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Santa Barbara Oil Spills, Then and Now

[ 3 ] May 20, 2015 |


In 1969, the beaches of Santa Barbara, California were inundated with oil from a nearby spill. This event galvanized environmentalists both locally and around the nation. I use the Santa Barbara oil spill to help set up Out of Sight, which is coming out officially in 13 days. So buy your copies now. Anyway, an excerpt:

Fifty-eight years later, in 1969, public outrage over corporate behavior again revolved around disturbing images that flashed before Americans’ eyes. Two events that year changed Americans’ views on how industry should treat the environment. First, on January 28, the largest oil spill to that point in American history took place off the coast of Santa Barbara, California when a well blew out on an oil platform owned by Union Oil. Up to 100,000 barrels spilled. People watching their evening news saw sea lions and birds covered in oil, dead fish and marine wildlife, and a paradise spoiled.

The oil industry had long played a controversial role in southern California. As the state became known for its beaches, tourists and developers protested the oil industry’s presence in that beautiful part of the country. Beachgoers in the 1920s found themselves between the picturesque Pacific and a sea of oil derricks. Local residents, led by oil workers’ unions, demanded the industry maintain the character of their towns and beaches. The oil workers unions held beach clean-ups, advocated for drilling limits, and wanted more their towns than the filth of oil pollution. By the 1960s, much of the production had moved offshore, but oil derricks and refineries remained a major feature of the southern California landscape.

When the spill took place, the people of Santa Barbara and southern California responded quickly. An organization named Get Oil Out (GOO) quickly developed. Led by Santa Barbara resident Bud Bottoms, GOO urged people to cut back on driving and boycott gas stations that received fuel from Union Oil. It lobbied to ban all oil drilling off of California and succeeded in enacting new regulations when drilling did resume. Thomas Storke, editor of the Santa Barbara News-Press wrote, “Never in my long lifetime have I ever seen such an aroused populace at the grassroots level. This oil pollution has done something I have never seen before in Santa Barbara – it has united citizens of all political persuasions in a truly nonpartisan cause.” Union Oil suffered greater repercussions for this environmental disaster than any corporation in U.S. history to that time. Company president Fred Hartley couldn’t understand, saying, “I am amazed at the publicity for a loss of a few birds.” The spill made people around the nation realize the importance of preserving the landscapes they loved from industrialists. In the two years after the oil spill, national membership in the Sierra Club doubled. The state banned new leases for drilling on offshore state lands, although existing leases continued to operate. Today, companies do still drill in California, but the visual impact to tourists is much lower than a half-century ago.

The oil spill helped lead to the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, shepherded through Congress by Scoop Jackson who is vilified by progressives today for his defense policy but was one of the most important environmentalists in Senate history.

It may not be as bad as 1969, but another oil spill is now polluting the Santa Barbara beaches:

After flowing from the pipeline, crude pooled in a culvert before spilling into the Pacific, where it created a four-mile-long sheen extending about 50 yards into the water. Officials said winds could send the oil another four miles south toward Isla Vista.

The pipeline, built in 1991 and designed to carry about 150,000 barrels of oil per day, is owned by Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline, which said in a statement that it shut down the pipe. The culvert was also blocked to prevent more oil from flowing into the ocean, the company said.

By late Tuesday, a thick layer of crude had begun to wash ashore, with black tar smearing the rocks as the brackish tides arrived.

“It is horrible,” said Brett Connors, 35, a producer from Santa Monica who said he spotted sea lions swimming in the oil slick. “You want to jump in there and save them.”

The reality is that the oil industry is far too lightly regulated as whether in Santa Barbara, Alaska, or off of the Louisiana coast, our energy infrastructure fails over and over to protect the nation’s fragile ecosystems. If the spills are bad enough, like the BP spill, public outrage can again arise, but ultimately very little has changed since that spill, unlike after the original Santa Barbara spill. The social movement to hold corporations accountable for environmental disasters is not what it was in 1969, in part because so many jobs are now outsourced that working people fear any kind of environmental protections will throw them on the street. This shift in attitude is just one of the many cascading effects of the global race to the bottom, a race that benefits corporations at each and every step.

