29 July 2010

We win a big one for polar bears

We win a big one for polar bears

I have great news: a federal court has just halted oil and gas companies from moving ahead with drilling operations in millions of acres spanning Alaska’s Chukchi Sea -- one of our nation’s two “Polar Bear Seas.”

The ruling is a huge victory for polar bears, bowhead whales, other Arctic wildlife and tens of thousands of NRDC supporters like you who enabled us to go to court and fight off Big Oil’s planned invasion of this sensitive habitat.

The massive fire sale of drilling rights in the Chukchi Sea was initiated by the Bush Administration in its final days. In effect, the Bush Interior Department sold the home of half our nation’s polar bears right out from under their feet and sparked a modern-day oil rush into the heart of the bear’s melting sea ice habitat.

NRDC counterattacked by launching a federal lawsuit --
in partnership with Earthjustice, Alaska Native groups and other conservationists. We charged that the government had failed to study the far-reaching impacts of oil development, had broken our nation’s environmental law and should be ordered to revoke the drilling rights.

A federal judge has now agreed! And he has told the Obama Administration -- which adopted the Bush Administration’s reckless drilling policy -- to go back to the drawing board and gather the missing information about environmental risks.

We would hope that the Obama Administration takes this opportunity to break with the “drill everywhere” policy of the Bush era and embark on a more science-based approach to protecting America’s endangered Arctic.

In the wake of the Gulf oil spill disaster, it is all too clear that a spill in the Arctic could be catastrophic for polar bears and other wildlife.

The oil industry has no technology for cleaning up oil in broken sea ice -- one of the main places where polar bears search for food. And oil-covered polar bears have almost no chance of survival.

With Alaska’s polar bears already facing extinction by 2050 from global warming, they can hardly afford a new threat to their meager numbers.

That’s why our latest court victory is so important. And it’s also why we must now redouble our efforts to turn back Big Oil’s dangerous plans to drill in other vulnerable corners of the Arctic.

First and foremost, we are still waging our legal fight to stop the Shell oil company from drilling off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the Beaufort Sea -- the second of the two Polar Bear Seas.

We will continue fighting Shell and any other company that targets the polar bear’s home for potentially disastrous drilling.

In the meantime, I want to thank you for helping NRDC score this latest victory over Big Oil in federal court -- and for defending the Polar Bear Seas.


Peter Lehner
Executive Director
Natural Resources Defense Council

White House proposal would ease FBI access to records of Internet activity 29JUL10

MORE bullshit from the government as they continue the assault on the constitution and our civil rights! FIGHT BACK, JOIN THE ACLU AND FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHTS! Click the header to go to the ACLU website to join.
By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2010; A01

The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual's Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation.
The administration wants to add just four words -- "electronic communication transactional records" -- to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge's approval. Government lawyers say this category of information includes the addresses to which an Internet user sends e-mail; the times and dates e-mail was sent and received; and possibly a user's browser history. It does not include, the lawyers hasten to point out, the "content" of e-mail or other Internet communication.
But what officials portray as a technical clarification designed to remedy a legal ambiguity strikes industry lawyers and privacy advocates as an expansion of the power the government wields through so-called national security letters. These missives, which can be issued by an FBI field office on its own authority, require the recipient to provide the requested information and to keep the request secret. They are the mechanism the government would use to obtain the electronic records.
Stewart A. Baker, a former senior Bush administration Homeland Security official, said the proposed change would broaden the bureau's authority. "It'll be faster and easier to get the data," said Baker, who practices national security and surveillance law. "And for some Internet providers, it'll mean giving a lot more information to the FBI in response to an NSL."
Many Internet service providers have resisted the government's demands to turn over electronic records, arguing that surveillance law as written does not allow them to do so, industry lawyers say. One senior administration government official, who would discuss the proposed change only on condition of anonymity, countered that "most" Internet or e-mail providers do turn over such data.
To critics, the move is another example of an administration retreating from campaign pledges to enhance civil liberties in relation to national security. The proposal is "incredibly bold, given the amount of electronic data the government is already getting," said Michelle Richardson, American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel.
The critics say its effect would be to greatly expand the amount and type of personal data the government can obtain without a court order. "You're bringing a big category of data -- records reflecting who someone is communicating with in the digital world, Web browsing history and potentially location information -- outside of judicial review," said Michael Sussmann, a Justice Department lawyer under President Bill Clinton who now represents Internet and other firms.
Privacy concerns
The use of the national security letters to obtain personal data on Americans has prompted concern. The Justice Department issued 192,500 national security letters from 2003 to 2006, according to a 2008 inspector general report, which did not indicate how many were demands for Internet records. A 2007 IG report found numerous possible violations of FBI regulations, including the issuance of NSLs without having an approved investigation to justify the request. In two cases, the report found, agents used NSLs to request content information "not permitted by the [surveillance] statute."
One issue with both the proposal and the current law is that the phrase "electronic communication transactional records" is not defined anywhere in statute. "Our biggest concern is that an expanded NSL power might be used to obtain Internet search queries and Web histories detailing every Web site visited and every file downloaded," said Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has sued AT&T for assisting the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program.
He said he does not object to the government obtaining access to electronic records, provided it has a judge's approval.
Senior administration officials said the proposal was prompted by a desire to overcome concerns and resistance from Internet and other companies that the existing statute did not allow them to provide such data without a court-approved order. "The statute as written causes confusion and the potential for unnecessary litigation," Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said. "This clarification will not allow the government to obtain or collect new categories of information, but it seeks to clarify what Congress intended when the statute was amended in 1993."
The administration has asked Congress to amend the statute, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, in the fiscal year that begins in October.
Administration officials noted that the act specifies in one clause that Internet and other companies have a duty to provide electronic communication transactional records to the FBI in response to a national security letter.
But the next clause specifies only four categories of basic subscriber data that the FBI may seek: name, address, length of service and toll billing records. There is no reference to electronic communication transactional records.
Same as phone records?
The officials said the transactional information at issue, which does not include Internet search queries, is the functional equivalent of telephone toll billing records, which the FBI can obtain without court authorization. Learning the e-mail addresses to which an Internet user sends messages, they said, is no different than obtaining a list of numbers called by a telephone user.
Obtaining such records with an NSL, as opposed to a court order, "allows us to intercede in plots earlier than we would if our hands were tied and we were unable to get this data in a way that was quick and efficient," the senior administration official said.
But the value of such data is the reason a court should approve its disclosure, said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. "It's much more sensitive than the other information, like name, address and telephone number, that the FBI gets with national security letters," he said. "It shows associational information protected by the First Amendment and is much less public than things like where you live."
A Nov. 5, 2008, opinion from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, whose opinions are binding on the executive branch, made clear that the four categories of basic subscriber information the FBI may obtain with an NSL were "exhaustive."
This opinion, said Sussmann, the former Clinton administration lawyer, caused many companies to reevaluate the scope of what could be provided in response to an NSL. "The OLC opinion removed the ambiguity," he said. "Providers now are limited to the four corners of what the opinion says they can give out. Those who give more do so at their own risk."
Marc Zwillinger, an attorney for Internet companies, said some providers are not giving the FBI more than the four categories specified. He added that with the rise of social networking, the government's move could open a significant amount of Internet activity to government surveillance without judicial authorization. "A Facebook friend request -- is that like a phone call or an e-mail? Is that something they would sweep in under an NSL? They certainly aren't getting that now."

