31 May 2012

Republicans try to force the military to use dirty energy it doesn’t want

By David Roberts

The U.S. military recognizes that dependence on fossil fuels is a threat to U.S. strategic influence and its own operational effectiveness. With that in mind, it’s trying to make itself lighter and leaner, reducing energy consumption at bases and on the battlefield while working to develop fuel alternatives for its ship and plane fleets. Republicans have been quietly grumbling about this for a while; now they are openly opposing it. The GOP wastes no opportunity to boast of “supporting the troops,” but that support apparently ends where Big Oil contributions begin.

 Let’s look at a few examples, shall we? GOP tries to block use of cleaner fuels Last week, the Republican-led House Armed Services Committee proposed a new Pentagon budget. Tucked away inside it was a provision that would prohibit the Department of Defense from buying any alternative fuels that cost more than conventional fossil fuels. TPM has the story.

 Slate’s Fred Kaplan laments that this provision would kill the $12 million “Green Strike Group” program the Navy is running, which would field a strike group running entirely on biofuels (and a nuclear-powered carrier) for a naval exercise in June. The Navy hopes to have an entire “Great Green Fleet” in the water by 2016. But the language is far broader than that. It would effectively prohibit military field-testing ofany non-fossil fuel. After all, if alternatives were already cheaper than fossil fuels, they wouldn’t be alternatives.

 The Air Force couldn’t experiment with fuel blends for its jets. The Army couldn’t fuel its “Green Warrior Convoy.” This provision would explicitly ban the military from being an instrument of energy innovation. GOP tries to push use of dirtier fuel But wait!

There is one expensive alternative fuel that congressional Republicans support. You see, Section 526 of 2007′s Energy Independence and Security Act prohibits the military from buying fuel that is more carbon-intensive than crude oil. Earlier this month, Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) offered an amendment to an appropriations bill, later passed by the House, that would bar the military from enforcing Sec. 526.

 Why, you ask? “Placing limits on federal agencies’ fuel choices,” says Flores, “is an unacceptable precedent to set in regard to America’s energy policy and independence.” Yes, I’ll let that irony sink in a moment. Why are Republicans so keen to get rid of Sec. 526? Are there dirtier-but-cheaper fuels the military could be using?

 Well, no. Instead, Republicans have seized on the idea of using the Fischer-Tropsch process to convert coal to liquid fuel (a technology made famous by Hitler — don’t tell the Heartland Institute). Building a plant to do this requires enormous capital investment, running one requires enormous operational and maintenance investments, and the result is … fuel more expensive than oil. This is to say nothing of the fact that it requires mining and transporting coal on the front end and releases up to 2.5 times as much CO2 as oil when burned. So, let’s pause and review.

The Republican position on military fuel choices is as follows: Congressional restrictions are an “unacceptable precedent” when they prohibit dirtier fuels, but necessary when they prohibit cleaner fuels. Also, it is unacceptable for the military to pay more for cleaner fuels, but necessary for it to pay more for dirtier fuel.

 If you were cynical, you’d almost think that the issue had nothing to do with Congress’s relationship with the military, or with costs. You’d almost think Republicans just support fossil fuels and oppose clean energy, no matter the context.

