Thursday Mashup (9/25/14)

September 25, 2014
  • Might as well start with the defining issue of the moment – I give you the following from Irrational Spew Online (here)…

    Since he ordered military action in Libya in 2011, President Obama has argued as a matter of routine that Article II of the U.S. Constitution confers such considerable power upon the commander-in-chief that, in most instances at least, Congress’s role in foreign affairs is limited to that of advice bureau. The political ironies of this development are sufficiently rich to stand without much comment. (Imagine, if you will, trying to explain to an average voter in 2008 that by his second term the Democratic candidate for president would have adopted wholesale an interpretation of the Constitution that was championed by the likes of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and John Yoo.) Less obvious, however, is what this means for America and her future. The bottom line: It’s not good.

    (I can just see the perfectly-coiffed Charles Cooke arguing with his oh-so-genteel British accent on “Real Time” about how that nasty Barack Obama has suddenly turned into “Torture” Yoo. Nice try, wingnut.)

    In response, I give you the following (here)…

    To judge the legality of war against ISIS, the terrorist group that calls itself the Islamic State, we need to be clear about two issues. The first is whether the president can put troops in harm’s way on his own authority. While the Constitution vests in Congress the power to “declare war,” presidents have launched military attacks on their own for many decades. Obama used military force in Libya in 2011; Bill Clinton, in Serbia in 1999; George H.W. Bush, in Panama in 1989; and Ronald Reagan, in Grenada in 1983. In all these cases, and many more (including the Korean War), Congress did not give its consent.

    The White House has not relied on Article II to justify the war on ISIS. This theory is too closely associated with the Bush administration, which used it to justify surveillance and torture that violated statutes. The Obama administration instead pointed to the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which gives the president authority to act “against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.” The administration has also cited the 2003 AUMF that authorized the president to go to war to “defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq,” then governed by Saddam Hussein.

    The White House’s defenders argue that the 2001 AUMF gives Obama the authority he needs to fight ISIS because, while ISIS broke from al-Qaida in 2012, it is nonetheless composed of former al-Qaida members (at least in part), who have (or so it is argued by the administration) continuously conducted and sought to conduct attacks against the United States and its citizens and interests.

    Is war with ISIS the right thing to do right now? I don’t have a clue. I’m just some filthy, unkempt liberal blogger, not the President of the United States (God forbid).

    And no, don’t start with this “Well, if this were Dubya, you’d be screaming your head off” business. As usual, Obama is left to clean up a mess which ultimately extends to Former President Highest Disapproval Rating In Gallup Poll History, for good or ill. When Obama starts a war of choice for no good reason and leaves it to his successor to clean up, then talk to me, OK?

    Besides, Congress, in its infinite cowardice, passed the hopelessly-open-ended Authorization to Use Military Force and doesn’t have the spine to try and do anything about that, particularly in an election year. Giving a chief executive that much power without a fixed target or duration is a recipe for bad news – Obama has the precedent, so why shouldn’t he use it if he thinks he has to?

    I know all of this stuff is evolving, and I guess I am too, but this is where I’m at on this issue, for better or worse.

  • Continuing with the “crazy” – Repug U.S. Sen. John Cornyn propagandizes as follows here

    Despite all the challenges facing our country, my colleagues in the majority continue to prioritize political stunts and show votes over serious legislating. Indeed, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. has allowed so few amendments that one of his fellow Senate Democrats recently told Politico, “I got more substance on the floor of the House in the minority than I have as a member of the Senate majority.”

    Actually, if Cornyn wants to blame anyone for alleged negligence in governance, he should look no further than his same-state, same-party counterpart (here)…

    WASHINGTON – In case you weren’t glued to C-Span2 for the last hour, here’s what you missed.

    The Senate voted 67-31 to quash a filibuster by Sen. Ted Cruz that would have blocked the Senate from lifting the federal debt ceiling. Cruz voted against cloture, naturally. But the top GOP leaders, fellow Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, sided with Democrats to cut off the filibuster.

    The measure raising the federal credit line through March 2015 sailed through the House on Tuesday, after Speaker John Boehner decided that it would be better to let Democrats own it (only 28 Republicans voted aye) than to dig in, insist on budget concessions, and force a stalemate that would spook world markets and risk a default.

    Cruz announced the same day that he wouldn’t let the Senate raise the debt ceiling via a simple 51-vote majority. The filibuster threat pushed the threshold to 60.

    As GOP strategist John Feehery pointed out, Democrats control 55 votes, so without Cruz’s maneuver, they would have been fully responsible, politically, for raising the debt ceiling. Instead, Cruz put GOP leadership on the spot.

    Cornyn and McConnell – both facing tea party challengers for reelection – took the heat, and voted for cloture.

    Apparently, no senator wanted to be tarred as the one to put the vote over the top, though. At the end, a number of Republicans switched their votes simultaneously, giving political cover to each other and their party leaders. Among the switchers: Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

    The procedural vote was the key. The debt limit itself sailed through on a predictable party-line vote, 55-43.

    Everybody got that? Cornyn (who at the time was facing a Tea Party challenge from the otherwise laughable Steve Stockman) wanted to crow about how he’s supposedly holding the line on spending, but he and Sen. Mr. Elaine Chao also wanted the political cover to make that claim while, in reality, they (in a shocking moment of sensibility) actually voted to raise the debt ceiling.

