2007 - %3, December

Green Energy the Next Frontier

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 9:40 PM EST

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Great piece by Declan Butler in Nature on the new venture capitalism in Silicon Valley. Green energy, folks. California gold. Butler reports how the venture-capital industry in the US spent $2.6 billion on clean-energy technologies in the first three-quarters of this year. Up from $1.8 billion in 2006, and $533 million in 2005. Google joined the game last week, committing millions more to solar, wind and geothermal, seeking a technology patch to make renewables cheaper than coal. A few weeks earlier, Al Gore's London-based Generation Investment Management partnered with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in Menlo Park—the green-energy investors that nurtured Amazon, Google and Genentech—to fund global climate solutions.

For the fast-moving entrepreneurs of the [Silicon] [V]alley… the next frontier is the roughly US$6-trillion energy market, where the dinosaurs of power-generation utilities have traditionally invested a pittance in research and development. "Venture capital is exactly what we need to try new things outside the bounds of what the traditional energy companies think is worth doing," says Vinod Khosla, a veteran entrepreneur who co-founded Sun Microsystems and now heads Khosla Ventures in Menlo Park, one of the most prominent clean-energy venture-capital firms. "There is almost no technology risk-taking in any of the energy companies." Khosla predicts that within five years there will be a green form of electricity that is cheaper than coal, and cleaner fuels that are cheaper than oil.

Butler also notes that although the US lags far behind Europe's leaders, Denmark and Germany, in renewables, its venture-capital investments in clean tech now more than double those in Europe.

California scooped $726.2 million of this year's US clean-tech venture funding, followed by Massachusetts ($292.6 million) and Texas ($149.4 million). Almost $1 billion of US investment went abroad, including a $200-million investment in Brazil's Brazilian Renewable Energy, which produces ethanol, and a $118-million investment in China's Yingli Green Energy Holding Company, which makes photovoltaic solar systems.

This is the reason I refuse to surrender all hope.

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

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Bye-Bye Cookie

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 5:49 PM EST

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Reuters reports that Howard "Cookie" Krongard has decided to resign as the State Department's inspector general. The decision comes after a disastrous appearance last month before Rep. Henry Waxman's House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, where Krongard's testimony invited charges of perjury. Krongard, who had allegedly interfered in an arms smuggling investigation targeting Blackwater USA, initially denied that his brother Buzzy Krongard (a former high-ranking CIA official) was a member of that company's advisory board. He later changed his tune after reaching Buzzy by phone during a break in the hearing.

It's unclear why Cookie would have lied. But if by doing so he was trying to protect his brother, the favor went unreturned when reporters reached Buzzy for comment: He explained that he'd told Cookie about his Blackwater affiliation weeks before the hearing. Seeing as Cookie's congressional testimony had been under oath, the revelation may have opened him up to prosecution. So much for brotherly love.

I spoke with several congressional staffers last week, who suggested that both Cookie and Buzzy would be called to appear before Waxman's committee to account for Cookie's bizarre testimony. But now that Cookie has thrown in the towel, it's unclear if the hearing will take place. According to a statement released this afternoon by Waxman's office, "Mr. Krongard's decision removes an enormous distraction from the Inspector General's office and will allow the office to focus on its important oversight responsibilities. The Committee will certainly take this new development into account."

Whatever happens, the lack of affection between the brothers Krongard appears to be indicative of larger family dramas. The Washington Post reported in September that Cookie's son and daughter-in-law, Kenneth and Kristin Krongard, had filed a restraining order to get him to stop sending "unprofessional and highly offensive" emails, in which he threatened that they'd be "put out on the street" if they lost a lawsuit he had brought against them. Cookie filed suit last year, alleging that the couple had defaulted on a $320,000 home loan. Although they paid back the loan in full after the suit's filing, Cookie is pressing his case, demanding interest and other penalties, as well as reimbursement of at least $114,000 in legal fees. Does Krongard feel guilty about suing his son's family? Who can say for sure, but the tone of this August missive points to no. "If you are willing to put your wife and children's future in jeopardy, that's your business," he wrote. What a guy.

Obama's Health Care Problem: Why It Has Become the Biggest Mistake of His Campaign

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 5:45 PM EST

obama_back.jpg When Barack Obama released his health care plan, the health care heavies around the web noticed it lacked the mandate that John Edwards' plan had. That was a demerit. The whole point of universal health care is that because the healthy have to buy health care, there is a enough money around to pay for the exorbitant health care costs of the sick. Obama claims that his plan makes health care affordable so the poor can buy in, but the problem isn't just the poor. It's the young and strapping, who have no incentive to buy health care at any price.

