Archive for October, 2006

Halloween as Samhain (10/31/06)

October 31, 2006

“Samhain on Agate”,   Silver leaf on Agate, 4.25″ x 4″, by Alberta, Calgary artist Cari Buziak (email ,   bio).

Halloween’s roots date back to 5th century BC  Celtic Ireland, as a day when summer officially ended  on a holiday called Samhain,  the Celtic New Year.  The Celts believed that during this interval,  all laws of space and time lay suspended,  allowing the spirit world to intermingle with the living. Disembodied spirits of those who had died throughout the previous year would go in search of living bodies to possess for the next year, their only hope for the afterlife.

Happy Halloween and a tip of the hat for the following information  to Jerry Wilson, of Wilstar.com, which may be defunct.  (I read the cached copy.) 

On the night of October 31, the living would extinguish fires in their homes, making them cold and undesirable,  dress up in ghoulish costumes and parade  around, being as destructive as possible, hoping to frighten away spirits looking for bodies to possess.

*

For some reason all this ghoulishness onflates in my mind with politics, as I read yestday’s Capaign 2006 Tipsheet from The Hill. 

There I found out that while astroturf group, Working Families for Wal-Mart, and its chief funder, Wal-Mart, had asked Terry Nelson to resign, John McCain (R-AZ), supposely  Mr.Campaign Finance Reform, will continue to use Nelson for his PAC, Straight Talk America.  PAC director Craig Goldman said Monday according to The Hill.

His role is to advise us on campaigns all over the country, as far as which campaigns the PAC should be supporting,” Goldman said. “He continues in that role.”

Nelson, according to Joshuah Michah Marshall’s September 10, 2006 post at Talking Points Memo,

has the unique distinction of being tied to two of the biggest cases of Republican campaign corruption in the Bush era. Nelson was implicated in the infamous New Hampshire phone-jamming scandal and he was an unindicted coconspirator in the political money-laundering case which ended Tom DeLay’s career.

 Nelson heads the Republican National Committee’s independent expenditure group.  These are the guys I’ve mentioned in passing, who are able to run ads uncoordinated with the candidates, which the candidates can then disavow. 

The ad that alienated Wal-Mart is one , (transcript), featuring a bare-shouldered blonde, saying  “I met Harold at the Playboy Party!  Harold call me sometime.”  (There’s also a website, Fancy Ford, produced by the Elizabeth  Ddle-headed National Republican Senatorial Committee and “not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.” 

McCain recruit Nelson in March according to  “McCain Campaign Hires ‘Best Bricklayer'” by Chris Cillizza and Zachary A. Goldfarb  in the March 19, 2006 Washington Post . Cillizza writes the Post’s political blog, The Fix.

Spent part of this morning updating the Sourcewatch articles on Working Familis and Nelson to reflect this information.

*

For more on “St. John” see Philly-area blogger Susie Madrak’s take on October 27.  Our minds work alike.

 

*

Speaking of conflation, more on Halloween from Jerry.

By the way, Gentle Reader, did you know that the derivation of this word, according to Dictionary.com ( Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006) is:

1600–10; < L conflātus, ptp. of conflāre to fuse together, equiv. to con- con- + flāre to blow

The Romans adopted the Celtic Samhain and,   in the first century AD, conflated its practices with those of other Roman traditions for October, such as their day to honor Pomona, their goddess of fruit and trees.

The custom of trick-or-treating probably originated an a European custom called souling, which you may have heard about in the Peter, Paul and Mary Song, “A Soalin’, itself adapted from the traditional Souling Song, recorded by the English group, The Watersons.

 In the ninth century, folks believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul’s passage to heaven. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for “soul cakes,” made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars received, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors.

*

Some interesting sites:

NewAssignment.net–an experiment in collaborative journalism between professional reporters, editors and users (read amateurs) set to launch in April 2007 by NYU journalism associate professor Jay Rosen (bio, blog PressThink, email).

Corpwatch.org— a project which

investigates and exposes corporate violations of human rights, environmental crimes, fraud and corruption around the world. We work to foster global justice, independent media activism and democratic control over corporations.

The Corporate Crime Reporter, “now in its twentieth year of publication.

*

Off to go tutor and write a poem for Verbal Events.

*

October statistics: 

Page Views 6,949
Visitors 338

2006 YTD:

Page Views 41,846
Visitors 2,663

Kopple & Peck & the Dixie Chicks (10/30/06)

October 30, 2006

The photograph of filmmakers Barbara Kopple and Cecillia Peck  is from a video interview at the Toronto Film Festival about their new collaboration, Shut Up & Sing,  by Cinematical’s James Rocchi and Netscape’s Alexia Prichard  

Barbara Kopple got her start as part of the collective that filmed  Winter Soldier (1972), whose re-release I wrote about in conjunction with last year’s Virginia Film Festival.  She went on to win Oscars for Harlan County, U.S.A.  (1976) and American Dream ( 1991) about the Hommel meatpackes’ strike.  Now she has teamed up with Peck (Gregory’s daughter) to make a film on the changes that ensued after  a Guardian review  revealed that the Dixie Chicks’s lead singer, Natalie Maines, told an audience in London’s Shepherds Bush Empire Theatre on March 10,2003,

Just so you know,we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.

The context was the lead-up to the onset of Bush’s March 20 “shock and awe” of Iraq,  the plans of which had been revealed to CBS News on January 24.

The Chicks released an explaination on their website March 12:

We’ve been overseas for several weeks and have been reading and following the news accounts of our governments’ position. The anti-American sentiment that has unfolded here is astounding. While we support our troops, there is nothing more frightening than the notion of going to war with Iraq and the prospect of all the innocent lives that will be lost.” Maines further stated, “I feel the President is ignoring the opinions of many in the US and alienating the rest of the world. My comments were made in frustration and one of the privileges of being an American is you are free to voice your own point of view.

When conservative pundits and bloggers continued to denounce the Chicks,  Maines tried an apology on March 14:

As a concerned American citizen, I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful. I feel that whoever holds that office should be treated with the utmost respect. We are currently in Europe and witnessing a huge anti-American sentiment as a result of the perceived rush to war. While war may remain a viable option, as a mother, I just want to see every possible alternative exhausted before children and American soldiers’ lives are lost. I love my country. I am a proud American.”

At least one conservative, Cheri Landers, emailed The Guardian accepting the apology as published on March 19:

Have you ever shot your mouth off and wished you could take back what you said? I have, and I’m a 56-year-old female from a very stable conservative lifestyle. I mention my age and gender because I believe I have a perspective to offer. We are all empassioned Americans about the impending war. We’ve listened with fervor to every possible take of should we or shouldn’t we go into Iraq. We’ve debated, argued and soul searched over the agonizing possibilities. At first, I was taken aback with Natalie’s remark. Her mistake was making it outside of our borders. However, it is nothing that hasn’t been said across the board on our turf and outside our turf, just listen to the United nations right or wrong. She has apologized and I believe in good faith and dignity.

Others continued  fanning the flames and the number one group saw its record sales drop and its songs banned from country radio.

*

In an interview published by IndieWIRE on October 24, Kopple talks Brian Brooks about how she came to make the movie:

Before the Chicks set out on their 2003 Top of the World Tour, this is pre-Bush comment, Cecilia Peck and I wanted to do a film of their tour with the idea of trying to follow them on the road. The Chicks already had a crew that was doing short web pieces for their homepage and didn’t feel they could take us along. In late 2004 the Chicks came back to us saying they wanted to have a film created out of all the footage that was shot on that tour. I knew they were writing their new album and that it would be a response to their experiences from the backlash against them. I was of course extremely interested in their story but I didn’t want it to be solely about the comment and its immediate aftermath, I wanted to see how this experience changed them as humans and musicians. So, we filmed them recording their new album and everything else that occurred so that the film will give a full picture from 2003 through 2006.

She then talked about here approach and the results:

I don’t go into a film with any particular agenda–I rarely know how a film will end when I start filming. But [I] often do have a point of view on the subject–in other words, I know that I support free speech, and that I respect the Dixie Chicks for not backing down in the face of intimidation and threats. I felt that this film had a lot of potential to be fun and entertaining and also make some important points at the same time.

So I was excited to start shooting, and also to start sifting through the stock footage and the footage that had already been recorded. Some material dated back to before the famous “incident.” We shot a lot of new footage–of the Chicks writing new songs, back in the recording studio putting together their very personal and artistic response to the last few years, and working with legendary producer Rick Rubin. We also filmed with their families in intimate moments that really get at the heart of who these incredible women are.

Like so many nonfiction films, the story really came together in the edit room. We had an amazing edit staff, and we were able to weave the two time periods (2003 and 2005) in a way that I think really highlights both the Dixie Chicks’ personal experiences and the political significance of their story.

As the project evolved–in the field and in the edit room–I think we all came to see this experience of the Dixie Chicks as a lens through which to see the current political climate in America. We’re living in a time when the freedoms we take for granted–the freedom of speech, the freedom to protest and dissent–are truly in danger. I think the story of the Dixie Chicks really encapsulates the risks we face–and at the same time shows that when you stand up for your rights, people will be there to support you, and follow your lead.

*

Last Friday, October 27,  Reuters’s Steve Gorman reported at 7:15 p.m. (time from Reuters site)  in “NBC rejects TV ads for Dixie Chicks film” (link from Washington Post) an irony almost too good to be true:  not only NBC, but  CW were banning ads on Shut Up & Sing.

But AP’s television writer Steve Bauder (email)  got this story right .  Even though he filed earlier, at 5:56,  he reported Alan Wurtzel, head of standards and practices at NBC, who admitted that   network policy refused ads on issues of public controversy like abortion or the war.  He continued, that Weinstein Co. had not asked about buying commercial time and that when an ad is rejected, as was the case of another Weinstein project, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11,  prospective advertisers return and work with the network on ways to make it acceptable.

But NBC heard nothing more from makers of “Shut Up & Sing” until portions of what NBC executives thought were confidential business correspondence showed up in a news release, he said.

“There was no attempt to come back and have a conversation,” Wurtzel said. “There are times when some advertisers get more publicity for having their ad rejected.”

