Archive

February 21st, 2016

Don't live in Flint? Lead is still your problem

    The crisis in Flint, Michigan has focused attention on lead-tainted water flowing through taps in the U.S. as well as lead paint exposures that continue to plague cities such as Baltimore and Philadelphia. While there's skepticism surrounding recent claims that lead poisoning rates are higher in Philadelphia than in Flint, there's no disputing that there's a serious problem in both cities and many others.

    The term "poisoning" is the source of some confusion. Since Flint switched to a more corrosive source of water in 2014, bringing lead from pipes into the drinking supply, some residents have reported rashes, hair loss, fatigue and other classic symptoms of lead poisoning. But scientists now believe that exposures too low to cause people to feel sick can do serious and possibly permanent neurological damage, especially in children.

    Studies have found evidence of learning and behavior problems in children with blood lead levels of less than 10 micrograms per deciliter, which until a few years ago was considered safe. That's well below the average of 15 micrograms per deciliter back in the 1970s, when people were exposed to lead from gasoline.

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Apple's iPhone battle with the government will likely be a privacy setback

    Imagine if the government required you to have a combination lock on your door and to give it the key. It would create security and privacy risks for you and your family. This is what could happen if we required the technology industry to add back doors to its software and devices. Hackers, criminals, and foreign governments could crack the code and abuse it. This is what the technology industry is rightfully rallying against.

    But this isn't the fight that Apple just picked with the U.S. government. It refused to comply with a search warrant to unlock an iPhone that was used by one of the terrorists who killed 14 people and injured 22 in San Bernardino last year. The government had the permission of the owner of the device, San Bernardino County, and made a reasonable request.

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The [Redacted] Truth about the CIA

    It’s no secret that the CIA isn’t always up front with the public about its operations. You may even be kept in the dark if you’re an elected official. But did you know the agency even lies to its own employees?

    That’s the subject of a recent Washington Post report on a heretofore unknown practice at the CIA called “eyewashing.”

    Before moving to the substance of the article, however, I owe my readers an explanation: The Central Intelligence Agency must approve of everything I write about intelligence, the CIA, foreign policy, diplomacy, the military, and national security — for the rest of my life.

    They didn’t like this column, even though the source material is freely available to anybody who reads the Post. The CIA consented to let me run it, but only if I redacted a few important sections.

    I’ve decided to show you the CIA’s cuts, rather than engage in a protracted negotiation.

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The Billionaire Bankrolling the Latest Trade Deal Push

    A New York Times article about Barack Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership opened with this sunny headline: “Trade Pact Would Lift U.S. Incomes, Study Says.”

    But wait, a study by whom? It comes from the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics.

    What’s that? We’re not told, even though that information is key to understanding this group’s upbeat take on the TPP trade scheme.

    It turns out the institute is largely funded by major global corporations that would gain enormous new power over consumers, workers, and the very sovereignty of the United States if Congress rubber stamps this raw deal.

    In fact, many of the multinational giants financing the institute were among the 500 corporate powers that were literally allowed to help write the 2,000-page agreement — including Caterpillar, Chevron, IBM, GE, and General Motors.

    And get this: The Peterson Institute itself helped write this scam it’s now hyping.

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Supreme Court's future could go to the voters

    The Onion's wizards of wacky wit struck just the proper tone with this headline: "Justice Scalia Dead Following 30-year Battle With Social Progress."

    I can easily imagine the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who professed a robust belief in the existence of heaven, would have nodded his approval of that satirical sendoff.

    He defended his conservatism with the happy abandon of William F. Buckley's classic definition of a conservative: "someone who stands athwart history yelling Stop."

    Scalia was a giant as an "originalist," which also is the title of a play about the justice that premiered in Washington last year.

    Originalism, simply put, holds that the Constitution must be applied based on the original meaning of its text, not on legislative history or the assumed intention of its authors.

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Scalia’s Ghost Can’t Save Oil, Gas, and Coal

    Bleak news for fossil fuels is piling up higher than an icy Washington snowbank in the capital’s most precipitation-challenged state.

    Peabody Energy, the nation’s biggest coal company, is limping toward bankruptcy after its shares sank 99 percent over the past two years. Arch Coal, the industry’s second-largest player, filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.

    King Coal is huddling for warmth with down-and-out oil and gas producers. One out of three of the world’s biggest publicly traded companies in those businesses could file for bankruptcy this year, the Deloitte auditing and consulting firm determined. They collectively owe $150 billion in debt.

    “These companies have kicked the can down the road as long as they can,” William Snyder, head of corporate restructuring at Deloitte, told the Reuters news service. “Now they’re in danger of kicking the bucket.”

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Scalia's political legacy

    In the end, Justice Antonin Scalia's greatest influence may yet turn out to be in the political rather than in the judicial realm.

    For all his record and reputation as the leading conservative and "originalist" advocate of a generation on the Supreme Court, the manner in which his death has intruded on the 2016 presidential election may well be best remembered.

    Already Scalia's passing has inspired all the Republican candidates to throw down the gauntlet to the lame-duck President Obama, demanding that he withhold the nomination of a successor and leave the choice to the next president.

    Obama quickly disabused them of that notion, whereupon some of them have vowed to deny his eventual nominee a Senate committee hearing while he is still in office. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said he would filibuster such a nomination and that the Senate was "not remotely" required to take it up.

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Scalia may be the last of the originalists

    Justice Antonin Scalia didn't invent originalism. The credit for that on the modern Supreme Court goes to Justice Hugo Black, who developed the approach to constitutional interpretation as a liberal tool to make the states comply with the Bill of Rights. But Scalia did more to bring originalism into the conservative mainstream than any other Supreme Court justice. In fact, his role as the godfather of the conservative constitutional rebirth of the 1980s and '90s derived from his originalist advocacy.

    But will Scalia's originalist legacy last? Can the philosophy outlive the man? There is reason to doubt it -- because Scalia is literally irreplaceable, and because the younger conservative justices aren't originalists of the same stripe.

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February 20th

Congress wary of Chinese deal for Chicago Exchange

    Dozens of members of Congress plan to ask the Obama administration to review the planned acquisition of the Chicago Stock Exchange by a Chinese firm, to assess whether it poses a national security risk or a risk to the companies traded on the exchange.

    The Chicago Stock Exchange announced this month that it would be sold to a consortium led by the Chongqing Casin Investment Group of China, a move that would inject needed resources into the exchange and give the Chinese firm a foothold in the $22 trillion U.S. equities marketplace. Chinese state media reported that the deal was meant to eventually bring more Chinese firms into the U.S. market and that U.S. technology could be used to open new exchanges in China, a potential win- win for both sides.

    But the exchange's CEO, John Kerin, has said that he doesn't know who owns Chongqing Casin and that the Chinese government may be a minority stakeholder, as it is in most large Chinese businesses.

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Sanders can win the minority vote

    Organizing a protest against police violence in the black community, a curly-haired kid from Brooklyn found himself with a Chicago police officer's finger in his face. "It's outside agitators like you who're screwing this city up," the cop told him. "The races got along fine before you people came here."

    That young man was Bernie Sanders, and the confrontation took place in 1962, while Sanders was a University of Chicago student. In the following years, Sanders would lead sit-ins against housing discrimination and get arrested while marching for equal education.

    Now, as the 2016 campaign for president bears down on the fractious states beyond Iowa and New England, Sanders - today a 74-year-old U.S. senator from Vermont and candidate for the Democratic nomination for president - needs to convince minority voters that black lives still matter as much to him as they did 50 years ago.

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