Category: Politics and Government

War & Peace on Mobile Bay: Springtime for Warships

Posted by – March 13, 2016


Mobile, Alabama. Pronunciation: MOH-BEAL

I found the above photo posted March 3rd on Twitter under #MobileAL, and thought it striking. Uniquely illustrative of the America few actually see. The image of tranquil Mobile Bay, relatively sleepy downtown Mobile, and then atop—probably due to its novel trimaran hull, it sorta appears to levitate ON not *in*—the somber, gray bay waters like some demonic silver monopoly game piece, a behemoth Cylon-lookin’ war machine, warship USS Montgomery (LCS-8).

The LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) program was supposed to make small, maneuverable Navy SEAL-type amphibious strike ships, essentially next gen swift boats with huge firepower relative to their slight profile. Initially the LCS project was promoted as small, easy to churn out quickly, and at roughly 1/6th the eventual $600 million+ cost per Leviathan beastoid the design bloated into.  Instead of light, quick, and responsive, truly littoral (near-shore ops, coastal by definition) ships, it ballooned into a heavy corvette after many re-designs. Great enough a shift to warrant re-classimg the ships from LCS to FF, fast frigate, and permanently so in 2019 as even beefier, heavier-armor bulky versions are laid down and launched.
Jobs for the city of Mobile are a big positive. And it’s not that i don’t want badass navy warships, I just object to design bloat as much as its parent, mission creep. More importantly, effectively switching from swift boats with serious teeth intended to deter international traffickers and beat down Somali pirates, to a plan for behemoth frigates primarily equipped to take on Big Bad warships, hold their own in ship-to-seaside-fort and ship-to-ship battle vs. some formidable heavy metal, i.e. Russia and the PRC’s growing fleets of high-tech vessels… is indicative of a very different kind of world. Geopolitical expectations have significantly shifted.

Back to the image above: a rare and honest juxtaposition. The warm, steamy mellow port city of Mobile in back, cutting-edge deathbringer in front, moving out from the homefires. Open your eyes and most important changes are there in plain sight

Nick

Mississippi Delta Bluesmen, as Relevant Now as Ever

Posted by – June 29, 2015

Bringing together strands of recent thoughts … the blues…

Recently I updated the “Got the blues so bad” mix/Nick’s True Blues Playlist – skewing heavily to the first bluesmen recorded vs later interpreters, the Southern backwoods “sundown comin’ & klan caught up to me at the crossroads” blues and that type of bluesman. Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Magic Slim, John Lee Hooker, the genuine article, the real bluesmen and those true to their spirit, like The Animals, or The Rolling Stones or Eric Clapton in their harder blues moments…

Mick Jagger knows the old blues lyrics, somehow Muddy Waters and Harpo Slim and recordings like that made their way across the pond to London, but ol’ Mick doesn’t convey the visceral blues that caused early American bluesmen to shout and stomp it…maybe Mick Jagger could pull off “so many beautiful supermodels (Jerry Hall Blues)” or the “Bad Music Video Dancing Blues” but can’t convey the blues felt down on the plantation, the woes of the dispossessed sharecropper’s son turned-itinerant musician…though, in fairness, the Stones pulled off some authentic blues standards and genuinely bluesy original tunes, and Keith Richards certainly comes from the ugliest corner of the wrong side of the tracks, England, and can definitely firmly grasp the blues, could shout the “1950s dentist got no anesthetic Blues“.

But I’m talking about the Southland that birthed the blues (about the song), the blues that began as slave stomps and chain-gang hollers, then grew increasingly sophisticated with the addition of guitars, harmonicas, piano, and eventually electrified instruments (none have really plumbed the depths of fully electric synthesizer blues, The Animals did lots with the organs and early synth-keyboards available in the ’60s, Steve Winwood had the whole enchilada of synthpop tech but just scratched the surface).

Listening to the electric blues on Florida St. and Imogene by the old freight train junction, Mobile, Alabama, thanks to fellow-Spring Hill College Class of 2004 Mobile kid Daniel Spotswood, I learned something about the blues that isn’t in the books, that the blues isn’t just a musical style, it’s an emotion.  It’s something visceral, intangible, possibly magical or at least existing in the undefined anthropological ether… something that might be non-recordable on tape.

The blues, the Real Blues, came from the systematic oppression, de facto (sharecropping) and actual outright slave economy of the deepest Deep South, songs of hell, songs of humanity persisting within the fieriest of Beelzebub’s trials…

The life of Robert Johnson illustrates what I mean. He was born from Julia Dodd’s re-marriage after Mr. Dodd got run out of town by a literal lynch mob over a woman and the white plantation caste that owned the area probably dispossessed the Dodds of everything.  In the Mississippi Delta counties especially, generational socio-economic gains could be washed away as fast as the Mississip’ risin’ if you were on the wrong side of the vicious legal and police-state-enforced Apartheid system—AKA Jim Crow— in effect in the first half of the 20th century. In Robert Johnson’s times, racism wasn’t just hateful attitudes but enshrined in law, enforced by the state; segregation, oppressive discrimination, denial of economic advancement/freedom in socio-economic space, and sudden death sentences by angry mob… all of this was essentially the law.

One of Johnson’s most covered songs, “Crossroads Blues”—even Cyndi Lauper recorded a rendition, 2010—refers to these Jim Crow laws. The second verse includes “the sun goin’ down now boy, dark gon’ catch me here”: alluding to the “sundown laws” or curfew, that was ubiquitous in the Deep South.  The blues still have a great deal of saliency.

When unrest erupts following the conflicts in Ferguson, MO, for example, and the news is analyzing the sundown curfews, few grasp the painful history. It’s shrugged off as necessary “to maintain order.”
But, when black people hear “sundown curfews imposed in Ferguson,” many probably think of “don’t be found when the sun’s gone down.”

I think of Robert Johnson.

Nick

Thoughts in October 2014: Flu Vaccines, Political Example-Stories, Confederate Ghosts in the Fog, and Mobile, Alabama memories

Posted by – October 29, 2014

“Down in Mobile they’re all crazy, because the Gulf Coast is the kingdom of monkeys, the land of clowns, ghosts and musicians, and Mobile is sweet lunacy’s county seat.”—Eugene Walter

So I was in Mobile, AL, a port city as complex as it is old, the Confederacy’s “undefeated” city, and my hometown, and I move from the Fox News in the pulmonologist’s office to the Fox News in the psychologist’s office.
It’s late 2004. George W. Bush already won reelection and both camels of Congress are firmly Republican-controlled. This is a red state epicenter, and the receptionist slowly shakes her head at all the evils of them dadgum liberals in Washington.

The Fox News reporter on screen is in Iraq, sandy winds off the desert dunes whip his polo shirt’s sleeves back, and he tries to keep his pencil-like physique upright as he shoves his big fuzzy Fox News-emblazoned microphone into soldiers’ faces. He was asking almost Colbert-like questions of the desert camo-wearing Army men, like how much have Senate Democrats harmed the war effort? and do you think the recent comments of Senate Democrats constitute treason?

More than one serviceman laughed the guy off.  None of them knew what comments Democrats had made. The questions were totally removed from the Army’s mission in Iraq and mostly seemed the ramblings of another clueless civilian or rear guard patriot.  Really apparent was the complete disconnect from the composition of government: Republicans unified the federal elected bodies and the executive branch under their control from 2002 and gained even biggier majorities in the 2004 elections, but it sounded like the Senate Democrats ran everything on Fox News.  The ever-present librul conspiracy is all-powerful and ALWAYS the problem.

This idea of eternal opposition is easy to understand in the undefeated city, our lady of perpetual defiance. This I understand easily, the rebellion is deeply ingrained in Mobilians’ DNA. Over time, surrounded by Confederate ghosts (some of them your relatives) and architecture, the big bronze Admiral Raphael Semmes statue looking at you, marinating in that culture and place and tripping over its ghosts in the lit beams of fog, you start to understand that the port cities have a different narrative from that of the plantationocracy, that for the urban South it’s more utopian.

