Tagged: Congress

Republicans pass a bill banning scientists from advising on their own research

Congressional climate wars were dominated last week by the U.S. Senate, which spent the day debating, and ultimately failing to pass, a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. While all that was happening, and largely unnoticed, the House was busy doing what it does best: attacking science.

H.R. 1422, which passed 229-191, would shake up the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, placing restrictions on those pesky scientists and creating room for experts with overt financial ties to the industries affected by EPA regulations.

Here’s the lie:

The bill is being framed as a play for transparency: Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, argued that the board’s current structure is problematic because it “excludes industry experts, but not officials for environmental advocacy groups.” The inclusion of industry experts, he said, would right this injustice…

In what might be the most ridiculous aspect of the whole thing, the bill forbids scientific experts from participating in “advisory activities” that either directly or indirectly involve their own work. In case that wasn’t clear: experts would be forbidden from sharing their expertise in their own research — the bizarre assumption, apparently, being that having conducted peer-reviewed studies on a topic would constitute a conflict of interest. “In other words,” wrote Union of Concerned Scientists director Andrew A. Rosenberg in an editorial for RollCall, “academic scientists who know the most about a subject can’t weigh in, but experts paid by corporations who want to block regulations can.”

Just in case you wondered what the next couple of years will be like with the looniest members of Bedlam in charge of the branch of government charged with advancing our economy, our freedoms and liberty via legislation.

“Hello, is there anybody in there?
“Just nod if you can hear me,
“is there anyone at home?”

Thanks, Mike

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Solar and wind energy start to win on price


Click to enlarge — US Army base solar farm in White Sands, New Mexico

For the solar and wind industries in the United States, it has been a long-held dream: to produce energy at a cost equal to conventional sources like coal and natural gas.

That day appears to be dawning.

The cost of providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas.

Utility executives say the trend has accelerated this year, with several companies signing contracts, known as power purchase agreements, for solar or wind at prices below that of natural gas, especially in the Great Plains and Southwest, where wind and sunlight are abundant.

Those prices were made possible by generous subsidies that could soon diminish or expire, but recent analyses show that even without those subsidies, alternative energies can often compete with traditional sources…

And there have never been conventional power plant build-outs that got off the ground without state or federal assistance of some kind.

…In Oklahoma, American Electric Power ended up tripling the amount of wind power it had originally sought after seeing how low the bids came in last year.

“Wind was on sale — it was a Blue Light Special,” said Jay Godfrey, managing director of renewable energy for the company. He noted that Oklahoma, unlike many states, did not require utilities to buy power from renewable sources.

“We were doing it because it made sense for our ratepayers,” he said.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the main trade group, the price of electricity sold to utilities under long-term contracts from large-scale solar projects has fallen by more than 70 percent since 2008, especially in the Southwest.,,

The price drop extends to homeowners and small businesses as well; last year, the prices for residential and commercial projects fell by roughly 12 to 15 percent from the year before.

The wind industry largely tells the same story, with prices dropping by more than half in recent years. Emily Williams, manager of industry data and analytics at the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, said that in 2013 utilities signed “a record number of power purchase agreements and what ended up being historically low prices…”

“We’re finding that in certain regions with certain wind projects that these are competing or coming in below the cost of even existing generation sources,” she said.

…Solar executives are looking to extend a 30 percent federal tax credit that is set to fall to 10 percent at the end of 2016. Wind professionals are seeking renewal of a production tax credit that Congress has allowed to lapse and then reinstated several times over the last few decades…

Where that effort will go now is anybody’s guess, though, with Republicans in control of both houses starting in January.

Mail me a penny postcard when you find some Congressional Republicans interested in saving money, aiding the environment, contributing to sound ecological principles that make a better life for workingclass folks.

RTFA for details. There are answers for a few of the non-political questions.

Republican leadership unveils their immigration plan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled his party’s long-awaited plan on immigration on Wednesday, telling reporters, “We must make America somewhere no one wants to live.”

Appearing with House Speaker John Boehner, McConnell said that, in contrast to President Obama’s “Band-Aid fixes,” the Republican plan would address “the root cause of immigration, which is that the United States is, for the most part, habitable.”

