lubricating fluids, and a multitude of other materials that made up the modern car. In these plants strung out along the banks of the Flint and Saginaw rivers and their detritus lay the origins of the present public health emergency.</p> <p>The crisis that attracted President Obama's attention is certainly horrifying, but the children of Flint have been poisoned in one way or another for at least 80 years. Three generations of those children living around Chevrolet Avenue in the old industrial heart of the city experienced an environment filled with heavy metal toxins that cause neurological conditions in them and <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1849948/" target="_blank">cardiovascular problems</a> in adults.</p> <p>As Michael Moore documented in his film <a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098213/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1" target="_blank">Roger and Me</a>, GM abandoned Flint in a vain attempt to stave off financial disaster. &nbsp;Having sucked its people dry, the company ditched the city, leaving it to deal with a polluted hell without the means to do so. &nbsp;Like other industrial cities that have suffered this kind of abandonment, Flint's population is majority African American and Latino, and has a disproportionate number of families living below the poverty line.&nbsp; Of its 100,000 residents, 65 percent are African American and Latino and <a href="https://medium.com/natural-resources-defense-council/making-it-right-in-flint-1b5c3b52bde1#.xgtxcfegb" target="_blank">42 percent</a>&nbsp; are mired in poverty.</p> <p>The president should be worried about Flint's children and local, state, and federal authorities need to fix the pipes, sewers, and water supply of the city. Technically, this is a feasible, if expensive, proposition. It's already clear, however, that the <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-michigan-flint-fbi-idUSKCN0VB1DB" target="_blank">political will</a> is just not there even for this one community. Gina McCarthy, the Environmental Protection Agency's administrator, has refused to provide Flint's residents with even a prospective timetable for replacing their pipes and making their water safe. There is, however, a far graver problem that is even less easy to fix: the mix of racism and corporate greed that have put lead and other pollutants into millions of homes in the United States. The scores of endangered kids in Flint are just the tip of a vast, toxic iceberg.&nbsp; Even <a href="http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/baltimores-toxic-legacy-of-lead-paint/" target="_blank">Baltimore</a>, which first identified its lead poisoning epidemic in the 1930s, still faces a crisis, especially in largely African American communities, when it comes to the lead paint in its older housing stock.</p> <p>Just this month, Maryland's secretary of housing, community, and development, Kenneth C. Holt, dismissed the never-ending lead crisis in Baltimore by callously <a href="http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-lead-liability-20150814-story.html" target="_blank">suggesting</a> that it might all be a shuck.&nbsp; A mother, he said, might fake such poisoning by putting "a lead fishing weight in her child's mouth [and] then take the child in for testing." Such a tactic, he indicated, without any kind of proof, was aimed at making landlords "liable for providing the child with [better] housing." Unfortunately, the attitudes of Holt and Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan have proven all too typical of the ways in which America's civic and state leaders have tended to ignore, dismiss, or simply deny the real suffering of children, especially those who are black and Latino, when it comes to lead and other toxic chemicals.</p> <p>There is, in fact, a grim <a href="http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_14?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&amp;field-keywords=deceit+and+denial&amp;sprefix=deceit+and+den%2Caps%2C170" target="_blank">broader history</a> of lead poisoning in America. &nbsp;It was probably the most widely dispersed environmental toxin that affected children in this country.&nbsp; In part, this was because, for decades during the middle of the twentieth century, it was marketed as an essential ingredient in industrial society, something without which none of us could get along comfortably. &nbsp;Those toxic pipes in Flint are hardly the only, or even the primary, source of danger to children left over from that era.</p> <p>In the 1920s, tetraethyl lead was introduced as an additive for gasoline.&nbsp; It was lauded at the time as a "<a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1646253/" target="_blank">gift of God</a>" by a representative of the Ethyl Corporation, a creation of GM, Standard Oil, and Dupont, the companies that invented, produced, and marketed the stuff. Despite warnings that this industrial toxin might pollute the planet, which it did, almost three-quarters of a century would pass before it was removed from gasoline in the United States.&nbsp; During that time, spewed out of the tailpipes of hundreds of millions of cars and trucks, it tainted the soil that children played in and was tracked onto floors that toddlers touched.&nbsp; Banned from use in the 1980s, it still lurks in the environment today.