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Leaded Rioting

Violent crime started dropping precipitously in the 90s, and has continued to drop for over twenty years. It started happening during Bill Clinton’s presidency. In 1994, he passed a crime bill that did several things including putting around 100,000 more cops on the streets by issuing $200 million in grants to local police forces to help them staff up. It also included a lot of other "tough on crime" legislation that put more people in prison for longer, but I’m not going to get into the specifics because they’re not relevant to this piece. The Clinton administration naturally took credit for the decrease in violent crime, which sounds reasonable until you realize that those crime rates started dropping in 1991 and never went up for a single year since then.  

Governors all across the country also took credit since their crack downs were clearly the reason for the decreasing violent crime rates. Rudy Guiliani, the most obnoxious of all mayoral peacocks, still claims that his harassment of people of color approach (it’s called the broken windows policing) is why crime went down in New York City during his tenure as mayor. As I stated above, violent crime started declining three years before Rudy began his racially bias policing practices so no rational person would agree with his self aggrandizing assessment of his efforts.

The Freakonomics guys had an interesting theory that Roe v Wade was responsible for the decrease in violent crime. Their thinking is that legalizing abortion meant that would-be criminals weren’t being born because the mothers who weren’t equipped to raise children had access to safe and legal abortions. There seems to be a correlation in terms of the timeline. Roe was decided in 1973, about 18 years before the crime rate started dropping. Sounds pretty good, right? Not so fast. Just like the "tough on crime" thing, it doesn’t hold up to more scrutiny. This theory doesn’t work outside of the US. The UK legalized abortion in 1968. Their crime started dropping in 1995.

That was a nice try by Freakonomics. It sounded great, and relied on more data than criminologists turn to. I generally like theories from economists more than I do, those of criminologists. They don’t suffer from the curse of being a hammer, and therefore needing to turn everything else into a nail. Also, economists found the flaw in the economists’ theory. The criminologists are still clinging to their fallacies.

Criminologists have also theorized that crack was the culprit. See, the crack epidemic had increased violent crime so much, that when the crack epidemic burned itself out, crime dropped. But after crack there was meth. And during crack and meth, there’s always been heroin so that lame theory doesn’t hold up to 20 seconds of just thinking it through without having to Google anything. They also came up with the "when times are tough, crime gets worse" explanation. The problem with that is that the late 80s were a pretty good time to find a job. The much bigger problem is that crime didn’t increase from 2008 – 2012, when times were as tough as they’d been in sixty years.

So what is it? What explains the drop in violent crime. It’s looking very much like lead is the culprit. We have another economist with a theory that seems to be holding up all around the world, in a way that hasn’t yet been countered. In 1994, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (yes, the dreaded HUD) hired an economist named Rick Nevin to help them do a cost benefit analysis on removing lead paint from old homes. There had been a mountain of research at that point, demonstrating that exposure to lead can cause a laundry list of issues like lowered IQ, hyperactivity, behavioral issues, and learning disabilities. There was also a study that linked lead exposure to juvenile delinquency. This study got Nevin thinking about whether there could be a link between lead and violent crime. Remember, this was 1994 so violent crime had been decreasing for three years at that point.

Nevin found that the highest lead exposure wasn’t coming from paint, but from leaded gasoline.

Here’s a little history on the lead in the gas. In 1921, tetra-ethyl (known as TEL or ethyl) lead was developed for GM by Thomas Midgley, who discovered that adding the lead to the gas reduced the "knocking" in engines. In February, 1923, leaded gas was first sold commercially. Four months later, the US Public Health service was made aware of the leaded gas and requested safety tests (pesky big government!). By September of the same year, workers in the DuPont TEL plant were starting to die. The scene was described as, “sickening deaths and illnesses of hundreds of TEL workers… Gripped by violent bursts of insanity, the afflicted would imagine they were being persecuted by butterflies and other winged insects before expiring, their bodies having turned black and blue.” By April 1925, a Yale study (among others) concluded that "the greatest single question [whether leaded gasoline is safe] in the field of public health which has ever faced the American public.". In May 1925, the US Public Health Service held a conference to discuss both sides of the ethyl (as usual, the sides were science vs corporate profits) issue and appoint a blue ribbon committee to conduct an independent inquiry.

