WP Comments on Judicial Elections, Religion in Politics, the Energy Independence Sham, and the Link Between Crime and Lead Exposure

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

gasoline lead crime


In It’s a Smart, Smart, Smart World, Nick Kristof celebrates the fact that humans have gotten more intelligent over the past century.  In response to Mr. Kristof’s reference to the removal of lead from gasoline playing a role in such increase in intelligence, Winning Progressive explained that the removal of lead from gasoline and paint is also credited with helping to significantly reduce crime over the past few decades”

I was glad to see you identify the removal of lead from gasoline, which occurred only thanks to the strong advocacy of environmentalists, public health professionals, consumer safety groups, and others in the 1960s and 1970s, as playing a role in increasing levels of intelligence.

A growing body of science shows that the removal of lead from gasoline and the removal of lead paint from houses has also played a key role in the dramatic drop in crime that has occurred throughout the US over the past 30 years.

Lead is a neurotoxin that damages or hinders the development of the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which provides humans with impulse control. When that area of the brain is damaged or underdeveloped, people become more aggressive and impulsive. By reducing lead exposure, we’ve reduced such prefrontal cortex damage and, according to a number of convincing studies, helped create the 30-70% drops in crime experienced throughout the country.

Of course, more work remains to be done as many houses, especially in older and poorer neighborhoods throughout the country, still have lead paint that is impairing childrens’ development. Every dollar spent on lead paint removal is estimated to save $17 to $221 in societal costs. But the fiscal scolds have succeeded in slashing the CDCs lead paint prevention budget from $29 million to $2 million for 2013.

In Social Science Palooza III, David Brooks provided a seemingly random sampling of the findings of recent social science research.   Winning Progressive commented on one such study, which found that state court judges in Washington State hand out harsher sentences in criminal cases as the judges get closer to election day:

Evidence that judges hand out harsher sentences around election time provide yet another reason why judges should be appointed, not elected.

The election of judges undermines the judiciary and our system of government in two ways. The first is that, in our system of checks and balances, the judiciary is supposed to serve as a check on the power of the other two branches. One of the critical checks that the judiciary provides is making sure that the other two branches do not unjustly trample the rights of groups that are not in the majority. But if judges are elected, they become just as susceptible to majority will as the executive and legislative branches are and, therefore, judicial protection of the minority becomes largely a non-starter.

Secondly, courts lack any real enforcement power for their rulings, except what comes from the moral authority they gain from being seen as independent and neutral arbiters of the law. But if judges are ruling with an eye out for their next election, they aren’t engaging in such neutral enforcement of the law and their credibility goes out the window.

While our federal court system, with its lifetime appointments, is far from perfect (see, for example, Bush v. Gore), it is widely understood to be a fairer and more professional forum than state courts. And part of the reason is that most state court judges are worried about re-election.

In The God Glut, Frank Bruni interviewed former Senator Bob Kerrey, who is a rare agnostic public official, and addressed  concerns about increasing officially sanctioned religious proselytizing at the West Point military academy, as reported by former West Point cadet Blake Page.  Winning Progressive offered some thoughts on the role of religious belief in politics:

I am a technical agnostic (I don’t think there is a god, but I don’t have enough faith to be able to definitively say that there absolutely is not a god), but I readily acknowledge that religious belief does and should play a role in politics for many people.

For example, religious belief has always been a prime motivator of the civil rights movement, the social justice work of people like Dorothy Day, and of groups opposed to war and the death penalty. In many, many areas, religious belief has been a force for social good. I am motivated by secular humanistic values, but if other people are motivated by religious belief to help society, that’s great.

Where problems arise is when people try to use politics to impose their religious beliefs to limit the rights of others, whether it is on issues of choice, marriage equality, or access to contraception. If you don’t believe in gay marriage, then don’t have one, but don’t try to use the power of the state to prevent other people from having them.

And certainly we shouldn’t be using government to indoctrinate people in religious faith. That is especially so when it comes to the military. History has shown us time and time again that the combination of religion with military power is a dangerous mixture. Let’s make sure we don’t go any further down that road here.

