Archive for July 2011
The debt ceiling is a big fiasco. But other things are going on in the world of US Government. One issue is the proposed increased in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards being pushed by the Obama Administration. The current standard is 34.2 mpg which became the rule in 2009. The new CAFE standard sought by the President would be in the mid-50s mpg by the year 2025. (I’ve seen a few different numbers for the actual standard, but it ranges right around 54-56). Since climate change is going to be cause serious harm in the next century, tackling the sources of GHG emissions must happen now. And cars are among our most serious GHG problems.
Naturally, this is causing disdain among many anti-regulation conservatives and consternation among all of the nations auto companies–whose general reaction to any change regarding cars is consternation. It is also being praised by environmental groups and tech-based innovation folks. This is no surprise and is certainly not news. It’s also worth noting that the United Auto Workers support the increase.
Today, I had to read the editorial from Reason.com (Free Minds and Free Markets) written by Shikha Dalmia, titled: The Coming Autopocalypse.* In the piece, Dalmia essentially claims that the auto industry CAN NOT meet these demands, and trying will result in many deaths, lost jobs, wasted money, government bailouts, etc. That might be the case if we continue to seek mpg increases by decreasing auto size (the standard method is to reduce vehicle size and weight).
But Dalmia, in explaining how 56mpg could never be a reality, makes this claim: “The 56-mpg-mandate will require a total, top-to-bottom overhaul of cars. Every part of a vehicle from its transmission to its engine would have to be replaced.”
When I read that, I wanted to say to Dalmia: Yes, this is true. Everything about cars IS going to have to change. Exactly. Spot-on. This is what we need to do if we are going to continue to rely on the single-occupancy vehicle. And we are going to continue our love affair with cars. So what are we going to do? Well, the author seems to know where we should start.
Earlier in the article, Dalmia writes: “Not a single car—big or small, hybrid or non-hybrid—currently delivers this kind of mileage (with the exception of electrics).” Again, exactly. What to Dalmia is just a parenthetical is likely the near-term answer**.
I’m not sure what the best way to go to about re-hauling the American vehicle is, be it CAFE standards, or some other regulatory mechanism, or just letting the auto companies deal with the issue, but it seemed worth addressing the fact that, what Dalmia finds to be the problem-everything must change-might actually be the solution.
*Can we please ban the use of “pocalypse” or “mageddon” as an addition to anything someone might not like? You may not like debt, or increased fuel efficiency, or snow, but it will likely not result in something equivalent to, you know, the apocalypse.
**To which one might say: But where can I charge an electric vehicle in this country? Well, by the end of 2011, you can go to one of the 800 Walgreens that will have EV charging stations. That is a remarkable commitment. I might just have to break something so I can get a prescription filled by my local Walgreens.
I wrote this editorial on sulfide mining last year while in Montana, but unfortunately its wisdom has not yet convinced everyone to stop everything. Today, Don Shelby writes that the former BP CEO Tony Hayward, famous for being terribly insensitive during the worst ecological disaster in US history, has been hired to oversee environment and safety on the new sulfide mining project in northern MN. So I thought I’d try again.
Protecting Minnesota’s Waters Once More:
Minnesota has shown its commitment to clean water. We recognize the importance of protecting our natural resources, and as a result passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to honor and value our waters and wetlands. Our vote to protect our waters passed, but in response, our legislators are finding new ways to harm that which we have voiced a desire to protect. The most serious of these threats regards sulfate contamination and mining.
Several companies, the furthest along of which is the PolyMet Mining Corporation, now propose to open sulfide mines—metal extraction from rocks embedded with sulfide bearing ores—throughout the Arrowhead. Such mines would be the first of the kind in our state. Long have iron ore mines operated in the region, but sulfide mining presents a much more serious problem than rust. Sulfide mining means sulfuric acid and damage to aquatic ecosystems and wildlife–especially our state’s wild rice–as well as pollution of drinking and recreational waters.
Despite the water protections in Minnesota and the assurances of these companies, this pollution will find its way into the natural systems. It always does. It has happened in New Mexico, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota and elsewhere. The examples are readily available, yet we continue along a path that will lead to the contamination of the very resources we have declared our intent to protect. It would be devastating, for example, to see the mistakes of the Brohm Mine of Deadwood, South Dakota reoccur in Minnesota’s beloved Boundary Waters and Superior National Forest.