What followed was a now very familiar decades long period in which more and more studies around the world were sounding alarm bells about the dangers of lead, which naturally generated industry funded "studies" to counter the broader scientific community. This was the beginning of the allegations (by DuPont and GM) of "partisan science". Stop me when this starts to sound familiar to you. People are dying in the manufacturing plants, and everyone knew it was because of the "looney gas". By the late 60s, the government was starting to lay out timelines and regulations for the phasing out of lead. Here’s a fun quote from the VP of Ethyl Corp in 1971;

“The clincher by all prophets of doom is that someone started the rumor that lead was the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire… The legend always gets fuzzy — sometimes it is caused by lead-lined aqueducts, other times it is from their wine being drunk from lead-lined flasks.”

Again, just let me know when this is starting to sound familiar to you. The victimhood, the hyperbole, the fear tactics…these are all echoed by tobacco companies, the NRA, the entirety of the energy industry. Basically any corporation who needs for science not to be so sciency. And when it gets too sciency, it’s time to cook up just enough "science" to claim that there are unanswered questions. There were no unanswered questions about tobacco. There were no unanswered questions about lead. There are no unanswered questions about why our climate is changing, and there are no unanswered questions about how to reduce gun deaths and gun crime.  

In 1972, the EPA mandated that gas stations would be required to sell unleaded gasoline to protect these new fangled "catalytic converters" that the government forced the automotive industry to develop (fucking big government, all up in our business again!) It wasn’t until 1986 that all leaded gasoline was eradicated in the US. That’s over sixty fucking years from when serious questions about lead emerged. No wonder this tactic is still being used.

Okay, back to Nevin. He’s published dozens of papers on the topic of lead and its correlation to violent crime. Here’s a link to the one paper I’m primarily using. I’m just going to give you some bite sized samples of what he’s found by sharing some of his graphs.



It’s impossible to imagine a more clear correlation.







You get the idea. He demonstrated a clear correlation between lead and IQ, behavioral issues and violence. All of it correlates as clearly as the graphs above.

Guess where lead paint still exists in the US? If you guessed that it exists in poor neighborhoods, you win a cookie. Wanna know where there’s likely still a decent amount of lead paint? Yep, Baltimore. Three years ago, they paid out a $3.7 million settlement to a public housing resident who suffered lead poisoning as a child in the 80s.

Maryland’s lead poisoning prevention law didn’t kick in until 1996. Nevin found a nearly precisely twenty year correlation between the elimination of lead and the reduction in crime. In other words, if Nevin is correct and all of Maryland took care of its lead paint problem (I know, I’m being hypothetical) in 1996, we should expect to see low IQ, behavioral issues, and violent tendencies until 2016.

There is an actual physiological factor at play in poor areas of America. All of the privileged people who get to say, "violence is unacceptable under any circumstances" have no idea what they’re talking about. Of course violence is unacceptable, and I’m fairly certain that a significant number of the people committing the violence would be able to agree, had they grown up in a different neighborhood. Being poor comes with innumerable hazards that don’t come with being middle class or rich. Don’t even get me started on the asthma situation.

My response to every single "this is unacceptable" comment was that this isn’t mine to judge. If you didn’t grow up under the circumstances that residents of Ferguson or Baltimore did, then you are not qualified to judge what the appropriate level of rage would be. Lead is just one of dozens of factors involved in these situations that most people aren’t aware of. Stay in your lane. Judging people in these neighborhoods is not your lane. And making an uninformed judgment says more about you than it does about the rioters. I’m just saying that realizing that you don’t know what you don’t know would be the wise thing to do sometimes.     



The Nuclear Option

So we’re all biting our nails, waiting to see what’s going to happen with the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. And as we’re watching the devastation we can see, and anticipating the potential devastation that lies ahead, we’re justifiably discussing the merits and pitfalls of nuclear energy.

Here are some facts about nuclear energy that you may or may not know.

Banks won’t finance the nuclear power plants in America, unless the federal government guarantees the loan. Banks aren’t willing to take the risk. They don’t want to risk the massive cost overruns that are inevitable in constructing nuclear power plants. They also don’t want the litigation risks.

You know how Wall Street was happy, willing, and able to trade crap ass mortgages for ten years? Yeah, well they won’t touch nuclear power plants. What does that tell you?

