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Texas' Dirty Coal

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 11:21 AM EDT

The latest carbon dioxide emissions numbers from the Energy Department are out, and the two biggest baddies are Texas and coal, who have an interesting history together. Read more at MoJo's environment and health blog, The Blue Marble.

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Texas' Dirty Coal

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 11:16 AM EDT

The latest carbon dioxide emissions numbers from the Energy Department, listed by state, are out.

Not surprisingly, Texas topped the list of biggest polluters in 2003, the most recent year with available data. It holds steady as 7th in carbon dioxide emissions behind whole nations: the entire United States, China, Russia, Japan, India and Germany.

The co-star of the report was coal, Texas' major power source, because although carbon dioxide emissions from car exhaust account for 25% of America's greenhouse gasses, coal produces 50% of America's electricity and burning coal creates more carbon dioxide than any other common fuel source.

Texas seems to be a house divided regarding its own place in the global emissions hierarchy. In 2005 the state's Governor Rick Perry fast-tracked plans for 11 new TXU Corp. coal power plants after the company lined the war chest for Perry's re-election campaign. But Robert Cervenka, a Republican rancher of Riesel, Texas, managed to organize 1,000 people to fight the governor and TXU Corp. in their effort to double the state's already grossly high emissions. To Cervenka, clean air was not a political or partisan issue: It was just plain good sense. "We might not be out huggin' trees," he said, "but we're real concerned about our land, our water, and our air. It's our land, our lives." Hotshot Houston attorney Steve Susman represented Cervenka's group, pro bono, as they sued Governor Perry. An Austin judge did eventually rule that Perry had no authority to hop into bed with TXU Corp. so quickly, and the company actually ended up dropping most of its construction plans. It wasn't Texas' already high emissions ranking that fueled citizens to act; it was that no one wanted to live next to the plants, breathing the pollution.

Similarly, Texas' own environmental monitoring agency refuses to track the state's carbon dioxide emissions, instead claiming carbon dioxide is "not a regulated pollutant." The Supreme Court ruled in April, however, that the EPA could no longer get away with failing to regulate greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide in general, and the emissions of automobiles in particular. Of course, Texas was one of the nine states sitting with the EPA during this case – right alongside other parties like the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The same day, the Court ruled 9-0 that coal power plants must meet current, cost-effective pollution control standards when renovated. So even if Texas' own agency refuses to monitor carbon dioxide emissions, the EPA will be held accountable for doing so.

But by whom? Recently, in an effort to "green" the Capitol, Nancy Pelosi vowed to replace the incandescent bulbs in the Capitol's 17,000 lamps with more energy-efficient corkscrew fluorescent bulbs and to begin buying from eco-friendly vendors; but Pelosi, whose effort is supposedly to make the Capitol, which already puts out over 340,000 tons of greenhouse emissions, carbon neutral, stopped her effort just short of calling for an end to burning coal in the Capitol Power Plant. Evidently Pelosi did not want to go any rounds with her Senate colleagues from coal states like Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who have both previously blocked plans to eliminate coal from the Capitol Power Plant.

President Bush surely won't be forcing the EPA's hand in getting that agency to follow the Supreme Court's ruling by tracking carbon dioxide emissions. One has to wonder, though, when the rest of America -- and even the world -- will also stand up as those Texans did. For even though it's hard for most people to conceptualize the affect melting ice caps will have on each of our lives, few of us want to live next door to a coal-burning power plant.

Need more convincing? Check out this carbon footprint calculator to see what kind of air you're creating for the rest of us.

-- Jessica Savage

GSA Chief Points Finger at Rove and Company

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 10:45 AM EDT

When the Office of Special Counsel -- in charge of preventing the politicization of federal offices and protecting whistleblowers -- slammed Laurita Doan, the chief of the General Services Administration, for allowing her staff to sit down for an overtly political presentation orchestrated by Karl Rove, I speculated that Doan's alleged guilt would also indicate wrongdoing on the part of the Rove and company.