</p> <p>Meanwhile, homes across the country were tainted by lead in quite a different way. Lead carbonate, a white powder, was mixed with linseed oil to create the paint that was used in the nation's homes, hospitals, schools, and other buildings until 1978.&nbsp; Though its power to harm and even kill children who sucked on lead-painted windowsills, toys, cribs, and woodwork had long been known, it was only in that year that the federal government <a href="https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&amp;rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=1&amp;ved=0ahUKEwiC96Pq7sfKAhVG12MKHfLVCzIQFggdMAA&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cpsc.gov%2Fen%2Fmedia%2Fdocuments%2Fbusiness--manufacturing%2Fbusiness-education%2Fbusiness-guidance%2Flead-containing-paint-regulatory-summary-%2F&amp;usg=AFQjCNHuk4kT2Ym0Wln49OZFVgvTpX8VlA&amp;cad=rja" target="_blank">banned its use</a> in household paints.</p> <p>Hundreds of tons of the lead in paint that covered the walls of houses, apartment buildings, and workplaces across the United States remains in place almost four decades later, especially in poorer neighborhoods where millions of African American and Latino children currently live.&nbsp; Right now, most middle class white families feel relatively immune from the dangers of lead, although the gentrification of old neighborhoods and the renovation of old homes can still expose their children to dangerous levels of lead dust from the old paint on those walls. However, economically and politically vulnerable black and Hispanic children, many of whom inhabit dilapidated older housing, still suffer disproportionately from the devastating effects of the toxin. This is the meaning of institutional racism in action today.&nbsp; As with the water flowing into homes from the pipes of Flint's water system, so the walls of its apartment complexes, not to mention those in poor neighborhoods of Detroit, Baltimore, Washington, and virtually every other older urban center in the country, continue to poison children exposed to lead-polluted dust, chips, soil, and air.</p> <p>Over the course of the past century, tens of millions of children have been poisoned by lead and millions more remain in danger of it today. Add to this the risks these same children face from industrial toxins like mercury, asbestos, and polychlorinated biphenyls (better known as PCBs) and you have an ongoing recipe for a Flint-like disaster but on a national scale.</p> <p>In truth, the United States has scores of "Flints" awaiting their moments.&nbsp; Think of them as ticking toxic time bombs &mdash; just an austerity scheme or some official's poor decision away from a public health disaster.&nbsp; Given this, it's remarkable, even in the wake of Flint, how little attention or publicity such threats receive.&nbsp; Not surprisingly, then, there seems to be virtually no political will to ensure that future generations of children will not suffer the same fate as those in Flint. &nbsp;</p> <h3 class="subhed">The Future of America&rsquo;s Toxic Past</h3> <p>A series of decisions by state and local officials turned Flint's chronic post-industrial crisis into a total public health disaster.&nbsp; If clueless, corrupt, or heartless government officials get all the blame for this (and blame they do deserve), the larger point will unfortunately be missed &mdash; that there are many post-industrial Flints, many other hidden tragedies affecting America's children that await their moments in the news. Treat Flint as an anomaly and you condemn families nationwide to bear the damage to their children alone, abandoned by a society unwilling to invest in cleaning up a century of industrial pollution, or even to acknowledge the injustice involved.</p> <p>Flint may be years away from a solution to its current crisis, but in a few cities elsewhere in the country there is at least a modicum of hope when it comes to developing ways to begin to address this country's poisonous past. In California, for example, 10 cities and counties, including San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Oakland, have successfully sued and won an initial judgment against three lead pigment manufacturers for $1.15 billion. That money will be invested in removing lead paint from the walls of homes in these cities. If this judgment is upheld <a href="http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_27443599/lead-paint-case-appeal-santa-clara-county-ruling" target="_blank">on appeal</a>, it would be an unprecedented and pathbreaking victory, since it would force a polluting industry to clean up the mess it created and from which it profited.<br> There have been other partial victories, too. In Herculaneum, Missouri, for instance, where half the children within a mile of the nation's largest lead smelter suffered lead poisoning, jurors returned a <a href="http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/million-verdict-in-lead-smelter-case-sends-clear-message/article_12f7e0ba-29ab-5894-8067-9a45ad255cfa.html" target="_blank">$320 million</a> verdict against Fluor Corporation, one of the world's largest construction and engineering firms. That verdict is also on appeal, while the company has moved its smelter to Peru where whole new populations are undoubtedly <a href="http://www.breakinglawsuitnews.com/jury-awards-38-5-million-in-doe-run-a-t-massey-lead-poisoning-lawsuit/" target="_blank">being poisoned</a>.