So in order to build a nuclear power plant in this country, your taxpayer dollars have to back the project because financial industry analysts don’t believe they can make money on them. They don’t believe that the ratio of risk to reward is worth the trouble. Speaking of risk to reward, you must be asking yourself, “What do I get for guaranteeing the loan?”. Good question! The answer is that you don’t get jack shit because even though the federal government is guaranteeing the loan, they still award contracts to companies to build the power plants. So the company gets the contract and collects the profits without taking on a single dime of liability.

Sounds like an awesome racket to get into, right? It gets better. A nuclear power plant costs between $5B and $8B to build. Now once it’s built, do you think there’s an insurance company on the planet that’s willing to insure the fucking thing? NO! That would be batshit crazy! We know that banks and insurance companies are greedy, reckless, and morally bankrupt, but they’re not batshit crazy. So guess who takes on all of the liability when something goes wrong? If you guessed ‘you’ you’d be right! You’re poor, from being repeatedly robbed, but right! And since we the taxpayers cover any liability that may arise from an accident at the nuclear power plant, if you ever needed to sue for medical costs, you would essentially be suing yourself.

So if a bank isn’t willing to touch a nuclear power plant, and Wall Street isn’t willing to touch a nuclear power plant, and insurance companies like AIG (who will historically insure God damned anything) aren’t willing to touch it, wouldn’t one think that perhaps nuclear power is a bad idea?

Yes this is clearly a dumbass idea, which means that our government will naturally pursue it to the tune of $36B. Actually, it’s $54.5B if you add the $36B that Obama wants to add to the $18.5B that wasn’t spent out of the last budget.

Does any of this sound good to anyone? Forget what’s happening in Japan for a moment. Does using tax payer money to fund and guarantee a venture that is too dangerous for even Wall Street to gamble on sound reasonable to anyone?

Even people who purport to be pro-nuclear energy, back way the fuck off when the conversation turns to building one in their back yard.

Now I’m ready to bring the Japanese crisis into this post. Those socialist, statist, Marxist motherfuckers have building codes that are far stricter than anything we have here in America. It took an 8.9 magnitude earthquake to trigger a nuclear meltdown. We have two nuclear power plants in southern California, sitting on a fucking fault line! Those two plants can allegedly withstand earthquakes up to a 7.4 magnitude. Just so you’re clear, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake is roughly 1/15th as strong as an 8.9. Does that sound good to anyone?

Another issue is nuclear waste. We still don’t know what to do with it. Yes, we’ve figured out a way to reuse some of it but there’s still waste. France encases it in concrete and buries it. But the problem with that is that concrete eventually breaks down, even if it’s not covering uranium. Have you ever seen an industrial building that has been abandoned for a few years? Concrete needs to be maintained in order to hold its integrity so the French are going to be digging up and reburying nuclear waste in perpetuity.

I say that we spend that $54.5B on subsidizing green energy startups to develop things like the Bloom Box or more efficient solar and wind solutions. We need to stop spending our resources on energy supplies that are killing us. Whether it’s the slow death that comes with carbon emissions, or widespread death that would result from a nuclear meltdown.

There will be nuclear meltdowns. That’s an absolute certainty. So we should ask ourselves how many meltdowns make nuclear power worth it. Is one meltdown every hundred years acceptable? We know that the radiation lingers for a couple of decades, so we’re talking about elevated cancer rates for two generations of families within a couple of hundred miles. Is one every two hundred years acceptable? I’ve already seen two in my lifetime, so I find it pretty unlikely that two hundred meltdown-free years is possible. If it were, it would require a shitload of regulation and maintenance. Do you trust our government to regulate the shit out of the energy industry? Or do you trust the company running the plant to voluntarily make costly maintenance investments? Pro-nuclear republicans suddenly have so much new found faith in the government they hate, that they trust it to keep nuclear power plants safe?

Remember, Three Mile Island happened because of user error. Chernobyl happened because there weren’t enough containment measures in place. Are you so confident that it won’t happen here?

Nothing about nuclear power makes sense to me. The first nuclear power plant went live in 1954. It’s time to move past 1950s solutions. The advances we’ve made since then are staggering. Proponents of nuclear power operate under the assumption that we can’t come up with something more efficient. And they’re using their iPhones to say so, in their Facebook status updates.

