Welcome to Clean Start, ThinkProgress Green?s morning round-up of the latest in climate and clean energy. Here is what we?re reading. What are you?
On Thursday, Lucy Lawless scaled the derrick of the Noble Discoverer, Shell Oil’s drilling ship that is scheduled to travel from New Zealand to the Chukchi Sea to begin exploratory drilling off Alaska’s northwest coast. [Mother Jones]
When a civil case against BP PLC opens on Monday, federal prosecutors plan to accuse the oil giant of making a series of decisions that caused it to be grossly negligent in the deadly explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, according to sealed documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. [WSJ]
More than two decades after Congress passed tough new rules to clean up the nation?s air, the chief executive officer of Public Service Enterprise Group said yesterday the country should adopt those standards. [NJ Spotlight]
A quick-burning wildfire raced through 40 acres of dry trees and brush in Soda Canyon Thursday, sending a plume of grayish brown smoke over the Napa Valley. [Napa Valley Register]
A dozen US Senators, including John Kerry and Scott Brown, are urging government officials to reauthorize a production tax credit for wind energy projects that is set to expire at the end of the year. [Boston Globe]
Drought kept a tight grip on large sections of the United States, but recent rains put some of the most hard-hit areas on the road to recovery, a report from climate experts said Thursday. [Reuters]
What may surprise you is what one of Wall Street?s top regulators has to say about who you?re paying when you fill up at the pump: speculators on Wall Street. [ABC News]
Ongoing dry weather over the spring and summer threatens to place more areas of England in a state of drought, the Environment Agency (EA) has warned. [BBC]
Yesterday, President Barack Obama laid out the steps the White House is taking on rising gas costs, telling the Florida crowd that “drill everywhere” rhetoric is a “bumper sticker,” not a solution, but that he’s working to reduce oil demand and rein in Wall Street speculators.
When CNN moderator John King directly asked the Republican candidates for their own plans on gas prices at Wednesday’s debate, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum completely sidestepped the question by attacking Obama’s foreign policy in Iran. Newt Gingrich, who released a half-hour ad targeting energy prices earlier that day, offered nothing beyond his one-sentence talking point on gas prices:
Well, the first thing I’d do, across the board for the entire region, is create a very dramatic American energy policy of opening up federal lands and opening up offshore drilling, replacing the EPA.
Gingrich, who earlier in the debate said that he could lower gas prices to $2.50, did not explain how any of these policies would lower prices to his promised benchmark, a price economists agree is impossible to achieve. Gingrich omitted that the U.S. became a net fuel exporter for the first time in 60 years as domestic production hit an 8-year high in 2011. Evidence shows that speculators drive up gas prices. Although Gingrich released a half-hour ad focused on gas prices and energy policy ahead of Wednesday night’s debate, given a chance to defend it, he couldn’t even elaborate beyond the expected conservative talking point.
But given the chance to offer proposals, Gingrich couldn’t even come to his own defense to elaborate beyond the expected talking point of drill, baby, drill.
Read an excerpt of the candidates’ answers to CNN moderator John King.
KING: The American people often don’t pay much attention to what’s going on in the world until they have to, but this is an issue, this confrontation with Iran that is partly responsible for what we have seen daily at the gas pump. Prices going up and going up and going up. So I want — Governor Romney come into the conversation, we’ll continue it with everyone at the table. As we have this showdown, confrontation, call it what you will with Iran. Should our leadership, including the current president of the United States and the four gentleman here with me tonight, be prepared to look the American people in the eye and say — and I want to hear everybody’s plans, over the long run I think I can bring down the price of gasoline, or I can’t if that’s your plan.
But at the moment, we need to have a conversation about how as long as this continues, the prices are likely to keep going up.
ROMNEY: Look, the — the price of gasoline pales in comparison to the idea of Ahmadinejad with nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad having fissile material that he can give to Hezbollah and Hamas and that they can bring into Latin America and potentially bring across the border into the United States to let off dirty bombs here. I mean — or — or more sophisticated bombs here, this — we simply cannot allow Iran to have nuclear weaponry. And — and — and this president has a lot of failures. It’s hard — it’s hard to think of — economically his failures, his — his policies in a whole host of areas have been troubling.