Ground Truth from Afghanistan 26JUL10 from MOJO

THIS shows the government has been involved in a program of deception justifying this war from the start, just like Vietnam, and that we have NO chance of coming out of Afghanistan as winners. It is time to end this war, to end the bloodshed and waste of life and resources and bring the troops home before any more families, American, NATO or Afghani, are destroyed.
Afghanistan is truly an under-reported war—and, more important, an under-discussed and under-debated war. Last week, for instance, Andrew Breitbart must have received a thousand times the ink and hits that the war did, and even he might think that wasn't right. This conflict is costing the nation about $100 billion a year, at a time when our federal budget is under great pressure. The loss of American lives in Afghanistan has been increasing. Civilian casualties have created resentment against US and NATO forces. The US military and civilian agencies are involved in a tremendously complicated endeavor in a land very few Americans know anything about, and US success depends on collaborating with Afghan political and security institutions that are often inept and plagued with corruption. Yet this war receives little air-time in the United States. There is the occasional hearing on Capitol Hill, but no rousing debates. The media and public pay attention in spurts—such as when President Barack Obama conducted a review that led to increasing the number of US troops in Afghanistan, or when Gen. Stanley McChyrstal and his staff dumped on the White House while talking to a Rolling Stone freelancer. Yet these short bursts come and go—while the war slogs on, with much of the United States remaining detached from and ignorant of what is happening day to day in their name, with their tax dollars, in Afghanistan.
So when Wikileaks posts 92,000 classified US military reports detailing assorted aspects of the war, it is disheartening to see bloggers and commentators dismiss this document dump as not much that's new. In a post headlined "Underwhelmed by Wikileaks," Tom Ricks writes,
A huge leak of U.S. reports and this  is all they get? I know of more stuff leaked at one good dinner on background.
The "this" he referred to was a New York Times story based on these documents that reported that that Americans fighting the war in Afghanistan have long suspected Pakistan's intelligence service of secretly helping the Afghan insurgency. And Ricks cites a dismissive posting by Mother Jones' Adam Weinstein: "I mean, when Mother Jones yawns,  that's an indication that you might not have the Pentagon Papers on your hands." The Center for New American Security's Andrew Axum (a.k.a. Abu Muqawama) took a similarly sarcastic view, noting last night when the story broke: "I'm going to bed, but if I were to stay up late reading more, here is what I suspect I would discover: 1. Afghanistan has four syllables. 2. LeBron is going to the Heat..." Andrew Sullivan writes, "What do we really learn from the Wikileaks monster-doc-dump? I think the actual answer is: not much that we didn't already know." But Sullivan does concede that this material is "rivetingly explicit" and "confirmation of what anyone with eyes and ears could have told you for years." The Economist blogged,"while this unvarnished heap of military intelligence adds a lot of colour to our understanding of the war in Afghanistan, the first headlines to have come streaming from the mess of it tell us little that we did not know already."
I wonder if any of the journalists pooh-poohing this collection of documents would do so had he or she been the person to unearth this trove. Moreover, as the Times (which, along with British newspaper the Guardian and German magazine Der Speigel, was granted early access to this archive by Wikileaks), the records undercut the administration's claims about the war. Its story on the documents opened:
A six-year archive of classified military documents made public on Sunday offers an unvarnished, ground-level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is in many respects more grim than the official portrayal.
Know-it-all cynics can be dismissive and claim, Well, it isn't big news to me that the war is not going as well as depicted by the Obama administration (and, prior to that, the Bush administration). Yet when 92,000 military reports emerge supporting this point, it ought to be significant—even for the jaded.
In combing through the documents, the Times did find some notable news: the Taliban have used portable heat-seeking missiles against US and NATO aircraft (a fact the US military has not disclosed); the performance of drone aircraft in Afghanistan is less impressive than maintained by US officials; the CIA has run the Afghan spy service as a "virtual subsidiary." Each of these stories would be page-one material. Yet perhaps because they have been lumped together in a Afghanistan-war-is-grim package, these revelations have less punch. They've been diluted.
How many of the fast-to-dismiss band have mined the 92,000 documents? Consider how the New Yorker's Amy Davidson approach this matter. In her review of the Afghanistan leak, she zeroes in on one report from last November detailing how one military unit had to pay several thousand dollars in bribe to a warlord suspected of protecting drug trafficking (a charge he has denied). As Davidson notes, "a leak informing us that our tax dollars may be being used as seed money for a protection racket associated with a narcotics-trafficking enterprise is a good leak to have." She also notes:
each of the WikiLeaks documents—from an account of an armed showdown between the Afghan police and the Afghan Army, to a few lines about a local interdiction official taking seventy-five-dollar bribes, to a sad exchange about an aid scam involving orphans—is a pixel in a picture that does, indeed, contradict official accounts of the war, and rather drastically so.
These documents—snapshots from a far-away war--show the ground truth of Afghanistan. This is not what Americans receive from US officials. And with much establishment media unable (or unwilling) to apply resources to comprehensive coverage of the war, the public doesn't see many snapshots like these. Any information that illuminates the realities of Afghanistan is valuable—especially if it shows (or reminds those already in the know) that government officials are overselling what's happening in this insufficiently examined war.
David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

