2009 - %3, June

Hypocrite of the Day

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 10:05 AM EDT

Iranian cleric Ahmad Khatami, sermonizing at Friday prayers in Tehran:

"I ask the judiciary to behave harshly and cruelly with the leaders of the protests, as they are fed by the U.S. and Israel, so that it will teach a lesson to others."

[...]

Khatami said [Mir-Hossein Mousavi's] calls to annul the vote are "words of force."

 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 26, 2009

Fri Jun. 26, 2009 9:57 AM EDT

Retired Staff Sgt. Bradley K. Gruetzner explains his prosthetic arm to servicemembers at Al Faw Palace, Camp Victory, Iraq, June 21. Greutzner, along with five other soldiers, have returned to Iraq to visit forward operating bases to witness the changes that have taken since their injuries. They are part of a pilot program, "Operation Proper Exit." Greutzner was injured May 26, 2007, by an improvised explosive device while traveling in a convoy 15 miles north of Baghdad. (Photo courtesy army.mil).

A Greenpeace & GOP Alliance?

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 9:46 AM EDT

As noted earlier, I am filling in for Kevin for a few days. He'll be back on Tuesday.

As the House gets closer today to a vote on the cap and trade climate change bill—or as President Barack Obama calls it, the energy jobs bill—Republican opponents of the legislation are finding cover from what is for them an unlikely source: Greenpeace. This morning, the office of House minority whip Eric Cantor sent to reporters an email containing a press release from Greenpeace that urges a vote against the measure:

Since the Waxman-Markey bill left the Energy and Commerce committee, yet another fleet of industry lobbysists has weakened the bill even more, and further widened the gap between what Waxman-Markey does and what science demands. As a result, Greenpeace opposes this bill in its current form. We are calling upon Congress to vote against this bill unless substantial measures are taken to strengthen it. Despite President Obama’s assurance that he would enact strong, science-based legislation, we are now watching him put his full support behind a bill that chooses politics over science, elevates industry interests over national interest, and shows the significant limitations of what this Congress believes is possible.

As it comes to the floor, the Waxman-Markey bill sets emission reduction targets far lower than science demands, then undermines even those targets with massive offsets. The giveaways and preferences in the bill will actually spur a new generation of nuclear and coal-fired power plants to the detriment of real energy solutions. To support such a bill is to abandon the real leadership that is called for at this pivotal moment in history.  We simply no longer have the time for legislation this weak.

Of this, a spinner for Cantor says: "Didn’t see this one coming… Greenpeace urges Congress to vote against Waxman-Markey.  Who is it that actually likes this bill?"

Of course, Cantor and other Republican foes of the legislation do not share any of Greenpeace's arguments. They're not upset about industry lobbyists weakening the measure. They're not offended by the give-aways to polluters. They're not worried that the bill doesn't reduce emissions to the levels called for by scientists. Nor are they aware that there has long been a debate within the enviro community about the merits of this bill and the entire cap and trade approach. They just see a cheap and easy talking point, and even though House Dems are unlikely to bring the bill to a vote if they don't have a majority, the GOPers smell blood.

******

I don't have much to say about Michael Jackson's death. As I Twittered yesterday, I recall an 1980s parody of The New York Post that had a front page that went something like this: "NUCLEAR WAR. Millions Dead. Including Michael Jackson." The media obsession with Michael Jackson that the parodists were poking at back then has been much evident in the past 24 hours. Cable dumped all news of Iran, the cap and trade bill, Farrah Fawcett, Iraq, and everything else. This morning, cable news networks did cut to the proceedings of the House of Representatives: to show Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. calling for a moment of silence for Jackson. One person, no doubt, didn't object to the uber-coverage: Governor Mark Sanford.

Which reminds me. Before MJ's demise, I heard a cable news anchor describe the Sanford story as a "sex scandal." I beg to differ. Read his emails. It's a "love scandal."

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Are Iraqi Forces Prepared to Take Over?

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 9:26 AM EDT

That was the question discussed by three Iraq experts on a press call Friday morning hosted by the National Security Network. In compliance with the Status of Forces Agreement struck with the Iraqi government in November 2008, US troops will complete their withdrawal from Iraq's cities by Tuesday, thus (hopefully?) ending an era of US involvement in the country--and, of course, inaugurating a new one. Come next week, Iraqi soldiers and police will take over all active patrols in the country's major urban centers. They've been training for the job for years. And though we all remember reports from a few years ago of Iraqi units that were nothing more than paper phantoms, by all accounts the security forces have more recently made great strides.