And  Nicole Sperling and Kimberly Nordyke of the Hollywood Reporter  also took the time to check with the stations before writing their piece the same date, “Weinstein Co. hits NBC, CW over ‘Shut Up’ ad”  While they failed to reach NBC,  CW Spokes man Paul McGuire said that the  network had been in conversations with the Weinstein Co.  but never progressed beyond where on the CW schedule the spot would run.

The release is flat-out inaccurate.  The whole matter is rather a mystery to us.

LA Times staff writer Richard Verrier also took the time to try and reach the networks.  In ” Band’s film ads hit sour note” on October 27 he reports McGuire said Weinstein Co.’s ad agency inquired about running a spot, but chose not to.

They weren’t interested in running a national spot on the CW. What’s in their press release is a mystery. It’s inaccurate.
 

The winners of the real reporting award, however, in addition to Bauder,  are  Variety’s  Los Angeles reporter Pamela McClintock (email) and its television editor Joe Adalian (email).  In their “Prickly Peacock nixes Chicks: NBC cancels ads for Dixie docu ‘Sing'” filed at 10:00 p.m. on the same night as the Weinstein press release, they report that CW’s  McGuire rejected Weinstein’s version of events:.

That’s not true. The spot was not declined. In fact, we were told they were not going to make a national spot buy on CW.

They also obtained an email exchange between a media buyer for TWC and a CW standards and practices rep  and report that it seems to back up CW’s version.  

The CW reps asks the media buyer if “you have a buy with us for the Dixie Chicks movie?” The ad rep for TWC replies, “We do not currently have a national buy with CW.”

And I had my sense of manufactured irony confirmed,  when The Washington Post’s television columnist, Cynthia de Moraes in  her  October 29 article “Unaired Ad Gets Dixie Chicks Flick A Whole Lot of Ink” even disclosed the title of Weinstein’s memo:

“In an Ironic Twist of Events, NBC and the CW Television Networks Refuse to Air Ads for Documentary Focusing on Freedom of Speech.”

De Moraes concludes:

When a small movie like this one gets a very limited release — just four theaters this weekend — with the intention of going wide after that, word of mouth is critical and that’s when you often see stealth marketing campaigns, such as whipping the media into a froth over some angle

*

Since that time, pr strategist Brian Reich (bio) has written in his blog Thinking About Media an Ocotber 28 entry  “Shut Up & Run the Ads”

Give credit to Weinstein and Co. for recognizing the opportunity to use the news cycle to promote their movie.  It is not a new strategy — MoveOn got into a similar fight with CBS around the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, and I have had clients whose online ads that venues have refused to run because of an arbitrary content standard.  In both cases press coverage resulted and the message ultimately got to the target audience. I don’t think it will work for any movie or event, but its a strategy that more organizations should understand and pursue.

Cynthia Allen’s October 29  entry  in NYU’s forum, “Thinking About Media” commends the Post editors for de Moraes column.

But, I wonder what Kopple, Peck, the Dixie Chicks and their fans think about  Weinstein’s huckster tactics.  It seems to me even the mostly thought-free hubbub raised at Think Progress (449 comments as I write this) displaces proper attention to the content and form of this thoughtful film or the album that it documents.

Who is linking to Damon Smith’s review in yesterday’s Boston Globe,  “Filming some tough Chicks” or Ann Powers (email) October 27 review in the L.A. Times.

I hope this film will come to Roanoke soon after its November 10 national release.  I’m not confident, given how the Grandin balked at showing Going Up River.  What Reich forgets is that the pr can lose screens, as well as gain them.  But here’s hoping.  In the meantime, I close with this from Power’s review:

Anti-Chicks activists and rationalizing radio programmers get face time, but Kopple and Peck’s view is not unbiased. Clips of Bush make him seem callous. Protesters come off as foolish; one demands that her tiny, puzzled son repeat an expletive directed at the Chicks.

Despite its clear perspective, “Shut Up & Sing” is not agitprop. Instead, it echoes Kopple’s greatest work — the Oscar-winning documentary about a 1974 Kentucky miners’ strike, “Harlan County U.S.A.” — in showing in painful detail how regular people rise to meet an extraordinary occasion. It just happens that these regular people are also superstars

 

 

 

 

Michel Gondry as Sleep Sclentist (10/29/06)

October 30, 2006

The photo by Etienne George is from The Science of Sleep.  Here’s the  poster .

Barry and I went to the Grandin to take in the 3:20 matinee of   “The Science of Sleep.” Michel Gondry sets his quixotic romance inside the brain of Stephane Miroux played by Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, whom you may have seen in Y Tu Madre Tambien or as the young Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries.
 
Asleep, Stephane expounds on “The Science of Sleep, on  “Stephane TV”  in front of cardboard cameras.  One principle is “Parallel Synchronized Randomness,” a rare phenomenon where two people who have the same thought pattern will find each other. 

In“real life, Stephane arrived in Paris from Mexico  after the death of his father to take a job secured by his mother  at a a calendar company.  While he has been promised a job as illustrator and bought along his portfolio of a different disaster for each /month, he finds himself pasting up the names of companies to insert in pre-made promotional calendars.  He becomes smitten with with Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg of 21 Grams), the girl in the apartment across the hall, but lacks confidence to pursue her, except in his dreams, which bleed over into his life.   

This is the first full-length feature that  Gondry has both written and directed.  He  partnered on his first films, Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with writer Charlie Kaufman.  Before that he directed videos for Bjork, Levis and others.  In an interview in the press packet, he says,

One of the reasons I really wanted to do “The Science of Sleep” was not to have to question my ideas on an intellectual level.  When I work with other people, I have to use words.  It’s more limiting to the process to have to convey my ideas that way.  If you want to create something, hoping it will go beyond yourself, you can’t question every step of the process. It may seem contradictory, but the fact that I’m the only one to make the decisions allows me to have less control of things. I want my instinct to be more in control and my intellect to be less in control, allowing me to have ideas, images, and concepts without having to justify why.

Interestesting, he shot the animation before the scenes with the actors.  There’s a full-length interviw, “What Dreams May Come” in the July-august issue of Res Magazine and an article, “Wildest Dreams,”  by Sarah Schwelling in the August issue of  Paste Magazine.

Negative Campaign Ads (10-28-06)

October 28, 2006

The campaign ad by Connecticut: Representative Rob Simmons, a Republican, pointing  out his challenger’s lack of service (upper left)  accompanied the New York Time’s Adam Nagourney ‘s September 27, 2006  story, “Theme of Campaign Ads: Don’t Be Nice,”  

You’d think a party whose leader, George Bush, has a questionable military service record, would stay away from attacking Democrats on this issue, but, then again, consider the swift boating of John Kerry, or even worse the ad questioning the patriotism  of triple-amputee Vietnam vet Max Cleland in the 2002 Senate race.

On September 27, Nagourney wrote,

For Republicans, it was the leading edge of a wave of negative advertisements against Democratic candidates, the product of more than a year of research into the personal and professional backgrounds of Democratic challengers.

He wrote chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Representative Thomas M. Reynolds (R_NY)  had investigators looking into prospective Democratic challengers since the summer of 2005. He has 

 long believed that it would be this kind of information about Democratic challengers and not voter opinion on, say, President Bush or the war in Iraq that would determine whether Republicans held Congress this year.

 Reynolds, whose name you will remember from the Foley page scandal, said, 

These candidates have been out there doing other things — they have never seen anything like this before.

We haven’t even begun to unload this freight train.

According to Nagourney,  Reynolds burst out laughing when asked why he was not using more positive advertisements.

If they moved things to the extent that negative ads move things, there would be more of them.

According to William Bike’s  2004 article  “Negative Campainging.”

Campaigns & Elections reported that Cathy Allen, president of Campaign Connection of Seattle, indicated that going negative might be the proper course when taking on an incumbent, when the opponent is outspending the candidate by large margins, when there is irrefutable information that the opponent has done something wrong, and when the candidate has little name recognition.

*

Yesterday, the Annenberg Center’s Fact Check Project published a a piece that confirmed my gut feelings that the Republicans are even more negative than the Democrats.  Brooks Jackson, Viveca Novak, Justin Bank, James Ficaro and Emi Kolawole in   “The NRCC attack-ad factory grinds out some smears we find to be misleading or false.”    found that while negative ads from the  Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC)  

 generally attack Republican candidates on policy issues or their performance in office – accusing them of casting votes favorable to drug or oil companies, or of supporting President Bush’s unpopular policies in Iraq or on Social Security…. NRCC’s ads, which are much more likely to demean an opponent’s character. That’s the very definition of political mudslinging.

The Republican ads variously accuse Democratic candidates of such things as charging an “adult fantasy” phone call to taxpayers, of being a “hypocrite,” of being a “greedy trial lawyer,” of being a “millionaire know-it-all,” or of failing to pay local business taxes on time. One ad describes a Democrat’s “ethical judgments” as “bad to bizarre” and claims he favored use of 50,000-volt Taser weapons on seven-year-olds.

A derogatory ad can be accurate,…. [but]  several of the NRCC’s ads are smears that twist facts or ignore them. A sheriff running for the House is accused of having “fixed” a speeding ticket for his daughter, for example, when in fact the ticket was paid and the daughter got no special treatment. We found repeated examples of this sort of thing, and we detail them here.

The project found the pattern of deceptive and unfounded personal allegations contained in this year’s NRCC ads  to be

one we judge to be truly remarkable

The Republican negative to positive ratio is higher than that for the Democrats.  Both parties are spending the majority on television ads.

According to the Federal Election Commission, so far in this election cycle the NRCC has spent  $41.9 million attacking Democratic opponents and $5 million supporting its own candidates, roughly an 8:1 negative-to-positive ratio. The DCCC has spent $18 million and $3.1 million, respectively, for a 5:1 ratio.

Fact Check obtained copies from the  Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG) of all ads by each group ran since Labor Day in the top 101 television markets (87 per cent of American TV viewers.)

 Of the 115 NRCC ads, we judged 91 per cent to be purely negative.  The DCCC’s 104 ads included 81 per cent we found to be purely negative.We found very few on either side that were all positive, but the DCCC’s contained more mixed or “comparative” ads  –a mix of positive statements about the supported candidate and negative statements about the opponent.

