2010/02/26

Fluff vs substance

My roommate back in college admitted once that he spent an awful lot of time complaining about things (Usually justifiably, I thought) but felt he really had to make an exception once and to declare that the meal we were eating at a usually not-so-great cafeteria was really first-class. In the same light, I'd really like to commend the front-page piece in the Inky today summing up the health care summit yesterday. It's a solid, substantive piece that lets one know where all the players in the health care game are standing and where they're headed.

For the record, Democrats from the President on down appear to have really lost patience with Republican delaying and filibustering and offering "deals" that Democrats simply can't accept, primarily the "deal" of starting from scratch with a blank piece of paper and then building up a brand new health care bill from the ground up. Democrats absolutely refused to start over or to promise not to use the reconciliation process in order to bypass the filibuster.

A columnist from the WaPo, which is a source that is again a frequently unsatisfactory place for political news, does an excellent job delineating where all the political players are and their statements as to what they stand for. Although the columnist is clearly a liberal, he's very fair in sketching out the proposals of four Republicans, showing us that these are good and worthwhile proposals. He also points out their problem in getting anyone to take their observations seriously:

What we didn't hear from Kyl, or Camp, or Coburn or McCain, however, was an offer to vote for a health reform plan if these problems were fixed and their ideas were incorporated. Without even the hint of such offers, there was little reason for a willing president and his unwilling allies to even consider serious compromise. Now the losers will be the American people, who could have surely benefited from such productive dealmaking.

As for the "fluff" guys, ho-o-o-o boy!!! These "news" pieces leave me so completely unenlightened about where people stand and how the legislation is proceeding, the pieces are so full of useless "he-said, she-said" and mindless complaints about how substance-free the Blair House meeting was, I felt my IQ going down just reading that trash. Supermarket tabloids give me more substantive news about celebrities and their romantic liaisons.

On Jon Stewart's Daily Show last night, Stewart pointed out that, well of course, Fox News had fluffy, uninformative, "he-said, she-said" pieces that told citizens nothing of value. Much worse was the fact that Fox portrayed the summit as a game that the two sides were "winning" or "losing." Stewart made it clear that this completely missed the point of the summit. Disturbingly CNN, an allegedly serious source for news, a place where objectivity is valued and that's supposedly information-heavy, took much the same approach. They also saw the health care summit as being about winning and losing. I checked out the CNN piece on the web this morning and was not surprised to see that Stewart was right, but was absolutely appalled to see how completely and utterly worthless CNN's "reporting" was. Their primary summary piece was basically a lot of complaining and griping and carrying on about how worthless the summit was. As the WaPo piece that I earlier cited showed, the summit was extremely helpful for showing the American people that the Republicans are simply not interested in pushing the health care bill forwards and simply want to stand in the way. The CNN piece leaves readers completely in the dark about that.

The Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall St Journal (Murdoch also owns Fox News and the New York Post) also dis-served citizens by mocking the anecdotes that Democrats told to put a human face on the problems with health care in America these days. Apparently, if Democrats are moved by their human feelings to note that their fellow citizens require assistance with their medical needs and then Democrats try to express this with personal anecdotes, that's unacceptable. I guess we can tell now just how much Murdoch cares about his fellow human beings.

2010/02/24

PRAWN party on the 20th of February

The Philadelphia Regional Anti-War Network (PRAWN) threw a party on Saturday, 20 February. We had a member of the Poor People's March give a talk on that upcoming event. From 4 April to 20 June of this year, there will be a march from New Orleans, LA to Detroit, MI. The Philadelphia Weekly recently did a piece on how "The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign is currently reaching out to property owners across the city and linking them up with neighbors who are in a similar predicament so that they can [peacefully and nonviolently] resist en masse."

Next up was Bill Perry, along with his wife Terry Perry and their friend Emma Grigore (Bill Perry is a leading member of the Delaware Valley Veterans For America, but the group had no connection to the subject of the night's slideshow) and they all spoke on the attempt by 1400 people to visit Gaza ("Largest Open Air Prison in the World") around New Years 2010. Link is to selected pictures taken by Perry and posted to his Facebook page. Photoessay contains links to all three Facebook albums that in turn contain lots and lots of other pictures. Ultimately, only 70 people went into Gaza. 100, including Perry, were permitted in, but 30 of them stayed outside out of respect for the soldarity of their fellow Gaza Freedom March members.