</p> <p>President Obama hit the nail on the head with his recent comments on Flint, but he also missed the larger point. There he was just a few dozen miles from that city's damaged water system when he spoke in Detroit, another symbol of corporate abandonment with its own grim toxic legacy. Thousands of homes in the Motor City, the former capital of the auto industry, are still lead paint disaster areas. Perhaps it's time to widen the canvas when it comes to the poisoning of America's children and face the terrible human toll caused by "the American century."</p> <p><em>David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, TomDispatch regulars, are co-authors and co-editors of seven books and 85 articles on a variety of industrial and occupational hazards, including </em>Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution<em> and, most recently, </em>Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America's Children<em>.&nbsp; Rosner is a professor of sociomedical sciences and history at Columbia University and co-director of the Center for the History of Public Health at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health. Markowitz is a professor of history at John Jay College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Both have been awarded a certificate of appreciation by the United States Senate through the office of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who has recognized the importance of their work on lead and industrial poisoning.</em></p></body></html> Environment Podcasts Health Tom Dispatch Top Stories Sat, 13 Feb 2016 11:00:13 +0000 David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz 296581 at http://www.motherjones.com Why Do Foreign Singers Sound So American? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/02/why-do-foreign-singers-sound-so-american <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I'm asking this just out of curiosity. Feel free to mock me about it in comments.</p> <p>Here's my question. When I listen to popular music, I almost never hear a foreign accent. I hear accents perfectly well in ordinary speech, but not when the words are sung. With occasional exceptions, when I listen to U2, Adele, Abba, or Keith Urban, I don't hear Irish, British, Swedish, or Australian accents. To me, the lyrics mostly sound pretty close to my own familiar California accent.</p> <p>So....is this because popular foreign singers deliberately adopt an American accent? Is it due to some inherent property of slow, melodic speech? Is it because my hearing is defective?</p> <p>There are exceptions, of course. The Beatles all had such distinctive Liverpool accents that I usually recognize it in their singing. Beyond that, I don't really listen to enough music to have much sense of how common this is, especially outside of the top 40 realm. Anyone know what the deal is here?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 13 Feb 2016 08:24:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 296826 at http://www.motherjones.com Sanders and Clinton Disagree on Climate. Why Won't Debate Moderators Ask Them About It? http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/02/climate-change-pbs-debate-clinton-sanders <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><em>This <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/02/12/bernie_sanders_and_hillary_clinton_differ_on_climate_change.html" target="_blank">story</a> originally appeared in </em><a href="http://slate.com" target="_blank">Slate</a> <em>and is reproduced here as part of the <a href="http://climatedesk.org" target="_blank">Climate Desk</a> collaboration.</em></p> <p>If human civilization were facing a potentially existential threat, you'd probably want to know about what our leading candidates to run our country thought about it, right?</p> <p>There was no question on climate change during Thursday night's PBS-sponsored Democratic debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This, despite the Supreme Court <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/10/us/politics/supreme-court-blocks-obama-epa-coal-emissions-regulations.html" target="_blank">dealing a meaningful</a>, though <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_juice/2016/02/supreme_court_put_a_stop_on_obama_s_clean_power_plan_it_won_t_stop_the_war.html" target="_blank">likely temporary</a> blow to the centerpiece of Obama's climate policy on Tuesday and a defiant President Obama including a sweeping <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2016/02/10/3747630/obama-budget-environmental-proposals/" target="_blank">set of proposals</a> to transition the nation's transportation sector toward fossil-free sources of energy in his annual budget proposal on Wednesday.</p> <p>This isn't the first time moderators have ignored climate change. Back in December, just a few days after world leaders achieved the first-ever <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/12/12/paris_climate_agreement_will_lower_emissions_and_usher_in_end_of_the_fossil.html" target="_blank">global agreement</a> on climate change in Paris, Democratic debate moderators were silent. By my count, moderators have asked <a href="http://mediamatters.org/research/2016/01/11/analysis-presidential-debate-moderators-obsess/207888" target="_blank">substantive questions</a> on climate change in only half of the first six Democratic debates. That's better than nothing, but given how consequential and urgent the topic is, I expect more.