Standing figure of Admiral Raphael Semmes. He wears confederate attire, including a long coat which extends to his knees, and a cap on his head. His left arm is bent so that his fist rests on his hip, with sword hanging immediately behind. His right arm is at his side with binoculars in his hand. Erected in 1899, the bronze aged to deep green long ago like the Statue of Liberté in New York. The base features three bronze plaques, including one which depicts the C.S.S. Alabama at sea.

Big bronze statue of Admiral Semmes @ The Loop, intersection of Government and Royal, City of Mobile.

Yes it’s about a slave economy and getting them dadgum liberal Abe Lincolns off your lawn, but it’s also this idea of Alabama knowing how best to build Alabama.  There’s nothing libertarian about the state that they would choose; the vision is more Thomas Paine than Edmund Burke. There’s this idea and utopian dream of all types of creation-energy and creativity and building being unleashed once you get that damnable federal boot off your neck.

It’s mostly a pipe dream—AKA a dream you get after hitting dat pipe o’ opium—and also there’s NOTHING morally justifiable much less utopian about the reasons why the feudal lords of the Southern interior supported secession, that is slavery slavery and slavery. But the port cities that were bustling centers of New World civilization already when George Washington was in diapers really complicate whatever narrative of the Confederacy you have. They resist simplicity. The port cities (Charleston, Mobile, New Orleans) are/were full of madmen and poets and dreamers like Eugene Walter described. And they were not only about wiping out the invaders, but also trying to create a better society that isn’t trying to out-hustle the North but wants to make a nation that is culturally if not economically independent (slavery spreading because of capitalism on steroids, often with northern financing).
As uber lefty cultural historian Morris Berman often says, a Southern victory in The WONA (“War of Northern Aggression”) would not have necessarily “given us a better world–slavery having been the obvious dark aspect of the Southern way of life–but the destruction of a gracious, slow-moving, community-oriented society in favor of a frantic, commercial one is nothing to crow about.”

So I always try to understand the ideas behind the arguments. Wanting to get dem dadgum bluebacks out of your hair I understand.
But if your side never has to shoulder the responsibility of governance, is perpetually in opposition vs. having a share of the credit and consequences of success or failure as part of a ruling coalition, your party can become badly warped.

I think it’s advantageous to understand all sides as much as possible. I got really confused during the federal gov’t shutdown of 2013, especially as to the predominant ideas underpinning it, so I listened to right-wing talk radio for the week and tried, to the best of my ability, to explain Teapublican thinking at the time on this blog.  I think that it is more radical to attempt to get your head around the other side’s ideas than to knee jerk oppose, and more interesting.

GOP uernica – Daryl Cagle’s fascinating and ‪hilarious‬ GOPelephant parody of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica.

Even the SHUT IT DOWN extremism I could eventually understand somewhat, but there are things I seriously can’t grasp at all except as purposefully misleading, disinfo more than misinformation, especially with Fox News. It worries me about our nation’s ability to learn, to adapt to multiple decades of scientific data, move forward and lead the way so humans  don’t end up extinct.

Concerned about Fox Newsification of Medicine and Science

On the medical front, there are obvious policy differences on substantive issues, like the stem cell lines kerfuffle early on in Bush Jr’s presidency, but I mean things like blaming John Edwards and “librul trial lawyers” for the flu shot shortage of 2004. This was a talking point on Fox News repeated again and again, part of the “scandal of the day” format Faux News sticks with throughout its lineup of programs.

Like the disloyal Democrats’ comments brought up over and over again, even by FNC’s Iraq correspondent in lieu of actual reporting, there’s this consistent appeal to some story example that acts as a code word or proof-text of Demonrat perfidy—this time the librul conspiracy has gone too far!!  A good contemporary example is Benghazi, which for several years now is a code word for Barack Obama is a radical Islam and MURDERED that ambassador to cover up his traitorous support for terrorists OMG!!
In a way I understand this as coming from the story-example way of communicating so prevalent in the South, you can look back at 19th century newspapers and see how the openly partisan news media of the South would fixate on whatever meme of “Yankee radical” treason or perceived slight and milk it.

21st century partisan news media fixates on whatever obscure example and rides it for as many news cycles as possible, but an important difference is the whole South understood the example stories of 19th century newspapers, more or less, whereas the example stories of Fox News are little known outside of the conservative media bubble. Few know what Benghazi is or understand why Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl being brought home from being a Taliban POW per no man left behind is another traitorous plot of the Obama. Example narratives like these circulate only among the conservative media niche, have no traction outside that narrow audience and even within the alternate reality of the Rightosphere they create a terrible hew and cry but aren’t salient past the few news cycles they’re designated talking points for…

So on this day, Faux News’ librul conspiracy meme of the day was this thing about John Edwards and the dadgum ambulance chasing trial lawyers. The pulmonologist and nurse were discussing the flu shot shortage crisis affecting us and the other patients, and that the lawsuits pursued by John Edwards and his parasitic ilk are the primary cause of vaccine factory closures and the shortage of flu shots. Conservative media was citing this as a proof of lawyers ruin health care and pass legislation to further immunize vaccine makers from lawsuits! 

I’d understand employing this example, if it were true.  But Snopes wholly debunked the claim.  It is 100% false.  John Edwards never sued vaccine manufacturers nor did his firm. Few suits have ever been filed on the flu shot, the controversy is primarily over the early childhood immunization schedule, MMR vaccine, DPT vaccine, the use of thiomersal and so forth. So the ramping down of flu vaccine manufacturing had nothing to do with lawsuits—no one was seeking redress of grievances against the flu shot—the low supply of flu vaccines in 2004, Snopes explained, had to do with flu vaccines losing money, and with vaccine makers transitioning production to the scary “live virusintranasal spray FluMist®.

When story examples are more important than fact and there is ONLY opinion, where does that lead us?

Nick

 

Key link: snopes.com: John Edwards and flu vaccine shortage

 

Ebola outbreak directly related to our cousin mammals, environmental destruction

Posted by – October 24, 2014

Ebola hemorrhagic fever affects much of the mammalian family tree: its spread should make us remember our intimate connection with other mammals and the environment

All animals sustain themselves on an ecological tightrope of sorts, delicately balancing so many needs, including water, food, space and safety, all tied to the habitat they live in. You kick over habitats, species go into chaos trying to adapt. We, the humans, inextricably interdependent with the environment and other mammals, are ultimately affected. In severely impoverished African countries, the people greatly widen their menu to encompass more animals’ meat than is acceptable in Western cultures. This means “bushmeat.”

This is Franquet’s Epauletted Fruit Bat, one of three fruit bat (megabat) species to recently test positive as Ebola “disease reservoirs” (meaning they are asymptomatic animal carriers of the virus).

In other words, bats, primates and other mammals bitten by bats, apes carrying HIV, and more end up on the dinner table, inevitably bringing new mammalian diseases to the plate at least once, and all an outbreak takes is that one infected meal.

Months before the Ebola epidemic spiraled out of control, there was Patient Zero, a not-quite-two-year-old girl in Guinea. She likely contracted the virus from an infected bat, in an impoverished village where bushmeat is a dietary staple. Because Ebola so often afflicts caregivers, the child’s pregnant mother was soon infected, then other family members, then the midwife who nursed the mother through a miscarriage. Within months, the virus had arrived in the capital, Conakry, and seeded even larger epidemics in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

This is from a recent article on New Security Beat, “The Making of a Tragedy: Inequality, Mistrust, Environmental Change Drive Ebola Epidemic.”
New Security Beat is a project of the Woodrow Wilson Center, which exists to perpetuate President Wilson‘s pro-interventionist views. “Making the world safe for democracy” by pointing mega weapons at anyone deemed a tyrant or an enemy. Your “Team America: World Police“-type approach, basically, or the Freedom Eagle meme school of foreign policy. So stay alert to possible biases in this source (and all sources you may find).