    And Cornyn blames Harry Reid for not being “serious about solving the problems at hand”…

    Here are more “lowlights” of what Cornyn and fellow Repugs have wrought in the U.S. Senate…

  • They blocked a minimum wage hike here.
  • They obstructed on jobless benefits here.
  • They also obstructed on veterans’ benefits here.
  • They also killed Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s student loans bill (which would have actually reduced the deficit, bringing in $72 billion in new revenues by implementing the so-called Buffet Rule, an added surcharge tax on millionaires to ensure that they pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes, as noted here).
  • Cornyn, in his column, also said that “our colleagues in the House of Representatives have sent over scores and scores of bills on job creation, taxes, health care, immigration, and other issues, only to have Senator Reid declare them dead on arrival.”

    Um, no – on the issue of job creation, Steve Benen tells us here that…

    …of the remaining 40 “jobs bills” on the list, very few can credibly be described as actual jobs bills.

    For example, the first 14 bills on the list of 40 – more than a third of the overall list – are giveaways to the oil and gas industries. The bills expand drilling, expand fracking, expand pipelines, expand mining, expands coal-ash projects, and “protect” coal plants. How many jobs would this collection of energy bills actually create? The heralded list from the Speaker’s office didn’t say, but the total would likely be pretty modest.

    Boehner can prove me wrong by getting an independent score on the collection of bills, but I have a hunch if all of these bills were combined into one package, they still wouldn’t produce as many jobs as extended unemployment benefits. Besides, the point of these bills is to help polluters, ExxonMobil, and energy companies. We can debate such efforts on the merits, but to consider every giveaway to Big Oil a “jobs bill” is hard to take seriously.

    OK, but that’s 14 out of 40. What about the rest of the list? Several of the “jobs bills” attack the Affordable Care Act, and there’s simply no evidence that taking health care benefits away from millions of American families will create jobs.

    The list of “jobs bills” includes the Farm Bill. The list of “jobs bills” includes Paul Ryan’s budget blueprint. The list of “jobs bills” includes a pointless measure intended to stop President Obama from allowing state experimentation with welfare reform.

    The list of “jobs bills” includes a measure to increase federal spending “transparency.” The list of “jobs bills” includes a framework on cybersecurity.

    I hate to break this to Speaker Boehner, but a lot of these measures aren’t what any sensible person would call a proper “jobs bill.” They may or may not have merit on their own, and they may or may not require some modicum of new hiring, but legitimate legislative efforts to create lots of jobs – such as the American Jobs Act, unveiled in 2011 and killed by congressional Republicans soon after – aim higher.

    Indeed, independent analysts determined the American Jobs Act would have created over 1 million U.S. jobs in just one year. Can the same be said for Boehner’s misleading list of 40? Common sense suggests otherwise, though we can’t say for sure since the Speaker’s office hasn’t sought an independent analysis.

    And by the way, who can forget Cornyn’s singularly rancid defense of the wretched Patriot Act here?

  • Next, it’s time for the latest adventures with Louisiana Repug Gov. Bobby (“Don’t Call Me Piyush”) Jindal here

    Like many liberals, President Obama believes in making energy less affordable, and more scarce, for the American people. That’s why, even as crude oil production has skyrocketed on private lands—rising 61% in just the last four years—it has fallen on publicly-owned property in the same time span. The administration is deliberately squandering the opportunities that affordable energy can bring by refusing to develop all the energy resources owned by the American people.

    This column is meant to publicize Jindal’s 47-page proposal on energy with the understated title of “Organizing Around Abundance: Making America an Energy Superpower.”

    As Meteor Blades of Daily Kos notes here

    …Jindal’s plan is pretty much the standard right-wing blueprint: a minor manifesto filled with the same ideas that the string-pullers in the fossil-fuel industry have been promoting for decades: support for more drilling (including fracking) of oil and gas, more digging of coal, chopping of environmental regulations, opening up more federal land to drillers and diggers, building more nuclear power plants, finishing the Keystone XL pipeline and ending the ban on exporting crude oil.

    There’s also a complaint about the “activist” Supreme Court majority, which ruled 5-4 in 2007 that the Environmental Protection Agency is obligated to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

    The Jindal plan does offer some lip service to renewable energy. But mostly this section is just boilerplate about the rapid, no-longer-can-be-ignored growth of renewable installations. The rest of the section is an argument against the tax incentives designed to ramp up the generating of electricity from wind, solar, geothermal and hydro sources. Though hardly original, the governor proposes that the still toddling renewables industries compete on a “level playing field” with the mature fossil fuel industry. In other words, not level competition at all.

    Also, as noted here on the whole drilling on “publicly-owned property” thing, the feds have the right to own and drill on states’ lands, and any claim to revert back to the states wouldn’t stand up in court; besides, what we’re talking about basically here is more $$ for corporations vs. taxpayers, and 71 percent of those polled oppose it.

    Continuing (from Jindal)…

    If we develop our untapped energy resources, our nation could see a new burst of economic growth and prosperity. One study, noting the benefits of unconventional oil and gas exploration, found that this fracking revolution created 2.1 million jobs in 2012—and could create another 1.8 million jobs between now and 2025.

