Friday, February 8, 2013

Missouri Senate Bill 41 protects polluters

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: Back a couple of weeks ago, when the people had prevailed on an issue, my friend John congratulated me and I answered, “we always win.” Of course, I shoulda said, “we always win and then the cheaters come back and we win again and the cheaters come back with more money and we . . .” because that’s how it goes. They wear you down until you’re just exhausted. So, yesterday, I got the e-mail that they’re back at the legislature with “The Pollution Protection Act” that says citizens can’t sue polluters of any kind, including smelly CAFOs or garbage dumps or any nuisance that has gotten a permit. Here it is, short and sweet: 1. A person shall not maintain an action to enjoin, abate, or recover damages for a private nuisance based upon an air emission or water or solid waste discharge, other than the placement of nuclear waste, where the emission or discharge was expressly authorized by and is not in violation of a term or condition of: (1) A statute or regulation; (2) A license, permit, or order that is issued after public comment by a municipal, county, state, or federal government and subject to continuing compliance oversight, periodic review by the issuing agency, and renewal on a periodic basis; or (3) A court order or judgment. 2. The provisions of subsection 1 of this section shall not apply if the permit or order creates a condition not reasonably foreseeable at the time of issuance or if the permit holder purposefully fails to disclose facts or conditions that are relevant in the issuance of the permit or order. So I’ve been on the phone this morning, calling Senators. Vote No on Senate Bill 41. It’s pro-polluter and anti-citizen. And, hey, dear citizen! If you haven’t had this already, it’s coming to your state, too!

Bruce Willis gives perfect example of the slippery “slippery slope” argument

By Marc Jampole

The very fact that Bruce Willis has a say in the public controversy about gun control demonstrates once again that the United States suffers from the advanced stages of celebriosis, defined as excessive brain damage from focusing too much on the lives and thoughts of celebrities.

What pro-gun die-hard Willis said earlier this week is a classic in one special rhetorical device used by both sides to defend not changing a bad situation: the slippery slope.

And why will that happen of necessity? Just because we want to run people through background checks before they buy guns, how does that lead to taking away the right to assemble or the right not to have to house soldiers (3rd amendment)? With the “slippery slope” metaphor, the first act is like taking a step off a very icy hill. The exhilaration of the moment makes you lose balance and slide all the way down the hill, into tyranny, communism, lawlessness or whatever the bĂȘte noir du jour.
The slippery slope is a fanciful absurdity that’s different from taking something to its extreme because the argument for the slippery slope states that we will slide of necessity by taking that first step. Obviously it’s just not so.
The classic slippery slope was actually a line of dominos, representing countries in Asia, all set to fall to the communists if the first one, South Viet Nam, did.  The sheer philosophical necessity of all the dominos falling once Viet Nam did haunted a generation of U.S. government officials, leading to a war of unparallelled brutality and suffering. But when we lost Viet Nam, most of the other dominos stayed standing—and in fact in recent decades Viet Nam has moved into capitalist circles. There was no domino effect and there is no slippery slope.
In the interest of balance, one article quoting Willis’ inanities included the opposing views of someone equally as qualified to speak publicly on the issue of gun control—since he too has used plenty of fake guns in Hollywood shoot-em-ups. It was good old slurry-voiced Rocky, AKA Sylvester Stallone, who supports a ban on assault weapons, saying “I know people get (upset) and go, ‘They're going to take away the assault weapon.’ Who needs an assault weapon? Like really, unless you're carrying out an assault. You can't hunt with it. Who's going to attack your house, a (expletive) army?”
Maybe that’s the problem? Maybe Bruce is confusing his filmic chimeras in which an eff-ing army could attack his house with the real world? Maybe Bruce has taken a few too many punches in his movie roles? It’s good to see that Rocky hasn’t.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Killing a U.S. citizen without due process and torture – what’s the difference?

