2007 - %3, November

A New Line Of Attack For Lantos Challenger

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 9:51 PM EST

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The campaign of Jackie Speier, a former California state senator who has all but announced her primary challenge to Tom Lantos' House seat, is going to have plenty of fodder, if she decides to use it, for nasty attack ads. Throughout his 14 terms in Congress, Lantos, 79, has compiled a mainstream liberal record on domestic issues but on foreign affairs—well, to call him "hawkish" would be a gross understatement. Speier, for example, could point to Lantos' starring role in pushing the fabricated Gulf War-era story of Iraqi soldiers removing Kuwaiti babies from their incubators and leaving them to die. She could also quote a report by Ha'aretz, later denied by Lantos, that he told an Israeli lawmaker in 2002, "We'll be rid of the bastard [Saddam] soon enough. And in his place we'll install a pro-Western dictator, who will be good for us and for you." Just as easily, she could point to the shameful hold Lantos put on reconstruction aid for Lebanon in 2006 or the fact that he has ratcheted up tensions with Iran. Indeed, she could highlight his chillingly Bushian turns of phrase, like when he cheered NATO as "the military arm of the civilized world" and called Germany's Gerhard Schroder a "political prostitute" last summer.

Yes, Speier could do any of those things, but I'd like to submit to her an entirely original framework of attack. Call it the Mr. Burns paradigm:

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Green Jobs Growing

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 8:08 PM EST

solar-panel-1.jpg Thanks to Grist for pointing the way to a fact sheet from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute showing that clean energy, already a job-creation engine, will soon rev even higher:

• Energy efficiency now employs 8 million, and renewable energy 450,000, in the U.S. • Renewable energy creates more jobs per megawatt of power installed, unit of energy produced, and dollar invested than fossil energy. • Generating 20 percent of U.S. electricity from new renewable energy by 2020 will add 185,000 new jobs, while cumulatively reducing utility bills $10.5 billion and increasing rural landowner income by $26.5 billion. • A national light vehicle efficiency standard of 35 mpg by 2018 will create 241,000 jobs, including 23,900 in the automotive sector, while saving consumers $37 billion in 2020 alone. • The Massachusetts clean energy sector employs 14,000 and will soon be the state's 10th largest economic sector. • Washington state's 15 percent renewable energy standard will result in a net increase of 1,230 jobs in-state. • California's Million Solar Roof Initiative will generate 15,000 jobs there. • Germany employs 214,000 in renewable energy, including 64,000 in wind. • Denmark's wind industry employs 20,000 and Spain's 35,000. • U.S. wind power was responsible for 16,000 direct jobs and 36,800 total jobs in 2006. •

Not to mention which, renewables revive communities.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Good News on Storing CO2 Underground

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 7:38 PM EST

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Very promising news. Looks like storing carbon dioxide deep below the earth's surface might be a safe, long-term sequestration solution. University of Leeds (they're busy there) research found that porous sandstone, drained of oil, provides a safe reservoir for CO2. Investigator Stephanie Houston examined water pumped out with the oil and found it unexpectedly rich in silica, revealing that silicates had dissolved in the newly-injected seawater in less than a year—much faster than predicted. This is the type of reaction needed to make CO2 as stable as, say, the dissolved carbonate in still mineral water. It's also what's needed to prevent the captured CO2 leaking back to the surface at some future (catastrophic) date.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Biodiesel Sludge Converted to Hydrogen

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 6:30 PM EST

241469637_3334f8faa3_m.jpg What to do with the byproduct of biodiesel? You know, that low-grade sludge that's produced, molecule for molecule, alongside biodiesel. Well, scientists at the University of Leeds have turned the unwanted crude glycerol (sludge) into a high-value hydrogen rich gas. The novel process developed by Valerie Dupont and her co-investigators mixes glycerol with steam at controlled temperatures and pressures, separating the waste product into hydrogen, water and carbon dioxide, with no residues. A special absorbent material filters out the CO2, leaving a purer product.

Currently hydrogen production is expensive and unsustainable, using either increasingly scarce fossil fuels or other less efficient methods such as water electrolysis. The new process is near carbon neutral, since the CO2 generated is not derived from the use of fossil fuels.

