Mitt Romney: Climate change is real, but addressing it would be wrong

Science Debate is a group that's working to get political candidates in the United States actually talking publicly about issues of science and technology policy. In 2008, they tried (and failed) to get Barak Obama and John McCain to agree to a live, televised science debate. But they did get both candidates to send in written answers to 14 key questions.

This election cycle, Science Debate sent out a new set of 14 questions—all chosen from a crowdsourced list. Today, they announced that they'd gotten answers back from both Obama and Mitt Romney. You can compare the candidates side-by-side at the Science Debate website. I have to say that, while I disagree with a lot of Romney's conclusions, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of thought and time his staff clearly put into writing some very long and detailed responses.

Perhaps most surprising was his response to a question about climate change. Instead of attempting to flatly deny the evidence, Mitt Romney has apparently moved on to acknowledging that climate change is happening—while simultaneously overplaying the uncertainty surrounding specific risks, and claiming that even if climate change is a big problem there's nothing we can really do about it anyway ... because China.

Personally, I think that's pretty interesting. Climate scientists, and the journalists who write about them, have been talking, anecdotally, about seeing this exact rhetorical shift happening in conservative circles. It seems that the Republican presidential nominee is now one of the people who acknowledge climate change exists, but would still rather not take any decisive steps to deal with it. Read the rest

$21 trillion has been stashed in tax havens by 0.001% of the world's population

The Tax Justice Network's Estimating the Price of Offshore Revisted report says that over $21 trillion has been squirrelled away in offshore tax-havens by 90,000 super-rich tax-cheats (0.001% of the world's population). The crime was abetted by a network of "enablers" from banks like UBS, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs.

Much of the money has been looted from the world's poorest countries, whose populations live in conditions of crushing poverty exacerbated by even more crushing international debt. The report estimates that if those countries' oligarchs and crime bosses were to pay their fair share of taxes that these debts could be settled. For example, Nigeria has lost £196b to tax havens -- while the country's national debt was about $37b as of 2011.

Heather Stewart has more in The Observer:

James Henry, former chief economist at consultancy McKinsey and an expert on tax havens, has compiled the most detailed estimates yet of the size of the offshore economy in a new report, The Price of Offshore Revisited, released exclusively to the Observer.

He shows that at least £13tn – perhaps up to £20tn – has leaked out of scores of countries into secretive jurisdictions such as Switzerland and the Cayman Islands with the help of private banks, which vie to attract the assets of so-called high net-worth individuals. Their wealth is, as Henry puts it, "protected by a highly paid, industrious bevy of professional enablers in the private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries taking advantage of the increasingly borderless, frictionless global economy".

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Disneyland fights for right to operate unsafe coasters

Ernest sez, "Disneyland is fighting a California appeals court decision that its rollercoaster-like rides (Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Matterhorn Bobsleds, etc.) must adhere to the same safety standards as public buses and actual railroads. The court decision would require rollercoaster operators in California to use 'utmost care and diligence' as opposed to merely 'reasonable care,' which is the current standard. I'm not quite sure how 'utmost care and diligence' is compatible with rollercoasters at all."

Disneyland's coasters have been falling to pieces, killing people, and going down for multi-year unscheduled maintenance ever since an ex-McKinsey consultant was put in charge of the park and heavily slashed the preventative maintenance regime while firing the park's most senior operators, many of whom had run the one-of-a-kind rides since the day they opened and were familiar with their many quirks.

This move is in marked contrast to the stuff that Disney got up to in Florida, where they essentially bought an entire township (actually, an "improvement district" which is like a town but more autonomous) so that they could write their own building code (among other reasons). The building code they wrote let them build things like fiberglass castles, which are not in the usual town codes -- and the castles and other structures they built have stood the test of time.

But in Disneyland, it seems to me that they're pushing for the right to remain negligent, not the right to innovate beyond the imagination embodied in a construction code.

Richard Derevan, a lawyer for Disney, told the justices that under the higher standard of care, "something could always be safer.

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Big Thunder Mountain broken by negligence

Looks like the fatal crash on Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain was the result of poor maintenance. Disneyland's maintenance has been suffering ever since a group of McKinsey and ex-McKinsey consultants advised them to save money by cutting back on preventative maintenance and forcing out experienced, senior cast-members. Management consultants: is there anything they can't screw up?

"Our own analysis found that the accident was caused by incorrectly performed maintenance tasks required by Disneyland policy and procedures that resulted in a mechanical failure," said Leslie Goodman, senior vice president of strategic communications for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

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Can Disney save itself?

Good MSNBC piece on Disney's efforts to reinvograte itself and become profitable again. Here's my three-point plan for a Disney recovery:

Be like Walt: invent a new, amazing thing (movie or ride technology) every year, so that the company becomes synonymous with innovation again (don't be like Roy: stop using IP to keep your competitors from cloning you, and invent new stuff to stay ahead of them) Be like Walt: fire all the McKinsey consultants involved in the running of Disneyland and hire back all the senior staff who were forced out as a short-sighted cost-savings measure (don't be like Roy: stop nickle-and-diming your staff; after all, they're in charge of putting the richest children on earth into threshing-machines for 12h a day) Be like Walt: rebuild Imagineering as an interdisciplinary skunk-works that creates brand-new, amazing, one-off stuff that builds your brand (don't be like Roy: stop subbing out your ride design and maintenance to outside contractors and buying off-the-shelf midway rides for your parks)



(Thanks, Gary!) Read the rest

Disney's California Adventure to suck less

Disney is revamping the California Adventure, their brain-damaged theme-parklet next door to Disneyland. Built with the "assistance" of some high-priced McKinsey consultants (the same consultants who advised them to cut back on the maintenance regimen in Disneyland, a suggestion that has led to several near-fatal accidents and at least one fatality), the California Adventure is a prime example of what happens when a company abandons its visionary roots.

Walt built Disneyland because he wanted a park where kids and grownups could play together, where ripoff midway games and nauseous midway rides took a back-seat to storytelling, wonder and art.

California Adventure was built by repurposing rides from other parks, buying off-the-shelf rides from midway suppliers, and tossing in a bunch of those awful ripoff midway ring-toss games. Many of the rides are either kid or adult-specific, and the park offers little by way of storytelling, wonder or art, having no strong thematic continuity and attractions that you can find in your local travelling carny.

Disney's Parks and Resorts Chairman weasels around on this:

"People want new stories to be told," Pressler said. "But there are also some truths. When you try to push the envelope a little in terms of sophistication, it doesn't resonate as well inside the park as outside the park."

Vomitous coasters, ring-toss and whirling swings are "sophistication?"


Discuss Read the rest

Disney won't do an Enron

Disney is no longer going to allow the same firm to audit the company and provide consulting services (maybe they'll get rid of the schmucks from McKinsey who convinced them to build California Adventure while they're at it), despite a shareholder vote that gave the OK to continue doing so. Good on 'em.


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Ever since a group of

Ever since a group of McKinsey consultants recommended to Disneyland that they save money by slashing preventative maintenance budgets, accidents and even deaths at the Park have been way up (remember the woman who got her head bashed in a couple years ago when a stanchion for the Sailing Ship Columbia tore loose from the pier?) Now, Disney's decided to station paramedics at the Parks -- I wonder when they'll go back to regular preventative maintenance? Link (Thanks, Amanda!) Read the rest

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