A Small Victory

Good, strong statement from Mann:

An Albemarle County Circuit Court judge has set aside a subpoena issued by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the University of Virginia seeking documents related to the work of climate scientist and former university professor Michael Mann.

Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli can investigate whether fraud has occurred in university grants, as the attorney general had contended, but ruled that Cuccinelli’s subpoena failed to state a “reason to believe” that Mann had committed fraud.

The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic who had maintained that he was investigating whether Mann committed fraud in seeking government money for research that showed that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming. Mann, now at Penn State University, worked at U-Va. until 2005.

According to Peatross, the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, under which the civil investigative demand was issued, requires that the attorney general include an “objective basis” to believe that fraud has been committed. Peatross indicates that the attorney general must state the reason so that it can be reviewed by a court, which Cuccinelli failed to do.

Here’s Mann:

“I’m very pleased that the judge has ruled in our favor,” he said in a statement. “It is a victory not just for me and the university, but for all scientists who live in fear that they may be subject to a politically-motivated witch hunt when their research findings prove inconvenient to powerful vested interests.

Cash for Clunkers fail

Jason Kuznicki makes some very good observations. Noting that the destruction of cars – if it were ever to generate wealth – would only be the first among many goods we could destroy to generate said wealth, he writes:

No, the appropriate course would be to generalize, and to destroy all goods in exchange for government scrip. Then we could play Monopoly, I guess, for what all good the money would do. But we’d have to scrape a board in the dirt to do it.

That’s because money isn’t wealth. Money is at best a measure of wealth, which actually consists of goods. Money retains its value as long as there are goods to be traded for it. When the goods disappear, the economy grows poorer, regardless of how the money is shuffled around.

And the payback isn’t long in coming — today’s used car prices are soaring owing to reduced supply. (This link gives even more dramatic numbers, but I’m less sure of them. h/t Radley Balko.)

See how that works? You can’t get something for nothing. Cash for Clunkers turns out to have been a highly inefficient wealth-transfer program, that is, one that destroyed a bunch of wealth along the way. It gave wealth to those already relatively wealthy people who did the government’s bidding (that is, those who could afford to part with a used car and buy a new one). And now it’s taking wealth from those relatively poor people who need a used car today — in the form of higher prices.

Along the way, it destroyed hundreds of thousands of cars — that’s the real wealth these poor people don’t have access to anymore, because the scrapped cars aren’t a part of the economy.

On top of being a renter, I’m also a used-car buyer. When Cash for Clunkers was implemented I went to check out what I could get for my own clunker (which still drives fine, by the way), and everything was out of my price range. However, a ‘99 Honda CRV was affordable enough, so we got that instead, from a private seller. A new one would have cost about four times as much even with the government credit.

Meanwhile thousands upon thousands of used vehicles like my “new” ‘99 CRV were traded in and destroyed, artificially inflating the cost of used cars by diminishing their supply and likewise artificially bolstering the demand for new, expensive cars. This is a fairly obvious transfer of wealth from the poor and working class to the middle and upper class. Whatever stimulative effect it may have had, it was also an act of destruction and a temporary fix for car dealers and automakers at the expense of low-income consumers. I’m all for stimulus, but let’s keep it productive. Let’s build things with our stimulus dollars, not destroy them.

Breaking windows is no more economically sensible than blotting out the sun to protect candlestick-makers. If we want to create jobs with tax dollars let’s at least get to work patching up our dilapidated infrastructure or investing in a new, better infrastructure of the future. We’ll leave fewer casualties in our wake.