“For years, immigrants have looked to America as a place where their standard of living was bound to improve,” McConnell said. “We’re going to change that.”

Boehner said that the Republicans’ plan would reduce or eliminate “immigration magnets,” such as the social safety net, public education, clean air, and drinkable water…

Attempting, perhaps, to tamp down excitement about the plan, McConnell warned that turning America into a dystopian hellhole that repels immigrants “won’t happen overnight.”

“Our crumbling infrastructure and soaring gun violence are a good start, but much work still needs to be done,” he said. “When Americans start leaving the country, we’ll know that we’re on the right track.”

In closing, the two congressional leaders expressed pride in the immigration plan, noting that Republicans had been working to make it possible for the past thirty years.

I have nothing to add to such a complete description of the goals of Republican politics.

Thanks, Mike

Republican policy on immigration is — NO! You expected different?


Obama’s advantage is that he has an immigration policy. Republicans don’t.

There’s one way President Obama’s executive action on immigration has been a boon to Republicans. Instead of coming up with their own immigration policy, the’ve been able to just unite against Obama’s. But fury isn’t a policy. And, as is clear, fury isn’t going to stop Obama’s policy.

But there is a simple way out of this immigration mess for Republicans: pass a bill that President Obama can sign.

Not a bill, mind you, that Obama necessarily wants to sign. It doesn’t even have to be a bill Obama does sign. It can be a bill Obama will loathe. Republicans can propose the most militarized border this side of the DMZ. They can erase the Senate bill’s path to citizenship. They can electrify the fence. They can wall unauthorized immigrants off from social services. Hell, they can even pass a bill authorizing funds to deport all 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the US.

But one way or another, Republicans need to decide what to do with the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country now. They need to take away Obama’s single strongest argument — that this is a crisis, and that congressional Republicans don’t have an answer and won’t let anyone else come up with one.

Republicans aren’t just the opposition party anymore. They are, arguably, the governing party — they will soon control the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, most state legislatures, and more governorships. And the governing party needs to solve — or at least propose solutions — to the nation’s problems. And that means the Republican policy on immigration needs to be something more than opposing Obama’s immigration policies. It needs to be something more than vague noises about border security…

“To those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill,” Obama said on Thursday…

Obama has one solid advantage right now…at least he wants to solve the problem. Republicans remain stuck into their legislative mantra for the last six years – stop Obama from solving the problem. Any problem. That’s not a winning position. 2016 is six years closer and all the Republicans have achieved for these last six years is demonstrating to all Americans how little they care about problem-solving other than earning their paycheck as pimps for Big Oil, Big Coal – and saying “NO” to everything else.

Congressional Republicans reflect their ideology — “Old White Guys”

Old White Guys

The secretive Republican Steering Committee announced its recommendations late Tuesday after an all-day meeting to pick the heads of 17 committees, with all of those slots going to white men. Rep. Candice Miller, who was previously reappointed by Speaker John Boehner to lead the House Administration Committee, will remain the only woman to wield a gavel.

As Rachel explained last night, “This is your Republican Party in Washington in all its glory. It should be noted, this is the cross-section of America they’re offering to the American people now that they’ve taken power.”

RTFA. The blog post goes into some brief detail; but, you know exactly what it’s all about.

I wasn’t kidding when I started this personal blog and noted in “What this blog is all about” that people generally stop learning anything new at the age of 26. Beaucoup scientific studies have confirmed that statement. Google some scientific sources if that gives you a problem.

The point remains – why I joke about having a 26-year-old mindset with a much older brain. I learn new things daily, weekly, every waking moment of my life. Some conclusions haven’t changed; but, knowledge, understanding a broader approach to conclusions is happening all the time.

Then there are people like this crew that Congressional Republicans are placing in charge of committees. Some of them were old farts when they were eighteen years old. We’ve all known people like that. It’s not limited to conservative politics either. Just more prevalent. So, here we are, once again. A useless Congress controlled by clowns less productive than their predecessors.

