Saturday, February 13, 2016

What about SF's synthetic turf?

Photo: Michael Macor

From the front page of today's SF Chronicle (US to mount multiagency study of health risks of synthetic turf):

...Citing health concerns, the Los Angeles Unified School District no longer uses crumb rubber on its turf fields, preferring alternatives like cork, while the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation also stopped using the recycled tires on new fields.

In San Francisco, a group of parents fought the Recreation and Park Department for years over installing turf fields with crumb rubber at Golden Gate Park. The fields were installed anyway, but opponents continue to push for alternatives — like used shoes or coconut fiber

Kathleen McCowin, who was arrested after staging a one-person sit-in at Golden Gate Park to stop construction of the Beach Chalet fields, said she’s not sure the federal agencies will answer the question many parents have...

Rob's comment: 
Well, what about it? Has the city's Recreation and Parks Department installed potentially toxic synthetic turf on our playing fields? 

Odd that the reporter didn't include a reassuring response from Rec and Park, which the Chronicle story seemed to require. Maybe there's no reassurance to be had. 

I can't find anything on the issue on the website, though I did find this.

Earlier posts on the issue here, here, here, and here.

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The Coastal Commission: What happens next?

Banning Ranch Conservancy

Richard Frank on Legal Planet:

...Those commissioners voting to remove Lester insist that their action was motivated by concerns over the Executive Director’s management style, rather than any pro-development sentiments on their part. Many observers–--including California newspaper editorial boards–--are not buying that explanation, and fear that Lester’s firing signals a philosophical shift making the Coastal Commission more amenable to coastal development interests.

We won’t have to wait long to get at least an inkling of the Commission’s future policy course: at its March meeting, the Commission is scheduled to consider a massive new coastal development project proposed for the Orange County coast. 

How the Commission votes on that high profile, controversial project should provide interested observers with some sense of whether Executive Director Lester’s ouster does indeed signal a more pro-development stance by the Commission... (emphasis added)

See also this, this, and this.


Friday, February 12, 2016

Kamala Harris: The next Obama?

Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP photo

Mark Pulliam on Kamala Harris in City Journal:

...What type of senator would Harris be if elected? She’s not a scrapper or a yeller like Boxer. Nor does she display the independence—let alone the occasional fit of moderation—of California’s senior senator, 82-year-old Dianne Feinstein. Impeccably dressed, usually adorned with a string of pearls, Harris cuts an attractive figure. President Obama sheepishly apologized in 2013 for calling her “by far the best-looking attorney general in the country.” 

But the Senate is full of inflated egos and preening peacocks, so Harris’s fashion sense and glamorous mien won’t suffice to distinguish her in the upper chamber.

Lacking prior legislative experience, and with a résumé short on federal issues, Harris will have to work hard and display smarts to stand out. So far she has shown little appetite or aptitude for imaginative initiatives; she prefers to take predictable (and not particularly cerebral) positions on the issues, reflexively advocating the interests of immigrants, unions, and trial lawyers. As The Economist noted, “She offers few bold or risky ideas.” The Washington press corps will be harder to impress and less forgiving of mistakes than the California reporters she has charmed up to now. While surpassing Boxer in effectiveness isn’t an especially high bar, Harris might be hard-pressed to do it.

Yet Harris is nothing if not ambitious and opportunistic. Early in her career, the 29-year-old Harris dated California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, who was 60 at the time—and married. (Brown went on to become San Francisco’s first black mayor after term limits ended his storied run as “Speaker for Life” in Sacramento.) As speaker, Brown appointed Harris—then a young deputy district attorney in Alameda County—to high-profile, lucrative positions on the state’s Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and the California Medical Assistance Commission. These cushy sinecures paid her more than $400,000 between 1994 and 1999.

After Brown and Harris split, Brown continued to support her politically, using his mayoral perch to help her become San Francisco’s first black (and first female) district attorney...

The Washington Post has called Harris “the next Barack Obama,” and the two have many things in common: they’re about the same age, were both trained as lawyers and activists, and exude a certain movie-star charisma, at least to liberal supporters... Harris lacks Obama’s rhetorical skills, however. Her prime-time speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, elicited lukewarm reviews, and she seldom strays from prepared remarks. 

