Environment

Bill Daley Preparing to Ruin Another Democrat’s Election Chances

The environmental community is beginning to worry that the Obama Administration is preparing to cave on greenhouse gas emissions, just like it did on ozone emissions.

Hard on the heels of the Obama administration’s decision earlier this month to scrap a new rule for ozone emissions, U.S. EPA appears poised to miss another major regulatory deadline — this time for greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmentalists are reserving judgment about the fact the agency has yet to send its proposed rule for greenhouse gas emissions from utilities to the White House Office of Management and Budget for vetting, a necessary final step before the rule can be released in compliance with the court-ordered deadline of Sept. 30.

But conservationists warn that if the administration delays another important rule for apparently political reasons, it will face stiff opposition from its sometime-allies in the green community.

“It’s starting to look as if EPA might blow another deadline,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. “That would be very disturbing.”

That’s particularly troubling given what we’ve learned about the ozone cave. We know the Business Roundtable wrote Bill Daley personally with their exaggerated claims about the ozone rules. And when environmental groups responded by emphasizing how popular clean air is, Daley ignored them–only to respond when those same business groups implied ozone regulations would be unpopular in swing states. (h/t David Roberts)

On Aug. 16, Mr. Daley met with environmental, public-health and other groups to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency rule that would tighten air-quality standards. At one point he lamented that the issue couldn’t be worked out by consensus with industry, as the White House did with the auto industry on fuel-economy rules.

When the American Lung Association mentioned a poll showing public support for EPA standards, Mr. Daley appeared uninterested, according to one person in the room. “He literally cut the person off and said ‘I don’t give a [expletive] about the poll’,” this person said. A senior White House official said Mr. Daley wanted to hear arguments about the substance of the regulation and its impact, not political arguments, and he was uninterested in all polls on this topic.

The same day, Mr. Daley met with industry groups, who gave the White House a map showing counties that would be out of compliance with the Clean Air Act if the stricter standards were put in place. The map showed that the rule would affect areas in the politically important 2012 election states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio.

And now the Business Roundtable speaks openly about maintaining that kind of influence over these decisions.

“We saw that as a positive — his level of interest, him sitting in on these meetings, him weighing in on this issue within the administration,” Johanna Schneider, executive director of external relations for the Business Roundtable, told The Hill. “I think it’s emblematic of his role in the administration as part of the outreach to the business community.”

[snip]

“It moved the issue up to the top of the agenda for the president. That is what happens when you have a White House chief of staff getting involved,” Schneider said. “You have one of the two or three people in government who can control the agenda.”

American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard said he’s hopeful the ozone decision foreshadows increased White House involvement in rulemakings.

“We are hopeful that all decisions will be scrutinized as closely as the ozone decision, because a lot of regulatory overreach is what creates the uncertainty that keeps the investment money on the sidelines,” Gerard said in an interview.

Now maybe it’s true that insisting that businesses not poison our children would be political unpopular in key swing states–or maybe not.

The point is, these decisions are being made for political reasons. And the person making those decisions appears to be Bill Daley (helped by Cass Sunstein).

You know. Bill Daley? The guy who couldn’t get Al Gore elected at a time of historical prosperity (even if it was a bubble)? The guy who pushed decisions like separation from a popular president and caving on the FL recount that led directly to Gore being unsuccessful at pressing his victory?

Maybe the White House is right to make bad environmental decisions for pragmatic political reasons (though I doubt it). But Bill Daley is probably not the guy you want making that call, because he has a pretty remarkable history of poor political judgment.

True “Resilience” Would Help Prevent the Next 3,420 Climate-Related Deaths, Too

This article–showing how many stupid projects have been funded in the name of homeland security in the last decade–has been making the rounds. Everyone has been pointing to its details on how few people have died in terrorist attacks.

“The number of people worldwide who are killed by Muslim-type terrorists, Al Qaeda wannabes, is maybe a few hundred outside of war zones. It’s basically the same number of people who die drowning in the bathtub each year,” said John Mueller, an Ohio State University professor who has written extensively about the balance between threat and expenditures in fighting terrorism.

“So if your chance of being killed by a terrorist in the United States is 1 in 3.5 million, the question is, how much do you want to spend to get that down to 1 in 4.5 million?” he said.

[snip]

Only 14 Americans have died in about three dozen instances of Islamic extremist terrorist plots targeted at the U.S. outside war zones since 2001 — most of them involving one or two home-grown plotters.