Cartoon of the Day


Click to enlarge

Anyone out there gullible enough to believe any number of Republicans in Congress – majority or minority – would evaluate and vote for Loretta Lynch to replace Eric Holder? You know what the phony arguments will be. Lies.

She’s been through the vetting process before Congress twice before and passed handily. But, opposition to racism isn’t a virtue among what passes for conservatives, nowadays.

Obama and Xi pledge cooperation on greenhouse gas emissions

China and the US have unveiled new pledges on greenhouse gas emissions, as the leaders of the two countries met for talks in Beijing.

US President Barack Obama said the move was “historic”, as he set a new goal of reducing US levels between 26%-28% by 2025, compared with 2005 levels.

China did not set a specific target, but said emissions would peak by 2030.

China has cut carbon intensity for nine years in a row.

The two countries also agreed to reduce the possibility of military accidents in the air and sea…

In case you didn’t notice, only one of those two countries is stacking up military forces in air and on the sea – next to the other.

The two countries together produce about 45% of the world’s carbon dioxide…

President Obama’s offer is based on cuts in carbon emissions from coal power (a policy the Republicans threaten to reverse).

China’s offer to peak emissions is a long-awaited decision. Its emissions trajectory is now similar to Europe and the USA, just further behind because it still has so many people in poverty.

Scientists will fear this agreement is not yet strong enough. But it does show leadership – and it sends a powerful signal to financiers that investing in dirty fuels for the future is becoming a risk.

Except, not for the next two years at least. The Party of NO is now in a position to try to turn back what little has been done.

In September, China told a United Nations summit on climate change that it would soon set a peak for carbon emissions and that it would make its economy more carbon efficient by 2020.

China had previously aimed to reduce its carbon intensity, which meant reducing the amount of emissions per dollar of economic output. This meant that with its rapidly growing economy, its emissions could still rise.

Wednesday’s pledge is the first time it has agreed to set a ceiling, albeit an undefined one, on overall emissions.

China can speak for themselves and their actions speak much louder than editorial content in the NY TIMES. As an American citizen, I’m concerned with what my nation does – or in the case of any political topic requiring commitment at least 6th grade science, what my nation does not do.

Americans aren’t educated. Our politicians reject education and science – aside from lip service. As the recent mid-terms proved, our nation not only does not vote in their own self-interest, they don’t vote.

I think my cynicism is justified.

U.S. Tech should worry even more about the Snowden effect


Edward Snowden speaks to a European Council parliamentary hearing

U.S. technology companies have a lot to fear from the fallout over the widespread spying by the National Security Agency. Corporate customers ripping out their products from data centers around the world isn’t one of them.

The real threat? Projects just getting off the ground. A $185-million submarine data cable that Brazil is building to Europe – which the country says can be built without U.S. technologies – offers one example, which we reported on today.

The cable illustrates a bigger problem facing Silicon Valley and the rest of the U.S. tech industry: Emerging markets are spending more on information technology and taking a bigger share of the global market, as growth rates from developed countries are slowing down.

If the Brazil-to-Europe cable is built as planned, and U.S. tech firms are passed over in favor of European, Asian or local suppliers, it would be a sign that when it comes to international tech projects, the Snowden Effect will be as widespread as the NSA’s surveillance.

The dummies in Congress continue to maintain the Cold War mentality which has ballooned since 9/11. On one hand you have the wholesale handover of American privacy into the disdainful care of the NSA and FBI. They couldn’t care less about our rights.

On the other hand, you have populist politicians who attack furriners – especially China – as the Red Menace which sleeps in the closet opposite your bed – while terrorists sleep underneath. So, Huawei – which built the broadband infrastructure for France and a chunk of the UK, as examples – is banned from doing business in the United States. Does anyone think that constitutes a negative in the eyes of nations already put off by US militarism, snoops and profiteers? If Uncle Sugar is afraid of this company they must be doing something right.

Huawei may or may not get a piece of the Brazilian project; but, Cisco doesn’t stand a chance.

Stephen Roach asks: Is this the last chance for Japan?

wr10

Japan is the petri dish for the struggle against the secular stagnation that is now gripping most major developed economies. And, notwithstanding all of the fanfare surrounding “Abenomics,” Japan’s economy remains moribund. In the six quarters of Shinzo Abe’s latest stint as prime minister, annualized real GDP growth has averaged just 1.4% – up only slightly from the anemic post-1992 average of 1%.