The party went well. Food was plentiful and good. Naturally, our being a liberal, progressive and leftist crowd meant that the dishes were really heavy on vegetables as opposed to meats. We had plenty of coffee and tea and served dessert after the two speakers. We were missing a component for getting sound from Perry's computer to our speakers, but our audience could hear the supplied sound anyway and that problem has since been fixed, the component has been obtained. In a very good sign that the party was successful, people didn't just bolt out the door, but hung around and chattered for a bit.

2010/02/18

Obama's loan guarantees on nuclear energy

[Full disclosure: My father worked on nuclear energy projects for about 40 years]

So it seems that

the President wants to provide loan guarantees to spur nuclear power development

[snip]

Mr. Obama portrayed the decision as part of a broad strategy to increase employment and the generation of clean power.

Is that a good idea? The important thing to remember about nuclear energy is that

No American power company has ordered a new nuclear power plant since 1978, and all reactors ordered after the fall of 1973 ended up canceled.

Why might this be? Cost is a very major factor.

In January 2008, MidAmerican Nuclear Energy Co said that prices were so high, it was ending its pursuit of a nuclear power plant in Payette County, Idaho, after spending $13 million researching its economic feasibility.

Also, consider that nuclear plants are very significant users of water. A plant with a "once-through" cooling system (As opposed to a "closed-loop" system) uses water at the following rates (PDF) of gallons per minute:

504,000 gpm at Millstone Unit 2 (CT); 918,000 gpm at Millstone Unit 3 (CT); 460,000 gpm at Oyster Creek (NJ); 311,000 at Pilgrim (MA); and 1,100,000 gpm at each of the two Salem reactors (NJ).

By contrast, the US is currently using irrigation systems on roughly 18.5 million acres of farmland. It takes about two acre-feet (Two acres of water, one foot deep) of water per year to produce crops, which works out to 651,702 gallons. So that means that the water used by a nuclear plant in a single minute very roughly equals that used by an acre of farmland all year.

Is there an alternative to using nuclear power? As a matter of fact, wind power is currently roughly comparable per kilowatt to what nuclear power is. Commercial nuclear power began in 1948, so nuclear power is a mature technology, a technology where we aren't likely to see any great cost reductions anytime soon. Wind power is currently in a stage where we can reasonably expect serious cost reductions over the next decade or so.

The author of a study in SolveClimate

arrived at an average cost for a nuclear plant: $8 billion for 2.21 GW [GigaWatts]

[snip]

At $1,920/kW, the capital costs of the wind farm would be $10.31 billion -- or $5.49/watt or $5,486/kW. That's 37% higher than our average nuke.

But that price advantage may not be permanent. The turbine is the biggest cost element of the wind farm setup. Fortunately, that's the element that's also the most likely to come down in price with technological development. And costs for nuclear power plants are soaring:

In the middle of 2006, reactor vendors estimated the overnight costs at $1,500 - $2,000 per kW. This year, only two years later, they now estimate $3,000/kW. That excludes the owner's costs and financing.

So yes, nuclear power is measurably cheaper than wind power now, but that doesn't look like a permanent state of affairs.

Update: My sister reminded me that if President Obama really wants to help America's energy picture, he might help the nuclear industry to re-start something that my father's company was working on when it went bankrupt. That would be a standard, basic nuclear plant such as France already has. Currently, one of the real problems with US plants that adds to their cost is that nuclear plants are all custom-built. For each and every plant, all of the spare parts have to be manufactured specifically for that particular plant. This adds enormously to the cost of maintaining those plants. Although it may be tempting to say "Let's never build a nuclear plant again," it's worth keeping in mind that nuclear plants were built to last 40 years, after which they have to be mothballed or pretty much entirely rebuilt.