What stood out in the NRCC’s ads was a pronounced tendency to be petty and personal, and sometimes careless with the facts. We found 29 of the NRCC’s ads to be assaults of a personal nature on a candidate’s character or private professional dealings, rather than critiques of his or her views or votes while in federal, state or local office. Applying the same screen to the DCCC, we came up with 15 such ads, and several of those were comparative, rather than purely negative. We’d note, and leave for our readers to judge its relevance, that since there are more GOP incumbents than Democratic ones, the Republicans’ opponents may be individuals who don’t have voting records to attack.

I was watching C-Span televise a panel from the Campaign Finance Institute   (resources) on how the courts interpreted  campaign finance laws to  allow unlimited giving by political parties as long as the ads are not coordinated with the campaign.  This allows candidates to disavow the negative ads, as was the case when on NRCC spot attacked New York Democrat Michael Acuri for billing taxpayers for a call to a “fantasy hotline”  as reported October 21 by Mark Weiner in this Post-Standard story, ” Sex-call spot is called a new low.”

Fact Check found

The ad is laden with sexual innuendo. A woman’s voice says “Hi sexy, you’ve reached the live one on one fantasy line.” Arcuri is pictured appearing to leer as the silhouette of a woman undulates suggestively in the background.

“The phone number to an adult fantasy hotline appeared on Michael Arcuri’s New York City hotel room bill while he was there on official business,” the announcer says. “Who calls a fantasy hotline and then bills taxpayers? Michael Arcuri.”

The facts of this case paint a much different picture. The phone records indeed show a call to the number of an adult fantasy talk service at 3:26 p.m. on Jan. 28, 2004, but the very next minute – 3:27 p.m. – the records show another number was dialed. The second number was identical except for the three-digit area code, and was the number of the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services. It was Sean Byrne, executive director of the New York Prosecutors Training Institute, who made both calls, according to Arcuri and Byrne. Both were attending a meeting of the New York State District Attorneys Association. The hotel’s charge for the misdialed “fantasy” line call was $1.25.

An produced ad accuses Arcuri of freeing an accused rapist whom he “failed to indict him in time,”  according to Ad Watch: Arcuri 1995 Rape Prosecution ,” Observer-Dispatch. 12 Oct. 2006.

[T] the scheduled indictment hearing couldn’t go forward because the 13-year-old victim didn’t appear and a key witness had been admitted to a psychiatric facility. The ad doesn’t mention that the accused man was indicted several days later. His freedom lasted eight days. Eventually he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge (Arcuri’s case was weakened because the young victim was reluctant to cooperate) and was sentenced to 18 months to 3 years behind bars. The same ad says the “percentage of felony convictions” in Oneida County, where Arcuri is district attorney, “has fallen dramatically since 1998.” That’s false, according to our calculations from statistics available  from New York State’s Division of Criminal Justice Services. In 1998, 88.1 percent of felonies prosecuted in the county resulted in convictions. In 2005, it was 90.3. That’s an increase of 2.2 percentage points, not a decrease, much less a dramatic one.

*

Here are  other sample ads, along with Fact Check’s critiques:

An NRCC ad in Arizona called Democratic candidate Gabrielle Giffords “a hypocrite on taxes.”

It says she falsely claims to favor tax cuts, when in fact she supports repealing some of the tax cuts Republicans gave to corporations and wealthy individuals. She does favor extending “middle class” tax breaks such as a deduction for college tuition.

An NRCC ad in Iowa  characterizes Democratic candidate Bruce Braley as a “greedy trial lawyer .”

The ad complains that he “supported the suit for a woman spilling hot coffee on her lap.” But the famous lawsuit against McDonald’s was actually more substantial than late-night comics made it out to be. Stella Leibeck, the 79-year-old plaintiff, suffered third-degree burns over 6 per cent of her body, spent eight days in the hospital and required skin grafts, and McDonald’s served its coffee at a scalding 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit, much hotter than coffee served at home.

An NRCC ad in Wisconsin refers to  Democrat Steve Kagen as “Dr. Millionaire,” and one even calls him “Dr. Millionaire Know-It-All .”

Kagen is certainly a prosperous physician. But if being a millionaire disqualifies somebody from serving in the House of Representatives a slew of members will have to resign – 136, to be precise, or almost one-third, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Eighty-seven of them are Republicans, versus 49 Democrats. The “know-it-all” line refers to Kagen’s desire to scrap President Bush’s Medicare prescription drug benefit for one  of his own design.

The NRCC ads also say Dr. Kagen  “took legal action against eighty former patients.”

 Kagen hired a collection agency that took a total of 80 patients to small claims court for arbitration of unpaid bills, but that was over the course of a 25-year career in which Kagen estimates he has seen 50,000 patients. Kagen says the agency deemed them all able to pay.

A NRCC ad in North Carolina says of Democratic candidate Heath Shuler, “He’s been caught again not paying his taxes on time.”

The unpaid taxes weren’t “his” and payment wasn’t his responsibility. The delinquent taxes were the fault of businessmen who bought a real-estate brokerage from Shuler and his brother in 2003. It’s true that The Associated Press  found  that the brokerage, which still bears Shuler’s name, owed $69,000 and had been chronically behind in paying local taxes, but  Shuler at that point retained only a minority interest and no management chores. The taxes and penalties were paid after Shuler’s lawyer threatened to sue the current managers if they didn’t, according to The AP.

An NRCC ad in Ohio includes a charge that Democratic Challenger John Cranley “voted to allow children as young as seven to be tased. Seven-year-olds, taxed! With 50,000 volts of electricity.”

Cincinnati  police regulations  already permit use of the X26 Taser, designed as a non-lethal weapon to incapacitate rather than kill, to subdue resisting suspects between the ages of 7 and 70. The ad refers to Cranley’s vote on the Cincinnati City Council against raising that age minimum to 10. The Council voted 5-4 against raising the age after opponents cited concerns that batons or pepper spray would be more likely to harm a resisting subject.

An NRCC ad in Indiana accuses the Democratic challenger Brad Ellsworth of trying to get his daughter’s speeding ticket “dismissed” because of his position as sheriff of an adjoining town.

The ticket was paid. The prosecutor alleging that Ellsworth sought special treatment is a Republican who broached the issue for the first time in mid-October, a year and a half after the fact, and who  says he  does not recall Ellsworth’s exact words. Ellsworth says he was seeking to get his daughter into an existing program that allowed first-time offenders to keep their driving records clean in return for paying higher fines. In any event, the prosecutor said his daughter did not qualify and the ticket stood.
 

 *

CMAG’s services are by subscription, but you can look at a May 2006 snapshot campaign ads by topic in that month’s Grid and gives you an idea of some of the ad sponsors, such as the “Campaign for Affordable Energy” and the “Center for Moral Clarity.”  You can also read that month’s magazine, The Eye.

 

ICG Stock Dips as Company Posts 3rdQ Losses (10/27/06)

October 27, 2006

The chart of ICG’s stock performation is by Reuters stock quote.

Wilbur Ross’s International Coal Group (ICG) ,  owns the West Virginia Sago mine, where a January explosion killed 12 miners, gravely injured the sole survivor and contributed to the suicide of two miners later in the year.  The company reported its third quarterly loss October 25 of $2.4 million, or 2 cents per share, compared with net income of $8.6 million, or 8 cents per share, for the same period last year.

You’d think the stock price would go down, but the next day the price went up 10% as demand surged.   And it’s up another 1.55% as of 3:08 p.m. today. 

According to Reuters story yesterday, “Sago mine owner’s stock surges despite quarterly loss,” , production cuts attracted buyers.  Ian Synnott, of Natexis Bleichroeder explained,

Wall Street is definitely giving a reward to companies that exercise discipline and cut production.  

3.2 million tons of high-cost Appalachian region production capacity is being idled. Reduced production tightens the market for coal and raises prices for coal  supplied to utilities to fuel power plants.  Another sad indication that what’s good for workers and consumers  is not necessarily what’s attractive to investors. Still, even at $5.23 a share, the price is down compared to a high within the year of $14.40. 

 

 

RMI’s Founder Amory Lovins Takes on Nuke Industry Astroturfer Patrick Moore

October 26, 2006

The photo of Amory Lovins appeared in an article in Grist, with the credit Rocky Mountain Institute, of which he is the co-founder and CEO.

*

I wrote in “More about Nuclear Astroturf” May 15, 2006 about Patrick Moore, a former Greenpeace member who now shills for the nuclear energy industry. Moore co-leads its trade group’s astroturf group, the Nuclear Energy Istitute’s Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, along with Christie Todd Whitman.

Now, I’m happy to report that physicist Amory Lovins (bio), Jimmy Carter’s energy secretary and McArthur award winner, has taken on Moore’s questionable statisitics in yesterday’s Toronto Star in Lovins Q&A by energy reporter Tyler Hamilton. Hamilton asked specifically about Moore’s position that large-scale adoption of new nuclear technology is the only way to avert global warming.

I think he’s not well informed about energy alternatives and I hope he will become so. I’ve spoken with Patrick at some length, for example, about variability of wind. He thinks it’s a serious problem, and he didn’t realize there’s a lot of empirical and analytic evidence that shows it’s not a problem.

There’s a more fundamental issue here, though, and that’s about economics. Nuclear plants directly emit no carbon dioxide, although they have some inherent in their construction and operations from other parts of the fuel cycle. I’m prepared to ignore that indirect CO2 emission. However, because I agree with Patrick that climate is a very serious problem, I think we need the most solution per dollar and the most solution per year. If you go to the December 2005 issue of Nuclear Engineering International, you’ll find a paper called `Mighty Mice’ that summarizes an economic analysis. What that analysis shows from the best empirical data available last year, is if you spent 10 cents (U.S.) to make and deliver a new nuclear kilowatt-hour — notice I said deliver, so that’s at your meter — you can displace 1 kilowatt-hour of coal power. That’s what Patrick is talking about. And it might seem like a good idea until you look at the competitors.

If you spend the same 10 cents (U.S.) instead on micropower or efficient use, you get two to 10 times as much coal displacement for the same money, because those options are cheaper — you get more per dollar. They’re also faster, so you get more carbon displacement, coal displacement, per year.