</p> <p>Apparently, so do voters. In a <a href="http://www.quinnipiac.edu/images/polling/ia/ia02012016_Ifsmb28.pdf" target="_blank">Quinnipiac poll</a> released on the day of the Iowa caucuses, 11 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers ranked climate change as their top issue, third only to the economy (36 percent) and health care (22 percent). Climate change ranked higher than terrorism, immigration, and gun policy combined. And caucus-goers who listed climate as their main concern broke for Sanders by a whopping 66 to 30 margin, almost certainly making the race there closer.</p> <p>Perhaps one of the reasons climate doesn't come up more in the debates is the conventional wisdom that Clinton and Sanders basically agree on the issue. But that's simply not true. There are substantial differences between the two candidates.</p> <p>Both agree that climate change is real and not a massive conspiracy between scientists and the government so that nerds can get rich stealing tax dollars. Both want to cut subsidies to fossil fuel companies and shift the country toward renewable energy (though neither to the level <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/12/07/bernie_sanders_climate_plan_calls_for_end_to_nuclear_energy.html" target="_blank">scientists say is necessary</a>). At this point, these are basic staples of Democratic Party orthodoxy&mdash;and what casual observers already know.</p> <p>Their differences, though, are substantial: Sanders' <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/12/07/bernie_sanders_climate_plan_calls_for_end_to_nuclear_energy.html" target="_blank">climate plan</a> is much more comprehensive than Clinton's and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a faster rate. He's forcefully <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/11/14/bernie_sanders_was_right_on_climate_change_and_terrorism_at_the_debate.html" target="_blank">linked climate change and terrorism</a>. He's staunchly opposed to continued fossil fuel exploration on public lands and has vowed to ban fracking outright, a <a href="https://newrepublic.com/article/128434/bernie-sanderss-radical-environmental-proposal" target="_blank">stance Clinton doesn't share</a>. His focus on ridding politics of corporate lobbyists is a swipe against Clinton, whose campaign <a href="http://grist.org/climate-energy/hillary-clinton-rakes-in-money-from-fossil-fuel-interests/" target="_blank">has taken money</a> from fossil fuel companies. On the flip side, unlike Clinton, Sanders wants to <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/12/07/bernie_sanders_climate_plan_calls_for_end_to_nuclear_energy.html" target="_blank">phase out nuclear energy</a>, a position that many scientists and environmentalists <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2016/02/10/can_you_be_an_environmentalist_without_embracing_nuclear_energy.html" target="_blank">increasingly don't share</a>, given the need to transition toward a zero carbon economy as quickly as possible.</p> <p>As for Clinton, though her presidential campaign was launched with a <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2015/04/12/3646143/important-tweet-hillarys-announcement-everyone-pretty-much-ignored/" target="_blank">historic focus</a> on climate, when she talks about climate change, it often feels like she's <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2015/10/14/hillary_clinton_on_climate_and_copenhagen_at_cnn_debate.html" target="_blank">playing catch-up</a>. In recent months, Clinton has shifted her position to be more hawkish on Arctic drilling, the Keystone pipeline and on restricting fossil fuel exploration on public lands, likely in response to <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2016/01/bernie-sanders-clinton-climate-change-218027" target="_blank">pressure from Sanders</a> and voters.</p> <p>When Sanders won New Hampshire this week, he devoted a <a href="http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bernie-sanders-singles-out-climate-change-in-victory-speech/" target="_blank">big chunk of his victory</a> speech to climate change. When Clinton conceded, she didn't mention it once. Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the New Hampshire winner (Donald Trump) is a <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-china-created-climate-change-2016-1" target="_blank">climate conspiracy theorist</a>. People often ask me if I feel hopeless about climate. Only when it's not taken seriously.</p></body></html> Environment 2016 Elections Climate Change Climate Desk Top Stories Fri, 12 Feb 2016 23:32:31 +0000 Eric Holthaus 296806 at http://www.motherjones.com Hillary Clinton and Henry Kissinger: It's Personal. Very Personal. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/02/hillary-clinton-kissinger-vacation-dominican-republic-de-la-renta <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>At Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate, one of the most heated exchanges concerned an unlikely topic: Henry Kissinger. During a stretch focused on foreign policy, Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, jabbed at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for having cited Kissinger, who was Richard Nixon's secretary of state, as a fan of her stint at Foggy Bottom.</p> <p>"I happen to believe that Henry Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country," Sanders <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/02/11/transcript-the-democratic-debate-in-milwaukee-annotated/?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_no-name%3Ahomepage%2Fstory" target="_blank">huffed</a>, adding, "I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger." He referred to the secret bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam war as a Kissinger-orchestrated move that eventually led to genocide in that country. "So count me in as somebody who will not be listening to Henry Kissinger," Sanders roared. Clinton defended her association with Kissinger by replying, "I listen to a wide variety of voices that have expertise in various areas." She cast her interactions with Kissinger as motivated by her desire to obtain any information that might be useful to craft policy. "People we may disagree with on a number of things may have some insight, may have some relationships that are important for the president to understand in order to best protect the United States," she said.</p> <p>What Clinton did not mention was that her bond with Kissinger was personal as well as professional, as she and her husband have for years regularly spent their winter holidays with Kissinger and his wife, Nancy, at the beachfront villa of fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, who died in 2014, and his wife, Annette, in the Dominican Republic.</p> <p>This campaign tussle over Kissinger began a week earlier, at a previous debate, when Clinton, looking to boost her r&eacute;sum&eacute;, said, "I was very flattered when Henry Kissinger said I ran the State Department better than anybody had run it in a long time. So I have an idea about what it's going to take to make our government work more efficiently." A few days later, Bill Clinton, while campaigning for his wife in New Hampshire, told a crowd of her supporters, "Henry Kissinger, of all people, said she ran the State Department better and got more out of the personnel at the State Department than any secretary of state in decades, and it's true." His audience of Democrats clapped loudly in response.</p> <p>It was odd that the Clintons, locked in a fierce fight to win Democratic votes, would name-check a fellow who for decades has been criticized&mdash;and even derided as a war criminal&mdash;by liberals. Bill and Hillary Clinton themselves opposed the Vietnam War that Nixon and Kissinger inherited and continued. Hillary Clinton <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/09/hillary-clinton-henry-kissinger-world-order" target="_blank">was a staffer</a> on the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach Nixon, and one of the articles of impeachment drafted by the staff (but which was not approved) cited Nixon for covering up his secret bombing of Cambodia. In the years since then, information has emerged showing that Kissinger's underhanded and covert diplomacy <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/09/hillary-clinton-henry-kissinger-world-order" target="_blank">led to brutal massacres</a> around the globe, including in Chile, Argentina, East Timor, and Bangladesh.</p> <p>With all this history, it was curious that in 2014, Clinton wrote a <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/hillary-clinton-reviews-henry-kissingers-world-order/2014/09/04/b280c654-31ea-11e4-8f02-03c644b2d7d0_story.html" target="_blank">fawning review</a> of Kissinger's latest book and observed, "America, he reminds us, succeeds by standing up for our values, not shirking them, and leads by engaging peoples and societies, the sources of legitimacy, not governments alone." In that article, she called Kissinger, who had been a practitioner of a bloody foreign-policy realpolitik, "surprisingly idealistic."</p> <p>This Clinton lovefest with Kissinger is not new. And it is not simply a product of professional courtesy or solidarity among former secretaries of state, who, after all, are part of a small club. There is also a strong social connection between the Clintons and the Kissingers. They pal around together. On June 3, 2013, Hillary Clinton presented an award to de la Renta, a good friend who for years had provided her dresses and fashion advice, and then the two of them <a href="http://http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/06/hillary-clinton-celebrates-with-de-la-renta-kissinger/" target="_blank">hopped over</a> to a 90th birthday party for Kissinger. In fact, the schedule of the award ceremony had been <a href="http://http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/06/hillary-clinton-celebrates-with-de-la-renta-kissinger/" target="_blank">shifted</a> to allow Clinton and de la Renta to make it to the Kissinger bash. (Secretary of State John Kerry also attended the party.) The Kissingers and the de la Rentas were longtime buddies. Kissinger wrote one of his recent books while staying at de la Rentas' mansion in the Dominican Republic and dedicated the book to the fashion designer and his wife.</p> <p>The Clintons and Kissingers appear to spend a chunk of their quality time together at that de la Renta estate in the Punta Cana resort. Last year, the Associated Press <a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/hillary-clinton-decision-president" target="_blank">noted</a> that this is where the Clintons take their annual Christmas holiday. And other press reports in the United States and the Dominican Republic have pointed out that the Kissingers are often part of the gang the de la Rentas have hosted each year. When Oscar de la Renta died in 2014, the <em>New York Times</em> obituary <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/21/nyregion/oscar-de-la-renta-fashion-designer-dies-at-82.html?