2010 - %3, July

On the Death of the Climate Bill

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 12:47 PM PDT

As Jon noted, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has officially announced that there will be no climate bill this year. But Jon's post doesn't fully convey the extent of the capitulation. What's happened is total and complete surrender. There's no silver lining in this cloud.

Not only will the bill not contain any restrictions on greenhouse gases—not even a watered-down utility-only cap—it won't even contain the two other key policies that would have moved clean energy forward: the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) and the energy efficiency standards.

Basically, Reid canvassed his caucus and figured out what they could pay for (without a carbon price for funding) and what already had 60 votes. This is it:

  • Some response to the Gulf oil spill, in the form of tighter restrictions on offshore drilling.
  • Some pork for natural gas vehicles. (T-Boone gets his money.)
  • Home Star.
  • Some money for land and water conservation. (Baucus demanded $5 billion for this, leaving other, much more worthy clean energy programs begging.)

Home Star is good, but as an energy bill? This is f*cking pathetic. It's little better than what the Republican Congress produced under George Bush.

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State and EPA Climate Action Become Key as Senate Gives Up

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 12:26 PM PDT

The Senate on Thursday officially gave up on trying to pass a climate bill in the foreseeable future—so what's plan B? Leadership from states and federal agencies.

A mishmash of state plans and existing laws doesn't sound like much. Climate experts have long preferred a national, economy-wide approach to cutting carbon pollution. But existing and announced state plans would do more good than you might assume.

Ten northeastern states already run a functional cap-and-trade system, and 11 Western states and Canadian provinces are planning to start their own, the Western Climate Initiative, in 2012. And the Environmental Protection Agency continues its own march toward regulating climate pollution—which the Supreme Court directed it to do.

Friday Cat Blogging - 23 July 2010

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 12:02 PM PDT

Today we have Adventures in Cat Science™! First some background: I feed the cats dry food twice a day. Inkblot normally makes a huge production out of this, meowing pitifully and pacing around and then, after I fill the dish, bowling over anything in his way to get to the food and start hoovering down his kibble. After he's satisfied, he wanders off and Domino starts eating.

Now, I've never thought this was because Inkblot is an alpha cat. Not hardly. I just think he's hungrier and more dedicated to eating than Domino is. Still, the pecking order is what it is, and when it comes to food Inkblot has always been pretty clearly on top.

Or so I thought. Some more background: Once a day the cats get some wet food. I put it on two plates, and as the picture on the right shows, Inkblot's is always on the left side of the cabinet and Domino's is on the right.

Now for the Science™. A few days ago Marian woke up before I did and apparently got tired of Inkblot's antics. So she fed the cats herself. But she does it differently. Instead of just dumping food into the bowl, she picks up the bowl, puts it on the counter, dumps in the food, and puts the bowl back on the floor. Except this time, for some reason, she put the bowl over on the right. And guess what? Domino was first to the kibble and it was Inkblot who paced around nervously waiting for his turn.

Obviously one experiment isn't Science™. But two? You bet. So I tried this myself, and sure enough: if the food is over on "Domino's side," she gets first crack at it. Our cats have apparently been territorially trained to regard spots three feet apart as belonging to one or the other. Isn't this thrilling? It should be. It's Science™!

But the experiment is over. Poor Inkblot was humiliated by the whole thing, I think. As senior cat, I figure he's entitled to a few perks, and getting first crack at the food is one of them. So the bowl is now back on the left for good. And everyone is happy.

As for normal catblogging, it's below. This is summertime sun worshipping, Domino opting for the full treatment while Inkblot opts for the shade. Either way, they both love flinging themselves on the ground and rolling around when the weather is warm

The Catch-22 of Credit Scores

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 11:35 AM PDT

The Slacktivist comments on the increasing practice of HR departments checking credit scores before they hire people, a practice that (unsurprisingly) is heavily lobbied by the companies that sell credit scores:

Some 14.6 million Americans are out of work. Nearly 7 million of those are long-term unemployed — people who haven't been able to find a job in more than half a year. Those millions of Americans, as a direct consequence of being out of work, have lower credit scores. Those millions of Americans, as a direct consequence of looking for work, have lower credit scores. The credit agencies say that therefore the unemployed ought to remain unemployed.

....The use of credit checks in employment decisions should be banned. It is a form of discrimination against the poor — the codification and enforcement of class barriers. It is therefore a form of discrimination against those groups more likely to be poor and therefore a violation of the 14th Amendment. So it ought to be illegal already.

It's also cruel, costly, bad for business and bad for America. Outlaw it. Make the practice — both the use of such scores and the provision or marketing of such scores for that use — punishable by fines and imprisonment. Make the punishment large enough that employees practicing this form of discrimination know that it will involve serious repercussions — harm to their firm's "assets, reputation and security.

As they say, read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Actually, it turns out that credit reporting agencies don't make credit scores available to employers. They make complete credit histories available, but not the scores themselves. More here.

