More Logging, More Problems

Following on my recent post on biofuels, I want to mention this article from the Washington Post, which details a recent effort by the Bush administration to allow road-building and logging in pristine forest.

This is essentially a similar problem: we have gotten used to acting as if the earth contains infinite supplies for our needs. The truth is, it does not–we have been living off of millions of years of savings. In addition, though, when it comes to logging, it is possible to manage forestland to produce timber in an ecologically feasible way, but it is not a good idea to manage all available forestland. There are ecological benefits to leaving large areas of forest untouched. They create species diversity and trap carbon dioxide.

This passage captures the problem nicely:

Alaska Regional Forester Denny Bschor said the plan would provide livelihoods for state residents while protecting the health of the forest and ensuring opportunities for recreation and solitude.

Logging creates jobs for people, and people want jobs. Recreation here means road access–another instance of putting ourselves first. It is necessary for us to realize that, in terms of our ability to impact the earth’s environment, we have grow up. It is no longer possible to treat the earth as our playground, because there will be consequences that will hurt us.

Cut down forests and build networks of roads, and you increase carbon-dioxide concentration in the atmosphere and increase the possibilities of flooding and mudslides. These tradeoffs happen whether we take them into account or not. The Republican party seems to be completely ignorant of this fact.

Biofuels Won’t Fix Everything

For many decades, oil was available to meet all of our energy needs. It flowed from the earth; the challenge was to extract and refine it. The supply itself has only recently become a problem, and governments and businesses are scrambling to find a new source of energy that will once again allow us to power all our beloved technology without worries.

There is a problem with this hope, though. It is based on a worldview formed under an illusion. The oil reserves of our planet have functioned like a huge savings account, which we have been drawing from thirstily since we learned how to do so. Now that we are within sight of the end of the savings, we have to realize that another such supply does not exist on our planet.

Biofuels are a recent darling of the misguided hope for endless energy. Burning them for energy produces less pollution than burning fossil fuels. They are renewable, coming as they do from plants. At first blush, biofuels certainly do seem like a solution.

There are, however, problems. This New York Times story, for example, describes the growing trepidations in Europe over biofuels:

There is increasing evidence that the total emissions and environmental damage from producing many “clean” biofuels often outweigh their lower emissions when compared with fossil fuels. More governments are responding to these findings.

The problem, it turns out, is that the plant stock used to make the biofuels must be grown and processed. The land on which it is grown, the methods of planting and harvesting the crop, and the system of processing it into biofuel, are all factors that must be accounted for.

A recent AP article also highlighted these concerns:

But in recent months, scientists, private agencies and even the British government have said biofuels could do more harm than good. Rather than protecting the environment, they say energy crops destroy natural forests that actually store carbon and thus are a key tool in the fight to reduce global warming.

Our ravenous appetite for free energy is the problem, not any particular shortage of fuel sources. For decades we were living off the accumulated energy savings of millions of years. That kind of bounty won’t come again. We need to reorganize our way of thinking about energy, including funding for light rail transport systems, funding for the lowest impact energy sources (solar and wind), and public education about the problems of our current energy lifestyle.

Sure, Tax Rebates are Nice, But . . .

The economic stimulus package that Pelosi and Boehner agreed on recently has one flaw that I just can’t get past. You’ll find it, for example, tucked at the bottom of the first page of this Washington Post story, for example:

The money would be borrowed and would increase the federal deficit.

Given this, the plan is really adding to the problem that underlies the current situation. The economy is faltering, I’m sure, for a variety of reasons, but one of those reasons is worldwide suspicion about the long-term economic viability of the United States. We are in staggering debt, the savings rate is negative, and we are continuing to hemorrhage money in Iraq.

Given all this, the current plan is like burning your furniture to stay warm: it might help in the short term, but from a broader perspective it will only make things worse.

Bill Clinton’s Supposed Rage

CNN has developed a weird habit of reporting on the interactions of their reporters with Bill Clinton in terms that portray him as enraged, lashing out, angered, and just generally aggressive and scary. See, for example, this story, wherein Bill is described as visibly upset. When I watch the video, it seems that Bill is staying cool while making a point in an intense, focussed way.

Earlier, there was this story, in which Bill “gets heated” with a reporter. Again, though, the video tells a different story. Bill does not raise his voice or show any other signs of anger.

Why is this frame showing up persistently in CNN’s coverage? The storyline of Bill overstepping his appropriate place in Hillary’s campaign is definitely gaining traction, and this makes sense given the novelty of the First Gentleman (or whatever the position might be called) role, and what it might entail. In addition, though, it fits into the storyline of Hillary’s campaign as a tough, take-no-prisoners operation that will use any means at its disposal to destroy its enemies.

