The Future of CFLs

THE FUTURE OF CFLs....A couple of years ago I went on a binge and replaced a whole bunch of incandescent bulbs in our house with CFLs. Unfortunately, I discovered that their burnout rate was surprisingly high. Out of 20 bulbs or so, I think I had to replace four or five within 18 months. CFL expert Michael Siminovitch confirms that my experience wasn't just a fluke:

Consumers have an expectation that compact fluorescents will last a very long time — significantly longer than the incandescents that they're replacing. This is technically achievable. Compact fluorescents can last a very long time. Unfortunately, I think we've compromised greatly on quality with many compact fluorescents and these things are not lasting quite as long as consumers have been led to believe. This is an issue.

He says that color and dimming issues with CFLs (which I was aware of before I bought mine) can also be addressed, but only with tighter standards and higher prices. If we got serious about it, though, economies of scale would drive down the price of high-quality bulbs fairly quickly. More here.

Who Should Progressives Root for in the Super Bowl?

superbowl-43-logo.jpg So you're not a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and you're not an Arizona Cardinals fan, but you've been invited to a Super Bowl party and you need to know who to root for. Before you pick the Cardinals because you're a progressive and you love underdogs, I urge you to consider a few facts.

Dan Rooney, the 76-year-old owner of the Steelers and a lifelong Republican, endorsed Obama and stumped for him not just in Pennsylvania but in the surrounding swing states. He did so despite the fact that Obama's promise of increased taxes on the wealthy forced Rooney's family to restructure the ownership of the team. Head coach Mike Tomlin is a vocal Obama supporter. At a recent press conference he said, "Barack is selling hope. And I'm buying." Steelers players have spoken out about how they hope to win the Super Bowl in part because it would mean they would be the first championship sports team to visit Obama's White House. (Also worth noting: Barack Obama grew up a Steelers fan and is rooting for the Steel Curtain on Sunday.)

The Bidwell family, longtime owners of the Cardinals, are major Republican donors. Their donor history can be found on opensecrets.org, but to save you time, I'll point you to a couple links. The LA Times reports that team President William Bidwell and Vice President Michael Bidwell each gave $50,000 to Republicans this past election season. Politico adds that as fundraisers for McCain, they bundled upwards of $350,000 for the Republican presidential candidate.

Mull that over as you tip back your favorite adult beverage on Sunday evening. I think your choice is clear.

Update: More proof! Arizona's starting quarterback Kurt Warner appeared in an advertisement opposing stem cell research in 2006.

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Just a footnote to David's post about Robert Gates' testimony this morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee. It's worth noting that the Pentagon chief acknowledged that the new administration will continue to fire Predator missiles from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. "Both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after Al Qaeda wherever Al Qaeda is, and we will continue to pursue that," Gates said.

Obama approved a continuation of the strikes last Friday at his first meeting of the National Security Council. That same day, a missile fired from a drone in Waziristan killed at least 20 people—powerful evidence indeed of Obama's decision.

Given the new president's quick break with many of his predecessor's policies, Obama's decision represents a rare point of continuity—and comes not without criticism. UAV attacks in the region, numbering at least 30 according to a Reuters estimate, have ignited protest from the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and provided a handy propaganda tool and recruiting engine for insurgents. Indeed, for all of the top leaders reportedly killed in air strikes over the years, Al Qaeda and the Taliban have only grown stronger.

The Pakistani government filed a formal complaint over the weekend, stating the "attacks in the Waziristan area which caused civilian causalities are a matter of great concern... are counter-productive and should be discontinued."

For his part, Gates testified this morning that "Pakistan is a friend and partner" and is surely aware of the "existential threat" posed by Islamic militants operating in its tribal areas.



Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Army.mil.

Afghanistan: Still on the Back Burner?

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So far three daily press briefings at the White House for the new Obama administration, and only one question on the war in Afghanistan. That came on Monday when veteran Helen Thomas asked new press secretary Robert Gibbs, "Why does president want to send more troops to Afghanistan to kill people?"

It was not the most subtle way of raising the issue. But at least Thomas gave it a stab.

Afghanistan remains the forgotten war. But on the campaign trail, Barack Obama, noting he would end the war in Iraq and focus more on Afghanistan, promised to change that, The question is, will the change be for the better or not? Gibbs reminded Thomas that Obama has called Afghanistan a "rapidly deteriorating situation" and reported that Defense Secretary Bob Gates and military commanders have started a process "to evaluate our posture." He noted that Obama has said that more troops should be sent to Afghanistan.

Obama Reaches Out

OBAMA REACHES OUT....Al Arabiya conducted a very friendly interview with Barack Obama today, and among other things he made it clear that he's not part of the bandwagon that's given up on a two-state solution in the Middle East:

Q: There are many Palestinians and Israelis who are very frustrated now with the current conditions and they are losing hope, they are disillusioned, and they believe that time is running out on the two-state solution because — mainly because of the settlement activities in Palestinian-occupied territories.

Will it still be possible to see a Palestinian state — and you know the contours of it — within the first Obama administration?

THE PRESIDENT: I think it is possible for us to see a Palestinian state — I'm not going to put a time frame on it — that is contiguous, that allows freedom of movement for its people, that allows for trade with other countries, that allows the creation of businesses and commerce so that people have a better life.

Contiguous? Including Gaza? That's pretty ambitious. But the interview was a short one and interviewer Hisham Melhem didn't press the issue. Overall, Obama kept things mainly at the level of symbolism ("I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries.") and scored some integrity points for supporting Israel in front of an Arab audience ("Israel is a strong ally of the United States. They will not stop being a strong ally of the United States."). He didn't otherwise say much of substance, but he did confirm that he'd be making a major speech from a Muslim capital sometime in the next few months. I vote for Tehran, just for the sheer spectacle of the thing.