After a year of operation, the Brohm mine was ordered by the state of South Dakota to cease its operation due to major cyanide leaks. It was eventually permitted to reopen and spent a decade spilling sulfuric acid into nearby waters. When the location was mined out, the operation closed. S.D. Gov. Bill Janklow sought to hold Dakota Mining financially responsible for cleaning up their mess. The company’s president, Alan Bell, filed for bankruptcy and avoided any cost to the company for cleanup. The Brohm mine is now a Superfund site, and taxpayers across the U.S. are paying the bill. Shortly after the bankruptcy, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Bell was appointed to board of the Polymet Mining Corporation.
Residents, especially our legislators, should find little common ground in the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment Minnesota has adopted, and these proposed sulfide mines. The citizens of Minnesota have shown we are willing to look beyond ourselves for the good of our state and the future. Minnesota’s government must do the same and keep the terrible legacy of sulfide mining from tarnishing our state.
It seems to TRC that the debt ceiling talks are taking a very unusual pattern of negotiating. A normal negotiation would start with two parties staking out claims that are far apart from one another. Each side has a list of negotiating tools, and those things are slowly whittled away until a couple of the things that each side can live with remain, and a compromise is reached. This could be visualized like this:
This does not seem to reflect the debt ceiling negotiations. Here, both sides staked out their positions and made their list of priorities. Then President Obama moved directly to the middle and offered what by many accounts was a very good deal for the Republicans. This was rejected by the Republicans, and ever since things got very strange. Because negotiating ceased. What resulted was the Democrats giving up more and more of their priorities, while the Republicans moved further and further away from their original position. This looks more like this:
So, what’s going on here? Since when can anything that looks like the bottom be considered negotiations? Turns out it is not negotiating. Because the GOP must work with the Tea Party, and the Tea Party does not want to negotiate with the President. Compromising with the Enemy is a sign of weakness. And yes, President Obama is the capital-E Enemy. Glenn Thrush at Politico gets at the problem: “There’s no guarantee Boehner can get anything through his conference, so skeptical are rank-and-file members of anything Obama could possibly approve.”
Is that where we are now? Where any kind of agreement is a sign of not good enough. If the GOP makes an offer, and Obama takes that offer, well then, it must not have been asking for enough cuts, enough sacred cows, enough hardship for the President. Whatever he will agree to, the Tea Party must have more.
Here’s a way to make life more enjoyable: Experience things earnestly and with seriousness, even the silly things, rather than being cynical and filled with negativity.
This post is not about politics, and the potential impending doom of our economy and its credit rating. It’s not about NASA or physics or evolution and the dismal state of Science in the United States, nor any of the things TRC makes a habit ranting about. It is about Harry Potter.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 was released last week. You probably heard. And for me and mine, the release of HP 7.2 was a big deal. It was the culmination of 10 years of fandom and enjoyment and wonder. 10 years of overly intricate discussions about how the world of Harry Potter works, what it means to acknowledge the gravity of a child carrying the fate of the world, what character one would be and why (Neville, obviously), what spell one would use at work or in school if one could (muffliato, of course), and what it means to have evil battle good. To ask ourselves to sacrifice for the greater cause, and what it means to be put in (hypothetical) situations that ask us to give it all up for the friends we love. This has been my earnest experience of Harry Potter for the past decade.
And I’m grateful for J.K. Rowling and the makers of the Harry Potter films for providing those ten years of absolute joy. (I say 10 knowing Potter actually arrived in the world 14 years ago, but it was not until the first film that I came aboard) . It comes up because now the films are over, the books are written, and no new Potter material will (maybe) be produced and I feel like expressing my appreciation. The cynics have had their say for all these years, but the Potter machine rolled on, and the experience for those of us who chose it was riveting.
There were the literary critics who have spent their hours mocking the books, berating a literary culture where Rowling could have the success she has with such minimal talent. Those of this ilk are always ready to throw cold water over those unwashed readers who love to escape with the ease and fascination of young adult fiction. It seems for many critical literary individuals, Harry Potter reached such heights of popularity that it actually posed a threat to great fiction.
There were those in the Christian Church have worked tirelessly to warn the world of the dangers of witchcraft and the temptations of Satan that are present in the texts, as though children (and adults) lack the imagination to separate the wizarding world of the Durselys and Hogwarts from their world of school and parents.
And there are the hipsters and the keepers of the cool who have always turned their nose up at the pulp and baseness of Rowling’s talents and the eagerness and earnestness with which some of us embraced it.
Cynically, people mocked those who love to escape into the make-believe and spend their lives talking about it. Instead some of these individuals spend their time belittling those who get wrapped up in the silliness, putting down those of us who loved to pick up Potter.
