Global warming vs. healthcare reform ctd.

Joe Romm responds at great length to my post on global warming vs. healthcare reform. I think we’re running into a simple disagreement of priority here. Romm is obviously very concerned with climate change. It is his specialty and his focus on the subject makes him more concerned with climate change legislation than with healthcare reform. That’s fine, we’re all entitled to our priorities.

I’m not going to go into great length countering each and every one of Romm’s points. Suffice to say, he – like many commenters here – sees the risk of not tackling climate change as a very real, clear and present danger. He has a great deal of scientific data which shows the possible effects of climate change now and in the future and it’s pretty scary stuff. I completely agree that something should be done, must be done. He also says that he never said healthcare reform shouldn’t be done at all. Likewise, I never said climate change legislation should never be done at all. We both were arguing over which should take priority. Romm seems to have twisted my argument in such a way as to imply that I don’t favor any action at all on climate change. On the contrary, I favor a carbon tax.

However, I don’t think climate change legislation was possible as the first priority and I think tackling it would have almost certainly killed healthcare reform as well. I think it can be done as a second-term, hopefully post-recession piece of legislation and it can be done through the reconciliation process, but not until there’s enough Democrats on board to get 51 votes in the Senate, and I don’t think there are in an election year.

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Eco-Anti-Terrorists

Bill McKibben and his co-conspirators attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of American History’s Greatest Monster and “Bring solar power back to the White House“:

A few of us have spent the past week carefully transporting a relic of American history down the East Coast, trying to return it to the White House, where it belongs.
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It’s not a painting spirited from the Lincoln Bedroom or an antique sideboard stolen from the Roosevelt Room by some long-ago servant. No, this relic comes from the somewhat more prosaic Carter roof. It’s a solar panel, one of a large array installed on top of the White House in June 1979.
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When he dedicated the panels, President Jimmy Carter made a prophecy that, like many oracles, came true in unexpected fashion — in fact, nothing better illustrates both why the world is heating and why the American economy is falling behind its competitors.
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“In the year 2000 this solar water heater behind me will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy,” he said. “A generation from now this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.” …

Anybody here can tell us more about McKibben’s 10-10-10 Global Work Party?



About that offshore drilling moratorium

Over at Think Progress, Ben Armbruster points to the explosion of an oil and gas rig 80 miles off the Louisiana coast today, noting that just yesterday one of the senior employees at Mariner Energy, the company which owns the rig, had this to say about the offshore drilling moratorium:

“I have been in the oil and gas industry for 40 years, and this administration is trying to break us,” said Barbara Dianne Hagood, senior landman for Mariner Energy, a small company. “The moratorium they imposed is going to be a financial disaster for the gulf coast, gulf coast employees and gulf coast residents.”

Of course, the many gloom and doom predictions about the moratorium have not come to pass:

Unemployment claims related to the oil industry along the Gulf Coast have been in the hundreds, not the thousands, and while oil production from the gulf is down because of the drilling halt, supplies from the region are expected to rebound in future years. Only 2 of the 33 deepwater rigs operating in the gulf before the BP rig exploded have left for other fields.

While it is too early to gauge the long-term environmental or economic effects of the release of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the gulf, it now appears that the direst predictions about the moratorium will not be borne out. Even the government’s estimate of the impact of the drilling pause — 23,000 lost jobs and $10.2 billion in economic damage — is proving to be too pessimistic.

So the costs of the moratorium have been minimal – much less than predicted – and already we’ve seen a second rig explode in the Gulf this year. The oil industry should realize by now that cleaning up after a disaster is a far more expensive, messy process than ensuring that it doesn’t happen in the first place. It’s also terrible PR. But, of course, the oil industry does not realize that. Until each rig is inspected and safety on these rigs is ensured, I don’t see how the government can do anything but impose a moratorium. Of course, activist judges think they know better. I wonder how many more spills and explosions need to occur before we implement sensible safety and precautionary measures in our oil rigs? Kicking the costs down the road until something really bad happens is certainly not the answer, even if it is the likely outcome even of a disaster the size and scope of the BP oil spill.

Unlike the Deepwater Horizon, this explosion occurred in shallow water, operating at about 340 feet instead of 5,000 which makes any complications from a spill much more manageable. This, and the fact that no workers were killed, make up the story’s silver lining.

More on the explosion here.



A Small Victory

Good, strong statement from Mann:

An Albemarle County Circuit Court judge has set aside a subpoena issued by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the University of Virginia seeking documents related to the work of climate scientist and former university professor Michael Mann.

Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli can investigate whether fraud has occurred in university grants, as the attorney general had contended, but ruled that Cuccinelli’s subpoena failed to state a “reason to believe” that Mann had committed fraud.

The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic who had maintained that he was investigating whether Mann committed fraud in seeking government money for research that showed that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming. Mann, now at Penn State University, worked at U-Va. until 2005.

According to Peatross, the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, under which the civil investigative demand was issued, requires that the attorney general include an “objective basis” to believe that fraud has been committed. Peatross indicates that the attorney general must state the reason so that it can be reviewed by a court, which Cuccinelli failed to do.

Here’s Mann:

“I’m very pleased that the judge has ruled in our favor,” he said in a statement. “It is a victory not just for me and the university, but for all scientists who live in fear that they may be subject to a politically-motivated witch hunt when their research findings prove inconvenient to powerful vested interests.



