Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

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The Deficit Commission, Bipartisanship & Incrementalism

As President Obama’s deficit commission grows from an idea to actually considering policy recommendations, one of the co-chairs has, through his inartful and backwards thinking language, provided additional evidence why incrementalism and questing for the Holy Bipartisan Grail are both bad ideas.

I will state once again that all of today’s calls for deficit reduction are pure b.s.  Few, if any, of those calling for fiscal prudence were doing so during the Bush Regime.  Very little discussion was offered by the Very Serious People inside D.C. regarding Bush’s explosion of the federal debt from $5.73 Trillion to over $11 Trillion.  Now that it’s up to $12 Trillion, those same serious people have decided they want to hold this President’s spending accountable.  So the calls to rein in spending today hold no weight with me, especially since I was one of the few calling Bush’s out of control spending into question.

But I’m not going to waste much energy backing Obama up on this subject.  He and his team would prefer to continue many of the same counterproductive economic policies that Bush’s team, Clinton’s team, Bush Sr.’s team and Reagan’s team put into place.  I think Obama’s team is continuing along this path because of their desire to appear bipartisan.  In an age in which those same very serious people chatter about Obama’s deficit spending, they also make much of the partisanship of Washington.  Again, this comes about too late.  Democrats didn’t run around for eight years screaming that anyone who disagreed with them were traitors to their country; the Republicans did.

Instead of standing up to the very serious people and reminding them that they won the 2008 elections quite handily, Obama’s team instead has chosen to roll over at the feet of their accusers and try to make nice with them.  Listening to alternative viewpoints is one thing.  But when Obama himself uses language like “drove the car into the ditch” and “we won’t give them (the Republicans) the keys back”, then establishes a deficit reduction commission and stuffs it full of people who have spent their political careers calling for an end to programs like Social Security, one wonders what his agenda truly is.  If he believed his rhetoric, he might listen to such talk, but rightfully cast it aside as the extremist viewpoint that it is.  Instead, he coddles it.

For those who advocate for incrementalism and bipartisanship, as was the case during the Health Care Insurance Debate of 2009-2010, allow me to ask you this.  How far are you willing to push such approaches?  Health care might be one thing.  But what happens when Obama’s commission calls for a reduction in Social Security payouts or another increase in retirement age to qualify for full benefits, all while the War Department spends billions a year on unregulated mercenaries as part of its overseas and domestic campaigns, all while Bush’s tax cuts for the super-rich get extended?  How many of you will continue to stand behind Obama then?  Will you be proud to call yourself a Democrat when a Democratic President does what no Republican President dared to do?  Or will you instead begin to listen to more progressive voices in holding Democrats accountable for their actions in the same way that we wanted Bush and the Republicans accountable for theirs?


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Boehner, Geithner, Obama and Firings

One thing I didn’t see mentioned in any of the recent discussions about Rep. Boehner’s idiotic demands that President Obama fire Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner; the head of the National Economic Council, Larry Summers, and other members of Obama’s economic team.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I didn’t think Geithner or Summers should have been in the administration in the first place.  Much like my warnings about the dangers the neocons posed back in 2000 when Bush was putting them in charge, the pro-Wall Streeters shouldn’t have been put in charge of an economic team for this President.  At least not if changing our economic policies and practices were on the President’s agenda.  Since they were, it was clear early on that Obama wasn’t serious about stopping the upward transfer of wealth that has characterized this nation’s last couple of generations.  Or holding the gamblers on Wall St. accountable for nearly destroying the largest economy in the world.

No, Rep. Boehner’s demands were absurd because he’s concern trolling.  He would much rather see President Obama seem to fall flat on his economic face than actually ensure the economy worked for anybody but the richest 1%.  Anything Boehner can appear to do to throw up roadblocks, Boehner will do.

But here’s the part I haven’t seen discussed.  If Geithner, Summers or any of the other people Boehner is calling Obama on to fire were nearly anybody but who they were, the White House would have fired them already.  Think that sounds crazy?  What happened to Van Jones?  He was an expert in his field.  But based on a right-wing manufactured controversy, he lost his post.  What happened to Shirley Sherrod?  She was successful in her job.  But again, based on a right-wing manufactured controversy, she lost that job.  Quicker than Van Jones lost his, by the way.

What, oh what do these two have in common that Geithner and Summers don’t?  Geithner and Summers are theoretically doing the job they’re being asked to do, despite the negative effects on most Americans.  What could it be?  Could it be that both Geithner and Summers are white while Van Jones and Sherrod are black?  Does anybody seriously think that if Geithner and Summers were black and Boehner or anybody else on the fringe right were demanding that they be fired, regardless of how absurd that demand was, that they wouldn’t be fired.  I sure don’t think so.

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Sen. Mark Udall Pushes National RES. But Where Is The Bipartisanship?

Sen. Mark Udall has done a functional job in his first term as Colorado’s senior Senator.  Far from leveraging his huge bases of support in the Denver-Boulder metro area, Sen. Udall has made more effort to reach across the aisle to the psychotic Cons of the 111th Congress who have ground the U.S. Senate to a near halt.  I have argued in numerous posts in plain and simple terms why this is such a bad idea.  To date, and in extreme summary form, we have a half-assed Stimulus Bill, a Health Care Insurance Bill Giveaway, a Wall St. Reform Scott Free Bill and no Climate and Energy Bill.  This situation largely exists because people like Sen. Udall and President Obama want to spend more time chasing the Holy Bipartisan Grail than passing powerful progressive legislation that might actually move this country forward in this 21st century.  To be clear, I do not consider either man to be a progressive; nor did I consider them to be so prior to the 2008 election.  The place I’m arguing from is that this country badly needs progressive legislation and we’re ill-served by the current crop of politicians who don’t care that the Senate is broken.