But the aforementioned heavies didn't attack Obama on the issue. They even praised him. His plan was a serious one that represented a substantial improvement over the status quo. When Hillary Clinton came out with her plan, which mimicked to a great extent Edwards', everyone considered the three health care plans essentially the same. Obama, and even the other candidates, conceded the differences were minor.

But then the Clinton camp found a Jonathan Cohn article in which he crunched the numbers and found that Obama's plan would leave 15 million people uninsured. Cohn later said that the number was a "very, very rough estimate" but that it was "more right than wrong." Regardless of its accuracy, it was now campaign fodder.

Impressive Speech From Sheldon Whitehouse

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 4:27 PM EST

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) delivered an important speech today full of shocking information, if it's still possible to be shocked by the Bush administration. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Whitehouse has access to the Justice Department's secret legal determinations. He then was able to get some of the determinations declassified, or at least the summaries he wrote down while reading them in a secure room. This is how he characterizes three of them:

1. An executive order cannot limit a President. There is no constitutional requirement for a President to issue a new executive order whenever he wishes to depart from the terms of a previous executive order. Rather than violate an executive order, the President has instead modified or waived it.

2. The President, exercising his constitutional authority under Article II, can determine whether an action is a lawful exercise of the President's authority under Article II.

3. The Department of Justice is bound by the President's legal determinations.

In other words, the president is the law. Whitehouse concludes:

When the Congress of the United States is willing to roll over for an unprincipled President, this is where you end up. We should not even be having this discussion. But here we are. I implore my colleagues: reject these feverish legal theories.

There is, of course, little reason for Whitehouse to be optimistic this will happen. Still, it's a surprise to see even one senator demonstrating he cares about these issues, and explaining them in a way normal people can understand.

For more, see Marcy Wheeler's typically cogent commentary.

Fiscal Conservatives Hit Huckabee on His Tax Record

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 2:20 PM EST

The problem with the Republican Party is that it is composed of various groups—small government fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, national security hawks—whose interests don't always align.

Usually the GOP can find a candidate, like George W. Bush, who satisfies all three groups. This time around, though, they're not so lucky. The candidates who "check all the boxes" are either faking it (Romney) or are only kinda interested in running (Thompson), and those who don't are getting beaten up by the portions of the party they leave dissatisfied.

Take this ad, for example. The fiscally conservative, tax-hating Club for Growth is hammering Huckabee for his moderate economic record.

The bad thing about Huckabee's tax hikes mentioned here is that they weren't progressive (except possibly the income tax "surcharge"); they hit the middle and working classes as hard or harder than they hit the upper class. That means that if Huckabee survives these attacks at gets the GOP nod, he'll probably be attacked for this stuff by the Democrats, too.

The Next Financial Crisis: Credit Cards

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 1:42 PM EST

The next step in the growing financial squeeze—what the banking community likes to call the "soft landing"—is coming down in credit cards. Take a look at those offers you're getting in the mail. Gone are the promises of permanent low APRs on purchases or balance transfers. Instead, the companies are offering a low rate for 6 or maybe 12 months, and then it shoots up to 15 or 20 percent or higher. And there's usually a 5 percent transfer fee on your whole balance—the ceilings on transfer fees are disappearing. So even if you get, say, a 4.9 percent APR for 12 months, it's really 9.9 percent.

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Grammy Nominees: The Right-On and the Random

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 1:29 PM EST

mojo-photo-grammysart.jpgBy now everyone's seen the big news about the Grammy nods: Kanye gets a bunch, Amy Winehouse gets almost as many, and Bruce gets denied in the Album of the Year category. Since the Grammy nominees have about as much to do with good music as, I dunno, the contestants on America's Next Top Model have to do with human beauty, it doesn't really pay to fret about who's been unjustly denied a nomination. What's more interesting is finding evidence there are some serious weed smokers in the nominating committees, allowing both compelling and completely baffling nods to slip through.

Does Huckabee Believe Angels Intervene in Hunting Contests?

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 12:56 PM EST

That's the question I've tried to get the Mike Huckabee campaign to answer.