But nothing in my view is as serious a failure as his failure to deal with Iran appropriately. This president — this president should have put in place crippling sanctions against Iran, he did not. He decided to give Russia — he decided to give Russia their number one foreign policy objective, removal of our missile defense sites from Eastern Europe and got nothing in return. He could have gotten crippling sanctions against Iran. He did not. When dissident voices took to the street in Iran to protest a stolen election there, instead of standing with them, he bowed to the election. This is a president…
(APPLAUSE) ROMNEY: …who has made it clear through his administration in almost every communication we’ve had so far, that he does not want Israel to take action. That he opposes military action. This is a president who should have instead communicated to Iran that we are prepared, that we are considering military options. They’re not just on the table. They are in our hand. We must now allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. If they do, the world changes. America will be at risk. And some day, nuclear weaponry will be used. If I am president, that will not happen. If we reelect Barack Obama, it will happen.
KING: Senator Santorum, please?
SANTORUM: I agree with Governor Romney’s comment. I think they are absolutely right on and well spoken. I would say that if you’re looking for a president to be elected in this country that will send that very clear message to Iran as to the seriousness of the American public to stop them from getting a nuclear weapon, there would be no better candidate than me because I have been on the trail of Iran and trying to advocate for stopping them getting a nuclear weapon for about eight years now.
I was the author of a bill back in 2008 that talked about sanctions on a nuclear program that our intelligence community said didn’t exist and had the President of the United States, president bush oppose me for two years.
KING: Mr. Speaker, then Governor Romney, if you were president today, what would you do differently from this president tomorrow?
GINGRICH: Well, the first thing I’d do, across the board for the entire region, is create a very dramatic American energy policy of opening up federal lands and opening up offshore drilling, replacing the EPA.
Critics have attacked Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the anti-immigrant official who wrote Arizona and Alabama’s harmful immigration policies, for his ties to Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group that promotes anti-immigrant policies. But Kobach, who worked for FAIR’s legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute, claimed in a Salon interview that he had never worked for a racist organization. ?I have not done any legal work for any organization that expresses or supports racial discrimination, nor will I ever do so in the future,” he said. Kobach also claimed that he was unfamiliar with FAIR’s founder John Tanton’s viewpoints. The SPLC has heavily documented FAIR’s white supremacist history and Tanton’s racist comments, including questioning the “educability” of Latinos.
The Escape Artists: How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery. By Noam Scheiber, Simon & Schuster, 351 pages, $28.00.
A guy I know told me a story. He had a friend who was working on the 55th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center on that terrible day. When the plane hit the North Tower, everybody in the office understandably got very worried. When the plane hit the South Tower, people were going crazy. But the authorities on the floor?calm, experienced?told them not to panic. The guy?s friend thought to himself, ?Fuck this, we?re all going to die," and raced downstairs, exiting the building right before it collapsed. I thought of that story when reading Noam Scheiber?s The Escape Artists, about the economic crisis at the start of Obama?s presidency and the administration?s response. In the book, based upon hundreds of on- and off-the-record interviews with principals and other witnesses to events described, Obama and his top economic and political staff emerge as, to a man (more about the one woman later), thoughtful and honorable public servants (Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel isn?t very calm). But Scheiber argues that they grasped neither the magnitude of the crisis nor the opposition they faced from a rabidly partisan Republican Party.
Scheiber?s strategy is to show the reader that, as they used to say in the Reagan years, ?personnel are policy.? He elaborates this axiom in two ways. First, at pivotal moments, key people do what their history and temperament have prepared them to do. Thus, Tim Geithner?s long history of working with banks as a regulator guides critical decisions as Secretary of the Treasury. Second, Scheiber offers a meta-approach: Obama naturally wanted experienced people handling the economy, he writes. When the time came to make appointments he plucked Summers, Geithner, Orszag, who was then Chairman of the Commodity Future Trading Commission, Gary Gensler, and several other important players from the staff of former Clinton Treasury Secretary and Goldman Sachs and Citigroup honcho, Robert Rubin, risking a team perspective ?too close to Wall Street,? as one unnamed Democratic senator warned Obama after his election.
