Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

The Truth About Republican Fiscal Irresponsibility

The House Budget Committee has some really fantastic charts I want to share…they desperately need to be seen more widely as the budget debate kicks into high gear.

View this document on Scribd

As my political mentor Howard Dean always says, you can’t trust Republicans to manage your money.

-Jeremy

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Endocrine disruptors. To ban or not to ban?

This was the question that was asked in today’s hearing. Last time I wrote about toxic chemicals in our everyday products. This time I’m writing about toxic chemicals in our drinking water, specifically endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that mess with our endocrine system which is a system of glands that release hormones. They have been linked to the emergence of intersex fish, meaning there are fish that are starting to have both male and female sex organs. Gross I know, but the question is, are they bad for humans?

Most of the panelists agreed that endocrine disruptors are bad for us, even in the smallest doses. According to Dr. Birnbaum, the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the endocrine system works on tiny amounts of hormones, so low doses may disrupt the body’s system and lead to diseases. Furthermore, endocrine disruptors could lead to a wide variety of health problems because endocrines govern many organs in the body. To make thing worse, endocrine disruptors are ubiquitous and have effects far past the duration of exposure.

The only differing view point came from Dr. Borgert who leads the Applied Pharmacology and Toxicology consulting firm. He stressed the importance of basing our decisions on solid science and gave three criteria for it. One, we have to know what we’re measuring. Two, we have to test under controlled conditions. Three, the experiments have be repeatable with the same result. Needless to say, he was of the opinion that we do not yet have a thorough enough understanding to say that endocrine disruptors are causing problems in animals or humans.

Unfortunately, the research that should be done by the EPA regarding endocrine disruptors has been too slow and ineffective. The EPA has a screening process that selects certain chemicals to be tested to see if they are endocrine disruptors, but it does not determine which ones actually are. There was universal agreement that the EPA is not functioning sufficiently in this regard.

There were a couple of things that bothered me during the hearing. One thing that bothered me was the mention of solid science. Dr. Borgert made it clear that we shouldn’t act until we were certain that endocrine disruptors were causing health problems. He cited some historical examples of scientists being wrong and how their decisions based on incorrect science led to unintentional negative effects. But my understanding of science is that absolute certainty is very rare. It seems that there will always be a couple of scientists who disagree with something. So where do we draw the line? We have to act on what we think is correct don’t we? We can’t always wait until we’re 100% sure. Of course there are chances that our current understanding of something is wrong, but we can’t prevent that.

The other thing that bothered me was Dr. Borgert’s lack of alternative explanation on why we are seeing a rise in birth defects and health problems in America. I mean something has to be causing these problems right? What is it if not endocrine disruptors?

My suggestion is that we act on the majority of evidence because absolute certainty is just too rare to be reliable. If there is disagreement amongst the scientist on what direction the majority of evidence points to, then we should base our action on what the majority of scientists think.

– Jason

EPA Greenhouse Gas Regulation

In the interest of brevity I’ll only say that the EPA has not faced wide criticism over the greenhouse gas endangerment finding, but rather intense criticism for a very small, but powerful set of special interests. Via NY Times:

WASHINGTON — Facing wide criticism over their recent finding that greenhouse gases endanger the public welfare, top Environmental Protection Agency officials said Monday that any regulation of such gases would be phased in gradually and would not impose expensive new rules on most American businesses.

The E.P.A.’s administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, wrote in a letter to eight coal-state Democrats who have sought a moratorium on regulation that only the biggest sources of greenhouse gases would be subjected to limits before 2013. Smaller ones would not be regulated before 2016, she said.

“I share your goals of ensuring economic recovery at this critical time and of addressing greenhouse gas emissions in sensible ways that are consistent with the call for comprehensive energy and climate legislation,” Ms. Jackson wrote.

-Chris

Clarity and Transparency

Matthew Yglesias on Transparency:

I think the country would benefit from drawing a terminological distinction they have in other Anglophone democracies between “the government” (Gordon Brown and his ministers and other political appointees) and “the state” (the permanent institutions of the United Kingdom). What people are entitled to more of is transparency in the operations of the state. The state is financed by our taxes and is supposed to be serving our interests. It ought to be as easy as possible to figure out what’s going on—what the rules are, where the money’s going, how it all works, etc.

