Department of BAD ideas:

This is just going to be a quickie. I lurk and monitor posts from the Society of Environmental Journalists. I do this for a number of reasons. Mostly because their interests such as the planet we live on…


tends to dovetail quite often with my own. Also, they’re scientists and often liberals and that also works to their favor in my book. Mostly I like them because they will sometimes “go deep” or bring statistics or an outlook to a story that I wouldn’t think of. Here are a couple of examples of things they were on about last week that caught my eye.

The opening remark was that comedians say something absurd and hope that you’ll laugh whereas lawyers say something absurd and dare you to laugh. The turnabout I suppose would be the tobacco industry suing the Surgeon General for not shouting louder and sooner about the dangers of smoking. It is to laugh. Unless you had the misfortune of being trapped in that awful place underground. Then I suppose in the words of Warren Zevon, “It ain’t that pretty at all.”

February 8, 2006

Guest: Stephanie Mencimer

TORT REFORM, CORPORATE STYLE….After the Sago coal mine disaster killed 12
West Virginia miners last month, the Mine Safety and Health Administration
(MSHA) came under widespread criticism for failing to adequately regulate
the coal industry and protect mine workers. Critics blamed the Bush
administration for stocking the agency with coal industry cronies who
wanted a more “cooperative” approach to safety regulations rather than serious
enforcement. Now, one more group has joined the chorus of MSHA critics:
the very coal companies that worked to gut the agency in the first place.

Here’s the story. Back in 2003, West Virginia suffered its worst coal mining
accident in a decade when an explosion in a mine owned by CONSOL Energy
killed three miners and disabled two others. The families of the dead and
injured miners sued CONSOL, alleging that it had demonstrated a willful
disregard for its workers’ safety and was ultimately responsible for the
accident. The trial is set for June. But with all the recent publicity about
MSHA’s failures, CONSOL apparently saw an opportunity for a novel legal defense.

This week, after three years of litigation, CONSOL and the other
defendants filed a motion stating their intention to sue MSHA, which they argue is
really to blame for the mine explosion. “The negligence of CONSOL, if any,
was the result, in whole or in part, of the negligence of the Mine Safety
and Health Administration,” they write, demanding that the federal
government pay any jury award against the companies that might result from
the litigation, along with all their legal fees. …

Like I said – Bad idea.

Now here is something that has a few more sides. It sort of ties in with the whole Haliburton Gulag building for big bucks but it’s not so nearly black and white.

VB writes: Has anyone heard of this proposed regulation to close vital records
nationally and yet pool them in a federal database open only to, well,
those who enable us to sleep safe from terrorists? This law would make it a lot
easier to disappear people and send them off to the gulags. Let’s see, I
wonder which states will volunteer to host federal gulags in exchange for
influxes of money from the DoD and DoE? And who will run those gulags?
Halliburton, Blackwater Security?

See “Information Is Power” by Terry J. Allen, February 14, 2006


“Sometimes it’s the small abuses scurrying below radar that reveal how
profoundly the Bush administration has changed America in the name of
national security. Buried within the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism
Prevention Act of 2004 is a regulation that bars most public access to
birth and death certificates for 70 to 100 years. In much of the country, these
records have long been invaluable tools for activists, lawyers, and
reporters to uncover patterns of illness and pollution that officials miss
or ignore.

In These Times has obtained a draft of the proposed regulations now
causing widespread concern among state officials. It reveals plans to create a
vast database of vital records to be centralized in Washington, and details
measures that states must implement-and pay millions for-before next
year’s scheduled implementation.

The draft lays out how some 60,000 already strapped town and county
offices must keep the birth and death records under lock and key and report all
document requests to Washington. Individuals who show up in person will
still be able to obtain their own birth certificates, and in some cases,
the birth and death records of an immediate relative; and “legitimate”
research institutions may be able to access files. But reporters and activists
won’t be allowed to fish through records; many family members looking for
genetic clues will be out of luck; and people wanting to trace adoptions will
dead-end. If you are homeless and need your own birth certificate, forget
it: no address, no service.” [more]


The article spends a fair amount of time on some 1984 scenarios that I think are a bit unlikely and a few of those are refuted well enough in the comments following that article that I don’t really feel the need to go into them further here but for me the interesting thing is the public health aspect. You start putting all of this information in one place and restricting access to researchers and the potential and temptation to sit on bad news or news that can lead to corporate litigation becomes more than a little problematic.

Making sure this data is secure I can understand and appreciate. Identity theft is a real problem. But putting all of these eggs into one very big government controlled basket has so much potential for curtailing personal freedom that I find very little in the way of upside.

– Barney

p.s. – My father “lost” his middle name when the Milwaukee County Courthouse burned down. His hospital birth certificate and Navy discharge papers don’t list one. My dad told it to me when I was a kid but I’ve forgoten it and my own mother no longer remembers what it was. Another argument for de-centralized databases and some form of open access I suppose. Except my dad told me he hated his middle name and never missed it. Wonder what he would have made of all this.