The Potential Burwell Aftermath

[ 60 ] May 20, 2015 |

John Boehner

The political play for congressional Republicans should the Supreme Court go Moopy is pretty obvious. Pass a bill that temporarily extends subsidies to the federally established state exchanges while being loaded with poison pills, Obama vetoes it, Republicans assert that Obama is the reason the state exchanges will fail, media dutifully reports that Views of Shapes of the World Differ and Both Sides Do It and Obama Lacks the Leadership to Lead With Leadership (while conservative media outlets and pundits will have additional narratives that will get some mainstream traction, like Obama’s Use Of the So-Called “Veto Power” Is An Unprecedented Attack on American Constitutionalism.)

But will this actually happen? My guess is that congressional Republicans are too dysfunctional to actually pull this off. Chait agrees:

Obviously, Obama is not going to sign a bill that puts Obamacare on the path to extinction. The purpose is simply to give Republicans a talking point — they can say they passed a bill and blame Obama for vetoing it. But odds are that Republicans will fail to unify around a bill that can pass both houses of Congress with only Republican votes, because some will deem even a bill that causes Obamacare’s eventual demise unacceptably conciliatory.

Likewise, Sargent sees the cracks deepening:

Of course, even if the Court does gut subsidies, the Price alternative isn’t going to happen. Even if Republicans could unite behind the Price plan, or some other alternative, Obama would veto it, and try to pressure Republicans — in Congress and the states — to implement a simple subsidy fix. But the fact that a leading conservative like Price is now opposed to a temporary subsidy patch even on Republicans’ own terms is a reminder that Republicans may prove too divided to accomplish even that.

The lesson that both Chait and Sargent take from this is that Republicans should be careful what they wish for. My read on the situation remains…maybe. I still think there are two factors that will contain the damage for Republicans. First, the states where the Supreme Court could wreck the exchanges overwhelmingly shade red, and in many of these states Republicans are essentially invulnerable. (I do think a Moops invasion would be politically damaging to Scott Walker, a fact that evidently takes on added significance given that he’s a frontrunner for the Republican nomination.) And, second, average voters tend not to be very good as assigning responsibility, and the media won’t necessarily help even if Congress can’t even pass a Potemkin fix. The political press can ignore an awful lot of facts on the ground if they get in the way of the Both Side Do It default.

The precise political effects of the Supreme Court wrecking the exchanges cannot be known. But I do think it’s clear that the only question is how bad it will be. No matter what a there will be a lot of states that don’t have functional exchanges for a while, and while Republicans might pay a political price for this they probably have a lock on the House at least until 2020. Needless to say, by far the best outcome would be for the Supreme Court to not willfully misread the law in order to wreck the exchanges.

The Old Model Minority Bullcrap Again

[ 80 ] May 20, 2015 |


If you speak glowingly of “model minorities,” it is fair for me to assume you are an idiot. Do not compare the experiences of Blacks to any other minority group in the States. You can’t. Black people have had a uniquely (bad) experience as Americans. They’ve been subjected to unique and uniquely awful prejudice. When you compare Blacks to, say, Asians or Jewish people, you are showing your ignorance. The experiences of these different groups simply cannot be compared.

This, ladies and gentleman, has been the latest chapter in “bspencer’s Pet Peeves and Bugaboos that Make Her Want to Slam Her Head Against a Wall Until it Explodes.”

I highly recommend reading the comments, which are–as always–amazing. But this one especially.

Fight for $20

[ 8 ] May 20, 2015 |


Yesterday’s bill in Los Angeles to ease in a $15 minimum wage is great. But it isn’t enough to live on in Los Angeles because housing is so expensive. A $15 minimum wage really just needs to be a first step in the larger fight for living wages for working people.