    In response (here)…

    A study commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 21st Century Energy Institute says the extraction of “unconventional” shale oil and gas through horizontal hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – has meant a job boom even in states that don’t actually have shale deposits, with 1.7 million jobs already created and a total of 3.5 million projected by 2035.

    The study was released in two phases in October and December, and a third phase is forthcoming.
    Skeptics with environmental and citizens groups have questioned the numbers and also the benefits that these jobs actually provide to local communities. Many industry jobs are not filled by local residents, and a boom town effect, including escalating cost of living and other social problems, has been documented in places where an extraction industry rapidly arises.

    They also say the study doesn’t account for the economic impacts of possible environmental problems and copious water use, or impacts on other industries and quality of life.

    “We’re definitely seeing some local jobs – anyone with a CDL and a dump truck can get work hauling gravel or pipes or produced water,” said Paul Feezel, a resident of Carroll County, Ohio, the epicenter of the state’s fracking boom.

    “There’s definitely more money floating around in the community, people buying new cars and agricultural equipment,” he said. “I’m told churches are seeing higher donations because people are tithing part of their signing bonus. But when you see the rigs and even the welders on the pipeline jobs, the license plates are all out-of-state.”

    (More on fracking is coming up a bit later, by the way, including one increased “cost of living” measurement.)

    Jindal yet again (here)…

    Most importantly, our plan to promote energy abundance stands in direct contrast to the Obama administration’s tired policies of energy scarcity and sluggish growth.

    In response, I think the headline here says it all, and it isn’t necessarily something I support…even though parts of Florida are gorgeous, I think they would deserve any of the environmental ruin this might cause (that’s what you get when you either vote for Republicans or don’t even bother to vote, period).

  • Further, did you know that (here)…

    Over 90 percent of funding for a diesel reduction program paid for by the stimulus law was misspent, according to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG).

    An audit analyzing $26.3 million in funding to non-profit organizations and state governments meant to reduce truck emissions and create jobs found that the program had “significant financial management issues.”

    OMIGOD, it looks like that Kenyan Marxist Socialist in the White House is at it again!

    There’s just one problem, as noted here

    Only six projects out of the 160 so-called “Diesel Emission Reduction Act” stimulus projects awarded by the EPA were reviewed by the inspector general. The entire grant program cost taxpayers about $294 million, but the IG only looked at a $26 million share of it.

    You know, it’s pretty sad for Fix Noise that they need to be fact-checked by the formerly Moonie Times, but I guess that’s where we are all right.

    Why does this matter? Well, in part because of the following from March 2009 (here)…

    EPA March 20 announced the availability of $20 million under the stimulus law for its Clean Diesel Emerging Technologies Program, $156 million for the National Clean Diesel Funding Assistance Program, and $30 million for the agency’s SmartWay Clean Diesel Finance Program. Guidance documents for the programs now encourage applicants to quantitatively project annual GHG reductions in funding requests, along with traditional measures including cuts in nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and fine particulate matter. In a press release, EPA said grantees will use the funding to implement projects that will cut thousands of tons of diesel emissions and “reduce premature deaths, asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments, lost work days, and many other health impacts every year.”

    More on the awards for the $20 million Clean Diesel refinance program can be found from here.

    Oh, and remember that Cornyn guy I mentioned earlier? Well, as it turns out, both he and former Repug Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison wrote two letters “asking for consideration of grants for clean diesel projects in San Antonio and Houston,” that came from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, even though each voted against the so-called “stimulus” twice (both the ARRA and the “stimulus” are the same thing, it should be pointed out), as noted here.

    Also, this tells us that about $1 million in stimulus funds were allocated for clean diesel projects in Ohio, this tells us that about $1.7 was allocated for clean diesel projects in South Dakota, this tells us about stimulus funds used for clean diesel projects in Connecticut, and this tells us about clean diesel projects underway in Michigan.

    So it looks like the administration of Number 44 is helping the states to make inroads on the issue of toxic emissions from vehicles contributing to the pollution affecting our climate. Too bad that Obama can’t do anything about pundit pollution too.

  • Continuing, it looks like someone named Casey Given at The Daily Tucker says that liberals are, in fact, anti-science after all because we oppose fracking for natural gas (here)…

    A study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is casting serious doubt on one of the environmental movement’s favorite talking points — namely, that fracking contaminates drinking water. The report, conducted by five professors from renowned universities such as Duke, Dartmouth, and Stanford, concluded that a number of water contaminations near fracking sites were most likely caused by well leaks — not fracking itself.

    Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” for short, is a well stimulation technique that has been standard practice in the energy industry for over sixty years. The way it works is drillers pump a mixture of mostly water onto rocks deep below the earth’s surface to release trapped oil and gas.

    To begin, if fracking is supposed to be so damn wonderful, how come former VP “Deadeye Dick” Cheney obtained an exemption for the practice from the Safe Water Drinking Act in 2005, as noted here – more here?

    But not to worry… Given says that, because it has been supposedly proven that well casings are the culprit for groundwater contamination, can we stop picking on fracking? In response, I believe the well casings have to be leaking something other than, say, air or untreated water, or else none of this would matter (sounds to me that, by that logic, if you’re still bleeding from a gunshot wound but you’re bandaged, it’s the bandage’s fault that you’re still bleeding instead of the bullet’s fault, if you will).

