Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Gore's carbon-free challenge includes carbon sequestration

The We Can Solve It campaign has a video remix of Gore's challenge to have 100% carbon-free electricity sources in the US in 10 years.

One question I had of his idea was whether he rules out carbon sequestration - he doesn't:

The electricity system can be a mix of carbon-free baseload and distpatchable sources like solar thermal with storage, geothermal, wind, solar photovoltaics, biomass, existing nuclear and hydropower, and coal and natural gas power if they are able to capture the carbon.

I have mixed feelings about carbon sequestration. On the one hand, it might occupy the political sweet spot of requiring the least amount of change in power sources in order to eliminate carbon. Instead of needing sufficient political power to completely eliminate the entire coal industry, we just need the power to force them to pay extra to sequester carbon. On the other hand, the technology and most importantly the costs are undetermined. While many environmentalists noted the collapse of the FutureGen project as just one more failure of the Bush Administration, it's also a big setback for carbon sequestration.

So it's an open question in my mind whether carbon sequestration as an unproven technology with unknown costs, but great potential, can play a significant role within ten years. I think Gore's challenge is a reasonable one and that he is completely serious about it, but some results might not be reached by the deadline.

Monday, July 28, 2008

O.J. Simpson cleared along with Alberto Gonzalez in DOJ probe

Alberto Gonzalez' lawyer says of the Inspector General's report finding legal violations and misconduct by Gonzo's chief of staff and others, that "the investigation found that former Attorney General Gonzales was not involved in or aware of the politicized hiring practices of staffers."

I've leafed through the report, and darned if I can find the statement exonerating Gonzo. Instead I find this on page 135:

This investigation examined allegations that Monica Goodling, who
worked in the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) as the Department’s
White House Liaison, inappropriately considered political and ideological
affiliations in the selection and hiring of certain Assistant United States
Attorneys (AUSA) and career attorneys in the Department, and in
approving details of career attorneys to Department offices. We also
investigated allegations that former Chief of Staff to the Attorney General
Kyle Sampson, Goodling, and Goodling’s predecessor as the
Department’s White House Liaison, Jan Williams, inappropriately
considered political and ideological affiliations in selecting immigration
judges (IJs) and members of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), all
of which are career positions.

Someone might read that to say the IG wasn't investigating Gonzo. Clearly though, from Gonzo's lawyer, a failure to reach out to investigate someone means exoneration. I've seen this statement repeated in the media without challenge, so it must be right. Thus, the stunning news that O.J. actually didn't kill his wife. Case closed.

Meanwhile, I expect the lawyers that the IG report did reach will be facing ethics complaint in whatever bar they're admitted to practice (as these two did). Should be interesting to see if there's any accountability.

UPDATE: A little more info comes out from the IG's testimony to Congress. Gonzo disclaimed all knowledge of any political bias in hiring. Sounds like no forensics was done on his computers, but it's just a short clip of the testimony.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My "Dark Knight" review: go see WALL-E

The only semi-compelling reason to see the new Batman movie is to participate in the undergrad-level, shoot-the-breeze political analysis going around the blogs. Not reason enough, though.

Yes, the Joker is interesting, but hardly mind-blowing, and the movie couldn't decide if it was about Batman, Joker, or the Harvey Dent character. To the extent this movie deals with deeper themes of free will and chance, "No Country for Old Men" is leagues better.

WALL-E, by contrast, is just a very fun movie. I think it's proof of the corrupt state of modern conservatism that they're offended by the "political" message that littering, waste, and indolence are bad. See this movie instead, or go see Hellboy 2 and tell me whether I should see it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

I've created a monster (but he's a nice monster)

David Evans didn't have much of a public profile until he and I arranged a bet over future warming.

What I didn't anticipate is the denialist response to the bet, which I'd summarize as "OMG OMG OMG! A vanishingly small BUT NON-ZERO percentage of skeptics are actually willing to put their money where their mouths are, therefore the skeptic position is right!" This ignores the issue that it's the result of the bet that will provide the most evidence as to who's right, not to mention the extremely large number of denialists who wouldn't and still won't bet.