Still, the article makes important points about our environmental and animal interdependencies driving the infectious diseases we’re exposed to….
It continues:

But the origins of the epidemic reach back further still. The virus may have been flushed out of the forest by multinational timber and mining operations that have clear-cut the (now misnamed) Guinea Forest Region, where the child was from. And population growth, partly driven by refugees from the brutal civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, has driven settlements deeper into the remaining bush.

“As the forests disappeared,” writes Jeffrey Stern in Vanity Fair, “so too did the buffer separating humans from animals – and from the pathogens that animals harbor.” Zoonotic diseases like Ebola are on the rise worldwide, as habitat loss accelerates.

Read the whole thing here: The Making of a Tragedy: Inequality, Mistrust, Environmental Change Drive Ebola Epidemic | New Security Beat

Zoonotic diseases are diseases transmissible from animals to humans or visa versa (“reverse zoonosis”).  In Jared Diamond’s best-selling book Guns, Germs, and Steel, about the non-cultural geographic and ecological reasons Western civilization developed ahead of the “Global South,” zoonosis is cited as a key reason for the Western colonizers’ germs advantage.  Europeans lived with and relied on a diverse stock of domesticated animals, so were packed with zoonotic diseases and immunities. This made early European settlers of the Americas typhoid marys as far as their impact on the indigenous peoples, effectively waging unintended (and sometimes intentional) apocalyptic biowarfare.

In this Mobile Register editorial cartoon by JD Crowe, “Airborne disease,” Ebola takes flight via a sprawling swarm of bats and an airplane.

Africans, unlike Europeans, were known for their hardy resistance to tropical diseases, and therefore were enslaved en masse and deployed especially heavily to die and work plantations in the hot climes few whites would go. But historically having little to no domesticatible animals in the dense jungles of West Africa, Africans didn’t do as well with zoonotic plagues.

Now they’re facing animal-borne infectious diseases like whoa, and it is bad! And environmental destruction in West Africa is a huge factor.

Will humans ever get it through our thick skulls that what harms our mammalian cousins will inevitably affect us??

 

Nick

 

Recommended resource:

Will My Dog Catch Ebola? | Psychology Today -good solid scientific info here: dogs can become asymptomatic carriers in the period before the disease cycles out of their system, but cats appear to not be susceptible to catching the virus

Public Health Back on the Frontburner with Ebola Panic

Posted by – October 22, 2014

Nick Analysis: Focus on Long-term Policy Choices

This attack ad put out by “The Agenda Project,” an org that apparently exists solely to place anti-GOP TV spots, is aimed at the electorate voting in the upcoming decisive midterm races for House and Senate. And it is unique in several ways.
Most obviously, the ad is almost singularly brutal, tying the Ebola outbreak to the years of budget cutting to NIH that has meant harsh limits on vaccine and related infectious disease research along with rollbacks in all NIH’s areas of research.  The images and sounds expertly scare the crap out of you. The use of medical equipment like a heart monitor, the ominous beat of the machine, or using respiratory aids (here, the sound of an Ambu® bag pumping at the beginning and end of the spot) to invoke the patient on the brink, the tension of the emergency that could go either way, is definitely unsettling. When you yourself, like me, are on a ventilator, you notice these things more, and it is more troubling.

guy in hazmat suit grasping a TV remote & saying to his wife

Political cartoon by Mark Streeter of the Savannah Morning News

But despite the utter shamelessness of this ad, it contributes something important by raising (or suggesting) a key question: do you really want a smaller government in a world where we need a robust response to infectious diseases like Ebola?

Cut cut cut everything has consequences. The end result is that the significant resources you need when diseases spread and shit gets real aren’t there. Our health infrastructure was and is largely unprepared for deadly plagues like this. Look at the awful state of our emergency departments, even at prestigious academic hospitals, to begin to understand HOW unprepared we are.

The ad spins events to fault only the Republicans for the budget slash and burn, when Democrats are deeply complicit: their compromise, “sequestration,” cut deep across the board. As I wrote back in August, some of the same Congresscritters who sequester-hammered the NIH, cutting the crap outta research into ALS and other neuromuscular diseases with everything else, doused themselves with ice buckets for ALS research when the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral.
Abusive boyfriend bringing you flowers, it felt like, except the victim is a vast chunk of the population that is sick and need all the help they can get.

It is more radical to tell the truth on the failings that exist on all sides, the Democrats too. I want the truth, man, and will never be a sycophant.

As for President Obama and his role in all this, he has sometimes prioritized other things in budget battles, sometimes gone to bat for CDC funding. But it would be false not to include the context: all of the budgets this president signed that ended up cutting preparedness-for-public-health-emergencies were compromise budgets. The Congressional Republicans decide on an extreme scorched earth budget, slash and burn to everything across the board except for “essentials” like arming jihadis against Assad in Syria or continuing the notorious non-flying F-35 program, then the president threatens to veto the budget until a compromise is forged.  Instead of making his own budget and selling a real and compelling alternative to austerity, inspiring the country to support his vision, he compromises, signs the scorched earth lite budget and then goes golfing with CEOs.

To simplify: President Obama’s compromise budgets have been nearly as bad for public health funding as the Republicans’ first offer-budgets.

The Republicans are expected to win both camels of our bicameral legislature in DC (Congress) on November 4th. I worry that the scorched earth budgets will get even scorchier.
Hopefully the issue of funding for infectious diseases stays on the frontburner, at the forefront of budget debates at least, after the Ebola panic is out of the news cycle and past its usefulness as campaign ammunition, long-term.

The key questions that affect the America we will live in over the long haul, what gov’t should do and not do, how public monies should be allocated, how we regulate the dumping of toxic waste, civil liberties vs. a police state, these should be what we debate and focus on solving.

The Ebola outbreak is scary, a much more serious pandemic than the swine flu. The H1N1 porcine influenza was initially hyped as super deadly, but the strain that spread in the U.S. was ultimately no deadlier than normal seasonal flu (regular influenza is horrendous—I’ve had it—so don’t get me wrong). But when there was so much unhinged fearmongering over H1N1, New York stopped releasing the numbers of influenza patients amidst the panic, and people were being pressed to wear surgical masks that don’t protect against the microscopic flu virus, I blogged against it.
I would never blog against Ebola over-caution like that. Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever like the BLACK DEATH that wiped out nearly 2/3 of the European population. Ebola hemorrhagic fever isn’t as contagious as that history reshaping bubonic plague, but it’s apparently VERY contagious in the end stages when the victim’s viral load is highest and they are hemorrhaging like crazy. This Ebola outbreak has already proven devastating, killing over 5,000 people in West Africa as of this post’s time of posting.  Not taking Ebola seriously, not taking reasonable precautions isn’t liberal or conservative, it’s just DUMB!

But infectious diseases have a life cycle in the aggregate as well as on the individual level, and all outbreaks end.  Ebola will be long forgotten by this time next year, whereas the policy choices on health care infrastructure, how we fund public health will be just as important and relevant then and always. Remember the long-haul!

Nick

 

We’re Not Just Coping with “The Great Recession.” This Is “The Great Change.”

Posted by – October 2, 2014

The Damage Wrought by the Great Big Horrendous Financialization Ka-blooie is Real.  But this was (and is) Part of a Great Change.

My friends, there’s no doubt we live in interesting times.

This isn’t just a recession when budget sheets show big gaps, then the economy dips into a deep lull and then comes back up, nor is this a systemic economy-is-grinding-to-a-halt like the Great Depression. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a massive revolution politically, socially, economically, and especially technologically, that’s been building ever since the advent of personal computing, the Internet, and all it’s wrought…

This is The Great Change.