Of course, these are not all people. Millions (and millions and millions) of people around the world-literary critics, conservative Christians and hipster elitists among us-loved and adored the Potter world, and Harry and Ron and Hermione and their journey to defeated He Who Shall Not Be Named. We ate it up for 10 years or more because taking things up with love is more exciting than putting things down. This is a change for me. The naysayer of Potter and other pop-culture swill was the role I played for many years. And, at least in part, Harry Potter is among the reasons this started to change.
So for that, I want to say thanks to Harry and his friends. Because it truly is more fun to love something silly, than to be a cynic in the face of something that actually worth the effort.
That’s all. Back to politics, science, and seriousness of the real world.
Here’s some encouraging news you probably didn’t hear about. The FERC passed order 1000 yesterday, amending and reforming cost allocation methodology for interstate and regional transmission build-out.
Didn’t you hear? Probably not, unless you are a part of the energy and electricity world. Well, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a ruling yesterday that provides a big boost to potential renewable energy development in the United States.
TRC will avoid the technical details, which are essentially everything, but broadly speaking, the rule’s purpose is to create regional guidelines and cost-allocation methods for future build-out of the electrical transmission system. By requiring utilities and transmission providers to consider regional planning processes, as well as state and federal public policy requirements (i.e. renewable portfolio standards), the ruling aims, very obviously, to encourage renewable energy development. Which is a positive result, since adding megawatts of renewable energy to the grid displaces megawatts of fossil fuels, no matter what the junk science out there says.
The electrical grid in this nation is very old, poorly connected, and maxed out on dirty electrons, making wind and solar development more and more difficult every passing year. Our grid is in a bottle neck: there are great quantities of renewable energy waiting to be developed but no way to send that energy anywhere.
The local nature of the electricity system in the US simply does not work in the 21st century. Occasional piecemeal build-outs needed to support old generators connected to old substations connected to old transmission lines connected to old distribution lines should be the way of the past.
Now, with FERC’s interstate, regional transmission guidelines and an outline for how those interstate lines should be paid for, new renewable development will (siting and permitting problems not withstanding) be capable of bringing green electrons from the renewable energy zones of rural America to the load centers of urban America. That is what new transmission should be for. Period. Hopefully the nations utilities and transmission providers comply.
Early this morning the space shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth. It won’t fly again. The era of the shuttle is over, in America, and it is mourned at TRC. But we are optimistic that another program will come, that manned space flight in the United States will return, and we will put ourselves even farther beyond the earth than we already have. The future of Americans in space is hidden for now. But it won’t be forever.
Below a NASA photo of Atlantis touching down at 5:57 am this morning, ending the 30 year shuttle program at NASA.
Salon has an article relating a rant from Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn, which inspired TRC to go on a rant of our own.
In a recent conference call Mr. Wynn declared Obama to be (surprise) a socialist and essentially claimed that President Obama is terrible for business, and until he is gone, no business will make any moves but will “be sitting on their thumbs” because they are “frightened to death of the weird political philosophy of the President of the United States.” Unfortunately, this is not a terribly unusual view of the Obama Presidency, especially among the uber-rich. Excuse me, Job Creators. It’s not correct to say Obama is anti-business, but it’s not uncommon to say it, either. But this part is fine. This part is just sounding off with relatively common anti-Obamaism.
The part of the Wynn rant that is a bit more, well, atrocious, comes from his fawning over the Chinese political and business system. Wynn runs a casino in Macau, see, and it is just too efficient to be believed. Says Wynn of that operation:
We are so grateful to be part of [the Chinese] market and to be allowed to participate in that community. We find the political environment, the regulatory environment, the human resource environment that we’re in to be absolutely delicious. Life is quite straightforward in China. The government is predictable. Our employees are eminently trainable. They’re anxious to please.
Ok. Now read that paragraph again, knowing it followed an anti-Obama tirade, and what exactly is Wynn saying about America and its labor force? The political, regulatory, and human resource environment of China is absolutely delicious. Are you kidding me? This is the 512th richest man in the United States, a billionaire anti-Obama Las Vegas mogul who loves the Chinese government’s business attitude and labor force and political structure. They are delicious, he says, while we are..run by a wealth redistributing pure socialist.
Yes, Mr. Wynn, if only the United States and President Obama would emulate the totalitarianism of China, maybe these middle class whiners would shut up and be thankful to start working shitty jobs in casinos in the worst idea of a city the US has ever had. Meanwhile the government will provide little to no regulatory oversight for businesses like the “wet blanket” that is the US President wants to infringe on us poor victimized business owners, and any media or dissenters against the brutal billionaire bosses can be forcefully shutdown by the absolutely delicious and predictable government.