Let's hope the new processes emerging from a worldwide explosion of research prove green, sustainable, and economically feasible.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Fred Thompson's New Watergate Ad: Get Me Rewrite!

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 5:55 PM EST

Fred Thompson has a new ad touting his days as the top Republican lawyer on the Senate Watergate committee's staff:

Click to play

In the ad, he boasts of having "helped to expose the truth during Watergate."

The story is not that simple. As Thompson himself acknowledged in a 1975 book, right after the congressional Watergate investigators learned of Richard Nixon's clandestine taping system, Thompson tipped off the Nixon White House that the Capitol Hill gumshoes had uncovered this big secret. This was not S.O.P. for a prosecutor. (Thompson had been an assistant U.S. attorney previously.) A member of an investigative team usually does not unilaterally rush to tell the subject of a probe--via an unofficial back channel--that he or she has just discovered a possible treasure trove of evidence against the target.

Referring to this episode, Scott Armstrong, an investigator for the Democrats on the committee, in July told The Boston Globe, "Thompson was a mole for the White House. Fred was working hammer and tong to defeat the investigation of finding out what happened to authorize Watergate and find out what the role of the president was."

The Nixon tapes show that Thompson also cooperated behind the scenes with the Nixon White House regarding how to handle the public testimony of John Dean, a White House lawyer who had turned against Nixon and his aides. (On those tapes, Nixon referred to Thompson as not "very smart" but "friendly," meaning friendly to the White House, not to children and puppies.) In a conversation with Nixon on June 11, 1973, shortly before Dean was to testify, J. Fred Buzhardt, a Nixon lawyer, informed the president that Thompson was "now willing to work with us" in trying to undermine Dean. "He was far more cooperative really than I expected him to be," Buzhardt remarked, noting that Thompson "said it's just getting to be a political dogfight." Buzhardt also told Nixon that Thompson was more willing to engage in political battle concerning the hearings than Senator Howard Baker, the top Republican on the Watergate committee, who had hired Thompson, a fellow Tennessean. (The transcripts of these tapes were published in 1997 in Abuse of Power, edited by Stanley Kutler.)

On his website, Thompson neglects to mention his role as a snitch and Nixon comrade. In his campaign bio, only one line describes his Watergate committee service:

He gained national attention for leading the line of inquiry that revealed the audio-taping system in the White House Oval Office.

That's not accurate.

In Defense of Uncomfortable Air Travel

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 2:55 PM EST

air%20travel%20200.jpgThe heaviest travel weekend of the year is over, and the verdict is in: "Flying coach has become an increasingly miserable experience," says the New York Times. In an article called "Aboard Planes, Class Conflict," Michelle Higgins enumerates the various ways in which modern air travel, well, sucks: The seats are tiny. Blankets and pillows are scarce. Free meals have become a distant memory.

This weekend, I traveled a round-trip total of 5,408 miles to spend Thanksgiving with my family in Boston. Sure, it was cramped (barely even enough room to turn the pages of Sky Mall) and the miniature allotment of pretzels (flung at me in my window-seat cave) didn't exactly tide me over for six hours, but basically, I spent most of both plane rides asleep, and the whole thing was astoundingly easy. From one coast to another! In only five hours! Coming back yesterday morning, I boarded the plane while it was still dark and rainy in Boston, but as the trip wore on the day dawned clear in the West, and I spent a good half hour staring out the window and marveling at how I was being whisked across the country. There go the snow-capped Rockies! Onto the Sierra Nevadas! I arrived at work in San Francisco only an hour late. I'd love to see my family more often, and after this easy trip back home, I began to think I could. But should I? Probably not.

Convenient though it may be, air travel is not exactly green. By some estimates, flights account for nearly four percent of human contribution to global warming. But there's a deeper problem, too. Environmentalists like Wendell Berry would argue that we've allowed ourselves to abuse our earth as much as we already have because we feel disconnected from it. No matter how tiny your seat is on a plane, it's pretty easy to feel divorced from the planet when you're zooming across it at 30,000 feet up.

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Romney: No Muslims in My Cabinet

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 2:10 PM EST

Mitt Romney was recently asked if a Muslim American might serve in his cabinet, considering the magnitude of the threat Romney believes radical Islam poses to America. According to a first-hand account in CS Monitor, Romney responded, "…based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration."

