President Obama isn’t looking so “progressive” this morning (what else is new?). Yesterday, his “Justice” department announced they will ignore science as well as the health needs of women and girls by fighting a judge’s order to make Plan B emergency contraception available over-the-counter without age limits. NYT:
The appeal reaffirms an election-year decision by Mr. Obama’s administration to block the drug’s maker from selling it without a prescription or consideration of age, and puts the White House back into the politically charged issue of access to emergency contraception.
The Justice Department’s decision to appeal is in line with the views of dozens of conservative, anti-abortion groups who do not want contraceptives made available to young girls. But the decision was criticized by advocates for women’s reproductive health and abortion rights who cite years of scientific research saying the drug is safe and effective for all ages.
“Age barriers to emergency contraception are not supported by science, and they should be eliminated,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement on Wednesday.
In December 2011 the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, blocked the sale of the drug to young girls without a prescription, saying there was not enough data to prove it would be safe. In doing so, Ms. Sebelius took the unprecedented step of overruling the Food and Drug Administration, which had moved, based on scientific research, to lift all age restrictions.
I could use some profane language here, but I’ll spare you for the moment. You may be mumbling to yourself too, after you read about Obama’s latest picks for the FCC and Commerce Department.
First the FCC. The New York Times reports: Telecom Investor Named to Be F.C.C. Chairman.
Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s pick to be the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, knows all about the most advanced telecommunications systems — of the 19th century.
In his 2008 book “Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War,” Mr. Wheeler, an investor in start-up technology and communications companies, documents how Lincoln was an “early adopter” of what has been called “the Victorian Internet.”
Lincoln’s championing and advancement of popular uses of the telegraph are not unlike the challenges Mr. Wheeler is likely to face as chairman of the F.C.C., which is waging an intense battle to keep Internet service free of commercial roadblocks and widely available in its most affordable, up-to-date capabilities.
Mr. Wheeler’s qualifications for “one of the toughest jobs in Washington,” Mr. Obama said, include a long history “at the forefront of some of the very dramatic changes that we’ve seen in the way we communicate and how we live our lives.”
“He was one of the leaders of a company that helped create thousands of good, high-tech jobs,” Mr. Obama said, referring to Core Capital Partners, the Washington investment firm where Mr. Wheeler is a managing director. “He’s in charge of the group that advises the F.C.C. on the latest technology issues,” adding that “he’s helped give American consumers more choices and better products.”
But does all that qualify Wheeler to protect consumers at the FCC? From Ars Technica:
President Barack Obama today announced his choice to run the Federal Communications Commission. As reported yesterday, the nominee is Tom Wheeler, a venture capitalist who was formerly a lobbyist at the top of the cable and wireless industries, leading the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) and Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA).
The nomination continues the parade of lobbyists becoming government officials and vice versa, a trend that has favored moneyed interests over the average American citizen and consumer time and again. One can take solace in the fact that Wheeler will be tasked with implementing the communications policies of President Obama, who says he is eager to fight on behalf of consumers and to maintain thriving and open Internet and wireless marketplaces.
But the same President who said “I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over” when he was running for office has given the FCC’s top job to a former lobbyist. Wheeler donated $38,500 to Obama’s election efforts and helped raise additional money for Obama by becoming a “bundler,” arranging for large contributions from other donors after hitting legal limits on personal contributions.
Not surprisingly, the cable and telecom companies that Wheeler springs from are ecstatic about the nomination.
Gotta get rid of those nasty regulations that protect Americans from price gauging, internet censorship, and all that bad stuff.
Next up, behold Obama’s nomination for Commerce Secretary, old pal Penny Pritzker.
Making official what many Democrats have expected for weeks, President Obama plans to nominate Chicago business executive Penny Pritzker, a longtime political supporter and heavyweight fundraiser, as his new Commerce secretary on Thursday morning.
Pritzker’s nomination could prove controversial. She is on the board of Hyatt Hotels Corp., which was founded by her family and has had rocky relations with labor unions, and she could face questions about the failure of a bank partly owned by her family.
With a personal fortune estimated at $1.85 billion, Pritzker is listed by Forbes magazine among the 300 wealthiest Americans. She is the founder, chair and CEO of PSP Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and its affiliated real estate investment firm, Pritzker Realty Group. She played an influential role in Obama’s rise from Illinois state senator to the nation’s 44th president, serving as Obama’s national finance chair in his first campaign for the White House and co-chair of his reelection campaign.
