Matt Yglesias is in Germany, where the law requires local utilities to buy electricity from you if you install solar panels on your roof and generate excess current during the day:

This raises the overall price of electricity a little, but it has a dramatic impact in making solar power viable at scale. So dramatic, in fact, that Germany is a world leader in solar power despite not being sunny at all. If you took a similar policy framework and deployed it in places like Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas where they have tons of sun it would be hugely effective. And much larger portions of the United States manage to be sunnier than Germany.

I don't know about those other states, but California passed a Net Energy Metering law back in the 90s.  So the Germans have nothing on us.  And yes, it's a very good idea that makes small-scale solar installations economically worthwhile.

News from our other blogs and around the web on health and the environment you might have missed:

Bipartisan Blip: Wait, both parties have problems with Baucus's reform? Kevin Drum opines.

Sinking Climate: With cap-and-trade sinking, US may want to delay Copenhagen.

Tax Relief: Largest oil subsidies in US go to help pay for foreign production, study finds. [ScienceDaily]

Baucus and Boomers: Jim Ridgeway on why the Baucus plan is bad for the over-50 crowd.

Pregnancy Testing: A reggaeton video graphicly teaches kids about sexual positions. NSFW.

Fuel Restrictions: Brazil introduces a plan to limit planting sugarcane in the Amazon. [MongaBay]

 

Ben Winship, David Thompson (and friends)
Fishing Music II

I haven't listened to Fishing Music I, so you won't find any comparisons here. But as a kid back in Wisconsin, I regularly scrutinized the Bass Pro Shops catalog and subscribed to a magazine called Fishing Facts. Back then at least, each issue kicked off with a Penthouse Forum-style letters section, except with fish. Typically, you'd get stuff like: "The sun had set and it was growing dark along the fringes of Lake Wingra. I was cold and discouraged; not a strike all day, and so I decided to call it quits. With one desperate last cast, I tossed my #2 Mepps minnow near the end of a submerged pine, and reeled it back, jigging slightly. When all of a sudden a tremendous yank on the line nearly pulled me out of my canoe. My Fenwick superlight nearly snapped in two as the 13-pound, 7-ounce lunker bass took off with my Mepps." (Cue heavy breathing.)

What were we talking about, again? Oh right, the fishing CD. We'll get to that. But let me tell you about the iPhone I bought my wife for her birthday. Or rather, I said, "I'm getting you an iPhone for your birthday, but you should set it up how you want it," so I only bought it for her in the abstract. The point is that she installed a little app called Flick Fishing—weird, since fishing isn't among her passions. But this thing is a patently addictive little timewaster. You choose a location, pick a lure or bait, make a casting motion with the phone, and when something strikes, you turn a reel on the screen to land it. Sometimes the line snaps or you get an old boot. More often you land a fine-looking specimen with goosed poundage. If you were impressed by that 13-pound, 7-ounce bass from above, a couple weeks back I landed a 19 pounder in the game. "This is so unrealistic!" I complained to Laura, momentarily forgetting my irony detector. "Nobody catches a 19-pound largemouth bass!" (Or maybe I was just using the wrong bait all those years.)

There's a new investigation of politicization at the Justice Department. But this time, it's not former President Bush's appointees who are in the hot seat—it's President Obama's. On September 9, the DOJ's ethics watchdog, the Office of Professional Responsibility, opened an inquiry into the department's decision not to pursue charges against several men accused of voter intimidation at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day last November. The Associated Press reported:

The department filed a civil complaint in January against three men, alleging two of them intimidated voters on Nov. 4 by standing outside a polling place wearing uniforms of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Justice officials later chose to drop the matter against two of the men and get an injunction against a third, prompting criticism from conservatives that the three had gotten off lightly as a result of political interference from the new Democratic administration.

I witnessed the incident at the Philadelphia polling station, and captured it on a video that became a YouTube sensation. You can see that video below the jump, as well as my account of what went down:

Q: Should I ditch my books for an e-reader?

A: My friends rave about their Amazon Kindles, but as a bookstore junkie, I’m wary. I’m pretty sure old-fashioned books are aesthetically superior—they look, feel, and smell a whole lot better than an LCD screen. But last year, the book and newspaper publishing industries used 125 million trees, creating as much carbon 7.3 million cars did in the same amount of time. A recent report from the environmental consulting firm Cleantech Group found that the Kindle’s lifecycle impact is much less: In its first year, it offsets the emissions created by its manufacture, and over its lifecycle, its carbon savings even out to about 370 pounds of CO2, or the equivalent of about 22.5 books per year. So what’s a book aesthete to do?