Lovins explained the cost of nuclear energy:

The balance is tilted somewhat against nuclear lately because the promised low costs already have failed to materialize for next-generation light water reactors. The Finnish plant is a good example. About a year into construction they’re already a year behind schedule and getting more so. They’re in serious trouble with the safety regulator, and it’s already destroyed AREVA’s and Siemen’s nuclear profits for the year. They’ve made already a 1.5 to 2 billion (Euro) allowance on their books for cost overruns, and I don’t think that’s anywhere near the end of the story. It’s driven them right into the ditch. Just look at the recent press release on their quarterly earnings. I suspect that if Canada tries to build another reactor it will have a similar experience.

Lovins added,

If you believe as I do that climate change is a serious problem, then make sure you buy the resources that will save the most carbon per dollar per year, because otherwise you’re making things worse. If you buy a nuclear plant instead of cheaper efficiency and micropower, you’re getting less solution per dollar, less solution per year, and therefore reducing and retarding climate protection.

*

There’s lots of other good information in the article. Lovins compared nuclear energy with conservation:

Nuclear costs too much and it has excessive financial risk. In no new nuclear project around the world is there a penny of private capital at risk. Contrast that with how the competitors are doing. The first and the cheapest one is efficient use of electricity. …Contrary to the common supposition of diminishing returns and an exhaustible efficiency resource, the actual potential savings keep getting bigger and cheaper, because the technology is continuing to improve faster than we use it. The low-hanging fruit is still mushing up around our ankles but the tree keep growing more fruit and dropping it on our heads. What part of this don’t we understand?

About three-quarters of all electricity we use in North America can be saved cheaper than just running a coal or nuclear plant and delivering its power, even if the capital costs of the plant were zero. It’s interesting that California, the single biggest market in North America, has held it’s per capita use of electricity flat for 30 years. And some places… like Vermont, are actually sending that number downwards, because they’re saving electricity faster than their economy and population are growing. But we don’t have comprehensive, accurate measurements of how much electricity is being saved. We just know it’s a big number, and we know it’s still a tiny fraction of how much efficiency is available and worth buying.

Then he talked about other, less risky competitors to nuclear.

The two competing sources that are easy to measure are collectively called micropower — not central plants, but more distributed capacity that’s at or near the customers, or at least comes in more decentralized, diversified form. Micropower is providing now between one-sixth and over half of all electricity in 13 industrial countries. Denmark is the leader with about 53 per cent last year. You’ll notice this does not count big hydro. If we don’t count any hydro above 10 megawatts, then the added micropower capacity last year in the world was 41 gigawatts, compared to 3.7 gigawatts for all kinds of nuclear — none of which was a CANDU (technology).”

There are two kinds of micropower. One is co-gen and combined heat and power. That was about two-thirds of the new capacity and three-quarters of the new electricity last year. The rest was distributed or decentralized renewables, which was a $38 billion U.S. global market last year for selling equipment. That’s wind, solar, geothermal, small hydro and biomass. So the overall numbers are quite impressive. Micropower surpassed nuclear power in worldwide installed capacity in 2002, and surpassed nuclear in electricity generated per year just in the last few months. But more interesting is market share — micropower provided a sixth of the world’s total electricity last year. Micropower last year provided 32 per cent of the world’s new electricity and 16 per cent of the world’s total electricity; nuclear last year provided respectively 8 per cent of the new and 16 per cent of the total. In terms of electricity generated, micropower last year had four times nuclear’s market share, and it added 11-times as much capacity as nuclear, or 8 times as much if you don’t count standby and peaking units, but you should.

Lovins also talked about the capacity of renewables, such as wind and solar, and their capacity to replace the baseload power that comes from nuclear plants.

The variability of sun, wind and so on, turns out to be a non-problem if you do several sensible things. One is to diversify your renewables by technology, so that weather conditions bad for one kind are good for another. Second, you diversify by site so they’re not all subject to the same weather pattern at the same time because they’re in the same place. Third, you use standard weather forecasting techniques to forecast wind, sun and rain, and of course hydro operators do this right now. Fourth, you integrate all your resources — supply side and demand side — so for example, in the Pacific Northwest, where we’re rich in hydropower, for 0.6 cents (U.S.) per kilowatt-hour the Bonneville Power Administration will firm your wind power. That is, they combine your wind with their hydro and open and close the valves on the dams so that whenever the wind is not blowing and you need the power you can dispatch hydro instead on a firm contractual basis.

In places that don’t have surplus or adequate hydropower, it’s becoming equally straightforward and much cheaper to back up your wind from a virtual peaker drawn from load management. Like, for example, turning off your water heater for 15 minutes — you won’t even know it’s happening. That’s done automatically, and the power that was going to go into your water heat instead backs up the wind. You can do other kinds of storage as well. For less than 1 cent (U.S.) per kilowatt-hour, you can store bulk electricity as compressed air in a salt cavern. Typically it’s much cheaper to manage loads on the demand side than to store electricity on the supply side. But in a grid that is hydro rich, and with an end-use structure that is as inefficient and has as much space in water heating with electricity as you have in Ontario, it’s really very straightforward to have large amounts of variable renewables without in any way comprising reliability. It’s also worth bearing in mind that although wind and photovoltaics are quite variable, geothermal, biomass and small hydro are not. So you can’t even apply this issue to a lot of renewables that are big in the marketplace.

Hamilton asked if Ontario could realistically phase out both coal and nuclear plants in the next twenty years. Lovins replied,

I think it would require a much more aggressive commitment to doing the cheapest things first, especially for modern, end-use efficiency. For example, I’m talking to you from a building at 2,200 metres in the Rockies where it can go to minus 44 C — you can get frost on any day of the year and you can get 39 days of continuous mid-winter cloud. In the middle of my house I’ve harvested so far 28 banana crops with no heating system, and it’s cheaper to build that way because super insulation and super windows and air-to-air heat exchangers add less to the construction cost than what you take off the construction cost by not needing a heating system. So the house was about $1,100 (U.S.) cheaper to build with good comfort but no heating system.

Hamilton asked about the reliance of micropower, such as co-generation, on natural gas and its effect on CO2 emissions. Lovins explained,

Two-thirds of the co-gen in the world is gas-fired, but both because gas is less carbon-intensive than coal and because you’re displacing a separate power plant and boiler or furnace with one unit that’s much more efficient overall, you save carbon. Altogether counting the gas-fired and all the other co-gen around the world, you’re saving at least half the carbon compared to what it replaces. So yes, I’m making proper allowance for the carbon that does come out of the co-gen and counting the measured cost of the renewables. In fact, I’m counting a wind cost that is over twice as big as the cheapest wind farms built lately. And I’m counting all the cost of making the renewables, like wind, fully dispatchable. So it’s an entirely apples-to-apples comparison, and I’ve done it on a consistent accounting basis but made sure I used assumptions that were favourable to nuclear and other central stations.

Hamilton asked about whether micropower could power plug-in hybrids or all-electric cars.

[I]n the right circumstances it can be an attractive option. The amount of electricity required is quite modest, and it would be at night so wouldn’t add to peak capacity requirements. And the electricity needed is a very small fraction of what can be saved running existing thermal stations. So for relatively short trips, shaving into medium trips as batteries get cheaper, this could be an attractive option. It will, of course, have to compete with efficient fuelled hybrid, including biofueled hybrids, and ultra-lights that further double efficiency.

Lovins general philophy is an end to corporate welfare.

Let electricity and energy compete fairly at honest prices regardless of which kind they are — savings or production — or what technology they use, or how big they are, or where they are, or who owns them. If we did that, we certainly wouldn’t order more nuclear plants and we’d be phasing out the existing coal and nuclear plants because it’s cheaper not to run them than to run them.

He would also align the interest of providers and consumers as an incentive for conservation.

I would make sure that the distributors of electricity and gas…are rewarded for cutting your bill, not for selling you more energy. This could be done by well-understood techniques that decouple profits from sales volumes so the distributors are not rewarded for selling more, nor penalized for selling less. Then I would let them keep as extra profit part of what they save the customer, so that the providers’ and customers’ interests are fully aligned. The lack of this well-understood reform is the biggest obstacle to using electricity in a way that saves money.

Lovins concluded by talking about the current investments trends in the private sector:

I find it very instructive that essentially all of the efficiency in micropower being bought in the world is financed by private risk capital, but I can’t find a single new nuclear project on earth that has a penny of private capital at risk. So what does this tell us? I think it tells us that investors perceive higher cost and higher financial risk in nuclear. They find that unacceptable, and they’re buying the other stuff instead. The clean energy space, worldwide, is getting $63 billion (U.S.) of investment this year. Why is that? Why is nuclear struggling to find single orders, scouring the earth for them, and they’re all ordered by central planners and largely supported by the public purse; whereas vendors of the competing technologies, which already have four times the energy market share and 11 times the capacity, they are finding it hard to keep up with the explosive growth in their businesses.

In August 2005 the U.S. passed a new law offering on top of the existing nuclear subsidies, further subsidies of around 4 or 5 cents a kilowatt-hour, which equals the entire capital cost of the next six units to be ordered, if any. What was the market’s response to this? Well, Standard & Poor’s promptly put out two reports saying that even this massive intervention would not materially improve the credit ratings of the builders. In other words, even paying for the whole construction of the plant has the same effect of defibrillating a corpse — it will jump but it won’t revive. This technology has died with an incurable attack of market forces. I’m sorry — it was done with good intentions, a lot of talented people devoted their careers to it, but like Betamax it lost out in a competitive market. Other better, cheaper stuff got to the customers first. By now, probably less than half of the world market in new electrical services is being met by any kind of central thermal power station. So let’s wake up, look at the data, and make sure we count both halves of the market; not just competition between traditional central thermal plants, but also how they are being rapidly displaced by faster, cheaper and more benign alternatives.

If the public authority is doing the opposite of what the private market is doing, should that ring your alarm bells? It sure does for me…. [Is] electricity…such an immature sector that central planners’ choices should be preferred to those of private capitalists…. The word `risky’ is a tip-off that the people who would benefit from the choice proposed want to put their hand in your pocket again, and don’t want you to notice that the private market is choosing better buys than what your local central planners are proposing.

*

Yesterday, “Harpers Targets Obama,” I wrote about the candidate’s take on ethanol. Lovin’s Rocky Mountain Institute makes its Winning the Oil End Game available free for download. http://tr.im/RMI_Oil_End_Game. Here is the summary of its strategy from the abstract:

Our strategy integrates four technological ways to displace oil: using oil twice as efficiently, then substituting biofuels, saved natural gas, and, optionally, hydrogen. Fully applying today’s best efficiency technologies in a doubled-GDP 2025 economy would save half the projected U.S. oil use at half its forecast cost per barrel. Non-oil substitutes for the remaining consumption would also cost less than oil.