The GOP Plot to Screw the Economy and the Middle Class 28JUL10

We're only three months away from the midterm election when a shockingly large number of American voters will inexplicably vote for Republican candidates. I have no idea if this will mean a Republican takeover of the House or Senate or both, but there will definitely be enough voter support for Republicans to significantly reduce the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.
Why? Because too many voters tend to be low-information, knee-jerk Springfield-from-The-Simpsons types, and the Republicans have lashed their crazy trains to this new wave of inchoate roid-rage to help sweep them into more congressional seats.
Here are a few of the ongoing economic conditions facing a vast majority of Americans, many of whom are all revved up to vote Republican in November. According to Michael Snyder of the Business Insider:
• 61 percent of Americans "always or usually" live paycheck to paycheck, which was up from 49 percent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007.
• 66 percent of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1 percent of all Americans.
• Over 1.4 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009, which represented a 32 percent increase over 2008.
• The bottom 50 percent of income earners in the United States now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation's wealth.
• In America today, the average time needed to find a job has risen to a record 35.2 weeks.
• More than 40 percent of Americans who actually are employed are now working in service jobs, which are often very low paying.
• Despite the financial crisis, the number of millionaires in the United States rose a whopping 16 percent to 7.8 million in 2009.
Oh, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that wages for the highest 20 percent of earners rose by nearly 300 percent since 1979, while wages for the bottom and middle 20 percent increased only by 41 percent -- combined. Plotted on a graph, middle and working class wages have flatlined for 30 years. Roll all of these tragic figures into a slow growth recovery and here we are. Most of us in the middle class are screwed.
And thanks to an alliance between the Republicans (which includes the tea party), the increasingly dominant far-right media, a traditional "old media" that panders to the far-right, and right-of-center "conservadems" who pander to the Republicans, too many voters have decided that the Republican Party might be better suited to turn all of this around.
The big lie here is that if Congress stops spending, cuts the deficit and makes permanent the Bush tax cuts, especially the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, our problems will be solved -- even though these concepts are in direct conflict with each other. Not surprising given the ever-lengthening Republican syllabus of contradictions.
Here's how this new batch of contradictions plays out.
According to Republicans and their conservadem enablers, we have to cut the deficit and pay for every program Congress passes or else we're all doomed. We're stealing from our children, they say. This has manifested itself in Republican filibusters of both unemployment benefits ($34 billion) and a new jobs bill ($33 billion over ten years). A Republican filibuster killed the jobs bill, and, after many failed cloture votes, the filibuster of the unemployment benefits was finally defeated and the Senate Democrats passed the extensions. Throughout the past year and a half, it's been the same story. Any effort made by the Democrats to stimulate the economy has been filibustered by the Republicans. They say it's because of the deficit and debt.
And yet they want to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, which would add $678 billion dollars to the deficit -- and that's just the cost of the tax cuts going to the top two percent of earners. In other words, the Republicans want to spend $678 billion in further giveaways for the wealthiest two percent, and they don't care whether it increases the deficit.
By the way, the Republicans also recently voted against and defeated an amendment to strip Big Oil of its $25 billion in subsidies. Just thought I'd pass that along. Put another way, $678 billion in tax cuts for the wealthy? No problem. Deficit-shmeficit! But $34 billion in unemployment benefits for an out-of-work middle class at a time when companies aren't hiring (say nothing of the aforementioned bullet-points)? Evil! Instead, the Republicans want to give almost as much money to Big Oil in the form of corporate welfare during the worst oil spill in American history while telling unemployed middle class families to piss off.
Do we have a clear picture in terms of who and what the Republicans care about?
