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Sandy Politics

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Was Hurricane Sandy a Democrat?  Two weeks ago, Mitt Romney’s tormentor was a debate moderator named Candy.  This week, Romney’s nemesis is a storm named Sandy.  The latest blow to the Republican’s Presidential campaign came from an actual wind.  Precious news program time, normally devoted to the battle for the White House – which amounts to free infomercial time from the networks – is now being diverted to coverage of the storm’s havoc.  Worse yet, the Benghazi story has become “old news”, bumped back to oblivion.  As Romney’s surrogates complain that Obama cannot be trusted to work with Republicans, news coverage shows the President with Republican Chris Christie at his side so frequently that rest-home-bound geriatrics are remarking about the excessive weight gained by Joe Biden.  Despite the claim that government is the problem rather than the solution, many of Sandy’s victims are finding the opposite to be the case.  FEMA can no longer be described as a government extravagance.  If all that weren’t bad enough – global warming is back in the news  .  .  .  big time  .  .  .

What could likely be a lasting legacy from Sandy will have a bipartisan impact – a painful blow to Democrats and Republicans who remain dogmatically opposed to government-initiated fiscal stimulus programs.  Sandy is about to prove them wrong.  The massive infrastructure restoration efforts, which will be necessary to address Sandy’s damage, could end up providing the financial stimulus which Congress would never have approved if Sandy had not headed westbound.

Duncan Bowen Black has a PhD in Economics from Brown University.  His Eschaton blog presents the liberal perspective on more issues than those related to the economy.  Love him or hate him, his April 30 USA Today article is downright prescient.  Sandy will prove, once and for all, that Keynes was right.  Resistance is futile.  Consider his points:

To suggest that the response to the storm impact might improve the economy is not to suggest that the storm is somehow a good thing, but a quick mobilization of resources to complete necessary repairs could temporarily boost employment and improve business for companies producing and selling construction materials.  There would also be additional multiplier effects of this spending on the economy, as workers and business owners spend their increased wages and profits.

But this could be true even absent widespread storm damage.  Speeding up other infrastructure repair projects would also put people back to work.  For example, many cities have aging water systems that experience regular costly water main breaks.  These projects don’t need costly studies or lengthy environmental impact reports and could be implemented almost immediately. Buy materials, dig up the streets, replace the pipes, repair the streets and pay your workers.  They are truly shovel ready projects in need of funding.

No degree of Austerian opposition will be able to prevent the post-Sandy infrastructure restoration programs from being implemented.  Sandy is about to teach America an important lesson, which could motivate many politicians to repeat what Richard Nixon said in 1971:  “I am now a Keynesian in economics”.

Lie-orama

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We have never experienced a Presidential campaign with more fact-checking than what we are seeing during the current cycle.  The well-timed release of a popular new book by Janine Driver entitled, You Can’t Lie to Me might be one of the reasons why this is happening.  Fact-checking websites such as PolitiFact and FactCheck have been overflowing with reports of exaggerations, half-truths and flat-out lies by the candidates and their surrogates.

PolitiFact’s roots at the Tampa Bay Times made it particularly well-situated to expose the false claims made during speeches at the Republican Convention.  One good example was the “Pants on Fire” rating given to a remark by South Dakota Senator John Thune, who claimed that the Obama administration proposed banning farm kids from doing basic chores.

Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech drew instant criticism from a number of news outlets.  I quickly felt vindicated for my last posting, which asserted that Romney made a mistake by selecting Ryan, rather than Ohio Senator Rob Portman, as his running mate.  FactCheck provided this breakdown of the misrepresentations in Ryan’s speech:

Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention contained several false claims and misleading statements.  Delegates cheered as the vice presidential nominee:

  • Accused President Obama’s health care law of funneling money away from Medicare “at the expense of the elderly.”  In fact, Medicare’s chief actuary says the law “substantially improves” the system’s finances, and Ryan himself has embraced the same savings.
  • Accused Obama of doing “exactly nothing” about recommendations of a bipartisan deficit commission — which Ryan himself helped scuttle.
  • Claimed the American people were “cut out” of stimulus spending.  Actually, more than a quarter of all stimulus dollars went for tax relief for workers.
  • Faulted Obama for failing to deliver a 2008 campaign promise to keep a Wisconsin plant open.  It closed less than a month before Obama took office.
  • Blamed Obama for the loss of a AAA credit rating for the U.S.  Actually, Standard & Poor’s blamed the downgrade on the uncompromising stands of both Republicans and Democrats.