Still, the denialist fan reaction has given David some prominence, most recently in The Australian, which is some ridiculous Australian paper that's been on a denialist tear. I don't know what to do about it, frankly. I guess there isn't much I can do about it now- the bet's been made. The one thing I can do is link to Tim Lambert's definitive rebuttal to David's piece. And to James Annan's rebuttal of David's original argument.

I latched on the betting idea as a good way to communicate how wrong and often insincere the denialists are. I still think it is, but the occasional sincere skeptic is seized on by the denialists to set back the cause of reason.

And none of this is to deny the fact that David Evans is a nice guy. I can attest from numerous emails and one phone conversation that he's polite and reasonable in all respects other than his analysis of climate science. David's reference to himself as a "rocket scientist" is tongue-in-cheek although that might be missed by the denialist field. I just hope he doesn't go too far down this path.

The one good thing is that while it take many years to settle our bet, it won't take long to see who's on the path to winning, and that's likely to be helpful. Also: David said in his own post about this issue that "Given that betting is thus possible on this issue, it seems strange that some people who take strong positions and profit by those positions are not prepared to bet even a small amount of their own money. Betting something of one's own money adds, shall we say, credibility." People who support David's position should contact me about getting into the game.

UPDATE: David responds in the comments.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Just a few alterations to Krauthammer's piece on Obama being pretentious

I think Krauthammer really intended an autobiographical piece, so I think the minor alterations below are a slight improvement on the master's work (original here if you want it):

Charles Krauthammer wants to speak about the Brandenburg Gate. He figures it would be a nice backdrop. The supporting cast – he imagines a cheering audience and a few fainting frauleins -- would be a picturesque way to bolster his foreign policy credentials.

What Krauthammer does not seem to understand is that the Brandenburg Gate is something you learn. President Ronald Reagan learned to speak there because his relentless pressure happened when the Soviet empire fell to its knees and he was demanding its final "tear down this wall" liquidation. When President John F. Kennedy spoke in the same city as the Brandenburg Gate on the day of his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, he was representing a country that was prepared to go to the brink of nuclear war to defend West Berlin.

Who is Krauthammer representing? And what exactly has he done in his lifetime to merit appropriating the Brandenburg Gate as a column prop? What was his role in the fight against communism, the liberation of Eastern Europe, the creation of what George Bush the elder -- who just became president when the fall of the Berlin Wall came but modestly declined to go there to steal a victory lap from Germans -- called "a Europe whole and free"?

Does Krauthammer not see the incongruity? It's as if a German propagandist took a corporate-sponsored trip to America and demanded the Statue of Liberty as a venue for a policy speech. (The Germans have now gently nudged Krauthammer into looking at other venues.)

Americans are beginning to notice Krauthammer's elevated opinion of himself. There's nothing new about narcissism in Krauthammer. Every columnist looks in the mirror and sees a genius, not a smarmy monstrosity. Nonetheless, has there ever been a columnist with a wider gap between his estimation of himself and the sum total of his lifetime achievements?

Krauthammer is a former psychiatrist constantly diagnosing neuroses of politicians he dislikes. He consistently uses meaningless and disingenuous claims to disparage people such as the anecdote that Obama as a former Illinois state senator voted "present" nearly 130 times. As a presiding Washington Post columnist, has he ever produced a single notable piece of criticism of the Bush Administration? Written a single memorable article? His most memorable work is his favorite subject: himself.

It is a subject upon which he can dilate effortlessly. In turning a description of a broader movement into a description of himself upon winning the eve of the Iraq invasion, Krauthammer declared it a great turning point in history -- " reformation and reconstruction of an alien culture are a daunting task. Risky and, yes, arrogant." Among other wondrous predictions of his, Charles said Iraq could acquire nuclear weapons " in addition to the weapons of mass destruction he already has, [and] he is likely to use them or share them with terrorists. The threat of mass death on a scale never before seen residing in the hands of an unstable madman is intolerable -- and must be preempted." As other right-wing hacks noted, "Moses made the waters recede, but he had help." Krauthammer apparently works alone.