    I’ll tell you what, though; I’ll humor Given and grant him his point about fracking. Well then, what does he say about the study noted here, in which scientists tells us that injecting fracking wastewater underground is causing earthquakes?

    Given also tells us that the fracking is great because it means that, in North Dakota (for example), the minimum wage is about $15 an hour. What good does that do when the rent on a one-bedroom apartment goes for about $1K a month (here)?

  • Finally (and in what is becoming a regular feature here I guess), I give you the following from Kevin Williamson (here, on the subject of rape on college campuses)…

    The subject is a maddening one. President Obama repeated the endlessly reiterated but thoroughly debunked claim that one in five women will be sexually assaulted in her college years. The actual rate is sort of an interesting problem, the information being so inconsistent and contradictory that one almost suspects that it is so by design.

    Much of the scholarly literature estimates that the actual rate is more like a tenth of that one-in-five rate, 2.16 percent, or 21.6 per 1,000 to use the conventional formulation. But that number is problematic, too, as are most of the numbers related to sexual assault, as the National Institute of Justice, the DoJ’s research arm, documents. For example, two surveys conducted practically in tandem produced victimization rates of 0.16 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively – i.e., the latter estimate was eleven times the former. The NIJ blames defective wording on survey questions.

    As noted here, “the NIJ is notable among U.S. governmental research organizations because it is headed by a political appointee of the President rather than by a scientist or a member of the civil service.” To me, it’s more than a little off to rely on an NIJ study into this subject because I think it demands a scientific analysis.

    Fortunately, a scientific analysis was conducted into this subject by the CDC. And that is where the “one in five” number came from, as noted here (more is here).

    We also learn the following from the CDC link…

    Rape, and other forms of sexual violence, is preventable. Recognizing this, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. This landmark legislation established the Rape Prevention and Education (RPE) program at CDC. The goal of the RPE program is to strengthen sexual violence prevention efforts at the local, state, and national level. It operates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and six U.S. territories.

    And concerning the VAWA, I think the following should be noted from here

    …with Ray Rice in the news and the anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) upon us, it’s worth taking a minute to think about the connection between our everyday lives and what Congress can, and should, do to improve them.

    VAWA protects women from domestic violence. Period. It gives prosecutors stronger tools to crack down on domestic abuse and expands victims’ services for women. Since it became law two decades ago, VAWA has impacted the lives of millions of women and children around the country. It has protected women from abuse, provided support for women and children to escape violent situations, and improved the ability of law enforcement to handle this complicated issue. It has made a real difference.

    Which is why it mattered that House Republicans blocked VAWA reauthorization for 500 days. It mattered that House Republicans refused to strengthen the law and voted down an additional $4 million that would have bolstered prevention and prosecution programs.

    And it matters that Republican candidates like Representative Steve Southerland (FL-02) are now claiming to support VAWA in their re-election campaigns even though they voted against it in Congress.

    It matters to the women who need these protections. It matters to the women who call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help, which saw an 84 percent increase in calls after the Ray Rice incident hit the news (and which is, by the way, funded partially by VAWA).

    Of course, now that he’s running for re-election, Sen. Mr. Elaine Chao (here) is distancing himself from VAWA opposition any way possible (one way to respond is to click here).

    To me, both the CDC study and the issue of renewal of the VAWA is part of a larger mosaic, if you will, having to do with enlightened gender relations and mutual respect (I haven’t had a lot to say on this, aside from pointing out the absurdity of Janay Rice being more mad at the media on this than she is at her husband, and I’m not trying to criticize her by saying that, because I don’t think I have much of a right to pontificate). If we did a better job of accomplishing those two objectives, then there would be no need to quantify and study all the many ways that we fall short.

    And as noted from here, we still have a long way to go.

    Update 9/26/14: Well, it looks like the proverbial stopped clock was right one of two times here (h/t Atrios).

    Update 9/30/14: Update 9/30/14: Why do I have a feeling that Williamson is going to go the way of Robert Weissberg and John Derbyshire based on garbage like this?

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    The Courier Times Gives It Up For “No-Corp-Tax” Pat

    October 29, 2010

    In a thoroughly unsurprising development, the Bucks County Courier Times endorsed Pat Toomey for the U.S. Senate from PA today (here)…

    For sure, (Joe) Sestak, a Delaware County congressman and retired admiral, is far to the left of Toomey. He has energetically supported President Obama’s initiatives on the economy and health care reform – and makes no apologies for that. He argues that the stimulus bills and the bailouts, vilified now as immense debt diggers, were necessary to stanch economic disaster and widespread unemployment.

    Looking at the glass “half full” for a minute – when it comes to the bailout of GM, the company is now poised for an IPO and may actually turn a profit in the short term, as noted here (throwing “good money after good,” if you will).

    Continuing…

    A Harvard graduate, Sestak was equally supportive of health care reform, including a liberal-favored government-run public option that was not included in the final law.

    I hate to break the news to the Courier Times, but Sestak voted against the public option, as noted here (see “Fun With Committee Votes”).