The president is expected to make the announcement at 10 a.m. at the White House.
If confirmed by the Senate, Pritzker would take charge of the administration’s efforts to build relations with business leaders who were often on the sharp end of the president’s first-term rhetoric.
Sigh . . .
This next story is guaranteed to make your blood boil. Bloomberg reports:
It’s been almost three years since Congress directed the Securities and Exchange Commission to require public companies to disclose the ratio of their chief executive officers’ compensation to the median of the rest of their employees’. The agency has yet to produce a rule.
So Bloomberg decided not to wait around any longer and figured out the ratios for us. See the chart at the above link. More:
The similarity ends there. Johnson, 54, got a compensation package worth 1,795 times the average wage and benefits of a U.S. department store worker when he was hired in November 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Gonzales’s hourly wage was $8.30 that year.
Across the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index of companies, theaverage multiple of CEO compensation to that of rank-and-file workers is 204, up 20 percent since 2009, the data show. The numbers are based on industry-specific estimates for worker compensation.
Almost three years after Congress ordered public companies to reveal actual CEO-to-worker pay ratios under the Dodd-Frank law, the numbers remain unknown. As theOccupy Wall Street movement and 2012 election made income inequality a social flashpoint, mandatory disclosure of the ratios remained bottled up at the Securities and Exchange Commission, which hasn’t yet drawn up the rules to implement it. Some of America’s biggest companies are lobbying against the requirement.
“It’s a simple piece of information shareholders ought to have,” said Phil Angelides, who led the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which investigated the economic collapse of 2008. “The fact that corporate executives wouldn’t want to display the number speaks volumes.” The lobbying is part of “a street-by-street, block-by-block fight waged by large corporations and their Wall Street colleagues” to obstruct the Dodd-Frank law, he said.
Are you angry yet? These greedheads are going to keep pushing the envelope until Americans wake up and take to the streets with pitchforks and dust off the guillotines.
My birthplace, North Dakota is changing rapidly–and maybe not in a good way. It turns out the state’s oil is even more plentiful than anyone has realized up till now.
The sea of oil and natural gas underneath North Dakota is far larger than first thought.
There are 7.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the western part of the state and extending into Montana, according to the latest estimate by the U.S. Geological Survey.
That’s more than twice the oil the USGS estimated could be recovered five years ago. What’s more, the USGS has nearly tripled its estimate of the natural gas available in the area.
The revised totals could make the North Dakota field the greatest oil and gas find ever in the continental United States, topping the fabled East Texas field that made Texas synonymous with oil wealth. And it would put North Dakota second to Prudhoe Bay as the largest oil producer in U.S. history.
And even this estimate may have to be “revised upward”:
“We think it’s even a little bit conservative,’’ said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.
The new estimate will give fresh momentum to an economic boom within the state that has made it the fastest growing in the nation in both population and incomes. Per capita income has risen to $52,000 a year, sixth-highest in the nation, and once quiet farm towns have been overwhelmed by oil field workers, creating shortages of housing and services.
The USGS said the drilling of 4,000 wells since 2008 in what is known as the Bakken formation has given geologists a better idea of the riches underground. The new analysis also highlights the rapid ascent of North American oil and gas production driven by the advent of the technique known as hydraulic fracturing.
I guess I’m happy about the new jobs and population growth, but it will be sad if North Dakota no longer has clean air and vast open spaces.
You may have heard about this fascinating story–it was up toward the top of Google News much of yesterday. Archaeologists have found strong evidence that Starving Settlers in [the] Jamestown Colony Resorted to Cannibalism. From Smithsonian Magazine:
The harsh winter of 1609 in Virginia’s Jamestown Colony forced residents to do the unthinkable. A recent excavation at the historic site discovered the carcasses of dogs, cats and horses consumed during the season commonly called the “Starving Time.” But a few other newly discovered bones in particular, though, tell a far more gruesome story: the dismemberment and cannibalization of a 14-year-old English girl.
“The chops to the forehead are very tentative, very incomplete,” says Douglas Owsley, the Smithsonian forensic anthropologist who analyzed the bones after they were found by archaeologists from Preservation Virginia. “Then, the body was turned over, and there were four strikes to the back of the head, one of which was the strongest and split the skull in half. A penetrating wound was then made to the left temple, probably by a single-sided knife, which was used to pry open the head and remove the brain.”