Returning to the National Climatic Data Center data I was looking at the other day, 3,420 people have died since 9/11 in big weather disasters:

2002: 28
2003:131
2004: 168
2005: 2,002
2006: 95
2007: 22
2008: 296
2009: 26
2010: 46
2011 634 (counting 40 thus far in Irene)
Total: 3,420

Now I raise this not just to make the obvious point that we would be better off dumping some of this money into dealing with climate change, but also to make a point about the theme Obama is pushing for this year’s commemoration of 9/11: resilience.

The White House has issued detailed guidelines to government officials on how to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, with instructions to honor the memory of those who died on American soil but also to recall that Al Qaeda and other extremist groups have since carried out attacks elsewhere in the world, from Mumbai to Manila.

The White House in recent days has quietly disseminated two sets of documents. One is framed for overseas allies and their citizens and was sent to American embassies and consulates around the globe. The other includes themes for Americans here and underscores the importance of national service and what the government has done to prevent another major attack in the United States.

[snip]

One significant new theme is in both sets of documents: Government officials are to warn that Americans must be prepared for another attack — and must, in response, be resilient in recovering from the loss.

“Resilience takes many forms, including the dedication and courage to move forward,” according to the guidelines for foreign audiences. “While we must never forget those who we lost, we must do more than simply remember them —we must sustain our resilience and remain united to prevent new attacks and new victims.”

Continue reading

Paying for Climate Change by Gutting Programs to Deal with It

Brian Beutler has a post predicting that Eric Cantor will do the same thing with Irene disaster aid he did with hypothetical aid to his own constituents after the earthquake: demand budget cuts to pay for any aid.

Now, in the wake of Hurricane Irene — a much costlier natural disaster — Cantor may make the same demand, which could touch off a bitter fight on Capitol Hill.

“We aren’t going to speculate on damage before it happens, period,” his staff told me Thursday when I asked about the impending storm. “But, as you know, Eric has consistently said that additional funds for federal disaster relief ought to be offset with spending cuts.”

This is a big problem. The budget is already stretched very thin, and even Cantor has asked his members not to provoke another fight about cutting spending beyond its already agreed-upon levels. And if clean-up costs reach into the billions, paying for it by cutting spending will damage other important services, despite the fact that the usual standard is to not use natural disasters as political bargaining chips.

Three things are going on here by my count. First, Republicans have learned an obvious lesson since they retook the House — that they can control the agenda in Washington, and put popular government programs under attack, if and only if they have some leverage over Democrats to play along. The government shutdown fight in April was their first victory. The debt limit showdown was their piece de resistance.

Second, there are political pitfalls to this approach, particularly when it requires Republicans to publicly stake out specific positions. Cutting government spending might focus group well, but privatizing Medicare does not, as Republicans learned quite painfully earlier this year. This augurs for slashing spending in nebulous ways — capping discretionary spending, and spreading the cuts out across myriad federal programs; or promising to “find monies” in the budget to offset new expenses. Death by a thousand, invisible cuts.

Third, the right flank of the Republican party expects no less. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina devastated southern Louisiana, Cantor’s predecessor, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) claimed Republicans had pared discretionary spending back enough that federal aid could be financed with new debt. He came under attack from members of his own party and quickly reversed himself. Looks like Cantor learned his lesson.

At issue is, in part, the number of disasters FEMA has had to respond to, which has sapped its disaster release funds.

The size of Irene matters because the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund has dipped below a key threshold.

It is now at $792 million, congressional sources said Friday. Normally when the fund dips below $1 billion, FEMA announces it can only meet the most immediate needs such as clearing debris.

On Saturday FEMA announced that because the fund had reached $792 million, it had in fact reached immediate needs status.

The announcement prompted House GOP appropriators to blast the administration for allowing the FEMA funding standoff to continue to this point.

[snip]

Before Hurricane Irene and the Virginia earthquake, 2011 saw historic Mississippi river valley flooding, North Dakota flooding, and massive tornados in the Midwest and South.

The agency told Congress this summer it could need up to $4 billion more in funding for a total of $6.8 billion in 2012.