By Marc Jampole

For about 10 years, I have been embarrassed for my country because our leaders condoned and committed torture, and even dreamed up fanciful legal justifications.
Perhaps the most odious of the legal arguments made by the Bush II administration for sticking someone’s head under water until near drowning and hanging them cold and naked by their arms for hours was that if the President ordered it, it could not by definition be illegal.
Now we see this justification used again, and this time by the administration of Barack Obama.  I am not only embarrassed for my country, but personally ashamed since I voted for the guy—twice.
But mostly I’m angry.
Obama’s legal team is essentially saying that it’s okay to murder a U.S. citizen if the president says it’s okay. What about due process? That’s a nicety that gets lost because the assumption is that we’re talking about terrorists in other countries whom we intend to take out with a clean drone hit.
Of course, that’s today. Tomorrow it could be in our own country. Or it could be with a bullet or strangulation. Or maybe an auto accident that kills a few innocent bystanders.  Of course, that’s all slippery slope speculation, except for those familiar with the secret history of the CIA and U.S. military. I advise readers to review the deaths of Allende or Diem. It’s not a matter of one thing leading to another, it’s a matter of publicly acknowledging something the U.S. government has done for decades, only now saying that it’s legal.
The drone makes it impossible to deny American involvement in state ordered assassination. At least until other nations get a hold of drone technology, which they will.
I have nothing against the U.S. use of drones, but only against legitimate enemies enrolled in real armies during real battles. Drones on real battlefields make a lot of sense. The problem is that all you can do with a drone is kill. If they figure out the robotics to capture and transport the accused to a military base, drones would become a wonderful tool for terrorists.
But U.S. citizens and non-combatants of all nationalities all deserve the due process that is denied someone by a drone killing. They deserve due process, but more importantly, so do the American people.
Whether by drone or bullet, killing a U.S. citizen without first giving that person a trial is illegal and un-American.  The President should take some time off from pandering to gun enthusiasts with target practice photo ops and look deep into his heart and ask himself if he really wants to be remembered with Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon and Bush II as perpetrators of illegal state violence.

Syngenta and Boonville, Missouri

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: A huge shoutout to the village of Boonville, Missouri, on the check they've received from Syngenta AG for pollution of the city water system. Boonville and 88 other Missouri cities sued because Atrazine in the water was costing the citizens money. Altogether, our state gained $10 million in the suit. Atrazine is a farm chemical applied in the spring, our rainy season. It kills weeds but also washes into the creeks, river, clouds, oceans, ground water, and, of course, us. The cities that won the lawsuit were getting their drinking water from surface water--creeks and, in Boonville's case, the Missouri River. No one had done much investigation on atrazine, which has been used for decades, until 2002 when the Academy of Sciences found out that 0.1 part per billion could turn male frogs into hermaphrodites. A year later, Mizzou found the chemical contributed to poor semen quality in men. Then they found out it that along with reproductive problems, atrazine can create cardiovascular problems. Atrazine is cheap to produce and cheap to buy, which is why it is in such high use. But the side effects are expensive in terms of human health. This is the truth of most of these agricultural chemicals. We're getting them in our drinking water, and farm land (not to mention farmers) is being ruined for generations to come. The lawsuit against Syngenta is just the first step. These chemical producers and their stockholders should pay. And, in this case, they are paying. Justice at long last.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Farmers strike back

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes:
        If you've been reading my blogs about what's happening to farms because of the pollution of herbicides and genetically modified crops, you may be wondering what's happening with farmers. You might be thinking to yourself that if you were handling chemicals known to cause cancer and if you were fighting superweeds that cannot be killed with poisons you'd be doing things differently.
        And, add to that list--cancer and superweeds--the growing infertility of livestock and young men, the increased work load due to the failure of GMO crops, the patenting system that prevents farmers from saving the seeds they have raised on their own places, the fact that the only guy making money is the guy selling chemicals, and, quite frankly, the damn doubt about the future. Wouldn't you be doing things differently?
        Well, yes, many farmers are figuring this out. In the last couple of days, I've talked to two guys with a lot of land--probably 2200 acres each--who are transitioning to organic or to non-gmo, saved seeds. They are diversifying the number of crops they raise and looking for new markets. With consumers getting wise also, we can help each other move into a different, cleaner kind of agriculture.
        We don't have a moment to lose.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Dow and Nature Conservancy

