Let's take a break from politics, economics, and the daily grind and watch the beautiful video one Colin Rich made with limited means, unlimited imagination, a balloon, two cameras, and a parachute. Earth is a lovely place and his video reminds us of that.
As Brad DeLong is fond of saying, "Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?"
It's pretty disheartening, just as President Obama has announced he'll be going to the Copenhagen Climate Conference at its closing (implying a possible deal to announce on carbon emission reductions) to see that the WaPo is instead playing up the ridiculous 'Climategate' story so prominently. It's a great distraction for those who'd rather bury their heads in the sand than deal with the reality of climate change, but a real disservice to readers who by now should have little doubt of the severity of the crisis we are into.
I remember when the Post was a beacon for press freedom and independence. Do you?
The Sunday bobbleheads are all a-twitter about drawing a line at bailing out Detroit —and about demanding that the UAW make concessions before helping the automakers. I’ll be damned if the current situation is about the cost of labor—or about the auto industry sending the country into an economic crisis. Maybe somebody in the Obama transition team can get a grip on this. The problem originated on Wall St and in Washington, not in Detroit. The auto industry, hardly a model of foresight itself, is paying the price of greed and opacity in the financial markets going horribly wrong.
That said. what can the government do to prevent the financial crisis from taking Detroit down with it? Perhaps the answer lies in combining our essential transistion from the internal combustion engine to cleaner power with public investment in our manufacturing base. If the auto industry needs help, a reasonable quid pro quo could be that the investment go directly towards hybrids, electric cars, and incentives for the public to buy them.
We need to stimulate the economy now, not in several years. Therefore, why not combine an immediate investment in much larger tax credits towards the purchase of hybrids (only those getting a minimum mile-per-gallon, excluding the riduculous SUV and large truck hybrids) with an investment in hiring and spending in Detroit on producing hybrids and electric plug-ins like the Chevy Volt, which will be coming on line soon enough to require investment today?
Why not require equity for taxpayers in return for any U.S. investment in the auto companies, requiring a voting share. Our voting leverage would be focused on management working with an eye to conversion to greener technologies immediately. Why not also give consumers a credit—or a voucher—for turning in vehicles that are churning out greenhouse gases over certain amounts? This targeted stimulus voucher could be redeemable for purchasing hybrids, in addition to the new hybrid purchase credit. This combination of money would be a major incentive to largely low-income families, who are nursing old gas guzzlers, to turn them in for new hybrids, stimulating the economy as they clean up the air. And hey, they’d be helping keep Detriot workers on the assembly line to boot!
I’m no economist, but aren’t there lots of ways to structure targeted stimulus incentives towards spending we need, rather than merely bailing out rich investors or sending money out randomly from the IRS in checks we’ll just hoard instead of spending?
UPDATE— Clearly, I'm not an economist, since it's been pointed out to me that the incentives for low-income families to trade up from a gas guzzling clunker to a hybrid would probably be prohibitively expensive. However, brighter minds than I have suggested that an incentive to turn in the clunkers could be structured to finance a more efficient used car that gets much better mileage and needs less repair. This would still help stimulate the economy and clean up the air.
Hybrids and electrics clearly are the immediate future of the industry. Stimulating their adoption is in our best interest and in the interest of saving our auto industry. We better not forget that in any assistance Detroit is offered.
Richard Bennett reacts to Susan Crawford being chosen to join the Obama FCC transition team. Score one for net neutrality. Score another, he says, for hiring an “internet person.”
Kevin Werbach, who has also been named to the FCC transition team, has some ideas of his own.
“It occurred to me that with a new administration coming into office, it might be time to re-open the issue of how vendors like Comcast resell access to something that doesn't belong to them, the Internet. It seems there ought to be some rules about what they can and can't do, since they don't behave reasonably on their own.”
I’ve spent a fair amount of ink this past week on Sarah Palin, but aside from what her appointment says about John McCain, she’s probably not make-or-break in the Presidential race. Whether you believe it’s a boldly maverick move to bring along someone with no experience of national politics and barely any experience of statewide office or whether it just seems a tad strange to you that a candidate with so much gravitas himself would trust the country, in the event of his demise, to someone with none to speak of, Sarah Palin’s not the issue.
The main issue in the race for the Presidency seems to be whether the country has had enough of what got us where we are or whether we’re ready to chance that more of the same policies might yield better results in the future. The country is in pretty hard economic times. People are losing their homes and jobs at a fast enough clip to make one wonder whether things might just be getting worse still. $600 stimulus checks haven’t stopped a rising unemployment rate and the failure of several banks, a major investment house, two major mortgage lenders, and other predatory ones.
