Thursday, January 28, 2010

Supreme Injustice Alito Performs for Millions

Some are asking whether Supreme Court Injustice Samuel Alito damaged the Court's credibility with his mouthing of "not true" during President Obama's State of the Union Address. But the Court had precious little credibility anyway. The Supreme Court (or, more accurately, the right-wing injustices) threw away the court's credibility with Bush v Gore. Whether it is hopelessly lost remains to be seen.

Individual injustices — namely Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas — have discarded credibility repeatedly with their predictable support of big business over individuals, the rich over the poor and conservative government over the rights of the people.

So the Supreme Injustices are predictable, reliable in some twisted way but certainly not remotely honorable.

As for Alito's performance during the State of the Union, he should count himself lucky Obama didn't dress him down more. The president used the most mild language. He could easily and rightly characterized the ruling of the Fallen Five as one of the worst decisions in American history.

The Supreme Injustices, the conservatives, are accustomed to being able to humiliate those appearing before the court. They are accustomed to asserting their opinions with the servile accolades of a captive audience. So it must have been tough for Injustice Alito to have to sit still while Obama treated his crimes so mildly.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

It's Not Just Global Warming

In the public arena, environmental issues have been reduced to global warming. Big mistake. Here are a handful of headlines from the past month or so (and this is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg):

Common chemical found in everything from sofas, carpets to pots, pans linked to increased risk of thyroid disease.

A common household chemical found in everything from sofas and carpets to pots and pans has been linked to an increased risk of thyroid disease, in the first major study carried out on its effect upon health.

The substance, used to make nonstick cookware, stain-resistant furnishings and greaseproof wrappers, is believed to get into the body through contaminated food or household dust. Once in the body it accumulates in organs and other tissues.

People with high levels of the chemical in their blood were found to be twice as likely to have thyroid problems as those with the lowest levels, according to a survey of medical records of nearly 4,000 otherwise healthy US adults. The study is published in the journal, Environmental Health Perspectives.

Scientists said they cannot be certain the chemical is directly responsible for the rise in thyroid disease but called for a full investigation to assess its safety.

Studies in animals have found that the chemical, PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), and a sister substance called PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), can cause thyroid problems and a variety of other medical conditions, including hormone imbalances, liver disease and cancer.

"It's been thought that because they're inert they don't cause any health problems, but we're starting to see some evidence that is suggesting that's not true," said Tamara Galloway, professor of ecotoxicology at Exeter University. "Because these chemicals are inert they are persistent and they build up in the environment and also in human and animal tissues."

We all have trace levels of PFOA in our bodies that we pick up from the environment. The substance is so stable that it persists for years. It has been detected in people around the world and in wildlife as diverse as birds, fish and polar bears.

From Bill Moyers Journal:

Chemicals In Our Food

May 23, 2008

There may be a potentially dangerous chemical leaching into our food from the containers that we use every day. BILL MOYERS JOURNAL and EXPOSÉ: AMERICA'S INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS examine why, even though studies show that the chemical Bisphenol A can cause cancer and other health problems in lab animals, the manufacturers, their lobbyists, and U.S. regulators say it's safe.

In a watchdog series for the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, a trio of reporters focused on Bisphenol A, a chemical contained in many plastics that is also found in 93% of human beings. The problem at issue? Congress ordered the federal government in 1996 to begin testing and regulating certain chemicals suspected of causing cancer and a host of developmental problems. Eleven years later, not a single compound has been put to that test.

You can read the full series "Chemical Fallout" online, plus ongoing coverage of the fate of Bisphenol A. On May 15, 2008, the SENTINEL reported on some new Congressional hearings:

Members of a Senate consumer affairs subcommittee faulted federal agencies for reacting too slowly to concerns that children are exposed to bisphenol A through leaching from common items such as water bottles, baby bottles and the linings of food and baby-formula cans.
More study and more debate is anticipated.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

President Zero

President Obama, from now on President Zero, has demonstrated the success of Democratic political strategy of the past 30 years, a strategy best exemplified to day by the most powerful man in the administration ... Rahm Emanuel.

Martha Coakley exemplified this strategy in Assachusetts: Ignore the common American, kowtow to the rich powerbrokers, insult people needlessly.

Let's review key points of Obama's winning strategy:
  • Do nothing to hold Bush administration war criminals accountable for their crimes.
  • Reward Wall Street for its crimes.
  • Pack your administration with advocates for Goldman Sachs and the Clinton-Reagan-Bush programs of deregulation, like Larry Summers, Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, Peter Orszag, Austan Goolsbee
  • Blow off liberal economists and related thinkers like Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Brooksley Born, Michael Hudson, Elizabeth Warren, Nouriel Roubini, . . . .
  • Charge the American people to support Wall Street billionaires's bonuses.
  • Do little or nothing to aid average workers in the work economic downturn in generations.
  • Fight disclosure of White House visitor logs until forced to by bad publicity.
  • Stop disclosure of US war crimes at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib by, among other things, keeping secret photographs of American atrocities.
  • Repeatedly exclude labor from discussions on the economy.
  • Repeatedly exclude advocates of single-payer from discussions on health care reform while including lobbyists and executives for big health insurers.
  • Coddle right-wing extremists, conservative Democrats and self-serving bigots like Joseph Lieberman while excluding or actively badmouthing progressives and liberals.
  • Fail to end the war in Iraq.
  • Expand war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Continue extraordinary rendition while paying lip-service to closing Guantanamo and ending torture (but actually allowing it at Bagram, Afghanistan)
  • Continue Bush violations of the Constitution by denying due process rights to prisoners at Guantanamo.
  • Continue outrageous prosecutions of people like Syed Fahad Hashmi.
Such is the strategy of Democrats, 'lead' by Obama, President Zero.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Freezelight Magic Forest

