Via the invaluable Boursa Exchange, I see that the Egyptian government is contemplating a redevelopment plan in downtown Cairo which would transform the area into a pedestrian-only area. This plan has been commissioned by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, and envisions the construction of “multi-story underground garages” to eliminate traffic and pave the way for the creation of an area of open-air restaurants and shops.
Creating a pedestrianized plaza may or may not be a good idea. And obviously you won’t have a traffic jam on a pedestrian-only street. But overall this sounds like a recipe for making Cairo’s traffic problems worse. You’re talking, after all, about adding a vast quantity of parking spaced. I can’t exactly picture what this scheme is supposed to look like, but it sounds like you’ll have very-congested underground roadways connecting a vast complex of underground garages. If you want to reduce traffic congestion in a crowded urban area, you really need to do congestion pricing. Nothing else will work over the long run. In general, I would say that any city that contains a substantial non-car-owning population (and I believe Cairo, in relatively poor Egypt fits the bill) could benefit a lot from the following formula:
Replace auto lanes with bus lanes and protected bike lanes.
Implement congestion pricing.
Use revenue from (2) to pay for (1)—and make the bus system good.
Start getting people to plan options and scenarios for heavy rail.
This kind of thing is very dicey if you get to the point where 90 percent of people are driving to work every morning. But in places where that’s not the case, this is clearly the way to go and auto-oriented policies are massively regressive in their impact.
In a briefing with reporters this afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was asked whether the public option will be part of the health reform package that he brings to the Senate floor. Reid, who indicated earlier this month that a public option will be part of the final bill, gave a much more ambiguous answer this afternoon:
QUESTION: Are the negotiations leaning toward or against a public option at this point?
REID: The negotiations are leaning about a public option.
QUESTION: Can you clarify?
REID: He said, are we leaning toward or against the public option. I said we’re leaning toward talking about a public option. No decision’s been made. We had a — not a long discussion last night on public option. I’ve had a number of meetings in my office dealing with Democrats and Republicans on the public option aspect of it.
Reid concluded, “It’s not done yet.” Watch it:
Today, Colorado Sens. Mark Udall (D) and Michael Bennet (D) called on their Senate colleagues to give the public option an up or down vote.
Brian Beutler writes, “Reid isn’t taking members to task publicly for standing in the way of the public option, he’s meeting with them behind the scenes. But it also show’s that he’s not willing to pose the question of the public option as starkly as is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”
A group whose entire mission is built on the notion that immigrants are contributing to global climate change, Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), has released two new ads which claim that “saving the earth in California starts with reduced immigration.” According to CAPS’ logic, “immigration and births to immigrants” lead to unsustainable population growth which leads to global warming and is amplified by the fact that immigrants’ energy use quickly becomes “Americanized” when they move to the US.
The television ad informs Californians that they have some “tough decisions to make” about immigration and global warming:
“Concerned about Americans’ huge carbon foot print? Then you should be concerned about immigration… Reducing immigration won’t solve global warming, but it is part of the solution. We’ve got some tough choices to make.”
The corresponding radio ad tells Californians that they have to face an “inconvenient truth” about immigration and climate change:
“The inconvenient truth is that population growth and environmental degradation go hand in hand…by 2050 our population will reach 60 million — driven almost entirely by immigration and immigrant births. And when immigrants come to California, their carbon footprint quadruples what it was…So if we’re going to do our share to save the earth, our immigration levels must be reduced. That’s a tough pill for compassionate Californians to swallow, but swallow it we must.“
All of Tanton’s organizations are fixated on scapegoating immigrants and sidestep the fact that the central problem has more to do with US consumption patterns. Rather than asking Americans to get rid of their gas guzzling automobiles, CAPS suggests getting rid of immigrants. However, energy consumption is driven by a host of factors totally unrelated to population size, such as societal dependence on polluting and non-renewable fossil fuels; utilization of energy-efficient technologies; and the development of mass transit systems that minimize individual automobile use. That explains why the World Resources Institute found that though the US is home to 23% fewer people than the European nations of the EU-15, it still produces 70% more greenhouse gases.
Ultimately, CAPS is essentially suggesting that the world would be better off if immigrants stayed poor in their less consuming, less industrialized countries. Based on this logic, illegal immigration isn’t the problem, increased wealth and international development are. However, quite the contrary, “immigrants, in essence, are doing precisely what planners want the rest of us to do,” says to UCLA professor Ali Modarres who recently found that, compared to Americans, more immigrants walk, bike, bus, or metro to work and fewer drive cars in the state of California. While CAPS and others blame immigrants for everything from traffic jams to depleting aquifers, Mordares suggests that, “immigrants are greening our cities, how about giving them a break?”