30 May 2012

Fukushima Meltdown Hastens Decline of Nuclear Power

J. Matthew Roney 

On May 5, 2012, Japan shut down its Tomari 3 nuclear reactor on the northern island of Hokkaido for inspection, marking the first time in over 40 years that the country had not a single nuclear power plant generating electricity. The March 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown shattered public confidence in atomic energy, thus far making it politically impossible to restart any of the reactors taken offline. And the disaster’s legacy has spread far beyond Japan. Some European countries have decided to phase out their nuclear programs entirely. In other countries, nuclear plans are proceeding with caution. But with the world’s fleet of reactors aging, and with new plants suffering construction delays and cost increases, it is possible that world nuclear electricity generation has peaked and begun a long-term decline. Prior to the Fukushima crisis, Japan had 54 reactors providing close to 30 percent of its electricity, with plans to increase this share to more than 50 percent by 2030. But nuclear power dropped to just 18 percent of Japan’s electricity over the course of 2011. When the quake and tsunami hit, 16 reactors had already been temporarily shut down for inspections or maintenance; another 13 underwent emergency shutoffs, including the four Fukushima Daiichi reactors now permanently shut down. Others were subsequently closed due to earthquake vulnerability or for regular inspection. Now that Tomari 3 is offline, all 44,200 megawatts of Japan’s nuclear capacity that are listed as “operational” by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are in fact idle with no set date for restart. Next to Japan, the most dramatic shift in nuclear energy policy following Fukushima occurred in Germany. Within days of the disaster, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Germany’s seven oldest reactors, all built before 1980, would shut down immediately. And in May 2011, the government declared that Germany would phase out nuclear entirely by 2022. Nuclear power generated 18 percent of the country’s electricity in 2011, down from 24 percent in recent years and well below the peak in 1997 of 31 percent. Across the Arab world, grain production is stagnating, yet grain demand is growing rapidly as population expands. Since 1960, the region’s population has nearly quadrupled to 360 million. By 2050 the region is projected to add another 260 million people, dramatically increasing pressure on already stressed land and water resources. Just before Germany’s phaseout decision, Switzerland abandoned plans for three new reactors that were going through the approval process. The government also announced that all five of the country’s reactors—which for years had provided some 40 percent of its electricity—will close permanently as their operating licenses expire over the next 22 years. Italy, which had discontinued its nuclear program after the infamous 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine, had in 2010 decided to restart it. But in a June 2011 referendum, more than 90 percent of Italian voters chose to ban nuclear power. Later in 2011, Belgium announced plans to phase out the seven reactors that provide more than half of the country’s electricity. Even in France, with a world-leading 77 percent of its electricity coming from nuclear power, newly elected President François Hollande has said he intends to reduce this share to roughly 50 percent by 2025. According to IAEA data, 13 reactors with a combined 11,400 megawatts were permanently shut down in Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom in 2011. Seven new reactors totaling 4,000 megawatts were connected to the grid—three in China and one each in India, Iran, Pakistan, and Russia—with less than 1,000 megawatts added through increasing, or “uprating,” existing nuclear plant capacities. As of May 2012, after two new reactor connections in South Korea and two permanent U.K. shutdowns, the world’s 435 operational nuclear reactors total 370,000 megawatts of capacity. Actual nuclear electricity generation in 2011 fell to 2,520 terawatt-hours, 5 percent below the 2006 peak. The growth in nuclear generating capacity had slowed to a crawl well before the Fukushima disaster. From 1970 to 1986, cumulative capacity grew at a brisk 19 percent annual rate. Even after Chernobyl, nuclear power capacity grew at 4 percent a year until 1990. But since then the annual growth rate has been just 0.7 percent. (See data) In contrast to the backlash in places like Japan and Germany, a number of countries reaffirmed their commitment to nuclear power, while indicating that safety would be a priority. This includes the three countries building the most new reactors: China (with 26 reactors under construction), Russia (11), and India (7). Immediately after the Fukushima incident, China suspended its reactor approval process to review the safety of existing plants, but the government has since indicated that the 26,600 megawatts under construction will move forward. Russia still intends to double its nuclear generating capacity by 2020, and India plans to increase its capacity 14-fold to 63,000 megawatts by 2032. Of the 62 reactors the IAEA lists as under construction, only 15 have a projected date for connecting to the grid. (Not one of China’s 26 units under construction does.) Some of these reactors have been listed this way for more than 20 years. A prime example is the only U.S. reactor under construction, the Watts Bar 2 unit in Tennessee, which started construction in 1972. In April 2012, the startup date was moved from August 2012 to sometime in 2015, as the estimated cost rose 68 percent. The United States, home to roughly one quarter of the world’s nuclear generating capacity, gets 19 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. The last new U.S. reactor to connect to the grid was Watts Bar 1 in 1996. In early 2012, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved construction permits for four 1,100-megawatt reactors at two existing nuclear plants in the southeastern states of Georgia and South Carolina, the first permits for new plants since 1978. In that region, utilities are allowed to increase their customers’ rates to defray the cost of nuclear plants even before construction begins. Despite this advantage, the four permitted reactors may well see the kind of delays and cost escalation that have become typical for the industry. For example, in May 2012, Progress Energy announced that grid connection for the first unit of its planned two-reactor project in Florida would be pushed back three years to 2024. With this delay, the estimated total cost jumped from $17 billion to as high as $24 billion. Indeed, unlike other energy technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels, where increasing deployment generally leads to economies of scale and falling costs, nuclear power has seen the opposite trend. Even the most recently completed plant in France cost more than three times as much to build and took twice as long to finish as the first plant did. Nuclear costs would be even more prohibitive if the damages for which nuclear utilities were liable in case of a meltdown were in line with realistic estimates of potential harm. In the United States, nuclear plant operators pay into a $12-billion fund that would be used in case of an accident. But an estimate from Sandia National Laboratory indicates that a worst-case incident could cost more than $700 billion. The poor economic case for nuclear power helps explain why most new nuclear construction is happening in countries with government-controlled electricity markets: private investors are leery of the risks. New nuclear capacity additions over the long term are unlikely to make up for shutdowns as the world’s reactors, already averaging 27 years in operation, age further. Nearly 180 reactors have reached age 30 or higher. The 140 reactors already permanently shut down averaged 23 years of service at the time of closure. While some reactors have been granted lifetime extensions beyond the typical 40 years—many U.S. units have, for example—these may not be as readily approved after the demise of the four Fukushima reactors, which averaged 37 years old when disaster struck. Whether or not nuclear generation has truly peaked will depend on a number of factors, including how many Japanese reactors resume operation, how many licenses are extended for aging reactors worldwide, and the pace and magnitude of uprating existing units. But regardless of whether the peak has already come or will do so soon, poor economics and sluggish new construction indicate that nuclear power is on a decline path. Rather than replacing this energy source with fossil fuels, thus boosting carbon emissions and encouraging runaway climate change, the world can use this opportunity to pursue a much safer electricity sector powered largely by wind, solar, and geothermal energy. We know that the potential is there: leading carbon-emitting countries—including China, the United States, India, Russia, and Japan—could meet their electricity needs with wind alone.