If the widespread criticism of the veracity of Ryan’s speech had not been bad enough, Runner’s World saw fit to bust Ryan for making a false claim that he once ran a marathon in less than three hours.  In reality, it took him just over four hours.

At the conclusion of FoxNewsapalooza, the Media Matters website posted an analysis of how Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech was a smorgasbord of falsehoods concocted by bloviators from the right-wing media.

Glenn Kessler, who writes The Fact Checker blog for The Washington Post, suggested that the Left has been overreacting to the rhetoric from the Republican Convention:

Ultimately, convention speeches are about making the argument for your team.  We should fully expect politicians to make their case using facts and figures that either tilt positive about their accomplishment – or negative about their opponents.  As the fact-checking business has blossomed in the news media, it has been increasingly hard for politicians to get away with such truth-shading without someone noticing.

Both political parties will stretch the truth if they believe it will advance their political interests.  It’s been a rough campaign so far, but the GOP convention that just ended was strictly in the mainstream for such party celebrations.

As the Democratic Convention approaches, a good deal of attention has been focused on PolitiFact’s Obameter, which measures how well Obama has delivered on his campaign promises.  PolitiFact’s most recent status report offered this analysis:

Our scorecard shows Obama kept 37 percent of his promises.  He brought the war in Iraq to a close and finally achieved the Democratic dream of a universal health care program.  When the United States had Osama bin Laden in its sights, Obama issued the order to kill.

Sixteen percent are rated Broken, often because they hit a brick wall in Congress.  Global warming legislation passed the House but died in the Senate.  He didn’t even push for comprehensive immigration reform.  His program to help homeowners facing foreclosure didn’t even meet its own benchmarks. (PolitiFact rates campaign promises based on outcomes, not intentions.)

With four months left in Obama’s term, PolitiFact has rated Obama’s remaining promises Compromise (14 percent), Stalled (10 percent) or In the Works (22 percent).

One of the Obama campaign’s negative ads concerning Romney’s economic record as Governor of Massachusetts drew some criticism from FactCheck:

The ad claims that Romney raised taxes on the middle class.  It’s true that Romney imposed a number of fees, but none of them targeted middle-income persons.  Also, Romney proposed cutting the state income tax three times – a measure that would have resulted in tax cuts for all taxpayers – but he was rebuffed every time by the state’s Democratic Legislature.

I suspect that the Obama campaign has a secret plan in the works to avoid the scrutiny of fact-checkers during their convention.  Their plan to have John Kerry speak is actually part of a plot to cause the fact-checkers to fall asleep.  Once “Operation Snoozeboat” is complete, the speakers who follow Kerry will be able to make the wildest claims imaginable – and get away with it!



 

Solar Mix

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The debate over global warming is about to heat up once again.  The politicians, pundits and scientists who get paid-off by the carbon-based fuel industry to debunk research demonstrating that climate change is caused by human activity – finally have some exciting news.  The upcoming period of increased sunspot activity, which has been the subject of so many scientific articles – solar max – is now expected to be even more disappointing than the downgraded, 2009 forecast.  (Back in 2006, NASA was reporting expectations of “the most intense solar maximum in fifty years”.)   Beyond that, many scientists are suggesting that once our current sunspot cycle ends, there might not be any sunspot activity for the following 20-30 years.  Some commentators believe that the consequences for earth could involve global cooling – or as some have discussed – a “mini ice age”.

This press release from the National Solar Observatory seems to be a stark departure from last week’s National Geographic report concerning an enormous coronal mass ejection (CME) which resulted from a solar flare on June 7.  However, it’s important to keep in mind that our current sunspot cycle won’t end until 2018.  The National Geographic piece included remarks by Phillip Chamberlin, an astrophysicist involved with NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), one of several spacecraft which recorded the CME event.  Here is a passage concerning some of what Chamberlin had to say:

But he warned space-weather experts are concerned about future solar events.

The sun’s 11-year cycle of activity, driven by tangled surface magnetic fields, will hit its maximum in late 2013 or early 2014.  Magnetic messiness will peak around that time and prompt nasty solar storms.

“We’ll probably see [extreme] flares every couple of months instead of years,” Chamberlin said.

If one of these powerful flares – and its coronal mass ejection – faces Earth, the particles will pound satellite components with charged particles, short some out, and potentially cripple them.