And today, Doan made the same argument. In her official response to the OSC report, Doan argued through her lawyers that it was the briefing itself that constituted an improper politicization of the GSA -- and thus a violation of federal law under the Hatch Act -- and not her willingness to organize the presentation, nor the fact that she presided over it, nor her apparent enthusiasm for its content. (Doan asked after the presentation how the staff of the GSA could help "our candidates.")

That's probably not going to fly, Doanie. I'm guessing any clear eyed investigator at the OSC knows that you're guilty and the Rove deputy who made the presentation is too. But you're low-hanging fruit, and Rove is about as well-protected as anyone can be by this administration. You're going to lose your job long before Bush's Brain.

Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things: 6/4/07

| Mon Jun. 4, 2007 9:39 PM EDT

Monday seems like a better day for the Top Ten, doesn't it? First of all, I have way more time to think about it, plus I can include fun stuff that happened over the weekend, maybe. More imporantly, the Top Ten can now be a kind of beacon of happiness, shining the sweet light of musical joy during your time of greatest darkness. Am I mixing sound and light metaphors here? Ah, well, screw it, it's Monday.

mojo-cover-national.jpg10. The National "Mistaken for Strangers" (from The Boxer on Beggars Banquet)
Are The National America's Pulp? No, that's not entirely right, but as Pitchfork put it, their music grows on you, and Pulp were kind of like that too: pulling in disparate influences, writing sometimes-obtuse lyrics that often dealt with class differences, and rewarding repeat listens. This track, a dark and driving moment on a none-too-bright album, is sung in the second person, but seems pretty sympathetic to "the unmagnificent lives of adults."

mojo-cover-newporn.JPG9. The New Pornographers – "My Rights vs. Yours" (mp3 via The Yellow Stereo) (from Challengers, out 8/21 on Matador)
While some are calling it "boring," I think the Pornos are allowed to mellow out a bit, and just because a track doesn't end with a rousing chorus of "hey yas" doesn't mean it's bad, people! Plus, while the lyrics are as obtuse as usual, the theme appears to be a bit more sedate and complex, reflected in the song's unusual twists and turns.

mojo-photo-sara.JPG8. Sa-Ra – "Hollywood" (mp3 via me) (explicit lyrics)
I actually blogged about this track about a year ago after hearing it on Garth Trinidad's show on KCRW in LA; not to brag, but to lament that it's still not readily available, although a promo copy did show up in my inbox just the other day. Apparently there was some trouble with a label deal that's keeping "Hollywood" from seeing the light of day, which is too bad, since its 80s-style synth-R&B (reminiscent of, I dunno, Mtume or One Way), combined with a conflicted lament about the Sa-Ra "collective's" hometown, makes it seem like it could catch on.

7. Tie: Rihanna – "Umbrella," Amy Winehouse – "Rehab," (live at the MTV Movie Awards, Sunday 6/3)
While MTV's annual tribute to cinema has never really been anything but a series of promotional tie-ins and celebrity appearances (accompanied by deafening screams), there were three good things this year: 1) Sarah Silverman, who's always great; 2) Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen making out; and 3) the two bits of live music. First up was Rihanna, whose guitar-enhanced remix of "Umbrella" brought the crowd to their feet; then came Amy Winehouse, whose sped-up version of "Rehab" seemed lifted directly from another era. Winehouse especially seemed to kind of roll her eyes at the ridiculousness of the surroundings, giving a knockout performance while seemingly barely lifting a finger.

Amy Winehouse clip at MTV.com here

mojo-cover-ulrich.JPG6. Ulrich Schnauss "Gone Forever" (Robin Guthrie version) (from the Quicksand Memory EP on Domino)
While we wait for the July 10th release of Goodbye, the new full-length from this German electronic artist, we can content ourselves with a new version of one of his old songs put together by a musical ancestor: Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins. The processed guitar sound is instantly recognizable, and it makes swirly-pop fans like myself all the more sad that the Twins' planned reunion in 2005 never happened.