But while Iraqi units have been trained and equipped, one of the more pressing questions is whether they have the logistical capacity to maintain operations without extensive US assistance. "Everybody claims to be a tactician, [but] professionals are logisticians," says Paul Eaton, a former Army major general who led the training of Iraqi forces after the 2003 invasion. "When American soldiers pull out of the urban concentrations, will there be a logistical tail to support the Iraqi soldiers, so [they] will have faith in the chain of command that they're gonna be resupplied and, if wounded or hurt, that they'll be evacuated? That 'if' I cannot answer. We will see it develop." 

Eco-News Roundup: Friday, June 26

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 6:01 AM EDT

Happy Friday. Before the weekend gets rolling, here are the environment, health, and energy-related stories from our other blogs.

Like a Dog who Speaks Norwegian: Sanford is a rare, rare creature: an introverted politician.

Have it Your Way: Burger King equates a big sandwich with something else... big.

The C Word: Obama talks about cap and trade bill without using the phrase "climate change."

And Now He's Dead: King of Pop dies not of mysterious ailment, but likely of a very ordinary heart attack. News arc swings wildly in response. At least for a day or two.

The Climate Bill's Biofuel Boondoggle

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 7:41 PM EDT

In what may be this week's worst amendment to the Waxman-Markey climate bill, a midwestern Congressman has introduced a provision that would ban the EPA from accounting for the full carbon footprint of biofuels.

Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the powerful chair of the House Committee on Agriculture, is expected to attach the amendment before releasing the bill to the House floor, where a vote is expected as early as tomorrow. The change would prevent the EPA from accounting for the way that growing biofuel crops in the U.S. drives food production abroad, causing deforestation that contributes to climate change. Ignoring this "indirect land-use change"--the technical term for a phenemon that can account for up to 40 percent of corn-based ethanol's carbon emissions--would allow the fuel to qualify under the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard, making it eligible for government subsidies.

In effect, the ethanol industry is hiding behind the difficulty of calculating its own environmental footprint. Though the EPA  has already devised a method to account for the land-use impacts of biofuels, the amendment prohibits the agency from implementing it for six years, at which point the National Academy of Sciences will have completed a study that is supposed to resolve lingering uncertanties with the method. 

 

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King of Pop Dead, News Arc Shifts in His Wake

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 5:30 PM EDT

Clearly Michael Jackson will leave his mark. He might not on those young enough for whom their memories of Jackson are of a bizarre Neverland, of a baby hanging out a window, of a bed inappropriately crowded with children. But those of us who lugged our boom boxes to school to play "Thriller" and "Beat It" on cassette tape during recess, we are the ones who know the impact that the troubled but absolutely brilliant artist had on our lives. Still, since Jackson's brilliance changed music, he'll leave tracks on anyone who's every moonwalked, breakdanced, or rhymed in the cadence and pitch that made him, well, the King of Pop. Anyone who grooves to an iPod, you have Michael to thank somehow.

On a less eulogic note (and there will be oh-so-many retrospectives), this news is already rocking the headlines and leaving everything else (even Farrah) in its dust. As Andrew Sullivan points out, there goes cable coverage of Iran. And now Mark Sanford doesn't have to worry about gracing the cover of any of the weekly tabs. He and his too-much-information emails can fade to black now (and we don't even have to worry about whether it's okay that the governor of South Carolina doesn't know the difference between a whirlwind and a "world wind").

Favorite Michael song of all time? "We are the World" was iconic, the whole Thriller album had the dance beats ("PYT," "Human Nature," etc.) people still cling to, but my pick is "Man in the Mirror." Maybe because to me it feels most ironic, and most honest.

Yours?

When Is a Climate Bill Not a Climate Bill?

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 5:27 PM EDT

As I noted earlier, I was at the White House for President Barack Obama's remarks on the pending energy bill. The fact that he held this event was widely seen as a sign that the White House is worried about tomorrow's vote in the House on this cap and trade measure. Actually, this wasn't really an event. Obama just came out to a podium set up in the Rose Garden and spoke into a television camera. There were a couple dozen reporters standing and watching. But we were not the audience. Viewers at home probably thought the president was speaking before an important group of legislators or citizens who had been assembled at the White House. But no, he was talking to those viewers themselves, trying to gin up support for the bill.

What was noticeable was the number of times he used the phrase "climate change": none. Or the number of times he referred to the bill as cap and trade legislation: none. He depicted the legislation as a jobs bill--using "jobs" nine times in the short statement. He was explicit:

Now, make no mistake -- this is a jobs bill.  We're already seeing why this is true in the clean energy investments we're making through the Recovery Act.  In California, 3,000 people will be employed to build a new solar plant that will create 1,000 jobs.  In Michigan, investments in wind turbines and wind technology is expected to create over, 2,600 jobs.  In Florida, three new solar projects are expected to employ 1,400 people.