It's also important to keep in mind that we're really not likely to be able to live without the nuclear plants we have for the foreseeable future. The Oildrum looks at the energy source that the US has after nuclear, wind and solar power, and that's hydrocarbons or oil. A report by six European companies might invite skepticism because they all have a strong vested interest in seeing substantial investments made in renewable energy. Nevertheless, it's worth noting that their report says that "peak oil" is already here (The world has already pumped half of all the oil there is). As China and India are rapidly expanding their economies (Indian and Chinese citizens watch American TV and like the idea of living like the characters in "Burn Notice" and "90210"), China and India are competing with the US for what oil remains, meaning the idea that America can do without nuclear energy for at least the next several decades is sheer wishful thinking.

2010/02/10

Y'know, it's funny...

It's funny how for years and years, right-wingers would express great derision and contempt for those who discover new rights. Roe vs Wade saw privacy rights that weren't expressed before, "Human Rights" in the late 1970s were considered a dangerous innovation, detainees incarcerated by the US under "War on Terror" theories were challenging their imprisonment based on habeas corpus (Does that doctrine apply to prisoners of war? Did the detainees even have that status?) etc.

A bit of background: In September 2002, President Bush made a speech about Iraq that was supposed to have Americans quaking in fear over Saddam Hussein's Weapons of Mass Destruction and anxious to rush over there and stomp the whole country. Instead, two weeks after the speech, a substantial number of opponents of the proposed war showed up in Washington DC to conduct a protest against it.


This is a picture I took an hour before the protest began. This was the first and last time I saw a policeman openly taking pictures of protesters. Did protesters make a legal complaint or did the police decide that their picture-taking wasn't having any deterrent effect? Who knows? Note that the crowd is like "Okay, our protest is being surveilled. Well, that's the price we pay for freedom and dissent." We collectively understood that political activity carried a bit of risk and we accepted that price.

So I had to chuckle mirthlessly when Rick Santorum published a piece in the Inky today about proponents of Proposition Hate Eight being politically attacked (They had signed a petition stating that they didn't wish to see equal rights extended to gays and lesbians, progressive groups asked that their names be revealed, they panicked at the thought that their neighbors would know their political leanings) and how those who have expressed hatred for their fellow citizens should be protected from discovery by their neighbors.

Now, I'm generally in favor of all sorts of new rights and privileges being extended to citizens, but since when did we ever have the right to support controversial political causes anonymously? Voting is an act where we must register with our town or city with our full name and address, give our signature and in Pennsylvania at least, must sign a register before voting. If we give money to a political group or to a candidate for office, we need to fill out a form declaring who we are, where we live, how much we're giving, etc. No one is permitted to wear a mask at a protest rally due to (More or less reasonable) fears that they might be a terrorist who might set off a bomb and then escape without anyone knowing who they are.

Santorum decries the liberal lack of respect for people who wish to deny their fellow citizens the same rights that they have and to some extent, he's got a point. But that point extends equally well to his side of the political spectrum. The town hall mini-mobs of August 2009 were not exactly exercises in decorum or respect. The bulldozing of CDs made by the Dixie Chicks reminded people of the burning of books in 1930s Germany. And the commentaries by prominent people like Glenn Beck don't really help the cause of civility.

So, I'm sorry, but I really can't work up much concern over people who want to engage in politics anonymously.

2010/02/06

Heartening news

[I wrote this for the Organizing For America/MyBarackObama website - Rich]

I was extremely heartened to see this in Daily Kos:

Charles Blow:
Since the State of the Union address, the president has been bounding about, displaying a new sense of vigor and confidence and a fighter’s spirit. He almost looks like the president people thought that he would be — a paladin, not a pacifist.
Why? Simple. Doing it Rahm's way didn't work, so now he's doing it his way.

I've never been impressed with Clintonian centrism. I've always felt that being successful on your own terms is vastly more useful to America and vastly more appreciated by voters than trying to slice ever-thinner slices of baloney and trying to target ever-more precisely that elusive middle-of-the-road voter's opinions. Centrism has proven over and over again to be an utter failure. The V-Chip was a much-appreciated centrist issue, a bloodless, technocratic, passion-free solution that President Clinton was happy to use. It was a good-enough campaign issue for 1996, when Clinton was up against Senator Bob Dole, a guy even my Republican father felt was simply too old for the job and a Right-wing vote that was split with Ross Perot. It was a fair-weather solution that was appropriate for good, sunny, trouble-free times.