Obama and Romney: Twins Separated at Birth?

| Mon Jun. 4, 2007 6:08 PM EDT

Fred Hiatt's column in the Washington Post today charts out some startling similarities between leftie pinup model Barack Obama and the right's black sheep, Mitt Romney. More disturbingly perhaps, both candidates articulate foreign policy agendas that are not so different from Bush's, which has, hello!, proven to be about as unsuccessful as a foreign policy could be.

Obama talks a big line about withdrawal from Iraq, but his policy paper paints a different picture, calling for leaving enough troops there "to protect American personnel and facilities, continue training Iraqi security forces, and root out al Qaeda." Even the troops we have there now aren't up to these tasks. (Romney, like the rest of the Republicans, is stumbling all over himself to say neither "bring them home" nor "stay the course.")

Both Romney and Obama want to expand the armed forces and to continue in the "We rule the world" vein that has earned the United States intense foreign animosity since 2000. "We are a unique nation, and there is no substitute for our leadership," says Romney. Right on, says Obama: "We can be this America again. . . . [A]n America that battles immediate evils, promotes an ultimate good, and leads the world once more.'"

Both are jumping on the terrorism bandwagon. Calling it the biggest threat to the United States might be true, at least in the post-Iraq world, but should candidates be promising another Cold War? (I was pretty young at the time, but I don't remember fears of nuclear war being much fun.) Romney says "the jihadist threat is the defining challenge of our generation," comparing it to Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, and he promises a powerful response. Obama agrees: "To defeat al Qaeda, I will build a twenty-first-century military and twenty-first-century partnerships as strong as the anticommunist alliance that won the Cold War to stay on the offense everywhere from Djibouti to Kandahar."

Despite my personal disgust for Romney based on his frantic attempts to out anti-gay the Christian right, it may be better to share common ground with him than with, say, Rudy Giuliani. But similarities with the Bush agenda are a serious red flag in my book. Obama-ites: Care to defend your candidate in the comments section?

William Jefferson Indicted in Bribery Case

| Mon Jun. 4, 2007 3:39 PM EDT

Everyone knew this was coming, but William Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat, was just indicted on a slew of federal charges (16 of them, in an indictment that ran 94 pages), including money laundering, racketeering, and soliciting bribes. Jefferson has maintained his innocence, but has yet to explain, why, if this is so, the FBI found $90K in bribe money in his freezer.

Update: Read the indictment here.

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Bush's GOP Base Finally Deserting Him -- Over Immigration of All Things

| Mon Jun. 4, 2007 3:37 PM EDT

Turns out you can screw up a foreign country as badly as you want and no one in the Republican Party will care all that much. But you promise some migrant workers who fought hell and high water to get to America a path to citizenship and you're basically toast.

That's what new poll numbers are telling President Bush, anyway. Now, admittedly, President Bush has a position on immigration that is out-of-step with many in the GOP and he has treated his critics on the right harshly, but this is still kind of stunning. After all, it's not like the guy wants a super liberal solution to the immigration mess. He's kind of middle of the road. But on this issue, middle of the road is driving people insane.

Fewer than half of Republicans, 45 percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll, now approve of how Bush is handling immigration, down from 61 percent in April — that's a 16-point drop in six weeks.

Doesn't sound so bad, you say? Well, ABC News and the WaPo have asked Republicans the same question about Iraq, and the president has never dipped below 62 percent approval rating. Think about that! The war is an unmitigated disaster with the chance of disrupting peace in the Middle East for decades to come, but almost two-thirds of self-identified Republicans still believe George Bush is doing a good job.

But on immigration? Christ, some on the right are even calling for Bush's impeachment over this. Want proof? Read the comments section here. Jeepers.

Spotted on AMERICAblog.

Commanders Say Surge is a Failure

| Mon Jun. 4, 2007 3:20 PM EDT

The New York Times has obtained a copy of a military progress report on the troop surge in Baghdad which reveals that less than a third of the city's neighborhoods have been brought under control. The surge strategy relied on all neighborhoods being pacified by July. Military brass blamed the Iraqi police forces for failing to do their part. In several instances, the Iraqi police were caught actively assisting bomb-layers. If "blame the Iraqis" is an excuse, it's not a very encouraging one. American troops will, in all likelihood, leave Iraq in 2008, and it seems clear that the Iraqis will not be able to maintain even as much control as American troops have—which isn't saying much.

