Wednesday, May 5 Nine Circles of Hell!


It’s not so great being an American Mom
Agence France Presse

US scores poorly on world motherhood rankings: charity

The United States has scored poorly on a campaign group’s list of the best countries in which to be a mother, managing only 28th place, and bettered by many smaller and poorer countries.

Norway topped the latest Save the Children “Mothers Index”, followed by a string of other developed nations, while Afghanistan came in at the bottom of the table, below several African states.

But the US showing put it behind countries such as the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; and eastern and central European states such as Croatia and Slovenia.

Even debt-plagued Greece came in four places higher at 24.

One factor that dragged the US ranking down was its maternal mortality rate, which at one in 4,800 is one of the highest in the developed world, said the report.

“A woman in the Unites States is more than five times as likely as a woman in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece or Italy to die from pregnancy-related causes in her lifetime and her risk of maternal death is nearly 10-fold that of a woman in Ireland,” the report said.

It also scored poorly on under-five mortality, its rate of eight per 1,000 births putting it on a par with Slovakia and Montenegro.

“At this rate, a child in the US is more than twice as likely as a child in Finland, Iceland, Sweden or Singapore to die before his or her fifth birthday,” the report noted.

Only 61 percent of children were enrolled in preschool, which on this indicator made it the seventh-lowest country in the developed world, it said.

And it added: “The United States has the least generous maternity leave policy — both in terms of duration and percent of wages paid — of any wealthy nation” …

Bill would end ethnic studies’ alleged ‘chauvinism’ in Arizona schools
The Associated Press

Ariz. Lawmakers Target Ethnic Studies Program

A week after signing an immigration bill that has drawn ire and praise from people around the country, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has another bill on her desk targeting classes that the state schools chief says promote “ethnic chauvinism.”

The measure targets an ethnic studies program from a Tucson school district. It would prohibit classes that advocate ethnic solidarity, that are designed primarily for students of a particular race or that promote resentment toward a certain ethnic group.

The Tucson Unified School District program allows students to take history and literature courses that include information about the influence of a particular ethnic group …

The bill doesn’t prohibit classes that teach about the history of a particular ethnic group, as long as the course is open to all students and doesn’t promote ethnic solidarity or resentment …

Oil-spilling BP rig exempt from government inspection
The Washington Post

U.S. exempted BP’s Gulf of Mexico drilling from environmental impact study

The Interior Department exempted BP’s calamitous Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact analysis last year, according to government documents, after three reviews of the area concluded that a massive oil spill was unlikely.

The decision by the department’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) to give BP’s lease at Deepwater Horizon a “categorical exclusion” from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on April 6, 2009 — and BP’s lobbying efforts just 11 days before the explosion to expand those exemptions — show that neither federal regulators nor the company anticipated an accident of the scale of the one unfolding in the gulf.

Now, environmentalists and some key senators are calling for a reassessment of safety requirements for offshore drilling …

“I’m of the opinion that boosterism breeds complacency and complacency breeds disaster,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) on Tuesday. “That, in my opinion, is what happened” …

Blame for oil spill pointing to heavily criticized blowout preventer
ABC News

Did Oil Industry Ignore Problems with Equipment Meant To Stop Spills?

Oil industry insiders are awash in theories about what caused the massive explosion and spill that continued to spoil the Gulf of Mexico Wednesday, but increasingly they are harboring fresh doubts about a once-trusted fail-safe of offshore drilling.

Known as a blowout preventer, or BOP, the five-story-tall, 900,000-pound concrete contraption has always served as a critical backstop for oil rigs. Rig operators believed that if something went wrong, and oil started gushing from an open well, the blowout preventer’s giant hydraulic pistons and shears would clamp shut a gushing well.