I say, bullshit!  We can innovate if we decide that we’re going to. Look, we got computers in our homes in the 90s as a direct result of all the money that Reagan dumped into defense in the 80s. Those billions of dollars spend in R & D shrank the microchip down to a workable size.

If we get serious and we throw serious money at the problem, we can solve it once and for all. We always have.



The Futile Boycott of BP

It’s true. Boycotting BP may feel good, but it’s pointless.

Recent events have curious. First, this talk of the company going under seems entirely premature to me. BP’s annual profit for 2009 was 12.5 billion. That was down from 25.5 billion in 2008. This is a trillion dollar company. Why would anyone be talking about bankruptcy this early in the game? This is especially perplexing to me when you consider the fact that Exxon ended up paying a total of 4.3 to 7 billion (I’ve seen figures in this range – can’t get an exact number) dollars in cleanup, fines, remediation, compensation, and other fees. How can anyone be talking about bankruptcy when recent precedent suggests that the total cost to BP won’t equal one years’ profit?

Another fact that most people aren’t aware of, is how big of a piece if the British economy BP represents. It’s the third largest British company. BP is such an integral part of the UK’s economy that it is responsible for one out of every seven pounds paid out in retirement funds. I am positive that President Obama has had daily phone calls with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. BP is simply too big to fail for the UK, which is why we’ll never see our president put them in receivership.

I’m not usually a conspiracy theorist, but I smell an acquisition in the air and I think that the white house it brokering a deal to make it happen. Exxon or Conocophillips would be the two companies most likely to acquire BP.

Another curious fact to that end is that President Obama appointed William Reilly to sit on a commission to investigate how this disaster happened. William Reilly currently sits on the board of directors for Conocophillips. Coincidence?

Maybe, but it smells funny when you put the whole picture together.

We know that Obama can’t actively do anything to help precipitate the demise of BP. He would be seriously jeopardizing our relationship with the UK, whose economy is already in a precarious position.

We know that BP can’t possibly be hanging by a financial thread at this stage of the disaster. To date, they’ve spent pennies of their first quarter earnings on this disaster. They have no real reason to believe that they won’t get the same disaster blue light special that Exxon got for the Valdez and yet, the press is inexplicably painting a picture of a financially crippled company. Are they priming the pump in order to sell the public on the idea that there’s a need for an acquisition?

Is it a coincidence that one of Obama’s appointees to investigate the spill sits on the board of one of the two companies that could acquire BP?

Brokering an deal a la the acquisition of Merrill Lynch by Bank Of America would seem to be the most logical move for Obama. It would help to salvage the British economy while limiting the amount of money that the new entity would have to pay out to cover BP’s liability in this catastrophe. This would satiate the public’s thirst for BP’s blood by “putting them out of business”. But don’t worry about the executives at BP. They will all no doubt, receive high paying board positions with their new “owners”.

Am I crazy or does this seem like the only possible end to this horrific tale?


Bitchy’s Energy Policy

This is obviously something that we’re all thinking about, given the BP disaster in the gulf.

Let me share a few thoughts on this catastrophe before I move into my energy policy.

First off, BP is obviously reprehensible for their part in this. That well should have been packed in mud (as they’re finally in the process of doing now), right from the beginning. They ignored safety measures in order to cut costs.

We saw a preview of how BP plans to fend off the law suits, during the congressional hearings a couple of weeks ago. BP, Transocean, and Haliburton all formed a circle jerk in which, they each pointed the finger at one of the other two companies and denied their own accountability. Personally, I believe that this was BP’s operation which makes them primarily liable for damages. I sincerely hope (although I have no faith it will go down this way), that a court makes that decision early on in the process. I have no issue with BP turning around and suing Transocean or Haliburton for any liability they feel may rest with the other companies due to negligence, but I believe that everyone that has been damaged by this disaster should be able to collect damages from BP.