What all remains unsaid in this is that climate change is likely contributing to the increased disaster expenses this year. NOAA has a catalog of the nine “weather disasters” that caused more than $1 billion in damages this year (this would not include the earthquake in any case, and only goes through August 15). In total, these events have done more than $35 billion in damage, which is a record (again, that’s before Irene’s damages), and killed at least 594 people. Here’s the damage done:

  1. Groundhog Day blizzard, January 29- February 3: $1.1 billion in insured losses, over $2 billion total. 36 deaths
  2. Midwest/Southeast tornadoes, April 4-5: $1.6 billion in insured losses, over $2.3 billion total, 9 deaths
  3. Southeast/Midwest tornadoes, April 8-11, 2011: $1.5 billion in insured losses, over $2.2 billion total, zero deaths
  4. Midwest/Southeast tornadoes, April 14-16: $1.4 billion in insured losses, over $2 billion total, 38 deaths
  5. Southeast/Ohio Valley/Midwest tornadoes, April 25-30: $6.6 billion in insured losses, over $9.0 billion total, 327 deaths
  6. Midwest/Southeast tornadoes, May 22-27: $4.9 in insured losses, over $7.0 billion total, 177 deaths
  7. Southern Plains/Southwest drought, heatwave, and wildfires, spring-summer: direct losses of over $5 billion
  8. Mississippi River flooding, spring-summer: ongoing losses estimated at $2.0-$4.0 billion, 2 deaths
  9. Upper Midwest flooding, summer: ongoing losses over $2.0 billion, at least 5 deaths

Add to that the $2.6 billion in estimated insured losses with Irene (though as much as a billion of that is in the Caribbean) and at least 25 deaths in the US, and those billions and those deaths begin to add up.

Yet in response, the Republicans have been targeting programs–like clean energy vehicles–as their “offsets” to disaster funding.

At some point, we’re going to need to address this as “climate change” rather than just “serial Mother Nature” requiring budget offsets.

Perhaps the way to force that issue is to point out who is suffering because of this. The biggest number of deaths came in Alabama and Missouri, not the elite East Coast. The big damages came in states like Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Alabama, Tennesee, the Dakotas.

Climate change exacerbated weather events are devastating red states as much as the blue states Irene just hit. It is time to stop treating them as discrete events, paid for by cutting some of the same core government functions helping to deal with climate change generally. If Republicans are going to make this a fight, it’s time to finally start pointing to how climate change denialism is killing the constituents of those denialists.

CantorQuake: Trembling at the Heart of GOP Claims We Don’t Need Government

Back in March, after the Japanese earthquake, Eric Cantor defended Republican plans to cut funding from the USGS and warning systems to help in case of a disaster.

This is the epicenter of the freak 5.9 Richter earthquake that just hit Virginia.

Here’s the location of the Anna 1 and 2 nuclear power plants, which lost power and are now operating on diesel backup generators. Power has now been restored.

And here’s a partial map of Eric Cantor’s district. (h/t lpsrocks)

Update: Maps and Anna plant news updated. Text removed.

Update: The NRC apparently ranks this nuclear power plant as the 7th most likely to be hit by an earthquake.

The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ranked the earthquake damage risk at all 104 nuclear power plants in this country. The pair operated by Dominion Power, at Lake Anna in eastern Louisa County, come in at 7th most ‘at risk’ on the list.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, North Anna 1 and 2 face an annual 1 in 22,727 chance of the core being damaged by an earthquake and exposing the public to radiation.

Update: Apparently, budget cuts in the 1990s led to the removal of seismic equipment at the North Anna plant. (h/t Kirk)

The Virginia Tech Seismological Observatory (VTSO) is one of the primary sources for data on seismic activity in the central East Coast.  In 1963, as part of the worldwide program, seismographs were installed at Blacksburg, and in 1977 several more seismographs were stationed in the Commonwealth and operated by the Virginia Division of Geology and Mineral Resources.  Some of these instruments were stationed around the North Anna Nuclear Power plant, but in the 1990’s, due to budget cuts, most of the North Anna sensors were taken off line.  Along with other southeastern regional seismic networks and the U.S. National Seismic Network, VTSO contributes to seismic hazard assessment in the southeastern United States and compiles a Southeastern U.S. Earthquake Catalog.

Cantor was in VA’s House of Delegates from 1992 to 2001, so there’s a decent chance he had a part in those budget cuts.

Update: Bob Alvarez at POGO provides some detail on the North Anna plant.

According to a representative of Dominion Power, the two reactors were designed to withstand a  5.9-6.1 quake.