It’s certainly news that Human Rights Watch’s critics were able to get a former HRW chairman to slam the organization for having the temerity to hold Israel to the same standards of international humanitarian law to which it holds every other country. But Bernstein doesn’t appear to have any arguments to make that any of the instances of human rights violations HRW has documented didn’t take place. Instead his view is basically that Israel ought to be exempt from criticism because its enemies are mean:
Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields. These groups are supported by the government of Iran, which has openly declared its intention not just to destroy Israel but to murder Jews everywhere. This incitement to genocide is a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. [...]
The organization is expressly concerned mainly with how wars are fought, not with motivations. To be sure, even victims of aggression are bound by the laws of war and must do their utmost to minimize civilian casualties. Nevertheless, there is a difference between wrongs committed in self-defense and those perpetrated intentionally.
For one thing, The New York Times really shouldn’t publish op-eds stating that “the government of Iran . . . has openly declared its intention . . . to murder Jews everywhere.” There are Jews in Iran, unmurdered, subject to the same repressive dictatorship as Iran’s Muslims, with its abuses duly cataloged and condemned by Human Rights Watch.
The argument in the second graf I quote is, huffing and puffing aside, all there is to Bernstein’s argument. He thinks that Hamas and Hezbollah “started it” and Israel is acting in self-defense, and that countries acting in self-defense should generally be exempted from international humanitarian law and human rights norms. This is a thesis a lot of people seem eager to embrace in the specific case of Israel, but few people seem prepared to defend as a general proposition or to apply as a general matter. People don’t defend it as a general proposition because it’s not defensible. For one thing, this just isn’t what international humanitarian law says. Just war theory has always recognized specific ethical obligations of combatants that are unrelated to the justice of their cause, and international humanitarian law does the same. After all, subjectivizing the obligations of combatants in the way Bernstein proposes would drain the standards of all force. All participants in all wars think that they’re the good guys and the enemy is the bad guys.
It’s the existence of independent standards that lets us say that it’s wrong and illegal of Hamas to lob rockets at Israeli towns, and to try to build a consensus around that point that’s independent of people’s views on all the different twists and turns of the Israeli-Arab conflict. But by the very same token Israel’s obligation to minimize civilians’ exposure to harm also exists independently of people’s views on all the different twists and turns of the Israeli-Arab conflict. To relativize combatants obligations to the merits of their underlying position would just reduce human rights and humanitarian law to politics, with everyone saying all their conduct was justified by the justice of their cause.
If people want to say that the whole quest to articulate objective human rights standards and international humanitarian law is inherently futile or misguided, then fine. But an awful lot of people who claim not to believe that seem to want to turn around and reject the underlying premises of the endeavor when it turns out that Israel—like its adversaries—sometimes violates those standards.
Since the early July announcement of rules to implement the stimulus bill, the wind industry has seen over 1,600 MW (enough to serve the equivalent of 480,000 average households) of completed projects, and over 1,700 MW of construction starts. These projects equate to about $6.5 billion in new investment….
The total wind power capacity now operating in the U.S. is over 31,000 MW, generating enough electricity to power the equivalent of nearly 9 million homes, avoiding the emissions of 57 million tons of carbon annually and reducing expected carbon emissions from the electricity sector by 2.5%.
This is part two of a three-part series. Read part one here.
Blogging economist J. Bradford DeLong has read the “global cooling” chapter of SuperFreakonomics and has asked six wonkish questions about climate science and policy. Below are responses debunking Levitt & Dubner’s myth of decreasing temperature, and their claim that moving away from “cheap” coal would cause “economic suicide.”
3: “Then there’s this little-discussed fact about global warming: while the drumbeat of doom has grown louder over the past several years, the average global temperature during that time has in fact decreased…” As best as I can see from http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/Fig.A2.txt, this year is: 1/5 of a degree F warmer than last year, the same temperature as 2007 and 2006, 1/7 of a degree F cooler than 2005, 1/10 of a degree F warmer than 2004, the same temperature as 2003 and 2002, 1/7 of a degree F warmer than 2001, 2/5 of a degree warmer than 1999 and 2000, the same temperature as 1998, and warmer than every single other year since the start of the Industrial Revolution–a full degree F warmer than 1960, for example.
How do you get from that temperature record to the statement that “over the past several years… average global temperature… has in fact decreased”?