In the latter part of the ’00s, the first decade of the 21st century, The Great Recession occurred as a byproduct or baby steps of The Great Change. The ongoing changes caused a crash, hit a wall once the technological ability of the powerful to gain enormous wealth outpaced the economy’s ability to compensate and cope, and the entire world suffered a breakdown.
By “technological ability of the powerful to gain enormous wealth” I’m referring to new financial techniques impossible with the approaches, technology and computing power of previous generations, such as complicated mortgage-backed securities and “robo-signing” forgery-factories that fed mortgages to the beast, these weird securitized mortgage investments—for example CDOs (collateralized debt obligations)—and algorithm-driven high-frequency trading that capitalizes on millisecond price differentials… stuff like that.  These exotic financial thingies are innovations, but innovations in the way Frankenstein’s monster was… demonstrating awesome new capabilities but creating potentially horrible consequences for the wielders of these new powers and the wider society affected.

This economic breakdown—see subprime mortgage crisis of 2006-’09 and big financial meltdown of ’07-’08—was and is bad.  The worst of the tailspin occurred prior to Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, and there were many contributing factors. Jeremy Rifkin and other economic thinkers stress the spike in energy prices and peak oil as the financial meltdown’s main causes, and I don’t think the role of the energy economy and other triggers should be overlooked.  But the predominant view is that the crisis in finance was directly related to problems within Big Finance, and that the financial crisis happened due to the house of cards of exotic securities and over-financialization toppling.  Global financial markets began to realize that these mortgage-backed securities, rated AAA, were, in actuality, more like FFF, jumbo-stuft with FAIL.  Many of these exotic securities were failful—full o’ fail, made up of mortgage scams: financial instruments that were essentially a Ponzi scheme composed of Ponzi schemes.  Think of gold-plated Russian nesting dolls with one toxic waste after another making up the inner dolls.
As the big money guys inevitably figured out they were holding financial hot potatoes, the dash to sell these toxic assets (and the related rapid devaluation of same)was devastating.  Wall Street partied like it’s 1929, leading millions of businesses, individuals and 401ks to lose their shirts in the stock market.

The MTA, the transit authority that gets people to work on trains and buses and has such centrality in the socio-economic life of New York City, became a poster boy for bad bets of this type when, subsequent to the subprime dominos falling in 2008, hundreds of millions the MTA sunk into an elaborate scheme run by shady Irish and German banks involving ballooning variable-rate debt and CDOs evaporated in short order. The MTA also lost bazillions in auction-rate securities in 2007, getting played by Citigroup and Goldman Sachs in a classic rat guano sold as filet mignon-type game.  Suddenly, the transit lifeblood of NYC was experiencing painful sclerosis. Fares and fees were abruptly raised.  Other gov’t entities, from transportation agencies to state pension funds, even public school boards, from sea to shining sea, got similarly swindled by promises of AAA, low-risk investments.

The Great Big Horrendous Financialization Ka-blooie had a catastrophic impact.  It’s tough to overstate the damage.  Nine million Americans lost their jobs.  Lost output—goods and services that should’ve existed given expected economic activity but didn’t exist—”was at least 40 percent of 2007 gross domestic product and probably considerably more,” according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas (source: BloombergView).

But the financial crisis is the byproduct of a bigger bad.  It’s a severe episode in a longer bout of disorder, it is part of death and rebirth in the goddess of destruction sense of rebirth. The Great Recession is one piece, wrecked by human failty and greed, economic catastrophe but nonetheless part of a greater nexus of processes that are ongoing: The Great Change.
I see this as like puberty but more perilous, not as a disease we could cure, though the official gov’t line is that we’ve overcome it and our inexhaustible awesomeness makes us only better than before.  Most misunderstand.

The economic fail is merely a symptom, one part of the massive changes in every facet of life (economically, socially, politically and technologically) rapidly spinning all around us. I’m arguing that this is “The Great Change,” an unprecedented reconfiguration of the socio-economic arrangements of humanity. The old economic and social order is to be shed like a cocoon.

This brings wonderful opportunities and great dangers. The potential for horrific consequences in the meanwhile is clear. The powerful and entrenched have near-infinite ways of abusing the transition and its uncertainties, as the Great Recession exemplifies.  According to a recent study surveying HR managers globally and examining relevant trends to gauge the future of work by 2022, an Orwellian nightmare but with corporate “ministates” running society, not unlike the corporate cyber dystopia envisioned in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, may be inevitable (source: Yahoo! Finance).

Futurist, economic theorist and writer Jeremy Rifkin highlights exciting opportunities coming with the new revolutionary Internets and their zero marginal cost paradigm spreading to multiple areas of the economy, the core of The Great Change I’m talking about.
Marginal cost means the costs necessary to produce an additional +1 of a thing or service. For example, to copy an additional Kindle eBook for you to read, it’s as near-zero marginal cost as it gets.

Rifkin acknowledges {though never emphasizes) how entrenched interests stomp on ordinary workers as they try to get labor costs, e.g. the wages of service workers in fast food and such, down as close to zero marginal cost as possible.

Cartoon by Jimmy Margulies

He envisions the new laterally-networked sharing economy, the Collaborative Commons expanding enough to provide an ample alternative.  But without 3D printing leaping so far ahead they become like replicators on Star Trek, thereafter pulling the cost of living down to near-zero marginal cost as well, I don’t understand how this sharing economy works. It would require a totally new economic engine as unlike capitalism as Star Trek‘s economy.

I totally dig Rifkin’s vision of capitalism being eclipsed, supplanted by a Collaborative Commons wherein all information, entertainment, handmade schematics for 3D-printed items of every type, and soon even energy is shared in lateral networks at near-zero marginal cost, and I really want humanity to get there in my lifetime. Rifkin sees the new sharing economy revolving around care, empathy, quality of life, people freed from menial and repetitive labor that the AI of the not-distant future can do. The problem is getting the human economy, as corrupt and enormous and unwieldy as it is, from point A to point B.  We need to get there. We have to get to a new, better economy if future generations are going to have any type of survival.

Really we’ve already departed from Point A and are well into this transition, since so much of the world economy has been transformed/devastated by the encroaching near-zero marginal cost reality, even energy, with the increasing availability of renewables soon will be near-zero marginal cost after up-front installation.  French investment bank Kepler Chevreux released a new analysis last month projecting solar and wind to yield more energy return on investment than oil by the 2030s at the latest, and you look at their numbers and they are low-balling how soon solar panels get dirt-cheap… if we get liquid-like organic photovoltaic cells that are “paintable” on any surface at low cost, that changes the calculations enormously.

Already, Germany is setting up an energy internet, like with social media the users produce the content, the users produce energy from the solar, wind, and geothermal on their property, massively store it for use when the sun isn’t shining, and share it on the energy internet.  China is going long investing in new renewables technology and a similar internet of energy.  Meanwhile, the U.S, is doubling down on hydraulic fracking, and no decentralized energy internet is in the works.

I led with the Wall Street shenanigans for a reason – if we keep having economic meltdowns because everyone’s been bamboozled into investing in turd-backed securities and lost their nest egg, if the bottom 90% can’t afford anything, that is bad.  Rifkin has a much more trusting and sunny view of industry than I do.  These pitfalls are problems now and could easily get worse.

a line graph displaying economist Thomas Piketty’s data on income in the United States. As of 2013, the top 10% of American earners amassed the same amount of national income % as the other 90% combined. Then, projections of the 90% losing more and more of the pie, but we’re in economic transition and prediction is difficult. (Source: Chart: Half of All Income Goes to the Top 10 Percent | motherjones.com)

It’s really important we get to Point B and not get stalled, derailed, ending up in an economic cul-de-sac of dystopian corporatism with a predominantly roboticized industrial and service sector that feeds an ever-more opulent, powerful and entrenched 1% most of the GDP while the increasingly powerless 99% starve.
To his credit, Jeremy Rifkin stresses the risks losing net neutrality, losing a safe climate, or losing potable water can pose: there’s no progress if we cut our legs off.  Food and water will continue to be big issues. And it is unclear how ordinary workers will earn enough to keep the consumption-based economy going…

Notice on the income line graph, the 2007-09 Great Recession happened alongside a dip in the 90 percent’s income. A similar drop in the vast majority’s share of the income pie shows up on the line graph for 2013-14, indicating we may be in another recessionary pattern RIGHT NOW.