But I think that transparency in the sense of “the government” offered above is of much more dubious value.

I really agree that the conversation regarding transparency would benefit from drawing a distinction between Government and the State, but his description transparency in government misses the mark.

Consider the deficit. Imagine a meeting between President Obama and Mitch McConnell about the long-term, and assume that both guys are operating in good faith but that neither of them are self-sacrificing saints and neither of them can be fully sure whether the other one is operating in good faith. McConnell starts by saying that the deficits projected in the President’s budget are too big. If the meeting is behind closed doors, Obama can say “obviously that’s why we’re having a meeting.” But if the cameras are rolling, Obama needs to treat McConnell’s observation as a political attack and respond in kind by arguing that deficits are mostly caused by Bush’s policies and the economic downturn.

Which is all true enough, but there are lots and lots of off the record conversations and negotiation taking place in Washington, D.C. In the last year there have been non-transparent talks on pretty much every major issue (budget, climate, health care, financial reform) and the problem is just never that they have some great deal both sides really wanted to do and then things got transparent. And there’s nothing stopping Obama, McConnell or anyone from doing more closed door meetings.

Cradle to Consumer: Method Hand Wash and Foaming Hand Wash

Have some green hand washes for you.

Today in “That Really Happened?”

So today’s illustration of how weird politics can be comes in the form of President Barack Obama kind-of walking back his comment that people shouldn’t be gambling in hard economic times.

It may not have been an actual apology, but President Obama nevertheless brought the crowd here to its feet in this Las Vegas suburb Friday with an impromptu exchange with a tourist at his town hall meeting.

Obama annoyed Las Vegans recently by saying that struggling families shouldn’t “blow” their hard-earned cash in Vegas. The comments annoyed everyone from cab drivers to the city’s mayor, who snubbed Obama by not showing up for his arrival this week.

So the president was presented with the perfect opportunity to make amends when he offered a question to a man who said he was from Jonesboro, Ark.

“What are you doing in Vegas?” Obama asked.

“Everyone comes to Vegas,” the man said, prompting massive applause.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Obama said.

“Did you spend some money here in Vegas?” he asked? After getting a “yes,” Obama added: “That’s good. We like to see that.”

The standing ovation was especially raucous.

I’ve never really looked into it, but I’m pretty sure the Bushes, Clinton, Reagan, etc weren’t in favor of struggling families blowing money in Vegas.

-Chris

The DC Council Thinks You’re Stupid

Specifically, Councillors Jack Evans, Kwame Brown, David Catania, Vincent Gray, Marion Barry, Muriel Bowser and Mary Cheh. These are the sponsors and co-sponsors of the “Global Security and Aerospace Industry Tax Abatement Act of 2010“, a proposed tax giveaway to gigantic war contractor Northrop Grumman. In the midst of a budget crisis, they believe our scarce resources are best used throwing $25 million at a rich, politically-connected corporation? It’s just infuriating that even in an overwhelmingly liberal Democratic city, the politicians here claim the budget shortfall is causing them to make cuts to schools, public transportation, homeless shelters and even failing to provide core emergency services like snow removal, yet have the gall to offer millions in tax breaks to a top defense contractor already bloated on the taxpayer dole. It’s a very telling statement about where the priorities of these elected officials really are.

Here’s some background on the Northrop Grumman corporate welfare bill:

Northrop Grumman Corp. would receive $25 million in incentives to relocate its headquarters to D.C. under a bill introduced Tuesday by the D.C. Council.

The “Global Security and Aerospace Industry Tax Abatement Act of 2010” would provide $19.5 million in real estate tax breaks over 10 years and up to $5.5 million in grants to offset relocation costs the company could incur in its planned move from Los Angeles.

The bill is sponsored by Councilman Jack Evans, D-Ward 2, along with six other of the city’s 13 council members. Evans said the bill “sends a clear message to Northrop Grumman that we are absolutely interested in having them as one of our corporate citizens.”