One (admittedly retro) option: a library card. Let’s imagine you buy 20 books a year. According to Cleantech Group, that’s about 331 pounds of carbon. Now say you’re willing to buy only five books a year—new releases that you just can’t wait for—and get the other 15 from the library. The San Francisco library bought 78,445 books in 2008. Let’s assume each of the library’s 2,265,209 visitors borrowed two books. Of course, they’re not all borrowing newly purchased books. But if all those patrons are shouldering the carbon burden of the new books, that evens out to about 0.3 pounds of CO2 per patron. You’ve reduced your reading emissions to 42 pounds of CO2, nearly an eighth of what they would be if you bought all your books new.


Another way to think about it: The carbon impact of reading—either on paper or via e-reader—is dwarfed by that of TV: A typical 34-37-inch LCD-display television creates about 474 pounds of carbon a year—significantly more than the 370 pounds of carbon emitted in a year of reading a Kindle or books—and that’s not even counting the carbon created by your TV’s manufacture.

The bottom line:
Borrow more books than you buy—but whether or not you decide to join the Kindle-wielding masses, reading is always better for the planet than turning on the boob tube.

 

Airman 1st Class Davis Smith carries a guide used in airfield construction Sept. 9, 2009, at Forward Operating Base Dwyer, Afghanistan. He is part of a team preparing the area for a runway that will allow C-17 Globemaster IIIs to deliver cargo and people directly to FOB Dwyer. Airman Smith is assigned to the 1st Expeditionary RED HORSE Group and is deployed from Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller)

Today's must-reads didn't make any deals with the pharmaceutical industry:

  • Baucus Bill Sticks To Pharma Deal That Supposedly Wasn't Struck (Ryan Grim/HuffPo)
  • Why is it at all controversial to demand that debit card customers be able to decline overdraft "protection?" (WaPo)
  • You have no idea what health care really costs  (Ezra Klein/WaPo)
  • McChrystal's Report (Kevin Drum/MoJo)
  • The New Black Panthers and Me (MoJo)
  • How the Baucus Plan Bilks People Over 50 (MoJo)
  • How the US removed half a ton of uranium from Kazakhstan (Is Nice!/WaPo)
  • Olympia Snowe: "My Party Has Changed" (Steve Benen/The Washington Monthly)
  • Blue Dogs Aim To Scuttle/Pre-Empt Obama's Financial Regulatory Reforms (Politico)
  • Did the White House Give Joe Wilson Everything He Wanted? In a Word: Yes (Brian Beutler/TPM)
  • "On every major measurement, the Census shows the country lost ground during the Bush years." (The Atlantic)
  • Obama Admin. Pressured NY Gov. David Paterson Not To Run for Reelection; Paterson Running Anyway (NYT)
  • Atul Gawande for Senate: Best. Idea. Ever. (Yglesias)
  • Shocking news: CIA Directors conclude CIA shouldn't be investigated for murder (Glenn Greenwald)
  • A Brief History of Macroeconomics (Paul Krugman/NYT)

I post items like these throughout the day on twitter. You should follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

McChrystal's Report

The Washington Post has obtained a copy of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's report on the war in Afghanistan:

The assessment offers an unsparing critique of the failings of the Afghan government, contending that official corruption is as much of a threat as the insurgency to the mission of the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, as the U.S.-led NATO coalition is widely known.

"The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF's own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government," McChrystal says.

The result has been a "crisis of confidence among Afghans," he writes. "Further, a perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents."

McChrystal is equally critical of the command he has led since June 15. The key weakness of ISAF, he says, is that it is not aggressively defending the Afghan population. "Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us — physically and psychologically — from the people we seek to protect. . . . The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves."

A separate report outlines McChrystal's request for more troops, without which the war "will likely result in failure," he says.  But I gotta ask: considering the unrelentingly grim assessment in the rest of his report, is it really likely that a few more troops and a change in emphasis toward COIN and away from counterterrorism will bear results within 12 months?  Because that's what McChrystal says the timeframe is.

That hardly seems likely to me.  But then, the surge in Iraq seemed an unlikely strategy to me too, and yet it worked1.  So my track record in surge-ology isn't great.  Still, it's worth bearing a couple of things in mind.  First, the Iraqi surge succeeded only because it was accompanied by several other developments (primarily the Sunni awakening, two previous years of sectarian cleansing, and al-Sadr's ceasefire), none of which can or will be duplicated in Afghanistan.  Second, the Iraqi surge was fundamentally targeted at Baghdad.  Spreading 28,000 troops throughout a country where we already had 140,000 in place would almost certainly have had no effect.  But most of the troops were deployed in Baghdad, where it meant a near doubling of capacity, and that did have an effect. Baghdad was so central to the rest of Iraq that a reduction of violence there had a country-wide effect.

But no such concentration is possible in Afghanistan.  Kabul isn't as important to Afghanistan as Baghdad is to Iraq, and in any case Kabul is already relatively safe.  It's the rest of the country that needs more troops, and it's hard to think of any single place they could be concentrated enough to have a real impact.

