2010 - %3, July

Housekeeping Note

| Wed Jul. 28, 2010 5:50 PM PDT

hello, world.

Ah, excellent. Everything seems to be working. Sorry for the radio silence today. Last week Southern California Edison informed us that we might suffer a planned power outage today, and I foolishly assumed this meant the lights might go out for half an hour at some point during the morning. Nope. The lights went out at 8:30 am, a whole bunch of big trucks with gigantic reels of thick cable pulled up, workers did mysterious things all day, and at 5:30 pm the lights came back on.

So....did anything interesting happen while I was gone?

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Arizona's Immigration D-Day

| Wed Jul. 28, 2010 4:00 PM PDT

Hours before it was set to take effect, a federal judge blocked some of the most controversial parts of Arizona's harsh immigration law, issuing an injunction applauded by its opponents. But starting Thursday at midnight, there will still be a slew of anti-immigration measures that will take hold in the state. And it's only the beginning of the political and legal firefight surrounding the law.

In her decision on Wednesday, US District Judge Susan Bolton blocked parts of the law that would have required police to determine the immigration status of everyone they stop and suspect to be in the country illegally, saying that the measure could cause "irreparable harm" if they were implemented. "Even though Arizona’s interests may be consistent with those of the federal government, it is not in the public interest for Arizona to enforce preempted laws," Bolton wrote in her injunction. The ruling also prevents Arizona from enforcing provisions making it illegal to be caught without immigration documents and allowing the arrests of suspected illegal immigrants without a warrant.

BP Mental Health Break: Real Bear Rescues Stuffed Bear

| Wed Jul. 28, 2010 3:37 PM PDT

From AP by way of New York magazine comes word of the most adorable crime ever. A New Hampshire black bear broke into someone's house, ate some pears, drank some water, and then rescued a teddy bear from human servitude on his way out:

According to homeowner Mary Beth Parkinson, the real bear fled when he heard the sound of her garage door going up but "grabbed a stuffed bear" just before lumbering out the door.

See? Don't you feel slightly better already about Mac's latest BP news?

Yet Another Oil Disaster ... in Michigan

| Wed Jul. 28, 2010 12:16 PM PDT

The Gulf disaster is still far from over, even if members of the national press apparently need help finding the oil. But now there's another oil disaster to worry about. Calhoun County, Michigan is in the midst of what might be the worst oil spill ever in the Midwest.

At least 19,000 barrels of crude leaked from an oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy of Canada into the Talmadge Creek sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning. The creek leads to the Kalamazoo River, a major waterway that feeds into Lake Michigan. Already, the spill has spread 16 miles downriver. Gov. Jennifer Granholm declared the area a disaster zone on Tuesday night.

The Michigan Messenger is on the story, reporting that there seems to have been a significant lag time between when local residents first reported the spill and when the company officially acknowledged it. There's also some discrepancy between the company's estimate of the spill (19,000 barrels) and the Environmental Protection Agency's (23,800 barrels). Imagine that ...

More disturbing? Apparently this is a regular event for Enbridge:

This is not the first time the Canadian oil company has had contact with PHMSA officials. Documents from the agency show that Enbridge Energy pipelines have leaked oil on 12 different occasions in Michigan since 2002.
Most of those leaks were very small, between one and 25 barrels of oil (each barrel contains 42 gallons). But in three cases the company's pipeline spewed 100, 120 and 500 barrels into the surrounding area. None of the spills caused injuries or death, PHMSA documents show. Those 12 cases caused a total of more than $810,000 in property damage.

Mind you, Louisiana also had to deal with another gusher yesterday as a tug boat struck a wellhead, spewing oil and natural gas 100 feet into the air.

Duncan Names Race to the Top Finalists

| Wed Jul. 28, 2010 11:31 AM PDT

On Tuesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan named eighteen states and the District of Columbia as finalists in the second round of Race to the Top, an education reform competition with $3.4 billion still up for grabs. But as states continue overhauling their public schools in hopes of winning some desperately needed cash, President Obama's other major education reform initiative is stalling in Congress.