_r=0" target="_blank">reported</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>At holidays, the de la Rentas filled their house in Punta Cana with relatives and friends, notably Bill and Hillary Clinton, Nancy and Henry Kissinger, and the art historian John Richardson. The family dogs had the run of the compound, and Mr. de la Renta often sang spontaneously after dinner. First-time visitors, seeking him out in the late afternoon, were surprised to find him in the staff quarters, hellbent on winning at dominoes.</p> </blockquote> <p>In 2012, the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>, in a profile of de la Renta, <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970203358704577237381943862336" target="_blank">wrote</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>Over Christmas the Kissingers were among the close group who gathered in Punta Cana, including Barbara Walters, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Charlie Rose. "We have two house rules," says Oscar, laughing. "There can be no conversation of any substance and nothing nice about anyone."</p> </blockquote> <p>A travel industry outlet <a href="http://www.travpr.com/pr-11160-hillary-and-bill-clinton.html#sthash.TYZ8RLBb.dpuf%20http://www.travpr.com/pr-11160-hillary-and-bill-clinton.html" target="_blank">reported</a> that <em>Vogue </em>editor Anna Wintour was part of the crew that year. The <em>Times</em> described the house this way: "[T]hough imposing in the Colonial style, with wide verandas (and its own chapel on the grounds), [it] also had a relaxed feeling." Last April, the <em>Weekly Standard</em> <a href="http://www.weeklystandard.com/clintons-new-years-vacation-in-dominican-republic-costs-taxpayers-104k/article/906782" target="_blank">noted</a> that the Clintons had spent a week around the previous New Year's at Punta Canta and that Secret Service protection for the trip had cost $104,000. It was during this vacation that Hillary Clinton <a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/hillary-clinton-decision-president" target="_blank">reportedly decided</a> to run for president for the second time.</p> <p>This gathering of the Clintons, the Kissingers, and the de la Rentas seems to occur most years. In 2011, de la Renta, a native of the Dominican Republic, <a href="http://blogs.vogue.mx/team-vogue/con-oscar-de-la-renta-en-su-casa-de-punta-cana/" target="_blank">told</a> <em>Vogue</em> that he built this seaside estate so he could host his close friends, and he cited the Kissingers and Clintons as examples. "At Christmas," he said, "we're always in the same group."</p> <p>The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Henry Kissinger or Annette de la Renta.</p> <p>When awarding herself the Kissinger seal of approval to bolster her standing as a competent diplomat and government official, Hillary Clinton has not referred to the annual hobnobbing at the de la Renta villa. So when Sanders criticized Clinton for playing the Kissinger card&mdash;"not my kind of guy," he declared&mdash;whether he realized it or not, he was hitting very close to home.</p></body></html> Politics 2016 Elections Hillary Clinton Fri, 12 Feb 2016 23:32:24 +0000 David Corn 296801 at http://www.motherjones.com There's Finally an Agreement to Stop the Fighting in Syria—and It's Probably Doomed http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/02/theres-finally-agreement-stop-fighting-syria-and-its-probably-doomed <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Less than two weeks after peace talks over the Syrian civil war <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35488073" target="_blank">abruptly ended</a>, the International Syria Support Group&mdash;a body of about 20 countries and international organizations involved in the war, including the European Union and the United Nations&mdash;announced on Thursday that they had finally brokered the terms of a halt to the brutal war that has <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/12/world/middleeast/death-toll-from-war-in-syria-now-470000-group-finds.html" target="_blank">killed nearly half a million people</a>. The "cessation of hostilities" between regime forces and rebel groups, if successful, would be the first general stop to the fighting in almost four years. It seemed to meet some of the Syrian opposition's demands for humanitarian relief and a halt to Russian airstrikes against civilians and rebels. But none of this means the agreement is likely to succeed.</p> <p>The International Syria Support Group group pledged its members would push "all parties [to] allow immediate and sustained humanitarian access to reach all people in need" and "take immediate steps to secure the full support of all parties to the conflict for a cessation of hostilities." Those parties, however&mdash;the Syrian government and mainstream rebel groups&mdash;weren't actually part of the negotiations. Thursday's agreement merely sets the terms for how a cessation of hostilities would look, leaving the United States, Russia, Iran, and others to convince their allies on the ground to abide by the pact.