Nor can Harris boast Obama’s Ivy League credentials. She earned her undergraduate degree from the historically black Howard University and graduated from the University of California’s second-tier Hastings College of Law in San Francisco.

Like Obama, though, Harris is a committed progressive. She’s a reliable supporter of liberal policies and—as Obama did when he sought the presidency—generally avoids high-profile controversies, maintaining a “centrist” public image (by California standards). For example, she has declined to take a position on Governor Jerry Brown’s much-derided Los Angeles–to–San Francisco high-speed rail project, which will cost at least $68 billion, according to recent estimates...

An earlier post on Harris.

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Yesterday's high-speed rail hearing

“They’re building a first section called the IOS[initial operating segment] South from Merced to Burbank, and they don’t have the money to build it,” Flashman said, pointing to the authority’s $31 billion estimate for that part of the system. “They’re nowhere close. How can you say it’s financially viable when you can’t even build it?…If you can’t build it, it obviously can’t operate at a profit.”

Judge Michael Kenny

Read more here:

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hillary's Iraq vote: The rest of the story

In response[to Bernie Sanders], Clinton acknowledged, as she has on previous occasions, that she’d made a mistake. But she also offered an explanation for her vote, something she has rarely done in the past. President Bush, she told the audience, had made a “very explicit appeal” that “getting this vote would be a strong piece of leverage in order to finish the inspections.” 

In other words, a resolution to use force would prod Saddam Hussein into readmitting U.N. inspectors, so they could continue their mission of verifying whether or not he had destroyed his chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons sites. In other words, Clinton was now claiming she voted the way she did in the interests of diplomacy; the problem was that Bush went back on his word—he invaded before giving the inspectors enough time.

Listening to her rationale Wednesday night, I didn’t know whether she was telling the truth. I had written many Slate columns about the Iraq debate and the ensuing war, but I couldn’t remember the details of then-Sen. Clinton’s position. Looking up those details now, I have come to a conclusion about the rationale she recited at the New Hampshire town hall: Hillary was telling the truth.

After his capture in Iraq, Saddam Hussein explained to an FBI agent why he didn't just say Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction to avoid a US invasion.

See also this, this, and this.

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NY Daily News

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Governor fails on the Coastal Commission fight

Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

Good editorial on the Coastal Commission in today's Chronicle:

A four-member faction, who all serve at the will of Gov. Jerry Brown, are behind a bid to fire [Charles]Lester on grounds of weak management and unresponsiveness. To that can be added a firm backbone when it comes to controlling building along the coast of a boom-time state. Lester’s future — and the commission’s power — are on the line.

Lester has issued a feisty 20-page memo defending his record and has pushed for a public hearing. His defenders are rallying, too, turning in over 14,000 letters of support. Ten congressional representatives and 33 former coastal commissioners are in his corner. Environmental groups are urging supporters to caravan to Morro Bay, even offering to pay $75 for gas.

The governor is holding off contacting his appointees, indicating that it’s a personnel matter for members to decide. But he should wake up to a bigger reality: California treasures its coast and wants it protected.

Jerry Brown is supposed to be a smart guy and an environmentalist, but there's evidence to the contrary. He supports the dumb high-speed rail project and joined the phony movement to "reform" CEQA after it got in the way of his development plans when he was Oakland's mayor. He's getting another black mark by not supporting Charles Lester. 

Lester's memo is mostly attachments documenting his record as Executive Director of the Coastal Commission since he was appointed in 2011, with only a few pages written in his clunky, bureaucratic prose. But the Coastal Commission was hiring an administrator, not a writer.

In an editorial last month, the Chronicle on what's at stake:

The possible dismissal comes at a heated moment. Before the commission is a plan for a 1,400-home development known as Banning Ranch. The acreage is considered one of largest remaining unbuilt spots along the Orange County coast.

Along with high-profile and well-financed projects, there’s a dose of history. In his first term, Brown signed regulations that put the public vote into practice. He was an active supporter in tune with the message of controlled development.

Now the times may have changed. He has direct control over four of the 12 voting commissioners and has ducked public comment on the agency’s future. He should stand up now and safeguard an institution he helped bring to life. Firing a director in the name of easing development shouldn’t be in California’s future.

