Gregg Easterbrook

Many toxic waste threats are history but Superfund lives on

Sep 29, 2010 19:56 UTC

The Obama Administration wants a new corporate tax to support the Superfund program, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi recently said she backs the idea. Monday, New York City received a major Superfund designation. San Francisco is expected to receive one soon.

What is Superfund? A “temporary” federal program enacted 30 years ago on an “emergency” basis. Its original purpose long since having expired, Superfund lives on.

Superfund is an object lesson in how government programs simply never end. A thousand years from now at the Mare Erythraeum on Mars, the city of New New Orleans will be demanding “temporary” Superfund money.

An actual program that worked

Until the late 1970s, federal law and most state laws did not regulate the disposal of toxic waste – the result was leaking chemicals at Love Canal, New York, Times Beach, Missouri, and other places. In response, in 1980, Congress passed the Superfund statute to finance toxic-waste cleanups. Promoted as an emergency measure that would be on the books only a short time, Superfund proved an effective tool, stabilizing then cleaning up dangerous leaked wastes.

Simultaneously, regulations of the late 1970s through mid 1980s imposed tight controls on the disposal of toxic chemicals, preventing new Love Canals from occurring. Combined, these actions represent an argument that government actually can solve problems.

Death of the middle class? Think again

Sep 23, 2010 21:27 UTC

Elizabeth Warren, just appointed a special advisor to President Barack Obama for consumer protection, says we are witnessing the “death of the middle class.” Slate’s Timothy Noah, a terrific writer and thinker, believes the rich are running away with the country. This new Census Bureau report, showing a nearly 5 percent decline in middle-class household income, received banner-headline treatment, with news stories suggesting typical people are being clobbered.

Middle-class life is the soul of the American experiment. Are things really so bad?

All the angst is focused on pretax income — not after tax.
Stated in today’s dollars, median household income was $45,000 in 1985, peaked at $52,500 in 2000 and is $50,000 now. (Absurd precision such as the “$46,269” median for 1991 doesn’t appeal to me.) Nearly all the decline from $52,500 to $50,000 has occurred since 2007 — that is, during a recession. Most likely that loss will bounce back.

On cars and climate change

Sep 17, 2010 16:49 UTC


For months, claims that Toyotas could not be stopped from accelerating, putting millions of drivers and passengers in danger, were a front-page and prominent evening-news item. Lots of exaggerated stories appeared, all skipping experience with a similar scare two decades ago about Audis, which ultimately showed that pressing the gas pedal instead of the brake was the real problem.

In the end, federal regulators found no evidence of electronic defects though Toyota admitted that gas pedals did stick on floor mats. The worst-case claim was that 93 people were killed by Toyota defects — an awful number, though the toll is likely not that high, since it comes from plaintiffs’ lawyers seeking fees and awards.

My point here is that the mainstream media gave enormous attention to a claim that 93 people in cars might have been killed. Then it turned out 3,298 people in cars were not killed. And that’s no story!

Shooting through the head is more humane

Sep 16, 2010 14:43 UTC


A few days ago a despicable murderer named Cal Coburn Brown, who tortured a 22-year-old woman to death, was executed in Washington State, via a new technique that involves injection of a single chemical.

In June, Utah executed a murderer by firing squad. Other states and the federal government employ electrocution, hanging or multiple-chemical injection to impose capital punishment. Method of execution is a hot controversy right now in many places, and the controversy may increase if any of several current terror cases lead to the death penalty.

Method of execution is controversial because all current methods cause suffering by the condemned.

It’s time for Obama to stop declaring new recovery plans

Sep 7, 2010 17:29 UTC

Pundits are restless, an election looms – so this week, President Barack Obama is proposing yet another round of special favors, aimed at improving the economy. Prominent columnist Paul Krugman wants the plans to be “bold” and to involve huge amounts of money. Here’s a contrasting view: government should stop declaring recovery plans, bold or otherwise.

Maybe the constant announcing of new plans – especially plans backed by borrowing or tax cuts – is, itself, an impediment to economic growth.

Two years ago this month saw the beginning of the financial-sector meltdown that is the primary feature of the current high-unemployment, slow-growth mess. Since then, Republican and Democratic presidents and Treasury Secretaries alike have announced bold plan after bold plan after bold plan. Often the plans change week-to-week. Many of the plans are just political talking points, with no follow-through. Many are mutually contradictory, like advocating tax cuts and tax increases simultaneously.

Why did America spend so long in Iraq?

Sep 1, 2010 18:06 UTC

Last night President Barack Obama announced “the end of our combat mission in Iraq.” This is welcome news — if years late. Yet in an address to the nation that ranged as far afield as energy policy and “the limitless possibilities of our time,” the president never got around to the essential question of this costly bloodbath:

Why did the United States spend seven years fighting in Iraq?

By the estimate of the British correspondent John Burns and New York Times London bureau chief, who was living in Baghdad when the invasion began and remained there until 2008, the war killed 4,500 Americans and wounded 35,000 of them. It also caused “tens of thousands” of Iraqi civilian deaths; cost $750 billion, nearly enough to wipe out this year’s federal deficit; and created “the anti-Americanism that would become commonplace around the world.”

That last is all too easy to overlook. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the world’s sympathy was with the United States. Everyone, including almost every Muslim, knew the 9-11 attack was heinous. Almost all nations, including nearly all Islamic nations, supported America’s counterattack in Afghanistan, which was clearly justified as self-defense.
Then we bombed and invaded Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the 9-11 monsters, killing at least 10 times as many innocent civilians as were killed here on September 11. We took huge numbers of Iraqis prisoner, and tortured or humiliated them.