Tax cuts for the rich have drained the fat of the land into the coffers of those with the ability to invest it anywhere in the world they like, while workers real wages have stagnated and their jobs continue to disappear abroad. Health savings accounts provide tax deductible cash for elective treatments and health club memberships— if you can afford them— while tens of millions of harder pressed citizens can’t afford to get an annual checkup without health insurance.
We’re besieged in the opinion of the world. We haven’t found a way to unite the country around shared values some seven years after being attacked by a small gang of terrorists and five and one half years after attacking a country those terrorists didn’t come from in response. Most of the policies our government has pursued seem to be like rubber to Al Queda and glue for our troops bogged down in internal sectarian conflicts halfway around the world.
We’ve been through the drowning of a great American city and we now have a candidate who shared his birthday celebration with President Bush as it happened, but he later said he’d have landed Air Force One at the nearest base to New Orleans if he’d been the Commander-in-Chief. The city is still at risk from hurricane flooding and some tens of thousands of its residents even now are unable to reoccupy their homes.
We have a continuing assault on the civil liberties that made America the beacon of democratic hope around the world. We have a government that has institutionalized torture as a way to fight those would subject our troops and civilians to torture themselves and called it a necessary ‘dark side’ to war. When confronted with evidence that illegal imprisonments and torturous interrogations were being executed without deference to the Constitution’s ban and international agreements’ prohibition of them, our President merely waved away inconvenient facts— and dared the judiciary to enforce their rulings.
When confronted with unpleasant facts, this Administration has responded with character assassination and even by revealing covert identities of covert agents to retaliate against critics. When Administration figures were convicted of crimes involved, the President’s response was to commute any meaningful sentence against his Vice President’s aide and describe him in glowing terms.
The same Administration that puffs so loudly about terror 24/7 spends little energy securing nuclear materials around the world and putting salve on the conflicts that make their eventual use a little more likely every day. While they invaded a country supposedly to pre-empt nuclear proliferation with manufactured evidence, the government as a whole is pathetic in its inability to address the spread of nuclear materials for profit and ideology from sites around the world.
The last seven years of inaction against climate change and energy dependence on foreign oil have sunk the entire planet into a tailspin from which we don’t really know we’ll recover. One thing about the current energy and environmental mess we do know is that it was utterly predictable. In fact, the scientists who told us it would happen worked for the government in some cases. But the current Administration muzzled them, lest their cries of alarm trouble the citizenry about their strong support for the petroleum barons who put them in power. And now, the successor to the throne of the party in power leads chants of “Drill, Baby, Drill,” as a solution to the problem.
Even against this backdrop and years of backing the President, Mr. McCain hopes the country will still think of him as somehow separate from the party and the policies he’s endorsed and supported for Mr. Bush. He hopes that voters are more interested an ambience of freshness emanating from an unknown and appealing woman from the North and that they will fear another unknown, what a new and very different President might mean for their future.
If Americans are distracted enough by the hoopla about war heroism and the snarky things said about community organizing and supposed elitism to forget all that we’ve been through over the past seven years of hard right policies, perhaps America will be getting what it wants and deserves. Otherwise, this coming election ought to be a referendum on whether those policies have worked out so well for us.
In northern Greenland, a part of the Arctic that had seemed immune from global warming, new satellite images show a growing giant crack and an 11-square-mile chunk of ice hemorrhaging off a major glacier, scientists said Thursday…
"The pictures speak for themselves," said Jason Box, a glacier expert at the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University who spotted the changes while studying new satellite images. "This crack is moving, and moving closer and closer to the front. It's just a matter of time till a much larger piece is going to break off.... It is imminent."
I’ve long wondered about what America after 9/11 would have been like had there not been a second and more sustained terrorist threat in the wake of the September 11 attacks: the anthrax terror. This event lasted for weeks and never actually came to a definitive end, sustaining the sense of siege in the country and prompting a mindset of dread that became poisonous to democracy.
