Nov
23

Cesspits of bad behavior

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Hans Speckaert – Conversion of St Paul on the Road to Damascus. Via Wikimedia Commons.

In business today, too often integrity is an afterthought.

The San Francisco Chronicle quotes from the blog, Both Sides of the Table, by investor Mark Suster, “I believe that integrity and honesty are very important to most venture capital investors. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that they are required to make a lot of money.”

In a piece that might be titled, “The Real Jerks of Silicon Valley,” Alyson Shontell examines how many rising stars in Silicon Valley tend to be “–holes”. (The construction pops up frequently in the piece.) The rogues gallery is expansive, including Uber’s Travis Kalanick. He’s had a particularly bad week. Still,

“Sometimes,” one acquaintance said of Kalanick, “–holes create great businesses.”

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Nov
23

Sunday Morning Music

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Nov
22

Hang On Tight

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Just because Rep. Tim Moffitt lost his reelection bid doesn’t mean the fight over Asheville’s water system is over. And guess what? There’s still time for more mischief before January.

The case is still in the courts. So stay tuned.

But as some of us have observed, the push to wrest control of water from cities is not a local phenomenon. Others without any connection to the Sullivan Acts are having the same fights around the country. Detroit, for example. Some, like St. Louis, are winning:

A new report from Corporate Accountability International, “Troubled Waters: Misleading Industry PR and the Case for Public Water,” addresses the privatization juggernaut to describe how some cities have dealt with corporate pressure, especially since some of it is predicated on the needs of U.S. water systems for as much as $4.8 trillion in investment in the next 20 years, as private companies, such as the French multinational Veolia Water North America, hinting that privatization would help create the needed capitalization.

The report describes elements of Veolia’s strategy in St. Louis. One example is their offer of consulting services (through Veolia’s Peer Performance Solutions) that would cut public water system costs, but in reality would be a foot in the door toward privatization. After years of pitching, Veolia got the city, including Mayor Francis Slay, to approve a Peer Performance Solutions contract with Veolia, but community activists and nonprofits challenged the idea. Activists formed the St. Louis Dump Veolia coalition to oppose the contract. The Great Rivers Environmental Law Center did its own analysis of the proposed contract, finding that the “contract will have the effect of privatizing the city’s Water Division, and will make city residents captive to Veolia.” According to the Corporate Accountability International report author, Emanuele Lobina, the terms of the Veolia contract would make Veolia “the private owner of all ideas for improving the St. Louis Water Division.”

Ultimately, Veolia failed. withdrew. Perhaps because 33 U.S. cities that went down the privatization path have already “re-municipalized” their water systems. Sometimes the glossy sales pitch is the only thing that shines about these deals.


Categories : Local, Tim Moffitt, Water
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Nov
22

The other dispossessed

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This week the president presented his new immigration plan for undocumented immigrants. The right will hate it as much as the left will insist it is the decent and humane thing to do.

But Democrats might consider that, unless they widen their focus, doing the right thing for undocumented immigrants and other left-leaning voting groups will further alienate a neglected bloc of voters they very much need to pay more attention to: the white working class. Democrats lost them in 2014 by 30 points.

At PoliticsNC, Thomas Mills explains:

For workers, wages have been stagnant for more than a decade and for most of the past 30 years. For a while, easy credit gave a sense of improving lifestyles, but that illusion came crashing down in the recession. Working class families got hit the hardest and have yet to recover. They’ve also not seen much offered in assistance.
However, their neighbors, some who don’t work and some who are in the country illegally, keep getting help. They want something for themselves. Instead, they see affirmative action programs give minority families and businesses a hand up, or as they see it, an unfair advantage. They see the president offering residency and the benefits of this country to undocumented workers, while they’ve been hard-working, law-abiding citizens who aren’t sure they can offer their own children a better quality of life.

Republicans understand these reactions and have exploited them. Democrats, in contrast, make the case for why the policies are the right thing to do. In short, Republicans appeal to emotions while Democrats appeal to morality and reason. In politics, emotion wins almost every time.

Democrats are losing working-class whites faster than demographics and a younger base of voters can shift the balance in their favor, writes Mills. Plus, they hate welfare, as Kevin Drum says. So while the left’s focus on helping disadvantaged classes feels like (and is) a good and moral thing to do, the struggling white, middle-class worker — feeling pretty dispossessed himself — looks on and feels ignored. The GOP will at least give him a lip-service tax cut and somebody to blame: the undeserving poor and their benefactors, the Democrats.