NFL changes extra point rule to make it 3% less boring

[ 91 ] May 19, 2015 |

super bowl

The NFL had a chance to improve its anachronistic extra point rule, but ended up barely modifying it. PATs will now be snapped from the 15. The only other change in the rules is the adoption of the college system whereby blocked kicks and turnovers off two-point attempts can be returned by the defense.

Given that NFL kickers now make about 95% of their 30-35 yard FG attempts, this change is adds almost no extra strategy or uncertainty to the post-TD ritual, which already takes up too much of that increasingly precious portion of airtime during NFL broadcasts not dedicated to advertisements.

A better rule would have done away with PATs altogether, while awarding seven points for a touchdown. Teams would have the option of going for an eighth point from the two-yard line, at the cost of having the TD reduced to six points if the attempt failed.

Trident Replacement

[ 29 ] May 19, 2015 |
Nuclear Submarine HMS Vanguard Passes HMS Dragon as She Returns to HMNB Clyde, Scotland MOD 45152118.jpg

“Nuclear Submarine HMS Vanguard Passes HMS Dragon as She Returns to HMNB Clyde, Scotland MOD 45152118″ by Photo: CPOA(Phot) Tam McDonald/MOD. Licensed under OGL via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s a terrible idea for the United Kingdom to spend a big portion of its dwindling defense budget on a Trident replacement. The scenarios in which London might need its own nukes in order to reach out and touch someone, or at least get back at someone, are vanishingly few. And replacing the SSBNs that currently prop up waning British prestige keep the Queen safe will make a huge hole in the UKs defense budget for a very long time. From my point of view, one of the few true bright spots in the potential for Scottish secession lies in undermining the remaining arguments for Trident replacement.

Oh, and then there’s this:

If you’ve never seen a missile compartment before you probably have a picture of a glistening high tech piece of equipment in your head. Before Captains rounds or a VIP visit it is pretty glistening but during most of the patrol it’s far from it. Missile Compartment 4 deck turns into a gym. There are people sweating their asses of between the missiles, people rowing between a blanket of s**t because the sewage system is defective, sometimes the s**t sprays onto the fwd starboard missile tubes and there’s also a lot of rubbish stored near the missile tubes. Not an image you would expect of the “most advanced weapon system on the planet”.

There were a few incidents of people in the gym dropping weights near the nuclear weapon’s firing units. I heard one person joke about how he accidentally throw a weight and it nearly hit a missiles firing unit. A person was caught using a Bluetooth speaker to play music on MC 4 deck. The captain found out and a warning issued over Full Main Broadcast (FMB) all personal electronics would be banned if anyone else was caught using Bluetooth in the Missile Compartment.

This is a quote from CB8890 (0430) – With live missiles embarked, the only portable radios authorised for use in the MC / AMS 2 are Cromwell Radios and Fire Fighter helmets with built in communications (FFHBC).

E. Electronic equipment in the MC other than that required for safety and security must not be operating.

Personnel Electronics should be banned yet the policy isn’t enforced. You can bring whatever electronic devices you want onboard: laptops, phones, pads etc. Almost everyone onboard sleeps on a level of the Missile Compartment. They use their own personal electronics right beside the missiles.

Simple rules like no e-cigs and no shaving are also not obeyed. With the ventilation constantly circulating air around the submarine it is possible for the hairs to be picked up and cause short circuits. In the Missile Control Centre a Power Alert Alarm kept appearing and disappearing. A possible cause is something like dust or hair creating a short.

They Hate Us for Our Branes

[ 283 ] May 19, 2015 |


Normally I would not link to stuff like this but I am in a weird mood. Anyway, I read it. Now you have to. What you’re clicking on is probably the unsexiest circle jerk of all time. OK, I’ll quit hedging: It’s Vox Day talking about how people don’t like him because he’s just too goddamn smart. Thanks (??) to Origami Isopod.

Transgender History

[ 6 ] May 19, 2015 |


The speed in which the transgender rights movement is moving is utterly remarkable and truly amazing. Here’s a useful timeline of the movement’s history.