In order to have hope, we have to first understand where we are.  Where we are is near-zero marginal cost affecting every nook and cranny of the global economy. Where we are is the old economy is long dead

Laverne and Shirley – they worked at Shotz Brewery, exemplifying now-automated old economy jobs that won’t be coming back.

and not coming back, easy to get factory jobs aren’t coming back. American-run social media sites (Facebook et al) are already WAY more profitable than the entire U.S. automotive sector.
We’re heading into a presidential primary cycle where the Hillarys and Romneys of the world will be constantly lying to you that, if you just make them president, old economy jobs will rain down like manna from heaven, that they will bring renewal, belief, optimism back to America and just from our exceptional spirit, from really believing in ourselves, our inexhaustible economic dynamism will subsequently reactivate. These are lies, some of the most intellectually dishonest claptrap you’ll ever hear.  These are political and spiritual snake oil salesmen. No miracle can bring back the old Laverne & Shirley beer plant.
We have to create a totally new economy, and I haven’t heard any creative ideas on that front from our sucktastic political class. Our awfullicious DINOs and RINOs don’t even address near-term economic crises like how the vast majority of workers will keep consumer spending up, so enthralled are they with the perverse logic of “winning” the news cycle and appearing relevant next to whatever dumb sensational headline.  How the new economy will work, how we get away from our dependence on consumption, replacing old economy consumer spending as the central pillar of our economy; these issues should be foremost.

One possible driver of the new economy could be the social media bonanza spreading the wealth to its users/content-producers, something like reddit’s CEO proposed on Tuesday, giving redditors 10% of reddit’s stock via online cryptocurrency (meaning cryptography-secured and generated digital medium of exchange).  Probably they’ll use the extant reddit currency, reddit gold/creddits, but make it exchangeable with other cryptocurrencies

a dogecoin! And here’s a list of sellers and service providers of every description on reddit who accept payment in dogecoin.

like Bitcoin and the hilarious dogecoin, in addition to old currencies: USD, the Euro, Renminbi and so forth. This reddit idea, assuming it doesn’t fail before getting to the launch pad, would mean the dispersal of millions of USD to kick off a new market economy – countless new micro-economies taking off….

But even with wild success of new markets, and all the new economy’s opportunities, there are perilous days ahead.  Especially for people living day-to-day with chronic illnesses and severe disabilities and all the related health care costs, competing in an economy of near-zero marginal cost poses terrible challenges.  Simultaneously, virtual economies open up new egalitarian market spaces, participation possible regardless of physical abilities or identity.

Meanwhile, what happens to the vast majority of ordinary workers?

Some ideas for consideration:

Jappe suggests hyper-local and international cooperative economies above/outside of the logic of corporate capitalism as a way to outlive the old economy. See: What will we do if the system can no longer create jobs? An interview with Anselm Jappe

One alternative currency idea, and many will be needed – Video: The Hero Reward System – A Complementary Economic System Based Upon Merit

If you want people to keep consuming, something like this may be needed for people to survive the transition – Video: Basic Income – An idea whose time has come | Basic Income Europe

We’re all living through “The Great Change.” It’s going to be both wondiferous and horrifying. Spread the word.

 

Nick

Recommended resource
:

Video: Jeremy Rifkin: “The Zero Marginal Cost Society” | Authors at Google

How Can the U.S. Constitutional System Cope When Big Fracking Bucks mean Big Toxin Dumping?

Posted by – August 27, 2014

With New Forms of Toxic Waste from the Fracking Bonanza Piling Up, What Must Be Done?

I really like the PBS documentary mini-series Constitution USA, because it brings forward the constitutional arguments that are so relevant to the problems we face in our country today.  It explores a worthy cross-section of important legal/constitutional debates with the depth that they deserve, and with refreshing honesty/even-handedness.  All the while it stays firmly rooted in our history, frequently referencing the rich backstories of our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, subsequent amendments and laws and the more controversial implementing actions.

The first episode gives an overview of jurisdictional conflicts that are ongoing between states, the federal gov’t and the individual citizens.  Some of the issues covered are the more obvious and well-known legal problems between states and the federales, like medical cannabis: can states trump the federal drug laws and re-legalize it? (cannabis tinctures and the like being legal from your local pharmacy in the past)
The Commerce Clause of Article I of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal Congress power to “regulate commerce between the several states,” and that is the basis for so much of our legal and regulatory system, from drug laws and gun control, to water use regulations for toilets (which I blogged about here).

Air and water pollution, with its effects on multiple states and countries, seems an obvious place for federal intervention to me, and the number of federal regs waived during the past decade—the carte blanche given to mountaintop removal and hydraulic fracturing—should concern all Americans.  In many areas, there ought to be more and better regulation: for example, given ProPublica’s recent reporting, it sounds like Ohio will be dotted with radioactive Superfund sites like a constellation is dotted with stars if the legislature in Columbus doesn’t get serious about regulating the toxic (and sometimes radioactive, including content containing RADIUM) waste that’s unintentionally unearthed as a byproduct of the fracking boom.

Inevitably, the various waste byproducts generated by fracking are dangerous if safety measures aren’t followed [see the facts on the difficulties disposing of fracking wastes].  Not only does the fracking process involve inserting hydraulic fracking fluids®, proprietary mixes of chemicals to facilitate fracturing, some heavily depending on known health hazards like benzene, into the earth, the extraction process also unearths things that should stay earthed, like naturally occurring radioactive materials, richly accumulated over eons, especially so deep in shale.  Radon, uranium, thorium, and especially radium have been confirmed living in the waste “brine” alongside the oil and gas (and the heady mixture of man-made chemicals, benzenes, et al, just injected) pulled from shale deposits, alerting all concerned to the risks associated with fracking wastewater.

gas production from the 400 million year-old, multi-state Marcellus shale formation, mostly from drilling in Pennsylvania and Ohio, is booming!

Reasonable monitoring and responsible handling is sorely needed, but the politicians that control how (and how much) these newer species of toxic wastes will be regulated see the state’s fracking bonanza as win-win-win-win, pumping in new jobs, new income/GDP, new tax revenue, and new troughs of campaign bribetributions to pig out on.

Politicians representing economically depressed post-industrial hell-holes tend to understand actually regulating fracking as putting speed limits on their state’s gravy train, or as outright flipping the railroad switch to turnout that gravy train onto a competing state’s track, so rival states profit more and more quickly. This may startle readers in not-America, but in the U.S., state governments are usually competing with other (especially neighboring) states to attract Big Business, including fracking operations, to start up in their state, often leading to a distressing “race to the bottom,” evidenced by things like the governor of Alabama meeting with German automakers to offer them more state-sponsored bribe money “incentives,” less costly labor, and fewer worker protections than other states where they could put down roots… this “jobs race” is deeply embedded in our political ecosystem. Even the more liberal representatives will likely prefer looking tough on polluters without actually regulating fracking in a meaningful way and risking accusations of “harming the district’s economy.”  Political cowardice and faux populist outrage at the polluters is the norm.

Of course, once you understand what Ohio has been through, “post-industrial” meaning that industry has left, offshored production to China or wherever had won the jobs race that year, joblessness everywhere, cities just “gone,” it’s easy to sympathize with the desire to be as fracking-friendly and job-attract-y as possible.  I think of Chrissie Hynde, singin’ “I went back to Ohio, but my city was gone…” and that was the ’80s. Gone Ohio cities are even gonier now.