In American Bull, Roger Cohen offers a significantly misguided argument that increased domestic natural gas and oil production will create energy independence for the US that will lead to a geostrategic shift by ending the “political dependency and expediency” that results from our reliance on Middle East oil.  Winning Progressive responded as follows:

Mr. Cohen, I hate to rain on your parade, but this whole energy independence thing is mostly a sham.

For one thing, we are not nearly as directly reliant on oil from the Persian Gulf as people think. 38% of our oil already comes from the US. Another 20% comes from Canada, and 7.5% comes from Mexico. That’s 65% that comes from North America, compared to only about 12% that comes from the Persian Gulf. So, it is hard to see how increasing the portion that comes from the US to 50% would lead to any major change.

Second, with regards to price and the need to stay involved in the Middle East, it doesn’t matter all that much where we get our oil from because the oil market is an international one. As such, major changes in the Persian Gulf or elsewhere will impact our oil prices even if we aren’t purchasing directly from countries there.

Finally, what we need to be focused on is reducing our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels regardless of whether it is domestic or foreign. If we achieve “energy independence” simply by drilling, fracking, and mining more, the impact on the climate and the environment will be disastrous. Instead, we need to be prioritizing efficiency, and the development or renewable sources of energy. If we don’t, any energy independence “victory” will be hollow and short-lived.


President Obama’s Impressive List of Accomplishments

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012


Over the past three-and-a-half years, President Obama and Democrats have successfully enacted significant progressive legislation and executive policies that have, among other things, created 5.2 million private sector jobs over the past 31 months, kept our nation safe and taken out Bin Laden, made a fairer and more just society, advanced gender equality, and rescued the American auto industry.  At stake in November 2012 is whether these accomplishments will be repealed by the GOP, or whether we will be able to continue to focus on moving our country forward in 2013 and beyond.

Unfortunately, the message of the significant progress that has been achieved so far during the Obama Administration won’t get out unless we progressives talk to our neighbors and friends, write letters to our local newspapers, and use social media to help keep other voters well informed.  In order to help our readers do so, below are links to Winning Progressive’s coverage of just some of the Obama Administration’s progressive accomplishments.  Please share widely.

List of 2009-2010 Democratic Accomplishments

Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Rescuing the American Auto Industry

Closing the Medicare Doughnut Hole

The Successful 2009 Stimulus

Credit Card Industry Reform

Fighting For Small Businesses

Ending Combat Operations in Iraq

Ending Abusive Health Insurance Industry Practices

Expanding Health Insurance Coverage to 32 Million More Americans

Making College More Affordable

Reforming Wall Street

2011 Health Care Reform Benefits

Eliminating Co-Pays on Contraceptive Services as Preventive Care

Challenging the Defense of Marriage Act in Federal Court

Rejecting the Keystone XL Pipeline

Finalizing Air Pollution Rules That Will Save 13,000 Lives Per Year

Increasing Vehicle Fuel Efficiency to 35.5mpg By 2016 and 54.5 by 2025

Implementing a Sensible New Immigration Policy for “DREAMers”

Obama DOJ Wins Significant, Though Not Complete, Victory Over Arizona’s Anti-Immigrant Law

American High-Speed Rail Moving Forward

A Good Friend of Labor

Obama’s Record of Support for Israel


Weekend Reading List

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

For this weekend’s reading list we have articles on climate change, the shady business dealings of a Republican sugar daddy, the hurdles erected by GOP-backed voter suppression laws, the first same-sex civil union to occur on military grounds, and the $1.5 billion fleecing of American taxpayers by Mitt Romney’s 2002 Winter Olympics.


Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math – Bill McKibben’s latest essay on the numbers behind the rapidly growing problem of climate change, and how the fossil fuel industry is stopping us from taking action to address the problem

Inside the Investigation of Leading Republican Money Man Sheldon Adelson – an investigation documenting apparent shady business dealings by Sheldon Adelson, the multi-billionaire who bankrolled Newt Gingrich’s Presidential campaign and is now trying to help Mitt Romney buy his way into the White House

The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification – a report documenting the hurdles that people face in getting the photo IDs that Republican-backed voter suppression laws require people have to vote

The Wedding – the story of the first same sex civil union to occur at a chapel on a US military base, between Tech Sgt. Erwynn Umali and Will Behrens in June 2012

Snow Job – the story of how the 2002 Winter Olympics that Mitt Romney led turned into a $1.5 billion fleecing of American taxpayers

Explaining Extreme Events of 2011 From a Climate Perspective - climate scientists explain how six extreme weather events from last year can be explained from a climate change perspective


Aldo Leopold and Treating the Earth as a “Community to Which We Belong”

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

(By Joanne Boyer, cross-posted at Wisdom Voices)

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac

In order to appreciate the work of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, one has to have a knowledge and appreciation of the man for whom the foundation is named.

If you have not heard of Aldo Leopold, his “land ethic,” or his internationally renowned book, A Sand County Almanac, there is no better time than the present to discover who this remarkable man was and the debt of gratitude we owe him.

Or, if it’s been awhile since you’ve reflected on the man many consider to be the father of wildlife management and of the United States’ wilderness system, revisiting the Aldo Leopold Foundation whether through a virtual or in-person tour provides the opportunity to remember and refocus on the legacy that challenges us to see the natural world “as a community to which we belong.”

The Aldo Leopold Foundation, in Baraboo, Wisconsin, was founded by Leopold’s family to ensure that their father’s vision of a land ethic would continue to inform and inspire the conservation movement. “In 2012, the foundation has grown and matured so that we see it having an important role to play for people who look to Leopold to find wisdom (to establish a more ethical relationship with the natural world) as well as it serving as a way to inspire or re-inspire people to continue to do their own good work on behalf of the environment – wherever they happen to be,” said Wellington B. (Buddy) Huffaker IV, foundation president and executive director.

“For example, there are lots of people who have read A Sand County Almanac (which has been translated into 12 languages) and have been influenced by Leopold’s writing and thinking who are working in their own communities.  Yes, the challenges are still immense, but I think the argument is pretty strong that there is actually more good work going on now than ever before. But it is more at the local community level, where people are working on their watershed, their creek, behind their house.  I think the foundation has an important role to play in ensuring that good work continues.”

One of the newest and most exciting ways the Foundation keeps the voice and spirit of Leopold alive today is through their newly released DVD Green Fire, which describes the formation of Leopold’s idea, exploring how it changed one man and later permeated through all arenas of conservation. The film draws on Leopold’s life and experiences, and then it explores the deep impact of his thinking on conservation projects around the world today. Through these examples, the film challenges viewers to contemplate their own relationship with the land community.

The film, Huffaker points out, offers great potential for the Foundation to “reach out” to those who seek knowledge, energy and a common ground with others in their communities working to promote and foster the land ethic of the 21st century.  In addition to individual purchases of the DVD, the film is also intended to be shown in public settings such as classrooms and libraries.  The film is scheduled to be aired on Wisconsin Public Television this month with plans for distribution to other public television stations nationwide in 2013.

“We’re seeing groups of 500 people come together in community to watch a film and talk about what a land ethic could and should look like in their community.  We now have more than 800 communities across the country doing showings and this film is still in its infancy,” Huffaker said.  “And that’s what we want to have happen out of the showing of the film – the idea of working in communities.  We want people to find out what does a land ethic mean to them and then to get them engaged and involved and take on environmental and conservation issues in their communities.

“I think the common denominator is a thirst by people who want to be engaged and be part of a bigger community in which they can see what they are doing in their life and their community and how that relates to and is connected to the bigger movement – Leopold serves as this connective tissue.”

The movie trailer offers an explanation for the film’s title and provides more on Leopold’s legacy.

“We feel Leopold’s message is as relevant as ever,” said Huffaker. “Although A Sand County Almanac has been repackaged in multiple languages, we felt that in order to reach people in today’s world we needed to use visual medium for communication. The film is an opportunity to not just tell his life story but also to show how people in communities all across the country are in fact trying to implement a land ethic in their communities, whether it’s in urban Chicago or the southwestern part of the country. We looked at how we could present Leopold to a new generation in a medium in which they were more comfortable and could perhaps make a deeper impact on them.”