    Continuing…

    Toomey, a former Lehigh Valley congressman, would extend the cuts for all Americans and pay for them by cutting spending, including rescinding the unspent portion of federal stimulus money.

    As noted here as of last July, “According to Recovery.gov, $55 billion of the unspent ARRA money comes in the form of tax benefits for middle class and working families.”

    So, by saying he wants to reclaim “unspent funds” from the stimulus, what Toomey is really saying is that he wants to raise our taxes.

    Continuing with the editorial, Toomey also says that he wants to “cap discretionary spending unrelated to national security”; as far as I’m concerned, that’s an extreme position when even a partisan like Senate Repug Bob Corker of Tennessee says here that defense cuts have to be “on the table.”

    Also, I’m concerned that Toomey says he would “create competition among health care insurers,” which to me is more code in favor of allowing insurers to compete across state lines – it doesn’t make me happy to point out that a mechanism for this is already in place in HCR, as Ezra Klein tells us here…

    (1) “Let families and businesses buy health insurance across state lines.” This is a long-running debate between liberals and conservatives. Currently, states regulate insurers. Liberals feel that’s too weak and allows for too much variation, and they want federal regulation of insurers. Conservatives feel that states over-regulate insurers, and they want insurers to be able to cluster in the state with the least regulation and offer policies nationwide, much as credit card companies do today.

    To the surprise and dismay of many liberals, the Senate health-care bill included a compromise with the conservative vision for insurance regulation. The relevant policy is in Section 1333, which allows the formation of interstate compacts. Under this provision, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and Idaho (for instance) could agree to allow insurers based in any of those states to sell plans in all of them. This prevents a race to the bottom, as Idaho has to be comfortable with Arizona’s regulations, and the policies have to have a minimum level of benefits (something that even Rep. Paul Ryan believes), but it’s a lot closer to the conservative ideal.

    And of course, Toomey supports “tort reform”; as noted here, it was enacted in Ohio but hasn’t lowered rates (as if Toomey cares about that).

    Oh, and Toomey of course supports privatization of Social Security, and the Courier Times editorial board is just ducky with that…what a shame that they apparently didn’t read the following letter in their own newspaper today (here)…

    On the subject of Social Security, the president cannot direct the Social Security Administration to issue a COLA. The COLA is mandated by law using the Cost of Living Index for urban and clerical workers for the previous fiscal year.

    If a COLA is not generated, then the law prohibits a COLA for the following year. Congress can change this by amending the law to consider the cost of living for seniors.

    Those receiving Social Security were sent a $250 payment. This was requested by the president and Congress approved it with a vote. It was funded by the stimulus money. If you do not think you got this, check your bank statements for May or June. Some federal retirees got a tax credit and not a direct payment.

    Social Security is solvent for the next 25 years. The money being paid covers the obligations so it is not adding to the deficit. The deficit is caused by unfunded spending, such as tax cuts with no corresponding cuts in spending, or two wars lasting a decade that included billions of dollars to rebuild the infrastructure in Iraq.

    If workers are allowed to divert some of their Social Security payments to a private account, that will result in a loss of funding to Social Security; and as an obligation set by law the taxpayers will have to make up the loss, higher taxes, to provide the benefits to the beneficiaries. No one has considered this as the unintended consequence of “privatization.”

    Susan Gibbons
    Fairless Hills, PA

    Finally, Toomey supports reducing business tax rates – please watch Keith Olbermann’s report here (first video) and then try to tell me why I should give a fig about tax liability for corporations.

    Meanwhile, to support someone who will actually support us (and time is short now, people), click here.


    Taking Our The WTE “Eurotrash,” But Not Our Own

    April 14, 2010


    This story appeared on the front page of the New York Times yesterday, including the following (and I think Tony Auth, whose cartoon is featured above, was reading not only my mind, but a lot of other people’s also)…

    HORSHOLM, Denmark — The lawyers and engineers who dwell in an elegant enclave here are at peace with the hulking neighbor just over the back fence: a vast energy plant that burns thousands of tons of household garbage and industrial waste, round the clock.

    Far cleaner than conventional incinerators, this new type of plant converts local trash into heat and electricity. Dozens of filters catch pollutants, from mercury to dioxin, that would have emerged from its smokestack only a decade ago.

    In that time, such plants have become both the mainstay of garbage disposal and a crucial fuel source across Denmark, from wealthy exurbs like Horsholm to Copenhagen’s downtown area. Their use has not only reduced the country’s energy costs and reliance on oil and gas, but also benefited the environment, diminishing the use of landfills and cutting carbon dioxide emissions. The plants run so cleanly that many times more dioxin is now released from home fireplaces and backyard barbecues than from incineration.

    With all these innovations, Denmark now regards garbage as a clean alternative fuel rather than a smelly, unsightly problem. And the incinerators, known as waste-to-energy plants, have acquired considerable cachet as communities like Horsholm vie to have them built.

    Denmark now has 29 such plants, serving 98 municipalities in a country of 5.5 million people, and 10 more are planned or under construction. Across Europe, there are about 400 plants, with Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands leading the pack in expanding them and building new ones.

    By contrast, no new waste-to-energy plants are being planned or built in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency says — even though the federal government and 24 states now classify waste that is burned this way for energy as a renewable fuel, in many cases eligible for subsidies. There are only 87 trash-burning power plants in the United States, a country of more than 300 million people, and almost all were built at least 15 years ago.