The best animators I've met are intensely driven people . . . often to the edge of sanity (which is what gives the greatest work its wacky wonder). Via Vimeo, here is a Russian short film in which each frame is a long exposure. Roughly 40 seconds. If it was done at 30 frames per second (it probably wasn't), that would be 1200 frames. Assume half that — 600 frames — each one mapped out, storyboarded, tested, shot. If I were told that each frame took one hour, I would not be surprised. It could have been more. (Then again, it might well have been less.)

Freezelight Magic Forest from FREEZELIGHT.RU on Vimeo.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Delusions of the Economic Right-Wing

Ross Douthat has one of the stupidest, least informed (or most dishonest) essays on the economy that I've seen in The New York Times . . . ever. He does little more than toady for an equally dishonest though better-sounding (emphasis on "sounding") Jim Manzi in National Affairs.

Briefly, they offer a toned-down but otherwise very familiar conservative economic diet so that the US can maintain its economic primacy in the world — something they seem worried about in much the way that men fret over the size of their penises.

Here, my response:

A complete account of the flaws and misrepresentations in Ross Douthat's essay and Jim Manzi's in National Affairs would require more space than Douthat's essay takes in the first place.

Here are a few of the glaring problems:

1. Both Manzi and Douthat, particularly Manzi, treat American economic leadership as some kind of national security issue. They both come off as narrow-minded jingoists, or as men worried about their penises. We can be sure that the American companies relocating production and off-shoring labor to Asia are less concerned about American economic leadership than they are about lining their own pockets — in its sheer extremes, a decidely American ethos that the crimes of Wall Street and the health industry prove amply.

2. Manzi is absurdly sloppy in his use of language. He, and Douthat copying him, talk of "America's global output" compared to Europe, China, India. In dollars or tonnage or what? Is this the Europe including the eastern countries of the former Soviet bloc? Is the vaunted US output including the fantastically wasteful military production? (The US has effectively remained on a constant war footing for 30 years and has effectively been at war continuously for 60.) Does US output include the fools' wealth of the housing bubble and the ponzi schemes of Wall Street? Nothing in Manzi's or Douthat's essay provides any answer.

3. Most glaring: Standard of Living. Douthat and Manzi both make passing reference to the American standard of living and then let it drop — for obvious reason: the US standard of living is a disgrace for a country as productive as Douthat and Manzi claim. All of the major western European nations, with the likely exception of Britain (which of the European nations has most closely tried to copy the American Standard), have a higher standard of living than the US. The Scandinavian countries, with the most 'socialistic' economies have the highest standards and the greatest levels of satisfaction among their populations.

4. Our "politics are polarized"? Hardly. The vast majority of Democrats have bent over double to copy the Republicans. It is the right-wing Republicans, who now constitute the entire Republican party in Congress, that have sought at every turn to torpedo political and economic consensus.

5. Obama Democrats returning to "European-style social democracy"? Does Douthat read the news — at all. There is little if any Obama or Democratic move to reregulate Wall Street or to regulate the health industry beyond a few token measures that will likely be easily evaded. Obama offers environmental measures as "suggestions". The FDA may get some regulatory teeth back, but only after 3 decades of disaster, thanks to Reagan and Clinton. "Micromanaging industry"? How? Where? Can Douthat offer even one example beyond, perhaps, the banning of denial of health insurance coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions? There is simply no basis in fact for Douthat's or Manzi's assertions. They offer nothing more than Friedman/Greenspan style conservative economics.

6. Partnerships "between Big Business and Big Government"? What partnership? We the People bailed out Wall Street after vague threats by overpaid executives? We bailed out the auto manufacturers only after it became clear they really would fail, taking with them tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of jobs. Republicans fought the aid to Detroit tooth and nail. Our health insurance and Wall Street "partners" continue to fight any change that might threaten their grossly over-sized bonuses. Again Douthat shows a childish ignorance of or a willful (very Republican) indifference to fact.

Last, "We're all in this together"?! You've got to be kidding. If the past two years prove anything at all, it is that we are *not* all in this together. The wealthiest 1% to 5% of Americans (or fewer) and their paid representatives in Congress have immunized themselves against the conditions of the vast majority. In this respect, the US is doing quite well at keeping pace with China.