No wonder the rich are worried about class warfare, they keep saying things like this. Tell me how raising taxes on Steve Wynn endangers our nation? Please. Because I really want to do it. I think we should impose a Steve Wynn tax. That alone could erase at least a billion dollars of our deficit.
TRC is a big fan of weather, and weird weather, and extreme weather (except extreme heat). And to put it mildly, we’ve been having some bonkers weather in Minnesota recently. Currently, Minnesota is in the middle of a heat wave (granted, so is half the nation), which has provided the first ever 3-day string of 80 degree dew points, and a dew point of 81 degrees, which is also our record high. We’ve had consistent heat indexes from 105-115 degrees. It is hot.
In the middle of this heat-wave, today brought some severe thunderstorms. At about 11 am, the sky was pretty much midnight black. By 12 it had lightened a little, and brought downpours of rain and hale. Now it’s 1:30, bright and sunny and the heat is back. Here’s a pic from the High Bride, and two from the backyard.
Above is the darkness coming in to Downtown St. Paul as seen from the top of the High Bridge.
This is hail falling against the backdrop of our giant oak tree. And below is the hail that fell.
MPR said just now that we have broken our long standing dew point record (81) and reached 82 degrees. With our current temperature of 95, that makes our heat index (Feels Like) to 121.
I don’t mean to obsess over this. But really. This is unacceptable.
I don’t know much, or anything really, about the GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain. Other than he is/was a “pizza magnate,” whatever that means, and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. But today at the Huffington Post, I read that Herman Cain said the following during an interview with Chris Wallace:
“Our Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state,” Cain said in an interview with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “Islam combines church and state. They’re using the church part of our First Amendment to infuse their morals in that community, and the people of that community do not like it. They disagree with it…
“Let’s go back to the fundamental issue,” Cain said. “Islam is both a religion and a set of laws — Sharia laws. That’s the difference between any one of our traditional religions where it’s just about religious purposes.”
“So, you’re saying that any community, if they want to ban a mosque…” Wallace began.
“Yes, they have the right to do that,” Cain said.
This is a repulsive attitude. I hope it does not represent the GOP at large. Just because one disagrees with Islam does not mean anyone should be able to ban Mosques. The US that I believe in is fundamentally opposed to such overreactions. He continues.
“Aren’t you willing to restrict people because of their religion?” Wallace asked.
“I’m willing to take a harder look at people who might be terrorists, that’s what I’m saying,” Cain replied. “Look, I know that there’s a peaceful group of Muslims in this country. God bless them and they’re free to worship. If you look at my career I have never discriminated against anybody, because of their religion, sex or origin or anything like that.”
“I’m simply saying I owe it to the American people to be cautious because terrorists are trying to kill us,” Cain said, “so yes I’m going to err on the side of caution rather than on the side of carelessness.”
Essentially, Cain’s position on Islam is: All Muslims are not terrorists, but most Muslims are probably terrorists, or at least, they scare me. We should exclude Islam because it makes me nervous. Mosque’s represent something that makes me nervous, and a lot of other Americans, so they should be banned. And if we take care of the Mosque problem, then we take care of the sharia problem.
Can someone, please, tell me how right-wing politicians are making mileage over the “sharia law is invading America” bullshit? This is largely the same bullshit as the “war on Christmas” that conservatives talking heads love so much.
This is driving TRC crazy. The notion that any kind of religious (sharia law) or anti-religious (athiest amoralists) movement in the US has started to “overtake” and “victimize” Christianity is simply craziness and has absolutely no basis in the reality of this country. Both Liberals and Conservatives, at least outside of local politics, have by necessity to wed themselves unequivocally to the Christian Church to stand a chance at national politics. (There are, maybe, a handful of exceptions, I know, but the House is mostly a local political environment). This is a Christian Nation.
Christianity won’t even allow evolution to take hold in this nation, but Herman Cain thinks that sharia law is starting to infuse the morals of the United States? Come on.
Also, though it may be true that “Islam combines church and state,” it would be preposterous to claim that modern conservatism in the past 10 years, driven often by the Evangelical Church, does not combine church and state in hopes of ridding our nation of any such barrier. PREPOSTEROUS.
*NOTE: TRC has historically attempted to maintain a fairly reasoned tone while blogging, and recognizes that recently this may be slipping. But sometimes there is no other option than to call bullshit what it is.