Race and Class

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 10:31 AM PDT

Sen. Jim Webb (D–Va.) argues in the Wall Street Journal today — as he has before — that although we still owe a debt to African-Americans who have faced centuries of both private and state-sponsored discrimination, we should stop using ethnicity in general as the basis for affirmative action programs. James Joyner comments:

While I don’t disagree with the premise, I’m not sure what policy conclusion one reaches. I fully agree and have long argued that using race as the sole criterion for policy preference should end. But, surely, we don’t want to create new categories, such as “Scotch-Irish Sons of Confederate Veterans,” for special treatment. We could target based on poverty, perhaps with some sort of regional cost of living adjustments.

Class/income-based affirmative action has long struck me as an alternative that ought to get more attention than it does. Richard Kahlenberg is a fan, and here's what he wrote about it recently in the context of university admissions:

The choice isn’t between race-based affirmative action and no affirmative action. To their credit, universities in states that banned racial affirmative action have turned to economic affirmative action programs as a way to boost racial diversity indirectly.

....Critics of class-based affirmative action have long argued that programs that use economic admissions criteria do not produce as much racial diversity as programs that use race instead. Schools like U.C. Berkeley, for example, saw a decline in black and Hispanic enrollment after the ban on race-based affirmative action was put in place. But the data show that economic affirmative action can produce a positive racial dividend. According to a 2004 Century Foundation study by Anthony Carnevale and Stephen Rose, among the most selective 146 institutions in the country, using race-based affirmative action produced student bodies whose combined black and Latino representation was 12 percent. If students were admitted strictly based on grades and test scores, the combined proportion would decline to 4 percent, Carnevale and Rose found. But using economic affirmative action, defined by parents’ income, education, and occupation, and high school quality, produced a black and Latino representation of 10 percent. Research suggests using wealth (assets) as an admissions factor could boost the racial dividend further. Class-based affirmative action, in other words, does improve racial diversity, though not as much as policies that use race as a criterion.

Class-based program programs might, in the end, provide modestly less help for ethnic minorities than current policies — though well-designed ones might not. But they have some advantages too. For one thing, they help poor people. That's worthwhile all by itself. (Kahlenberg quotes William Benn Michael as noting acidly that currently the debate in higher education is mostly about what color skin the rich kids will have.) Beyond that, there's another benefit: for all the good it does, there's no question that race-based affirmative action has drawbacks as well. It makes employers suspicious of minority graduates, wondering if their degrees were really fairly earned. It provokes a backlash among working class whites. And it's open to abuse on a number of fronts. Class-based programs don't solve all these problems at a stroke, but they go a long way toward addressing them

Would it be possible for us to adopt class-based programs? One obstacle, I think, is the insistence of conservatives on refusing to even admit that racism is a problem anymore. It's become practically a truism on the right that racism is a thing of the past, nothing more than a convenient whipping boy to be exploited by race hustlers like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton who prey on liberal guilt and federal largesse. This is just poisonous. There's no way that blacks or any other ethnic minority will ever take conservative complaints at face value if they flatly refuse to concede that there's even a problem left to be addressed.

This isn't normally a subject I write much about. I've done only modest reading about it, and my personal background — middle class white guy born and raised in Orange County — obviously doesn't give me any valuable personal insight. But the status quo has done, and continues to do, a lot of damage to all sides. It's probably a fantasy to think that there's any progress to be made in our current fever swamp atmosphere, but a conservative concession on the reality of race as a continuing problem — think racial profiling, penal system injustices, health system disparities, etc. — combined with a liberal concession on emphasizing class much more than we have in the past, would almost certainly be a step forward.

Will Rangel's Ethics Trial Derail Dems?

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 10:29 AM PDT

New York Rep. Charles Rangel plans to vigorously fight the ethics charges lodged against him Thursday evening by the House ethics committee. But the public ethics trial Rangel has insisted upon, which will likely start in September, is set to collide with this fall’s midterm elections season and could damage Democratic prospects as a result.

Rangel could have settled with the House ethics committee and ended the investigation behind closed doors, a resolution his party likely would have preferred. But this quieter fix would have forced Rangel to admit that he accepted four rent-controlled apartments in Manhattan and misused office stationary to solicit donations for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at New York’s City College, among other allegations. Though he was willing to accept responsibility for some violations, Rangel would not budge on others, the Associated Press reported.

When asked by a New York Daily News reporter if he would defend himself at trail, Rangel responded, "You bet your sweet ass. If I can testify, I will." Rangel also told reporters that he has been waiting for a chance to speak publicly and clear his name since his ethics investigation began two years ago: "Now the facts are going to get out and I think that's good. I don't have any fear at all politically or personally what they come up with."

But Rangel may not need to clear his name in Harlem, where he is the only congressman many of his constituents have ever known. Residents told NY1 that they were in no rush to judge Rangel. "I deal with the facts, so until all the facts come out, I don’t want to say, because right now it’s all speculation," one resident said. "Other people are doing the same thing, but they're after him," said another. And for those New Yorkers old enough to remember life before Rangel got elected, many recall him as a Korean War hero with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, accolades he campaigned on decades ago.

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Quote of the Day: The Republican Agenda

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 8:57 AM PDT

From Michele Bachmann (R–Crazytown), speaking to the GOP Youth Convention about what Republicans should do if they gain control of Congress in November:

I think that all we should do is issue subpoenas and have one hearing after another. And expose all the nonsense that is going on.