Shale gas is the closest thing to a gold rush this country’s seen since the initial oil boom nearly 100 years ago, and desperation for gas drilling jobs makes it really hard, societally, to regulate and enforce with a long-view toward the public health consequences of benzenes, radionuclides, and so on.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, where the economics and politics of fracking are similar, radium was found in rivers where fracking wastes were released, and “internal” studies leaked to the New York Times in 2011 detail the alarming data:

…state records indicate that the radium levels found in Pennsylvania wastewater are much higher than those used in this study. Radium, for example, was found in Pennsylvania at levels over 18 times the number used in the this study. It should be noted, however, that this study did not detail actual cases of increased cancer. Rather, it modeled potential increases in cancer rates as a result of radium-laced drilling waste being discharged into large waterways.
… Asked to review the study, an expert on human health and ecological risk analysis said that it clearly shows that the drilling waste is not sufficiently diluted in some cases. As a result, the radioactivity levels left behind in receiving waters come close to reaching the threshold at which the E.P.A., under federal Superfund rules, requires a cleanup, the risk expert said.

For a look at the leaked documents and the relevant analysis, see Documents: Natural Gas’s Toxic Waste – NYTimes.com

The revelations from the leaked studies raise some troubling, difficult questions… one is, if you’re at the radioactivity threshold that triggers the creation of a federal Superfund site, how would you turn part or all of a river into a Superfund site?
What unintended consequences will radium in the water have on freshwater sealife and the humans that depend on these freshwater ecosystems? If it’s a blend of radionuclides, benzenes and other horrors, what effects do these have on lifeforms

a row of dark indigo-and-pink-fish-faced, orangey-throated Hath soldiers, mini-fishtank thingy mounted 'round their mouths to enable breathing in non-aquatic environments

Invasive uber carp become biped super soldiers after too much river radium? (Actually the Hath, a Piscine humanoid species from one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, “The Doctor’s Daughter“)

when combined/interacting with each other? Godzilla was created from a similar unintended exposure to radiation. Freshwater ecosystems (especially in Ohio and due west) are already devastated by the invasion of nonindigenous uber carp, mentioned in the fourth installment of Constitution USA as well… what happens when you add radioactivity? Carpzilla?

This ProPublica exposé uncovers just how lax Ohio’s been about toxic waste.  Regulation is “muted” to the point they’ve become a top destination for other states to dump radioactive fracking waste.

These tanker trucks have 8 wheels and are colored a bright

Fracking wastewater is collected in special trucks like these in Pennsylvania, and moved elsewhere (Ohio?). Source: NRDC Switchboard Blog

Yes, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has been used to get to oil and gas since the late 1940s. Yes, the radionuclides are originally “naturally occurring radioactive materials” (NORMs), not a problem if left in their natural configuration, spread out, trace amounts. But once you inadvertently pump large amounts of these out of shale, concentrate them, mix them with other terrible things, it becomes something different—TENORMs (technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials)—something you REALLY don’t want in your water supply.  Refer to the horrible fate of radium’s discoverer Marie Curie if you doubt that radium is hazardous.

To my core questions, things that I’ve brought up again and again in recent bloggings, what, why, are the systems and rules that enable, or fix (or exacerbate) our problems?
Similar to the inaction around the multi-state + Canada invasion of Asian Carp, something I’d previously blogged about here, the constitutional system we have provides ways to deal with the issue, but no one is stepping up and adequately addressing the problem. The multi-jurisdictional nature of our system enables struggle, appropriate checks and balances, collaboration, but also gridlock and EPIC FAIL if the human beings at the helm of the different gov’t branches and agencies are corrupt and/or ineffectual shampoo models.

What must be done about the toxic wastes left behind by the shale gas rush?

One can easily imagine the preserved head of James Madison judging medical cannabis, and indeed all medicines and drugs, the province of the individual citizen and/or “the several states,” as centralized decision-making for the entire country, especially where commerce and a man’s personal habits are concerned, would be perceived as positively British and anathema to the whole constitutional project.
But it is much more difficult to envision the framers’ possible positions on environmental law.  The founders, especially the Virginians, often distained the prospect of an industrialized United States, as debates over which ways of life were best, the most free, the most moral for the developing nation—profit was far from the only objective—were commonly considered as the Constitution took shape, and afterwards.  Cities in general, and wage labor for Big Business industries in particular, were largely seen as part of an unfree, corrupt, dirty system, “a wretched hive of scum and villainy” at odds with the Jeffersonian vision of a society of self-sufficient yeomen farmers, hyper-moral because they’re dependent on no man (except for all the slaves, though this is typically omitted from the sweeping “Empire of Liberty” narratives). The Constitution’s framers couldn’t hammer out a solution for phasing out the slave system that supported (and simultaneously threatened) the kind of economy they wanted—agriculture, shiny independent freeholds—much less did they legislate for socio-economic arrangements they hoped to avoid, factories and mills.

The consequences of large-scale industrialization, air pollution blowing cross-country, water contamination in one state affecting other states downstream, were inconceivable in the late 1700s. Our founding people don’t really offer us any guidance on these issues.
Madison tended to view state governments as unavoidably, intractably corrupt, and that was one of his main arguments for the Constitution and new, more robust federal government: that the people must have watchdogs to guard their rights and liberties against the corrupt excesses and overreaching laws of drunken state legislatures, another crucial check on the tyranny of the majority. But today, few would argue that the federal gov’t is less corrupt, or are better regulators. On the other hand, who else but the feds can deal with water pollution in a river shared by six states?

How can effective regulation and enforcement in the service of long-term public health outcomes be achieved in this time of corruption, deceit and regulatory capture?  How can our constitutional system cope?

Nick

this blog post inspired by my fascination with mutants and mutation, by mito activist Andy Williams who I hope keeps giving ’em hell about the toxic waste in Watertown, NY
and brought to you by the Letter F!

OMG! Invasive Species: Asian Carp Confound U.S. System

Posted by – July 23, 2014

The Mississippi River watershed a post-aCARPalypse world, the Great Lakes fear Carpmageddon!

Verbzerg (third-person singular simple present zergs, present participle zerging, simple past and past participle zerged)

(slang, video games, strategy games) To attack an opponent with a large swarm of units before they have been able to build sufficient defenses.

From the game StarCraft (1998), in which the easily mass-produced Zerg units encourage such a strategy.

the aCARPalypse has come.  The verb to zerg, originally coined as “to zerg rush” with the quickly and easily mass-produced Zerg soldiers in the PC strategy game StarCraft, fits perfectly the Asian carp invasion of North America’s freshwater ecosystems.  No invasive species in recent memory is invadier than Asian carp—they have zerged up the Mississippi River and its tributaries—swarming everything with unbelievably-fast mass-reproducing carp, crushing biodiversity before our civilization is “able to build sufficient defenses.”

A comparison with a zombie apocalypse, or zompocalypse, is apt too, as everything in an ecosystem the Asian carp touch rapidly become all Asian carp, all the time.  This brings to mind the old adage “90% of everything is crap carp,” though it has long been even carpier than that…

…according to one study cited in the Asian Carp II Seventh Circuit case, 95% of everything is carp. (“A fish kill conducted near St. Louis in 1999 showed that the Asian carp constituted over 95% of the biomass in the Mississippi at that place and time.”)
Source: (Theodore) Sturgeon’s Law, as applied to the invasive fish species problem – Eugene Volokh’s law blog

Think how overwhelming the zerg rush of carp must be now, 15 years after that study!

"The Midwest Faces Carpmageddon!" painting by Nick Dupree, July 22, 2014

“The Midwest Faces Carpmageddon!” painting by Nick Dupree, July 22, 2014

Like most invasive species, and old monster movies, the monster was created (the alien invader carp introduced) via man’s folly and ignorance of potential unintended consequences.  Asian carp, being super aggressive bottom-feeders, were imported to om-nom U.S. fish farms clean beginning in the 1970s, but with seasonal flooding chauffeuring fish over barriers, it was only a matter of time before the Asian carp escaped sequestered aquaculture and swarmed the natural freshwater ecosystems nearby!