Though it’s understandable, this consistent mischaracterization is getting a lot of play, to an extent that is weird and a little bit irritating. Has anyone else noticed this?

Six for 06

According to a Washington Post article, House Democrats are laying out a “legislative agenda” as part of their “midterm election push.” Of course, that is not unusual–it is Congress’ job to make laws, after all, and any party that wants to control the House should have an agenda.

The treatment the plan receives in the article is interesting on two counts. First, the plan itself is quite ambitious and, to my mind, slightly flawed but overall a good idea. Second, the balance imperative rears its ugly head in some impressive ways.

To summarize the plan, let me quote from the article:

The plan would allocate billions of dollars to build up the military, subsidize student loans and bolster port security. It would raise the minimum wage, make college tuition payments tax-deductible, repeal oil-company tax breaks and expand incentives for personal savings accounts, among many other provisions.

The program would prohibit the House from approving new spending or tax measures that widen the budget deficit. It would do that by restoring budget rules requiring that all future spending increases and tax cuts be offset by equivalent tax hikes or spending cuts.

This is certainly bold. My favorite part is the restoration of rules that require new spending to be offset by cuts. Anyone who has run a household budget knows that you can’t start spending more money on something unless you spend less on something else. This provision alone makes the whole plan worth it.

As for the other parts of the plan, one would need to see more specifics to know for sure, but the general priorities seem good. Increasing military and security spending seems to be a necessity of the moment. Increasing the minimum wage and helping kids pay for college are good, reliable, progressive moves. I don’t like the support for personal savings accounts (assuming they’re talking about the ones Republicans propose to supplement Social Security or the ones for replacing health insurance; I’m all in favor of banks offering savings accounts) because I don’t think that it makes sense to shift risk to individuals.

All in all, a bold plan. I would like to turn now to the treatment the plan receives in the article. For example, the article states that “Republicans and budget experts doubt that Democrats could do both [enact their plan and keep the deficit under control] simultaneously.” First, the contruction implies that Republicans and budget experts are on the same page, thus implying that Republicans’ criticisms are not politically motivated. Who are these budget experts, and why do they doubt that Democrats could enact their plan? The article is silent.

The piece contains an amazing example of he-said she-said journalism:

This week, President Bush blistered Democratic policies and argued that voters would be better off if they kept Republicans in charge of Congress. He charged in a series of speeches that the Democrats would undermine America’s fight against terrorism and would raise taxes if they won congressional majorities on Nov. 7.

Democratic leaders dispute the accusation and have been talking up Six for ’06.

President Bush makes an accusation. The Democrats disagree. The article says nothing more, but there is much more that should be said. For example, why would increasing military and port security spending “undermine America’s fight against terrorism?” That makes no sense to me. As for raising taxes, it is true that the Democratic plan leaves that possibility open, but only to offset increased spending.

In fact, one incredible omission occurs throughout the article: any mention of the current state of the budget deficit, or of the budget management practiced by the Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. I think that information would be relevant in a story about Democrats offering an alternative plan. Yet the article never mentions anything about the budget situation as it stands now.

As a matter of fact, it stands directly in the toilet. The U.S. Treasury website provides information about the debt. As the Clinton presidency was drawing to a close (9/30/2000), the deficit was:


The deficit is now:


Of course, for fairness I should mention that the deficit did increase during Clinton’s eight years, from $4,064,620,655,521.66 to the above figure, or an increase of $1,609,557,554,365.20, or 39.6%.

Under Bush, the deficit has increased by $2,888,277,223,608.33, or 50.9%.

Keep that in mind as I present my favorite unintentionally ironic part of the article:

“It’s schizophrenia in ’06 is what it is,” said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), a member of the Budget Committee. “You cannot balance the budget by vastly increasing spending.”


Never Fight On Their Terms

While there is much to discuss in President Bush’s speech yesterday, I found this part to be especially interesting:

Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them. The question is: Will we listen? Will we pay attention to what these evil men say? America and our coalition partners have made our choice. We’re taking the words of the enemy seriously.

The comparisons of Osama to Hitler, and, by extension, of Al Qaeda (or perhaps terrorists generally) to nazis are an understandable and increasingly frequent propaganda move. Glenn Greenwald has an excellent post on this subject, essentially pointing out that the analogy doesn’t make sense.

