In contrast to Vice President Dick Cheney’s dismissive attitude toward Americans’ dissatisfaction with the Iraq war, a recent World Public Opinion poll found that 81 percent of Americans believe that “when making ‘an important decision,’ government leaders ‘should pay attention to public opinion polls because this will help them get a sense of the public’s views.’” Moreover, in a sharp rebuke to White House press secretary Dana Perino’s recent claim that Americans only “have input every four years” regarding policy matters, the poll also found that “94 percent say that government leaders should pay attention to the views of the public between elections.”
In a Star Tribune op-ed, House Intelligence Committee chairman Sylvestre Reyes (D-TX) took issue with a March 14 op-ed by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) that attacked House Democrats for not passing the Senate version of Protect America Act. As Reyes noted, in order to make her argument, Bachmann referenced a quote from a Bush administration official that had since been retracted:
[T]he expiration of the so-called “Protect America Act” (PAA) has not degraded our nation’s intelligence collection capability. Bachmann chose to quote the director of national intelligence in his Feb. 5 testimony to support her argument, but on Feb. 23 the administration had to issue a retraction of those statements, stating that the government is now getting full cooperation from telecommunications companies and that the authorities of the PAA remain in full effect.
Reyes said that he “find[s] it troubling that” Bachmann “chose to use a subsequently retracted statement in lobbying on a matter of such importance.”
As Democratic candidates head into a primary schedule heavy with coal-mining states, they have been talking about coal in a way that draws dangerously close to industry talking points on the single biggest air polluter in the U.S. and the fossil fuel with the worst greenhouse gas output rate.
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) told an NPR affiliate in West Virginia Wednesday that we need to “make sure that coal plays a major role” in the future and when asked about mountaintop removal, said “maybe there is a way to recover once they have been stripped of the coal.” Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) told a crowd in West Virginia Thursday that “clean coal jobs” are “green jobs.”
Here’s a rundown of some of the issues at play:
Sen. Clinton, when asked her position on mountaintop removal, said “it’s a difficult question because of the conflict between the economic and environmental trade-off” and continued, “You know, I think we’ve got to look at this from a practical perspective.”
In the words of Appalachian Voices spokesman J.W. Randolph, “Mountaintop removal does the same thing to our economy as it does to our mountains.” Since 1950, coal-mining jobs in West Virginia have plummeted from over 120,000 to less than 20,000, even as the wasteful and mechanized process of flattening entire mountains for seams of coal has allowed production to increase. Appalachian activist Denise Giardina explained that “it is deep mining that provides jobs,” not mountaintop removal: “To destroy the mountains is to spit in the face of God Almighty.”
Sen. Clinton praised “subsidies for coal-to-liquids projects” and said “I don’t understand” why the Bush administration canceled the FutureGen
coal-to-liquids coal-gasificationdemonstration plant when the $900 million project ballooned to $1.8 billion, with further overruns in sight.
Coal-to-liquids technology, which uses the Fischer-Tropsch process to convert coal into vehicular fuel, “creates almost a ton of carbon dioxide for every barrel of liquid fuel.” The Natural Resources Defense Council explains that many “economic, social, and environmental drawbacks of coal-derived liquid fuel preclude it from being a sound option to move America beyond oil.”
Sen. Obama told his audience:
We could be investing in renewable sources of energy, and in clean coal technology, and creating up to 5 million new green jobs in the bargain, including new clean coal jobs.
“Clean coal” is a shorthand term for “technologies designed to enhance both the efficiency and the environmental acceptability of coal extraction, preparation and use.” This includes established technologies used to capture methane emitted during coal mining and to “wash” coal before it is burned to separate toxic impurities, as well as technologies to capture and geologically store its greenhouse emissions (CCS) that are “expensive, experimental and not in commercial use.”