Subpoena, baby, subpoena! I'm pretty sure there's some dirt to be found in Michelle Obama's White House garden or Larry Summers' abuse of his government Diet Coke privileges. Steve Benen has more.

The Fifth Beatle of Appalachia

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 8:56 AM PDT

Atlanta, Georgia—From this point forward, we're finished with the Appalachians. Since this trip began 23 days ago, hardly a day has gone by where we haven't passed through the mountains at least once, taking us through all manner of gaps and gulches, hills and hollows, knobs and notches, and whatever other names they might have come up with for mountains and the various ways around them. I like to think we've caught a real taste of the region—a town killed by coal; a county built on contraband; commercialization gone crazy; pulled pork; and some pretty awesome music. But there's one subject (ok, probably a lot of subjects) I've been meaning to write about since we first crossed into Tennessee. And since we're not coming back, I'd be remiss if I let the occasion pass without at least mentioning the lost state of Franklin.

For four glorious years in the 1780s, the northeastern corner of Tennessee, originally part of North Carolina, operated as a quasi-independent state, known as "Franklin" (or maybe it was "Frankland"; the accounts vary). It appealed for statehood under the Articles of Confederation, but, as with most other items on the agenda during that period, saw its application go nowhere, and was eventually folded into Tennessee. The end. It was all over and done with in less than a decade, and to my knowledge there's no Franklin Liberation Front or anything like that devoted to restoring its sovereignty—which is probably for the best.

I can't credit Franklin for secretly saving civilization—its greatest legacy might just be this Americana band—but it's a pretty clear example of how the map of the United States could very easily look a lot different. And there's a bigger takeaway, too: Franklin reflects a volatility in the early republic that tends to get glossed over when conservatives (and whoever else) heap too much praise on the founding founders. Franklin, like Kentucky, flirted with breaking away from the Union altogether if Spain could just guarantee protection and water rights on the Mississippi River. As much as we like to talk about Jefferson and Hamilton, the nation was founded, as much as anything, by a bunch of opportunists who really just wanted cheap land and economic prosperity and didn't much care how they got it—even if it meant casting their lots with another king.

A Ray of Hope for Democrats in North Carolina?

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 8:47 AM PDT

In this tough election year for Democrats comes one unexpected ray of light: Richard Burr, a first-term Republican Senator from North Carolina, appears to be within striking distance of defeat. An internal poll from Lake Research Partners shows Burr's Democratic challenger, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, squeaking past him by 37 percent to 35 percent—with 23 percent of voters undecided and with a 4 point margin of error. Outside polling has been decidedly more mixed: a SurveyUSA poll from early July showed Burr out ahead by 10 points, while a poll from the conservative-leaning Rassmussen showed Burr with a 5-point advantage.

Even so, it's clear this has become a much tougher contest for Burr than Republicans had expected. Burr's low favorability ratings turned him into a prime target for Democrats early on in the election cycle. And it's particularly striking that Marshall—an unabashedly progressive Democrat who's campaigned on the public option—has managed to mount a serious challenge against a party-line, arch-conservative Republican. When Burr began to show signs of looking vulnerable last year, prognosticators declared that a Blue Dog Democrat like Rep. Heath Shuler or Rep. Mike McIntyre would have the best chance against him.

But after being passed over by the Democratic National Committee as its preferred candidate for the race, Marshall has seized the outsider mantle and used it to her advantage, gaining support from the liberal netroots outside the state as well as local Democratic allies. And now national Democrats are beginning to throw their full weight behind Marshall, with Vice President Joe Biden hosting a fundraiser in the state this week. If Marshall continues to pick up steam, North Carolina could end up being one Senate race in which the Democrats can use the anti-incumbency mood to their advantage.

Enviro Links: Senate Shamed for Climate Fail, Safety System on BP Rig Disabled, and More

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 8:47 AM PDT

Today in climate news:

The New York Times editorial page calls out Obama for the Senate's climate failure.

John Kerry (D-Mass.) tells Bloomberg that the Senate might take up climate in a lame-duck session, however.

And in oil disaster news:

Mike Williams, the chief electronics technician on the Deepwater Horizon, told a federal panel this morning that the alarm system on the rig that should have warned workers prior to the explosion had been disabled, the Times-Picayune reports.

A report on conditions aboard the rig conducted a month before the explosions found that Transocean employees had entered fake data in order to circumvent safety systems, CNN reports. The report also found that employees were afraid to report possible safety concerns to superiors.

Two BP managers on the Deepwater Horizon have been listed as potential targets in the Department of Justice investigation.

The Interior Department Inspector General is looking into allegations that the agency may have altered the report used to justify the offshore drilling moratorium.

Tropical storm Bonnie has forced BP to suspend drilling operations on the relief wells in the Gulf.

The spill may cost $22.7 billion in lost tourism income alone.

BP posted the originals of those photos it admitted to doctoring.

About 630 gallons of oil have spilled from a pipeline in Alaska's Kenai National Wildlife Refuge run by Chevron.