    Indeed, this tells us that no new operational WTE plants have been built since 2000, and author Nickolas Themelis, member of the National Academy of Engineering and director of Earth Engineering Center, Columbia University, is currently urging Massachusetts to lift its WTE ban (here)…

    Is it really better to build more and more landfills that have a finite lifetime of about twenty 20 years rather than generate electricity from waste?

    If the Sierra Club and other organizations opposing WTE examined the facts, as my students have to do while working on their theses, they would be hard pressed to say yes. They would realize that if SEMASS had not been built, the 40 landfills that were closed from 1991 to 1995 would have been replaced by another 40 by now, either in state or out of state. Overall, we have estimated that SEMASS in its 21 years of existence, has avoided the conversion of 306 acres of greenfields to landfills; generated nearly 11 billion kwh of electricity; recovered 800,000 tons of metals; and avoided the equivalent emission of 20 million tons of greenhouse gases.

    So why the continued, misguided opposition to waste-to-energy facilities?

    The last-resort argument of “environmental” groups is that incinerators impede recycling. This is simply not true. In Sandwich, we recycle close to seven types of wastes and send the non-recyclable materials to SEMASS. In fact, the most environmentally minded nations in the world, such as Denmark and Germany, recycle the most, combust the most, and landfill the least. Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum noted that WTE is one of the large-scale technologies that can help communities achieve a low-carbon infrastructure.

    Themelis may be the leading proponent of WTE in this country; he is quoted as follows in Rosenthal’s Times’ story…

    “It’s so irrational; I’ve almost given up with New York,” he said. “It’s like you’re in a village of Hottentots who look up and see an airplane — when everybody else is using airplanes — and they say, ‘No, we won’t do it, it’s too scary.’ ”

    Attitudes could hardly be more different in Denmark, where plants are placed in the communities they serve, no matter how affluent, so that the heat of burning garbage can be efficiently piped into homes.

    Planners take pains to separate residential traffic from trucks delivering garbage, and some of the newest plants are encased in elaborate outer shells that resemble sculptures.

    “New buyers are usually O.K. with the plant,” said Hans Rast, president of the homeowners’ association in Horsholm, who cut a distinguished figure in corduroy slacks and a V-neck sweater as he poured coffee in a living room of white couches and Oriental rugs.

    “What they like is that they look out and see the forest,” he said. (The living rooms in this enclave of town houses face fields and trees, while the plant is roughly some 400 yards over a back fence that borders the homes’ carports). The lower heating costs don’t hurt, either. Eighty percent of Horsholm’s heat and 20 percent of its electricity come from burning trash.

    (By the way, I want to emphasize that my point here isn’t to beat up environmentalists; I’m merely trying to lend a voice towards what I believe it a more efficient means of disposing our waste. And I have a feeling one of the reasons why we’re behind is because we’ve endured presidential administrations and congresses that were loathe to invest in this for fear of the dreaded charge of allegedly forcing some crushing tax burden on another U.S. industry, or something.)

    And this tells us that the “Bluegrass State” is implementing “stim” funds in part to implement its own WTE project…

    The Kentucky Horse Park spends an average of $200,000 per year to dispose of horse manure. The construction of the new manure bionergy management facility is a practical and sustainable solution that will eliminate costs associated with waste disposal while providing many environmental benefits. The productive reuse of horse manure to generate electricity is expected to substantially offset electric charges incurred. Energy from waste produces less greenhouse gases than the continued transport of manure to the landfill. The project will serve the North Elkhorn Creek watershed and provide regional water quality benefits to the area. The on-site storage of manure will not contribute to ground or surface water pollution, which will help to maintain the unnamed tributaries to Cane Run that flow into North Elkhorn Creek.

    In 2009, the EPA distributed $49.9 million in ARRA funding to KIA to help the state finance overdue improvements to water projects that are essential for protecting public health and the environment. The funding augmented Kentucky’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) program, which provides low-interest loans for water quality protection projects for wastewater treatment, non-point source pollution control, and watershed and estuary management. The Kentucky Horse Park project received $1,950,000 in assistance through the SRF, including $950,000 in ARRA funds.

    I think it’s definitely time to revisit WTE projects once more, seeing as how our neighbors “across the pond” have advanced further with this technology than we have; it sounds like we have some catching up to do.

    And I guess it’s time to rethink that expression about something “being rotten in Denmark”; one day, that may come to mean the smell of “effluent” from our shores instead.


    Monday Mashup Part 1 (11/30/09)

    November 30, 2009

  • 1) I detected a bit of an inconsistency with the following from Republican political strategist Ed Rollins in this CNN editorial…

    …Michaele and Tareq Salahi want to be famous as stars of reality television. I am all for that. Give them a reality television series and call it “Trial and Jailtime” in the D.C. criminal justice system. This despicable, desperate, duplicitous couple disgraced the Secret Service and embarrassed the president in his home.

    If someone wants to bring charges against these two and investigate how they came face-to-face with the President of the United States the other night at the state dinner for the Indian prime minister and his wife, then I would tend to think that that’s a good idea.