[snip]

The North Anna reactors are of the Westinghouse Pressurized Water design and went on line in 1979 and 1980 respectively. Since then the reactors have generated approximately 1,200 metric tons of nuclear spent fuel containing about 228,000 curies of highly radioactive materials—among the largest concentrations of radioactivity in the United States.

Nearly 40 percent of the radioactivity in the North Anna spent fuel pools is cesium-137—a long-lived radioisotope that gives off potentially dangerous penetrating radiation and also accumulates in food over a period of centuries. The North Anna Pools hold about 15-30 times more Cs-137 than was released by the Chernobyl accident in 1986. In 2003, IPS helped lead a study warning that drainage of a pool might cause a catastrophic radiation fire, which could render an area uninhabitable greater than that created by the Chernobyl accident.

The spent fuel pools at North Anna contain 4-5 times more than their original designs intended. As in Japan, all U.S. power nuclear power plant spent fuel pools do not have steel lined, concrete barriers that cover reactor vessels to prevent the escape of radioactivity.

Jeff Immelt Claims Government Can’t Make Him Invest–Ignoring It Already Did

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Jeff “China China China” Immelt spoke at Dartmouth yesterday, ostensibly about energy. But as it happens, he had the opportunity (in question period) to pressure SuperCongress to “reform” taxes rather than raise them on people like Immelt (while later saying he didn’t think SuperCongress should also look at job creation). He claimed GE would embrace the elimination of loopholes, so long as the corporate tax rate was also lowered.

The largest U.S. conglomerate would accept the elimination of loopholes “in a heartbeat” if it was coupled with a lowering of the statutory 35 percent rate, Jeff Immelt told a group of students on Thursday.

Right. We’re to take Immelt’s word that GE will stop taking advantage of any means to evade taxes based on its own history of evading taxes.

Which, in combination with Immelt’s comments about investing are all the more interesting. Here’s how Reuters described it.

Immelt, who leads a panel advising the Obama administration on job creation, said he puts little stock in talk that the government could do more to encourage companies to invest and lower the nation’s persistently high unemployment rate.

“A lot has been said that business isn’t investing because of uncertainty. I think that’s rubbish,” the 55-year-old CEO said. “The government couldn’t do anything to make me invest and believe me the rest of the world isn’t that stable either. We’ve made our own choices that we’re going to keep investing regardless of what happens in Washington.”

But in an uncharacteristically animated moment, he blasted critics who contend that companies like GE that do much of their sales outside the United States are hurting the economy. He noted that GE sells 90 percent of its jet engines abroad but manufacturers all of them in U.S. factories.

“That’s not taking jobs out of the United States, that’s what we have to do,” Immelt said. “We’ve gotten this psychotic thing that anybody that does business outside the United States is a heathen, anti-American … I don’t understand why we’re rooting against companies that are out there competing because we’re creating good jobs here.” [my emphasis]

Now there’s actually more than this going on. First, in response to a question (around 42:10) about allegations that GE doesn’t pay taxes, Immelt shifted the answer to claim, incorrectly, that people were beating up on GE for exporting, rather than beating up on GE for not paying taxes. So rather than talking about tax evasion, he instead talked about how many jet engines GE exports from the US. And when, later (around 52:00), he was asked whether all the energy products GE sells in India and China were made in the US, he again focused on jet engines (energy products?) and gas turbines.

In other words, he avoided talking about taxes by pretending all GE does does export large manufactured goods. (More interesting, too, though probably worth another post, is his exhortation–around 50:00–that you shouldn’t watch TV or read the news, said in the context of the crash, “everybody had to wake up and realize you gotta change,” without admitting that GE’s financial games were a huge part of the crash.)

And yes, Immelt says that the government can’t do anything to make GE invest–though in context it appeared to say the government can’t make GE invest here (as opposed to other countries–he noted that investments in energy are primarily happening in Europe and China).

I find that claim, in particular, interesting given how GE is claiming credit for creating a greater proportion of jobs in the US. But the big headline item–a tech center in the Detroit area–happened precisely because of government intervention.

Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt has said GE will add more than 15,000 jobs in the three years through December. About 1,100 will be just outside Detroit in a center for information technology, a field emblematic of outsourcing. So far, GE has hired about 660 people in Michigan, a state that led the nation in jobless rates, making it a symbol of U.S. industrial decline.
[snip]
GE took advantage of incentives such as Michigan’s tax benefits and skilled workforce. Immelt said in announcing the Michigan site in 2009 that GE would invest $100 million, while state officials offered more than $60 million over 12 years in incentives.