He said if the city can provide a comparable financial package to the suburbs then he believes D.C. has a chance to land the company because of its proximity to the Capitol, White House and Pentagon.

Yes, that’s probably true. DC does likely have some chance or other to get the company’s HQ within its borders. However, those tax incentives probably wouldn’t be what brings them here. Good Jobs First has spent a great deal of effort chronicling the nefarious impacts of such giveaways (and is a great resource for further research on the subject if you’re interested). As the case of subsidies for foreign auto assembly plants shows us, corporate decisions on where to locate their activities generally are predicated on two major factors: proximity to markets and labor costs (in terms of corporate headquarters, quality of life in the region also makes a difference).

Taxes do matter, but to a much lesser extent than the other considerations. Often, a company has made up its mind where to locate before an announcement is made, then it plays neighboring local jurisdictions against each other to secure a nice chunk of change from the state or locality where they were going to go anyway.

And that extortion money offered by the city, in this case DC? It’s not exactly money the city can afford to spare:

All the subsidies are subject to inclusion in the city’s budget, which would add to hundreds of millions of dollars of budget gaps already expected in the coming years….

The company would also likely qualify for further tax breaks through a 2000 law aimed at luring tech companies. Called NET 2000, the legislation offers to eliminate the city’s 9.98 percent franchise tax for five years and charge a 6 percent rate thereafter.

Well, yeah. Sure sounds like a boondoggle. But…..really, it’d be worth the investment and create tons of new jobs for the city, right?

Fenty has said his administration will do whatever it can to lure Northrop’s headquarters and an expected 100 to 150 new jobs to the area. His deputy mayor for planning and economic development, Valerie Santos, says she was “working very aggressively” to assemble a package for the company that would beat those being offered in Maryland and Virginia.

$25 million – and possibly much more – for just 100-150 jobs going to people who are probably gonna live in Virginia? DEFINITELY a boondoggle. It’s truly amazing that nearly half of the overwhelmingly Democratic city council would consider this to be a prudent measure of their tax dollar priorities.

Thankfully, this all may very well be a moot point here anyway.

Sources on the public and private side of negotiations have said the Meridian Group’s National Gateway in Crystal City is leading the pack of potential sites.

And that’s why I brought up all that stuff about the uselessness of tax incentives in influencing relocation decisions. Chances are, Northrop Grumman has already decided to go to Crystal City, simply because it’s a stone’s throw away from their cash cow in the Pentagon. If they do end up coming to DC, it’s because they’d rather be closer to the White House and Congress. Location location location, baby.

Neither DC nor Virginia should get suckered into thinking it’s about anything other than that.

But just in case, definitely drop the offending Councillors a call or e-mail, especially chief sponsor Jack Evans. Let them know just how much you appreciate their pro-corporate-welfare priorities.

-Jeremy

Global warming is fake because it’s snowing

Maddow from last week:

Are these climate deniers being serious? They really think that the fact that it’s snowing right now on the east coast is evidence that global warming doesn’t exist?

There are only two possibilities on how false information is spread. One is that the person knows what he’s saying is false but says it anyway, aka lying. Two, the person really believes in what he’s saying, but is just wrong. Out of these two possibilities, I strongly doubt it’s the latter. It’s clear to me that these commentators are just lying because there’s no way they’re that dumb. I don’t believe it.

Rachel Maddow said it nicely. We would think that a specific instance of something happening doesn’t necessarily represent how things are generally in the world. We have to look at trends!!! Isn’t this obvious?

I think what these climate denier commentators are doing is wrong and should stop immediately. These commentators have huge followings; what they say makes a big difference. If their lies are successful in convincing people that climate change is fake, then they might actually end up affecting environmental policy and THAT’S BAD!

As I’ve written before, it doesn’t matter if you believe in climate change or not, our actions should be the same. Fossil fuels are dirty for more than one reason and they’re limited, so WE HAVE TO SWITCH TO RENEWABLES ANYWAY!!!

I think it’s fine if people disagree with climate change so long as they’re sincere about it and don’t affect environmental policy. These commentators are none of the above!

-Jason