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Monday, February 08, 2016

Rigged justice for corporate criminals

From Elizabeth Warren:

While presidential candidates from both parties feverishly pitch their legislative agendas, voters should also consider what presidents can do without Congress. Agency rules, executive actions and decisions about how vigorously to enforce certain laws will have an impact on every American without a single new bill introduced in Congress.

The Obama administration has a substantial track record on agency rules and executive actions. It has used these tools to protect retirement savings, expand overtime pay, prohibit discrimination against L.G.B.T. employees who work for the government and federal contractors, and rein in carbon pollution. These accomplishments matter.

Whether the next president will build on them, or reverse them, is a central issue in the 2016 election. But the administration’s record on enforcement falls short — and federal enforcement of laws that already exist has received far too little attention on the campaign trail.

I just released a report (Rigged Justice: 2016) examining 20 of the worst federal enforcement failures in 2015. Its conclusion: “Corporate criminals routinely escape meaningful prosecution for their misconduct.”

In a single year, in case after case, across many sectors of the economy, federal agencies caught big companies breaking the law — defrauding taxpayers, covering up deadly safety problems, even precipitating the financial collapse in 2008 — and let them off the hook with barely a slap on the wrist. Often, companies paid meager fines, which some will try to write off as a tax deduction.

The failure to adequately punish big corporations or their executives when they break the law undermines the foundations of this great country. Justice cannot mean a prison sentence for a teenager who steals a car, but nothing more than a sideways glance at a C.E.O. who quietly engineers the theft of billions of dollars...

Last year, five of the world’s biggest banks, including JPMorgan Chase, pleaded guilty to criminal charges that they rigged the price of billions of dollars worth of foreign currencies. No corporation can break the law unless people in that corporation also broke the law, but no one from any of those banks has been charged. 

While thousands of Americans were rotting in prison for nonviolent drug convictions, JPMorgan Chase was so chastened by pleading guilty to a crime that it awarded Jamie Dimon, its C.E.O., a 35 percent raise.

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Downtown Novato station for SMART?

Tim Porter

Interesting comments to the Independent Journal's editorial supporting a downtown Novato station for the SMART train system:

A comment by Ventress Dugan:

Novato was not given any time to make this decision by SMART. We have had to make this decision in a month. So..of course we have NO studies done on ridership. Novato has to pay 100% of the cost to build. Three of the city council members are climbing all over each other to have this. It's funny how the citizens have been backed into a corner to push this through. The Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Business Assoc. are encouraging the merchants and promising them new people, commuters and tourists will be shopping, eating and enjoying entertainment (in the theater that has been in the works for how many years?).

What the city is not saying is what the SMART engineer said at his presentation at the city council meeting. The engineer stated the Downtown stop would NOT be a commuter stop and in all likelihood only stop on the weekend. And maybe, in the future, weekdays in the day. BUT, if this station does not perform, SMART would close the station. These decisions would be made by SMART alone, with no input from Novato. So Novato will pay $5.5 million dollars ($2.5 if we only build half of it) for a station that NO ONE knows will be an operating station or for how long.

The city staff put a survey online for citizens to fill out. The survey stated there was a "Public Workshop." Which it never had. Also left out were ALL of the details SMART stated. No mention of it not being a commuter stop, no mention of SMART closing the station if it underperformed. In other words, a rigged survey. 

This is shameful, and business as usual for City Staff and City Council Members.

Comments by critic Richard Hall of Planning for Reality are always of interest:

CARB states that under operational conditions diesel trains like SMART emit 19,600g CO2 per mile. SMART's cap and trade grant application shows the average car in Marin and Sonoma in 2017 will emit just 330g CO2 per mile...

Of course SPUR supports the SMART system. It also supports California's high-speed rail project.

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Sunday, February 07, 2016

President Sanders?

Young Bernie Sanders

From P.J. O'Rourke in The Daily Beast:

"If Bring-Down Bernie gets elected, all of life will be like being trapped in a meeting of the Students for a Democratic Society writing the Port Huron Statement until the end of time."



Saturday, February 06, 2016

The NFL's brain damage

Robert Scheer on the death of Kenny Stabler:

...The headline on the New York Times obituary put the moral dilemma perfectly: "Ken Stabler a Magnetic N.F.L. Star, was Sapped of Spirit by a Disease of the Brain."

This disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, resulting from repeated head injuries, and established with scientific accuracy only through an autopsy, has now been documented in the case of more than 100 professional football players. A recent example was the Giant's safety Tyler Sash who died at the age of 27 in September.

Seven of those diagnosed are in the pro football Hall of Fame and hopefully Stabler will join them soon. But the NFL's very lucrative tax-exempt cartel long fought recognizing the danger, and unfortunately the settlement the NFL reluctantly agreed to after growing legal challenges did not cover Stabler in his decade of suffering. Stabler, and all those whose work generates the $9 billion-a-year profit for the NFL, deserved better.


Friday, February 05, 2016

Remembering Peak Oil

Randal O'Toole does a nostalgia post:

Remember peak oil? Remember when oil prices were $140 a barrel and Goldman Sachs predicted they would soon reach $200? Now, the latest news is that oil prices have gone up all the way to $34 a barrel. Last fall, Goldman Sachs predicted prices would fall to $20 a barrel, which other analysts argued was “no better than its prior predictions,” but in fact they came a lot closer to that than to $200.

Low oil prices generate huge economic benefits. Low prices mean increased mobility, which means increased economic productivity. The end result, says Bank of America analyst Francisco Blanch, is “one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history” as $3 trillion remain in consumers’ pockets rather than going to the oil companies. The Antiplanner wouldn’t call this a “wealth transfer” so much as a reduction in income inequality, but either way, it is a good thing...

See also this.

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Terrorist attackers in the US

From today's NY Times (ISIS in America):

...None of the[82] people accused of plotting attacks received specific direction from the Islamic State abroad, according to the evidence presented in legal documents and other public information that were analyzed by The New York Times and the Center on National Security at the Fordham University School of Law.

The Islamic State has demonstrated an ability to coordinate attacks in Europe from the Middle East. But the United States has yet to see any of those types of attacks. Instead, attacks in the United States have been “lone wolf” strikes.

“While ISIS remains a brutal and lethal force abroad, its operational reach to the United States has been negligible at best,” the center’s director, Karen J. Greenberg, said. In addition, nearly half of the arrests followed undercover investigations by the F.B.I., and most of the individuals were caught early on.

Although the domestic plots are alarming and increasing in frequency, Ms. Greenberg said that the driving force among those in the United States inspired by the Islamic State had been foreign fighting. A third of those accused were allegedly discussing or plotting an attack in the United States; the rest were allegedly trying to travel abroad to fight for the Islamic State, or trying to help others travel...

See also this.


Thursday, February 04, 2016

Islamophobia, Europe, and the future of terrorism

One of the Muslim-Americans at the mosque visited by President Obama yesterday:

The words of this pledge[of allegiance] never seem to resonate as much. Here we were waiting for the President of the United States to speak to us because the spike in anti-Muslim hate had so skyrocketed that he felt compelled to address the issue. I had to fight back tears as we got to the last line of the pledge: “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Of course only a tiny minority of Muslim Americans are terrorists or potential terrorists. Discrimination, not to mention hate crimes, against them is completely unacceptable, though it's not clear that it's a serious problem yet here in the US. 

The FBI's website on hate crimes still doesn't show a big "spike" in anti-Muslim crime, though anti-Muslim hate crimes were 16.3% of all anti-religion hate crimes in 2014, which is up from 14.2% in 2013. Maybe the 2015 numbers will show a more dramatic spike.

On the other hand, anti-Jewish hate crimes in the US outnumber anti-Muslim hate crimes by a wide margin: they were 59.2% of all religious hate crimes in 2013 and 58.2% in 2014.

Peter Bergen, also on Vox, tries to put the Islamic terrorism threat in the US in a realistic perspective. All-American jihad: Peter Bergen on the homegrown terrorism threat:

There's a sort of paradox here: Americans are more concerned about terrorism now than at any time since 9/11, yet really the actual threat is contained and managed. But as a political matter, no one's going to say that who's running for office. Even though it's true, and any sensible person knows that we've managed this problem pretty well, no politician is going to say we have this thing pretty well under control, because the political costs of something very minor happening later, which can somehow be associated with ISIS or al-Qaeda, are very large.