“The change in approach is critical, and it comes right from the top,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California at Berkeley. “He’s addressed it both from the context of GE and in the importance of the U.S. having a vibrant, high-tech manufacturing base.”

So I guess the government can do something to make Jeff Immelt’s company invest in the US. But for some reason he didn’t want to talk about it.

In a recent op-ed, Alliance for American Manufacturing head Scott Paul offered a number of suggestions to rebuild manufacturing in the US. Among other worthy suggestions, he suggested what might be called the “Immelt Rule”–banishing CEOs from federal advisory boards (like Obama’s job’s council) if they’re outsourcing faster than they’re creating jobs here in the US.

Kick any CEO off of federal advisory boards or jobs councils who has: (1) not created net new American jobs over the past five years, or (2) is expanding the company’s foreign workforce at a faster rate than its domestic workforce. Replace them with CEOs who are committed to investing in America. Shame is a good motivator.

I guess Immelt would rather just talk about exporting jet engines and be done with it.

The New Ag Bubble and Climate Change

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago is worried enough about rising farm land values in the MidWest it is holding a conference to discuss it. Here in the MidWest, prices have gone up 17% in the last year.

And Bloomberg has a piece describing bankster types scouring farmland the world over for farms.

“I have frequently told people that one of the best investments in the world will be farmland,” says Jim Rogers, 68, chairman of Singapore-based Rogers Holdings, who predicted the start of the global commodities rally in 1996. “You’ve got to buy in a place where it rains, and you have to have a farmer who knows what he’s doing. If you can do that, you will make a double whammy because the crops are becoming more valuable.”

The growth in demand for food, spurred by the rising middle classes in China, India and other emerging markets, shows no signs of abating. Food prices in June, as measured by a United Nations index of 55 food commodities, were just slightly below their peak in February. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said in a June report that it expects food costs to remain high through 2012.

So many investors have rushed to capitalize on food prices in the past three years that they may be creating a farmland bubble. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, which covers Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and other agricultural states, said in May that farmland prices had surged 20 percent in the first quarter compared with a year earlier.

“Yes, farmland will be a bubble again; all agricultural products will be in a bubble again,” says Rogers, who is an investor in Agrifirma Brazil Ltd., a South American farmland owner.

Now, I’m interested (and concerned) about the way this will lead to problematic relations between investors and the farmers actually doing the work (“Feudalism returns,” Muniland’s Cate Long says).

But I’m even more rather amazed that the discussion of this doesn’t mention climate change.

Sure, the increase in prices is, in the short term, driven by demand in places like China.

The hedge fund Diggle co-founded, Artradis Fund Management Pte in Singapore, suffered about $700 million in losses. He closed it in March and opened another Singapore-based hedge fund, Vulpes Investment Management Pte. Diggle plans to incorporate his five farms into an investment management group run by Vulpes.

From his vantage point in Asia, where the British expatriate has worked for the past two decades, Diggle says he’s witnessed aspiring locals eating their way up the food chain.

“You can see what a more prosperous China will consume,” Diggle, 47, says. “It means more dairy, more meat — not just pork and chicken.”

But this year’s near-record food prices are tied, too, to weird weather and other disasters: fires in Russia and floods in Australia. Whether or not those disasters were tied to climate change, climate change already has changed productivity.

Sure, the horizon of investment here may be shorter than that which will see areas of the MidWest take on an increasing role in feeding the rest of the country as other parts because less farmable. But that horizon is not that far out.

This farm buying craze may well be a bubble. Or it may be the leading edge of financial changes tied to climate change.

“Sustainable Growth” Wasn’t

There’s something that bugged me about this article (indeed, bugs me about most economic analyses of our current crash). Amidst a discussion that fairly lays out some of the problems with the global economy (all the while ignoring that one critical issue in the US is a gutting of manufacture and unions and therefore increasing inequality), it talks about how to rebalance the global economy so as to return to “sustainable growth.”

What it failed to create, however, was the kind of virtuous cycle of growing sales, growing profits and growing employment, all feeding off of one another, to keep the economy growing even as the stimulus wears off — “escape velocity,” to borrow a term from aerodynamics.

