Political MoJo

Sweden to Go Oil-Free

| Wed Feb. 8, 2006 4:37 PM EST

This is genuinely exciting news (there's so little these days…). It looks like Sweden is preparing a plan to become an "oil-free" economy by 2020:

The attempt by the country of 9 million people to become the world's first practically oil-free economy is being planned by a committee of industrialists, academics, farmers, car makers, civil servants and others, who will report to parliament in several months.

The intention, the Swedish government said yesterday, is to replace all fossil fuels with renewables before climate change destroys economies and growing oil scarcity leads to huge new price rises.Sweden has a decent head start—about 26 percent of its energy already comes from renewable resources (the EU average is 6 percent)—and plans to meet its goal by using biofuels, along with wave and wind power, to generate the needed electricity, rather than relying on new nuclear plants, which already supply half of the country's electricity.

The Volvos, meanwhile, will all run on hydrogen. Or at least that's the plan, though granted, lots of smart people think hydrogen-run cars are easier said than done. Joseph Romm, a former Energy Department official under Clinton and the author of The Hype of Hydrogen, has leveled a number of criticisms along this front—for one, a hydrogen-powered economy can end up using more total energy because all of that hydrogen needs to be transported around to filling stations, and it's harder to ship than gasoline. And a relatively recent study by Argonne National Laboratory estimated that installing the vast infrastructure to equip 40 percent of American vehicles to run on hydrogen would cost $500 billion or more. Obviously Sweden's not as big as the United States, but that's a lot of money, and it will be interesting to see whether the Swedes can pull this all off.

Now the obvious question: Why can't the United States do something like this? There are major differences between us and Sweden, sure: the latter is much smaller, uses less oil, has an abundance of rivers, more nuclear power plants, and less sprawl. That all makes things much easier. And, according to Prime Minister Goran Persson, Sweden's farms and forests are more conducive to generating biofuel than America's. But as I've pointed out before, it's physically impossible to power the whole world—or even more than a small portion—with biofuel, and the United States would have to find its own mix of renewable resources no matter what (most likely involving a heavy dose of solar). So Sweden's not, in a strict sense, a "model" here.

Still, this is what a grown-up approach to energy policy looks like. Nothing mind-blowing. Nothing impossible. All you need is a government willing to act. The contrast between the Swedes and an administration that backtracks from even modest statements on ending our oil addiction—and then lays off 32 workers at the National Renewable Energy Lab because of a $28 million budget shortfall there—pretty much speaks for itself. Lucky us.

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Purging the State Department

| Tue Feb. 7, 2006 8:40 PM EST

This sort of story is pretty commonplace nowadays, but Warren Strobel reports: "State Department political appointees have sidelined career weapons experts who don't share their animosity to arms control agreements and have placed less experienced political operatives in key slots, according to 10 current and former officials and documents obtained by Knight Ridder."

Meanwhile, SALT I, the 1991 treaty that is currently the "only mechanism for verifying U.S. and Russian nuclear arms cuts" is set to expire in three years, and the Bush administration is in the middle of purging any State Department expert with experience in arms control. Luckily, though, their replacements will all be "loyal" to the president and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and we all know that's almost as good as expertise.

More on Chinese Journalists...

Tue Feb. 7, 2006 6:50 PM EST

Yesterday Diane reported that a Chinese reporter had been sentenced to a ten-year jail term for warning foreign journalists, via Yahoo!, of potential local violence. As Chinese journalists continue to suffer the brutal consequences for their candid reporting, today the deputy editor of Taizhou Wanbao, Wu Xiangu, succumbed to injuries sustained while beaten by fifty policemen in response to an article published in his paper, alleging that police were overcharging people for bicycle licenses.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists reports that Chinese "authorities had prevented local media from reporting on Wu's death, and that his colleagues believed that criminal charges should be filed in the case. Journalists who report on local crime and corruption in China's newly competitive media environment face increasing incidents of violent attack in retribution for their work."

New Nuclear Weapons on the Way?

| Tue Feb. 7, 2006 5:22 PM EST

The Oakland Tribune reported today that lab officials in California are "excited" by the prospect of "designing a new H-bomb, the first of probably several new nuclear explosives on the drawing boards." This threw me for a loop at first—"Hang on, new nuclear weapons? Who said this was okay, again?"—but I think I get what's going on. (Although correct me if I'm wrong.)