Another outreach program that excites Huffaker is the Land Ethic Leaders program. The two-day program teaches community leaders from across the country how to lead reflective discussions using literature, film, and artwork to get people talking about critical environmental issues more deeply and the relationship between our human communities and what Leopold termed “the land community.”

“They become ambassadors for the environmental movement, and this program is subtly and substantively different from what we’ve [the environmental community] done in the past,” Huffaker said. “Often our environmental community has been good at telling people what they should care about and why, but not as good at starting a conversation by asking them, ‘Well, what do you care about and why?’ This program is an entrée for the discussion that can lead to strengthening community around shared values.

“Using Land Ethic Leaders across the country is a way of trying to get their communities to think about what the future should look like and how they can, for example, restore a stream, or do some kind of wildlife habitat program.  There’s a ripple effect it’s having and it’s really a program that has just started.

“What we’ve been learning (as we reach out to people) is that we often don’t lead with terms such as ethics or conscience. We try to find language that is more comfortable and creates conversation.  And then all of a sudden, people realize, ‘Oh, I do care about that family farm. Or I can remember the apple trees blooming.’  You have to give people the chance to get into the conversation.  In the Leaders Program we get them to try and lead a conversation with others that starts at more of a superficial level but then deepens when the confidence and comfort of the participant is there to talk more.”

Who Is Aldo Leopold?

It is impossible to condense the life and legacy of Aldo Leopold.  We urge everyone to find out more by perusing the Aldo Leopold Foundation site and to read more about one of the most influential individuals of the 20th century and his “land ethic.” His deeply contemplative understanding of the interconnectedness of all living things speaks to humanity’s soul and does not fit a “sound bite” approach.  We suggest you start learning more about him here.

The Aldo Leopold Foundation was founded in 1982 by Leopold’s children, and the Foundation continues to manage the original Leopold farm and now-famous Shack, as well as serving as the executor of Leopold’s literary estate. Foundation programs in ecological management and environmental education are designed to increase society’s awareness and appreciation for the land.

Visitors from across the country and the world trek to Baraboo, Wisconsin, yearly to partake in the numerous activities offered. “The challenges are large, real, and daunting,” Huffaker said.  “But that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless.  In fact I think just the opposite.  There is new interest and excitement.  What we continue to find is that people are heartened and appreciative to know there is an organization out there that stands for the values they hold and excited about the work they are doing.  So we’re trying to find new ways to make those connections and provide that positive feedback.”

Another Republican in Defense of Coal

Monday, April 16th, 2012
     (By Mark Bridger, cross-posted at ThatMansScope)

Republicans these days never seem to have met a toxin they don’t want to protect from the big bad EPA — an agency originally proposed by Richard Nixon and created with large bipartisan support in 1970. Recently John Sununu, one of the Boston Globe’s increasingly large stable of conservative columnists, decided to take up arms against new EPA regulations on coal and mercury.

Mr. Sununu has degrees in engineering and business from MIT and Harvard. As a New Hampshire Republican he served in the House of Representatives, and was also Senator for one term (2002 – 2008); he was defeated by Jeanne Shaheen whom he had defeated in 2002. His politics are generally fiscally very conservative, though he has taken moderate stands occasionally on matters of technology and even conservation.

Of course, Republicans these days have to attack anything that Democrats and especially Obama do. Thus, Sununu has used his platform at the Globe to do just that, and continually; last week he published a column attacking various EPA proposals to control the burning of coal and increase the regulation of mercury. Here is the column: A vendetta against coal. (I wonder whether the Supreme Court will rule, in the spirit of Citizens United, that minerals have rights too…)

Here’s a slight expansion of a letter which I wrote (unpublished) in response.