29 May 2012


Dominion Power is positioning itself to control how and when wind energy is developed off the Virginia coast, and a fair number of environmentalists, local officials and would-be competitors are nervous about that. Few contest that Dominion, the state's largest electricity utility, is a prime candidate to build and operate the first offshore wind farm in Virginia, given its money, political clout and experience. Critics, though, question its commitment to being a clean-energy pioneer. "Signs suggest that it may be more interested in preventing others from developing" offshore wind "than in doing so itself in a timely manner," Glen Besa, state director of the Sierra Club, said in a letter this week to federal regulators. Dominion told the same regulators at the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management this week that it wants to lease all 112,799 acres of space designated for wind turbines off the coast, an area due east of Virginia Beach, between 23.5 and 36.5 nautical miles from shore. At the same time, the utility is requesting that the government leave out Virginia when considering a giant backbone cable proposed along much of the Atlantic Seaboard. Investors, including Google, the Internet giant, hope to build the billion-dollar cable known as the Atlantic Wind Connection to help carry wind-generated electricity to land for a fee. Presumably, Dominion wants to construct and manage its own delivery lines. Furthermore, advocacy groups note, offshore wind is not listed by Dominion in its 15-year plan for meeting the electricity demands of its customers. These groups worry that if Dominion gains control of wind resources and infrastructure, the utility could keep competitors at bay and bide its time in constructing turbines until market conditions are ripe - perhaps over the next 25 years. Instead, the groups want Virginia and other Atlantic states to fast-track offshore wind farms so they are up and running within five or six years, regardless of the economics, in order to speed the transition from a fossil-fueled economy to one with more emphasis on clean energy sources. To that end, environmental groups last week delivered a 10,000-signature petition to Dominion urging quick wind action. They also plan a demonstration today in which activists are to encircle Dominion's headquarters in Richmond in a human chain. "We have real concerns about Dominion's attempts to monopolize the process," said Beth Kemler, state director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. "They want to hold all the cards. And if history is any guide, they usually get what they want in Virginia." A wind farm in the Atlantic area approved by the federal government off Virginia Beach is estimated to cost between $1 billion and $3 billion. Almost all Atlantic states north of Virginia are pursuing wind energy as well. But because of differing regulations there, utilities in those states would buy the resulting electricity and let other companies build the farms. North Carolina still is waiting to hear where the federal government wants to designate offshore wind activity. Dominion declined to comment or take questions about its ambitions, but in public statements and published reports, the utility calls offshore wind a tremendous opportunity. "The potential of wind energy blows us away," the company says on its website. Its director of alternative energy programs, Mary Dos-well, has said Dominion is interested in erecting as many as 400 ocean turbines off the Virginia coast, a network capable of generating enough electricity to power 500,000 homes. She has not offered a timeline. The high cost to produce wind energy today, compared with traditional sources such as coal, natural gas and nuclear power, all staples of Dominion's portfolio, is the biggest concern, Doswell has said. "This is a long-term project," she said in a statement posted on the website. "The challenge remains the high cost of building this generation and bringing it to customers." There are no offshore wind farms operating today in the United States. Dozens are up and running in Europe, almost all with substantial government subsidies, and others are being built off China. The U.S. government under President Barack Obama is eager to get moving and has adopted programs such as "Smart from the Start" to hasten permitting requirements, which still can take years to complete. Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has close ties to Dominion and its CEO, Thomas Farrell, a former school roommate, campaigned for offshore wind as a dynamic source of domestic energy and new jobs, especially in maritime-rich Hampton Roads. Conrad Spangler III, McDonnell's appointed director of the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, supports the idea favored by Dominion that a single entity should develop all designated wind areas off the coast - a position few other states have endorsed. The administration also favors bypassing the Atlantic backbone cable project. In a letter to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is overseeing offshore wind permitting, Spangler wrote that the lone-developer approach would stretch construction out in phases, cut costs and avoid a "boom, then bust" effect of multiple companies rushing to build their farms as quickly as possible. "Phased development of a single, large lease could ensure a steady market demand for turbines, foundation support structures and array cables," Spangler wrote. Maureen Matsen, McDonnell's senior energy adviser, said the administration is not playing favorites with Dominion but, like the utility, is focused on seeing costs contained and a sober business approach. "We don't see much good in rushing out there just to say we did it first," Matsen said. "We are working to support development of this important resource in a way that will be cost-effective." The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management set a deadline of March 19 for accepting bids from interested offshore-wind developers in Virginia. A spokesperson said this week that a list will be posted soon on its website. At least one other company is known to have applied for offshore leases - Apex Offshore Wind, a start-up enterprise, based in Charlottesville. Apex already is working with shipping giant Maersk Line Ltd. on a project to develop utility-size offshore-wind facilities and is part of another group building a wind farm in Oklahoma, said president Tim Ryan. Ryan said that "it's really bizarre" to be competing with a conglomerate like Dominion for the rights to offshore wind in Virginia. He added, however, that a single-developer idea "makes sense," noting that Apex, too, is asking the government for most, but not all, of the available leases. "We are highly motivated to move as quickly as we can," Ryan said. Environmental groups and some local officials also are edgy over how a new state panel, the Virginia Offshore Wind Development Authority, is doing business. They complain that working documents are not shared with the public and that citizens and industry representatives not on the board of directors are often left in the dark. The authority was created in 2010 and has been meeting to hasten offshore wind since then. Furthermore, activists who attend the meetings say, the deck is stacked in favor of Dominion, which has a seat on the board. "Nothing is passed unless Dominion goes along with it," said Eileen Levandow-ski, Hampton Roads director of the Sierra Club. Bob Matthias, an assistant city manager from Virginia Beach who sits on the board, said he was uncomfortable with how the authority tried to recently push through a letter supporting Dominion's position on the Atlantic Wind Connection project with little debate. He described Dominion's presence on the board as "very aggressive." The Sierra Club complained last month that working conditions at the authority "are untenable," and that board members should be encouraged, not discouraged, to discuss questions and policy options with anyone they choose. The authority was created with the support of "developers, supply chain businesses, utilities, local government and the environmental community," the Sierra Club wrote. "It cannot possibly represent all of these interested parties, as well as the public at large, if it operates under a cloak of secrecy." By Scott Harper, 757-446-2340 , scott.harper@pilotonline.com

28 May 2012

U.S. Coal Generation Drops 19 Percent In One Year, Leaving Coal With 36 Percent Share Of Electricity