Labor History in the Classroom

[ 11 ] May 19, 2015 |


Above: Strikers in Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1949

While right-wing states are freaking out about the new AP standards (never mind that this year’s AP US History DBQ was on the rise of the conservative movement), Connecticut has now passed a bill encouraging the teaching of labor history in the state’s classrooms, albeit with a caveat to also include free market economics, i.e., the destroyer of working people. Despite this, a major advance in including working people’s history in education.

Fight for $15

[ 24 ] May 19, 2015 |


The Los Angeles City Council voting 14-1 to increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour is a very big deal. Doing this city by city or state by state is not ideal. But given the broken government at the federal level, it’s the best option we have now and could transform minimum wages around the state of California and beyond. A major victory for workers.

Personally, I look forward to the Fight for $20.

Was Gonzales v. Raich Wrongly Decided? [Spoiler: No.]

[ 55 ] May 19, 2015 |

Pursuant to our recent discussions, I would urge people interested in issues of federal power to actually read the Raich opinions, just as it’s useful to actually read Wickard. The Stevens opinion for the Court is a very clear description of the relevant doctrines and persuasively explains why the actions of the government were, while wrong as a policy matter, constitutional. And while I’m sure Ginsburg extensively quoted Scalia’s concurrence in Sebelius partly to tweak him, she also did so because it’s brilliant. Congress has the power to regulate interstate markets, and it also has the power to pass regulations necessary to effectuate these regulations, even if the additional regulations reach behavior that is local or noncommercial. (Here’s one tip, gleaned from having taught these cases multiple times: if someone tells you that the Supreme Court found that Raich and Monson were themselves “engaged in interstate commerce,” you know that either they haven’t read the opinion or don’t understand it.) As long as the connection between the broader scheme and the regulation is rational, the courts should defer to Congress’s judgment.

Still, I can see a counter. The War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs is a moral catastrophe. Aren’t liberals entitled to their own cynical uses of federalism? I don’t think you could write a Raich opinion I would want to join, but perhaps you could write one that wouldn’t do much damage. You could begin by emphasizing that Wickard was correct and remains good law. As all three Raich dissenters did, you could certainly distinguish the cases. Raich is more like Wickard than Lopez because there’s a connection to a broader regulatory framework, but the link between the CSA and the actions of Riach and Monson is more attenuated than the link between the AAA and Filburn. (The quotas at issue in Wickard by definition applied only to commercial farms of significant size; the CSA is less discriminate.) If you could write a decision narrowly enough to protect people like Riach without threatening the regulatory state, what’s the harm?

Well, first of all, if you wrote the opinion that narrowly the effect on the W O (scopwus) D would be trivial. Raich presented a relatively unusual set of facts for a federal action. Cases involving the purchase of controlled substance, large-scale possession, distribution, links to firearms, and/or links money laundering could all go forward — in other words, the federal level of the drug war would pretty much proceed as usual. At the state level, Raich would not help at all. The negligible benefits of restricting the federal power to destroy small amounts of homegrown marijuana do not justify the risk of narrowing the federal commerce power.

Alternatively, you could write a broader opinion that might undermine more federal actions under the CSA — but there’s no way of writing such an opinion that wouldn’t threaten huge swaths of the federal regulatory state. If Wickard is overruled — if the federal government cannot regulate activities that are not interstate commerce even it deems them necessary to a broader regulation of an interstate market — then the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, a great deal of environmental regulation is unconstitutional, and so on. Sure, as Scalia and Kennedy showed if you’re hacky enough you find a reason to uphold or not uphold anything, but since a liberal has no reason to believe that a liberal will typically occupy the median vote of the Supreme Court, hoping that the Supreme Court will use more aggressive federalism doctrines to strike down laws you don’t like without striking down laws you do like would be really dumb.