The recent report from the National Solar Observatory reveals that astrophysicists are now making a 180-degree turn away from prior forecasts about solar activity:

A missing jet stream, fading spots, and slower activity near the poles say that our Sun is heading for a rest period even as it is acting up for the first time in years, according to scientists at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

As the current sunspot cycle, Cycle 24, begins to ramp up toward maximum, independent studies of the solar interior, visible surface, and the corona indicate that the next 11-year solar sunspot cycle, Cycle 25, will be greatly reduced or may not happen at all.

*   *   *

“This is highly unusual and unexpected,” Dr. Frank Hill, associate director of the NSO’s Solar Synoptic Network, said of the results.  “But the fact that three completely different views of the Sun point in the same direction is a powerful indicator that the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation.”

*   *   *

“If we are right,” Hill concluded, “this could be the last solar maximum we’ll see for a few decades.  That would affect everything from space exploration to Earth’s climate.”

In response to news inquiries and stories, Dr. Frank Hill issued a follow-up statement:

“We are NOT predicting a mini-ice age.  We are predicting the behavior of the solar cycle.  In my opinion, it is a huge leap from that to an abrupt global cooling, since the connections between solar activity and climate are still very poorly understood.  My understanding is that current calculations suggest only a 0.3 degree C decrease from a Maunder-like minimum, too small for an ice age.  It is unfortunate that the global warming/cooling studies have become so politically polarizing.”

So what can we expect here on earth?  Two years ago, NASA was predicting that our current sunspot cycle (Cycle 24) would have the lowest peak number of sunspots since Cycle 16, which peaked in 1928.  The peak sunspot activity for our current cycle will occur in 2013.  The May 29, 2009 report from NASA included this admonition from Doug Biesecker of the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center:

“Even a below-average cycle is capable of producing severe space weather,” points out Biesecker.  “The great geomagnetic storm of 1859, for instance, occurred during a solar cycle of about the same size we’re predicting for 2013.”

The 1859 storm–known as the “Carrington Event” after astronomer Richard Carrington who witnessed the instigating solar flare–electrified transmission cables, set fires in telegraph offices, and produced Northern Lights so bright that people could read newspapers by their red and green glow.  A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences found that if a similar storm occurred today, it could cause $1 to 2 trillion in damages to society’s high-tech infrastructure and require four to ten years for complete recovery. For comparison, Hurricane Katrina caused “only” $80 to 125 billion in damage.

So I guess we aren’t really getting “off the hook” just because our current sunspot cycle is turning out to be “below average”.  From the “climate change” standpoint, the new debate should concern the extent to which permanent damage can be inflicted upon the Earth before the anticipated “global cooling” begins.  The May, 2009 NASA article also told us what we can expect during periods of “low solar activity”:

Low solar activity has a profound effect on Earth’s atmosphere, allowing it to cool and contract.  Space junk accumulates in Earth orbit because there is less aerodynamic drag.  The becalmed solar wind whips up fewer magnetic storms around Earth’s poles.  Cosmic rays that are normally pushed back by solar wind instead intrude on the near-Earth environment.  There are other side-effects, too, that can be studied only so long as the sun remains quiet.

Regardless of what particular events are directly caused by solar activity (or the lack thereof) one thing is for certain:  We will be hearing a great deal about the latest National Solar Observatory report from the outspoken opponents to theories of human-caused climate change.


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The C Word

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June 8, 2009

I always find it amusing when politicians adopt the catch phrases and other expressions, obviously created by their lobbyist/puppeteers.  One of my favorites is “foreign oil”, as in:  “We need to end our dependence on foreign oil”.  Do they expect people to believe that Jesus made our oil different from that “Muslim oil”, which causes air pollution?  The expression:  “foreign oil” is obviously being used to vilify Arab countries for last year’s inflated gasoline prices, caused by oil speculators and American oil companies.  (Let’s not forget the price gouging by gasoline retailers.)  Most Americans realize that we have a serious problem with our dependence on petroleum products and, more generally fossil fuels, including coal, as sources of energy.  According to a March, 2009 Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans are “worried a great deal or fair amount” by global warming.  Although this is down from last year’s 66 percent, 76 percent of Americans are “worried a great deal or fair amount” by air pollution itself, independent of the global warming consequences (according to the same poll).