The coal industry, with the assistance of the current administration, has been fighting regulations to establish or enforce the use of existing technologies to reduce traditional air pollutants produced by coal-burning like mercury and sulfur dioxide. In climate scientist James Hansen’s analysis, the only way to avoid climate catastrophe is to establish “an immediate moratorium on additional coal-fired power plants without CCS.”
Van Jones, head of Green For All, defines “a green-collar job” as “a vocational job in an ecologically responsible trade.”
No matter how advanced coal technology becomes, a coal-industry job is simply not in the same class of ecological responsibility as one that involves renewable energy or actually restores carbon and health to the soil.
These issues are complicated and need to be talked about responsibly, especially when the coal front group Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC) is running a $35 million campaign across the nation with the slogan “Clean Coal. America’s Power.”
UPDATE: CORRECTION: The FutureGen project in Mattoon, Illinois was to be a demonstration coal-gasification and carbon-sequestration power plant, not a “coal-to-liquids plant.” Although the synthesis gas (syngas) generated by coal gasification is a step in the coal-to-liquids process and can be “used in a fuel cell to produce clean [sic] electricity, or it could be fed to a refinery to help upgrade petroleum products,” it is not a liquid fuel.
On Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor last night, former Bush adviser Karl Rove defended the invasion of Iraq five years ago, saying that “if we win,” it “will send a powerful message throughout the Islamic world.” Claiming that “the Muslim world is waiting to see who is going to win the conflict” between “al Qaeda” and “the West,” Rove argued that a continued U.S. presence could create “energy for reform throughout the Middle East.”
“By winning, we will send a powerful message that the momentum is on our side,” said Rove. “And it will rally the Muslim world to us.” Watch it:
Citing Princeton academic Bernard Lewis — who argued before the war that “that regime change in Iraq would provide the jolt needed to modernize the Middle East” — Rove is pushing the “democratic domino” theory that many of the Bush administration neocons pushed before the war.
But he ignores the fact that America’s presence in Iraq has weakened democracy in the Middle East. In September 2007, Brookings Senior Fellow Shibley Telhami wrote that “in every public opinion poll I have conducted since 2003 most Arabs believed that the Middle East had become even less democratic than it was before the Iraq War.”
Additionally, according to a 2007 BBC poll, global opinion of America continues to plummet each day troops remain in Iraq:
Telhami writes that “the very American policy that was said to be aimed at spreading democracy increased the conditions that terrify the public and reduced the attraction of democracy itself.”
Transcript: Read more
During the war in Iraq, young Army and Marine captains have become American viceroys, officers with large sectors to run and near-autonomy to do it. In military parlance, they are the “ground-owners.” In practice, they are power brokers.
“They give us a chunk of land and say, ‘Fix it,’ ” said Capt. Rich Thompson, 36, who controls an area east of Baghdad.
The Iraqis have learned that these captains, many still in their 20s, can call down devastating American firepower one day and approve multimillion-dollar projects the next. Some have become celebrities in their sectors, men whose names are known even to children.
One is never to speak ill of The Troops, but I don’t think you need to be a hard-bitten anti-American to have some doubts about the soundness of this kind of set-up. Suppose we replaced the mayor of your town with a twentysomething foreigner who didn’t speak English but did have a ton of firepower at his disposal and no real checks on his power. You’d probably feel that was a step in the wrong direction. And conversely, it’s not genuinely reasonable to expect relatively junior Army officers to do this sort of job well. I find there’s often an element of fantastical thinking in counterinsurgency doctrine, where if we establish that it would be desirable for things to work in such and such a way, then it also becomes possible for them to work like that.
But it’s not an army of mutant superheros we’ve got, it’s an army of soldiers. How’s it supposed to suddenly be filled with people well-suited to the task of governing foreign towns? The British had a whole separate civilian agency set up to train and recruit their colonial administrators and make sure they had the right skills. If we’re going to want to run foreign countries effectively, we’re going to need to do something similar. An alternative, and superior, option would be to back away from running foreign countries.