Indeed, the idea that the commerce power could be used to attack the war on drugs without threatening other aspects of the federal regulatory scheme is, if you know anything about the history of the Supreme Court, almost painfully ignorant and naive. The federal courts are, in fact, particularly unlikely to apply their discretion to narrow the ability of the government to enforce drug laws. Raich itself is an excellent argument against the idea of applying more heightened levels of scrutiny to the necessary and proper clause in the hope of stopping the drug war.

The Court’s judgment in Raich was sound. As Sebelius and Shelby County demonstrate, once the courts stop deferring to reasonable congressional judgments about what is “necessary and proper” or “appropriate,” a great deal of mischief can ensue, and the court’s judgments about what is “proper” and “appropriate” will be inherently arbitrary and political. The consensus the Court reached about federal power in the wake of the New Deal made sense, and revising it would be a terrible idea.

David Brooks’s Pathetic Iraq Excuses

[ 176 ] May 19, 2015 |


David Brooks starts off his apologia with some stoned-dorm-room stuff about how if Hitler had been strangled in the crib we wouldn’t have the GI Bill or as many women in the workforce, which means that nobody can really held responsible for Iraq. It does not improve from there. First, note this crafty bit of dissembling:

Which brings us to Iraq. From the current vantage point, the decision to go to war was a clear misjudgment, made by President George W. Bush and supported by 72 percent of the American public who were polled at the time. I supported it, too.

The implication is that more than 70% of the public supported the war ex ante. But if you click the link — which readers of the hard copy edition won’t be able to — you’ll see that the 72% approval rate comes from a poll done with the troops already in the field. Before this rally effect, support was significantly lower. A majority of the public still supported the war, but particularly given the post-9/11 context this support was rather tepid. So I’m afraid Brooks can’t brush this off by saying that the consensus was wrong — there was plenty of opposition at the time even as the public was being misled.

It gets worse:

The first obvious lesson is that we should look at intelligence products with a more skeptical eye. There’s a fable going around now that the intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was all cooked by political pressure, that there was a big political conspiracy to lie us into war.

That doesn’t gibe with the facts. Anybody conversant with the Robb-Silberman report from 2005 knows that this was a case of human fallibility. This exhaustive, bipartisan commission found “a major intelligence failure”: “The failure was not merely that the Intelligence Community’s assessments were wrong. There were also serious shortcomings in the way these assessments were made and communicated to policy makers.”

As Chait observes, the obvious problem here is that Robb-Silberman was only allowed to go forward on the condition that it would not judge the administration’s responsibility. As he explains the evasion: “Step 1: Prevent a Senate report from looking into whether the administration lied. Step 2: Ignore the existence of the report that did show the administration lied. Step 3: Pretend that an intelligence failure and a deliberate effort to cook the intelligence are mutually exclusive.” When congressional investigators were finally allowed to judge the administration’s culpability, they found them plenty culpable.

In addition, Chait is still being too generous to himself and other supporters of the Iraq War by continuing to use the essentially useless term “weapons of mass destruction.” There was, I agree, some evidence that Iraq possessed some of what were labelled WMD as the term was used, even if the administration exaggerated some of it and made up a lot more of it. What there never was any serious evidence that Iraq had WMDs that would pose any threat to American civilians or more threat to people under Huessein’s control than any number of conventional weapons. And, as always, what Davies said. If you’re a sophisticated observer and were still taking the administration seriously after Colin Powell went to the UN and lied his ass off that’s on you.

After some of the dime-store Brukeanism that Brooks remarkably used to defend the Bush adminisration’s lack of planning, the punchline:

I wind up in a place with less interventionist instincts than where George W. Bush was in 2003, but significantly more interventionist instincts than where President Obama is inclined to be today.

If I understand correctly from the preceding paragraphs, this means that the U.S. should ramp up the killing without even the pretense that it’s bringing democracy with it. I suppose Brooks has learned something, but it’s really not the right lesson.

…Greg Sargent has more on the attempt to whitewash Iraq.

…and see also Maloy.

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