*

There is an extensive section in the book on substituting biofuels and biomaterials for oil.

RMI also maintains a blog, on which I found a link to “My Big Biofuels Bet,” by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla in the October 2006 Wired. Khosla has invested in a Nebraska blant that uses cow manure to produce the electricity needed to produce ethanol and to fertilize the cornfields. This will improve the energy-balance of corn-based ethanol, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the farm, and pave the way for further development of cellulosic ethanol, such as produced in Brazil, which has proved to be even more energy efficient. To keep up on alternative energy, another interesting site is the Alternative Energy Action Network cofounded by Arthur Smith. (email) ( Smith, by the way, disputes Lovins, but readers of the network side wiht Lovins.)

RMI’s Amory Founder Lovins Takes on Nuke Industry Astroturfer Patrick Moore (10/26/06)

October 26, 2006

The photo of Amory Lovins appeared in an article in Grist, with the credit Rocky Mountain Institute, of which he is the co-founder and CEO.

I wrote on May 15 about Patrick Moore, former Greenpeace member who now shills for the nuclear energy industry. Moore co-leads its trade group’s astroturf group, the Nuclear Energy Istitute’s Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, along with Christie Todd Whitman.

Now, I’m happy to report that physicist Amory Lovins (bio), Jimmy Carter’s energy secretary and McArthur award winner, has taken on Moore’s questionable statisitics in yesterday’s Toronto Star in Lovins Q&A by energy reporter Tyler Hamilton. Hamilton asked specifically about Moore’s position that large-scale adoption of new nuclear technology is the only way to avert global warming.

I think he’s not well informed about energy alternatives and I hope he will become so. I’ve spoken with Patrick at some length, for example, about variability of wind. He thinks it’s a serious problem, and he didn’t realize there’s a lot of empirical and analytic evidence that shows it’s not a problem.

There’s a more fundamental issue here, though, and that’s about economics. Nuclear plants directly emit no carbon dioxide, although they have some inherent in their construction and operations from other parts of the fuel cycle. I’m prepared to ignore that indirect CO2 emission. However, because I agree with Patrick that climate is a very serious problem, I think we need the most solution per dollar and the most solution per year. If you go to the December 2005 issue of Nuclear Engineering International, you’ll find a paper called `Mighty Mice’ that summarizes an economic analysis. What that analysis shows from the best empirical data available last year, is if you spent 10 cents (U.S.) to make and deliver a new nuclear kilowatt-hour — notice I said deliver, so that’s at your meter — you can displace 1 kilowatt-hour of coal power. That’s what Patrick is talking about. And it might seem like a good idea until you look at the competitors.

If you spend the same 10 cents (U.S.) instead on micropower or efficient use, you get two to 10 times as much coal displacement for the same money, because those options are cheaper — you get more per dollar. They’re also faster, so you get more carbon displacement, coal displacement, per year.

Lovins explained the cost of nuclear energy:

The balance is tilted somewhat against nuclear lately because the promised low costs already have failed to materialize for next-generation light water reactors. The Finnish plant is a good example. About a year into construction they’re already a year behind schedule and getting more so. They’re in serious trouble with the safety regulator, and it’s already destroyed AREVA’s and Siemen’s nuclear profits for the year. They’ve made already a 1.5 to 2 billion (Euro) allowance on their books for cost overruns, and I don’t think that’s anywhere near the end of the story. It’s driven them right into the ditch. Just look at the recent press release on their quarterly earnings. I suspect that if Canada tries to build another reactor it will have a similar experience.

Lovins added,

If you believe as I do that climate change is a serious problem, then make sure you buy the resources that will save the most carbon per dollar per year, because otherwise you’re making things worse. If you buy a nuclear plant instead of cheaper efficiency and micropower, you’re getting less solution per dollar, less solution per year, and therefore reducing and retarding climate protection.

*

There’s lots of other good information in the article. Lovins compared nuclear energy with conservation:

Nuclear costs too much and it has excessive financial risk. In no new nuclear project around the world is there a penny of private capital at risk. Contrast that with how the competitors are doing. The first and the cheapest one is efficient use of electricity. …Contrary to the common supposition of diminishing returns and an exhaustible efficiency resource, the actual potential savings keep getting bigger and cheaper, because the technology is continuing to improve faster than we use it. The low-hanging fruit is still mushing up around our ankles but the tree keep growing more fruit and dropping it on our heads. What part of this don’t we understand?

About three-quarters of all electricity we use in North America can be saved cheaper than just running a coal or nuclear plant and delivering its power, even if the capital costs of the plant were zero. It’s interesting that California, the single biggest market in North America, has held it’s per capita use of electricity flat for 30 years. And some places… like Vermont, are actually sending that number downwards, because they’re saving electricity faster than their economy and population are growing. But we don’t have comprehensive, accurate measurements of how much electricity is being saved. We just know it’s a big number, and we know it’s still a tiny fraction of how much efficiency is available and worth buying.

Then he talked about other, less risky competitors to nuclear.

The two competing sources that are easy to measure are collectively called micropower — not central plants, but more distributed capacity that’s at or near the customers, or at least comes in more decentralized, diversified form. Micropower is providing now between one-sixth and over half of all electricity in 13 industrial countries. Denmark is the leader with about 53 per cent last year. You’ll notice this does not count big hydro. If we don’t count any hydro above 10 megawatts, then the added micropower capacity last year in the world was 41 gigawatts, compared to 3.7 gigawatts for all kinds of nuclear — none of which was a CANDU (technology).”

There are two kinds of micropower. One is co-gen and combined heat and power. That was about two-thirds of the new capacity and three-quarters of the new electricity last year. The rest was distributed or decentralized renewables, which was a $38 billion U.S. global market last year for selling equipment. That’s wind, solar, geothermal, small hydro and biomass. So the overall numbers are quite impressive. Micropower surpassed nuclear power in worldwide installed capacity in 2002, and surpassed nuclear in electricity generated per year just in the last few months. But more interesting is market share — micropower provided a sixth of the world’s total electricity last year. Micropower last year provided 32 per cent of the world’s new electricity and 16 per cent of the world’s total electricity; nuclear last year provided respectively 8 per cent of the new and 16 per cent of the total. In terms of electricity generated, micropower last year had four times nuclear’s market share, and it added 11-times as much capacity as nuclear, or 8 times as much if you don’t count standby and peaking units, but you should.

Lovins also talked about the capacity of renewables, such as wind and solar, and their capacity to replace the baseload power that comes from nuclear plants.

The variability of sun, wind and so on, turns
out to be a non-problem if you do several sensible things. One is to diversify your renewables by technology, so that weather conditions bad for one kind are good for another. Second, you diversify by site so they’re not all subject to the same weather pattern at the same time because they’re in the same place. Third, you use standard weather forecasting techniques to forecast wind, sun and rain, and of course hydro operators do this right now. Fourth, you integrate all your resources — supply side and demand side — so for example, in the Pacific Northwest, where we’re rich in hydropower, for 0.6 cents (U.S.) per kilowatt-hour the Bonneville Power Administration will firm your wind power. That is, they combine your wind with their hydro and open and close the valves on the dams so that whenever the wind is not blowing and you need the power you can dispatch hydro instead on a firm contractual basis.

In places that don’t have surplus or adequate hydropower, it’s becoming equally straightforward and much cheaper to back up your wind from a virtual peaker drawn from load management. Like, for example, turning off your water heater for 15 minutes — you won’t even know it’s happening. That’s done automatically, and the power that was going to go into your water heat instead backs up the wind. You can do other kinds of storage as well. For less than 1 cent (U.S.) per kilowatt-hour, you can store bulk electricity as compressed air in a salt cavern. Typically it’s much cheaper to manage loads on the demand side than to store electricity on the supply side. But in a grid that is hydro rich, and with an end-use structure that is as inefficient and has as much space in water heating with electricity as you have in Ontario, it’s really very straightforward to have large amounts of variable renewables without in any way comprising reliability. It’s also worth bearing in mind that although wind and photovoltaics are quite variable, geothermal, biomass and small hydro are not. So you can’t even apply this issue to a lot of renewables that are big in the marketplace.

Hamilton asked if Ontario could realistically phase out both coal and nuclear plants in the next twenty years. Lovins replied,

I think it would require a much more aggressive commitment to doing the cheapest things first, especially for modern, end-use efficiency. For example, I’m talking to you from a building at 2,200 metres in the Rockies where it can go to minus 44 C — you can get frost on any day of the year and you can get 39 days of continuous mid-winter cloud. In the middle of my house I’ve harvested so far 28 banana crops with no heating system, and it’s cheaper to build that way because super insulation and super windows and air-to-air heat exchangers add less to the construction cost than what you take off the construction cost by not needing a heating system. So the house was about $1,100 (U.S.) cheaper to build with good comfort but no heating system.

Hamilton asked about the reliance of micropower, such as co-generation, on natural gas and its effect on CO2 emissions. Lovins explained,

Two-thirds of the co-gen in the world is gas-fired, but both because gas is less carbon-intensive than coal and because you’re displacing a separate power plant and boiler or furnace with one unit that’s much more efficient overall, you save carbon. Altogether counting the gas-fired and all the other co-gen around the world, you’re saving at least half the carbon compared to what it replaces. So yes, I’m making proper allowance for the carbon that does come out of the co-gen and counting the measured cost of the renewables. In fact, I’m counting a wind cost that is over twice as big as the cheapest wind farms built lately. And I’m counting all the cost of making the renewables, like wind, fully dispatchable. So it’s an entirely apples-to-apples comparison, and I’ve done it on a consistent accounting basis but made sure I used assumptions that were favourable to nuclear and other central stations.

Hamilton asked about whether micropower could power plug-in hybrids or all-electric cars.

[I]n the right circumstances it can be an attractive option. The amount of electricity required is quite modest, and it would be at night so wouldn’t add to peak capacity requirements. And the electricity needed is a very small fraction of what can be saved running existing thermal stations. So for relatively short trips, shaving into medium trips as batteries get cheaper, this could be an attractive option. It will, of course, have to compete with efficient fuelled hybrid, including biofueled hybrids, and ultra-lights that further double efficiency.