By Stephen Lacey Power generation from coal is falling quickly. According to new figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal made up 36 percent of U.S. electricity in the first quarter of 2012 — down from 44.6 percent in the first quarter of 2011. That stunning drop, which represented almost a 20 percent decline in coal generation over the last year, was primarily due to low natural gas prices. As EIA explains, natural gas generation will climb steadily this year, while coal will see a double-digit drop by the end of 2012: Natural‐gas‐fired generation continues to expand its share of total generation at the expense of coal‐fired generation. During the first quarter of 2012, natural gas accounted for 28.7 percent of total generation compared with 20.7 percent during the same quarter last year. In contrast, coal’s share of total generation declined from 44.6 percent to 36.0 percent over the same period. Prices for natural gas delivered to the electric power industry fell by 7.5 percent in 2011, which contributed to a significant increase in the share of natural‐gas‐fired generation. EIA expects this trend to continue in 2012, with electric power sector coal consumption falling by 14 percent. Natural gas in the electric power sector grows by almost 21 percent in 2012, primarily driven by the increasing relative cost advantages of natural gas over coal for power generation in some regions. EIA also projects that coal production at mines will fall by more than 10 percent this year. However, with prices falling due to an increase in secondary inventories, the agency predicts that domestic consumption may rise by just over 1 percent next year. The U.S. coal industry if facing major headwinds. The current drop in generation is mostly due to competition from natural gas. But there are other factors that will assist in pushing coal out of the electricity mix: An aging fleet of plants, cost-competitive renewables, new clean air regulations, and a strong anti-coal movement are working together to reduce the attractiveness of coal. Since 2010, plant operators have announced 106 retirements of coal facilities — representing 13 percent of the U.S. fleet, according to the Sierra Club. The continued decline in domestic coal generation is good news for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions from the fossil fuel sector are expected to decline by almost 3 percent this year — continuing the 1.9 percent decrease seen in 2011. Emissions from natural gas will rise by 5.5 percent, while emissions from coal will fall by almost 12 percent.

27 May 2012

From Bernie Sanders

In the United States today, we have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income since the 1920s.  Today, the wealthiest 400 individuals own more wealth than the bottom half of America -- 150 million people.  Today, the top one percent own forty percent of all wealth, while the bottom sixty percent owns less than two percent.  Incredibly, the bottom forty percent of all Americans own just 3/10 of one percent of the wealth of the country.

The distribution of income is even worse.  If you can believe it, the last study on this subject showed that in 2010, 93 percent of all new income created in the previous year went to the top one percent, while the bottom 99 percent of people had the privilege of enjoying the remaining seven percent.  In other words, the rich are getting much richer while almost everyone else is falling behind.

Not only is this inequality of wealth and income morally grotesque, it is bad economic policy.  If working families are deeply in debt, and have little or no income to spend on goods and services, how can we expand the economy and create the millions of jobs we desperately need?  There is a limit as to how many yachts, mansions, limos and fancy jewels the super-rich can buy.  We need to put income into the hands of working families.

26 May 2012


25 May 2012

Wrong Side of History

24 May 2012

My 2012 Slogan

23 May 2012

Question for Climate Change Denying Christians

What if Global Climate Change destroys the Planet before Jesus Christ Returns?

22 May 2012


21 May 2012

The US War on Latin America

By Noam Chomsky, Nation of Change 12 May 12 Though sidelined by the Secret Service scandal, last month’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, was an event of considerable significance. There are three major reasons: Cuba, the drug war, and the isolation of the United States. A headline in the Jamaica Observer read, "Summit shows how much Yanqui influence had waned." The story reports that "the big items on the agenda were the lucrative and destructive drug trade and how the countries of the entire region could meet while excluding one country – Cuba." The meetings ended with no agreement because of U.S. opposition on those items – a drug-decriminalization policy and the Cuba ban. Continued U.S. obstructionism may well lead to the displacement of the Organization of American States by the newly-formed Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, from which the United States and Canada are excluded. Cuba had agreed not to attend the summit because otherwise Washington would have boycotted it. But the meetings made clear that U.S. intransigence would not be long tolerated. The U.S. and Canada were alone in barring Cuban participation, on grounds of Cuba’s violations of democratic principles and human rights. Latin Americans can evaluate these charges from ample experience. They are familiar with the U.S. record on human rights. Cuba especially has suffered from U.S. terrorist attacks and economic strangulation as punishment for its independence – its "successful defiance" of U.S. policies tracing back to the Monroe Doctrine. Latin Americans don’t have to read U.S. scholarship to recognize that Washington supports democracy if, and only if, it conforms to strategic and economic objectives, and even when it does, favors "limited, top-down forms of democratic change that did not risk upsetting the traditional structures of power with which the United States has long been allied â(euro) [ (in) quite undemocratic societies," as neo-Reaganite scholar Thomas Carothers points out. At the Cartagena summit, the drug war became a key issue at the initiative of newly-elected Guatemalan President Gen. Perez Molina, whom no one would mistake for a soft-hearted liberal. He was joined by the summit host, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, and by others. The concern is nothing new. Three years ago the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy published a report on the drug war by ex-Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia calling for decriminalizing marijuana and treating drug use as a public-health problem. Much research, including a widely quoted Rand Corporation study of 1994, has shown that prevention and treatment are considerably more cost-effective than the coercive measures that receive the bulk of funding. Such nonpunitive measures are also of course far more humane. Experience conforms to these conclusions. By far the most lethal substance is tobacco, which also kills nonusers at a high rate (passive smoking). Usage has sharply declined among more educated sectors, not by criminalization but as a result of lifestyle changes. One country, Portugal, decriminalized all drugs in 2001 – meaning that they remain technically illegal but are considered administrative violations, removed from the criminal domain. A Cato Institute study by Glenn Greenwald found the results to be "a resounding success. Within this success lie self-evident lessons that should guide drug policy debates around the world." In dramatic contrast, the coercive procedures of the 40-year U.S. drug war have had virtually no effect on use or price of drugs in the United States, while creating havoc through the continent. The problem is primarily in the United States: both demand (for drugs) and supply (of arms). Latin Americans are the immediate victims, suffering appalling levels of violence and corruption, with addiction spreading through the transit routes. When policies are pursued for many years with unremitting dedication though they are known to fail in terms of proclaimed objectives, and alternatives that are likely to be far more effective are systematically ignored, questions naturally arise about motives. One rational procedure is to explore predictable consequences. These have never been obscure. In Colombia, the drug war has been a thin cover for counterinsurgency. Fumigation – a form of chemical warfare – has destroyed crops and rich biodiversity, and contributes to driving millions of poor peasants into urban slums, opening vast territories for mining, agribusiness, ranches and other benefits to the powerful. Other drug-war beneficiaries are banks laundering massive amounts of money. In Mexico, the major drug cartels are involved in 80 percent of the productive sectors of the economy, according to academic researchers. Similar developments are occurring elsewhere. In the U.S., the primary victims have been African-American males, increasingly also women and Hispanics – in short, those rendered superfluous by the economic changes instituted in the 1970s, shifting the economy toward financialization and offshoring of production. Thanks largely to the highly selective drug war, minorities are dispatched to prison – the major factor in the radical rise of incarceration since the 1980s that has become an international scandal. The process resembles "social cleansing" in U.S. client states in Latin America, which gets rid of "undesirables." The isolation of the U.S. at Cartagena carries forward other turning-point developments of the past decade, as Latin America has at last begun to extricate itself from the control of the great powers, and even to address its shocking internal problems. Latin America has long had a tradition of liberal jurisprudence and rebellion against imposed authority. The New Deal drew from that tradition. Latin Americans may yet again inspire progress in human rights in the United States.

