Recent Readings for Oct. 22, 2015

October 22, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 22, 2015

Being a fool for love turned this woman into a criminal. Brendan Koerner has a harrowing profile of Audrey Elrod, a Southern divorcée whose desire for affection helped her fall prey to an online racket run by Nigerian con artists. Unfortunately, while Elrod’s case may be unusual in the degree to which she fell prey to romantic delusions, it is by no means unique:

[T]he romance-scam industry is flourishing as people become more accustomed to finding soul mates online. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, American victims of online romance scams lost more than $87 million in 2014, compared with just $50 million in 2011. In the UK, a 2012 study by researchers at the University of Leicester and the University of Westminster estimated that 230,000 Britons had already been duped by Internet swindlers whose promises of love inevitably segue into demands for cash.

Koerner concludes his article on an absolutely heartbreaking note.

• More information doesn’t always lead to better choices. Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan summarizes the findings of a new psychological study published by Nature: Climate Change which indicates that learning that natural disasters have struck a particular community “increased participants’ appetite for risk,” in the study’s words. As Campbell-Dollagahn writes,

Plenty of people have expressed consternation about why the last few years’ widely-publicized fires, floods, hurricanes, and other weather events haven’t scared more people. But it seems that … the horror of the first-person accounts, photo essays, and other reporting about these disasters have an unexpected effect: They subtly reinforce the idea that “most of the time,” we’re safe.

• How government efforts to reduce pollution led to superior cars. Jason Torchinsky argues that the Environmental Protection Agency “is the unsung hero of modern speed.” In this age when conservatives always seem to rail against government regulation — except, perhaps, when it involves abortion — Torchinsky’s words are worth reading:

Car crash safety has improved dramatically as well, though the [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] has always taken a much more specific-and-regulation heavy approach, burdening car makers with a lot of byzantine rules for things like, say, lighting that often hold progress back. A more EPA-like approach — specify the desired end result, and let the car makers figure it out — could be much better.

Cheap, economy cars now routinely have around 150 HP and get 30+ MPG on the highway; cut those figures roughly in half and you’ll have the specs of a pre-EPA economy car. And those same innovations in efficiency, designed to squeeze as much power as possible from the smallest possible engine, also work for performance cars as well.

• Will oil companies ever stop enabling climate change? Mark Schapiro makes a two-pronged argument in his recent Mother Jones article. On the one hand, he argues that companies that dig up, process and distribute fossil fuels are likely to change their behavior when they find regulatory or market-based reasons to do so. On the other hand, he asserts that these immense companies are currently being prompted to change by market incentives.

In 2014, Goldman Sachs cautioned investors that the largest new drilling projects needed to earn at least $90 per barrel to break even. The World Bank says one-third of current oil production and two-thirds of future reserves could be uneconomical even at $60 per barrel. In August, the price dipped below $40, the lowest in more than six years.

Over the past year, ExxonMobil and Chevron’s earnings have slumped by more than 50 percent; their stock prices (as well as those of Shell, ConocoPhillips, and BP) dropped by as much as one-third in the first eight months of 2015. In July, Standard & Poor’s downgraded Shell’s credit rating, partly in response to the company’s controversial efforts to drill in the Arctic and other pricey endeavors. On Monday, Shell announced that it would halt its Arctic exploration “for the foreseeable future.” The company cited the project’s enormous costs and “disappointing” outcome, as well as the “challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska.”

• When is a social welfare nonprofit actually a front for an organization with an explicitly political agenda? Robert Maguire of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics examines in detail the case of Carolina Rising, which was formed in March 2014 by a Republican operative and which spent nearly all of the $4.8 million that it raised in its first year on advertisements bolstering one candidate. The beneficiary was Thom Tillis, then the speaker of the state House of Representatives and now North Carolina’s junior U.S. senator. Writes Maguire:

The stark set of facts raises questions not only about whether the group spent the majority of its funds on political activity — verboten for nonprofits claiming 501(c)(4) status under the tax code — but about whether Carolina Rising was devoted to helping a single individual. That would violate an IRS rule barring social welfare organizations from benefiting one person — the so-called “private benefit” prohibition.

Maguire’s post includes portions of TV advertising contracts on file with the Federal Communications Commission stating that the air time is “supporting Thom Tillis, senatorial candidate for N.C. (R) – election on 11/4/14.” In a statement, Woodhouse asserts that Carolina Rising’s actions were reviewed by attorneys and were fully compliant with the law and with Internal Revenue Service regulations.

• Conservatives decry Paul Ryan’s demands. Sophia Tesfaye recounts the belligerent fashion in which the hard right has responded to the conditions former Republican vice presidential candidate and current U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) says would need to be met before he would consider becoming Speaker of the House. The article is notable mainly for its portrayal of how conservatives pooh-pooh the awfulness of (a) a government official wanting to spend time with his family and (b) the possibility that a legislator might work to pass measures that the president wouldn’t veto automatically. (So awful!) It’s discouraging to come across evidence, seemingly on a daily basis, that elected members of the Republican Party and their ostensible supporters are unwilling and/or unable to recognize and to rise to the obligations of governing.

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