Two things are true: The problem is going to be persistent, yet at the same time we've managed it into a situation where it's pretty contained and low-level, and that's why the main threat is homegrown militants who are often very hard to detect.

Yes, the perpetrators of "individual jihad" are difficult---even impossible---to stop before they strike, like the Boston Marathon bombers, the Fort Hood shooter, and the San Bernardino couple. The Boston bombers got their information on how to make pressure cooker bombs from the internet. These terrorists didn't belong to an organization or a conspiracy that could be monitored. They acted as individuals:

Consequently, individual jihad is often carried out by ordinary people, and the act of terrorism has a very primitive character. The training isn’t really needed, some video uploaded to YouTube or discussions at Jihadist groups at Facebook would be enough for basic knowledge. The very sense of “lone wolf” attacks is based on passion and desire to fight the kafirs (infidels) by all possible means. The purpose of individual jihad isn't limited to any framework---any person, irrespective of skin color, religion, nationality and social status can be targeted. As for the weapon, anything can be used for the attack, from an ordinary kitchen knife or an iron rod to a gun or homemade bomb.

The chance of Americans being killed by these attacks by individuals---brothers, couples, or small groups---is very small. But the danger is that the political impact of every attack will be cumulative and that the Donald Trumps of the country will then magnify their overall significance in our 24-hour news cycle, thus making anti-Muslim hate crimes more likely. 

Besides, how do you tell a victim's family that the death of their loved one is not significant?

Europe has a much bigger jihad problem after Germany allowed in a million refugees from Muslim countries, many of whom are young men, added to Europe's already large Muslim population. For a full-blown "traitor elite" conspiracy theory on why this is happening, see Tet, Take Two: Islam’s 2016 European Offensive.

Hard to believe, like the author, that European leaders deliberately set this volatile situation in motion, but that doesn't make it any less dangerous. Here's the author's worst-case scenario:

In Mumbai in 2008, ten Pakistani Muslim terrorists armed with Kalashnikovs and grenades created utter havoc over a four day period, attacking a train station, a hospital (unsuccessfully), landmark hotels and a Jewish center, murdering 164 people and wounding over 300. Simultaneous Beslan, Mumbai and Paris terror attacks, accompanied by car bombs, will be the model for the 2016 jihad offensive in Europe...

Best case scenario, and I don’t see this as likely: the 2016 Islamic Tet attackers will be wiped out the way the Viet Cong were in 1968. But if there are enough simultaneous attacks, in total numbers involving anywhere near the 80,000 or so fighters of the Vietnamese Tet, I can’t see how the present European forces can defeat the jihadists in less than a month, if at all. 

By very simple math, that number of jihadists means ten thousand Paris-level attacks. Think about that. Ten thousand Paris level attacks! All taking place in the same month, the same week, even on the same day, right across Europe. The politically-correct and overly polite European policemen (and even their militaries, at first) won’t be up to mounting successful counterattacks and rescue operations against a score of Beslans happening in schools, hospitals and concert halls. Not while at the same time, airports, train stations, power plants and other targets are being hit by Paris-sized terror squads right across Europe...

Here in the US, on the other hand, for the foreseeable future we'll face individual jihad attacks that will cause relatively few casualties but that could have a toxic impact on our political life and our civil liberties.

Andrew Bostom on individual jihad.

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Barney Miller and the twin towers

Good to see an occasional Barney Miller re-run on cable TV to check in with Barn, Wojo, Harris, Levitt, and inspector Luger. 

But it's jarring to see in the opening seconds of the intro the twin towers still proudly standing in New York.


Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Annual pension shortfall: $15 billion

U.S. Census Bureau

...This cash flow (above) shows that during 2014, California’s state/local pension funds, combined, collected 30.1 billion from state and local agencies, and paid out $46.1 billion to pensioners. They are paying out 50% more than they’re taking in, and this is a relatively recent phenomenon. Historically, pension funds have been net buyers in the market. Now, pension funds across the U.S., along with retiring baby boomers, are sellers in the market. This is one reason it is difficult to be optimistic about securing a 7.5% average annual return in the future, despite historical results. And as for that healthy 15.4% return on investments in 2014? That was offset in 2015 when the markets were flat. It is also noteworthy that employee contributions of $8.9 billion are greatly exceeded by the $21.2 billion in employer (taxpayer) contributions. How many 401K recipients get a 2.5 to 1.0 matching from their employer?...(emphasis added)

San Francisco's "skyrocketing pension costs" (SF Chronicle).