20 May 2012

How They Think

19 May 2012

The GOP Is Killing The American Dream

Reposted from Jobasanger The American Dream is, in general terms, the belief that anyone can better themselves in this country and that children will do better than their parents did (putting a family on an upward track of economic mobility). It was believed that the lack of a class system and the providing of a good public education to all citizens created this upward mobility advantage that the United States enjoyed over other countries. I don't think there's any doubt that, at least in the past, there was more chance for upward economic mobility in this country -- but the important question is, does this advantage still exist? The Pew Research Center has done an examination of the prospects for upward mobility -- both in the United States and in other developed nations. The results of that examination are very disturbing. While the American people still want to believe in the American Dream, and most still do believe, the awful truth is that among developed nations the United States is dead last in the chance for its citizens to move up economically. The economic prospects of an American are more closely tied to the income and education of his/her parents than in any other developed country (meaning they have a better chance of staying at the parental level, or moving down, than they do of upward mobility). Why is this happening? Don't we still have the same advantages over other countries? Well, no. While other developed nations have moved to eliminate class differences and put greater emphasis on educating all their citizens, we have done just the opposite here in the United States. We have drastically cut funding for public education and are injecting religion and propaganda into our schools. And with the growing gap in wealth and income, we are creating our own version of a class system (although based on money instead of nobility). And who is responsible for this? A huge clue to that can be found in the Pew Research Center's study of mobility among the states. Their study shows that the best opportunity for mobility is in the Northeast region. The states with the best opportunity for upward mobility are New Jersey, New York, and Maryland -- followed by Pennsylvania, Michigan, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Utah. And what are the states with the least opportunity for upward mobility? They are the Southern states -- the anti-union, anti-education, Republican-controlled states. The states with the worst opportunity are Louisiana, South Carolina, and Oklahoma -- followed by Texas, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Kentucky. The Republican policies haven't just created a vast gulf between the rich and other Americans -- and cratered the American economy. Those policies are also destroying the chances for citizens to have a chance for upward mobility. The Republicans may be good at helping the rich, but they are killing the American Dream for most Americans. They must be stopped.