[snip]

The truth is we’re in something of a trap. Until imbalances are corrected, the U.S. and global economies are unlikely to return to robust and sustainable growth. And yet to the extent that we address these imbalances, the correction process will inevitably be a short-term drag on an already weak economy.

I mean, aside from Pearlstein’s blind reverence for the market, he’s right about the notion of balance. It is true, for example, that the newly rebalanced globe, America will play a smaller role as the consumer of last resort.

But it’d be nice if, at the same time as analysts think about rebalancing the global economy, they’d consider what their idea of “sustainable growth” meant in the past–and what it would mean in the future if it continued unchecked. After all, the sustainable-growth-that-turned-out-to-be-unsustainable of the last 60 years of a globalized economy caused climate change which will be an increasing drain on even a growing economy as disasters become worse and more frequent.

The spending on unnecessary consumer goods, the transportation miles driven, the dietary patterns, the waste. Those things caused climate change. Those are the things economists would like to return to, if slightly adjusted around the globe.

Since we’re going to be spending the next couple of years trying to find “sustainable growth,” do you think we could also keep in mind what would be truly sustainable for the globe?

Tornadoes, Austerity, and Food Stamps

In one of my posts on drones, I noted that we have had more deaths this year in AL (238) and MO (159) because of extreme tornadoes the severity of which is probably at least due partly to climate change than we have from terrorism.

But there’s something else that seems to have happened.

Meteor Blades has a post cataloging how many more people are relying on food stamps this month–45.8 million, or close to 15% of the country. He links to the state-level data, which reveals  a huge spike in AL’s use of food stamps. In April 2011, 868,813 Alambamans used food stamps–a worse than average but not abysmal 18% of its population. In May, that number spiked to 1,762,481, over 37% of the population, almost 900,000 new people getting food stamps.

Incidentally, the only people from AL’s congressional delegation to vote no on the debt ceiling vote this week–Martha Robey, Mo Brooks, Richard Shelby, and Jeff Sessions–did so from the right.

Assuming these numbers are right (the numbers reported for new applicants–100,000 from hard-hit Jefferson County–seem to support them), there’s still a good reason why so many Alabamans are relying on federal aid to feed themselves: the devastating tornadoes in April. In response, the state rolled out special sign-up processes, turning around applications in three days time. Though, at least from some quarters, there was skepticism about whether people were applying because of the tornado, or more generalized need.

At the very least, the reliance of over a third of Alabamans on food stamps, half of them in response to the tornadoes, suggests one more cost from this crazy weather.

But it will be interesting to see what happens to these numbers in subsequent months. Will these numbers return to “normal,” reflecting an appropriate and short term response to a disaster (even if it is one Alabama’s legislators all refuse to pay for)? Or are we seeing a poor state come to rely on the government for bare necessities once it becomes easy to apply?

DOJ’s Twisted Notion of Rule of Law Is Poisoning Our Country

Yesterday, Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to 2 years and a $10,000 fine for his successful efforts to expose an improper BLM drilling auction.

At his hearing, DeChristopher rebutted the prosecution’s claim that he needed to face a tough sentence to uphold rule of law.

Mr. Huber also makes grand assumptions about my level of respect for the rule of law. The government claims a long prison sentence is necessary to counteract the political statements I’ve made and promote a respect for the law.

[snip]

This is really the heart of what this case is about. The rule of law is dependent upon a government that is willing to abide by the law. Disrespect for the rule of law begins when the government believes itself and its corporate sponsors to be above the law.

Mr. Huber claims that the seriousness of my offense was that I “obstructed lawful government proceedings.” But the auction in question was not a lawful proceeding. I know you’ve heard another case about some of the irregularities for which the auction was overturned. But that case did not involve the BLM’s blatant violation of Secretarial Order 3226, which was a law that went into effect in 2001 and required the BLM to weigh the impacts on climate change for all its major decisions, particularly resource development. A federal judge in Montana ruled last year that the BLM was in constant violation of this law throughout the Bush administration. In all the proceedings and debates about this auction, no apologist for the government or the BLM has ever even tried to claim that the BLM followed this law. In both the December 2008 auction and the creation of the Resource Management Plan on which this auction was based, the BLM did not even attempt to follow this law.

