AP reports that Rep. William Jefferson (D) has been defeated in his bid for a 10th term by Republican attorney Anh “Joseph” Cao, who will become the first Vietnamese-American in Congress. Jefferson has “pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, laundering money and misusing his congressional office.”
Energy Secretary Contender Dr. Steven Chu: Transform The Energy Landscape To Save ‘A Beautiful Planet’
The Washington Post’s Al Kamen reports that there’s “buzz” that the Obama transition is “looking hard at some scientific types” to lead the Energy Department. Dr. Steven Chu, the Nobel laureate director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is reportedly a dark horse candidate.
In a presentation at this summer’s National Clean Energy Summit convened by the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Dr. Chu described why he has moved from his background in experimental quantum physics to tackling global warming:
Consider this. There’s about a 50 percent chance, the climate experts tell us, that in this century we will go up in temperature by three degrees Centigrade. Now, three degrees Centigrade doesn’t seem a lot to you, that’s 11° F. Chicago changes by 30° F in half a day. But 5° C means that … it’s the difference between where we are today and where we were in the last ice age. What did that mean? Canada, the United States down to Ohio and Pennsylvania, was covered in ice year round.
Five degrees Centigrade.
So think about what 5° C will mean going the other way. A very different world. So if you’d want that for your kids and grandkids, we can continue what we’re doing. Climate change of that scale will cause enormous resource wars, over water, arable land, and massive population displacements. We’re not talking about ten thousand people. We’re not talking about ten million people, we’re talking about hundreds of millions to billions of people being flooded out, permanently.
As Dr. Chu explains in the above video, the optimal way to reduce greenhouse emissions is to waste less energy, by investing in energy efficiency. He demolished the myth that we can’t reduce our use of energy without reducing our wealth by offering numerous counterexamples, or, in his scientist’s jargon, “existence proofs.” Applause broke out when he described how companies, after claiming efficiency gains and lowered costs were impossible, “miraculously” achieved them once they “had to assign the jobs from the lobbyists to the engineers.”
Chu continued by discussing what he has done to develop “new technologies to transform the landscape.” He discussed the Helios Project, the research initiative Berkeley Lab launched for breakthrough renewable energy and efficiency technology. In addition to research into energy conservation, Berkeley Lab researchers are pursuing nanotech photovoltaics, microbial and cellulosic biofuels, and chemical photosynthesis.
Dr. Chu concluded his address with a reminder why this challenge is so important:
I will leave you with this final image. This is — I was an undergraduate when this picture was taken by Apollo 8 — and it shows the moon and the Earth’s rise. A beautiful planet, a desolate moon. And focus on the fact that there’s nowhere else to go.
In his effort to expand the powers of vice presidency to dangerous levels, Dick Cheney has met regularly with congressional Republicans. The Las Vegas Sun is reporting that the new Congress “will reassert its constitutional independence from the White House by barring the vice president from joining in internal Senate deliberations.” Mike Allen reports that Vice President-elect Biden has readily agreed to limit his intervention in Congress:
The paper says that when [Senate Majority Leader] Reid was asked whether Biden will be allowed to attend Senate Democratic caucus meetings, Reid said: “Absolutely not.”
Elizabeth Alexander, spokesperson for the Vice President-elect, e-mailed in response: “Vice President-elect Biden had no intention of continuing the practice started by Vice President Cheneyof regularly attending internal legislative branch meetings — he firmly believes in restoring the Office of the Vice President to its historical role. He and Senator Reid see eye to eye on this.”
At the October vice presidential debate in St. Louis, Biden said, “Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we’ve had probably in American history.”
My friend Brian Beutler and Ta-Nehisi Coates have recorded a brilliant BHTV episode shaped largely around Brian’s experience as a gunshot victim in DC early this past summer. In this segment they talk about race, fear of crime, and city living:
The whole episode is worth watching, though, as this subject winds up being more conducive to the dialogue format than a conventional political debate is.
Things are getting worse and worse in Somalia:
The pirates off Somalia’s coast are getting bolder, wilier and somehow richer, despite an armada of Western naval ships hot on their trail. Shipments of emergency food aid are barely keeping much of Somalia’s population of nine million from starving. The most fanatical wing of Somalia’s Islamist insurgency is gobbling up territory and imposing its own harsh brand of Islamic law, like whipping dancers and stoning a 13-year-old girl to death.
And now, with the government on the brink and the Islamists about to seize control for the second time, the operative question inside and outside Somalia seems to be: Now what?
“It will be bloody,” predicted Rashid Abdi, a Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group, a research institute that tracks conflicts worldwide. “The Ethiopians have decided to let the transitional government sink. The chaos will spread from the south to the north. Warlordism will be back.”
US press coverage of this situation keeps ignoring the US role, but had American policymakers tried to dissuade Ethiopia from invading two years ago rather than encouraging the invasion, we could have saved thousands of lives, avoiding this piracy problem, and had a more manageable Islamist situation. But at the time, most conservatives applauded the US-sponsored Ethiopian invasion to be a smashing success and thought maybe we could learn a thing or two about the utility of harsh measures in sticking it to the wogs.
Maybe George W. Bush has been trying to implement my flat-output, declining employment hypothetical scenario.
Yesterday the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the nation’s economy lost 533,000 jobs last month, one of the worst jobs reports ever. With that, the unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent. But the actual percentage of Americans who have lost hours and are out of work is much higher:
More significantly, the unemployment rate does not include those too discouraged to look for work any longer or those working fewer hours than they would like. Add those people to the roster of the unemployed, and the rate hit a record 12.5 percent in November, up 1.5 percentage points since September.
As Ezra Klein was pointing out yesterday the idea that Americans receive the best health care in the world is hard to support with evidence. Here’s a chart:
It also bears mentioning that it’s far from obvious that maximizing quality is the right policy objective. If the wacky statists in France were to implement a “minimum price” of 2,000 euros for a high-definition television you’d rapidly see France become the country with the “best” HDTVs in the world. Everything would have full 1080p resolution or be really big or what have you. Because when you can’t compete on price, you try to compete on quality. But in the real world, when you’re thinking about what’s a “better” or “worse” television situation, the price is relevant not just the quality.
Back to the health care case, it’s far from clear that the British system’s focus on cost containment is the wrong idea. There are certainly countries with better health care than the UK, but the practical impact of the international variation seems pretty small. Meanwhile, the much lower price the UK is paying has real benefits in terms of economic growth and the ability to make public investments elsewhere. Even if all you care about is health outcomes it probably makes more sense to focus on equity, cost containment, and the basics while focusing public expenditures on ways to make healthy lifestyle choices broadly available.
Today, President Bush presided over the unveiling of his presidential portrait, at the Union League. “Welcome to my hanging,” Bush joked to the crowd. The portrait “shows Bush staring straight ahead, looking comfortable but not quite smiling, against the backdrop of the White House’s Treaty Room.” Bush said the painter, Mark Carder, “did a really fine job with a challenging subject.”
George Bush’s deep unpopularity, lack of a positive agenda or accomplishments, and his waning days in office have sapped most of his presidential powers save one: the ability to say “no.” His intransigent opposition to long term bridge loans to save General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford has forced Congressional leaders to scramble to provide assistance to prevent bankruptcy, which would devastate the already ailing economy. It appears that there is a tentative deal that will keep GM and Chrysler on life support until the new president and Congress can provide long-term assistance to nurse them back to health.