The anthrax attacks also provided the backdrop for so much of the post 9/11 speculation about how Middle Eastern terrorists could be planning multiple and even more apocalyptic attacks at any point. This speculation was seized upon by the most draconian elements of the Bush Administration (especially by Dick Cheney’s inner circle) and used to justify the most brazen measures to curtail American civil liberties in our history. Not least, speculation and leaks about the anthrax attacks sometimes tilted toward Iraq. Even after the Iraq angle was discounted, the anthrax episode helped fuel the irrational emotional hype behind a relentless campaign to invade Iraq, under the false pretense that Saddam Hussein continued to threaten the United States with biological and nuclear weapons.
So, the news that the long, inept, and inconclusive investigation into the anthrax attacks has come to a dead end after the suicide of Army biological weapons specialist Bruce Ivins isn’t particularly comforting to me. I believe that the truth behind the anthrax attacks should be investigated to a point beyond question. The implications of the attacks have never been given a full hearing, because the investigation was ongoing and criminal. Now, it seems that because the investigation can no longer result in a trial of Mr. Ivins, there will never be a complete hearing on it.
Most of the journalists who have seriously considered the anthrax attack story aren’t satisfied with the investigation. The false leaks that both heightened public panic and ruined the life of an earlier target were apparently indicative of the lack of precision and preparedness needed to get to the bottom of the story. Even if the theory which seems to have resulted in Ivins’ suicide turns out to be correct, it would be in the country’s best interest that the facts be laid out for the public to the best of our ability.
Glenn Greenwald has called for a Congressional investigation into the attacks and into the events surrounding them. This would be for the best. This episode in our history, with its connections to the tragedies and profound policy mistakes that followed from it, needs a full and unassailable airing.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has some great information up about climate change. The CO2 chart above is a pretty compelling piece of evidence for anyone who wants a long-long term picture of what human activity over the last 60 years has done to the atmosphere.
As for reasons to be concerned about the warming trend under way as a result, NASA has this to say:
"The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years."
Check out the entire climate change site at NASA/JPL. (A big hat tip to Gristmill for this)
Where ink is being spilled at all over Al Gore’s call for a carbon-free electrical grid in the United States, so far it’s mostly been used to ridicule the totality of the goal. It’s fascinating to see resistance and denial mount, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that humanity is in the throes of an unprecedented crisis. What is it that makes climate change so hard to face?
It’s been suggested that our denial stems from the more immediate challenges we must deal with, what with our tanking economy and a lack of public confidence in the direction of the country generally. It’s certainly true that the U.S. faces huge economic issues; rising joblessness, a housing crisis of unprecedented proportions, and huge increases in energy costs. But addressing these problems could easily dovetail with addressing global warming.
An investment in clean energy development could spur major increases in employment— in the short term. If the federal government were to favor clean energy production in some of the same ways the Germans already do, a boom in solar and other energy companies would make for a hiring boom in this sector. Development of electric cars with higher MPG ratings would help Detroit dig out of the crisis it’s now in, fighting layoffs and factory closings. Additionally, increased investments in mass transit would require construction workers get to work now, rather than waiting for housing starts to come around again in the distant future.
The prospect that more domestic energy production is on the way soon would ease the leverage that OPEC countries have over America’s long-term strategic interests. The outflow of military money and diplomatic energy that currently goes towards keeping Saudi princes in power and towards securing oil fields in the Middle East and Persia, with all of the attendant exposure to tribal and religious conflicts in that region would diminish. This reduced security exposure could strengthen the struggling U.S. domestic economy.
The ever-present schism in American politics between those who oppose foreign intervention to protect domestic economic interests and those who unflinchingly support U.S. military strength would tend to lessen, as both goals would align more closely. The often tortured logic that separates human rights and self-interest would be less pragmatically attractive to our leaders. As our energy footprint became more independent of foreign raw materials sources, our security interests would change in a holistic way too.
The current cynicism and lack of enthusiasm for the future that plagues the American economy and political system would be tremendously lessened by a patriotic and forward-looking goal that addresses the biggest problems facing the world. If Americans look back with fond feeling on the optimism that built the post-World War II boom years in our nation, a fresh dedication to new challenges facing the 21st century world would provide a positive outlet for the can-do attitude that made that American era of prosperity possible in the first place.
The broad outlines of our choice are starkly clear. Either Americans embrace the challenge of clean energy— and national renewal— fully, or we retreat into denial and defensiveness, also limiting our future view to the immediate and pessimistic horizon. Either we divide further into haves and have-nots or look for common solutions together. The goals outlined in the climate change fight are up for discussion and refinement. The facts facing us are not. America has led the world, for better and for worse, to the crisis we now face. It’s up to us whether we choose to lead the way out of it as well.