Recently, Sen. Udall announced that he really, really badly wants a National 25% Renewable Energy Standard by 2025 bill passed during this session of Congress.  That’s fair enough, I suppose.  Sen. Udall did establish some credentials as an environmental advocate in the state of Colorado and during his time as 2nd district Representative in the House.  But, as I’ve also argued in numerous posts, the U.S. Senate is where good legislation goes to die.  By moving from his base of support and joining the Quest for the Holy Bipartisan Grail in the Senate, I challenge the Senator on his calls for an RES.  If he’s not serious about truly enacting such a policy, or if he wants to give utilities policies they support in return for weakening the RES in any way, I’m not interested in listening to his announcements.

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How Will We Respond To Upcoming Climate Change Catastrophes?

This subject is receiving a little more attention as more and more people move beyond the false question, “Is climate change happening?”, to the much more important question: “What will happen as climate change makes its effects known?”

To that end, this opinion piece by a professor of global systems is a good read.  He goes through a couple of modern-day scenarios such as the record shattering heat wave in Russia, the U.S. east coast heat wave, and the record shattering flooding displacing millions of people in Pakistan.  Note that all of these scenarios have been and will continue to be part of climate change projections as we move further into the 21st century.

Heat waves, droughts, flooding and big snowstorms are all a part of climate change.  More importantly, the trend of where and when high rainfall and high temperatures occur will become increasingly important in determining geopolitical hotspots.  Millions of displaced Pakistanis and a 1% reduction in Russia’s GDP for 2010 will be seen as small shockwaves in the leadup to the massive climate shocks we’re ensuring will occur.

So while the fools run around screaming about sunspots and week-long growth of Antarctic sea ice, those of us not interested in pushing the dirty energy industry’s interests will examine topics such as:

We need a much more deliberate Plan Z, with detailed scenarios of plausible climate shocks; close analyses of options for emergency response by governments, corporations and nongovernmental groups; and clear specifics about what resources — financial, technological and organizational — we will need to cope with different types of crises.

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What are the White House’s Priorities?

After reading a Denver Post article that detailed some of the efforts that the Obama White House went to in order to ensure appointed Senator Michael Bennet won his Democratic Primary a couple of days ago, I’m left with that question.

And here’s why: Americans are frustrated with the D.C. culture of doing as little as possible.  Americans voted for Obama in record numbers in 2008 mostly because they wanted to see progress made on a suite of issues that had been left to languish or purposefully decimated in the previous 8 years of the Bush Regime.  Instead of getting things done, as was promised in the 2008 campaigns across America, the White House chose instead to waste months of time in order to get one or two Republicans to vote for bills that were being continually watered down.

The nation’s biggest banks got taxpayer dollars which they used to buy smaller banks and reduce competition.  They’re not lending much of those billions of dollars to small businesses or the people who would spend it and finally get this economy back on track.

Healthcare legislation became a health industry giveaway.  The system remains broken, as Americans will continue to affirm for themselves over the next few years.

No climate legislation will be passed any time soon – and I mean any time in the next few years.  Or at least until climate-related disasters affect more Americans personally.

Guantanamo remains open; we’re still occupying Iraq; we’re still occupying Afghanistan.

Unemployment officially remains near 10%, though the more realistic number hovers nearer 18%.

Real take-home income still hasn’t increased measurably since 1974.

Despite all of the things that weren’t done at all , or were done partway, Obama’s machine has decided to back every incumbent Democrat this year, whether they worked to pass any part of his agenda or not.  A number of those candidates have already failed to win their primaries or are behind enough in the polls that Republican wins are all but guaranteed in 3 short months.

That machine wouldn’t be necessary if the President’s team had decided that America’s agenda needed some attention in 2009 and earlier this year.

I’m not at all sure what Obama expects will get done in 2011-2012 with fewer Democrats in the House, which did a monumental job getting good legislation passed, or the Senate, which is broken.  But if he feels better about himself because his machine helped get a couple incumbents through their primaries, more power to him.


State of the Poles – 8/7/10

The state of global polar sea ice in July 2010 is somewhat poor compared to climatological conditions (1979-2008).  The Arctic ice extent once again finds itself far below average extent for this time of year.  In contrast, the Antarctic sea ice extent remains significantly above average conditions.  Given those two quite different stories, the fact that global sea ice extent has once again fallen below 19  million sq. km., just as it has the past five consecutive years and eight out of the past nine, speaks to the dangerously poor condition of Arctic sea ice.

A quick aside: it’s not just the regions north of 60 that are experiencing ridiculous warmth this year.  As I’ll detail further in my upcoming post on the NASA & NOAA global temperature datasets, numerous areas across the Northern Hemisphere have experienced record breaking heat this summer.  Washington D.C. has witnessed its warmest June-July on recordMoscow has experienced its warmest temperatures on record, while massive wildfires rage across the Russian countryside – burning both forests and peat bogs (all of which releases even more CO2 into the atmosphere).  All-time record temperatures for country after country has fallen this year – further speaking to the dead seriousness of climate change’s effects now beginning to take hold.

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STORAGE Act of 2010

Sens. Bingaman, Wyden and Shaheen introduced SB.3617 – the STORAGE Act last month: To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for an energy investment credit for energy storage property connected to the grid.

The bill would have a positive effect on batteries for the developing smart grid.  Storing energy for later use will be a key feature of a robust 21st century energy grid.  This act would be a good step in that direction.  I won’t hold my breath waiting for the broken Senate to pass it, however.