The list goes on and on, but the point is this:  This legislation will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy.  That will lead to the creation of new businesses and entire new industries.  And that will lead to American jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced.

Everyone knows, I suppose, this is also a climate change bill, and that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary. But in the face of opposition from GOPers and others who claim this "cap and tax" measure will wreck the economy, Obama stayed away from an overly enviro-ish argument for the legislation. It's not about saving the planet; it's about getting you or someone you know a job.

Perhaps this is a politically savvy tactic. It is worrisome a bit, since scientists say that greater reductions than prompted by this bill will be needed to redress climate change. Obama is hardly teeing up the ball for that sort of debate.

When the president was done, he quickly trotted off, without taking questions from the correspondents. ABC News' Jake Tapper did shout at him: Are you satisfied with a bill that auctions off only 15 percent of the carbon credits, not 100 percent? (On the campaign trail, Obama supported the 100 percent mark.) The president didn't acknowledge the question. He kept on walking back to the Oval Office.

******

Meanwhile, it was not all serious policy and political stuff at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue today. Tonight is the annual congressional picnic, which has been turned into a luau on the South Lawn. One feature at this party will be a dunk tank--with Rahm Emanuel as the to-be-dunked prize. Good marketing. Plenty of House members probably want to try to hit that target. But at the afternoon press briefing, Robert Gibbs managed to talk his way into being dunked by the press corps. presuming any of the reporters could throw a good pitch.

So at 5:30, before the official festivities were to begin, reporters were escorted to the backyard of the White House for the potential dunking. As we walked through the rear of the Rose Garden, I spotted Obama at the other end of the garden, sticking his head out a door to the West Wing. "Come on," I shouted at him. "Join us. Take a throw." He smiled, shook his head. "Just one pitch!" I said. "Show us your arm." He waved and said, "They won't let me take a shot at him."

We proceeded to the South Lawn, and there was Gibbs perched in the tank. Four reporters got the opportunity to dunk him. Bill Plante of CBS scored. So did an AP reporter. Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times threw hard but missed, as did a Fox News correspondent. Gibbs laughed his way through the ordeal, as TV camera people and photographers recorded the event. It was a great PR move for him: what a good sport.

Then our minders quickly rushed us away, as preparations for the luau continued--and White House aides, no doubt, went back to worrying about the pending vote on the cap and trade bill.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

 

Yes, Michael Jackson is Dead

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 5:25 PM EDT

I can't believe TMZ was right. Michael Jackson, King of Pop, is actually dead at age 50, reports the Los Angeles Times. From reports looks like he was in a "deep coma" when LA Fire Department picked him up, and then died. Sad news.

My personal MJ memory: carrying around a battered cassette tape of Thriller for years, to be played mostly on my sky-blue boombox. Yes, I was a child of the 80s. My mother wouldn't let me watch the Thriller video (too scary, and un-Christian), so I secretly danced to it at my friend's house who (blessedly) had both MTV and a VCR player. As someone who took years and years of ballet and other forms of dance, I will say the man was an amazing dancer. If any of you are interested in seeing some of the art he collected (some is legit, some schmaltzy), check out the auction of property he held last month at an LA auction house here.

The Internet Can Boil Pasta and Heat My Home Too!

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 4:22 PM EDT

Last November, in our "Top 20 Econudrums," we asked whether it was more environmentally friendly to read the paper in print or online. It's a question with a surprising answer: As it turns out, it's often greener to read dead trees. This is true largely because of the giant environmental impact of servers. But thanks to some techies in Zurich, that could change soon.

Here's a little background: Server farms—also known as data centers—are the enormous housing facilities that make the internet possible. A single Google data center, in Oregon consumes as much energy as a city of 200,000. That's because servers not only have to be on 24/7, they need to be kept cool 24/7.  Up to 50 percent of the power they use is just to keep them from melting down.  Overall, the internet is responsible for 2% of global carbon emissions, about the same as the aviation industry.  And as the internet becomes increasingly prevalent in China and India, well, that means a whole lot more Xiaonei pages and Orkut accounts that will need hosting.

So it is good news, nay, great news, that the IBM lab in Zurich has developed a new cooling technology by attaching teeny-weeny water pipes to the surface of each computer chip in a server. Water is piped within microns of the chip to cool it down, then the waste water is piped out hot enough to make a cup of Ramen, heat a building, or keep a swimming pool warm. The new cooling system will reduce the carbon footprint of servers by 85 percent and the energy use by 40 percent. If this technology were in MoJo's office we could ditch the electric tea kettle and just go to the server closet to steep our chai. Check out a video of the technology after the break.