Rembrandt's selfies

Self-portrait as a young man...

...and as an old man

Unlike some of our contemporaries, he didn't have to risk his life making his self-portraits: The Tragic Data Behind Selfie Fatalities


Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Smearing Hillary

...Even among progressives, the two-decade-plus smear campaign against the Clintons has had its effect. I keep being told about terrible things the Clintons did that never actually happened, but were carefully fomented right-wing legends---except I’m hearing them from people on the left. The sense that where there’s smoke there must be fire---when the reality was nothing but Richard Mellon Scaife with a smoke machine---is very much out there, still.

Unfortunately, that underlying Foxification of perceptions marries all too well with the tendency of some---only some---Sanders supporters to assume that any skepticism about their hero’s proposals or prospects must reflect personal corruption. Something like that was probably inevitable in a campaign whose premise is that everything is rigged by the oligarchy, but it interacts with the vague perception, the product of all those years of right-wing smearing, that there’s a lot of Clinton dirt.

Even among those who don’t believe in the phony scandals, there is, as there was in 2008, a desire for someone new, who they imagine won’t bring out all that ugliness. But of course they’re wrong: if Sanders is the nominee, it will take around 30 seconds before Fox News is nonstop coverage of the terrible things he supposedly did when younger. 

Don’t say there’s nothing there: a propaganda machine that could turn John Kerry into a coward can turn a nice guy from Brooklyn into a monstrously flawed specimen of humanity in no time at all...

See also this.

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Monday, February 01, 2016

Streetsblog strikes back at L.A. Times story

Streetsblog is playing defense against that LA Times story about the decline in that city's transit ridership after investing $9 billion in its rail system. 

A number of the comments to the Streetsblog LA story support the notion that investing in rail is a false path for LA, while the Streetsblog SF story takes on anti-rail Randal O'Toole, chiding him for cherry-picking ridership numbers and short-term thinking. 

O'Toole can defend himself, but he might say that investing in buses is a much better deal for cities than train systems, which are more expensive to build and to operate over the long term. 

Buses, on the other hand, are cheaper to buy and maintain, and bus systems are more flexible, since cities can change bus lines or just run more buses depending on how best to serve their citizens. See O'Toole's If We Spend Less, We Can Have More.

That has always been the best argument against San Francisco's Central Subway project, that the $124 million in city money invested in the project would have been better spent on our existing Muni system.

Quentin Kopp on the Central Subway project.

See also Thomas Matoff's 2006 critique of the Central Subway's design.

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See also this and this.


Flint: A reminder for California

Caitrin Chappelle, Ellen Hanak

The ongoing public health crisis in Flint, Michigan is a reminder that exposure to dangerous contaminants in drinking water is still a challenge in the US, more than 40 years after the enactment of the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act. Flint began drawing water from a new source, the Flint River, in early 2014. It corroded pipes and carried harmful lead to residents’ taps. Although California does not face this specific problem, we are still failing to provide safe drinking water to some of the state’s most vulnerable residents...

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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Religion and human prehistory

Christopher Hitchens

One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody---not even the mighty Democritus who concluded that all matter was made from atoms---had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as for comfort, reassurance, and other infantile needs). 

Today the least educated of my children knows much more about the natural order than any of the founders of religion, and one would like to think---though the connection is not a fully demonstrable one---that this is why they seem so uninterested in sending fellow humans to hell (Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything).

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Bernie Sanders demagogues the email issue

Sorry to see alleged straight-shooter Bernie Sanders flab-gabbing about Hillary's email:

"That is, I think, a very serious issue. There is a legal process taking place, I do not want to politicize that issue. It is not my style." He called the controversy "a serious issue" on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday as well, although again he said he wouldn't make personal attacks on Clinton. "I am not going to attack Hillary Clinton," Sanders told NBC's Chuck Todd. "The American people will have to make that judgment."

Bullshit. Calling her emails "a very serious issue" is in fact a personal and political attack on Clinton.