Lovins general philophy is an end to corporate welfare.

Let electricity and energy compete fairly at honest prices regardless of which kind they are — savings or production — or what technology they use, or how big they are, or where they are, or who owns them. If we did that, we certainly wouldn’t order more nuclear plants and we’d be phasing out the existing coal and nuclear plants because it’s cheaper not to run them than to run them.

He would also align the interest of providers and consumers as an incentive for conservation.

I would make sure that the distributors of electricity and gas…are rewarded for cutting your bill, not for selling you more energy. This could be done by well-understood techniques that decouple profits from sales volumes so the distributors are not rewarded for selling more, nor penalized for selling less. Then I would let them keep as extra profit part of what they save the customer, so that the providers’ and customers’ interests are fully aligned. The lack of this well-understood reform is the biggest obstacle to using electricity in a way that saves money.

Lovins concluded by talking about the current investments trends in the private sector:

I find it very instructive that essentially all of the efficiency in micropower being bought in the world is financed by private risk capital, but I can’t find a single new nuclear project on earth that has a penny of private capital at risk. So what does this tell us? I think it tells us that investors perceive higher cost and higher financial risk in nuclear. They find that unacceptable, and they’re buying the other stuff instead. The clean energy space, worldwide, is getting $63 billion (U.S.) of investment this year. Why is that? Why is nuclear struggling to find single orders, scouring the earth for them, and they’re all ordered by central planners and largely supported by the public purse; whereas vendors of the competing technologies, which already have four times the energy market share and 11 times the capacity, they are finding it hard to keep up with the explosive growth in their businesses.

In August 2005 the U.S. passed a new law offering on top of the existing nuclear subsidies, further subsidies of around 4 or 5 cents a kilowatt-hour, which equals the entire capital cost of the next six units to be ordered, if any. What was the market’s response to this? Well, Standard & Poor’s promptly put out two reports saying that even this massive intervention would not materially improve the credit ratings of the builders. In other words, even paying for the whole construction of the plant has the same effect of defibrillating a corpse — it will jump but it won’t revive. This technology has died with an incurable attack of market forces. I’m sorry — it was done with good intentions, a lot of talented people devoted their careers to it, but like Betamax it lost out in a competitive market. Other better, cheaper stuff got to the customers first. By now, probably less than half of the world market in new electrical services is being met by any kind of central therm
al power station. So let’s wake up, look at the data, and make sure we count both halves of the market; not just competition between traditional central thermal plants, but also how they are being rapidly displaced by faster, cheaper and more benign alternatives.

If the public authority is doing the opposite of what the private market is doing, should that ring your alarm bells? It sure does for me…. [Is] electricity…such an immature sector that central planners’ choices should be preferred to those of private capitalists…. The word `risky’ is a tip-off that the people who would benefit from the choice proposed want to put their hand in your pocket again, and don’t want you to notice that the private market is choosing better buys than what your local central planners are proposing.

*

Yesterday I wrote about ethanol. Lovin’s Rocky Mountain Institute makes its Winning the Oil Endgame available free for download. Here is the summary of its strategy from the abstract:

Our strategy integrates four technological ways to displace oil: using oil twice as efficiently, then substituting biofuels, saved natural gas, and, optionally, hydrogen. Fully applying today’s best efficiency technologies in a doubled-GDP 2025 economy would save half the projected U.S. oil use at half its forecast cost per barrel. Non-oil substitutes for the remaining consumption would also cost less than oil. *

There is an extensive section in the book on substituting biofuels and biomaterials for oil.

RMI also maintains a blog, on which I found a link to “My Big Biofuels Bet,” by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla in the October 2006 Wired. Khosla has invested in a Nebraska blant that uses cow manure to produce the electricity needed to produce ethanol and to fertilize the cornfields. This will improve the energy-balance of corn-based ethanol, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the farm, and pave the way for further development of cellulosic ethanol, such as produced in Brazil, which has proved to be even more energy efficient.

To keep up on alternative energy, another interesting site is the Alternative Energy Action Network cofounded by Arthur Smith. (email) ( Smith, by the way, disputes Lovins, but readers of the network side iwht Lovins.)

Harpers Targets Obama

October 25, 2006

The montage combines the cover from the November 2006 Harpers with a photograph of Barack Obama from the news release announcing his keynote address at Harvard Law School’s celebration of black alumni on September 17, 2005.

John Dufresne’s blog for yesterday featured his caption, “consider the possibility” with a picture of an Obama in 2008 button. I have already mentioned Obama on Charlie Rose in connection with his book tour.

Saturday, October 21, I happened to pick up the November Harper’s with the cover story on pages 31-40, “Barack Obama Inc.: The birth of a Washington Machine” by Washington editor Ken Silverstein (email). No no copy has been posted to the site (yet?).

Eric Alterman (blog at Media Matters, Altercation) and Silverstein are currentlyengaging in a pissing match about the article and an earlier article on Alterman by Silverstein in the Villiage Voice which I couldn’t find but according to Susan Lehman in her December 4, 1998 Salon Media Circus column entry “Ahoy Mates” was a

vicious hatchet job [in which]… Ken Silverstein, in the Village Voice some years back — referred to Alterman as “3/4 brown noser, 1/4 cheeky chappy.”

Alterman, in his Huffington Post entry “Pre-election Potpourr” on October 19 said that Silverstein had done “a foolish hit job” on Obama. Silverstein, in his blog, Washington Babylon‘s October 23 entry, “Booted by MSNBC, is Alterman Making a Pitch to be Obama’s Press Secretary?” sums up his description of Obama in Harpers:

In the article, I described Obama as possibly the most charismatic Democrat since Robert F. Kennedy, and noted that he is sincere, well-intentioned, and genuinely interested in changing our political culture. The article did take stock of Obama’s record in Washington, since much of it looks disappointingly conventional. Because Washington is so intensely hostile to reform and reformers, a progressive like Obama may not be able to accomplish much.

I agree with Alterman that the article, taken in conjuction with its title and cover illustration is indeed a hit job and Silverstein’s response seems disingenuous. Rather than being merely “disappointingly conventional,” Silverstein depicts Obama as being in the pocket of lobbyists, at least with regard to his support of corn-based ethanol. Consider this criticism of Obama’s July appearance at the Center for American Progress’s Campus Progress conference :

Despite its audience and ostensible subject matter, however, Obama’s speech contained just a singfle call for political action…”Give it up for Mark.”…Obama had essentially marshalled his undeniably moving oratory to plump for the classic pork- barrel cause of every Midwestern politician.

Mark Pike, of the Center-sponsored “Kick the Oil Habit” campaign (co-sponsor list) was heading cross country in a flex-fuel vehicle and would only stop at stations selling 85% ethanol fuel, which has been criticized by being bad for conservation because it requires large amounts of fossil fuel for its production, while gasoline gets 30% more miles per gallon.

Silverstein adds that

Obama, Durbin and three other farm state senators opposed a proposal by the Bush administration earlier this year to lower still tariff’s on cheap sugarcaneibased ethanol from Brazil and other countries.

Silverstein criticizes Obama for lending his name to a letter with the

dubious implication that Brazilian ethanol is a national security liability comparible to Saudi crude [indicating]…that he is at least as interested in protecting domestic producers of ethanol as he is in weaning America from imported petroleum.

Robert John Keefe (email) in his October 15 entry “Obama and Ethanol” on Daily Blaugue, calls the article “disheartening but unsurprising.” He quotes Ted Patzek (sic–it’s actually Tad), of the University of California at Berkeley’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering as saying that ethanol production is based on

the massive transfer of money from the collective pocket of the US taxpayers to the transnational agricultural cartel.

Keefe says that Silverstein quotes Patzek, but in leafing back through the article just now, I couldn’t find the citation. I was able, however, to find the context for the comment which is from Patzek (email)’s article,”Thermodynamics of the Corn-Ethanol Biofuel Cycle” which appeared in Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, 23(6):519-567 (2004). Tad W. Patzek.

I have tried to avoid political questions, but at some point one should ask how it was possible for a poor agri-industrial technology to grow so explosively in the last four years? The only plausible answer lies in politics. The recent growth of ethanol production could occur only because of the massive transfer of money from the collective pocket of the U.S. taxpayers to the transnational agricultural cartel, represented most notably by Archer Daniel Midlands Co., Cargill Inc., Monsanto Co., and A. E. Stanley Manufacturing Co. This flow of billions of dollars from the pockets of the many to the pockets of the few was accomplished by federal subsidies of corn producers, and the federal and state tax subsidies of ethanol producers. It was spearheaded by many powerful, and I would like to think, thoroughly misinformed politicians.

More ominously, as a country, we have diverted our collective attention from the most important issue of this century: energy conservation and increased reliance on the only renewable source of energy, the sun, and its weak derivative, the wind, see Appendix C. Instead, we have somewhat accelerated the rate of depletion of the precious natural gas and crude oil deposits, in exchange for the significantly more wide-spread pollution of water, soil and air over roughly 1/2 of the area of the United States, the incremental carbon dioxide emissions, the substandard ethanol fuel, and the continuous drain of taxpayers’ money.

Keefe says of Obama,

In his attempt to become a viable progressive – that is, a legislator who can count on the contributions that will get him re-elected – Senator Obama has done a fair amount of trimming. I gave up on him a year ago, when he was nowhere in the public discussion of ethnic cleansing in New Orleans. I’m afraid that he’s just another Kennedy.

*

I disagree with Alterman’s derisive adjective, “foolish.” The question for me, “Is Silverstein’s hit job valid?” I decided to do some reading on Obama’s position on ethanol. I found a March 21, 2006 interview with Grist Magazine , in which author Dasvid Roberts sums up his opinion of Obama,

when I sat across from Obama in a Seattle cafe booth, I sensed no duplicity. His much-storied charisma makes such judgments difficult, of course, but he seemed to have a grasp of the energy situation far broader than bringing home the pork to his constituents. He acknowledged the limitations of his proposals but was unapologetically pragmatic about strategy. He’s playing the long game.