Scheiber astutely identifies different strains in the Rubin genealogy. Geithner represented the ?restorationist? Rubinite, adopting Rubin?s personal mannerisms and his concern about deficits. Like Obama, he?d been raised for a time abroad, and Obama was taken with his dedication to public service and modest demeanor. Scheiber observes that Geithner worried about the banks more than former banking officials in the administration, who knew they would manage just fine. Larry Summers, director of the White House National Economic Council, Rubin?s successor at the Treasury, in turn, was a ?reformist? Rubinite, unwedded to obsessing over the deficit during a massive recession. Peter Orszag, too, the team?s primary deficit hawk, had entered Rubin?s orbit as a young Clinton White House economist. ?Orszag?s power, Scheiber writes, ?came from the harmony between his worldview and the president?s. Both men were fierce anti-partisans; both shunned ideology.? Orszag thought there were practical limitations to how much the government could spend, and that much of the stimulus would inevitably be rolled into the long-term deficit. While the country was still losing 350,000 jobs per month in May 2009, Obama asked Orszag to write him a secret ?fiscal crisis? memo.
Cristina Romer alone was the pure academic of the crew, seeking to make the right, evidenced- based argument with views shaped by the layoff of her middle manager father decades earlier and by her study of the Great Depression. To Romer, an effective policy would always increase the aggregate demand of consumers and not stop at guaranteeing the safety of the banks. Only she kept the recession at the top of her agenda. Larry Summers also kept the recession a priority but, in an effort to remain in line with his colleagues, he ignores his own expertise and bails on Romer. Scheiber depicts Summers as a brilliant, but fraught figure, who fritters away his influence with the president. At times, he shows excellent judgment, but loses the argument. Unlike Emmanuel, the purported political wizard, Summers argues correctly against the offering of specific predictions in what becomes the Romer-Jared Bernstein memo forecasting the effectiveness of the stimulus and predicting that it would hold unemployment below 8 percent.
Summers is an inside angler but an inept one, whom the smoother Geithner and more dispassionate Orszag outmaneuver. Then there?s the famous matter of how much stimulus to go for. As Scheiber describes it, when Romer gives her fellow economist her estimate that $1.8 trillion is needed, Summers rejects the number as ?impractical.? So Romer constructs a ?reasonable compromise? and asks for $1.2 trillion, but also proposes smaller packages of approximately $600 billion and $800 billion. At that point, Summers?s thinking becomes clouded by the rules of Washington inside baseball. Adopting the preemptive mantle of political advisor, Summers cuts the $1.2 trillion proposal from the draft memo because, as he says to Romer, ?One point two trillion dollars is non-planetary. People will think we don?t get it.? By people, Summers means the president?s political advisors, who at that point were already on record saying that anything over a trillion dollars would be a loser in Congress. In short, Summers squanders his greatest comparative advantage over everyone else, that on these issues, his voice was the one the president trusted most. By surrendering without a fight to Rahm and the politicos, Summers prevents Obama from realizing how grave his economic team?s evaluation of the crisis was.
Scheiber?s narrative is lucid enough so that the reader can begin to question, along with the author, why several mistakes are made more than once, The White House trusts Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley time and again during sensitive negotiations long after he?s demonstrated his bad faith. The deficit fetish culminates in the ghastly 2011 effort by Obama?s new Chief of Staff, Bill Daley, and David Plouffe, his 2008 campaign manager, to increase the president?s credibility with independent voters by positioning him as a budget cutter?not only the ?hoariest of Washington?s old saws,? Scheiber says, but an old saw dependent on the fantasy, even after the Tea Party ascendancy, that a deal can be cut with the Republicans. But there are strange omissions in the book. Scheiber fails to discuss the successful auto bailout, without which the country might have lost another one million jobs. He doesn?t point to the Republican?s unprecedented use of the filibuster as their most powerful obstructionist tool. In the most wrong-headed analysis in the book, Scheiber argues that the president should have delayed health care reform in 2009, and tried to pass more stimulus or financial reform. But there is no reason that the president couldn?t have proposed a second stimulus to Congress while the health care bill worked its way through the system. Moreover, the best chance to increase employment?besides the original stimulus?was changing the composition of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. But Obama reappointed moderate Republican, Ben Bernanke, as Fed chair, instead of endorsing a more aggressive alternative. For some reason Scheiber?a skilled, knowledgeable economic writer?does not pause to give his readers an understanding of Obama and his team?s thinking about monetary policy.