    However, it would have been nice if we had heard such outrage from Rollins and his pals when James Guckert (under the alias “Jeff Gannon”) accessed the White House and was admitted to the White House press briefing room on day press passes for almost two years, even though the following was true:

    • (Gannon had) no media experience other than a two-day training course at The Leadership Institute’s Broadcast School of Journalism.
    • (Gannon) was denied media credentials April 7, 2004, by the “Standing Committee of Correspondents, the press body that oversees the distribution of credentials on Capitol Hill.”
    • (Gannon) was not working for a recognized media outlet.
    • (Gannon) had access to the White House press briefing room before Talon News (a “psuedo-news” organization tied to a right-wing web site; it was the alleged news site Gannon worked for) was operational.

    So to sum up, Rollins thinks that the two gate crashers at the state dinner recently held at the White House should be prosecuted, but neither he nor anyone else in his party thinks Jeff Gannon should pay any price whatsoever, considering that he “somehow bypassed both Secret Service and FBI screening to access the White House press room.”

    And Rollins wrote this for CNN.

    We’ll have to “leave it there.”

  • 2) I felt like I was taking a bit of a trip back in time when I read through this “Politico” rehash of Republican talking points, called “7 ‘Stories’ Obama Doesn’t Want Told” (including the following – I’ll explain in a minute)…

    People used to make fun of Bill Clinton’s misty-eyed, raspy-voiced claims that, “I feel your pain.”

    The reality, however, is that Clinton’s dozen years as governor before becoming president really did leave him with a vivid sense of the concrete human dimensions of policy. He did not view programs as abstractions — he viewed them in terms of actual people he knew by name.

    Obama, a legislator and law professor, is fluent in describing the nuances of problems. But his intellectuality has contributed to a growing critique that decisions are detached from rock-bottom principles.

    Both Maureen Dowd in The New York Times and Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post have likened him to Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.

    The Spock imagery has been especially strong during the extended review Obama has undertaken of Afghanistan policy. He’ll announce the results on Tuesday. The speech’s success will be judged not only on the logic of the presentation but on whether Obama communicates in a more visceral way what progress looks like and why it is worth achieving. No soldier wants to take a bullet in the name of nuance.

    (Oh, by the way, this is “story” number two of seven – insert your snark here.)

    So basically, what we have here is a “reboot,” if you will, of the Al Gore “Ozone Man” narrative of the 2000 election (as the punditocracy told us, Gore was intellectual, not a “common man” like George W. Bush, couldn’t decide whether or not he was an “alpha male” and was therefore a liar, etc. – I know I’m leaving some other contrived mythology on Gore, but you get the idea).

    And it’s appropriate actually that Harris would mention MoDo here since, perhaps more than anyone else (here), she piled onto the former veep during the campaign over Gore’s “obsessions about global warming and the information highway”; she also compared Gore to the “wackadoo wing of the Democratic Party” for his criticism of the Iraq war; and has repeatedly furthered numerous falsehoods about Gore, such as that Gore once claimed to have “invented the Internet” (guess there was no way to avoid that one) and that author Naomi Wolf advised Gore on his wardrobe.

    And by the way, I would not have blamed Dowd or anyone else if what they wrote was legitimate, verifiable criticism instead of corporate media idiocy.

    But getting back to Obama, John Harris of Politico takes note of the president’s “peculiar” bow to the Japanese emperor and concludes with the following…

    Obama’s best hope of nipping bad storylines is to replace them with good ones rooted in public perceptions of his effectiveness.

    Of course, there’s no word on whether or not Harris and his playmates will actually take note of those “good ones” (such as Obama’s speech before Congress on health care and not taking the bait of the oafish Joe “You Lie” Wilson) as opposed to rehashing the bad ones instead for the millionth time.

  • Update 1 12/1/09: And while The Politico concocts dookey like this, blogger Nathan Newman actually went to work and reported on achievements of the Obama Administration here (of course, too bad that reality conflicts with Harris’s dumb narratives – hat tip to Chris Bowers of Open Left).

    Update 2 12/1/09: “Spock this” indeed – ha, ha, ha.

  • 3) And finally, here is more unintentional comedy from “Z on TV”…

    A consensus is starting to build that says so far, Barack Obama has been a lot better at playing a president on TV than actually being one in 2009.

    Maybe it is the arrival of the holidays and the inescapable realization that our president has seemed to be mostly indifferent to the millions of Americans who are out of work and can’t even start to think of holiday cheer. While the White House has been focused in recent months on such misguided campaigns as trying to beat Fox News into submission for daring to criticize him, more and more Americans are wondering why the president hasn’t heard their growing cries of desperation. That’s what the intensity and outrage of the town halls were really about during the summer. But the tin ears in the administration didn’t hear it. They were too busy booking the president on every talk show on television — as long as it wasn’t on Fox News.

    You know, it’s really hilarious to read someone like Zurawik criticize Obama for “playing president” (and any proof on this emerging “consensus,” by the way?) after less than a year in office after we all had to endure the antics of Commander Codpiece since he was installed into An Oval Office in November 2000 (I’ll tell you what, Z – let me know if Obama “drops in” on our troops with a plastic Thanksgiving turkey like 43 did here, and maybe I’ll take you seriously, OK?).