18 May 2012

No Comment

17 May 2012

No Comment Required

16 May 2012

Debunking the Peak Oil Debunkers

Reposted from EV World

Peak oil is a fact, not a theory.
From US conventional oil production peaking in 1970 to global conventional oil production peaking in 2006 the figures are indisputable. Even institutions such as the International Energy Agency (IEA) and publications like The Economist that are not known for alarmism have admitted that oil production from conventional sources has peaked.
So why are there still commentators who refuse to believe peak oil?
Similar to the phony global warming “debate,” many, but not all of the most vocal deniers are politically conservative, pro-business. And, by their refusal to take into account basic statistics, they’re anti-science. In terms of reduced energy use per capita, and the inevitable downsizing of the global economy, deniers are ideologically opposed to what happens now that we’re living in a post-peak world.
So what are their arguments, and why are they so wrong? The top seven are listed below:
1. Peak oilers say oil is running out, it’s not
At best this is a misunderstanding; at worst it’s a straw-man fabricated to cast doubt on the assertions of those concerned with the realities of peak oil.
No peak oiler worth their salt has ever argued that we’re running out of oil. Sure, there may have been a couple of fringe bloggers arguing the case alongside conspiracy theories about alien abduction cover-ups and laser guided death unicorns, but no one takes them seriously.
The issue isn’t when oil will run out. It’s about when conventional oil extraction peaks, which happened in 2006 according to the IEA’s 2010 World Energy Outlook. Unconventional oil has filled the gap for now (along with decreased use), but there’s much skepticism as to how long this can last.
2. Fracking will save us from peak oil
While it’s certainly true that the massive increase in hydraulic fracturing of natural gas was largely unforeseen by the peak oil-aware, it’s merely a game extender, not a game changer.
The small amount of oil that arises as a byproduct of fracking accounted for less than 5 percent of daily US consumption last year. This is even after a 750 percent increase in tight oil production since 2003. Clearly there would need to be an unprecedented increase in exploration and drilling for oil from fracking to even begin making a dent in the wider scale of things. But that’s before we consider damage to the environmental commons — land, air, and water — from the fracking process.
The other trouble with fracking is that production figures for individual wells commonly decline 60-80 percent in the first year followed by a more gradual decline. This means new wells must constantly be drilled to avoid production for a whole area dropping off very quickly.
The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that domestic production of tight oil will max out at 1,325,000 barrels a day by 2030. This is only 7 percent of the current US daily consumption. No one seriously believes that the US economycan grow without increasing oil consumption. The numbers don’t stack up, it’s as simple as that.
3. The US is now, or will soon be, a net oil exporter
The rise of tight oil extracted through fracking has been hailed as a new era for US energy independence. Some have even gone as far as saying that the US is now a “net oil exporter.” The devil is in the details however. On a Btu basis the US imported 58 percent of the oil it consumed in 2011.
Now, it’s true that the US became a net “oil product” exporter in 2011 for the first time in over sixty years. This is, however, very different from being a net oil exporter proper.
Gasoline, diesel, and heating oil made up the majority of these products. But much of this oil was initially imported as crude from overseas, refined in the US and then exported back out. This doesn’t make the US a net oil exporter.
Total net crude and product imports did fall 11 percent in 2011 to 8.436 million barrels a day, the lowest point since 2005. And domestic oil output did rise 3.6 percent to 5.673 million barrels a day. But this still leaves a 48.7% difference between imports and domestic oil output, a huge gap that the IEA forecasts will not be closed as far out as 2035. Observant analysts don’t think it will happen ever.
4. Oil production is still increasing annually
Like many peak oil denier myths this old gem is true up to a point. But only if you include unconventional oil, natural gas liquids, and biofuels. Which means that when you take those figures away you get…that’s right…a peak in the production of oil from conventional sources.
And as we see from the example in the US, it’s highly unlikely that unconventional plays will be able to take up much of the slack.
5. Saudia Arabia will ramp up production to ease prices soon
Uh, no.
Crude oil prices have been over US $100 a barrel since February 2011. This is after steadily climbing from a low of US $42 a barrel in December 2008, after the last recession killed demand.
The question is, With oil prices so high for so long, why hasn’t Saudi Arabia stepped in already to ease prices?
Saudi Arabia produced the highest amount in thirty years in November 2011 and then actually decreased output and exports the following month. The increased November output dropped prices by $3.00 per barrel to $107.97 for December 2011. The easing was short lived however, with average March 2012 prices sitting at $126.4 per barrel, the highest price since July 2008.
Production capacity figures for OPEC countries are notorious for being inflated and there’s increasing skepticism that Saudi Arabia couldn’t produce any more oil even if it wanted to.
6. East Africa is the new Middle East
Madagascar has been targeted by Exxon and Norway’s Statoil since 2005. Statoil found a billion barrels of oil equivalent. That may seem like a huge find but consider these points. First, world oil consumption is about 80 million barrels a day, give or take, making it the equivalent of about 12 days of oil.
Then compare the Madagascar finding to the largest conventional oil field in the world, Ghawar, in Saudi Arabia. It’s extracted 65 billion barrels of oil since 1951 from initial reserves of over 100 billion barrels. The Madagascar field extends down to Mozambique where Anadarko have found 1.3 billion barrels of oil. Further inland Tallow has found 1 billion barrels of proven reserves in the Ugandan Albert basin. Plenty of other African countries are now being explored by a number of interests but they have yet to show any major finds.
Oil pundits might be saying “game on” but really all there is to show is a lot of wishful thinking which, at the end of the day, won’t fill the gas tank. I should know, I tried that plenty of times in my student days.
The truth is that most of the new oil finds throughout the world are less than 2 billion barrels each. The global annual consumption is currently a little less than 33 billion barrels per year. There is a huge disconnect between the size of the fields currently being discovered and the predicted future demand for oil.
7. There’s always a new frontier
The question is, Why do we need new frontiers if oil production isn’t peaking?
It’s an odd concept that oil companies would spend millions of dollars in politically unstable countries and areas where the physical barriers are immense — such as the Arctic — just for the hell of it.
The truth is the low hanging fruit has been picked. All the easy to access oil has been found and developed. What we’re seeing now is increased exploration in increasingly economically dubious areas such as the Canadian tar sands, deepwater drilling, and fracking and horizontal drilling in tight oil plays.
It ‘s as if the pundits pushing this line have never seen a globe before. The world is round. There is a finite amount of land and ocean that can realistically be developed to economically extract and refine oil. From all the evidence collated over the last few years it appears that we’re pushing up against these limits right now.
The biggest oil find since the 1960s, the Kashagan oilfield in the Caspian Sea, has 13 billion barrels of proven reserves. Development of the field has, however, been plagued with funding problems after Shell shut its Caspian office in May last year. At this stage it’s unlikely this field will produce anything close to the original estimates due to ongoing delays with development.
After denial, acceptance
You have to give the deniers credit for being so tenacious about drumming up new magical thinking on how to outsmart Mother Nature. But in the end, their denial, especially as the lackeys of industry with their plutocratic ties to government, puts us at risk in terms of smart transitions to other ways to live and do business.
At some point, the “peak oil debate” needs to go the way of the phony “global warming debate.” Into the dustbin of history, where it belongs, so the rest of us can get on with civilization 2.0.
Andrew McKay writes Southern Limits, a blog on resource limits, energy, environment, peak oil and peak everything from a New Zealand perspective.

15 May 2012

John Lewis objects, and Paul Broun backs away from attempt to gut Voting Rights Act

May 10th, 2012
Around 10 p.m. last night, as House debate over a contentious spending bill stretched on, Rep. Paul Broun, R-Athens, approached with an amendment to end all funding for U.S. Department of Justice enforcement of Section Five of the Voting Rights Act.
This is the provision that requires states like Georgia to submit new election laws – last year’s statewide redistricting, for instance — for federal approval to ensure against disenfranchisement of minorities.
Broun argued that this is a hammer held over only a few select states, and noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has suggested that the law has outlived its usefulness.
“It is also highly unfair, allowing some states to make changes to their election laws while other states wishing to make the same changes are forced to jump through a bunch of hoops,” Broun said. “I know firsthand how onerous this law is. My home state of Georgia, as an example, has long struggled with the U.S. Department of Justice over its voter identification laws.”
This did not sit well with Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta – a bona fide civil rights hero who was beaten during the Freedom Rides and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. He arrived minutes later to give a rousing speech and a rare slap at a fellow member of the Georgia delegation.