Cash for Clunkers fail

Jason Kuznicki makes some very good observations. Noting that the destruction of cars – if it were ever to generate wealth – would only be the first among many goods we could destroy to generate said wealth, he writes:

No, the appropriate course would be to generalize, and to destroy all goods in exchange for government scrip. Then we could play Monopoly, I guess, for what all good the money would do. But we’d have to scrape a board in the dirt to do it.

That’s because money isn’t wealth. Money is at best a measure of wealth, which actually consists of goods. Money retains its value as long as there are goods to be traded for it. When the goods disappear, the economy grows poorer, regardless of how the money is shuffled around.

And the payback isn’t long in coming — today’s used car prices are soaring owing to reduced supply. (This link gives even more dramatic numbers, but I’m less sure of them. h/t Radley Balko.)

See how that works? You can’t get something for nothing. Cash for Clunkers turns out to have been a highly inefficient wealth-transfer program, that is, one that destroyed a bunch of wealth along the way. It gave wealth to those already relatively wealthy people who did the government’s bidding (that is, those who could afford to part with a used car and buy a new one). And now it’s taking wealth from those relatively poor people who need a used car today — in the form of higher prices.

Along the way, it destroyed hundreds of thousands of cars — that’s the real wealth these poor people don’t have access to anymore, because the scrapped cars aren’t a part of the economy.

On top of being a renter, I’m also a used-car buyer. When Cash for Clunkers was implemented I went to check out what I could get for my own clunker (which still drives fine, by the way), and everything was out of my price range. However, a ‘99 Honda CRV was affordable enough, so we got that instead, from a private seller. A new one would have cost about four times as much even with the government credit.

Meanwhile thousands upon thousands of used vehicles like my “new” ‘99 CRV were traded in and destroyed, artificially inflating the cost of used cars by diminishing their supply and likewise artificially bolstering the demand for new, expensive cars. This is a fairly obvious transfer of wealth from the poor and working class to the middle and upper class. Whatever stimulative effect it may have had, it was also an act of destruction and a temporary fix for car dealers and automakers at the expense of low-income consumers. I’m all for stimulus, but let’s keep it productive. Let’s build things with our stimulus dollars, not destroy them.

Breaking windows is no more economically sensible than blotting out the sun to protect candlestick-makers. If we want to create jobs with tax dollars let’s at least get to work patching up our dilapidated infrastructure or investing in a new, better infrastructure of the future. We’ll leave fewer casualties in our wake.



Not “Treme”, Just Life

Been a good weekend for serendipity, for me. I had not previously heard of Ben Sandmel, but I’ll be looking for more of his work in the future:

For 15 years, Dan Peterson worked as a cook on oil rigs off the coast of Louisiana. During much of that time Peterson lived on Grand Isle, the barrier island community that has experienced some of the worst damage from the BP spill. Although Peterson retired three years ago, he maintains close ties with his offshore compadres, and has keenly monitored the events of the past 100-plus days.
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Peterson did not participate in drilling per se. On a rig, food service personnel are considered a lower caste by those who actually work in oil production. But 18 hours of daily duty in the galley, where all crew members would gather at one time or another, created a dual reality in which Peterson was virtually omnipresent yet also figuratively invisible.
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“I saw and heard a lot,” he said. “As a cook I was regarded as a retarded derelict and accorded a degree of anonymity, which left me privy to many acts of bribery and extortion not open to public scrutiny. I was on more than one job where I was enlisted to go ashore and pick up a few bottles of Johnnie Walker Black and a fat envelope for someone with MMS.”
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Peterson’s assessment of the current crisis focuses on the critical issue of caution vs. quotas. “I don’t know the mechanics of what happened on the Deepwater Horizon,” he says, “but it is crystal clear in my mind why the potential and then later-realized [problem] occurred. It boils down to BP’s oxymoronical safety/production bonus plan. If everything went cool while digging a hole, everyone involved would be given a quite large, tax-free check at the end. The code of omerta was of paramount importance, and everyone was either D&D [deaf and dumb] or a cheese-eater” — a rat who would inevitably be hazed and punished by co-workers. In Peterson’s view, however, this dangerous situation was hardly unique: “I’ve worked on many BP rigs. Their safety efforts are no better or worse than any other company’s.”
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“BP has been leading the Coast Guard around by its nose,” Peterson continued. “They have Thad Allen [the retired Coast Guard admiral who is President Obama’s point man] on a leash. He acts subservient to them because he’s not an oil man. He’s a bureaucrat and…won’t stand up to them.” Plaquemines Parish Billy Nungesser, a very visible and vocal figure during the past 100 days, has called for Allen’s resignation…
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“Grand Isle is a very insular community,” Peterson concluded. “It’s distanced by two-hours’ drive from any semblance of civilization…But now it’s as if it was dead. Grand Isle has become like the town that Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin took over in ‘The Wild One.’ Since the spill, it causes me great pain to go back there.”

He’s got other columns at the link, too, and they’re well worth reading. Goddess knows there are plenty of stories to be told about this latest disaster, and too many people who’d prefer we all develop a terminal case of collective amnesia.



Decent Track Record, Spoiled

McClatchy has a good analysis of how well we were doing on oil spill prevention and containment until the Deepwater Horizon accident:

The Coast Guard data indicate that the volume of small and large spills has declined steadily across the decades. For instance, the number of spills between 1 and 100 gallons decreased by almost 77 percent from 1973 to 2004. Spills larger than 100,000 gallons dropped by 89 percent during the same period.

I don’t buy the “culture of complacency” explanation being peddled by some of the experts quoted in the piece. Hookers and whiskey at the MMS had a lot to do with it, too.