Of course, it was obvious at the time that Clinton had no coattails and that for a politician to declare "I'm a loyal Clintonian" meant nothing of substance to voters. I noticed at the time that no one ever followed the collapse of Hillary Clinton's health care plan by trying to appeal to what she tried to do. There was no glory to recall, no battle-cry to revive. When the plan was defeated, it simply sunk without a trace. I felt that 2002 saw the complete and utter collapse of the DLC strategy. It's quite rare for an out-of-office party to actually lose seats in a mid-term election, but the DLC managed that highly unusual feat. I simply can't imagine why the DLC or its centrist strategy has had any credibility since then.


Apparently, the loss in Massachusetts has jolted the Obama Administration to realize anew the sheer folly and bankruptcy of trying to appeal to some mythical centrist voter that no one can ever locate precisely anyway. Obviously, Massachusetts would never have been a loss had the Democratic Party still been using Howard Dean's 50-State Strategy. Rahm Emanuel clearly thought Dean's ideas were no longer relevant. I'm happy to see the Obama Administration learn from its mistakes and that Emanuel simply does not have the better strategy.


As a proud DFH blogger, I strongly urge the whole Obama Administration to keep going on their new path. Whack the Republican obstructionists at every opportunity. Don't play the victim, but keep pointing out to the voters where the problems in Washington are and that you're trying your best to overcome the obstacles that Republicans keep throwing in your way. Getting all 60 of the Senators in the Democratic Caucus to vote for everything in the health care bill was an awful idea as getting those last few votes from Senators Joe Liebeman and Ben Nelson resulted in tearing the guts out of the bill and leaving just the really unpopular parts behind.


And remember, above all else keep this constantly in mind, the press corps is not your friend. These are a bunch of silly, vapid, go-along-to-get-along, mindless fashion victims who know nothing outside The Village, outside their Versailles-on-the-Potomac. Sure, go ahead and "consult" them, do what you must to stroke their egos, but please don't let yourselves be fooled into thinking they have any worthwhile insights to impart.

2010/02/05

Round-up on the news

Following up on the Inky's piece on the scientist caught up in "Climategate" (Comments following the piece are FULL of right-wingers claiming Global Warming/Climate Change is a hoax), the blog Booman Tribune goes into further detail, it reproduces the "hockey stick" graph wherein the temperature follows a fairly steady, very gradual cooling (with an especially deep dip in the late 1400s) with a very sharp sustained upward movement starting around 1900. Yes, there have been rises and falls in temperatures over the millennia, but not this quick. The graphs I've seen usually have changes taking place over very long periods of time. For the temperature to go up this sharply, this quickly, is unprecedented.

Very interesting piece on the origins of the housing bubble. I've noticed that neither of the progressive economists that I read, Dean Baker or Paul Krugman (For the record, they're both Keynesians and yes, they've both "called" many economic issues correctly) have a whole lot to say about what really caused the housing crisis, they both focus on the lack of action by the Federal Reserve once it was clear that there was a bubble. The right-wingers are correct in blaming Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac/the Community Reinvestment Act, but the two economists I cited and James Galbraith here make it clear that the crisis was a whole lot bigger than just those liberal institutions.

Democrats are convinced that the message of the Massachusetts special election to replace the late Senator Kennedy was "Jobs, jobs, jobs."
The only real point of dispute was that many of them feel that getting health care done and done right, is crucial to economic health

How IS health care going? Hard to say. Kudos to Speaker Pelosi for keeping up the good fight, and refusing to just pass the weaker Senate bill but there's so much behind-the-scenes stuff going on that we just don't know.

Media Matters has been having a huge amount of fun following the misadventure of James O'Keefe, who entered the office of Senator Mary Landreiu (D-LA) wearing the outfit of a telephone repairman and claiming he was there to fix her phone system.
And no, it's not the slightest bit believable that Andrew Breitbart, O'Keefe's employer, wasn't fully informed as to what O'Keefe was planning to do.
Very, very interestingly, Landreiu is the senior Democratic member of the Homeland Security Committee, which means her office receives all KINDS of VERY highly classified information.
Could this case be far more serious than it appears?

A blogger looks at that ol' question about political opponents who use blatantly bad arguments: "Stupid or evil?"