There are so many errors in John Sununu’s article “A vendetta against coal” (Globe: 4/9/12) that it’s hard to know where to begin; however, I’ll deal with a few. First he claims that “both US CO2 emissions and global temperatures have been flat since 1998.” Both statements are deliberately misleading. The trend in US CO2 emissions has been upward for many decades, and any leveling-off occurred around 2008 and was due to the Great Recession (and some regulation). At best the per-capita emissions were flat, but the population was increasing. Even if emissions were flat, that simply means that CO2 was piling up in the atmosphere at a serious but not increasing rate. To make a simple analogy: if someone were poisoning you by adding the same amount of non-excretable toxic substance to your bloodstream each day, you would surely die from its accumulation even if the daily dosage didn’t increase. The second claim, about global temperatures, is absurd. The years Sununu refers to contained 11 of the 13 hottest in the entire history of record-keeping; 2012 will almost certainly belie his claim dramatically. The temperatures were roughly “flat” only because they were so unusually high. Is that supposed to comfort us?

Starting with the EPA’s estimate that reducing mercury emissions by 0.4% would save 11,000 lives, the ex-Senator claims “that math” proves the “preposterous” claim that eliminating all mercury emissions would save 3 million lives. First of all, Mr. Sununu is confusing his numbers. The 0.4% reduction is a reduction in global emissions, while the 11,000 lives saved are only in the U.S. In fact, the EPA rules would reduce power plant mercury emissions about 90%, which would in turn reduce total US mercury emissions by around 50%. Thus, even if Mr. Sununu’s understanding of the math were correct, doubling reduction of total mercury emissions from 50% to 100% in the U.S. would save about 22,000 lives here, not 3 million. But his understanding of the math is not correct either: it is mired in a high-school-level misconception. Not every cause-and-effect is ” linear”: doubling the cause doesn’t necessarily double the effect. When you grow twice as tall you don’t merely double your weight; similarly, doubling your age more than doubles your risk of heart attack. Basically, Mr. Sununu is telling us that every graph is a straight line, which is nonsense. Things are more complicated in real life and real science — but not in the mind of the dabbler or the ideologue trying to prove a point.

Finally, it’s nice that John Sununu feels so bad about the miners who might be laid off as we try to avoid the serious hazards of coal — a source of energy that even he admits will never be clean. He should note that his party has fought against more safeguards for these same miners, and against enforcement of current ones. After numerous fatal accidents and severe pollution, coal mining remains one of the most dangerous occupations — for miners and, indeed, for all of us.

“We’re beginning to awake from our (environmental) slumber”

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

(By Joanne Boyer, cross-posted at Wisdom Voices)

Grassroots organizing.  Local communities reinserting themselves into the decision making process that impacts their communities. “We the People” reclaiming our role in democracy.  Those elements serve as the most effective tools at our disposal today to fight the environmental battles of the 21st century says Thomas Linzey, Executive Director and co-founder of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (“CELDF”).

“There cannot be sustainability unless people who are impacted by certain decisions are actually making the decisions about what impacts their communities,” Linzey said in a recent interview with Wisdom Voices.  “We live in a system in which our communities have been systematically divested of almost any governing authority to say ‘no’ to the types of projects such as fracking coming into their communities.

“What that means is that under the system of law that we have, communities are prohibited from banning a ‘legal use’. That means that when the state or federal government legalizes a certain project or use by creating a permitting or regulatory structure for it, then municipalities are prohibited from then banning that use.

“And, if local communities attempt to then ban the use (like a corporate factory farm, or fracking project), then they are sued by the corporation whose project has been affected. And, through that suit, the corporation can demand damages from the municipality for “interfering” with its use. That result is produced by a combination of the doctrines of preemption (by which state law via the permitting process overrides any local control) and through corporate “rights” (by which corporations have certain constitutional “rights” to property that the municipality is then interfering with).”

Sound a bit daunting to those local communities trying to keep corporations from polluting or changing the environmental landscapes around the country?  That’s where Linzey’s organization comes in to help.

Founded in 1995, CELDF provides free legal services to community-based environmental organizations. Through their work, CELDF has become the principal adviser to residents, citizens groups, and municipal governments struggling to transition from merely regulating corporate harms to stopping those harms by asserting local, democratic control directly over corporations.