It surely isn't fiscal discipline or the deficit. And it surely isn't the middle class. The Bush tax cuts, if extended, would add $2 trillion to debt, so it's not that either. Throw in another policy started by the Republicans -- the war spending (more of which was passed yesterday without any worries about CBO scoring or making sure it's deficit neutral) -- and there's the vast majority of your deficit and debt for the next ten years. Not the stimulus or the bailouts. The long term budget impact of the wars and the Bush tax cuts literally dwarf the stimulus. Here's the CBPP evidence in colorful graph form:
That big blue chunk represents the Bush tax cut portion of the deficit. The yellow represents the wars. The light blue is the tax revenue lost to the recession. And those really narrow tan and red strata are TARP and the stimulus. Clearly we need to elect more Republicans so they can make permanent the big thick deficit hogs and kill that thin section for the stimulus.
Now, if you're a Republican, you might be clinging to the idea that extending the Bush tax cuts would have a stimulative effect on the economy (somehow) even though this hasn't been the case for the last ten years other than for the wealthiest Americans who have once again disproved the trickle-down theories at the heart of Reaganomics by pocketing their share of the trickle instead of reinvesting in jobs and wages for the middle class.
The Bush tax cuts will not stimulate the economy.
According to Moody's Analytics (hardly a left-wing apparatchik), for every dollar of government money spent on extending the Bush tax cuts, there's only a 32-cent return on investment in terms of economic stimulus. Not a solid investment. How about cutting the corporate tax rate? Also a 32-cent return in economic stimulus. Capital gains tax cuts? 37-cents. And, lumped together, there's your Republican plan for growing the economy. Dumb investments. Goldman Sachs would short these policies. I'm not sure they haven't, actually.
But what about the Democratic spending? For every dollar spent on unemployment benefits, there's a $1.61 return in economic stimulus. Good investment! How about infrastructure spending? $1.57 return. Aid to the states? $1.41. Temporary increase in food stamps? $1.74. Even the Obama tax credits for the middle class, $288 billion of the Recovery Act, account for up to $1.30.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is working with a deficit commission which will focus on trimming the deficit after (we hope) the economy and jobs are back on track. The Republicans, of course, voted against forming a deficit commission.
Given the choice between deficit spending that significantly stimulates economic growth or deficit spending that barely makes a dent, which choice are the Republicans trying to sell? The really stupid deficit spending for the wealthy that barely makes a dent in the recovery. That's the Republican plan.
Also, contrary to popular far-right myths, it's worth noting that the Democrats and the White House have no intention of allowing the tax cuts for families earning less than $250,000 to expire. Those tax cuts will be renewed this year. As for the top tax brackets, you find me a multi-millionaire who pays the actual marginal rate every April and I'll show you a very rich moron. Most of these guys, after deductions and loopholes, pay an effective tax rate that's much lower than the middle class tax brackets. So don't tell me that millionaire Glenn Beck and millionaire Paris Hilton will be financially burdened by a 2.6 percent bump in their margin tax rate next year. Sorry, no. They won't be. And why do middle class Republican voters give a rip about Paris Hilton's tax rate? Because they believe they'll be as wealthy as Paris some day. But read those bullet-points again. It's not happening.
Unless there's some sort of mass epiphany, or unless the Democrats actually speak up and take the discourse by the horns and fight, middle class American voters in November will augment the number of Republicans (and conservadems) in Congress mostly because they've been suckered into endorsing these insane Republican economic policies. Subsequently, the Republicans will balloon the deficit and undermine the economic recovery in order to give more handouts to the super rich. And the middle class will continue to be an accomplice in its own slow-roasted homicide.
Listen to the Bob & Elvis Show, with Bob Cesca and Elvis Dingeldein, on iTunes.
Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog

28 July 2010

Audio: How Green Is My Country? 23JUL10

WE have a long way to go and a lot to do or we are going to have a lot to answer for.
The race is on to develop sustainable solutions to climate change. From clean coal technology in Tianjin to the construction of Masdar City—a self-contained metropolis in the United Arab Emirates designed to be carbon neutral—countries around the world are devising new ways to reduce global dependency on fossil fuels. But as places like China and the U.A.E. move ahead with large scale green initiatives, is the U.S. lagging behind?
Need to Know’s Alison Stewart runs that question by Professor Bill Chameides, Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. Professor Chameides writes about environmental issues and options for a more sustainable future on his blog, The Green Grok.