The assertion that this “decrease” in temperature is a “little-discussed fact” is nonsensical. A search for “1998 cooling global” returns seven million hits. This “little-discussed fact” is one of the most popular canards among global warming skeptics.
Levitt and Dubner, like Marc Morano, Prison Planet and the Free Republic, are relying on the UK Met Office Hadley Centre temperature set — which has 1998 as the hottest year on record — as opposed to the NASA temperature set DeLong cites — which has 2005 as the hottest record. However, both sets agree that the temperature of every year since 2001 has been within the 95% confidence interval of 1998′s temperature. On a decadal scale, the average global surface temperature is increasing at a quickening pace.
Moreover, this “fact” of “global cooling since 1998″ is an error based on semantic confusion and misinterpretation of data. “Global warming” refers to the radiative forcing from greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. That effect has been consistently rising as emissions accumulate. It does not refer to year-over-year surface temperatures, which are influenced by solar output and atmospheric-oceanic circulation, both of which contributed to raise the average surface temperature of 1998.
The New Scientist, as Joe Romm has repeatedlypointedout, has a comprehensive analysis of the misunderstanding behind claims of recent cooling. The New Scientist also discusses the differences between the NASA and Hadley datasets:
The main reason is that there are no permanent weather stations in the Arctic Ocean, the place on Earth that has been warming fastest. The Hadley record simply excludes this area, whereas the NASA version assumes its surface temperature is the same as that of the nearest land-based stations.
In September, ThinkProgress dissected how Glenn Beck’s successful character assassinationcampaign against former White House environmental adviser Van Jones was fueled by Americans for Prosperity’s Phil Kerpen, who had taken credit for notifying Beck of some of Jones’ past comments. On his Fox News show yesterday, Beck followed Kerpen’s lead once again, this time in an assault on net neutrality.
In a segment featuring Kerpen last night, Beck warned his audience that the Obama administration “just might be trying to take over the media.” “This is a big week, isn’t it, for freedom of speech?” Beck asked Kerpen, who said that it was because “the FCC on Thursday is going to decide what the future of the Internet looks like”:
KERPEN: It is a very big week because the FCC on Thursday is going to decide what the future of the Internet looks like, if it looks much like the past 10 years where you have private competition and pretty much people can do what they want on the Internet or whether we have a much, much heavier government hand. And they’re going to take the first step on that Thursday.
BECK: OK. I want to start just real quick – Net neutrality, because it happens on Thursday. This is that everybody should have free Internet, right?
KERPEN: Well, essentially. You know, they dress it up the way they dress up a lot of their things. They turn it upside-down by saying that evil corporations, phone and cable corporations are going to block what we can do block or we can say.
Beck then used net neutrality as a jumping off point to outline how he believed the Obama administration was trying to shut down freedom of speech. “You have a freedom of speech or the government. You can’t really have both,” said Beck. Watch it:
When he introduced Kerpen, Beck described him as “the chairman of Internet Freedom Coalition,” an alliance of conservative groups that opposes all taxes and regulations related to the internet. Kerpen’s group released a Beck-like conspiracy chart today that attempts to expose the so-called “Obama Information Control Hierarchy.” Hours before Kerpen appeared on Beck’s show, he pushed the idea that net neutrality is a threat to freedom of speech in his daily podcast, warning that regulation would lead to “a government-owned and controlled network” and eventual “content restriction” that would “decide that certain speech is out of bounds.”
Beck also appears to have no idea what net neutrality actually means. Science Progress aptly explained it last year:
At the most basic level, net neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet; all content on the Internet is equally accessible, and once a person pays for access to the Internet, they alone get to choose how they use it. This means that providers should not be allowed to block access to certain sites or applications, or charge different customers different amounts for services.
Kerpen, from whom Beck apparently cribbed his understanding of the concept, claims that there is no reason to be concerned about internet service providers blocking access or charging customers differenty. “Proponents of net neutrality rely on the scare tactic that big bad cable and phone companies will block access to Web sites and cause other mischief unless the benevolent federal government rides to the rescue, and soon,” wrote Kerpen on FoxNews.com earlier this month. “But they’ve been ringing this alarm for the better part of a decade and none of the horrors they warn us about have happened.” In fact, in 2007 it was revealed that Comcast had disrupted peer-to-peer file-sharing traffic on its network, leading to an FCC investigation. There was also an incident where “Verizon Wireless denied Naral Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group, access when the group asked to the carrier to allow Verizon customers to sign up for text-messaging alerts.”