Much is still unknown about the circumstances of this grisly meal: Who exactly the girl researchers are calling “Jane” was, whether she was murdered or died of natural causes, whether multiple people participated in the butchering or it was a solo act. But as Owsley revealed along with lead archaeologist William Kelso today at a press conference at the National Museum of Natural History, we now have the first direct evidence of cannibalism at Jamestown, the oldest permanent English colony in the Americas. “Historians have gone back and forth on whether this sort of thing really happened there,” Owsley says. “Given these bones in a trash pit, all cut and chopped up, it’s clear that this body was dismembered for consumption.”
There’s much more at the link.
Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread, and have a great day!
I don’t know if it’s simply the election cycle or what, but more and more frequently the world seems to be spinning out of control. Problems and/or issues everywhere. Which one to prioritize? How to “fix” what is going wrong? Is it leaving you with an overwhelming sense of helplessness? It does me, all too often.
Here is a list of the serious issues that are bombarding my senses:
- The economy
- Wall Street’s continuing abuses
- Wealth inequality
- Offshore oil drilling
- Renewable energy
- The condition of our oceans
- Climate change
- Endangered species
- Pesticides, herbicides
- Food safety
- Pollution of our air and water
- Violence against women throughout the world
- Pay equity
- Abortion rights
- Access to contraception
- ALEC’s legislative initiatives
- ALEC’s co-opting of our political process
- The need for campaign finance reform
- Voting rights
- Union busting
- Health and health care
- The dismantling of our educational system
- The privatization of the prison system
- Hate speech & hate crimes
- Gun rights & gun control
- The billions of non-human animals killed each year worldwide, not only for food, but on our streets, in our homes and in our shelters
- Wars, seemingly everywhere
- The aftermath and attempted recovery following both natural and man-made disasters
There is little doubt in my mind that most people have shut down and they have chosen to ignore many, if not all of these critical issues. For so many others they don’t have a choice. They don’t even have the time or energy to think about them because they are struggling to survive, to put food on their tables, to pay the bills and keep a roof over their heads. Their focus is on their personal problems, not the bigger issues that are taking a heavy toll on their day to day lives, their future and the future of their families.
What can we do? How can the majority of the people on the planet, especially those whose personal resources are sorely limited make a difference, not only in their own lives, but for the future of all life on our planet? Here are a few simple each of us could try:
- Educate ourselves so we make conscious decisions that will benefit our finances, our health and the impact we have on our environment, whether it’s our home, our community or the planet.
- Reduce the amount of plastic, especially disposable plastic, that we buy. For example, opt for fresh foods over processed, prepackaged foods when possible. Use refillable containers instead of individual bottles of water. Avoid individually packaged food items – opt for a full size bag or container. Separate into individual servings at home. Don’t buy disposable plates and cups. Recycle and/or reuse plastic – and don’t forget to cut up those plastic rings that hold bottles and cans together – and return plastic bags to the stores for recycling. Take reusable bags when we shop, instead of the store’s plastic bags.
- Donate unused items to community groups or thrift stores.
- Pick up trash when we see it: in our yards, in the parking lots, on the beach, or participate in an annual beach or waterway cleanup in our area.
- Volunteer our time in schools, nursing homes, soup kitchens, for non-profits or wherever our time and expertise can be used.
- Eat lower on the food chain. It’s good for our health. It’s good for the planet, and it’s good for the animals.
- Write letters or send emails to our local media, to our elected officials, and to policy makers. Sign up for the action alerts of groups who address issues of concern to us.
- Adopt a homeless animal from a shelter or local rescue group. It will save a life and the animal will enrich ours. And if you can’t adopt, consider volunteering for a local rescue group or even fostering an animal until he/she is ready to be adopted.
Many of you are probably already doing some or all of these, or you may be doing others that I haven’t mentioned. By all means, if you have additional personal solutions or tips, please add them in the comments. Most of these ideas will only cost a bit of your time. Many of them will actually save money. I know that even doing what seems like something small, I feel better. I feel like I am doing my part, however little it might be. We rarely know the full impact of the choices we make on a daily basis, or how our actions might influence others. Even if we can’t always make waves, we can, at least, generate some ripples.