This podcast was produced by Need to Know for the Climate Desk collaboration.

Did Obama Kill the Climate Bill? 22JUL10 & NEGATIVE ENERGY 2FEB10

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 3:35 PM PDT
Update: Kate Sheppard reports on what actually made it into the  Senate's energy package.
The Senate's climate bill is officially dead. And given that Democrats will almost certainly hold fewer seats in Congress next year, major action on the climate is unlikely to be revived anytime soon. Andrew Revkin, Joe Romm, and Tim Dickinson place a fair share of the blame on Obama. From Dickinson's widely-quoted Rolling Stone piece yesterday:
Handled correctly, the BP spill should have been to climate legislation what September 11th was to the Patriot Act, or the financial collapse was to the bank bailout. Disasters drive sweeping legislation, and precedent was on the side of a great leap forward in environmental progress. In 1969, an oil spill in Santa Barbara, California – of only 100,000 barrels, less than the two-day output of the BP gusher – prompted Richard Nixon to create the EPA and sign the Clean Air Act. But the Obama administration let the opportunity slip away.
Early on, Obama failed to challenge blowhards such as Senator Jim Inhofe who distorted the science of global warming. Revkin points out that the president has not invited researchers and climate analysts to the White House (as even Bush did). And after BP's well blew out, Obama's infamously milquetoast address from the Oval Office never connected the disaster with the need for a cap on carbon. All of this wasn't for a lack of pressure from his allies. Nine high-profile environmental groups wrote a letter to the president pleading that "nothing less than your direct personal involvement" will break the logjam in the Senate. Al Gore ultimately said what Obama wouldn't:
Placing a limit on global-warming pollution and accelerating the deployment of clean energy technologies is the only truly effective long-term solution to this crisis. Now it is time for the Senate to act. In the midst of the greatest environmental disaster in our history, there is no excuse to do otherwise.
Of course, there's always an excuse in Washington. Voting for a climate bill might hurt the reelection prospects of swing-state Democrats. The Senate, exhausted in the wake of its tough votes heath care and financial reform, might have never overcome a filibuster. And, to be fair, Obama has already done more for the climate than any president before him. But no matter: The confluence of a huge Democratic congressional majority and a huge ecological catastrophe wrought by the fossil fuel industry could have presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rewrite the rules of climate politics. With a little bit of leadership. Unfortunately, a little bit of leadership on the climate is more than we've got right now.

5 Tips for Saving on Your A/C Bill from THE BLUE MARBLE & MOTHER JONES

| Mon Jul. 26, 2010 2:30 AM PDT
Despite the relentless series of heat waves that has scorched much of the US this month, for many people, sultry summers are a thing of the past: If you can't stand the heat, just trot over to the thermostat and crank the central air. But as journalist Stan Cox reports in Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air Conditioned World (And Finding New Ways To Get Through the Summer), our heat intolerance comes at a price: Air conditioning currently accounts for almost a fifth of total electricity use in the US, and it creates considerable greenhouse gas emissions—ironically, in making our homes and offices cooler, we're also making the weather warmer. Cox, who recently imagined what Washington, DC., might be like sans air conditioning in an article he wrote for the Washington Post, believes A/C takes a toll on our social lives, too, and he blames it for the decline of the grand southern tradition of evening porch-sitting. "There's an estrangement from neighbors and nature as people move their lives indoors," he says. So what's a sweltering A/C addict to do? Here are some of Cox's top tips for going easy on the air:
Tip #1: Switch to compact fluorescent lightbulbs. Not only will you save on your electricity bill, you'll keep your house cooler. Cox writes that CFLs produce "30 percent as much heat for a given amount of illumination" as their incandescent counterparts.
Tip #2: Make sure your appliances vent outdoors. If your dryer, dishwasher, stove, and other heat-producing appliances expel hot air inside your home instead of funneling it outdoors, your A/C will have to work harder to get rid of that extra heat. If you really want to save, Cox recommends ditching your dryer completely. "Most clothes dryers expel much of their heat to the outdoors," he writes, "but no indoor heat at all is generated when solar clothes line 'technology' is employed."
Tip #3: Downsize your central air. Some people buy giant central A/C systems, thinking they'll do the job quicker and more efficiently than smaller versions. That's not necessarily true, says Cox, so you should make sure your system is the right size for the space you want to cool. Your best bet, though, is to buy a system "that can behave as if it's large or small, depending on cooling demand." Smart systems like these have been shown to use 25 percent less energy than traditional central air.
Tip #4: Plant a rooftop garden. As I reported in a previous Econundrum, research has shown that in cities, white roofs can deflect the sun's rays and lessen the "urban heat-island effect." But "if you have just an individual house with a white roof in an area with a lot of heat absorbing stuff around it, a white roof is not going to be that effective," Cox told me. If you live in an area where drought isn't a problem, Cox believes green roofs are a better bet, since they "have greater cooling potential in the summer, and unlike white roofs, in the winter they don’t reflect heat back."
Tip #5: Practice being hot. "There is plenty of evidence that exposure to heat increases your physical heat tolerance," says Cox. "When people spend time under warmer conditions, they become more tolerant. If they are in an A/C bubble all summer they are not as tolerant, mentally or physically." A recent study of officeworkers in Thailand compared one group of workers in air-conditioned offices to another group who worked without A/C. The ones who were used to A/C were comfortable only in offices between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. "The ones who worked without A/C, it got up to 89 degrees and they said it was fine," says Cox.