This is what Obama had to say about his energy strategy:

I support significant increases in CAFE standards. But we’ve brought that to the floor again and again and again, and we can’t get it passed in its current iteration. I was one of the cosponsors of the amendment to the energy bill last year — we just couldn’t get enough votes. Including, unfortunately, two of our Democratic senators from Michigan, because they’re concerned about the auto industry. No matter how much you want to talk about the big picture, people still think very locally.

I think cellulosic ethanol is probably our best short-term solution. The amount of energy required to produce cellulosic ethanol is a significant improvement over corn-based ethanol. The technology exists. We don’t have to change distribution systems; essentially it pumps just like gasoline. It only costs $100 to retrofit any vehicle out there. And if Brazil can do it in the span of three or four years, while cutting their transportation-gasoline use essentially in half, there’s no reason we can’t do it.

So I guess my answer would be: This is an important series of first steps that moves us in the right direction. It is not sufficient to create a sustainable, long-term energy strategy, but it’ll be a component of it.

Reader Alec Johnson responded:

I used to have a great deal of respect for Barack Obama, but no longer do. He voted for the egregious Bankruptcy Bill and Dick Cheney’s hideous Energy Bill — neither are even remotely progressive pieces of legislation.

Everyone is getting on the biofuels band wagon, which is more than a bit self-serving for the junior Senator from Illinois. One wonders if he is innumerate, like most of the rest of our population. Do the math, Barack, we do not have enough land mass to grow biofuel and food, regardless of the alleged (and highly dubious) positive energy yield biofuel proponents profess, we’d need something on the order of three additional continents, each the size of the US, to seriously produce the amount of fuel we consume today, not to mention what we are likely to consume next year. At best, biofuels might have a limited utility as a boutique fuel, produced on farms to power farm machinery. I can only conclude that Senator Obama is either an innumerate fool or just another self-serving politician, perhaps both. Don’t be deceived by his smile and posturing. And next time you interview him, ask him how he could vote for the Bankruptcy bill and still style himself a progressive.

Before going on to other charges (the bankrupcy bill, Katrina, Obama’s support of Lieberman, etc) I wanted to look further into the ethanol bill. It’s current incarnation is S. 2446 introduced on March 16, 2006 and stalled in the Senate Finance Committee. The bill’s co-sponsor, Dick Lugar (R-IN) issued a news release June 7, “Greenspan cites need for rapid cellulosic ethanol product.” Greenspan’s testimony at the Foreign Relations committee that date can be found here.

Lugar characterizes the bill:

S. 2446, which would take a four-step approach to reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. First, the legislation would spur investment in alternative fuels by increasing the production of cellulosic biomass ethanol and create an Alternative Diesel Standard. Second, it would help increase consumer demand for alternative fuels by providing a short-term, 35 cents per gallon tax credit for E85 fuel and by providing automakers with a $100 tax credit for every FFV produced. Third, it would require the U.S. government to increase access to alternative fuels by requiring the government to allow public access to alternative fueling stations located on federal government property. Finally, it would create a Director of Energy Security to oversee and keep America focused on its goal of energy independence.

While Lugar lists increasing the production of cellulosic biomass ethanol as the first priority of the bill, in actuality, the only specific mention is in section 6, which proposes to amend the Internal Revenue Code to extend the alcohol fuel mixture excise tax credit to cellulosic biomass ethanol. I will leave it up to environmental policy experts to evaluate if that makes the bill worthwhile or if the suspicions of environmentalists are valid, as David Roberts sums it up:

With the smell of pork in the air, greens worry that rather than a balanced package of energy initiatives (efficiency incentives, grid improvements, carbon taxes, etc.), America will simply be saddled with yet another massive, entrenched, politically connected, heavily subsidized industry.

*

Next, I decided to look Keefe’s complaint about Obama and Katrina that ” he was nowhere in the public discussion of ethnic cleansing in New Orleans.” Obama has always comported himself as a bridge builder. I would not expect him to use the term “ethnic cleansing,” which, while perhaps valid, is confrontational. Obama did address Katrina his speech to his fellow Black Harvard Law alums. I have yet to find the entire speech; it is not on his Senate website. However Tracy Jan of the Boston Globe quoted extensively in her September 18, 2005 article, “Obama urges alumni to help fight poverty: Gives speech at Harvard meeting of black grads.” According to her, he

urged the nearly 1,000 people in attendance to take personal responsibility in combating the urban poverty brought to light after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

She quotes Obama,

The people that we saw in front of the Superdome and in front of the convention center, they had been abandoned before the hurricane…..The violence has always been there. It just wasn’t on your television screen because it wasn’t spilling out onto the lives of the rest of us..

Obama spoke about the

festering sores of poverty and racism

I do not ascribe to the White House . . . any active malice….’But rather what was revealed was a passive indifference that is common in our culture, common in our society — the sense that of course once the evacuation order was issued that you will hop in your SUV with $100 worth of gasoline and load up your truck with sparkling water and take your credit card and check into the nearest hotel until the storm passed. And the notion that folks couldn’t do that simply did not register in the minds of those in charge.

In the question and answer period, Obama added,

‘We want to ensure that people who’ve been displaced have opportunities to participate in the rebuilding of their own communities.

Obama gave two statements on Katrina as a senator. In the first on September 5, he

a conversation I had with one woman captured the realities that are settling into these families as they face the future.

She told me “We had nothing before the hurricane. Now we got less than nothing.”

We had nothing before the hurricane. Now we got less than nothing.

In the coming weeks, as the images of the immediate crisis fade and this chamber becomes consumed with other matters, we will be hearing a lot about lessons learned and steps to be taken. I will be among those voices calling for action.

Once the situation is stable, once families are settled – at least for the short term – once children are reunited with their parents and enrolled in schools and the wounds have healed, we’re gonna have to do some hard thinking about how we could have failed our fellow citizens so badly, and how we will prevent such a failure from ever occurring again.

The second was a February 1, 2006 floor statement in the support of a tax credit amendement that he intended to introduce as part of the Tax Reconciliation Act.

We all know what happened to the families on the Gulf Coast due to Hurricane Katrina, and it will be a long time before these families can rebuild their lives. Many of the families in the affected states were evacuated to other areas, and many of them cannot even afford to go back. And the federal response so far has been inadequate to get these families effectively back on their feet.

We need to do better. At a time when we are debating $70 billion of tax breaks, many of which will benefit those who need the least help, it is critical that we remember the worst off and the most vulnerable members of our society.

The bus is coming. More later.

Harpers Targets Obama (10/25/06)

October 25, 2006

The montage combines the cover from the November 2006  Harpers with a photograph of Barack Obama from the news release announcing his keynote address at Harvard Law School’s celebration of black alumni on September 17, 2005.

John Dufresne’s blog for yesterday featured his caption, “consider the possibility” with  a picture of  an Obama in 2008 button.  I have already mentioned Obama on Charlie Rose in connection with his book tour.

Saturday, October 21, I happened to pick up the November Harper’s with the cover story on pages 31-40,  “Barack Obama Inc.: The birth of a Washington Machine” by Washington editor Ken Silverstein (email).  No no copy has been posted to the site (yet?).

 Eric Alterman (blog at Media Matters, Altercation) and Silverstein are currentlyengaging  in a pissing match about the article and an earlier article on Alterman by Silverstein in the Villiage Voice  which  I couldn’t find  but according to Susan Lehman in her December 4, 1998 Salon Media Circus  column entry “Ahoy Mates”  was a

vicious hatchet job [in which]… Ken Silverstein, in the Village Voice some years back — referred to Alterman as “3/4 brown noser, 1/4 cheeky chappy.”

Alterman, in his Huffington Post entry “Pre-election Potpourr” on October 19  said that Silverstein had done “a foolish hit job” on Obama. Silverstein, in his blog, Washington Babylon‘s October 23 entry, “Booted by MSNBC, is Alterman Making a Pitch to be Obama’s Press Secretary?” sums up his description of Obama in Harpers:

In the article, I described Obama as possibly the most charismatic Democrat since Robert F. Kennedy, and noted that he is sincere, well-intentioned, and genuinely interested in changing our political culture. The article did take stock of Obama’s record in Washington, since much of it looks disappointingly conventional. Because Washington is so intensely hostile to reform and reformers, a progressive like Obama may not be able to accomplish much. 

I agree with Alterman that the article, taken in conjuction with its title and cover illustration is indeed a hit job and Silverstein’s response seems disingenuous.   Rather than being merely “disappointingly conventional,” Silverstein depicts Obama as being in the pocket of lobbyists, at least with regard to his support of corn-based ethanol.  Consider this criticism of Obama’s July appearance at the Center for American Progress’s Campus Progress conference :

Despite its audience and ostensible subject matter, however, Obama’s speech contained just a singfle call for political action…”Give it up for Mark.”…Obama had essentially marshalled his undeniably moving oratory to plump for the classic pork- barrel cause of every Midwestern politician.

Mark Pike, of the Center-sponsored  “Kick the Oil Habit”  campaign (co-sponsor list)was heading cross country in a flex-fuel vehicle and would only stop at stations selling 85% ethanol fuel,  which has been criticized by being bad for conservation because it requires large amounts of fossil fuel for its production, while gasoline gets 30% more miles per gallon.   

Silverstein adds that

Obama, Durbin and three other farm state senators opposed a proposal by the Bush administration earlier this year to lower still tariff’s on cheap sugarcaneibased ethanol from Brazil and other countries. 

Silverstein criticizes Obama for lending his name to a letter with the

dubious implication that Brazilian ethanol is a national security liability comparible to Saudi crude [indicating]…that he is at least as interested in protecting domestic producers of ethanol as he is in weaning America from imported petroleum.

 Robert John Keefe (email) in his October 15 entry “Obama and Ethanol”  on Daily Blaugue, calls the article “disheartening but unsurprising.” He quotes Ted Patzek (sic–it’s actually Tad), of the University of California at Berkeley’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering as saying that ethanol production is based on

the massive transfer of money from the collective pocket of the US taxpayers to the transnational agricultural cartel.

Keefe says that Silverstein quotes Patzek, but in leafing back through the article just now, I couldn’t find the citation.  I was able, however, to find the context for the comment which is from Patzek (email)’s article,”Thermodynamics of the Corn-Ethanol Biofuel Cycle” which appeared in Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, 23(6):519-567 (2004). Tad W. Patzek.