[snip]

I’m not saying any of this to ask you for mercy, but to ask you to join me. If you side with Mr. Huber and believe that your role is to discourage citizens from holding their government accountable, then you should follow his recommendations and lock me away. I certainly don’t want that. I have no desire to go to prison, and any assertion that I want to be even a temporary martyr is false. I want you to join me in standing up for the right and responsibility of citizens to challenge their government. I want you to join me in valuing this country’s rich history of nonviolent civil disobedience.

And in response, of course, the judge did lock DeChristopher away. It’s a farce given the facts of the case, but consider how it looks when, as DeChristopher invites, you consider DOJ’s other efforts to “uphold rule of law.”

Compare the damage–if any–DeChristopher’s actions did to that which BP has done. As bmaz noted in April, a year after the Macondo explosion, no one has yet been held accountable for 11 deaths, to say nothing of the physical damage to the Gulf. And as Jason Leopold recently reported, our unwillingness to heed whistleblowers has led to more damage from BP. Part of the problem, of course, is the difficulty finding a judge without a financial interest in BP.

Or compare DeChristopher’s punishment with that of Massey energy. DOJ has records that Massey faked safety records for the Big Branch mine, yet over a year after 29 people were killed, no one has been held responsible. Don Blankenship not only got to retire with $12 million, he continues to get paid by the company as a “consultant.”

Or compare DeChristopher’s punishment with that of Angelo Mozilo or Lloyd Blankfein. Between them, they had a huge role in causing Americans trillions of dollars in preventable losses. After fining Mozilo $67 million he won’t pay personally, DOJ judged that Mozilo’s actions did not constitute criminal wrongdoing, so he remains free to enjoy his corruptly gained riches. And in spite of the apparent fact that Blankfein lied to Congress last year about the ways Goldman crashed the economy, DOJ has only now begun to make motions of investigating his lies.

And consider the others who tried to expose government wrong-doing. The government spent three years trying to prosecute Thomas Drake for whistleblowing–apparently because they suspected he leaked details of the illegal wiretap program. And it is currently pursuing a strategy that may land James Risen in prison–Risen says, in retaliation for his reporting on the illegal wiretap program. Yet DOJ went to great lengths to avoid holding anyone responsible for actually doing the illegal wiretapping.

We’re about to try Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri for his alleged role in the USS Cole bombing, which is fine. But the government not only hasn’t punished his torturers, but it hasn’t punished those who destroyed exonerating evidence of his torture.

DOJ has apparently given up any pretense of supporting the rule of law. The law is a tool used to punish political protest and exposure of wrong-doing. And it is a tool to protect the corporations whose crimes do far more damage to this country.

John Robb recently predicted that after a Soviet-style collapse, our legal system will collapse.

What happens to the legal system when the US suffers a Soviet style collapse?  Answer:  It will rapidly decay.

Here’s a simple formula for this (it works for both legal systems and government bureaucracies):

Low legitimacy + slashed operating budgets = rampant corruption

Regardless of any decay in the legal system, business will still be conducted.  Small disputes will be resolved through the existing system, with graft tipping the scales or speeding the outcome.  Large disputes involving substantial wealth transfer will be something else entirely.  These disputes will be resolved through the ability of one party or the other to apply the threat of (or actual) violence to the negotiation process.

These pressures won’t only be the result of counterparties that have access or control the large mafias/gangs/militias (or corporate militaries) that will spring up during economic collapse (far larger than we’ve seen the US to date).  Threats will also be mounted by government/defense/security officials that use their government sanctioned command of violence (police, SWAT, military units, etc.) as a means to personal enrichement.

But (as his suggestion about the impunity people like Mozilo and Blankfein were given shows) he gets the chronology wrong. Aside from the bribed BP judges, it’s not corruption per se that is collapsing our judicial system. It’s the apparently conscious choice on the part of the government to void the concept of rule of law, the choice to treat political speech and whistleblowing as a much greater crime than the corporate crimes that have devastated our country.

I think DeChristopher is right: seeing his sentence isn’t going to scare anyone into cowing in the face of such a capricious legal system. Rather, it makes it clear what the stakes are.

Famine in Somalia Ought to Lead Us to Rethink War on Terror

In the US, most of the news on Somalia in recent days has focused on the war on terror. First, there was the arrest of alleged al-Shabaab figure Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame. Then there was Jeremy Scahill’s important piece on the CIA’s black site in Somalia. And then the push to conflate al-Shabaab with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula with al Qaeda.

Somalia, you see, is all about the war on terror.