Kevin Drum writes:

It’s pointless to argue that this perception is wrong. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. But it’s there. And although it’s bound up with plenty of other grievances—many of them frankly racial, but also cultural, religious, and geographic—at its core you have a group of people who are struggling and need help, but instead feel like they simply get taxed and taxed for the benefit of someone else. Always someone else. If this were you, you wouldn’t vote for Democrats either.

Complaining that polls show progressive policies are widely popular doesn’t win elections. Especially when a frustrated populace complains that there’s no difference between parties and Democrats in leadership go out of their way to reinforce it. The buzzword solution seems to be populism, but it’s one thing to say and another to communicate effectively when it’s virtually a dead language, and Democrats’ leading 2016 contender doesn’t speak it.

An old anecdote about George H.W. Bush comes to mind:

“Colleagues say that while Bush understands thoroughly the complexities of issues, he does not easily fit them into larger themes,” Ajemian wrote. “This has led to the charge that he lacks vision. It rankles him. Recently he asked a friend to help him identify some cutting issues for next year’s campaign. Instead, the friend suggested that Bush go alone to Camp David for a few days to figure out where he wanted to take the country. ‘Oh,’ said Bush in clear exasperation, ‘the vision thing.’ The friend’s advice did not impress him.”

Promising a laundry list of policies, however popular, will not impress a dispossessed white, working class failed by a rigged system unless they fit into a vision of a fairer economy and a more secure quality of life.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


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Nov
21

Compassionate at birth

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Genesis 4
9 And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

One of the takeaways from the Genesis account of Cain’s murder of his brother is, yes, you are. And we are wired that way, suggest experiments involving young children. Cognitive scientist Paul Bloom, author of Just Babies told Inquiring Minds last week that a basic sense of morality likely developed via Darwinian evolution:

“I think all babies are created equal in that all normal babies—all babies without brain damage—possess some basic foundational understanding of morality and some foundational moral impulses,” says Bloom on the Inquiring Minds podcast.

The question is how much of our moral sensibility is innate and how much is acculturation? By studying babies before they receive instruction and language, Bloom and other researchers hope to get at that answer. Using simple puppet plays , researchers find that babies and toddlers exhibit a sense of fairness, and a preference for “helping” characters. They avoid “hindering” ones.

Interestingly, as the toddlers get a little older, this sense of fairness seems to morph into pure egalitarianism—at least when it comes to distributing other people’s stuff. “There’s a lot of research suggesting that when it comes to divvying up resources that strangers possess, they are socialists—they like to share things equally,” says Bloom.

When asked to hand out treats to other people or to stuffed animals, 3- and 4-year-old children will divide resources equally, if at all possible. Even if they know that one person deserves more of a resource than another because she worked harder for it, they will still opt for equal distribution. In a study of 5-to-8-year-olds, when it was impossible to divide resources equally—for example, if the children were given five erasers to distribute to two people—they would even throw the extra eraser in the trash instead of giving more to one person than the other.

“But this compassion and this helping, it all pertains to the baby’s own group,” says Bloom. They are less naturally generous with out-group members.

By our natures, we strongly value those around us over strangers. And to the extent that you and I don’t, to the extent that you and I might recognize that somebody suffering, I don’t know, from the Ebola virus in Africa, is a life just as valuable as those of our closest friends and family, that’s an extraordinary cultural accomplishment. And it’s something that’s not in the genes. It’s not what we’re born with.

What strikes me is how this research echoes something paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey said about Turkana Boy in speculating about the development of compassion in early Man:

Bipedalism carried an enormous price, where compassion was what you paid your ticket with. You simply can’t abandon somebody who’s incapacitated because the rest will abandon you next time it comes to be your turn.

There but for the grace of God. Compassion has an evolutionary advantage, Leakey suggests. Perhaps it is what helped us rise above the law of the jungle.

The irony is that a libertarian-leaning conservative posted the Mother Jones article on Bloom — “Science Says Your Baby Is a Socialist” — to a Facebook forum as a tweak to lefties (socialist babies, I suppose). In fact, it would seem that a movement that sneers at being your brother’s keeper in organizing human society is hardly an accomplishment, cultural, political, or evolutionary.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


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Nov
21

Friday Open Thread

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Has the sky fallen yet?