    And as far as Obama being “indifferent” to Americans out of work, all I can ask is which party supported the “Stim” and which one didn’t (and which president signed it into law – this tells us that the ARRA “added roughly 2.3 percentage points to real GDP growth in the second quarter “ and created or saved between 660,000 and 1.1 million jobs…and I didn’t recall hearing a plan for a “stimulus” from the Palin/McBush ticket last year).

    Also, as far as Obama appearing on every talk show except Fix Noise, is “Z” aware that Obama was interviewed here by Major Garrett on November 19th? And another thing… anyone who doesn’t acknowledge the corporate “Astro-turf” support behind the teabaggers and their faux outrage over the summer is suffering from a serious case of reality avoidance anyway (here).

    And finally, how’s this for a “Z” “mea culpa”…

    Don’t blame me on this one, folks. I have been saying this since early in the year, and generally catching hell for it even from some of my colleagues.

    If you, Z, as a salaried media pundit who writes for a living, don’t even have the fortitude to take some criticism, then stick to writing about TV “reality” shows and Tiger Woods’ vehicle accident instead (or the White House “gate crashers” I noted previously), and leave political criticism for those who do even a bare minimum of research to make their case.


  • Three Quick Friday Hits

    September 18, 2009

  • Three interesting items appeared in the New York Times today – here is the first…

    Compared with the immense size of the stimulus program, the actual number of arrests so far has been microscopic. Earl E. Devaney, the chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the watchdog for stimulus money, said recently that federal prosecutors were looking at only nine stimulus-related cases, including accusations of Social Security fraud and of businesses improperly claiming to be owned by women and members of minorities.

    “Quite frankly, I’m a little surprised it’s that small,” Mr. Devaney testified recently before the Senate, explaining that his office passes along questionable expenses to the various federal inspector general offices following the money, as well as to the Department of Justice. “I know, from talking to them, they’re very interested in sending some very loud signals early, as often as they can, with this money.”

    The small number of cases is partly a function of how much stimulus money has been spent so far, and how it has been spent. While more than $150 billion of it has been pumped into the economy, according to a recent report by the White House, some $62.6 billion of that was in the form of tax cuts. Of the rest, $38.4 billion was sent to states for fiscal relief; $30.6 billion was spent to help those affected by the recession by expanding unemployment benefits and other safety-net programs, and $16.5 billion was spent in areas like infrastructure, technology and research.

    It should have been about $62 billion in infrastructure and $16.5 billion in tax cuts, but what’s done is done.

    And as noted here, FBI Director Robert Mueller has issued a warning about potential fraud arising in the future over the “stim.” Mueller has also issued warnings about mortgage and white collar business fraud in the past, which is probably the prudent thing to do. Basically, I wouldn’t read too much into his warning today by itself, unless further evidence of “stim” fraud arises of course.

  • Here is the second item, including the following…

    LOS ANGELES — Government auditors reported Thursday that the effort to secure the Mexican border with technology and fences has fallen years behind schedule, will cost billions of dollars extra in maintenance costs and has no clear means of gauging whether illegal crossings have been curtailed.

    Mark Borkowski, who directs the Secure Border Initiative for the Department of Homeland Security, stood by the program as “transformational,” but did not challenge the findings. “We are as frustrated as anybody is” with the setbacks, Mr. Borkowski said in an interview.

    The report, by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s watchdog, said the department had fallen about seven years behind its goal of putting in place the technology the Bush administration had heavily promoted when it announced the Secure Border Initiative in 2005.

    And by the way…

    The apprehension of illegal immigrants at the border has fallen to lows not seen in decades, but scholars and Mexican officials say the recession and the lack of jobs in the United States have contributed to the drop.

    So aside from despoiling habitat, there really is no way to gauge whether or not the “fence” is any good, is there? Pathetic.

  • And speaking of environmental disasters, here is the third story…

    WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is investigating whether a former secretary of the interior, Gale A. Norton, violated the law by granting valuable leases to Royal Dutch Shell around the time she was considering going to work for the company after she left office, officials said Thursday.

    The officials said investigators had recently turned up information suggesting that Ms. Norton had had discussions while in office with Royal Dutch Shell about future career opportunities. In early 2006, Ms. Norton’s department awarded three tracts in Colorado to a Shell subsidiary for shale exploration. In December 2006, she joined Shell as the company’s general counsel in the United States for unconventional oils, a company spokeswoman said.

    The existence of a federal criminal investigation was first reported Thursday by The Los Angeles Times.

    Ms. Norton, 55, was President George W. Bush’s first interior secretary. In that job, she was an ally of Vice President Dick Cheney in the administration’s general approach of opening up more federal lands for energy exploration.

    Gaylie, Gaylie, how does your garden grow (I mean, before the ground beneath it is ripped apart for natural gas exploration, leaving it utterly useless).

    By the way, this post celebrating Norton’s resignation from Interior three years ago contains a link to an Inquirer Op-Ed from Norton claiming that it’s “time for the denial to end” on drilling in the Alaska Natural Wildlife Refuge.

    If Norton is eventually found guilty, I have an idea for her sentencing (speaking of “the mountains she loves so much”). As someone who should have acted as a steward of the environment, I believe she should be forced to parachute into the Rockies with food and water rations for about a week, along with a Swiss army knife. From that point, she’s on her own.


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