The surging social conservative who once was a Baptist preacher, as AP reports, is refusing to discuss theology and the "intricate, nit-picky things of church doctrine"--even though he recently attributed his success in the polls to divine intervention. For instance, he has declined in recent days to talk about his view of creationism (at an early debate he indicated he supports it) or to say whether he believes women should be permitted to serve in pastoral leadership roles (a controversial matter within some fundamentalist circles).

But what about angels? As I've noted previously and elsewhere, Huckabee gave a rather intriguing speech at the NRA in September, during which he deftly merged his heartfelt evangelical beliefs with his deep passion for gun rights and hunting. He recalled the time he was in an antelope hunting contest in Wyoming. After several hours of stalking prey on a miserably cold, windy and snowy day, Huckabee had his chance. An antelope was 250 yards away, but right at the edge of his range as a shooter. Then a miracle happened:

I decided that one way or the other, this hunt is about to be over, because I can't stand any more of this cold. And somehow, by the grace of God, when I squeezed the trigger, my Weatherby .300 Mag, which has got to be the greatest gun, I think, ever made in the form of a rifle -- for my sake in hunting, I've never squeezed the trigger and not gotten something -- did its work, and somehow the angels took that bullet and went right to the antelope, and my hunt was over in a wonderful way.

Thanks to those angels, that elk was dead.

After hearing that speech, I sent an email to the press office of the Huckabee campaign asking if the former Arkansas governor does "believe that angels literally intervene in the affairs of human beings and that such intervention includes hunting events." I received no reply. I tried again. Still silence.

Huckabee is delighted to let people know he's a firm believer in God. He's well aware that helps him with Republican primary voters, especially in Iowa. But he doesn't want to answer questions about his beliefs. That's trying to have it both ways--the glory without explaining. With less than month to the Iowa caucus, can Huckabee continue to duck questions about spiritual affairs? Maybe with the help of angels.

Friday: Hi, I'm Back, and It's Music News Day

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 12:47 PM EST

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  • Bay Area trio Green Day is finally ready to hit the studio to work on the follow-up to 2004's American Idiot. The band released a statement on their website saying they wouldn't be repeating any of the angry themes established on that decidedly political album, which makes sense because everything's totally fine now.
  • Jay-Z may be splitting from his label Def Jam after allegedly demanding "big, big money" that Def Jam bigwigs found "excessive." The rapper's contract is set to expire at the end of the month, and the article helpfully points out that instead of working on his negotiating skills, he was celebrating his 38th birthday… in Paris. No wonder he needs more cash.
  • Brit combo Manic Street Preachers are accusing Radiohead of "demeaning" music by allowing fans to decide how much to pay for their new album, In Rainbows. This is a band right up there with Robbie Williams on the list of Bands Most Successful In Europe That Nobody In the US Has Ever Heard Of. Anyway, their bassist Nicky Wire spoke to UK newspaper the Daily Star, saying the free download phenomenon is "ruining" the music industry.
  • Can't get enough of Benny, Bjorn, Anni and Agnetha? Well, starting in 2009 you'll be able to take a chance (ahem!) on the Abba museum in Stockholm, a three-floor complex dedicated to the Swedish legends. The complex will include a room dedicated to the band's fashions as well as a recreation of their recording studio. Hey, let's watch an Abba video.

  • Nowhere to Hide: Googling in Space

    | Fri Dec. 7, 2007 11:31 AM EST

    The New York Times:

    Starting next week and over the next few months, several American airlines will begin testing Internet service on their planes.

    On Tuesday, JetBlue Airways will begin offering a free e-mail and instant messaging service on one aircraft, while American Airlines, Virgin America and Alaska Airlines plan to offer a broader Web experience in the coming months, probably at a cost of around $10 a flight.

    Tuesday, 7:05 am, JFK to DFW, JetBlue Flight 263:
    Seat 5A: Dude, what u doin? just took off. drunk off my ass by 1 PST HELL YEA. Flyin suks.
    Seat 14F: hi mom.just tok off. $10? tis connectn so lame.
    Seat 17C: wassup? jus tk off. i thot stewardss wer supposed 2b be hot? pilot has a lisp. LOL!!!!!!!!!!!
    Seat 19D: i wanna divorc. jst took ff.
    Seat 22B: just tuk off. r u there?! OMIGOD. Loser in 5A watchng porn!!!!!!!!! its 7:06 in THE MORNING!!! Flyin is he wurst. ths connectn suck bg tme. shudda brout a book....