Bighead and silver carp have been the most problematic of the invasive Asian carp species in the U.S., filtering plankton from the water, robbing native species of food and living space.  And because of their bottom-feeding habits, they are difficult to catch with normal angling methods, so obvious counter-measures (giant fish fry) have been ineffective, though fishing efforts continue …the Natural Resources Defense Council has its Eat An Invasive Today! campaign.

It’s an ACARPALYPSE where everything becomes Asian carp, and our system of multiple state jurisdictions, state and federal regulatory agencies and “other agency’s job” inaction vs. the uncomplicated carp zerg rush upstream has been a total failure.   Our gov’t has been outwitted by carp.  Our system’s inability to mount a defense,

Wrath of Carp™

stop or slow the spread of one-fish-group supremacy (ecosystems becoming carp monocultures or carptocracies) has led to lawsuits by the upstream states and other parties who have LOTS to lose economically if/when the carp wave crashes into their ecosystems and wipes out biodiversity, wrecks local fisheries, implodes fishing economies and the dollars from angler tourism, fishing tournaments and all the fishermen there due to rich supplies of diverse indigenous fish would be gone.

The upstream states, especially the Great Lakes states so dependent on their native fish species, have understandably been pushing hard for the pertinent agencies to build defenses to protect the Lakes, specifically advocating “complete hydrological separation” of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin AKA closing the key link to Lake Michigan, the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS).
Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and affected indigenous tribes, all bordering the Great Lakes, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who are responsible for building defenses and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago who own the CAWS.

In the Asian carp I case, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld the prior denials of the pro-hydrological separation states’ claim vs. the CAWS operators and Army Corps of Engineers.  But while rejecting the plaintiffs’ claim because it held that the CAWS was being operated in a sufficiently anti-carp manner, the Court nonetheless ruled against the federales’ claim of sovereign immunity and their argument that federal agencies could never create a public nuisance because they have something like the “divine right of kings” and therefore automatically serve the public good.  The three judge panel acknowledged that the Corps acts on Congress’ orders but refused to immunize them from future public nuisance liability.

July 14, 2014, the Seventh Circuit Court ruled again on the suit against the Corps of Engineers and CAWS operators in what’s being called the Asian carp II case.  In this court opinion, the Appeals panel again upheld earlier denials of the Great Lakes states’ plea because of actively ongoing efforts to prevent the carp from getting through the CAWS.  But the Court also (finally) ruled on the legal question of “public nuisance” definitively, holding that YES, federal agencies can create a “public nuisance.” I’m not entirely clear on the exact definition and limits of “public nuisance” in its legal sense as used here, but this concept could be an important precedent on which future cases might be built.  As someone who was once a plaintiff against the state, I understand that the precedent of the federal gov’t itself causing nuisances and being held liable could be super important, though theoretical here.

The Seventh Circuit also rejected the feds’ rather… unique argument that the nuisance was solely carp “acting of their own accord,” and not their fault.  That concept of carp as legal actors brought oddities like “Our decision does not depend on the fact that the Asian carp are advancing upstream of their own volition,” into it, not the sort of phrase that one would normally find in a federal court decision.
Ultimately, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ opinion in Asian carp II reiterated the previous rulings’ reasoning that the gov’t is doing enough to halt the carp from devastating the Great Lakes, but wholly rejected blaming the carp alone.  “It is the defendants’ apparent diligence, rather than their claimed helplessness, that is key to our holding today…” the ruling stated.
For more about Asian carp II, and longer excerpts from the opinion, see Federal government action can be a public nuisance, Seventh Circuit holds – Eugene Volokh’s law blog

Competing interests are definitely the biggest barrier to a carp barrier, as shutting down the CAWS would upset the movement of millions of tons of vital shipments of iron ore, coal, grain and other cargo, totaling more than $1.5 billion a year, and contribute to the loss of thousands, perhaps bajillions of jobs.  The Chamber of Commerce weighed in with an amicus brief against closing the CAWS, and of course Chicago and the region doesn’t want it closed.

Narrower interests than this have blocked action.  The whole Chicagoland regional economy is a heavy player here with lots of clout.

that’s a lot of carp. Silver carp have special abilities like super-jumping, and in 2010 a kayaker in a race on the Missouri River was hit upside the head by a 20-30 pound jumping carp, knocking him out of the race.

But on the pro-hydrological separation side, there are five other Great Lakes states + the province of Ontario, and Indian tribes, and they have clout too and probably stand to lose even more economically, bazillions in income and countless jobs of multi-state economies, than the pro-defendant interests do if the carpocalypse wipes out the Great Lakes ecosystems. Economic impact on one or both sides of the dispute is a certainty because of inaction instead of action on the issue of invasive Asian carp in prior decades!

Carp jokes aside, I think that this long-standing dilemma raises deeply important questions about the American system itself and the sclerosis and decay afflicting the system:

  • when there are competing interests, who decides?
  • if the Judicial branch can’t force a decision on long-view ecological crises, who can?
  • what is the proper presidential role in the event of invasive species catastrophes?
  • why do none of the legislative solutions proposed in Congress pass?

At this late date, the CAWS may be a moot point as carp babies are evidently immune to the electric barriers and the carp have established footholds beyond the canal.
But the challenge of Asian carp and other invasive species, and the larger issue of good environmental stewardship and protecting our communities from toxins, won’t be going away.

Nick

 

Recommended resources:
Great Lakes Law: Great Lakes on the brink of Asian carp invasion thanks to “monumental government screwup” – great overview of the backstory

Fish Out of Water – The New Yorker – includes a wonderful Ralph Steadman illustration of leaping Asian carp

Final ep in the documentary mini-series Constitution USA – exploring the carpocalypse and other challenges to our constitutional system of divided powers.

Bitesized History: the Code Noir and Mercantilism in Jewish Mobile, Alabama

Posted by – July 16, 2014

Tidbits of Colonial Mobile’s Economic and Legal History Through a 19th century Jewish Lens

The rare book “A History of the Jews of Mobile,” a brief monograph published by Springhill Avenue Temple rabbi Alfred Geiger Moses in 1876 on the Jewish history of my hometown Mobile, AL, and now available online, records some fascinating facts.  I’ll get into the super weird history of Mobile Jews serving in the Twelfth Alabama for the CSA in the Civil War in a future post. In this post I’ll go over the most interesting bits of history I was able to glean of the legal and regulatory system early Mobile had in place (when it was considered part of French Louisiana, then British West Florida, then Spanish West Florida).

Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, Quebecois explorer and administrator who co-founded Mobile in 1701 and again and again served as French Louisiana’s governor.

Mobile was founded by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville on his brother Pierre de Iberville’s advice.  Both young explorers had sailed from their birthplace, Quebec, in search of advantageous spots to put trading posts to cash in on trade with the Indians. The earliest decades of Mobile’s existence saw sparse settlement and several relocations of the colony due to flooding and swamp epidemics. Everything was in flux, and often, like the Dutch,¹ the French only supplied enough money and people to support the bare necessities for trading.  But slowly, the Louisiana colonies eventually added settlers.

New colonial societies can’t function or generate sustainable populations (and are totally depressing) without women. Bienville wrote of the sex ratio emergency to his royal backers in France, and in 1704, Mobile was the first port to see “casquette girls” arrive to be the colony’s first official wives.  Bienville went on to found New Orleans, Natchez and New Biloxi after Iberville founded Old Biloxi near what is now Ocean Springs, Mississippi. “Consignments” of casquette girls reached Biloxi in 1719, and New Orleans in 1728, and to this day a mythos surrounds the casquette girls as the most virtuous religious women of France, like Virgin Marys founded the old Louisiana families.  To claim descent from one of them is to gain auto-nobility in the Louisiana context. Like most lore, the legend that the casquette girls were nuns and Joans of Arc is mostly false. But the dynamic honors founding mothers and mostly omits founding fathers, a notable reversal.

