Sunday, February 27, 2011

Drinking Frackwater

The New York Times on the hazards of fracking:

With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself. . . . [more]

Ian Urbina, "Regulation Lax as Gas Wells' Tainted Water Hits Rivers," New York Times, 27 February 2011.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Shock Doctrine in Madison, Wisconsin

Paul Krugman in the Times:

In recent weeks, Madison has been the scene of large demonstrations against the governor’s budget bill, which would deny collective-bargaining rights to public-sector workers. Gov. Scott Walker claims that he needs to pass his bill to deal with the state’s fiscal problems. But his attack on unions has nothing to do with the budget. In fact, those unions have already indicated their willingness to make substantial financial concessions — an offer the governor has rejected.

What’s happening in Wisconsin is, instead, a power grab — an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting. The bill in question is 144 pages long, and there are some extraordinary things hidden deep inside. . . . [more]

Paul Krugman, "Shock Doctrine, U.S.A.," New York Times, 25 February 2011.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Confessional Politics

Bryan T. Kaylor, Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics (Lexington Books, 2011).

from the publisher:

"When a Bible-quoting Sunday School teacher, Jimmy Carter, won the 1976 presidential election, it marked the start of a new era of presidential campaign discourse. The successful candidates since then have followed Carter's lead in publicly testifying about their personal religious beliefs and invoking God to justify their public policy positions and their political visions. With this new confessional political style, the candidates have repudiated the former perspective of a civil-religious contract that kept political leaders from being too religious and religious leaders from being too political. Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in the Age of Confessional Politics analyzes the religious-political discourse used by presidential nominees from 1976-2008, and then describes key characteristics of their confessional rhetoric that represent a substantial shift from the tenets of the civil-religious contract. This new confessional political style is characterized by religious-political rhetoric that is testimonial, partisan, sectarian, and liturgical in nature. In order to understand why candidates have radically adjusted their God talk on the campaign trail, important religious-political shifts in American society since the 1950s are examined, which demonstrate the rhetorical demands evangelical religious leaders have placed upon our would-be national leaders. Brian T. Kaylor utilizes Michel Foucault's work on the confession_with theoretical adjustments_to critique the significant problems of the confessional political era. With clear analyses and unsettling relevance, Kaylor's critique of contemporary political discourse will rouse the interest and concern of engaged citizens everywhere."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Politics of Knowledge

Two interesting articles in the New York Times today on the politics of intellectual inquiry:

Teaching creationism in public schools has consistently been ruled unconstitutional in federal courts, but according to a national survey of more than 900 public high school biology teachers, it continues to flourish in the nation’s classrooms.

"On Evolution, Biology Teachers Stray from Lesson Plan," New York Times, 8 February 2011.

A social psychologist has argued that there is a hostile climate for non-liberals among his colleagues.

John Tierney, "Social Scientist Sees Bias Within," New York Times, 8 February 2011.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Crisis and Ideology

Editorial from the New York Times:

As states groan and stumble through the recession, some politicians are trying to exploit their financial crises for ideological purposes. . . . [read more]

"Their Real Agenda," New York Times, 7 February 2011.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

President Barack Obama - speech at Penn State University, 3 February 2011

President Barack Obama, "Winning the Future with Clean Energy," speech at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, 3 February 2011.

President Obama in State College, PA

President Obama is paying a visit today to Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania. He was to have come yesterday, but when it became clear that yesterday's big winter storm was going to be a problem, the visit was re-scheduled for today.

President Obama will visit engineering and technology projects at the University, and apparently speak both about a major government grant to Penn State to develop energy innovation at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and about the larger issues of energy innovation, climate change, and jobs.

According to the White House announcement, the President will speak about the Better Building Initiative.

A presidential visit brings tremendous local interest and also, we are warned, a day of traffic delays and parking problems.

What will he say?

I found myself wondering if President Obama would review the history of energy technologies in Pennsylvania -- the stripping of the forests to make charcoal for iron smelters; the re-planting of the forests; the coal industry, which fueled industrial development, especially big steel; the discovery of oil and the development of the petroleum industry--which eventually moved to the West. The history of energy and Pennsylvania is a complex one -- and would of course include the story of Three Mile Island (I don't think we will hear about that today); and now the extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale deposits -- bringing what some worry is another round of environmental destruction, breaking up local roads and polluting wells.

Well, he can't, and probably won't, touch on most of this. And of course, in the middle of all this, the President is dealing with Egypt, two wars, the economy.

I'm looking forward to an interesting speech. It's a big day for Penn State and State College, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

An American Fatwa? Or just old fashioned McCarthyism?

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, has released the following statement about threats to an American professor stemming from TV commentator Glenn Beck. The statement appears on the AAUP web site.

One expects heated public rhetoric in times of war. But evidence is increasing that American politics is indeed itself war by other means. From Web sites to blogs to television talk shows people are castigated—and even threatened—for the views they hold. This trend undermines the character of our public life and leaves some citizens frightened to speak their minds. Because faculty members have long contributed to democratic debate by expressing their views in the public sphere, it is especially notable and worrisome when they become targets of what nearly amount to an American Fatwa—public suggestions that they merit violent retribution in punishment for their comments on issues of concern. The virulent attacks on Frances Fox Piven are a particularly disturbing example.

Dr. Piven is a Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. In recent weeks she has been subjected to an onslaught of denunciations, including death threats posted on, a website maintained by a company owned by radio and television commentator Glenn Beck.

In his television programs, Mr. Beck has referred to Professor Piven dozens of times, describing her as “an enemy of the Constitution” intent on bringing about the “collapse of our economic system.” Responding to an article that Professor Piven published in the January 10 issue of The Nation saying that unemployed people should be staging mass protests, Mr. Beck asked in his January 17 television show, “Is that not inciting violence? Is that not asking for violence?” Public demonstrations can of course be entirely peaceful. Even civil disobedience is typically nonviolent. Mr. Beck’s remarks are unjustified.

Mr. Beck has—even more outrageously—linked Professor Piven’s support for social movements to terrorism, and a December 31, 2010, headline in declared, “Frances Fox Piven Rings in the New Year by Advocating Violent Revolution.”

Amid these relentless tirades, Professor Piven has herself begun to receive threats of violence.

The American Association of University Professors, since our founding in 1915, has championed the vigorous exchange of ideas both within and outside the academic community. We do not dispute the right of individuals and commentators to strenuously question or protest the writings of academics. Nor can any professor claim immunity from criticism, however acid and from whatever quarter. But it is despicable to threaten physical harm to Professor Piven for expressing her views.

No news organization or commentator can justify or should tolerate threats to do physical harm to a professor or to any author. We join others in strongly urging those who are critical of Professor Piven’s writings to advance their positions in ways that foster responsible criticism and debate.

—Cary Nelson
AAUP President