</p> <p>How exactly they'll convince the regime and the opposition to play along hasn't yet been decided; the declaration gives the ISSG a week to figure out the details of the agreement and implement them. "We will only be able to see whether this was a breakthrough in a few days," <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/12/syria-ceasefire-munich-talks-us-russia" target="_blank">admitted German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier</a> during the announcement, which took place at a security conference in Munich. Secretary of State John Kerry also tempered expectations for the cessation agreement. "The real test is clearly whether or not all the parties honor those commitments and implement them in reality," he said. "What I've said again and again is we cannot guarantee success in the outcome."</p> <p>The fact that the opposition's High Negotiations Council, a body made up of dissident Syrian politicians and rebel leaders, is not taking part in the discussions in Munich means the agreement may not get crucial buy-in from armed groups on the battlefield. Such support is critical for political negotiations or agreements to hold.</p> <p>The <em>Washington Post</em> reported that while rebels may accept the "ceasefire"&mdash;the United States and Russia are divided on whether to use the term&mdash;out of exhaustion and lack of options, they are still highly skeptical. "We no longer trust words. There have been too many recently, matched with opposite action on the ground from the Russians," Issam Rayess, a spokesman for the rebels' Southern Front coalition that fights near Damascus, told the <em>Post</em>'s Liz Sly. "Within a week everything will have been destroyed," one civilian told her. And no matter what the rebels decide, the agreement will also have no effect on jihadi groups like ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra, Syria's homegrown affiliate of Al Qaeda.</p> <p>The High Negotiations Council has adopted a wait-and-see approach. When the Geneva talks stopped earlier this month, the HNC said it <a href="https://twitter.com/SyrianHNC_en/status/694981832388001793" target="_blank">would not return to the table</a> until Russian airstrikes ended and humanitarian aid began flowing to starving and decimated areas of Syria. The United Nation's Syria envoy hopes to restart the talks by February 25, and HNC spokesman Salim al-Muslat says the cessation of hostilities must actually take effect before the opposition returns to talks. "If we see action and implementation, we will see you very soon in Geneva," he told reporters on Thursday.</p> <p id="yui_3_18_1_1_1455302034310_1163">But even if the fighting does stop for any significant length of time, the two sides are still no closer to agreeing on the most basic issue of the war: what to do with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The opposition and its backers will not accept any political solution that allows Assad to stay in office. But on the same day the cessation was announced, Assad <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/afp-exclusive-assad-vows-retake-whole-country-warns-150319669.html" target="_blank">told the French wire service AFP</a> that he has no plans to give up any territory or power, instead reconfirming his intent to regain control of the entire country. "This is a goal we are seeking to achieve without any hesitation," he said in an interview on Thursday. "It makes no sense for us to say that we will give up any part [of Syria]." As Middle East analyst Brooklyn Middleton noted on Twitter, Assad's statement means the cessation of hostilities will mostly be an illusion of progress rather than an actual achievement.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">It is as though what Assad vows to do - and then does - is completely and utterly disregarded by those attempting to facilitate a ceasefire.</p> &mdash; Brooklyn Middleton (@BklynMiddleton) <a href="https://twitter.com/BklynMiddleton/status/698167493664378880">February 12, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script></body></html> Politics International Syria Fri, 12 Feb 2016 21:28:24 +0000 Max J. Rosenthal 296761 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 12 February 2016 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/02/friday-cat-blogging-12-february-2016 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Just look at our little lovebirds. So adorable. So innocent looking. In reality, of course, they are just furry little batteries, recharging for their next romp around the house. In the meantime, though, Hilbert and Hopper remind you not to forget Valentine's Day. Buy your loved one some treats this weekend. Treats are good.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_hopper_2016_02_12.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 12 Feb 2016 20:51:33 +0000 Kevin Drum 296796 at http://www.motherjones.com Raw Data: Income Gains By Age Since 1974 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/02/raw-data-income-gains-age-1974 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Here's some raw data for you. It's nothing fancy: just plain old cash income growth for individuals, <a href="https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/data/historical/people/" target="_blank">straight from the Census Bureau.</a> It gives you a rough idea of how different age groups have been doing over the past few decades. Enjoy.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_median_income_age_2.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 23px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 12 Feb 2016 20:45:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 296791 at http://www.motherjones.com