Jews, being strictly banned in the “Code Noir,” weren’t much of a presence in Mobile’s early years. Alfred Geiger Moses noted:

The first two articles of the code read as follows: “Article I: Decrees the expulsion of the Jews from the colony. Article II: Permits the exercise of the Roman Catholic worship only. Every other code of worship is prohibited.” Strange to say, the rest of the code deals with laws regulating the sale and conduct of negro slaves. Gayarre finds the reference to the Jews irrelevant to the general subject-matter of the code. My own explanation of the anti-Jewish laws, which is supported by a good authority, is that they were merely a repetition of the similar legislation current in France at the time of Louis XIV. Drastic as the law appears, it was probably never enforced, because there are no further references to it in Louisiana records. The expulsion of the Jews from America would have been in the sixteenth century an event worthy of the chronicler’s notice.

The Code Noir was developed in France and strictly regulated every corner of economic life that related to the (highly active) slave trade, all activities of the enslaved and freed black population, in enormous detail. And of course a perfunctory ban on all Jews, though Jewish settlement nonetheless accelerated, especially during the subsequent periods of British and Spanish quasi-control.

The main point of controlling Mobile was its lucrative port, so imports and exports were heavily regulated and taxed for the crown’s benefit, and if you didn’t interfere with that imperial extraction process you were relatively free, hence “quasi-control.”
Non-paying the right amount of tribute/taxes, though, could imperil your ability to operate within that colony, and if you were seen as thieving, speculating or profiteering to the detriment of the power people’s loot, you could be imprisoned or death-penaltied.

Rabbi Alfred G. Moses explains:

In the British epoch of Mobile’s colonial history, which extended from 1763 to 1780, an interesting reference to a Jew is citable: Major Robert Farmer, the British commandant of Mobile, was accused, among other charges, of selling flour belonging to the King to New Orleans, or selling or attempting to sell it there by means of “Pallachio, a Jew.” The Major was afterwards acquitted of the charges.

What became of poor Pallachio isn’t known, but it was quite possibly a noir fate.

The concept of “the King’s flour” is really hard to grasp in the 21st century but I think of it as explicitly royalist mercantilism.

Mercantilism meaning “2:  an economic system developing during the decay of feudalism to unify and increase the power and especially the monetary wealth of a nation by a strict governmental regulation of the entire national economy usually through policies designed to secure an accumulation of bullion, a favorable balance of trade, the development of agriculture and manufactures, and the establishment of foreign trading monopolies” (see Merriam-Webster dictionary definition)

The “foreign trading monopolies” were the point of colonization, and more purely about royalist monopolies for the French, being less encumbered by entrenched notions of self-sufficient land-ownership meaning individual freedom and citizenship.

North America has centuries of royalist mercantilism baked into its historical crust! It is deeply enmeshed in our laws, customs, folkways and collective subconscious. When the UK’s imperial-aristocratic profiteering off the tea monopoly became intolerable, you ended up with destruction of corporate tea property at Boston Harbor and shots fired at Lexington and Concord. But British mercantilism was replaced with mercantilism for the republic, pro-American trade policy.

Political rants invoking a bygone golden age of “the free market” and no regulation are misinforming the people.  “The American Way” is another term for the American System, the tariff-heavy economic plan that predominated in the 19th century, mercantilism in reality.  The next time a buffoon is waxing nostalgic about an economic past completely unlike anything we had in North America, remember Pallachio and remember royalist mercantilism.

Nick

 

Footnote:

1. the Dutch were so focused on trade, city design revolved around cramming as many lots as possible as close to trade corridors as possible, which meant tiny lots and mini-buildings.  For a fascinating look at New Netherlanders’ use of space, see
Merwick, Donna. “Dutch Townsmen and Land Use: A Spatial Perspective on Seventeenth-Century Albany, New York.” The William and Mary Quarterly 37 (1980), http://www.jstor.org/stable/1920969

In a Nutshell: America’s Regulatory Octopus and Non-working Toilets

Posted by – July 13, 2014

Part of a new series, “In a Nutshell,” in which I try to explain an idea in 500 words or less.

When the tentacles of regulation clog your toilet

The Commerce Clause of Article I of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes,” and that is the basis for so much of our legal and regulatory system, from drug laws and gun control, to water use regulations for toilets.

Things like building the Hoover Dam to bring water and electricity to multiple states in the American Southwest seems a no-brainer for federal action. Air and water pollution too, with its impact on multiple states and countries, seems to me an obvious place for federal intervention, and the number of regs waived during the past two decades—the carte blanche given to mountaintop removal and hydraulic fracking—should concern all Americans. In many areas, there ought to be more and better regulation, and there are reams of highly questionable or unnecessary regulation too.

A classic example of this “regulatory state” gone awry is what happened with toilets in the ’90s. As the first episode of Constitution USA explores, at around the 40:00 mark, the Energy Policy Act was signed into law by George H.W. Bush in 1992, and water use standards were set for toilets in the U.S. at 1.6 gallons. While I’m the first to favor most water conservation and cleanliness measures, I have to acknowledge the unintended consequences of this toilet rule are bad.
Does the toilet in your home clog at the slightest provocation?  If your home/building was built or had a toilet installed between 1993-2000, this rule is probably why.  Toilet manufacturers immediately adhered to less water per flush, but that meant low-flow toilets.  It was years before toilet design and flush technology caught up, and until then, toilets failed with solid material of even modest size. This legacy of toilet failure is still keenly felt in apartment buildings erected between ’93 and the coming of the 21st century.

The blogosphere had a field day poking fun at Rand Paul for mentioning the non-working toilets at a Senate committee hearing on energy regulations, but dude-bro has a point when he said “the toilets in my house don’t work and I blame you…” (full text statementvideo evidence)
Though Paul’s rant kind of reminds me of that Seinfeld episode when Kramer and Newman hated the new low-flow shower heads installed due to related ’90s water regs, so they got crazy high-flow shower heads for circus elephants on the Yugoslavian black market (Seinfeld video), Randy nonetheless has a point. We need technology that works in our homes, and eventually you get innovation and mega uber toilets invented like the Sydney Smart because of the regs, but meanwhile EPIC FAIL occurs. I think a grace period or something to ease the transition is warranted.

I’d make a much broader point: the authority for all this regulation is the Commerce Clause, and all the case law built atop it, but libertarian-ish right-wingers like Rand Paul blame that underlying system… the underpinning system is not the problem as much as the corruption of the guys who write the rules (Congress and/or the federal agencies). That corruption is where things really go wrong. Removing corporate sponsors and corruption from our gov’t is desperately needed, and that is your answer. The wholesale dismantling of the regulatory system is not going to happen.
But criticism of the regulatory state is certainly understandable. What kind of system regulates toilets so rigidly they can’t manage waste of any rigidity, but can’t regulate the hydraulic fracturing industry’s radioactive waste? a corrupt mess of a system that has been affected by “regulatory capture” in a piecemeal fashion, with different but increasing-in-number tentacles of the regulatory octopus captured over the years.

acrylic painting © Vanessa Barrett

Ultimately, even if the Congress ends up frying a lot of the regulatory octopus’ tentacles, our Commerce Clause is going to mean that federal regulation of things like toilets continues, since toilets are sold across numerous state jurisdictions, and also affect water use regionally and nationally. No toilet exists in a self-contained pocket universe, y’know? But our regulatory state as-is is too messed up, the contradictions too great, and the trust of the rising generation too low-flow for it to be sustainable. Change will have to come for our regulatory octopi, too.

Nick

over 600 words – objective not reached 

Recommended resources:
First ep in the documentary mini-series Constitution USA – exploring the Commerce Clause and the state and federal legal tug of war built in to the constitutional system. Can guns built, bought, and used ONLY in Montana be federally regulated under “interstate commerce?” (the Commerce Clause)
The Atlantic -Rand Paul and the 19-year Libertarian War on Low-flow Toilets – the issues here are long-standing…