Fear Factor: What's Keeping the President From Picking the Best Person to Protect Consumers? 28JUL10

On Monday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs lauded Elizabeth Warren as "a terrific candidate" to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: "I don't think any criticism in any way by anybody would disqualify her."
So why isn't the White House rushing to nominate her for the position? In a word: fear.
The same fear-based approach that caused the administration to throw Shirley Sherrod under the bus before her name had even been uttered on Fox News is once again rearing its head in the decision-making process over Warren.
This time, it's not the ire of Glenn Beck that has Team Obama's backbone turning to mush -- it's the fear of angering the bankers by appointing a consumer advocate who might actually advocate for consumers (the same consumers who, in their role as taxpayers, have spent hundreds of billions bailing the bankers out).
According to the National Journal, the banking industry "privately grumbles that Warren would be their least favorite candidate to head the agency." Or, as Floyd Norris put it in the New York Times, "whether or not she is named to run the bureau may depend on how willing the president is to anger the banks."
Warren is far and away the best person for the position. Picking her is a no-brainer. For many high-level positions, such as a Supreme Court justice, a president will often say he's looking for the "best candidate" when, in fact, there isn't one "best candidate." But this is that rare occasion when there truly is a single best candidate. When it comes to heading the Consumer Bureau, there is Elizabeth Warren -- and there is everybody else.
Not only is she one of the country's foremost experts on bankruptcy law and the multiple ways in which banks trick and trap consumers, she's been the leading advocate for the creation of the agency, which the banking industry worked night and day to kill. In fact, it was Warren who came up with the idea for the agency in the first place, in a paper she wrote in 2007. Her entire career has been devoted to the issues the agency is being created to address.
So obvious is the choice of Warren as the inaugural head of the Consumer Bureau that nearly a dozen senators and over 60 members of the House have already publicly come out in her favor. And over 200,000 people -- i.e. consumers -- have signed a petition urging her nomination.
Here are a few examples of the support she's getting:
  • Sen. Al Franken: "In my consideration, I think Elizabeth would be the best."
  • Rep. Barney Frank (chair of the House committee that drafted the financial reform bill): "She's far and away the best candidate."
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders: "No one in our nation could do a better job."
  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro: "In my living room with many members of congress, she predicted what was going to happen several years ago. As she put it in 2007, consumers cannot buy a toaster that has a one in five chance of bursting into flames but they can enter into a mortgage that has the same one in five chance of putting them out onto the street...Professor Warren we cannot, Ma'am, do it without you."
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley: "I support Elizabeth Warren...She has both the clarity of the need for an agency that has as its top mission protecting citizens against tricks, traps and scams, and she has the ability to articulate that vision. She has the leadership skills and the knowledge of the financial world. She has the full set of requirements to be an effective leader."
  • Sen. Tom Udall: "Should [the president] decide to nominate her to lead the Bureau, it will be a clear sign that the Bureau will be a champion for the American consumer, will stand up to unscrupulous actors and will not shrink from...fulfilling its mission under pressure."