Funded by the 2009 economic stimulus and kicked off early this year, Race to the Top has led states to evaluate teachers based on student achievement, loosen statewide limits on public charter school growth, and adopt national curriculum standards. In years past, when billion-dollar carrots were not being dangled before states with massive education budget gaps, these reforms would have taken years of squabbling to enact. Duncan described the large volume of state-level reform as a "quiet revolution."

The finalists are Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina. Duncan will name the competition's 10 to 15 winners in September, though Race to the Top's first round yielded only two winners among 16 finalists.

Senate Fail: Let's Name Names

| Wed Jul. 28, 2010 11:25 AM PDT

Environmental groups are holding onto hope that the Senate will do something about climate change this year, or at least hope that they can shame senators for not acting on the issue. In a joint statement, 26 national groups and dozens of state and regional green and progressive groups yesterday condemned the failure to pass legislation in the Senate and pointed to the oil spill as evidence that "there’s never been a more urgent time to move forward with a clean energy and climate policy."

The statement is nice, but I wish they would have called out the specific Senators who remain a problem. I don't mean only Republicans; there are a number of Democrats who wouldn't have voted for a climate bill this year, either, which is why it didn't make its way into the Senate package.

From the letter:

There's no doubt that big oil, big coal, their army of lobbyists and their partners in Congress are cheering the obstruction that blocked Senate action on clean energy and climate legislation. Their cheers are cheers for China taking the lead in clean energy jobs, the Middle East getting more of our money, and America getting more pollution and fewer jobs.

At every opportunity, a minority of Senators who are in the pocket of America’s largest polluters in the coal and oil industries chose obstruction over working together to solve America’s energy and national security challenges. As a result of their actions, the big polluters will continue to reap record profits at the expense of Americans.

As we look forward, one thing is clear: the Senate’s job is not done. They must use every opportunity available to address clean energy and climate reform by working to limit carbon pollution and invest in new clean energy sources that are made in America, including protecting the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to crack down on polluters.

Disappointment in the Senate is justifiable. But activists should name names.

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Mainstream Media Helps BP Pretend There's No Oil

| Wed Jul. 28, 2010 11:07 AM PDT

"WASHINGTON (AFP) – With BP's broken well in the Gulf of Mexico finally capped, the focus shifts to the surface clean-up and the question on everyone's lips is: where is all the oil?"

NEW ORLEANS (Mother Jones) – I don't know who the fuck these everyones are, but I'm happy to help out them, and ABC, and this AFP reporter writing that due to BP's stunningly successful skimming and burning efforts, "the real difficulty now is finding any oil to clean up."

I sent one text message to Bloomberg's Lizzie O'Leary, who's standing on Grand Isle, Louisiana, right now, asking how the beach looks. "Lower part past the barrier untouched with globs of oil that washed up last night," she said. By "untouched," she means by cleanup crews, and that "barrier" she's talking about is the one the press isn't allowed past. I sent another text to Drew Wheelan, who's also in Southwestern Louisiana, doing bird surveys for the American Birding Association, asking him how big the biggest tar mat on Grand Terre—the scene of those now famous horrifying oiled-bird photos—is. "20 feet by 15," he said. "But bigger ones submerged slightly."

If I managed to find that much oil with my BlackBerry without getting dressed or leaving the house, let's hope Thad Allen, who is quoted in the article as saying, "What we're trying to figure out is where is all the oil at and what can we do about it," can locate some more with the staff and craft of the United States Coast Guard at his disposal. As for the reporter's alarmingly unsubstantiated claim that "The beaches should be relatively painless to mop up," I can't even count the number of correspondents down here who've pointed out that digging a finger under the surface of supposedly clean sand turns up crude, or the number of cleanup workers who've said cleanup efforts are strictly cosmetic, or that no matter what they do the contamination just keeps bubbling up.