The full transcript of the interview is here.

UPDATE: More here from Marc Lynch, who's extremely pleased with Obama's performance.

Mining Reform

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Today, Nick Rahall (D-WVA), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is expected to introduce a bill to end the last big giveaway of the West's public property: the General Mining Law of 1872. Passed during the Grant Administration, the law allows mining companies to remove gold, copper and other hard-rock minerals from public lands without paying a cent in federal royalties. Rahall's bill will be at least the 15th time that Congress has tried to add a leasing or royalty provision to the law, but the search for government revenue in the midst of the financial crisis, combined with strong Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, gives the effort a fighting chance of passing this year.

So how much money is at stake? The Pew Campaign for Responsible mining today released a report estimating that outdated mining rules will cost the treasury $1.6 billion over the next decade. But I've looked at the numbers myself, and that figure seems like a gross underestimate. Past studies have shown that royalties on hard-rock minerals would be worth $100 to $200 million a year. Then there's the depletion allowance, a tax loophole that allows mining companies to deduct up to a fifth of their gross revenues. In 2001 the Clinton Administration valued the depletion allowance at $265 million on public lands alone, and in 1980 the government valued it on all mining lands at $1.75 billion. None of these figures are adjusted for inflation. So conservatively, the 10-year loss to the Treasury from outdated mining policies is more like $7 billion. Though that still might not seem like much in the bailout era, it adds up. The total losses due to the depletion allowance and the 137-year-old mining law are probably on the order of $100 billion--easily worth a bank bailout or two.

House Election Finale

HOUSE ELECTION FINALE....Via Open Left, the unofficial final vote counts for the 2008 congressional election are here. Here's how the House race turned out:

  • Two-party popular vote: Democrats 55.5%, Republicans 44.5%.

  • House seats won: Democrats 59%, Republicans 41%.

Bottom line: Dems won the two-party vote by 11 percentage points, but won the race for congressional seats by 18 percentage points. That's a pretty big divergence by recent historical standards. I wonder if Democrats can hold on to it?

Geithner's Second Move Not So Good

Give me a break. Last week, we heard that Obama's revolving door restrictions (which I applauded) would be bypassed for the new No. 2 man in the DOD, who as recently as 2008 had been chief lobbyist for Raytheon, a massive defense contractor.

Now we're hearing that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is making a recent lobbyist for Goldman Sachs named Mark Patterson his chief of staff. Less than a year ago, Patterson was going to Congress and the Treasury to pimp Goldman's interests. Now he'll play a pivotal role in handing out TARP funds to Goldman and others. How is this not an obviously impermissible conflict?

What makes this so bizarre is that Geithner just banned the use of TARP funds for lobbying purposes. (He literally did this earlier this morning.) He understands the... unhelpful role that lobbying can play when trying to make solid, untainted policy that is in the best interest of the public. And yet, somehow, he's decided to make Patterson his chief of staff. And somehow, Obama is letting him.

How many waivers until the revolving door rules become meaningless? And why issue rules in the first place if the administration has the right to disobey them whenever it deems necessary?

Yet More Climate Change Bad News

YET MORE CLIMATE CHANGE BAD NEWS....Today brings yet more news that global warming is worse than we think it is:

Even if by some miracle the nations of the world could bring carbon dioxide levels back to those of the pre-industrial era, it would still take 1,000 years or longer for the climate changes already triggered to be reversed, scientists said Monday.

....Over the long haul, the warming will melt the polar icecaps more than had previously been estimated, raising ocean levels substantially, the report said.

And changes in rainfall patterns will bring droughts to the American Southwest, southern Europe, northern Africa and western Australia comparable to those that caused the 1930s Dust Bowl in the U.S.

...."The policy relevance is clear: We need to act sooner, even if there is some doubt about exactly what will happen, because by the time the public and policymakers really realize the changes are here, it is far too late to do anything about it," [said Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research].

James Inhofe and Rush Limbaugh say this is all just a big hoax. But they'll be dead before the worst of the changes hit, so I guess they don't really have to care, do they?

Honeymoon Politics

HONEYMOON POLITICS....Matt Yglesias comments on the likelihood that Democrats are going to drop contraceptive funding from the stimulus bill:

As with a lot of Democratic concessions on the bill thus far, what seems to be missing is the "pro quo." Where are the members of the House saying "yesterday I was inclined to vote 'no' on this, but thanks to this change I'm voting 'yes.'" Bargaining is smart. I even think magnanimity on the part of a new majority is smart. But when you bargain, you get something. And I don't see what Obama's gotten for his business tax cuts nor do I see what he's getting for selling out low-income women's access to contraceptives.

I guess there's no telling on this. Maybe Obama will surprise us and get his 80 votes in the Senate after all. Or maybe the "concessions" Democrats have made so far have been things they didn't really care much about in the first place. And I guess there could also be some political benefit in making a bunch of compromises, getting no Republican support, and then being able to sell a story to the media about how the GOP caucus is still just a bunch of Rove-era dinosaurs hopelessly stuck in the hyperpartisan past. We did everything we could, but they just wouldn't budge. Very sad.

At least, I hope one or more of these things is true, since it would mean there's at least some thinking going on about this stuff. My real guess, though, is that Obama and the Dems are still living in a fantasy world. "How long do you think Obama's honeymoon will last?" Marian asked me last night. "Honeymoon?" I shook my head. "I don't think he ever had one." At least, that's pretty much how it looks to me.