I hate to say I told you so—I really do—but I did. Then again, it didn't take a genius to agree with—well, everyone except President Bush.

Dems Debate -- Candidates Reveal Most Important Priorities

| Mon Jun. 4, 2007 10:32 AM EDT

The question of what a presidential candidate would do in his or her first [blank] days in the White House is always instructive, because it reveals the candidate's top priorities. The [blank] can be any time period, because candidates treat one day and one hundred days the same in this context.

In the CNN-sponsored debate in New Hampshire last night, the Democrats were asked what they would do in their first hundred days as president. The responses:

John Edwards: "To travel the world -- re-establish America's moral authority in the world -- which I think is absolutely crucial... the single greatest responsibility of the next president is to travel the world, speak to the world about what real American values are -- equality, diversity -- and to lead an effort by America to re-establish our alliances around the world."

Hillary Clinton: "Well, if President Bush has not ended the war in Iraq, to bring our troops home. That would be the very first thing that I would do."

Barack Obama: "That would be the number one priority, assuming nothing has changed. The second priority is getting moving on health care because that's something that we can get done, I think, very quickly."

Bill Richardson: "I would upgrade our schools. I would have preschool for every American, full-day kindergarten. I would pay our teachers what they deserve. I'd have a minimum wage for our teachers, $40,000."

Joseph Biden: "I would end the war in Iraq and immediately move to defuse the possible war in Iran and immediately defuse what's going on on the Korean Peninsula."

Dennis Kucinich: "What I intend to do is to be a president who helps to reshape the world for peace -- to work with all the leaders of the world in getting rid of all nuclear weapons, rejecting policies that create war as an instrument of diplomacy, making sure that we cause the nations of the world to come together for fair trade, cancel NAFTA, cancel the WTO, go back to bilateral trade conditioned on workers' rights and human rights, create a not-for-profit health care system and send the bill to Congress."

Chris Dodd: "I'd try to restore the constitutional rights in our country. This administration has done great damage to them. I would do that on the first day. I wouldn't wait 100 days on those issues."

Mike Gravel: "Top priority is to turn to these people and say they are part of the leadership right now in the Congress. They could end the war if they want to. All they've got to do is show the leadership." [Ed. Note: What?]

Of course, a million things will change between now and any new president's first 100 days, forcing a shift in priorities, but it's nice to see that Edwards sees beyond the Iraq War to America's place in the world more generally, and that Richardson hasn't forgotten about domestic issues, specifically education, and that at least one candidate is aware of the damage the war on terror has done to our civil liberties.

Dems Debate in New Hampshire -- Everybody Wins

| Mon Jun. 4, 2007 9:48 AM EDT

One absurd thing about a presidential debate is that the day after you can find a news report saying just about anyone won the thing. So following the Democrats' debate in New Hampshire last night, Google News is ablaze with claims that everyone from Joe Biden to Hillary Clinton came out ahead.

- CNN: "Analysts: Biden's performance strongest"

- Monsters and Critics: "Hillary's campaign on track in a tiny state that matters"

- Cornell Daily-Sun: "Democrats Debate, Obama Wins"

- New Hampshire Public Radio: "Democratic Debate: Edwards Makes Favorable Impression"

And then there's the news pieces that simply list winners and losers, which might as well be selected at random.

- 411mania.com says the winners were John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Mike Gravel. The losers were Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich, and Chris Dodd.

- USA Today says the winners were the big three, Clinton, Obama, and Edwards. The losers, presumably, were everyone else.

And on and on and on. With so many different takes on who won and who lost, I think it's fair to call this debate a wash, just like the last one. So you heard it on MoJoBlog first: the winner of the Democrats' debate in New Hampshire on June 3rd was -- everybody! And the loser was -- everybody!