Except that it’s also the focal point of what the UN has now declared is a growing famine in the Horn of Africa.

Which really ought to make us question our priorities globally.

Check out the list of factors behind the famine.

The current crisis in southern Somalia is driven by a combination of factors:-

  • The total failure of the October‐December Deyr rains (secondary season) and the poor performance of the April‐June Gu rains (primary season) have resulted in crop failure, reduced labor demand, poor livestock body conditions, and excess animal mortality
  • Local cereal prices across the south are far above average, more than 2 to 3 times 2010 prices in some areas, and continue to rise. As a result, both livestock to cereal and wage to cereal terms of trade have deteriorated substantially. Across all livelihoods, poor households (~30 percent of the population) are unable to meet basic food needs and have limited ability to cope with these food deficits
  • During July, FSNAU conducted 17 representative nutrition and mortality surveys across southern Somalia; results are available for 11 surveys. The prevalence of acute malnutrition exceeds 20 percent in all areas and is higher than 38 percent (with severe acute malnutrition higher than 14 percent) in 9 of the 11 survey areas. The highest recorded levels of acute malnutrition are in Bay, Bakool, and Gedo (agropastoral) where the GAM prevalence exceeds 50 percent. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has verified these findings
  • Population‐wide death rates are above the famine threshold (2/10,000/day) in two areas (Bakool agropastoral, and all areas of Lower Shabelle) and are elevated across the south. Under‐5 death rates are higher than 4/10,000/day in all areas of the south where data is available, peaking at 13‐20/10,000/day in riverine and agropastoral areas of Lower Shabelle. Tens of thousands of people have died in the past three months.l

 

One of these issues–the 2-300% increase in cereal prices–can be tied at least partly to commodity speculation, the gambling over foodstuffs that helps companies like Goldman Sachs get richer.

And the part of that price increase that doesn’t come from commodity speculation–that is, the part of that price increase tied to real market issues–derives largely from catastrophic weather. The failed rains in East Africa are just one part of that. More important to the world market are the drought and fires in Russia and the floods in Australia. And while we can’t prove that the last year’s freakish weather is a very tangible sign that climate change has started to affect our day-to-day life, there’s little doubt that climate change is a big part of it.

Now, you can’t actually separate al-Shabaab’s presence in Somalia from its famine; the absence of a functioning government, after all, is what leads to famine. And al-Shabaab’s presence makes it more difficult for aid organizations to work.

But it’s unclear that launching drone strikes on Somalia is the best way we can help them. It’s probably not even within the top 10. And whatever our counterterrorism presence in Somalia, focusing on that–but not on the financial and behavioral things the developed world does that exacerbates this crisis–ignores some of the most important underlying causes.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel RT @normative: “Sweeping curbs on NSA surveillance” is a little overstated. Whisk-broom-and-dustpan curbs, maybe. http://t.co/d1LfCF6GNW
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emptywheel RT @Gorman_Siobhan: On NSA bill, @SenatorLeahy & @SenTedCruz are BFFs, but must win over @SenFeinstein, @SaxbyChambliss & @ChuckGrassley. h…
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emptywheel Though if Martha Stewart has a drone, it won't be long before KMart stocks them, right? http://t.co/889mG6in87
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emptywheel Tony Blair got a $1 million for being horrible and he doesn't even have ANY patents. http://t.co/7d6T8kRXqB Take that Keith Alexander.
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emptywheel Suspect Stewart will lose title of country's best hostess for flying drone over rich people's property in Bedford. http://t.co/889mG6in87
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emptywheel "One of my farm workers used his drone...to capture amazing images of my 153-acre farm in Bedford, NY." http://t.co/889mG6in87
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emptywheel @attackerman No no! Bobby 3-Sticks. He was Director for 12 years, he gets a building doesn't he?
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emptywheel @onekade Except for the unnecessary pantyhose catalogs.
1hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @onekade Also, a good way to fuck with Big Data. Prolly the best.
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emptywheel @onekade Mitt Romney merged me w/my mom, thinking that-me would vote for him. Now I get pantyhose (!) & disability catalogs in merged name.
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emptywheel @attackerman They'll call it the "Bobby 3 Sticks HQ and Hockey Arena," I bet.
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emptywheel @onekade Our dog-member eschewed other dogs once he finished interviewing us for reliability (it took a year). So I can't imagine extras.
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