In addition to that matter, though, I think Bush’s phrase reveals a flaw in our approach to the War on Terror. We want to locate and neutralize Osama. We want to isolate and neutralize any Al Qaeda cell we can. The question is, how shall we do this? I don’t think that letting the enemy dictate the terms of engagement makes any sense. The last few years we have been reacting, predictably, to our enemies’ incitements. This isn’t good strategy.

For example, what if they’re lying? It seems far more intelligent for us to decide on our own what the best course is, and then follow that. Lenin and Hitler said a bunch of crazy stuff, including threats that they carried out, ones they didn’t, and craziness of a more general nature. This oversimplification of “evil men” who “say” all the things they will do truthfully is stupid.

Finally, I’d like to mention this quote, from a Washington Post news piece:

“America is safer, but we are not yet safe,” the document concludes.

The document is, according to the Post, the “White House . . . updated plan for combating terrorism”

What a self-serving generality. “The Republicans are keeping you safe. But be afraid! Vote Republican or the evil men will kill you!”

Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant

This Washington Post Column, “A Transparently Terrific Bill,” though it comes from a source with which I usually don’t agree one hundred percent (The American Enterprise Institute), contains some really excellent reasoning.

The main focus of the piece is a bill that would require that government spending be publicly reported, so that corruption, waste, and fraud can all be exposed and dealt with. Just because I think paying taxes is one of the duties of citizenship doesn’t mean I think it’s a good idea to waste money.

My favorite part:

The idea of a transparency website — replete with search engines that include subcontractors — was born in May 2005 at a hearing on U.S. efforts to combat malaria. Officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) squirmed as Coburn revealed that 93% of the agency’s 2004 funding to eradicate malaria had been spent on administrative and advice-giving services.

A transparency website–what a good idea. Of course, the column reports that the contractors who receive lucrative government contracts do not like the bill one bit. Sadly for them, this nation exists for the people, not the contractors, and the people have the right to know where their money is going.

Let’s hope the bill passes.

The Estate Tax is Good

I don’t often agree with Sebastian Mallaby, but in today’s Washington Post, his column about the estate tax is reasonable, forceful, and correct:

If the abolitionists succeed, some other tax will eventually be raised to make up for the lost revenue. So which tax does Congress favor? The income tax, which discourages work? A consumption tax, which hits the poor hardest? The payroll tax, which is both anti-work and anti-poor? Really, which other tax out there is better?

The whole thing is worth reading, particularly if you are someone who:

  1. Is in favor of repealing the estate tax
  2. Has less than $2,000,000

The United States should be a place where individuals can work to make a better life for themselves, not a place where an established aristocracy should control most of the capital, in perpetuity. The estate tax is progressive and beneficial, and its repeal would be, well, stupid.

A Carbon Neutral Film

Apparently, one emerging line of attack on Al Gore and his film An Inconvenient Truth involves the charge of hypocrisy. I heard, for example, the Sean Hannity radio show yesterday, wherein Sean said (I am paraphrasing) Al Gore has no right to tell Americans how they should change their lives if he plans to fly all over the place and drive constantly.

So, to rebut this silliness up front, here’s an interesting fact about the movie:

How the movie was offset:

With Native Energy, Participant Productions and Paramount Pictures Classics offset 100% of the CO2 pollution from air and ground travel, production energy use, and waste associated with the making of An Inconvenient Truth. By purchasing over 40 tons of offsets, Participant Productions and Paramount Pictures Classics made the film climate neutral and is helping build the Rosebud St. Francis wind farm in South Dakota and the Dovan family dairy farm methane renewable energy project in Pennsylvania.

You too, can offset the CO2 from your daily actions, such as travel, commuting and heating and powering your home with Native Energy.

Native Energy is an innovative, entrepreneurial effort to offer CO2 offsets to anyone who wants to neutralize their impact on the climate. So, when you hear the hypocrisy attack leveled at this movie, you know it is baseless.

An Inconvenient Truth

I just saw An Inconvenient Truth and it was amazing. I wanted to post and encourage people to see it. The movie is well put together and very informative. It was funny too!

Go see this movie. Whether you expect to agree or disagree, there is much to be learned for everyone. For example, one statistic I did not know about had to do with the disparity between peer-reviewed scientific papers on global warming, and news articles about the same. In a study of all papers over the last ten years, 0% of them cast doubt on the fact that global warming is happening and humans are contributing. Over the same time span, a study of news articles showed that 53% of them cast doubt on that fact.

I would love to discuss your impression of the film in the comments. Please note whether you have seen the film or not in your responses.