It's BP's job to whitewash this story and make it easier to indulge the desire to forget about the scope of the devastation, guys. Not the media's.

Young Voters Sour on Obama

| Wed Jul. 28, 2010 10:55 AM PDT

Democrats are bleeding support from young voters who helped propel President Obama into office in 2008. In a Quinnipiac University poll released last week, voters aged 18 to 34 said they would choose a generic Republican over President Obama, 37 percent to 34 percent, were the 2012 election held today. By contrast, voters aged 35 to 54 still favored Obama by a margin of 40 to 36 percent.

Obama's approval rating among young voters—as with most other sectors of the population—has been dropping steadily since the beginning of his presidency. "Among voters in their twenties, Obama’s approval rating was 73 percent shortly after his January 2009 inauguration. A year later, in February 2010, that number slipped to 57 percent," writes Sam Jacobs in The Daily Beast. Jacobs theorizes that the troubled economy has hit young workers especially hard, fueling their dissatisfaction with the president. The jobless rate among young workers aged 16 to 24, for instance, has hit a record high: though they make up only 13 percent of the labor force, this age group represented a quarter of the unemployed in April. And the grim economic outlook seems to have proven particularly disillusioning to new entrants into the labor force.

Democrats had been planning to use Obama's personal appeal to persuade 2008 supporters of the president to turn out for this year's midterm elections, reaching out to voters through groups like Organizing for America, which mobilized Obama's grassroots army. Obama is still more popular than the Democrats or Congress, whose approval ratings are abysmally low. But it will be that much harder for the Dems to rev up youthful enthusiasm for "the president's allies" come November.

The View From My Windshield: On a Whim

| Wed Jul. 28, 2010 8:52 AM PDT

Whatever: Why would you name your town Whynot You can problably guess the answer, “They were gonna get incorporated, so they were sitting’ around trying to figure out what to name it and, and they were arguing and arguing, and someone said, ‘whynot Whynot?’”Sure, Go For It: Whynot, Mississippi: Why would you name your town Whynot? The answer's kind of self-evident, but here's the explanation I got: "They were gonna get incorporated, so they were sitting around trying to figure out what to name it and, and they were arguing and arguing, and someone said, ‘whynot Whynot?'"

Enviro Links: Gibbs Keeps Climate Hope Alive, BP Seeks $10 Billion Tax Deduction, and More

| Wed Jul. 28, 2010 7:32 AM PDT

Today in climate news:

At yesterday's press conference, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered a little bit of hope that climate legislation could make a comeback this year. "I don’t think the bill is essentially dead for the year," said Gibbs. "The House passed a very strong and very comprehensive energy bill last year. The Senate is going to take up a version that is more scaled down but still has some important aspects, particularly dealing with how we deal with oil spills in the future. But I don't think that closes the door—once a bill passes, each House doesn’t close the door to having some sort of conference."

Nate Silver also argues that cap and trade legislation might be revived, but as a deficit-reduction measure.

Even if a federal cap and trade program faces an uncertain future, regional programs are trudging forward. On Tuesday, the Western Climate Initiative, a group of seven states and four Canadian provinces, rolled out a blueprint for its regional program, slated to begin in 2012.

And in oil disaster news:

This will go over well: BP wants a $10 billion tax deduction on what the company spends on oil spill clean up. The company said yesterday that it has set aside $32.2 billion to deal with the Gulf disaster.

A team of federal investigators—"the BP squad"—is focusing their Gulf probe on BP, Transocean, and Halliburton, as well as the relationship the companies had with regulators.

The Senate Foreign Relations hearing on BP's role in the freeing of the Lockerbie bomber scheduled for Wednesday had to be postponed because none of the current or former British and Scottish officials or the BP executives asked to testify would agree to show up.

Louisiana can't catch a break. On Tuesday morning, a tugboat hit a well head near Mud Lake, causing oil and natural gas to spew 100 feet into the air.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is continuing his crusade to build barriers that are harmful to the long-term health of the Gulf Coast but good for his political career.