I think the season of the political lie is upon us. I have never seen so many tired old tropes being trotted out on TV in all my years of fascination with the bloodsport of politics. I’m going to try to concentrate on folks out there fighting the memes and lies with facts. My first selection is from Baseline Scenario. Simon Johnson explains that unemployment insurance isn’t around to keep lazy people on extended vacations. In the process he takes on the lie that our government is broke.
Fire insurance is mostly sold by the private sector; unemployment insurance is “sold” by the government – because the private sector never performed this role adequately. The original legislative intent, reaffirmed over the years, is clear: Help people to help themselves in the face of shocks beyond their control.
But the severity and depth of our current recession raise an issue on a scale that we have literally not had to confront since the 1930s. What should we do when large numbers of people run out of standard unemployment benefits, much of which are provided at the state level, but still cannot find a job? At the moment, the federal government steps in to provide extended benefits.
In negotiations currently under way, House Republicans propose to cut back dramatically on these benefits, asserting that this will push people back to work and speed the recovery. Does this make sense, or is it bad economics, as well as being mean-spirited?
(For details on the current benefit situation, see this information from California, as well as this on the political background. After a two-month extension of benefits at the end of last year, the terms of continuing it are currently before a House-Senate conference committee.)
The United States has lost more jobs than in any other recession in the last 70 years – and jobs have been slower to return, as this chart shows.
In raw numbers, we lost more than eight million jobs, most of which have not returned. Paul Solman of the PBS NewsHour prefers a measure he calls U-7, which includes “the underemployed and those who want a job but have been out of work so long that the government no longer counts them; this currently stands at 16.9 percent of the workforce (see this story and also, for background, a discussion Paul and I had in the fall on the “shape” of the recovery, in which we rely on the B.L.S. data.)
However you want to count it, the financial crisis of 2008 brought on a jobs disaster — and the scale of this disaster is still with us. We like to say that the recession is “over,” but this just means that the economy is growing again. In no meaningful sense is the jobs crisis over.
Typically in the United States, most people are unemployed for relatively short periods of time, with a lot of movement in and out of unemployment. The fraction of long-term unemployed as a percentage of all unemployed is usually 10 to 15 percent. In the early 1980s, it briefly reached almost 25 percent.
Again, however, our experience since 2008 has been dramatically different – the share of long-term unemployed in total unemployed is close to 45 percent. And it appears to be staying at or near that level for the foreseeable future.
The House Republicans now propose to change many rules under which the federal government provides “extended benefits” to people who have exhausted their state benefits.
In most countries, unemployment insurance is managed primarily by the central government and its agencies – in our federal structure we have preferred, as with other kinds of emergencies (such as natural disasters) to have the states provide the first line of defense, with the federal government providing back-up. It is the federal government that has the strongest ability to borrow at low interest rates; most states are much more strapped for cash.
Do not be deceived by claims that the federal government is “broke,” in the sense that it cannot afford to provide additional support to states and people at this level. This is a myth, pure and simple.
Paul Krugman takes on Charles Murray’s new whine about declining morality in the poor down trodden white folks and how it’s hurting our country. Krugman shows that one of the traditional measures of social problems is teenage pregnancy and it’s way down. So, is violent crime. So what is it that Murray is really complaining about?
Reading Charles Murray and all the commentary about the sources of moral collapse among working-class whites, I’ve had a nagging question: is it really all that bad?
I mean, yes, marriage rates are way down, and labor force participation is down among prime-age men (although not as much as some of the rhetoric might imply), But it’s generally left as an implication that these trends must be causing huge social ills. Are they?
Well, one thing oddly missing in Murray is any discussion of that traditional indicator of social breakdown, teenage pregnancy. You can see why — because it has actually been falling like a stone:
So, is economic stagnation really the result of less church going? I doubt it.
Jonathan Chait takes on another right wing lie. That’s the one about how the job creators pay so much in taxes they are really down trodden billionaires! Veronique de Rugy doesn’t stand a chance.
De Rugy wrote a column centered around the claim that the United States has a more progressive tax system than any other advanced country, and as her sole piece of evidence cited the fact that rich people pay a higher share of the tax burden in the U.S. than in other countries. I wrote a response, noting that this reasoning is completely idiotic. Rich Americans pay a bigger share of the tax burden because they earn a bigger share of the income, not because the U.S. tax code is more progressive.