Krauthammer may think he's King Canute, but the good king ordered the tides to halt precisely to refute sycophantic aides who suggested that he had such power. Krauthammer has no such modesty.

After all, in the words of his February 2004 claim that we have achieved “virtually unqualified success” to the Iraq war, which, translating the royal "we," means: " I am the one we've been waiting for." Amazingly, he kept claiming victory in Iraq until general ridicule induced him to occasionally change the subject.

He lectures us on how "embarrassing" it is that Europeans are multilingual but "we go over to Europe, and all we can say is 'merci beaucoup.' "

His somewhat fluent English does, however, feature many admonitions, instructions and improvements. His wife assures us that Krauthammer will be a stern taskmaster: "Charles Krauthammer will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism . . . that you come out of your isolation. . . . Charles will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed."

For the first few months of the campaign, the question about Krauthammer was: Who is he? The question now is: Who does he think he is?

We are getting to know. Redeemer of our uninvolved, uninformed lives. Lord of the seas. And more. As he said on victory night, his rise marks the moment when "our planet began to heal." As I recall -- I'm no expert on this -- Jesus practiced his healing just on the sick. Krauthammer operates on a larger canvas – the smarminess of evil.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Gristmill, Same Facts, and Volokhs are wrong

Gristmill's Gar Lipow is wrong to blame carbon trading for the recent defeat of an almost-okay clean air law in court. Lipow, who hates carbon trading, wrongly says the court used a "takings" argument to strike the law because it eliminates certain other kinds of pollution trading. The opinion that he never provides is here, and it doesn't making a takings argument. On page 43 the court rejects the idea that existing pollution permits in circulation are a currency (property right). On page 44 the court says the problem is not that EPA is prohibited from modifying permits, but that EPA hasn't cited a grant of permission to modify them. Nowhere does the court make or even accept "fairness" as a legal justification.

Whether the court's analysis is any good is another question. Two of the three judges (at least) are extremely conservative (we Californians remember Janice Rogers Brown), and even the plaintiffs didn't expect this outcome, so I'm doubtful. Might get overturned, but not before the end of the Bush Administration.

Same Facts is wrong for saying of Sudan's tyrant that "Immunity and a comfy exile in a non-ICC state can be offered as part of a deal that ends the killing and lets the refugees return. The deal would have to be made by the UN Security Council under Article 16 of the Rome Statute, which allows it to suspend prosecutions, with such eventualities in mind." Article 16 suspensions are only for one year. While suspensions can be renewed, no self-respecting tyrant will count on that after he's gone from power, or repeat the exact same scenario offered to Liberian murderer Charles Taylor (now on trial after being given exile). I could've sworn I've written something about this but can't find it - the problem with the International Criminal Court is that no one can issue pardons that would help ease out the dictators.

Volokh's Jonathan Adler is wrong for calling liberal lawprof Chemerinsky's federalism inverted. Adler ingenuously quotes another critic as saying "Mr. Chemerinsky sketches a vision of federalism that would empower government at all levels and delight civil plaintiffs and criminal defense lawyers of every description." They fail to realize the contradiction in claiming that delighting civil plaintiffs (against government) and defense lawyers (also against the government) is "empowering goverrnment." This freedom-is-slavery argument has got to go.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

More deep thoughts about Kung Fu Panda

I'd been wondering what people in China thought about a movie set in China, about Chinese themes, and performed in a foreign language aimed at a foreign market. Turns out they like it and even thought it an interesting if cartoonish mirror of their society.

It would be interesting to see the same thing for America. I suppose there's the Lars von Trier trilogy that I haven't seen, but it's in English and I'm not sure I'm a huge fan of his stuff.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

EPA v. the Forest Service, and the Ninth Circuit killing legal realism

The always-interesting-and-on-the-wrong-side Jonathan Adler has several posts about the recent Ninth Circuit Lands Council v. McNair case, where courts have pulled in somewhat the extent they will scrutinize Forest Service logging decisions, and the broader implications are unclear.