Attention is increasingly focused on the concept of “clean coal” as an energy source.  In his February 24 address to the Joint Session of Congress, President Obama made it clear that he supported Congressional financing of the development of “clean coal” as a viable energy source.  The timing seemed intended to coincide with the aggressive advertising campaign against “clean coal”.  In case you’re wondering just what “clean coal” is  .  .  .  Ben Elgin wrote an article for Business Week last year, entitled:  “The Dirty Truth About Clean Coal”.  Here’s some of what he had to say:

The catch is that for now — and for years to come — “clean coal” will remain more a catchphrase than a reality.  Despite the eagerness of the coal and power industries to sanitize their image and the desire of U.S. politicians to push a healthy-sounding alternative to expensive foreign oil and natural gas, clean coal is still a misnomer.

*    *    *

Corporations and the federal government have tried for years to accomplish “carbon capture and sequestration.”  So far they haven’t had much luck.  The method is widely viewed as being decades away from commercial viability.  Even then, the cost could be prohibitive:  by a conservative estimate, several trillion dollars to switch to clean coal in the U.S. alone.

Then there are the safety questions.  One large, coal-fired plant generates the equivalent of 3 billion barrels of CO2 over a 60-year lifetime.  That would require a space the size of a major oil field to contain.  The pressure could cause leaks or earthquakes, says Curt M. White, who ran the U.S. Energy Dept.’s carbon sequestration group until 2005 and served as an adviser until earlier this year.  “Red flags should be going up everywhere when you talk about this amount of liquid being put underground.”

*    *    *

Companies seeking to build dozens of coal-fueled power plants across the country use the term “clean coal” liberally in trying to persuade regulators and voters.

Needless to say, President Obama’s advocacy on behalf of the “clean coal” lobby has outraged more than a few people.  Will Harlan wrote an article for the March 20 edition of Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine, entitled:  “The Dirty Truth Behind Obama’s ‘Clean Coal’ Stimulus”.  In addition to addressing the problems yet to be overcome with carbon capture, as well as the problems associated with mountaintop removal mining, sludge spills, dam breaches, poisoned wells, skyrocketing cancer rates, childhood asthma, premature deaths, slurry ponds, coal ash waste and mercury emissions, Harlan pointed out that:

Obama has also committed to reviving a boondoggle coal facility that even the Bush Administration decided to kill:  the FutureGen Carbon Capture and Storage Plant, which just happens to be located in Obama’s home state of Illinois.  Even though the facility costs have soared well beyond budget, and it is nowhere close to developing cost-effective technologies to safely capture and store carbon, Obama continues to support it.

Why are we letting Obama get away with greenwashing coal by perpetuating the “clean coal” myth?  The Democrats received close to $1 million in “contributions” in 2008 from the coal mining industry.  And southern Illinois is part of the country’s coal belt.

Eugene Robinson deserves a hat tip for his June 5 Washington Post column, criticizing Obama’s stance on this issue.  The strongest point made by Robinson was the cost/benefit analysis:

The Obama administration is spending $2.4 billion from the stimulus package on carbon capture and storage projects — a mere down payment.  Imagine what that money could do if it were spent on solar, wind and other renewable energy sources.  Imagine if we actually tried to solve the problem rather than bury it.

It should come as no surprise that the Greenpeace website would feature an essay, critical of “clean coal” with the following conclusion:

“Clean coal” is an attempt by the coal industry to try and make itself relevant in the age of renewables.  Existing CCTs do nothing to mitigate the environmental effects of coal mining or the devastating effects of global warming.  Coal is the dirtiest fuel there is and belongs in the past.  Much higher emission cuts can be made using currently available natural gas, wind and modern biomass that are already in widespread use.  Clean, inexpensive.  This is where investment should be directed, rather than squandering valuable resources on a dirty dinosaur.

Nevertheless, what does come as a surprise is that the very same article quoted above appears on Barack Obama’s Campaign for America website.  In case you’re wondering how to reconcile that point of view with Obama’s enthusiasm for “clean coal”, you have to read the disclaimer appearing at the end of the article on the Campaign for America site:

Content on blogs in My.BarackObama represents the opinions of community members and in no way should be interpreted as endorsed or approved by the campaign.

In other words:  “Don’t be dumb enough to believe that President Obama is really going to support anything you read here”.

In his June 4 opinion piece for The Washington Post, E.J. Dionne observed how the media are:

… largely ignoring critiques of Obama that come from elected officials on the left.

This was brought home at this week’s annual conference of the Campaign for America’s Future, a progressive group that supports Obama but worries about how close his economic advisers are to Wall Street, how long our troops will have to stay in Afghanistan and how much he will be willing to compromise to secure health-care reform.

To the objective observer, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Barack Obama is as much of a hypocrite as any other politician who found his way to the White House.