Lewis called Broun’s suggestion “shameful.”
“Maybe some of us need to study a little contemporary history dealing with the question of voting rights,” Lewis said, telling of how African-Americans were once forced to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap or number of jelly beans in a jar in order to register to vote.
“People died for the right to vote – friends of mine, colleagues of mine,” Lewis said. “I speak out against this amendment.”
The amendment was also denounced by Republicans Frank Wolf of Virginia and Dan Lungren of California, who said there is a debate to be had over the Voting Rights Act – but it is something best hashed out in the courts and in committee hearings, not in a late-night amendment slipped into an appropriations bill.
Broun got the hint and withdrew his measure, assuring his colleagues that he intended no return to the bad ol’ days.
“I have the same dream that Martin Luther King had where people are accepted for their character and not any discrimination against their skin or their forefathers or anything else, and any insinuation that I would ever believe in any kind of discrimination or trying to suppress anyone from having their constitutionally given rights, I would contest that accusation, frankly. … I apologize to any hurt feelings that anyone has, because I certainly wasn’t meaning to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

14 May 2012

New Solar Energy Option

Written by Derek Markham
Solar power generation can be a clean way to produce the electricity you use everyday, whether you’re just supplementing grid power or trying to power your whole house. But most solar panel systems require a permanent mount, usually on the roof, which isn’t really an option for the many people who just rent their house or apartment. So one choice that could make sense to renters, both in terms of cost and portability, is a plug ‘n play system that can be moved when you do.
SpinRay Energy makes a line of supplemental solar energy systems that can be mounted right on your deck or patio and plugged directly into a standard 120V electrical outlet (the type installed in every residential house in the U.S.).
The company’s DeckPower systems are dubbed “supplemental solar energy saving appliances” – appliances because you can just plug them in (not go through a major installation process), and supplemental because unless you tie together a bunch of them, they don’t produce enough power to completely replace your grid power. But it’s a start.
The panels include a microinverter pre-mounted on the back, and require five minutes of steady power from the grid before they begin producing power (as well as automatically shutting down when grid power goes out), which keeps the system from putting electricity into the grid at times when utility workers may be working on it and aren’t expecting a live line.

13 May 2012

Gereau Center, CEED wins national award

The Franklin County campus is named Green Ribbon School Wednesday, April 25, 2012 By JOEL TURNER - Staff Writer Franklin County's Gereau Center is one of 78 schools in 29 states that have received the first National Green Ribbon Schools awards. The awards were announced in Washington, D.C., Monday by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "Science, environmental and outdoor education play a central role in providing children with a well-rounded education, helping them prepare for the future," Duncan said. "U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools demonstrate compelling examples of the ways schools can help children build real-world skill sets, cut school costs and provide healthy learning environments," he said. The National Green Ribbon Schools are "protecting our children's health and opening up environmental educational opportunities for students," Duncan added. The Gereau Center includes the Center for Energy Efficient Design (CEED), the first public school building in the United States with Passivhaus technology and standards to achieve certification from the Passive House Institute US. The CEED, the brainchild of teachers John Richardson and Neil Sigmon, was eight years in the planning and construction phases and cost approximately $1.4 million, with more than $400,000 in-kind donations from building firms and other businesses. The CEED is a net zero, energy-efficient building. Using technologies of PassivHaus design, earth berming, south facing solar orientation, thermal mass, geothermal energy, photovaltaics, solar hot water heaters, electricity-producing wind turbines, rainwater harvesting, energy efficient appliances and daylighting, the building produces more energy than it needs to operate. Not only is the CEED saving energy, but it is an airtight structure with an air exchanger that ensures that there is is constant circulation of air from the outside. The Gereau Center is one of only two schools in Virginia to receive the national award. The other school was Fishburn Park Elementary School in Roanoke City. Kevin Bezy, principal of the Gereau Center, said that the school's teachers and staff deserve credit for the award. In an email to the staff, Bezy said that "all of your had a part in this award because of the teaching and activities that you conduct regularly, but also by the example that you give in your daily practices and in the way you portray stewardship." Bezy said that the national award is a "significant milestone in the history of the Gereau Center." The Gereau Center was selected earlier by Virginia's Green Ribbon Schools Selection Team as one of the state's three nominees for the national awards. Linda Wallinger, state assistant superintendent for instruction, notified Franklin County school officials about the Gereau Center's nomination for a national award. Thirty-eight states participate in the national awards program by the United States Department of Education. The awards recognize schools that save energy, reduce costs, feature environmentally sustainable learning spaces, protect health, foster wellness and offer environmental education.

12 May 2012

30 years, same dream

New Video from my Friend Billy Weitzenfeld

11 May 2012

The Stimulus Plan - Failed - NOT!

The above graph is a simple exposure of the Repube lie that the stim plan failed. Was it enough, NO! Was it all aimed at the correct places, NO Of COURSE NOT! Did it work - YES! F-U REPUBE ignorati!