As a story on Vox points out, this is probably about overclassification, not a security breach by Clinton:

The problem, in other words, isn't that the rules for classification are too strict. It's that the rules are unclear, messy, or contradictory, to the degree that the rules exist at all, and individual people and agencies have learned to overclassify to stay on the safe side.

The problem has grown so severe that it has hampered even the ability of American intelligence officials and policymakers to access the information they need to do their jobs. The head of the 9/11 Commission, Richard Ben-Veniste, told Congress in 2005 that "the failure to share information was the single most important reason why the United States government failed to detect and disrupt the 9/11 plot." 

He warned, "Information has to flow more freely. Much more information needs to be declassified. A great deal of information should never be classified at all." (emphasis added)

See Paul Krugman's experience with the government's classification system.

See also Michael Tomasky's Bernie Sanders Isn’t Electable, and Here’s Why


Diablo Canyon: Poor design, poor location

by Steven Weissman:

The role that nuclear power could or should play in helping to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions is worthy of serious debate, but the latest nuclear-related front-page story in the San Francisco Chronicle is a head-scratcher. Above the fold, the headline reads “Nuclear plant’s surprise backers,” followed by the following subheading: “Environmentalists push for Diablo Canyon to stay open.” The accompanying article reports on a letter sent by a new coalition identifying itself as “Save Diablo Canyon,” calling on regulators to relicense the plant. 

The stated concern is that a closed nuclear plant would make it harder to meet the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. Constructed on a cliff along the central California coast, Diablo is the last remaining commercial reactor in the state and it soon must either receive a new license or cease operation.

The mystery about the article is that it only mentions three of those who signed the letter, and each of those three has been on the public record for years as favoring nuclear power. So where is the surprise? Where is the news item?...

If we were to build a nuclear plant in California today, it wouldn’t be at Diablo Canyon. And if we were going to select the best nuclear plant to continue operating for an additional thirty years, it wouldn’t be this one. 

Diablo is perched on a relatively shallow cliff amidst a series of seismic fault lines. It is near a popular small city. It has no doubt led to the destruction of millions of sea creatures due to its massive cold water intake system and hot water reinjection. It was designed incorrectly at first, then retrofitted with beams and shock absorbers that make it a challenge to walk from one end of the facility to another, then discovered to have been erroneously redesigned so it had to be retrofit again. 

There have been reported incidents of faulty operation, such as the failure to notice that a pipe feeding a critical backup cooling system had been stuck in the closed position for over a year. 

In the wake of the earthquake and tsunami-induced Fukushima disaster, important questions were raised about the wisdom of continuing to operate a facility of this type in a coastal, earthquake-prone area. But there it stands, and if the state were to pursue a replacement nuclear plant, it would likely take a decade to get there.

See also this.

Later: The case for keeping Diablo open from Mother Jones: Closing This Nuclear Plant Could Cause an Environmental Disaster

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Feminists, Islamists, and Richard Dawkins

From Patheos:

Last week, the Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism (NECSS) opened up registration for its annual conference, which draws hundreds of people annually. Richard Dawkins was one of the keynote speakersThe video in question caricatured a feminist (one who actually exists, though I doubt Dawkins knew that) and was titled “Feminists Love Islamists.” 

When Dawkins learned that the woman in question was being harassed online, he deleted his tweet and later told his followers to stop bothering her...

That’s all well and good, but the bigger concern for NECSS organizers was that Dawkins found the video worthy of being tweeted in the first place. That’s why they removed him from their roster.

Now, in his first public comments about the withdrawn speaking invitation, Dawkins told me he wishes NECSS organizers had simply spoken to him first...

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Another cops-beating-black-man video

It's simply astonishing that 25 years after Rodney King cops are still doing this. Why? Because they can get away with it. The story here.

Thanks to Alternet.


Friday, January 29, 2016

How angry are Americans?

Kevin Drum

From Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:

It seems as though I've heard about the seething anger of the electorate before nearly every election in my life. Joe Klein takes a drive through the heartland every few years and reports back about this. But all sorts of polling evidence suggests that Americans aren't really all that unhappy in general and not really all that angry about the government. No more than usual, anyway. Now, maybe this year really is different. Maybe voters are more responsive to angry appeals even if they aren't especially angry in general...