De Rugy’s reply is an incoherent collection of hand-waving that does not come close to addressing this very simple and fatal flaw with her claim. She introduces a series of other fallacies, like conflating the marginal tax rate (the percentage tax you pay on your last dollar) with the total tax rate (the overall percentage of your income paid in tax), using “income tax” as a stand-in for total taxes, and trying to broaden the debate into a bigger philosophical dispute. But it’s not a philosophical dispute. It’s a simple case of her making up false claims based on extremely elementary errors.
And this is why I am forced to be so mean. There are just a lot of people out there exerting significant influence over the political debate who are totally unqualified. The dilemma is especially acute in the political economic field, where wealthy right-wingers have pumped so much money to subsidize the field of pro-rich people polemics that the demand for competent defenders of letting rich people keep as much of their money as possible vastly outstrips the supply. Hence the intellectual marketplace for arguments that we should tax rich people less is glutted with hackery.
No discussion of reprehensible lies would be complete with out Santorum and without the numerous conspiracy theories and untruths told about the concerns of environmentalists. Don’t you know, science professors just want to get rich so they make up shit about climate change and fracking?
I know everyone has already heard about the outbreak of tics and verbal outbursts (described in the media as “Tourette’s-like symptoms”) in the small town of LeRoy, New York. I thought I’d pull together some information on the case anyway. I have been skeptical about the diagnoses that have been publicized (“conversion disorder” and “mass hysteria”) since I first heard about it.
The media descriptions of conversion disorder haven’t been particularly accurate or helpful, and now that school and county officials are trying to limit investigations into environmental causes for the outbreak, I’m even more suspicious that these symptoms may be caused by exposure to toxins in the environment.
The LeRoy students began having symptoms in September of last year, meaning they have continued for about four months. Here’s a description of the symptoms from CBS News:
Last fall, 12 teenage girls from LeRoy Junior-Senior High School – located in a town about an hour outside of Buffalo, N.Y. – began to show symptoms similar to those of Tourette’s syndrome, including painful shaking and jerking their necks….
The condition was so bad for at least one of the girls that she has yet to return to school. School and state officials investigated the outbreak and school building for several months, and concluded no known environmental substances or infectious agents were found that could have caused the symptoms in the teens.
Dr. Laszlo Mechtler of the Dent Neurologic Institute in Amherst, NY, has seen a number of the girls and has diagnosed them with “conversion disorder,” which is really just more politically correct name for what Sigmund Freud called hysteria. The term is drawn from the Greek word for “uterus,” and of course mostly females receive the diagnosis. Mechler is claiming the symptoms are a result of stress and the students who are affected may have are unconsciously acting out their anxieties through physical symptoms. He’s calling it “mass hysteria,” because a number of girls reported similar symptoms.
Mechtler said today that the media hype is just making the symptoms worse and that students who have kept to themselves have improved while those who went to the media got worse; and now that the national media is focused on the situation, those who had improved are now having increased symptoms.
So I guess we should all STFU and leave poor little LeRoy alone, then?
Lots more after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »
Is not running out of oil.
This headline today is not good news: Does shale oil boom mean U.S. energy independence is near? Neither is this one that the US has a “200-year-supply” of coal. Nor these about all the fuel available in the Marcellus Shale, or the Canadian tar sands, or the Green River oil shale.
At this point it’s obvious to the meanest intelligence that burning fossil fuels adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, which causes climate change, which causes floods, fire, famine, pestilence, and war. It will kill billions of humans. I’ll repeat that. It will kill us. And I do mean “us.” Anybody who thinks they’ll be unaffected by the social consequences of global disasters is too dumb to last long in the hard new world. We are committing suicide.
We’re doing it right now. Not tomorrow. Not if things get worse. All we have to do is keep on doing what we’re doing.
Can I tell you a secret? Apparently, a lot of people don’t know this. Earth is the only planet we have.
Greenhouse gases are a gun pointed at our own heads. We have pulled the trigger.
But now comes the only good news: Planets work very slowly. The bullet has decades to travel. It’s already been traveling for about two centuries. Who knows how much more time we have? Probably minutes, but at least we’re not dead yet. If we did it very fast, we could move our heads out of the way.
Instead people write pleased headlines that more ways have been found to keep the bullet on track.
The whole species is headed for a Darwin Award. Except in this case it’ll be the planet whose survival is improved after we eliminate ourselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner.
Crossposted from Acid Test