The idea of taxing health insurance benefits entails a lot of complexity, but in a general sense it comes down to a pretty simple question. Do you think that John, who earns $80,000 a year and gets an insurance plan worth $8,000 should pay more taxes than Jim who earns $70,000 a year and gets an insurance plan worth $18,000? After all, John and Jim are both getting $88,000 worth of compensation so it seems like they should pay the same in taxes. But under the current system, Jim pays substantially less. This has the effect of encouraging the Johns of the world, and their employers, to switch compensation packages from John-style “high wages, modest health benefits” to Jim-style “lower wages, better health benefits.” In the Jim-o-verse, copayments are lower and you have more access to specialists. Then again, in the John-o-verse if you want to see a doctor you have more cash in your pocket with which to afford the copayments if that’s what you want to do.
On the face of it, this is a no-brainer. Having the tax code encourage Jim-style compensation packages rather than John-style packages is a big economic distortion. What’s more, by artificially subsidizing health care consumption by the relatively prosperous, it drives prices up for everyone, including the not-so-prosperous. And because it’s a tax-side subsidy, the subsidy does little-to-nothing for the poor.
So scrapping or curbing the subsidy makes sense in general. And it especially makes sense as a way of raising money to finance progressive policy like ensuring that health care is affordable for the poor and the lower-middle class. But there are a few problems with just scrapping it. One is that suddenly altering the status quo in this regard could be very disruptive to a lot of people. The other is that, as John McCain discovered, it sounds politically toxic. The answer to the first problem is pretty easy—you cap the tax subsidy in a way that leaves almost everyone unaffected in the short term but that phases the subsidy out over the long-term. The answer to the second problem is courtesy of John Kerry who suggested that we levy the tax not on the buyers of expensive insurance plans but on the sellers. The impact of this is basically the same (Ezra Klein notes the small difference) but since people don’t understand tax incidence it could be politically easier.*
The two major advantages of relying on this method of financing health care are that (1) it “bends the curve” by encouraging people to take more of their earnings in the form of money (which of course can be spent on health care but also on other things) rather than health care services, and (2) it lets you stay deficit-neutral over the long-haul. What the House has done, by contrast, is deficit-neutral inside the three-year window but not longer than that.
The big problem with Finance’s excise tax, I would say, is that it doesn’t actually raise enough money. Hence, Finance has subsidies that are stingy relative to what the House is proposing. What’s more, CBPP has a good analysis out support an excise tax but also calling for several modifications that would lead to the tax raising even less revenue in the short-term. The solution to this, I think, is to modify Finance’s proposal à la the CBPP and then also tack on a dose of the House’s surtax on the super-rich.** That way you could get House-style subsidy levels with Finance-style curve-bending and long-term fiscal sustainability.
Clearly, pretending to loft your kid across the countryside in a balloon is the big story.
But what about the fairly extraordinary effort that the kids at 350.org and Bill McKibben are mounting next weekend?
They’ve taken serious scientific analysis””the contention first raised by Jim Hansen that 350 ppm co2 is the target we should be aiming for””and turned it into a real movement. On Saturday, their day of global action, there will be at least 3,800 events and rallies and demonstrations in almost 170 countries. It’ll be one of the most widespread days of political action in the planet’s history. People are rallying all over the place:
Earlier this year, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) — commonly referred to as the stimulus — with the votes of only three Republicans in the Senate. Since then, a whole host of legislators who opposed the stimulus have jumped at the opportunity to personally deliver stimulus funds to their cash-strapped districts.
Now, the Hickory Daily Record reports that the latest senator to engage in stimulus hypocrisy is Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). Last week, Burr appeared in Bethlehem, North Carolina, to deliver ARRA funds for a fire station there:
This summer, the department applied for and won a $2,008,515 federal grant that will pay for a new 19,000-square-foot fire station.
On Friday, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr was in Bethlehem to present the grant to the department.
“This is a great thing for this county,” he said. “We’re not accustomed to federal dollars in that magnitude finding their way to North Carolina.”
“This will serve a huge need for us,” said Chief Shannon Lowrance of the Bethlehem Community Volunteer Fire Department. “This is a very fast-growing community. We’re building for the next 50 years.” [...]
Having the plans ready to go helped the department win three American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Assistance to Firefighters Station Construction Grants issued this year from the Federal Emergency Management Agency / Department of Homeland Security, Lowrance said.
Last winter, Burr slammed the stimulus on Fox News, telling one of their anchors, “This isn’t a stimulus package, this is a spending package.” The senator even delivered the official Republican response to President Obama’s weekly address on the stimulus, warning ominously that “the federal government is obligating the American people to a similar fate” as that of a family choking under credit card debt. He ended up voting against the funds he is now happy to tout.