I happen to think that if the health care system is rationally integrated and costs are controlled in 20 years, then the Affordable Care Act will ratify Obama?s place as one of America?s most important domestic policy presidents. But Scheiber is right that if Obama and his team accomplished a great thing in fending off depression, they did not relentlessly seek out every alternative to increase GDP and job growth. Economically, things could have gotten even worse than they did. Maybe?just maybe?we?re starting to come out of it. But the escape artists were the authorities. They told everyone to stay calm while the building was burning down. They should have had a better instinct for the unique crisis they faced. They did ok, but they?re not really artists?they?re lucky to have escaped.
Bank of America, seeking to punish those who want to hold them accountable, will stop selling new mortgages to Fannie Mae, something that Fannie is supposed to be hurt by, I guess. Notice the lack of the words "Freddie Mac" in that last sentence I[...]
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Yet another poll shows Rick Santorum with a lead among Republican women; according the latest survey from ABC News and The Washington Post, 57 percent of Republican women have a favorable view of the former Pennsylvania senator, compared to the 61 percent who have a favorable view of Mitt Romney. What?s more, as The Post notes, Romney has higher negative ratings among GOP women than Santorum does?28 percent to 18 percent.
There is at least one reason to be suspicious of this result; the sample of Republican women in this poll?137 people, or 13 percent of all respondents?isn?t large, and the margin of error on the survey is ±9.5 percentage points. But even if we take the lower bound as the actual result, it still comes as a surprise to learn that, among Republicans at least, there isn?t much of a gender gap between the two candidates.
Indeed, the same is also true as far as their unpopularity is concerned. Santorum is viewed unfavorably by 40 percent of Democratic women and 36 percent of independent women, while Romney does somewhat worse with 55 percent unfavorability among Democratic women and 43 percent among independent women. Santorum?s lower numbers are almost certainly the product of lower name recognition, given the extent to which Santorum is more outspoken about his anti-birth control views??I?m not a believer in birth control, artificial birth control,? said the former senator in a 2006 interview?they should go up, as opponents and media bring attention his way.
Cross Posted for The Stars Hollow GazetteIt has been known since last Summer that the New York City Police Department has has an intelligence unit coached by, and in conjunction with, the CIA which focuses on the Muslim community. This is being done even[...]
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It doesn't seem that Jon Huntsman is digging this whole having-endorsed-Mitt-Romney thing.[...]
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A woman who was recently excluded from a House Oversight Committee hearing on contraception says she was qualified to testify because unlike the all-male panel of witnesses, she actually uses birth control.
Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) said at the time that he had rejected Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke because she was "not found to be appropriate or qualified," dismissing her as someone who "appears to have become energized over this issue."
During a special House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee hearing on Thursday, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) finally gave Fluke a chance to respond.
"I will confirm that I was energized," she stated as the committee erupted in laughter. "As you can see from the reaction behind me, many women in this country are energized about this issue."
"In terms of whether or not I was an appropriate witness, I felt insulted not for myself, but for the women I wanted to represent, the women whose stories I wanted to convey to the committee, and the women whose voices were silenced that day," Fluke explained, adding "I?m an American woman who uses contraception, so let?s start right there. That makes me qualified to talk to my elected officials about my health care needs."
Because of its roots as a Catholic and Jesuit university, Georgetown does not provide contraception as a part of health care for students. An Obama administration mandate aims to change that.
Fluke said she would have told the Republican-controlled House Oversight Committee how the lack of birth control coverage had impacted students on campus.
"My testimony would have been about women who have been affected by their policy, who have medical needs and have suffered dire consequences," she explained to The Washington Post earlier this month.
"The committee did not get to hear real stories I had to share, about actual women who have been dramatically affected by this policy."
(H/T: Think Progress)