10 May 2012

George the Prophet

Conservatives say if you don’t give the rich more money, they will lose their incentive to invest. As for the poor, they tell us they’ve lost all incentive because we’ve given them too much money. -- George Carlin

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09 May 2012

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08 May 2012


Reposted from Planet Thoughts The future of nuclear power now hangs on a single decision by President Obama---and us. His Office of Management and Budget could cave to the unsustainable demands of reactor builders who cannot handle the standard terms of a loan agreement. Or he could defend basic financial procedures and stand up for the future of the American economy. You can help make this decision, which will come soon. It's about a proposed $8.33 billion nuke power loan guarantee package for two reactors being built at Georgia's Vogtle. Obama anointed it last year for the Southern Company, parent to Georgia Power. Two other reactors sporadically operate there. Southern just ravaged the new construction side of the site, stripping virtually all vegetation. It's also stripped Georgia ratepayers of ever-more millions of dollars, soon to become billions. This project is in the Peach State for its law forcing the public to pay for reactor construction in advance. When the project fails, or the reactors melt, the public still must pay. A taste of what's coming has emerged in shocking defects in poured concrete at the site which will cost millions to correct and months of delay on a project whose construction has barely begun ( http://nukefree.org/nc-warn-vogtle-already-hit-major-design-flaw-delay ) . Nonetheless, Southern runs virtually no financial risk. It actually has an interest in never finishing. Florida is now in turmoil, trying to rid itself of a similar Construction Work in Progress law ( http://nukefree.org/florida-legislators-sue-stop-nuke-bailouts-advance ). Worldwide estimated reactor costs have jumped from $3-5 billion each a few short years ago to $10 billion or more, and rising. Uranium prices are set to soar as the supply of Russian weapons-based fuel is about done. And renewables have long since outstripped atomic energy as being cheaper, faster to build, cleaner, safer, more reliable and open to community ownership. There are virtually no private investors willing to back new reactor construction. There are no private insurers willing to take the risk on operating reactors. There is no place to store the radioactive wastes they generate. Operating reactors in Vermont ( http://nukefree.org/vermonters-tell-vermont-yankee-get-out ), New York, California ( http://nukefree.org/nrc-chair-jazcko-says-san-onofre-be-shut-indefinitely ) and elsewhere now face ferocious public uprisings to get them shut. They are being joined by Governors, US Senators and entire legislatures. Peter Shumlin, Governor of Vermont, has appeared at a major public rally to shut Yankee. The legislature long ago voted (26-4) the same way. Shumlin was joined by US Senator Bernie Sanders, who has issued a stunning denunciation of the loan guarantees ( http://nukefree.org/sen-bernie-sanders-ryan-alexander-stop-nuclear-subsidies ) . US Senator Ron Wyden of Orgeon has published a serious warning about the on-going dangers of Fukushima, which he recently visited ( http://nukefree.org/sen-wyden-warns-situation-fukushima-worse-believed ). Once the public kills one of these elderly reactors, a tsunami of shutdowns among the 104 currently licensed in the US will follow. Germany and much of the rest of Europe have abandoned the technology ( http://nukefree.org/europes-war-over-nuclear-financing ). Bulgaria has just scrapped plans for two proposed generators. Major banking institutions have warned potential investors in Britain's planned reactors that if they proceed, they will lose their financial standing. Mexico has also said it won't build new nukes. In Asia, only one of Japan's 54 licensed reactors now operates, and it may soon shut. Huge demonstrations and hunger strikes are raging against a proposed project at Koodankulam, India. The Philippines says it won't build any reactors at all ( http://nukefree.org/philippines-says-no-new-nukes ). China, the last bastion of any apparent large-scale interest in multiple nukes, seems to be wavering, in part because of the rise of a No Nukes movement there. Here, two reactors barely beginning construction in South Carolina are also in deep trouble. Their builders need massive rate hikes in North Carolina to proceed, and the opposition there is fierce ( http://nukefree.org/ncwarn-north-carolina-can-kill-south-carolina-nuke-project ). But the lynchpin is Vogtle. The construction loan guarantee program got $18.5 billion from George W. Bush in 2005. With the industry in deepening chaos, it took until last year for a president to designate less than half that money. For the first time in years, there is no Executive or Congressional request to put more money into the fund. The French National Utility EDF did step forward to get funding for Maryland's proposed Calvert Cliffs project. But haggling over terms contributed to its demise. Now Southern faces the same abyss. It refuses what the mortgage community would consider a normal 20% downpayment on its taxpayer-funded loan. Southern wants to put virtually none of its own money into the project, leaving the radioactive gamble totally to the public. But the Office of Management and Budget is apparently demanding something more reasonable ( http://nukefree.org/vogtle-loan-guarantee-not-yet-done-deal ). Because the OMB is a White House agency, Obama holds the key. It's our job to make him turn it in a green direction. A short while ago, this package was considered a done deal. But the GOP uproar over the failed $535 million loan to the solar company Solyndra changed to context. Initiated by Bush, Republicans have made Solyndra the poster child for bad federal loans. Vogtle involves some 15 times Solyndra's liability. And it's all Obama's. At least three petitions are circulating against the package.( http://nukefree.org/please-do-sign-petition-stop-new-nuke-loan-guarantees ). There are many ways to finally shut down what has been the most expensive technological failure in human history. Fukushima and the killing power of radiation, the unsolved problem of radioactive waste, the campaigns against failing reactors such as Vermont Yankee, Indian Point, San Onofre and Davis-Besse---all are key. This weekend, a conference convened by the Sierra Club in Washington, DC ( http://action.sierraclub.org/site/DocServer/no_Nukes_Flyer2.pdf?docID=9701 ), will weigh the various strategies. But killing this loan guarantee package could finally kill the prospect of new reactors in the US. The astonishing rise of Solartopian green technologies has far outstripped atomic energy in the marketplace. Every delay deeply diminishes the possibility of building more of these profoundly uneconomic anachronisms. In the long run, Vogtle, Summer and any other new nukes that seem to slip through in the short term will almost certainly be stopped by what has become one of the most powerful non-violent social movements in human history. But right now, it's up to Obama---and us. Does he really want an atomic Solyndra on his hands? Will we really let this happen? Let's relieve the President of this radioactive burden. Let's kill these reactors before they kill us, and take the most significant leap of all toward a green-powered Earth.