“The joke here is that we are the law firm of last resort,” Linzey said.  “People usually contact us after they’ve tried everything they’ve been told to do and still find they don’t have a remedy.  We’ve learned to have a lot of patience, because initially people think the system is something that it isn’t.  People don’t understand how the system works until they are in the jaws of it.  So, for example, if a factory farm is moving in next door, someone may say to themselves: ‘This is going to cost me 60 percent of my property value.  Surely, the system compensates me for that.’ And lo and behold, the system doesn’t.

“Communities generally believe that someone is looking out for them and intervenes in an unjust situation for them. And generally that’s just not true.  We have to explain to them that logically it isn’t true.  That in fact there’s a system of law created over the past 200 years that is all about resource extraction and use and not about the rights of nature or of people in communities.  The laws were established to protect production and commerce at all costs. That’s how the Constitution was written and it was a natural thing because the people who wrote the Constitution looked out and saw an endless bounty of natural resources.  Their interest was in building a nation state, not necessarily in advancing rights, especially at the expense of the production and the commerce that was necessary to build a nation-state.

“So what we got was a Constitution that put the rights of production and commerce above communities and nature. The Founders didn’t know anything about deforestation and global warming. They just thought that to become a great nation state you had to exploit your natural resources, and god knows they did a wonderful job with this Constitutional system they put in place.

“We are now in a different time and that means we need to look at what a new structure of governance looks like that wasn’t written in the 1790s.  But rather one that’s written today for the contingencies we are facing.”

And slowly but surely local communities are organizing and fighting back with new laws.  Currently, the Environmental Legal Defense Fund operates in 24 states and is creating an international presence.  “We assisted Equator with the drafting of a new constitution in 2008 that includes a ‘Rights of Nature.’  It’s a concept in which ecosystems in nature have the right to exist and flourish independently of human use of those natural resources.  It makes Equator the first country in the world to move from a property-based system of environmental protection to a rights-based system of protection.

“We now get calls from Nepal, Italy, different locations around the globe from people with a recognition that the existing systems we have that treat ecosystems as property just aren’t working and will eventually guarantee that the ecosystems we have will be extinguished.  This is actually one of the exciting pieces of our work, to see that we are beginning to move away from a corporate created system of protection toward one that is ecosystem centered.”

The work of community organizing and local governance restructuring is also happening within the United States.  Linzey points to the example of the City of Pittsburgh, whose city council in 2010 adopted a local bill of rights banning fracking of natural gas from the city, as one of the best examples.

“I’m inspired by the 140 municipalities in seven states who have said: ‘We’re done with the regulatory route.  We’re going to move to make new laws that actually protect our communities from these types of projects and corporations.’  So every day brings a new success story in terms of communities standing up on their feet and refusing to use the ‘corporate tools’ they’ve been left with to try to slow down environmental destruction.

“What we need now is for those 140 communities to become 10,000 and then those 10,000 communities need to stitch themselves together and push state constitutional change.  That’s when you begin to change the basic DNA of the system.  And then you have to have enough of those states join together for a federal Constitutional change.  A movement needs to be created, one that expands civil, political and environmental rights out at the local level and then drives it upwards against those other systems.  That’s when real change happens.

“What gives us hope is that people are finally pulling their heads out of the regulatory quagmire.  They have given up begging and pleading for regulatory agencies to do the right thing.  They’ve given up asking corporations to do no harm.  They’ve given up asking their elected officials to do something at the state and federal level and instead, they are beginning to take the law into their own hands.”

Find Out More

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund web site provides a full list of resources available and offers a wealth of information including updates from communities around the country in their efforts to fight back against fracking, factory farms, and other environmental issues.

“We’re beginning to awake from our slumber,” Linzey said.  “For decades we’ve ‘left it to the professionals’ to take care of the environment and the think was that that was good enough.  People are now figuring out that the professionals have things to gain from the system they created.  It’s up to us now.  The national government isn’t going to save us.  The state government isn’t going to save us.  It’s up to the communities to create this new system of law.”