Muslims are one percent of the American population. Mormons are two percent. Using Romney's weird quota-based system for deciding the ethnic makeup of his cabinet, which he seemingly decried on CNN, Romney would have to discriminate against members of his own faith.

One wonders if a Mormon should be president at all, considering how few members of that faith there are in America. Maybe Romney should run for governor of Utah. The ethnic mathematics make more sense there.

Update: Steven Benen adds, "Open and unabashed discrimination towards certain Americans — Muslims and gays, among others — is not only acceptable to too many conservatives, it's expected. It's why Romney's vow to discriminate against Muslims will probably not hurt him politically."

Update Update: A commentor at Think Progress notes that Romney's cabinet will have to be 51 percent women.

More Affordable Gift Ideas, Courtesy of Liberal Bloggers Fighting the War on Christmas

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 12:22 PM EST

If you don't have the big bucks needed to buy anything off of Salon's holiday shopping guide, you might find something more affordable on this list, a real oldie-but-goodie if I do say so myself. All of the George W. Bush action figures (cod pieces included!) listed there are still available, though spending $19.99-$29.99 to buy your dog a chew toy might be a tad steep. Into Salon territory, even.

partridge-pear-tree.jpgUpdate: Speaking of unaffordable gift ideas, anyone looking to buy all of the gifts in The Twelve Days of Christmas better have a serious chunk of change. Swans-a-swimming and lords-a-leaping are all pretty pricey (and just getting pricier): the total cost of all the gifts, according to the PNC Christmas Price Index, is $19,507, a 3.1 percent increase over last year. A partridge, however, might make a nice symbolic gift. You can get one for $15. (Pear tree: $149.)

Update: This isn't the first time we've examined the rising cost of french hens.

DaimlerChrysler Financial Forces Army Reservist to Fight Car Rip-Off From Iraq

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 12:13 PM EST

On Monday, I posted a story about one of the new hazards of buying a used car, namely the now-common practice by car dealers of forcing customers to waive their rights to access the legal system as a condition of buying a car. The idea is that if the dealership rips you off, you have to submit to private, binding arbitration, conducted by an arbitration firm hired by the dealership instead of filing a lawsuit. The rules in arbitration are a lot different than the regular courts, in ways that create hardships for consumers. Those hardships are a lot worse if you happen to be deployed to Iraq.

Congressmen and Senators: "If You're Really Good, You Can Move Up to Become a Lobbyist"

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 11:44 AM EST

Politico takes its lumps every now and again, here and elsewhere, but today they shall get their praise. They have a really great piece by Jeanne Cummings on Trent Lott's resignation, which uses Lott's dash for cash as a microcosm for the way in which lobbying has poisoned Washington.

The Lott resignation and its fallout offer a striking, if somewhat unusual, glimpse at how incestuous the relationships between lobbyists and politicians have become in recent years.
In a nutshell, the story goes like this: A U.S. senator resigns to become a lobbyist, a former lobbyist (Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour) is in charge of naming his replacement, and a lead candidate to fill the slot (Mississippi Rep. Chip Pickering) finds himself in a complicated spot, since he recently put in motion his own plan to cash out from the U.S. House.
Maybe it has always been this way, but the dizzying pace of lawmakers-turned-lobbyists these days suggests not.
After all, it was not so long ago that K Street jobs were considered consolation prizes for loser lawmakers — charity cases, if you will, that leaned on the quiet generosity of grateful lobbyists after being rejected by voters or becoming too aged or controversial to remain on Capitol Hill.
Money changed all that. As the jobs became more lucrative, including million-dollar contracts, lawmakers found it easier to get over any squeamishness about pitching a client's cause to a former colleague. It also moved up the timing of such a career change, from the closing days of a political career to its twilight to, in Lott's case, a peak.
"It's very clear that being able to go and lobby is seen as the upward track," said Meredith McGehee, of the Campaign Legal Center. "In the old days, you would make money and do these things and then maybe get to run for Congress or the Senate. Today, you run for Congress or the Senate and then, if you're really good, you can move up to become a lobbyist."