It's no secret that the Bush administration has long wanted to develop new types of nukes, including those entirely frivolous "bunker-busters," for god knows what purpose. In Congress, on the other hand, sensible folks such as Rep. David Hobson (R-OH) have instead called for a "thoughtful and open debate on the role of nuclear weapons," and have opposed adding new weapons to existing stockpiles. Good luck with that, right? But in 2005 Hobson introduced the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program as a means of finding a middle ground here.

RRW was supposed to allow scientists to "refurbish" our existing nuclear stockpiles and make them more reliable "without developing a new weapon that would require underground testing to verify the design." Even the "refurbishing" is a bit questionable: our warheads are already plenty reliable, and even warheads labeled "unreliable" by experts can still inflict as much massive death and destruction as anyone could hope for. The current "stockpile stewardship" program set up by the Clinton administration in 1992 has never found any problems with the viability of the U.S. arsenal. (See this Bulletin article for more on this.) Still, RRW would channel the energies of the nuclear establishment away from the task of dreaming up new nuclear weapons and into something relatively harmless. That's useful.

Anyway, it wasn't long before Energy Department officials decided to co-opt and expand upon Hobson's RRW idea, and many administration officials now seem to see it as a means of creating an infrastructure that can eventually churn out new weapons if necessary. All of the sudden, everyone had a different interpretation of what the program actually entailed. Last April, Everet Beckner, deputy administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, told the Tribune, that building new warheads "was not the primary objective [of RRW], but [it] would be a fortuitous associated event." Oh, fortuitous. Right.

That July, as reported by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the Energy Department was presenting plans before Congress for a completely overhauled nuclear stockpile that would use the RRW program to get there. The department's report "envisions a stockpile to meet an evolving or changing threat environment" and recommends that "a new version of RRW" be implemented to "form the basis of the sustainable stockpile of the future."

Now the new explosives currently being "designed" are still, as I understand it, intended to renovate existing stockpiles, and aren't brand new weapons. In fact, Sen. Pete Domenici explicitly prohibited any funds for the purpose of implementing the recommendations in the Energy Department report.) But the RRW program has slowly and subtly been morphing into a program intended to build new nuclear weapons—despite the fact that this was clearly not Hobson's original goal. And the Bush administration is continuing to push it in that direction, and presumably hopes it will continue to morph in the future. So that's something to watch.

More to the point, the overarching assumption here is that we somehow need all these new nuclear weapons. For what, no one can say. It's pretty clear that nuclear "deterrence" hasn't stopped North Korea or Iran from going nuclear—or 9/11 for that matter; and the United States' insistence on augmenting its own arsenal almost certainly undermines nonproliferation efforts. The administration's desire for "low-yield" nukes—weapons that could conceivably be deployed on the battlefield, and lower the threshold for use—seem completely insane, although Congress seems to have put an end to that little fantasy for now.

New Orleans Goes Begging Abroad

| Tue Feb. 7, 2006 3:44 PM EST

Great moments in U.S. history: "Shortcomings in aid from the U.S. government are making New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin look to other nations for help in rebuilding his hurricane-damaged city." Nagin had to ask the King of Jordan, who heads up an economy that is two one-hundredths the size of the United States', if he could spare any change to help rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward.

Wartime Socialism

| Tue Feb. 7, 2006 3:20 PM EST

In the grander scheme of things, it probably isn't the soundest of decisions to boost defense spending up to even more obscene levels, as the president proposed in his 2007 budget yesterday. But then, who knows, maybe the economy needs it. Last week, the Economic Policy Institute put out one of those "ironic in an Alanis Morissette sort of way" reports estimating that between FY2001 and FY2005, defense spending created 1.5 million additional private sector jobs in the United States. Some might call it pork. Some might call it socialism. Either way, it's hardly anything new in this country.

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Chinese journalist serving 10-year sentence for sending email

| Mon Feb. 6, 2006 10:34 PM EST

Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist, wrote for Dangdai Shang Bao (Contemporary Business News), a Chinese Daily. On April 30, he was convicted of sending foreign-based websites the text of an internal message that the Chinese government had sent to his newspaper to warn journalists of possible unrest that could result from the return of certain dissidents on the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Shi concurs that he sent the email, but denies that he is guilty of "illegally providing state secrets to foreign entitites." He has been sentenced to ten years in prison.