“I think that’s what’s bothering everybody,” said Randall Luthi, the former director of the U.S. Minerals Management Service, who now serves as president of the National Ocean Industries Association. “Why didn’t the blowout preventer work the way it was supposed to work?” …

While the oil industry has always touted the blowout preventer as a key to its ability to drill offshore without great risk to the environment, Senator Maria Cantwell, D.-Wash., says that BP’s portrayal of this kind of failure as unprecedented does not stand up to examination.

“There is clear evidence that the oil industry has been well aware for years of the risk that blowout preventers on offshore rigs could fail,” said Cantwell in a statement to ABC News on Wednesday.

Cantwell, the chairwoman of two key Senate Commerce and Energy Committee subcommittees with oversight over the offshore drilling, said her staff has found extensive documentary evidence demonstrating the problems with blowout preventers.

“Despite frequent failures, industry assumed the preventers were fail-safe and, as a result, had no back-up plan for responding to a catastrophe like the one now unfolding in the Gulf” …

After a 2000 spill, federal regulators became alarmed when a blowout preventer failed to work as intended. They issued a safety alert in March 2000, advising oil rigs “to have reliable back-up systems” to trigger the equipment if for some reason it failed to shut down a well on the first attempt. BP appeared to recognize this was a problem. In June of 2000, BP issued a notice of default to Transocean saying the preventer on another rig – the Discover Enterprise – “did not work exactly right” and was unable to operate for an extended period of time, according to a recent report in The Sunday Times …

In 2004, another study was commissioned by the Minerals Management Service. It found that the company making the blowout preventers had used a faulty formula to determine how much force would be needed for the device to slam down on a pipe and clamp it shut. “It provided shear forces lower than required or desired in many cases; in other words, there was little safety factor built in,” the study said.

The research also noted that the failure of a blowout preventer helped lead to the second largest oil spill on record – a 1979 disaster off the Yucatan Peninsula that emptied an estimated 140 million gallons into the ocean.

If the devices were not strengthened, the report warned, the dangers of another large spill would escalate, the report said …

BP lobby muscle reaches from Gulf Coast to DC

Obama biggest recipient of BP cash

While the BP oil geyser pumps millions of gallons of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico, President Barack Obama and members of Congress may have to answer for the millions in campaign contributions they’ve taken from the oil and gas giant over the years.

BP and its employees have given more than $3.5 million to federal candidates over the past 20 years, with the largest chunk of their money going to Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Donations come from a mix of employees and the company’s political action committees — $2.89 million flowed to campaigns from BP-related PACs and about $638,000 came from individuals.

On top of that, the oil giant has spent millions each year on lobbying — including $15.9 million last year alone — as it has tried to influence energy policy.

During his time in the Senate and while running for president, Obama received a total of $77,051 from the oil giant and is the top recipient of BP PAC and individual money over the past 20 years, according to financial disclosure records …

In Congress, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who last week cautioned that the incident should “not be used inappropriately” to halt Obama’s push for expansion of offshore drilling, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of BP’s largesse. Her comments created some blowback, with critics complaining that she is too blasé about the impact of the disaster, even though she was among the first lawmakers to call for a federal investigation into the spill.

As the top congressional recipient in the last cycle and one of the top BP cash recipients of the past two decades, Landrieu banked almost $17,000 from the oil giant in 2008 alone and has lined her war chest with more than $28,000 in BP cash overall …

Environmentalists complain that Landrieu has played down the impact of oil spills.

“I mean, just the gallons are so minuscule compared to the benefits of U.S. strength and security, the benefits of job creation and energy security,” Landrieu said at a hearing last month on offshore drilling. “So while there are risks associated with everything, I think you understand that they are quite, quite minimal” …

The top congressional recipients of BP campaign cash include Republican Rep. Don Young of the oil-intensive Alaska delegation, who has received almost as much as Obama, raking in $73,300 during his congressional tenure. Also on the list is Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), whose state has a BP refinery in Toledo and who has raked in $41,400. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has received $44,899 …

Moreover, the company has nearly tripled the amount of money it has spent on lobbying, from about $5.7 million in 1999 to $15.9 million last year, according to lobbying disclosures.

BP has bulked up its K Street team by signing some of the biggest firms in Washington, several of which employ former Hill staffers with deep-seated ties to Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico coast …

“First, they are exceedingly competent. Second, they are [Democratic-centric]. I know the first will help enormously in the next few weeks. I am not so sure about the second,” said Republican energy lobbyist Mike McKen­na of MWR Strategies, who predicted that Landrieu would quite likely get “very wide latitude” on the oil issue. “That may not be the case with BP, whose record is a bit more spotty” …

Maximum oil spill fines are Big Oil’s spare change
Pro Publica

Oil Companies Pay a Pittance in Penalties to Offshore Drilling Regulator

Last week, as part of our coverage of the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we noted the troubled past of the Minerals Management Service, the agency that regulates offshore oil and gas drilling.

On its website, MMS says that it issues civil penalties for serious safety violations. And there have been violations. A study conducted by the Minerals Management Service found that from 2001 to 2007, offshore drilling accidents resulted in 41 deaths and 302 injuries, according to The Huffington Post.

In an analysis of civil penalties levied by the regulator, we at ProPublica found that over the past 12 years the average penalty has been $45,000. Currently, MMS can fine oil and gas companies a maximum of $35,000 per violation per day. The biggest fine an oil company has paid to the agency since 1998 was $810,000, paid in 2001 by Chevron. Overall, the Minerals Management Service has collected $20 million in penalties in those 12 years.

That kind of money is unlikely to sting much, considering the profits that major oil companies take in.

The British oil giant BP, for instance, made $5.6 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2010 alone. As we reported last week, far from having a spotless safety record, the company has faced fines from several federal agencies in the last decade: $21 million from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, $50 million from the Environmental Protection Agency, $300 million from the Department of Justice—just to name a few that the company has paid.

MMS fines against BP have been the equivalent of a rounding error. From 1998 through 2007—when MMS issued its last fine against the company—BP paid less than $580,000 in penalties for its 12 safety violations.

Environmental groups say this simply isn’t enough …

Oil spill fix options, lesser of two evils – it’s shore wildlife vs. Gulf sea life

Oil cleanup chemicals worry environment watchdogs

Oil-dispersing chemicals used to clean up the vast BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico carry their own environmental risks, making a toxic soup that could endanger marine creatures even as it keeps the slick from reaching the vulnerable coast, wildlife watchdogs say.

The use of dispersants could be a trade-off between potential short-term harm to offshore wildlife and possible long-term damage to coastal wildlife habitat if the oil slick were to reach land.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved 14 dispersants for use on oil spills, including Corexit, manufactured by Nalco Holding Co. of Naperville, Illinois.

Corexit has been provided for use in the BP spill, and the company has exhausted its inventory and is producing more, said Mani Ramesh, Nalco’s chief technology officer. Ramesh said Corexit’s active ingredient is an emulsifier also found in ice cream; he disputed environmental groups’ claims that it is harmful to marine life …

So-called dispersants work on an oil spill as dishwashing detergent works on a greasy skillet: they break up oil into tiny droplets that sink below the water’s surface where naturally occurring bacteria consume them. Without dispersants, oil stays on the water’s surface, where bacteria can’t get at them, Ramesh said.

The problem, according to Jackie Savitz, a senior scientist at the marine environmental group Oceana, is that the dispersants themselves can be toxic to wildlife. Dispersants can also enhance oil’s toxicity in the dispersion process.

This makes them simply the lesser of two bad options to fight an oil spill such as the slick created by the April 20 explosion at BP Plc’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, she said.

“A decision is being made where it’s the shore wildlife and oysters and beaches versus the animals that live in the water,” Savitz said by telephone. “When they use a dispersant, it’s taking the oil and essentially dissolving it in the water so that it doesn’t wash up on the beach.

“It’s also good for public perception, because a lot of people think it’s only bad if it washes up onshore.”

“Do you kill the fish or do you kill the birds?” Mark Floegel of Greenpeace asked rhetorically.

The choice may be more complex. The judgment may be that spraying these chemicals in the water column — from the water’s surface to the sea bed — directly affects wildlife living there in the short term, but is meant to prevent the slick from reaching shore, where it could cause long-term harm to coastal wetlands and the species that live in them …

American Jewish community rethinking Israel
The New York Times

On Israel, Jews and Leaders Often Disagree

Criticizing Israel has long been the equivalent of touching a third rail in many Jewish families and friendships, relegating disagreements to a conversational demilitarized zone where only the innocent and foolhardy go …

But the recent tension between the Obama administration and the Israeli government over the stalled Middle East peace process has put the questions underlying those long-avoided family discussions directly in the public spotlight. They have raised serious questions about whether the traditional leadership of the American Jewish world is fully supported by the mass of American Jews …

“Most Jews have mixed feelings about Israel,” said Rabbi Tamara Kolton of the Birmingham Temple, a secular humanistic congregation in Farmington Hills. “They support Israel, but it’s complicated. Until now, you never heard from those people. You heard only from the organized ones, the ones who are 100 percent certain, we’re right, they’re wrong.”

In the 2008 election, 78 percent of Jewish voters supported Mr. Obama, and surveys have suggested that most continue to back his policies.

In a survey taken after the diplomatic skirmish of March, the American Jewish Committee — the heart of the traditional mainstream — found little change in the level of Jewish support for Mr. Obama’s handling of relations with Israel. The survey found that 55 percent approved of his handling of Israeli relations, compared with 54 percent last year. (His disapproval rating rose five points, to 37 percent.)

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder of a Washington lobby known as J Street, the latest of several organizations representing the voice of liberal Jews who support Israel but not all its policies, said many people have long felt ignored or silenced by the pro-Israel establishment in the United States …

Professor Steven M. Cohen, a sociologist at Hebrew Union College in Manhattan who co-wrote a study last year charting a steep decline in attachment to Israel among younger Jews, said the younger and liberal-leaning are frustrated at being labeled “anti-Israel” or even anti-Semitic for expressing opposition to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories …

The questions that Jews are now facing are rooted not in being for or against Israel, but in the shadings of difference over how to achieve peace, and the complexities of the relationship between Israel — a state whose government is now dominated by nationalist and ultrareligious politicians — and the predominantly liberal-leaning and secular base of Jewish support in the United States …

Poor, rural, uneducated, offline, unhealthy, polluted are more religious

The real reason atheists have higher IQs

Atheists are probably more intelligent than religious people because they benefit from many social conditions that happen to be correlated with loss of religious belief. When one looks at this phenomenon from the point of view of comparisons between countries, it is not hard to figure out possible reasons that more intelligent countries have more atheists as Richard Lynn (2009) reported.

Here are some.

Highly religious countries:

Are poorer.

They are less urbanized.

Have lower levels of education.

They have less exposure to electronic media that increase intelligence (Barber, 2006).

Experience a heavier load of infectious diseases that impair brain function.

Suffer more from low birth weights.

Have worse child nutrition.

Do a poor job of controlling environmental pollutants such as lead that reduce IQ.

Given that each of these factors are recognized causes of low IQ scores (Barber 2005), there is little mystery about why religious countries score lower on IQ tests. Of course, the same phenomena are relevant to comparisons within a country, although within-country differences in these factors are generally smaller. Even so, the wealthier individuals in a country experience life differently than the poorer ones, developing higher IQ scores and greater religious skepticism …

In short, discussing correlations between IQ and religiosity without a grasp of the relevant underlying factors is something of a parlor game. It recalls the long and tiresome debate about the correlation between IQ scores and skin color that got a lot of people very excited but proved a scientific dead end …