Then there was this argument in her favor:
She is an enormously effective advocate for reform. Probably the most effective advocate for consumer protection in the country. She has huge credibility and she played a decisive role in helping make the public case for reform and she was early on this, way ahead of everybody else.
That, as it happens, was Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, speaking Sunday on ABC's This Week. So why has Geithner stopped short of endorsing Warren (and, indeed, privately argued against her)? And why, as HuffPost's Jason Linkins put it, is the White House still "hesitating, looking for all the world like it is going to veer away from tapping Warren for the sort of job she was born to do?"
Fear. You know what they say: give a man some fear, and you make him fearful for a day -- teach a man to scare himself, and you make him fearful for life. The administration has taken the lesson to heart.
And the courage-killing virus isn't confined just to one end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Sen. Chris Dodd told NPR's Diane Rehm, "The question is, 'is she confirmable?' And there's a serious question about it." And today he challenged Robert Gibbs' assertion that Warren is "very confirmable": "How does he know that?" Dodd said to TPM.
Nothing fortifies your opponents like signaling your willingness to surrender. A different approach would be to do the right thing, welcome the fight, and make your case to the American people. "Are the Republicans, when we bring her name up, going to argue that she shouldn't be confirmed because she's too tough on the big banks and too tough on the financial industry?" asked Sen. Tom Harkin. "Boy, that'll get them a lot of votes in November!"
And if Senate Democrats don't have the stomach for the fight, there is a provision in the financial reform bill the president signed into law last week that allows the Treasury Secretary to name someone to head the Consumer Bureau until the Senate confirms a presidential nominee. And there is no clear deadline on how long the Secretary's appointee may serve. "The statute gives the Treasury Secretary the obligation to get it done, but doesn't tell him how to get it done," says Gail Hillebrand of the Consumers Union. "Consumers have been waiting a long time. The sooner we can get it off the ground the better."
So the administration has no excuses left for not nominating Warren -- including the threat of a Republican filibuster.
And given that her opponents, shameless though they are, can't just come out and say, "We're against her just because we're doing the banks' biding," what argument can they make? One currently being test-marketed is that because Warren is such a zealous advocate for consumers she would somehow be bad for "innovation." You know, the kind of innovation that brought us credit default swaps, teaser rates, 600 percent payday loan rates, and that led to widespread foreclosures and bankruptcies. This line of reasoning is akin to saying that we don't want our police force to be very vigilant, lest it diminish criminal innovation. Warren herself addressed this ludicrous claim in a paper in 2008:
Thanks to effective regulation, innovation in the market for physical products has led to greater safety and more consumer-friendly features. By comparison, innovation in financial products has produced incomprehensible terms and sharp practices that have left families at the mercy of those who write the contracts.
Which, of course, is exactly why the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created in the first place. If someone with Warren's skill set and perspective isn't named to head it, why even bother creating it? Just so another banking industry shill has a place to cool his heels before adding a few zeros to his salary when he quits and joins the companies he was ostensibly regulating? Given that this is the usual M.O. of how regulatory agencies in Washington work, it's all the more important to name Warren so she can start the Consumer Bureau off on the right foot -- as a true voice for the people.
So which way will Obama go? If he makes his decision on the merits, Elizabeth Warren will be the first head of the Consumer Bureau. If he makes his decision out of fear, she won't be. For guidance, he should listen carefully to these words:
All too often -- our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight, and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, we too often set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And in this season of fear, too many of us -- Democrats and Republicans; politicians, journalists and citizens -- fell silent... if we continue to make decisions from within a climate of fear, we will make more mistakes.
That was Barack Obama in May of last year, talking about the Bush administration's approach to national security in the wake of 9/11. As he finds himself in a different kind of "season of fear," will he use his insights as a guide to his decision?
Appointing Elizabeth Warren will demonstrate that the detour his administration took to Feartown with Shirley Sherrod was a lesson learned.

27 July 2010

Commentary: Sherrod, Breitbart and the conservative outrage machine 27JUL10

Last week, the conservative outrage machine tried to chew up Shirley Sherrod.
You are familiar with that machine if you have access to the Internet or Fox News. As the name implies, it exists to stoke and maintain a state of perpetual apoplexy on the political right by feeding it a never-ending stream of perceived sins against conservative orthodoxy.
While the machine will use any available fuel (health care, immigration, Muslims) to manufacture fury, it has a special fondness for race. Specifically, for stories that depict the God-fearing white conservative as a victim of oppression.
So Sherrod must have seemed a godsend to blogger Andrew Breitbart.
Last Monday, he posted an excerpted video of Sherrod, an African-American employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, telling a NAACP audience how she once hesitated, because he was white, to help a farmer stave off bankruptcy. "Evidence of racism," Breitbart sniffs righteously in an accompanying post.
Except that it wasn't.
After the NAACP pronounced the video appalling, after Bill O'Reilly called her words unacceptable, and after the USDA demanded her resignation (all have since apologized) the truth came out, via the full video.
It turns out Sherrod is a daughter of Baker County, Ga., which she describes as having been the sort of proudly unreconstructed place where a black man might be murdered by a white one and despite three witnesses, the grand jury would decline to indict. In 1965, Sherrod's father was that black man, one of many.
So there she is in 1986, working at a nonprofit agency established to help farmers, and in comes this white farmer she finds condescending. She didn't do all she could've for him, she told the audience. Instead, she handed him off to a white lawyer, figuring one of "his own kind" would take care of him.
Which would indeed be appalling and unacceptable, except that when the white lawyer failed to help that farmer, Sherrod resolved to help him herself, to overcome the bitterness and bias of her own heart. That farmer credits her with saving his farm.
Breitbart used a snippet of video to misrepresent her as a black bureaucrat bragging of how she stuck it to the white man. Sherrod's point was actually about reconciliation, redemption, learning to embrace the wholeness of humanity.
Invited by CNN to explain the dissonance between his video and the truth, Breitbart chose instead to reiterate his charge of "racist" sentiment. For Breitbart, the video was an attempt to embarrass the NAACP, because it recently passed a resolution denouncing racist elements in the tea party movement. This is not about Sherrod, he insisted, though she might beg to differ.
In the interview, Breitbart came across as not overly concerned with truth, and much less with racial injustice, except insofar as it can be used to further his cause.
And isn't it telling how often conservatives will discover their burning concern over race just when it becomes useful to them? We saw this last year. In a nation where one state may soon require Latinos to show their papers, conservatives hyperventilated over the "racism" of Sonia Sotomayor extolling the virtues of a "wise Latina."
Now, against the backdrop of an Agriculture Department that long ago admitted to decades of discrimination against black farmers, Breitbart weeps over the "racism" of Shirley Sherrod refusing to assist a white farmer -- right up until she did.
It is probably useless to say Breitbart should be ashamed. There is little evidence he possesses the ability. But Sherrod is pondering a defamation suit, and a judgment in her favor might help him fix that defect.
May she win big. And may the outrage machine choke on the bill.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.