In Lands Council, an environmental group sued over a logging project in Idaho, lost at the district court level, but appealed and won at the appellate court in a 2-1 vote. The Forest Service was granted an en banc rehearing by 11 judges and won by an embarrassing 11-0 vote. The case is here. My knowledge of judges is getting rusty, but looking at the panel I seem some bad names but at least one good one. So what happened?

The case theoretically revolves around how much work the Forest Service has to do to prove it's not harming the environment (or maybe even help the environment, but that issue doesn't have broader implications). This new decision now says the Forest Service is the expert on this matter, not the judges, and therefore overrules prior court precedent on studies that would be needed. Enviros now need to do more work to prove the government is doing something wrong, rather than simply show the government didn't do its homework.

The key quote is this: "we hold that the Forest Service must support its conclusions that a project meets the requirements of the NFMA and relevant Forest Plan with studies that the agency, in its expertise, deems reliable." Of course, the government will now dismiss all evidence presented by project opponents by trotting out the project manager to say his expert opinion is that the contrary evidence is unreliable. How easily the courts will accept cursory rebuttals is the real open question of this case.

But here's the thing: I've dealt with logging proposals off and on during my legal career, virtually all of them claiming to be net beneficiaries to the environment, yet we environmentalists continue to oppose these claims. Where is the outrage at the hypocrisy of environmentalists stopping all the environmental benefits proposed by government? Maybe the court opinions would hide the outrage, but somebody should express that outrage and I don't see it.

This is a binary situation where either the government is trying to help the environment but is being stopped by alleged environmentalists, or the government is full of it. I think the lack of outrage indicates the latter. The Lands Council case involved a project where 95% of the treated land had logging, and only 5% skipped "harvesting."

What the Ninth Circuit had done in previous cases was push the Forest Service to justify its decisions, which I think is an expression of legal realism about the Forest Service and its failure to do its job. The contrast I'd make is with the EPA, which despite tremendous pressure from the White House actually made some legitimate findings about climate change.

Too bad the Ninth Circuit is moving in the wrong direction - hopefully it won't keep going that way.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

"On The Media" takes down NY Times' fluff piece on Limbaugh

I read less than half of the NY Times Magazine piece about Rush Limbaugh before giving up. It was about Rush as a person, and I really don't care about Rush the person.

Today I heard NPR's On The Media segment questioning how the "liberal" media's journalist, Zev Chafets, actually got to interview Rush. The takedown of Chafets was beautiful. Chafets said he was simply friendly and persistent. But when Bob Garfield asked why the piece failed to cover any of Limbaugh's lies, Chafets asked for an example and claimed Limbaugh was no worse than people on NPR. Fortunately, and unlike Chafets, Garfield was prepared and gave example after example, leaving Chafets speechless.

We actually learned two things from the segment - first, that Chafets doesn't know much about the person who he profiled extensively in the Times. Second, we found out that Chafets got in the door with Rush because Chafets is in the tank with Rush.

And one more thing, I guess - the Times isn't doing a good job of spotting the biases of its journalists, or maybe it doesn't care as long as there's a story.

Anyway, the OTM piece is worth a listen.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Heartland Institute flaunts its tobacco denialism

It's well documented that tobacco companies are promoting climate change denialism and then latching on to the distrust of science they've created to assist their own denial of the link between second-hand smoke and cancer (shown here and here).

So the Heartland Institute's "Environment & Climate News" publication somehow ended up in the building full of environmentalists where I work. It's a 20-page tabloid-sized publication that resembles a news-packed summary of everything climate-related. Someone's paying them good money to write and produce it.

And of course, pages 8 and 9 are about why second-hand smoke isn't dangerous (available here). The author appears to be a pulmonologist. I have trouble seeing how he could tell his patients that second-hand smoke isn't dangerous (especially children) and not be committing malpractice. On the other hand, he appears to spend so much time writing articles that maybe he avoids that problem by not having actual patients.

Anyway, I didn't expect to see the tobacco-climate connection be so blatant. In effect the newsletter is saying to smokers, "all this science stuff they throw at you is garbage - go ahead and light up, it's not really hurting your spouse or your kids."