Exxon fended off paying out a single dime for twenty years. Many of the fishermen that lost their livelihoods died during those twenty years. We need to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Let me add that I am disgusted by how the Obama administration has handled this so far. They have relied entirely on BP to assess, inform, and remedy the situation. Are they stupid? It’s obvious to anyone watching this unfold, that there is no government agency that has the knowledge to deal with this. That part isn’t Obama’s fault. But as it has become increasingly more obvious that BP also lacks the knowledge on what to do here, government inspectors should have gone in to gather information and start working with BP on formulating a cleanup plan. The fact that BP has been the only entity gathering data during the crucial first thirty days, makes it even more difficult for those seeking damages to make their case. I find it reprehensible that the Obama administration’s complacency is adding misfortune of a lot of people whose lives have been destroyed over this.

On to my energy policy.

I wish we were in the position to stop all offshore drilling immediately, but we’re not so that’s not my short term position. If we had followed the trajectory set by Jimmy Carter on energy policy forty years ago, we may be there today. But Ronald Reagan (can we please refer to him as the fuck up that he was now?)took the solar panels off the roof of the white house and every president that has followed him has done little or nothing to move us out of oil dependency, so here we are. Since Jimmy Carter left office we’ve had seventeen oil spills where over 50,000 (or more) barrels were spilled, totaling well over 50 million barrels of oil spilled in the past thirty years.

My point is that we’re not getting better at this, and anyone that tells you we are is full of shit. Our seafood already has alarming levels of mercury and other scary shit in it. Fish in Alaska are still coming up with weird tumors on them, from a twenty one year old spill. We need to set a goal for getting off oil. This simply isn’t working anymore.

Plus, we have 2% of the world’s oil reserves. We consume 25% of the world’s total oil consumption. Does this sound like a situation we can drill baby drill out of?

So here’s my plan.

-We must allow offshore drilling to continue, but we need to impose and enforce stronger regulations on both drilling and transporting.

-We need to force oil companies to drill on the leases they currently hold. Here’s what most people don’t realize about “drill baby drill”; oil companies are exploring on the leases they have, and then they’re capping those wells until oil is worth more. That’s what they were doing with the Deepwater Horizon well. They were capping it. I understand that the rig in the gulf is an exploration rig, which is different than a drilling rig. But what the oil companies have been doing, is capping oil that they find indefinitely. Think about it, why would you sell oil at $100 a barrel if you knew that waiting ten years would increase the value of that oil by 300%? We need to give the oil companies a limited window of opportunity to drill on the leases they currently hold. We could also limit the number of offshore oil leases that a company can hold. This would force them to drill baby drill, instead of hoard baby hoard.

-We need to end all subsidies and tax breaks to oil companies. They don’t need it. When you’re making 45 billion dollars every twelve weeks, there’s no reason to panhandle the American people for help.

-We should take all of that money and channel it into developing green technologies like The Bloom Box. Can you imagine where we would be today if we had started 40 years ago? If we can start manufacturing green technology, we would get the added bonus of possibly reviving Detroit. We have manufacturing facilities that are going to crumble if we don’t start manufacturing something in them soon. I say, let’s incentivize R&D firms to manufacture in Detroit.

-We need to significantly raise cafe standards on automobiles every ten years. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be driving cars that get a minimum of 60 mpg, especially when you consider the fact that a 1973 Honda Civic got 40 mpg.

That’s it, Bitchy’s plan to energy independence. We need to do what we do; innovate.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention nuclear energy. There’s a reason for that. First off, we can’t build a nuclear power plant without the government guaranteeing the loan. Banks won’t lend to nuclear power plant developers. They’ve proven to be a bad risk, so the American people would be on the hook for paying to build a nuclear power plant. Once we get one built, insurance companies won’t insure them. So American taxpayers would be on the hook for any and all damages if something went wrong. And lastly, no one has come up with a permanent solution on what to do with the waste. France has made some progress on this. They’re reusing most of the waste. But it’s what they’re doing with what’s still left that concerns me. They’re basically encasing it in concrete and burying it. That concrete will break down over time, even if there were no nuclear materials in it. I’m going to go ahead and say that with nuclear waste in it, you’re going to have to dig up those concrete caskets to make sure they’re still sealed fairly often. So 100 years from now, France is going to be dealing with the nuclear waste they’re producing and the nuclear waste they’ve produced over the past 130 years.

I’d be willing to have a conversation about building and insuring a nuclear power plant after someone has worked out the waste issue, but not before then.