Abenomics, with its potentially powerful combination of monetary and fiscal stimulus, coupled with a wide array of structural reforms, was supposed to end Japan’s “lost decades.” All three “arrows” of the strategy were to be aimed at freeing the economy from a 15-year deflationary quagmire.

Unfortunately, not all of the arrows have been soaring in flight. The Bank of Japan seems well on its way to delivering on the first one – embracing what it calls quantitative and qualitative easing (QQE). Relative to GDP, the BOJ’s monetary-policy gambit could actually far outstrip the efforts of America’s Federal Reserve.

And that’s pretty much what happened in Japan over the last 24 hours – with an appropriately positive response from world stock markets.

But the flight of the other two arrows is shaky, at best. In recent days, Abe has raised serious questions about proceeding with the second phase of a previously legislated consumer-tax hike that has long been viewed as the linchpin of Japan’s debt-consolidation strategy. Abe has flinched because the economy remains weak, posing renewed risks of a deflationary relapse. Meanwhile, the third arrow of structural reforms – especially tax, education, and immigration reforms – is nowhere near its target.

Abenomics, one might conclude, is basically a Japanese version of the failed policy combination deployed in the United States and Europe: massive unconventional liquidity injections by central banks (with the European Central Bank apparently now poised to follow the Fed), but little in the way of fundamental fiscal and structural reforms. The political expedience of the short-term monetary fix has triumphed once again.

All the fixes left undone by the end of Barack Obama’s first term became impossible during his second term. The Republican strategy of doing nothing – was implemented and increased in the heart of the worst recession in decades. As if they cared?

The problems of dying infrastructure remain. The only tax structure revisions possible over the remaining two years of Obama’s second term would be in response to corporate demands – with a few sops thrown in for Democrat election campaigns in 2016. Even education at the broadly collegiate level is starting to crumble.

We grow closer to the Japanese model of self-destruction month-by-month. Stephen Roach’s article is as cogent as ever. Though his prime area of expertise is Asia – he may as well apply the same analysis to the United States.

Banned dietary supplements back on the shelves – still adulterated

Many dietary supplements recalled by the FDA for containing banned ingredients find their way back on the shelves, still adulterated, researchers found.

In an analysis of products recalled between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2012, about two-thirds still contained banned ingredients when analyzed an average of nearly 3 years later, Pieter Cohen…and colleagues reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Action by the FDA has not been completely effective in eliminating all potentially dangerous adulterated supplements from the U.S. marketplace,” they wrote. “More aggressive enforcement of the law, changes to the law to increase the FDA’s enforcement powers, or both will be required if sales of these products are to be prevented in the future…”

A total of 274 supplements had been recalled during the 4-year study period, and 27 of these met inclusion criteria and were analyzed. They had been purchased a mean of 34 months after FDA recalls.

Overall, they found that 67% of the recalled supplements still had pharmaceutical adulterants in them. In most cases (63%), it was the same adulterant identified by the FDA, but in some cases (22%) they contained different banned substances…Sometimes the products contained both the banned ingredient identified by FDA and additional adulterants, though the researchers did not give a specific percentage.

Cohen and colleagues also looked at supplements by type, finding that 85% of sports enhancement remained adulterated, along with 67% of weight-loss supplements, and 20% of sexual enhancement supplements…The majority…were made by U.S. manufacturers…

Golly. Think the manufacturers have anything to worry about? Will Congress spend as much time on this dangerous crap as they do on fancier – and useless – policies like examining planes landing from West Africa for Ebola? Since there are no planes landing in the United States directly from West Africa!

The Party of NO, Congressional Republicans care less about the health of Americans than almost anything else. Watching an assembly of hypocrites join and mingle in a dance of meaningless slogans is about as productive as guarding a landfill from scavengers. A healthy society has no need for garbage-pickers.

Meanwhile, the FDA has toothless authority to stop crap from being sold over-the-counter as diet supplements.