I have tried to avoid political questions, but at some point one should ask how it was possible for a poor agri-industrial technology to grow so explosively in the last four years? The only plausible answer lies in politics. The recent growth of ethanol production could occur only because of the massive transfer of money from the collective pocket of the U.S. taxpayers to the transnational agricultural cartel, represented most notably by Archer Daniel Midlands Co., Cargill Inc., Monsanto Co., and A. E. Stanley Manufacturing Co. This flow of billions of dollars from the pockets of the many to the pockets of the few was accomplished by federal subsidies of corn producers, and the federal and state tax subsidies of ethanol producers. It was spearheaded by many powerful, and I would like to think, thoroughly misinformed politicians.

More ominously, as a country, we have diverted our collective attention from the most important issue of this century: energy conservation and increased reliance on the only renewable source of energy, the sun, and its weak derivative, the wind, see Appendix C. Instead, we have somewhat accelerated the rate of depletion of the precious natural gas and crude oil deposits, in exchange for the significantly more wide-spread pollution of water, soil and air over roughly 1/2 of the area of the United States, the incremental carbon dioxide emissions, the substandard ethanol fuel, and the continuous drain of taxpayers’ money.

Keefe says of Obama,

In his attempt to become a viable progressive – that is, a legislator who can count on the contributions that will get him re-elected – Senator Obama has done a fair amount of trimming. I gave up on him a year ago, when he was nowhere in the public discussion of ethnic cleansing in New Orleans. I’m afraid that he’s just another Kennedy.

*

I  disagree with Alterman’s  derisive adjective, “foolish.”  The question for me, “Is Silverstein’s hit job valid?”  I decided to do some reading on Obama’s position on ethanol.  I found a March 21, 2006 interview with  Grist  Magazine , in which author Dasvid Roberts sums up his opinion of Obama,

when I sat across from Obama in a Seattle cafe booth, I sensed no duplicity. His much-storied charisma makes such judgments difficult, of course, but he seemed to have a grasp of the energy situation far broader than bringing home the pork to his constituents. He acknowledged the limitations of his proposals but was unapologetically pragmatic about strategy. He’s playing the long game.

This is what Obama had to say about his energy strategy:

I support significant increases in CAFE standards. But we’ve brought that to the floor again and again and again, and we can’t get it passed in its current iteration. I was one of the cosponsors of the amendment to the energy bill last year — we just couldn’t get enough votes. Including, unfortunately, two of our Democratic senators from Michigan, because they’re concerned about the auto industry. No matter how much you want to talk about the big picture, people still think very locally.

I think cellulosic ethanol is probably our best short-term solution. The amount of energy required to produce cellulosic ethanol is a significant improvement over corn-based ethanol. The technology exists. We don’t have to change distribution systems; essentially it pumps just like gasoline. It only costs $100 to retrofit any vehicle out there. And if Brazil can do it in the span of three or four years, while cutting their transportation-gasoline use essentially in half, there’s no reason we can’t do it.

So I guess my answer would be: This is an important series of first steps that moves us in the right direction. It is not sufficient to create a sustainable, long-term energy strategy, but it’ll be a component of it.

Reader Alec Johnson responded:

I used to have a great deal of respect for Barack Obama, but no longer do. He voted for the egregious Bankruptcy Bill and Dick Cheney’s hideous Energy Bill — neither are even remotely progressive pieces of legislation.

Everyone is getting on the biofuels band wagon, which is more than a bit self-serving for the junior Senator from Illinois. One wonders if he is innumerate, like most of the rest of our population. Do the math, Barack, we do not have enough land mass to grow biofuel and food, regardless of the alleged (and highly dubious) positive energy yield biofuel proponents profess, we’d need something on the order of three additional continents, each the size of the US, to seriously produce the amount of fuel we consume today, not to mention what we are likely to consume next year. At best, biofuels might have a limited utility as a boutique fuel, produced on farms to power farm machinery. I can only conclude that Senator Obama is either an innumerate fool or just another self-serving politician, perhaps both. Don’t be deceived by his smile and posturing. And next time you interview him, ask him how he could vote for the Bankruptcy bill and still style himself a progressive.

Before going on to other charges (the bankrupcy bill, Katrina, Obama’s support of Lieberman, etc) I wanted to look further into the ethanol bill.  It’s current incarnation is S. 2446 introduced on March 16, 2006 and stalled in the Senate Finance Committee.  The bill’s co-sponsor, Dick Lugar (R-IN) issued a news release June 7, “Greenspan cites need for rapid cellulosic ethanol product.”  Greenspan’s testimony at the Foreign Relations committee that date can be found here.

Lugar characterizes the bill:

S. 2446, which would take a four-step approach to reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. First, the legislation would spur investment in alternative fuels by increasing the production of cellulosic biomass ethanol and create an Alternative Diesel Standard. Second, it would help increase consumer demand for alternative fuels by providing a short-term, 35 cents per gallon tax credit for E85 fuel and by providing automakers with a $100 tax credit for every FFV produced. Third, it would require the U.S. government to increase access to alternative fuels by requiring the government to allow public access to alternative fueling stations located on federal government property. Finally, it would create a Director of Energy Security to oversee and keep America focused on its goal of energy independence.

While Lugar lists increasing the production of cellulosic biomass ethanol as the first priority of the bill, in actuality,  the only specific mention is in section 6, which  proposes to amend the Internal Revenue Code to extend the alcohol fuel mixture excise tax credit to cellulosic biomass ethanol.  I will leave it up to environmental policy experts to evaluate if that makes the bill worthwhile or if the suspicions of environmentalists are valid, as David Roberts sums it up: 

 With the smell of pork in the air, greens worry that rather than a balanced package of energy initiatives (efficiency incentives, grid improvements, carbon taxes, etc.), America will simply be saddled with yet another massive, entrenched, politically connected, heavily subsidized industry. 

*

Next, I decided to look Keefe’s complaint about Obama and Katrina that ” he was nowhere in the public discussion of ethnic cleansing in New Orleans.”  Obama  has always comported himself as a bridge builder.  I would not expect him to use the term “ethnic cleansing,” which, while perhaps  valid, is confrontational.  Obama did address Katrina his speech to his fellow Black Harvard Law alums.   I have yet to find the entire speech; it is not on his Senate website.  However Tracy Jan of the Boston Globe quoted extensively in her September 18, 2005 article, “Obama urges alumni to help fight poverty: Gives speech at Harvard meeting of black grads.” According to her, he

urged the nearly 1,000 people in attendance to take personal responsibility in combating the urban poverty brought to light after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

She quotes Obama,

‘The people that we saw in front of the Superdome and in front of the convention center, they had been abandoned before the hurricane…..The violence has always been there. It just wasn’t on your television screen because it wasn’t spilling out onto the lives of the rest of us..

Obama spoke about the

festering sores of poverty and racism

I do not ascribe to the White House . . . any active malice….’But rather what was revealed was a passive indifference that is common in our culture, common in our society — the sense that of course once the evacuation order was issued that you will hop in your SUV with $100 worth of gasoline and load up your truck with sparkling water and take your credit card and check into the nearest hotel until the storm passed. And the notion that folks couldn’t do that simply did not register in the minds of those in charge.

In the question and answer period, Obama added,

‘We want to ensure that people who’ve been displaced have opportunities to participate in the rebuilding of their own communities.

Obama gave two statements on Katrina as a senator.  In the first on September 5, he 

 a conversation I had with one woman captured the realities that are settling into these families as they face the future.

She told me “We had nothing before the hurricane. Now we got less than nothing.”

We had nothing before the hurricane. Now we got less than nothing.

In the coming weeks, as the images of the immediate crisis fade and this chamber becomes consumed with other matters, we will be hearing a lot about lessons learned and steps to be taken. I will be among those voices calling for action.

Once the situation is stable, once families are settled – at least for the short term – once children are reunited with their parents and enrolled in schools and the wounds have healed, we’re gonna have to do some hard thinking about how we could have failed our fellow citizens so badly, and how we will prevent such a failure from ever occurring again.

The second was a February 1, 2006  floor statement in the support of a tax credit amendement that  he intended to introduce as part of the Tax Reconciliation Act. 

We all know what happened to the families on the Gulf Coast due to Hurricane Katrina, and it will be a long time before these families can rebuild their lives. Many of the families in the affected states were evacuated to other areas, and many of them cannot even afford to go back. And the federal response so far has been inadequate to get these families effectively back on their feet.

We need to do better. At a time when we are debating $70 billion of tax breaks, many of which will benefit those who need the least help, it is critical that we remember the worst off and the most vulnerable members of our society.

The bus is coming.  More later.

George Allen Photo Op with the Segregationists (10/24/06)

October 24, 2006

The photograph illustrated Puffin Foundation Fellow Max Blumenthal’ s (email, blog) August 29, 2006 web article for The Nation, “Beyond Macaca: The Photograph That Haunts George Allen.”  

Allen initiated the photograph with members of the Council of Conservative Citizens, successor organization to the segregationist White Citizens Council and among the largest white supremacist groups at the 1996 Conservative Political Action Conference, a group about which I’ve written before.

I discovered the photograph after my housemate, Misty, told me she had seen a new hardhitting ad by the Jim Webb campaign which shows a Black woman crtiicizing George Allen for having a noose hanging in his office.  Although I didn’t see the ad and haven’t found it through Google, I did find Brendan Nylan’s  February 2, 2005 examination of George Allen and nooses.    (Note:  When I got home, Misty said it was a radio ad on the local hip-hop station.)

Just like Allen denied that he knew that “macaca” was a racial epithet, he tried cluelessness about the significance of nooses in trees as suggestive of lynching during his run against Check Robb (D) for the U.S. Senate.   A  front page Washington Post story, “Robb Blasts Allen Over Race Stance Attack Raises Pitch Of Close Senate Fight”  by staff writers R.H. Melton and Steven Ginsberg, which ran November 1, 2000 says,

Christopher J. LaCivita, Allen’s campaign manager, said the noose was one item in a collection of cowboy memorabilia that Allen displayed in his Charlottesville law office in the early 1990s.

Far from being a racially charged symbol, the noose was an emblem of Allen’s tough stance on law-and-order issues, LaCivita said.

Say what?  And taken in conjunction, the confederate flags were…?