Not “Treme”, Just Life

Been a good weekend for serendipity, for me. I had not previously heard of Ben Sandmel, but I’ll be looking for more of his work in the future:

For 15 years, Dan Peterson worked as a cook on oil rigs off the coast of Louisiana. During much of that time Peterson lived on Grand Isle, the barrier island community that has experienced some of the worst damage from the BP spill. Although Peterson retired three years ago, he maintains close ties with his offshore compadres, and has keenly monitored the events of the past 100-plus days.
Peterson did not participate in drilling per se. On a rig, food service personnel are considered a lower caste by those who actually work in oil production. But 18 hours of daily duty in the galley, where all crew members would gather at one time or another, created a dual reality in which Peterson was virtually omnipresent yet also figuratively invisible.
“I saw and heard a lot,” he said. “As a cook I was regarded as a retarded derelict and accorded a degree of anonymity, which left me privy to many acts of bribery and extortion not open to public scrutiny. I was on more than one job where I was enlisted to go ashore and pick up a few bottles of Johnnie Walker Black and a fat envelope for someone with MMS.”
Peterson’s assessment of the current crisis focuses on the critical issue of caution vs. quotas. “I don’t know the mechanics of what happened on the Deepwater Horizon,” he says, “but it is crystal clear in my mind why the potential and then later-realized [problem] occurred. It boils down to BP’s oxymoronical safety/production bonus plan. If everything went cool while digging a hole, everyone involved would be given a quite large, tax-free check at the end. The code of omerta was of paramount importance, and everyone was either D&D [deaf and dumb] or a cheese-eater” — a rat who would inevitably be hazed and punished by co-workers. In Peterson’s view, however, this dangerous situation was hardly unique: “I’ve worked on many BP rigs. Their safety efforts are no better or worse than any other company’s.”
“BP has been leading the Coast Guard around by its nose,” Peterson continued. “They have Thad Allen [the retired Coast Guard admiral who is President Obama’s point man] on a leash. He acts subservient to them because he’s not an oil man. He’s a bureaucrat and…won’t stand up to them.” Plaquemines Parish Billy Nungesser, a very visible and vocal figure during the past 100 days, has called for Allen’s resignation…
“Grand Isle is a very insular community,” Peterson concluded. “It’s distanced by two-hours’ drive from any semblance of civilization…But now it’s as if it was dead. Grand Isle has become like the town that Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin took over in ‘The Wild One.’ Since the spill, it causes me great pain to go back there.”

He’s got other columns at the link, too, and they’re well worth reading. Goddess knows there are plenty of stories to be told about this latest disaster, and too many people who’d prefer we all develop a terminal case of collective amnesia.

Decent Track Record, Spoiled

McClatchy has a good analysis of how well we were doing on oil spill prevention and containment until the Deepwater Horizon accident:

The Coast Guard data indicate that the volume of small and large spills has declined steadily across the decades. For instance, the number of spills between 1 and 100 gallons decreased by almost 77 percent from 1973 to 2004. Spills larger than 100,000 gallons dropped by 89 percent during the same period.

I don’t buy the “culture of complacency” explanation being peddled by some of the experts quoted in the piece. Hookers and whiskey at the MMS had a lot to do with it, too.

Barton SmugMug

Commentor Cat Lady linked to a video of Rep. Barton (R – TexIdiot) demonstrating his firm grasp of the Erl Bidniz:

If there were a German word meaning “a face that cries out for a fist in it”, Barton’s photo would appear next to it in the dictionary. I’m sure Secretary Chu is enjoying the excellent Joe Barton Would Like to Apologize website.

My personal favorite, so far: … Charles Manson, for that variety show he never got to do. I’m your biggest fan, Chuck!

Update: Twitter from Robert Gibbs: Who would the GOP put in charge of overseeing the energy industry & Big Oil if they won control of Congress? Yup, u guessed it – JOE BARTON

A commentor at Wonkette added: “Before he entered Congress in 1989, Joe Barton was an executive with ARCO (Atlantic Richfield Company), which became a subsidiary of BP in 2000 and is now officially known as BP West Coast.” That led me to investigate Barton’s Wikipedia page (“The neutrality of the article is disputed…”), which is a treasure trove:

During his political career, the industries that have been Barton’s largest contributors were oil and gas ($1.4 million donated), electric utilities ($1.3 million) and health professionals ($1.1 million)[32] He is ranked first among members of the House of Representatives for the most contributions received from the oil and gas industry, and number five among all members of Congress. His largest corporate contributor, Anadarko Petroleum, owns a 25 percent share in the Macondo Prospect, the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

And, yes, he is not only a global warming denalist, but probably the leader of the current Global Warming Denialist Caucus.