A Texas local Fox News affiliate reports that “Mustang Ridge City Council member Charles Laws referred to a proposed immigrant detention center as a ‘holding pen for wetbacks’ on the March 12 meeting agenda.” Asked about his comments, Laws explained: “I’m 74 years old, and that’s what we called them when I was growing up. I don’t care about political crap.” But Laws later back-tracked, saying “I wasn’t thinking.” A city councilman from nearby Austin is leading a campaign to have Laws removed.
Let me highlight something from the Politico article:
Clinton’s top supporters, including her husband, have suggested in recent days that amassing more votes than Sen. Barack Obama, while it has no formal meaning, could offer a key rationale for laying claim to the nomination. The theory: Winning the popular vote might give party leaders known as superdelegates a reason to take the nomination away from Obama, who is virtually sure to earn more pledged delegates.
The assumption here is that superdelegates who have not yet endorsed Clinton are actually harboring a secret, unexpressed desire to overturn the outcome of the delegate-selection process and hand the nomination to her. These people are just waiting to be given a reason to do it.
The thing is: That’s crazy. Hillary started out with a huge lead in superdelegates because she got a treasure trove of early endorsements. Guess why? Because her husband used to be President and party figures had every reason to offer her early endorsements. Since that time, all the superdelegate momentum’s been toward Obama because, guess what, the people who didn’t line up behind Clinton early are people who don’t want Clinton to win! I know reality gets distorted in the midst of a campaign, but they’re really deluded if they can’t see that.
The Stockholm Environment Institute and the Tufts Climate Initiative has a good handout on the subject, “Flying Green.” They note
… the average American is responsible for the emissions of about 20 tons of CO2 annually…. If you fly to Europe and back from the US, you’ll add about 3-4 tons to your (already large) carbon footprint. With one flight you will have caused more emissions than 20 Bangladeshi will cause in a whole year. Unfortunately they are the ones who will lose their homes and livelihood once sea level rise inundates their low lying country.
Personally, I have cut back air travel a great deal to reduce emissions, to spend time with my daughter, to spend more time blogging, and, of course, to spend less time flying, which just isn’t very pleasant anymore.
The handout has a number of good suggestions and factoids — why should flying economy be considered better for the environment than flying business class?
Also, while I’m not a big fan of carbon offsets, the handout offers some good principles for such purchases and then recommends a few offsets companies.
If you want to learn more about the controversial issue of just how much damage to the climate air travel does, you might read this. If you want to know more about offsetting air travel emissions, read this.
One way of thinking about today’s withdrawal debate is to think about yesterday‘s withdrawal debate. My first draft theory about an exit strategy from Iraq was back in 2004 when it seemed to me that we ought to take advantage of the election scheduled in Iraq for late January 2005. Troops should stay in the country through that date, the election should be organized, and then shortly thereafter we could declare victory and announce our schedule for leaving. People said that if we did that, Iraq could fall into chaos and increasing violence. And those people won the day. So we stayed. Then in 2005, Iraq became more violent and chaotic anyway. Then in 2006, Iraq became even more violent and chaotic. Then in 2007, it became even more violent and chaotic. Then momentum changed, the level of violence fell sharply, and then it plateaued at a level of violence and chaos still well-above where it was in 2004.
In other words, the bad things people worried might happen if we left still happened anyway.
In my view, today is no different. But the defense and foreign policy establishment is programmed, deep in its DNA, to have a kind of morbid fascination with the risks of not being involved. So when we talk about Iraq, the debate is dominated by the fear that if we leave some bad things will happen. And that’s not an irrational fear — it’s a bad situation, pregnant with bad possibilities — but precisely because it’s a situation so pregnant with bad possibilities those risks exist either way. We chose not to declare victory in January 2005 and all the bad things that were predicted as a consequence of leaving Iraq happened anyway. There’s a lesson to be learned in that.