I think that's the key thing to look for when McChrystal gets more specific: what, exactly, does he propose to do with the additional troops?  If the idea is to spread them out in some way (for troop training, insurgent fighting, population protection, etc.), his request should probably be viewed skeptically.  But if he can propose some key operation or area where additional troops would represent a doubling or tripling of capacity and success might have an outsize effect on the entire conflict, then it might be worth trying. We'll see.

1I know, I know: "worked" is a question begging term.  But the surge did reduce violence, increase security, and make political reconciliation at least a possibility.  Long term stability is still up in the air, but even the short-term success of the surge was more than I thought likely at the time.

One of the blogosphere's pet topics, net neutrality, is back in the limelight.  When we last heard from our heroes at the FCC, they had adopted a set of four "principles" that basically said service providers should allow their customers access to any content and any application on the internet, should allow connection of any device, and should have to compete with other service providers.

That was all well and good, but a principle is a pretty thin reed to rely on and most liberals (as well as most content providers) thought that actual regulations would be a little more comforting.  We further thought that although guaranteeing access to any content was fine, we'd also like some assurance that quality of access to content was guaranteed too.  After all, access to YouTube isn't very useful if, say, Verizon decides to slow all YouTube connections to a crawl in order to lure people to its own video site instead.

For their part, service providers thought they should be allowed to favor their own content if they wanted to, and they also wanted to make sure that they still had the ability to manage traffic on their networks.  But if the Washington Post is to be believed, they're not going to get much satisfaction from the new net neutrality plan that will be unveiled tomorrow:

The proposal, to be announced Monday by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, will include an additional guideline for carriers that they make public the way they manage traffic on their network, according to sources at the agency. The additional guideline would be a "sixth principle" to four existing guidelines adopted in 2005 on Internet network operations. A fifth principle is expected to be announced by Genachowski on Monday during a speech at the Brookings Institute that would prohibit the discrimination of applications and services on telecommunications, cable and wireless Internet networks.

That fifth principle is a key victory for content providers (and all us content users).  It means that service providers can't provide faster or slower access to particular sites or applications.  And although they'll be allowed to perform technical traffic management in a content-neutral way, they'll have to disclose exactly how they're doing that so that everyone knows beforehand what the rules of the road are.

What's more, principles are out and rules are in:

The FCC is expected to vote on the proposed rulemaking of so-called net neutrality regulations at its October meeting. That vote will set off a series of regulatory procedures, and a final rule is expected to be introduced in the spring.

Obviously this is cause for only cautious optimism until we see the actual proposed rules.  The devil is always in the details, after all.  But it's a good start.  If you're interested in following along, the announcement and subsequent panel discussion will be streamed live on Monday starting at 10 am Eastern.

If you want to get a taste of the almost total conservative dysfunction over healthcare reform, the LA Times is your one-stop shop this morning.  They asked four well-known conservatives to go beyond just complaining about Obamacare and instead "propose ways to make the American healthcare system better."  Game on!  Let's see what they have to offer:

Bill Frist says we should encourage employers to offer wellness programs.  (Also: more PE in schools, better preventive care, and community planning to "include places to exercise and sources of healthy foods.") And if you get sick anyway?  Frist doesn't bother saying anything about that.

Mickey Edwards says the government should (a) "authorize" a private insurance pool that the uninsured and self-insured could join and (b) ban insurance companies from turning down applicants with preexisting conditions.  But (a) could exist today if anyone wanted to create such a pool and (b) would destroy the health insurance industry unless it's paired with an individual mandate.  Edwards seems unaware of either of these things.

David Frum says we should allow insurers to sell their policies nationwide.  End of proposal.  This is like being asked how GM can revitalize itself and suggesting they should put better tires on their cars.

And finally, there's Richard Viguerie, who even most conservatives shun as a crank.  Basically, he thinks we should make people pay for their own coverage (i.e., give them more "skin in the game"), we should encourage higher industry profits, and we should by God not create a government database of medical records.  Or something.  To be honest, I'm not sure.

This is pathetic.  Nationwide insurance companies might be a good idea.  Wellness programs are certainly a good idea.  (Though not an especially conservative one.)  And community rating is a good idea too.  But they do virtually nothing to extend healthcare to the uninsured, nothing significant to drive down costs, and nothing to reform the insurance industry unless they're embedded in a broader plan.  They're flea specks on a problem the size of an elephant.

Granted, these guys were writing op-eds, not white papers, but none of them made so much as a passing mention of anything more than these few disconnected talking points.  Our country's 47 million uninsured weren't even on their radar screen. The problem isn't that the Times didn't give them enough space, the problem is they flatly don't have any idea how to make American healthcare more broadly accessible or how to arrest its steady and relentless deterioration.  No wonder conservatives have decided to just say No instead.  When you've got nothing serious to offer, what choice do you have?