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes:
        As we've seen, genetic engineering of crops to resist Roundup has resulted in Roundup-resistant weeds all over the Midwest. That is, weeds that can't be killed with this herbicide that killed everything 20 years ago.  Industry's solution is to create a new class of genetically altered crops that resist a different herbicide, and they've chosen to use 2,4 D, created by Dow Chemical and other manufacturers. It is obvious that the new poisons will follow the same route as the old poisons, creating new superweeds that will require new genetically altered solutions.
        To ramp up production of 2,4D, figuring that they'll need tons of the stuff, they're shmoozing with Texas. And, to make the new production a public relations success, they've recruited the Nature Conservancy to manage land around the plant and evaluate the effectiveness of nature in clean up.
         According to a brochure they've been distributing around Freeport, Texas, on the Brazos River, the lucky winner community will reap the investment of "more than $4 billion" and "more than 325 new jobs" after "4,500 construction jobs" to build the plants.
        The Nature Conservancy will contribute by:
        "Publishing papers in appropriate peer-reviewed scientific journals to describe the
results from the Freeport pilot; Identifying three green infrastructure projects at Dow sites where the team can determine the viability of natural infrastructure supplanting man-made engineered
solutions; Integrating ecosystem services data into Version 2 of BESTCAT, releasing the
new version, and publishing a paper on its capabilities and practical applications in scientific literature."
        So, while thousands of new acres of cropland in the Midwest are impaired and thousands of new cases of human cancer and Parkinson's are risked, Dow will be able to claim the environmental high ground around their plant in Texas.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Without humanistic, redistributive approach, we have much to fear from current automation

By Marc Jampole

The Pollyannas and Panglosses among us like to look back at past instances of the automation of production or service-delivery as proof that the economy adjusts and people find newer, better-paying and more fulfilling jobs. A recent example is Catherine Rampell’s article in yesterday’s New York Times “Sunday Review” section titled Raging (Again) Against the Robots.”

In her rambling, Rampell trots out the usual fictional suspects: The Golem, Capek’s R.U.R., Kurt Vonnegut’s Piano Player. To these literary manifestations of the fear of robots, she adds cursory mentions of the agricultural and software revolutions. A flippant approach to this mostly fictional material trivializes the problems caused by automation. 

While it is true that people eventually did get better jobs after farming was mechanized, the argument is absurd that warnings against automation in the past proved false and therefore the current warnings will not pan out either. History does not repeat the past in the same way all the time. Just because something worked out in the past doesn’t mean it will work out again.

There are many differences between automating farming and manufacturing in the 19th and early 20th centuries and the current automating of engineering, medical, retail and teaching jobs in the early part of the 21st century:
  • The jobs replaced in the industrial revolution were tedious and back-breaking physical labor. The current wave of machines replaces primarily “brain” jobs filled by middle class professionals and paraprofessionals.
  • There were few limits in the world markets in the 19th century, so jobs were created by expanding markets. Now there are many limits to market expansion, including increased competition from other countries and the limits to growth imposed by the dual impact of climate disruption and resource scarcity.
  • The historical means to absorb excess labor no longer exists. The citizens of western democracy and many totalitarian regimes such as China and Iran will no longer tolerate a high number of war casualties. There are few habitable wildernesses like the American West to which excess populations can move.
There is also the question: does this new technology increase the quality of life or does it merely make the process cheaper? Exhibit #1 against the mindless implementation of technology is the rush to on-line university classes.  In how many ways is a live class better? The ability to interact spontaneously off on fruitful tangents. The greater need to pay attention. The greater difficulty in cheating.  It also keeps more teachers working.

We’ve discovered that we can take technology too far in many realms, even farming, which, with the return to small, local farms and the increase in organic farming, has seen some reverse substitution of human labor and thought power for technology in recent decades.
We also have to ask ourselves what we can do to help the workers affected by the current wave of automation. Their jobs are never coming back, and to a large extent the jobs being created in our slowly gathering economic recovery are low-paying.
Either more people are going to fall out of the middle class and into poverty or we are going to have to take a look at how we split the profits resulting from the increased productivity of knowledge-based processes such as teaching, engineering and health care.  It starts with raising the minimum wage, which leads to higher wages at all levels. Instead of trying to destroy teachers unions with charter schools and pension givebacks, our public policies should foster increased unionization of other knowledge workers, since unions raise the incomes of workers. We should also start thinking seriously about lowering the hours considered full-time for a job to 30 a week without a decrease in gross pay. 
The other alternative is to face a U.S. economy in which virtually everyone is poor except for a handful of rich people and a sprinkling of middle class and upper middle class professionals.