25 July 2010

Timothy Geithner: Allow Bush Tax Cuts For The Wealthy To Expire (VIDEO) 25JUL10

FINALLY, he shows some backbone and some empathy for the majority and takes a stand to make the wealthy pay some of their fair share!
WASHINGTON (Associated Press) — Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said that allowing tax cuts for the wealthy to expire would be "the responsible thing to do."
This is the last year for the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush. Republicans have generally favored extending all of them. While Democrats are divided on the issue, President Barack Obama has favored allowing the expiration of cuts he says have applied to the wealthiest people.
"It's responsible to let the tax cuts expire that just go to 2 percent to 3 percent of Americans, the highest earning Americans," Geithner told ABC's "This Week" in an interview broadcast Sunday.
Doing so would show the world that the U.S. is "willing as a country now to start to make some progress" reducing long-term budget deficits, he said.
Geithner said he does not believe that higher taxes for those high earners will hurt economic growth.
He also said he "absolutely" believes Congress will act on taxes before the election. That's a touchy issue for Democrats, some of whom may not be eager to address a hot-button issue like taxes so close to Election Day.

Speaking on NBC News' "Meet the Press," Geithner says he supports allowing the top capital gains tax rate to revert to 20 percent. It's 15 percent now.
He also addressed the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage buyers whose bailout has cost taxpayers $145 billion so far. The financial overhaul didn't address their future. The Obama administration has said it wants to wait until next year to determine their future.
"I think we're not going to preserve Fannie and Freddie in anything like the current form," Geithner said on "Meet the Press." "We're going to have to bring fundamental change to that market."

24 July 2010

Rep. Paul Hodes: GOP Deficit Hawks Are 'Extremist Obstructionist Lying Hypocrites' 24JUL10

MORE Democrats need to speak with such force and clarity! To quote the article from HuffPost 
"We are dealing with extremist, obstructionist, lying hypocrites who think you don't have to pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest but are holding up help for the neediest,"and
Nevertheless, Republicans insisted that the $33-billion cost of reauthorizing the unemployment benefits be "paid for" and not added to the deficit. The GOP is not applying the same fiscal discipline to the estimated $678-billion deficit cost of reauthorizing soon-to-expire tax cuts for the wealthy.

When Democrats in the House of Representatives stumbled attempting to reauthorize unemployment insurance in May, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) observed that the unforeseen wave of Democratic deficit hysteria had organic roots: It came from members who represented districts with low unemployment rates.
New Hampshire Democrat Paul Hodes, a musician who campaigned in 2004 on a "Rock and Roll Back the Deficit Tour" and who represents a state with unemployment well below the national average, did not join in the calls for deficit reduction. Hodes, who is running for Senate, would prefer to differentiate himself from the Republicans who ultimately filibustered jobless aid for nearly two months.
"We are dealing with extremist, obstructionist, lying hypocrites who think you don't have to pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest but are holding up help for the neediest," Hodes told HuffPost during an interview at the Netroots Nation conference in Las Vegas. "Believe me, I understand the long-term deficit crisis. We gotta get to address it. To get there, we have to focus on the short-term jobs crisis we've got and support the fragile economic recovery we're in."
That's a view shared by many economists -- including Mark Zandi, a former adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- and by most registered voters, too.
Nevertheless, Republicans insisted that the $33-billion cost of reauthorizing the unemployment benefits be "paid for" and not added to the deficit. The GOP is not applying the same fiscal discipline to the estimated $678-billion deficit cost of reauthorizing soon-to-expire tax cuts for the wealthy.
Hodes said the deficit debate, which for 50 days prevented more than 2.5 million long-term unemployed from receiving checks, is about more than just deficits. "It's a fundamental question -- 'What is the role of federal government?' -- that is beneath questions about fiscal responsibility and spending," he said.
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) told HuffPost a few weeks ago that the demands for spending cuts to offset the cost of the federally-funded extended benefits -- which have never been fully offset with spending cuts -- amounted to an assault on the New Deal. "The Social Security Act of 1935 made these entitlements, Social Security and unemployment insurance and welfare," he said. "The Republicans have been after all three of those programs ever since 1935. They got welfare a few years ago, because that's poor people. They could jump on them. But unemployment and Social Security is middle-class people -- they haven't been able to get them, but it isn't because they're not willing to try."
But Hodes said he does not actually oppose the concept of paying for unemployment benefits. "I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time. I think it is viable to do as much as we can to cut wasteful spending," he said. "Politically it's difficult because of the way things get polarized. The problem with the spending cuts often is they are longer-term policy debates that we are having in the context of a continuing economic crisis."
Hodes said he's open to reforming the Senate. "I'm sympathetic to a close look at what has to happen with things like anonymous holds, with things like the filibuster," he said. "It's not constitutional, it's not statutory. It's a rule."
Republicans in the Senate were aided in their filibuster of unemployment benefits by Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, who simply said all along that he was looking out for his constituents.
"One of the jobs of a senator," said Hodes, "is to properly balance the parochial interest with the interests of the nation."