Categories : Open Thread
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We’ll spare you the easy Uber jokes and get right to it. The ridesharing service is not having a good week after a couple of Buzzfeed articles hit social media. It seems Uber executives might like to surveil both customers and critics. The WaPo has this:

The controversy stemmed from remarks by Uber Senior Vice President Emil Michael on Friday night as he spoke of his desire to spend $1 million to dig up information on “your personal lives, your families,” referring to journalists who write critically about the company, according to a report published Monday night by Buzzfeed. The same story said a different Uber executive once had examined the private travel records of a Buzzfeed reporter during an e-mail exchange about an article without seeking permission to access the data.

That combination of vindictiveness and willingness to tap into user information provoked outrage Tuesday on social-media sites, spawning the hashtag “#ubergate” on Twitter. Critics recounted a series of Uber privacy missteps, including a 2012 blog post in which a company official analyzed anonymous ridership data in Washington and several other cities in an attempt to determine the frequency of overnight sexual liaisons by customers — which Uber dubbed “Rides of Glory.”

Our daily interaction with tech companies means “we have never been more extortable,” according Chris Hoofnagle, a UC Berkeley law professor specializing in online privacy.

Read More→


Categories : Economy, National
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Fracking continues to gain in unpopularity. During the recent election, candidates and campaigners told me one sure way to flip voters from the opposition — especially rural voters — was to inform them the Republican supported fracking.

There’s trouble at t’drill in Bakersfield, CA. “Errors were made.” (video at KNTV link):

State officials allowed oil and gas companies to pump nearly three billion gallons of waste water into underground aquifers that could have been used for drinking water or irrigation.

Those aquifers are supposed to be off-limits to that kind of activity, protected by the EPA.

Nah. Never happen where you live, right?

“This is something that is going to slowly contaminate everything we know around here,” said fourth- generation Kern County almond grower Tom Frantz, who lives down the road from several of the injection wells in question.

According to state records, as many as 40 water supply wells, including domestic drinking wells, are located within one mile of a single well that’s been injecting into non-exempt aquifers.

Kern County community organizer Juan Flores told reporters, “No one from this community will drink from the water from out of their well. The people are worried. They’re scared.”

But there’s nothing to see here, little people:

The trade association that represents many of California’s oil and gas companies says the water-injection is a “paperwork issue.” In a statement issued to NBC Bay Area, Western States Petroleum Association spokesman Tupper Hull said “there has never been a bona vide claim or evidence presented that the paperwork confusion resulted in any contamination of drinking supplies near the disputed injection wells.”

However, state officials tested 8 water supply wells within a one-mile radius of some of those wells.
Four water samples came back with higher than allowable levels of nitrate, arsenic, and thallium.
Those same chemicals are used by the oil and gas industry in the hydraulic fracturing process and can be found in oil recovery waste-water.

“We are still comparing the testing of what was the injection water to what is the tested water that came out of these wells to find out if they were background levels or whether that’s the result of oil and gas operation, but so far it’s looking like it’s background,” said James Marshall from the California Department of Conservation.

Marshall acknowledged that those chemicals could have come from oil extraction, and not necessarily wastewater disposal.

I know, right? What a relief.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


Categories : Environment, Water
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A 13-year-old teen attending a soccer tournament in Raleigh, NC died in his hotel room, in his bed Friday night:

Nathan Andrew Clark was staying in the Comfort Suites hotel while he participated in the Capital Area Soccer League tournament.

At approximately 11 p.m., a woman who was in the room with him called 911, saying that she “had no idea” what happened to the teen, only that he was bleeding profusely from a bump on the back of his head.

Clark was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police quickly determined that Clark had been shot, and located Randall Louis Vater, who was in a nearby room and in possession of firearms. They said that Vater accidentally discharged his weapon, and that the round traveled through the wall and into Clark’s room, where it fatally struck him.

Vater has a long history with law enforcement, having served time in prison on charges ranging from violating a restraining order to communicating threats to hit-and-run. He was in police custody as recently as October 25, according to Department of Public Safety records.

Police charged Vater with “involuntary manslaughter and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.”

Nothing left to say.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


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Nov
16

Sunday Morning Music

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Not to put too fine a point on it, but the ostensibly pro-stupidity Weekly Standard put up an anti-Bruce screed after this performance. Maybe it hit a little too close to home.


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