Shi's case is of interest, not only because he is a journalist, but because the Chinese government obtained his email from Yahoo!. Here is part of Yahoo!'s response to a letter from Amnesty International:

Yahoo! Hong Kong, our subsidiary in Hong Kong, was not involved in any way in the disclosure of Shi Tao's information to the PRC authorities. In this specific case, the PRC government ordered Yahoo! China to provide user information and Yahoo! China complied with applicable PRC law. Neither Yahoo! Hong Kong nor any other Yahoo! subsidiary would respond to a PRC law enforcement request, other than in accordance with their own applicable laws. ...

Yahoo! China received a valid and legal demand for information from PRC law enforcement authorities according to applicable PRC laws and the procedures we had established with Chinese law enforcement officials. As in most jurisdictions, including the United States, the Government of China is not required to inform service providers why they are seeking certain information and typically does not do so.

According to Reporters without borders, Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) is subject to Hong Kong legislation, which does not spell out the responsibilities of companies providing email services in this type of situation. However, the mail servers appear to be located on the Chinese mainland, which would explain the existence of a court order from China.

Both Amnesty International and Reporters without borders have questioned to what degree Yahoo!'s desire for Chinese business has blurred the company's commitment to ethical responsibilities. Internet companies, including both Yahoo! and Google, have established self-censoring search engines in China

Will Congress Actually Make Those Budget Cuts?

| Mon Feb. 6, 2006 8:44 PM EST

On the face of it, there isn't much of surprise in the Bush administration's FY2007 budget proposal, which was released today. Lots of painful cuts to programs for the poor that don't really affect the fiscal picture all that much but will leave a lot of people diseased and dying. Lots of unnecessary tax breaks for the wealthy and extravagant increases in defense spending that will affect the fiscal picture quite a bit. And an increase in the deficit as a result. It's cruel and innumerate—that always-adorable combination. What's surprising, though, is that the administration is proposing bigger cuts to domestic programs this year than it has in years previous.

Normally we see a bit of a kabuki dance during budget season. The White House comes out in February and makes a big fanfare about limiting the growth of domestic spending and then, after much praise, Congress quietly refuses to go along, seeing as most senators and representatives actually want to get re-elected, and most of the programs up for hacking are actually popular. And the press mysteriously refuses to point out that this is all a stupid charade meant to allow the president to appear "fiscally responsible" and appease the slobbering fan base without actually doing anything. Still, life goes on, more or less.

Spare a thought for Iraqi journalists

| Mon Feb. 6, 2006 3:11 PM EST

New at Mother Jones:

David Enders considers the main workaday challenge facing Iraqi journalists: staying alive. Their ordeals don't grab the headlines but they probably have it even harder than their Western colleagues. (Link)

Tom Engelhardt tries to wrap his head around the weirdness of Bushworld, as attested by an action-packed State of the Union week featuring, among other oddities, a defense budget that doesn't pay for warfighting, a new mega-contract for Halliburton to build "detention facilities" in the homeland, and a jihad against T-shirts. (Link)

Reactions to Massachusetts gay bar attacks

| Mon Feb. 6, 2006 1:36 PM EST

Jacob Robita, the Massachusetts gay bar attacker, is dead following a shootout with police in Arkansas. Robita attacked two bar patrons with a hatchet, and shot another. He then went on the run and killed a woman he picked up on the road, after which he kiled a police officer.

Robito had once attended a police academy for troubled adolescents, and had neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, and racist materials in his room. After Robito launched his attacks at Puzzles Lounge in New Bedford, the Web was abuzz with responses. Here are samples from some message boards, one of which is a popular Republican board with a daily prayer thread:

You can't help wondering whether these lunatics are put up to this by the left simply to create "victims" and provoke public outrage over "hate crimes" and thereby advance the left's various agenda of "reparations", "affirmative action", "gay marrage", "diversity leadership" and anything else that they can think of to drive wealth transfer and the amoral secularization of society.

"which ones are considered *Love Crimes*?"
The ones that happen at highway rest stops.

Reportedly, the teenager was asked: "Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?"

A teenager armed with a hatchet and handgun opened fire inside a gay bar early Thursday, wounding at least three people
Lover's spat.

Ever see a queer hit on the wrong guy?
The "fag" deserves it.

What caused the rampage?
Did he watch Bareback Mountain?

Way to go Jacob!
It's people like you and Rudolph that that make America great!! Keep the liberal trash in their place or better yet, DEAD.
Thanks.
They will drop the case.

I'M SHAKING MY BUTT PLUG IN ANGER

swallow that, libfags!

REVENGE FOR BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN!