- Richmond Police Descend on Blue Ridge Earth First!...
- Greenpeace turns the tables
- Bush Stonewalls...Again
- Jessica graduates summa cum Laude
- Son of Rambow at the Lyric
- House Buckles to Bush on FISA
- Will Wall Street Lobbying Stop Brakes on Oil Specu...
- Charles Smith ousted for doing his job overseeing...
- CIA psychologists reverse engineered survival trai...
- McClatchy's enterprise journalism on Gitmo
- National Security Archive: US sought unfettered a...
- House Red and George Segebade in Floyd Tonight
- Supreme Court Rules Gitmo Prisoners Have Habeas Ri...
- Filibuster Threats Stops Energy Votes...Again
- The Internet and Civic Engagement with Congress
- OMB Watch etl al's critique of Bond's FISA "compro...
- BBC: JAg Lawyer says Pentagon urged interrogators...
- Senate climate change bill includes $455 billion i...
- David Mamet: Redbelt
- Senate Intelligence report says Bush inflated WMD ...
- WSJ: McCain's Health Plan embraces troubled model...
- Swallowtail in Blacksburg
- Labor Unions, Employers and Bush
- NASA Inspector General finds interference from Bus...
- Society of Environmental Journalists Coming to Roa...
- Clean Coal = Greenwash
Index of Posts for June 2008
Richmond Police Descend on Blue Ridge Earth First! and Mountain Justice Activists Protesting Dominion Energy
Photo by Blue Ridge Earth First! For more, see coverage on Flickr. For more information, contact Hannah Morgan at 434-960-2080 or Hilary Lufkin at 804-357-4826.
Twenty non-violent activists were protesting Dominion Energy's promotion of new coal and nuclear facilities as solutions to climate change this morning when Richmond police swept in at 7:30 am to roust them. Five Blue Ridge Earth First! (BREF!) members had formed a human chain to blockade the entrance to Dominion's corporate headquarters on Tredegar Street in downtown Richmond at 7:00 am. Police also arrested seven other BREF and Mountain Justice (MJ) members at the site, all of whom were holding signs and banners and had intended to disband when the police arrived but were given no chance to do.
The protesters said the proposed $1.8 billion Wise County plant would emit too much mercury and carbon dioxide into the air, promote strip mining for coal in Southwest Virginia and cost consumers too much for electricity. The also oppose Dominion’s announced plans to consider an additional nuclear reactor at its North Anna plant in Louisa County.
Michael Martz of the Richmond Times Dispatch reported that the protest blocked traffic on Tredegar Street for "more than two hours" while Dominion employees were forced to walk to work. He reports that company spokesman Karl Neddenien said,
Dominion respects peaceful protest....However, we do not condone illegal activities, such as the blocking of the road and preventing our employees from getting to work.The twelve have each have been charged with two class-two misdemeanors of impeding police and blocking access by emergency vehicles, as well as a traffic charge. Magistrates have set bail set at $2,000 each and BREF has asked that donations for the bail and legal defense be made through Paypal to Drumplaya112@yahoo.com or sent to BREF! care of Hannah Morgan, 1226 Stonegate Way Crozet, Virginia 22932.
Bethany Spitzer and Alyssa Barrett each had one hand locked into a weighted 55-gallon oil drum reading "We Won't Stop Until You Do." They were linked to Kaitlyn Hart and Holly Garrett, who each had a hand encased into two-and-a-half gallon bucket of hardened cement. Meanwhile, Marley Green served a counterweight to the oil drum, as he hung suspended from the Bell Isle Footbridge above the road. Other, as yet unnamed individuals, held banners that said "No New Coal Plant in Wise County" and "It's Up to Us Virginia. No Nukes. No New Coal. Renewables Now! No Dominion Over Our Democracy,"
Green explained, "Accelerating the rate of mountaintop removal mining to supply the citizens of Virginia with dirty energy is an irresponsible use of the most valuable resources of this Commonwealth. The impact of uranium mining, radioactive waste disposal, and nuclear plant operations on communities across the Southeast are unacceptable trade-offs for the continuation of business as usual energy policy. Dominion should further conservation and efficiency measures and develop solar, wind, and other renewable sources of power in order to do justice to the land and the people of Virginia."
"We’ve been through the regulatory process — it’s time to take action on our own," added Hannah Morgan, a 19-year-old resident of the town of Appalachia in Wise County, Virginia, who acted as spokeswoman for the protest.
Morgan was referring to the June 25, 2008 decision by the Citizen's Air Board to grant final permits for Dominion's proposed new 585 MW coal-fired electric plant in Wise County Virginia, which you can find reported on by Chesapeake Climate Action's Susanna Murley, as well as by the Richmond Times Dispatch's Rex Bowman. (NewsTrust reviews of the latter, here.)
While the Air Board reduced the permitted emissions from those Dominion requested, it declined to address the acceleration of mountaintop removal coal mining, increased carbon dioxide emissions and other issues raised by over a hundred Virginians at a June 24 public hearing at Wise County High School.
The Virginia permit bucked a trend in other states including Florida, Kansas and Texas, which have recently canceled plans for new coal plants. Dominion plans to begin construction this week. BREF! and MJS plan continued protests until Dominion agrees to cancel construction of its proposed Wise County coal plant, to stop burning burning coal mined through mountaintop removal in its existing coal plants and to build no new nuclear facilities.
Already, strip mining and mountaintop removal mining (MTR) have permanently demolished over 25% of Wise County's land mass to get to the coal, rather than using other methods which would preserve the mountains. MTR dumps the rubble from the blasted mountains and to date buried over 1,200 miles of headwater streams across Appalachia.
Dominion's website features a page, Myths and Facts, telling its side of the story and a contact form where you can ask for more information. The Wise Energy for Virginia Campaign (a partnership of Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Sierra Club, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, and Southern Environmental Law Center) has published its own list of 7 myths about Dominion's Wise County plant, six of which still apply after last week's permits, according to Tom Owens. You'll find them below.
Greenpeace turns the tables
Carroll Muffett, deputy campaigns director for Greenpeace USA, turned the tables on industry astroturf groups when his organization formed the benign sounding ""Tomorrow's Energy Today," in order to sponsor a table Coal USA 2007 June 26-7, 2008 with the
the biggest wigs from 170 energy companies sitting in a single room and sharing their profit-fueled dreams for a coal-powered future.The name may have been a spoof on the American Petroleum Institute's website, EnergyTomorrow.org. For Muffett's account, see "Hello from Never Land! Adventures as a Coal Industry Insider."
By the way, the New York Times has an interesting environmental blog, DotEarth
written by its reporter, Andrew C. Revkin. And American Public Radio has a project, Public Insight Network which includes The Greenwash Brigade, as well as Engage 2008.
Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-CA) who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is conducting the investigation, says,
I don’t think we’ve had a situation like this since Richard Nixon was president....There are thousands of internal White House documents that would show whether the president and his staff acted lawfully. But the president has said they must be kept from Congress and the public.
In testimony last month, Johnson refused to say whether he’d discussed the waiver request with Bush.
Waxman canceled a contempt vote that had been scheduled for June 20, Friday morning against Johnson and White House official Susan Dudley after the White House informed him of its last-minute decision. Waxman said the two had refused to cooperate with his panel.
Jessica graduates summa cum Laude
The graduation included accolades from faculty and their rendition of "Somewhere after Massage School" followed by diplomas an a pot luck lunch in the picnic shelter at Nellies Cave Park. Then I had to take my leave to go write my submission for llrx on FISA. Tomorrow, some folks from Mountian Justice are driving down to Wise County to attend the Citizen Air Pollution Control Board hearing on the proposed coal plant, where we'll be advocating for clean energy, not coal.
Monday, June 23
3 p.m. -- Site tour on Black Mountain
We'll meet at municipal parking lot across from Town Hall in downtown Appalachia, Virginia, to travel to the top of Black Mountain, where you can view the thousands of acres of Virginia land destroyed due to mountaintop removal coal mining, a stark contrast with the protected land which lies directly over over the Kentucky border.
4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. -- Hike on Roaring Branch
We'll meet Anna Hess of the Clinch Coalition at the pull-off on 23 between Appalachia and Big Stone Gap.
7 p.m. -- Spaghetti Dinner
at the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) office at 217 Main Street in downtown Appalachia, followed by the Breezy Holl'r Band at the Appalachia Amphitheater across the street.
Tuesday, June 24
7:45 to 9 a.m. -- Breakfast
J. J. Kelly High School cafeteria in Wise, Virginia and signup for Public Comment period
9 a.m. -- Virginia Citizen's Air Pollution Control Board Meeting
Held in Auditorium of J. J. Kelly High School in Wise, Virginia
Son of Rambow at the Lyric
After opening April 4 in the UK, Son of Rambow started last night at the Lyric, and I'll go to the 7 o'clock show and then volunteer at the concession stand for the later show.
The film is written and directed by Garth Jennings (who also directed the 2005 Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) of the production company Hammer and Tongs. Jennings tells Andrea Hubert in an interview with him and his H&T production partner, Nick Goldsmith, in the March 29 Guardian, "Boys in the Mud."
Imagine if you'd never watched TV, and the first thing you ever saw was Stallone stitching up his own arm. How inspiring would that be? How much would you want to be Stallone?
Stallone reported likes the film but it took a long time to get it to theaters. In an interview with Amber Wilkinson, Jennings explains about the delay from its preview at Sundance in 2007,
It's taken me ages again. I can't do anything quickly, it drives me mad!
Round about June  I thought, well that's the end of that, but it was one of those things where everyone was very positive about it and it was going to come out but when we realised we were going to have to go through a whole bunch of legal things – very formal, very amicable, but we realised we'd have to go through them nonetheless - we thought, 'Oh God'.
You feel like momentum has gone – and I know that that counts for something and maybe we lost something, who knows? But now that it's coming out that all goes away.
House Buckles to Bush on FISA
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU are coordinating the 47 remaining suits filed as a result. After unsuccessfully trying to get the matter thrown out of court, the companies have spent a huge amount of money lobbying Congress. January 20, Lindsay Renick Mayer of the Center for Responsive Politics reported that:
The industry has spent a total $13.4 million on lobbying in the first three months of this year, putting it on course to surpass last year's $40.2 million total. Both AT&T and Verizon moved up in the ranks of companies spending on lobbying efforts (including those in all industries), from eighth and 13th last year to third and fourth, respectively, so far this year.President Bush has demand repeatedly that Congress update the FISA law, promising to veto any bill which does not provide immunity for the companies, saying that Congress must not
The industry has also given a total of $5.3 million in federal contributions to parties, committees and candidates this election cycle, with 54 percent going to Republicans. That figure excludes any money given to Congress since March 30, i.e. contributions made as lawmakers prepared to vote on the immunity issue.
limit our ability to collect this intelligence and keep us safe, staying a step ahead of the terrorists who want to attack us.Critics such as attorney Glenn Greenwald say that retroactive immunity serves to
eviscerate the Fourth Amendment [my link], exempt their largest corporate contributors from the rule of law, and endorse the most radical aspects of the Bush lawbreaking regime.June 18, Kevin Bankston (email), a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, warned,
whatever gloss might be put on it, the so-called “compromise” on immunity for phone companies that broke the law is anything but a compromise, and that Congress appears poised to needlessly toss the rule of law out the window and deprive these millions of ordinary Americans of their day in court. My one simple message is that no matter how they spin it, this is still immunity, period.With the failure to pass an extension of last year's Protect America Act, it looked for a few months like the House, at least was ready to stand up to the President on the issue of telecom immunity. It took a while, but Mr. Bush has now gotten his way. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, (HR 6304) on 6/19/08 and the House passed the measure less than twenty-four hours later by a vote of 293-129 . 105 Democrats voted in favor of the "bipartisan compromise," which took advantage of division among Democrats. In the June 20 debate (Congressional Record), one one of the opponents of the bill, Barbara Lee (D-CA) had argued ,
Indeed, there’s an easy litmus test that everyone can use when evaluating this proposal or any other: does it allow the court to rule on the legality of the surveillance? That is, does it allow the plaintiffs to obtain a public decision on whether the companies broke the law, and if they did, to get an injunction to stop them from breaking the law again? If the answer is “no”, then it’s still immunity, plain and simple.
I rise in strong opposition to this very terrible bill. It does not strike the proper balance between protecting national security and preserving our cherished civil liberties.And yet, Democrats voting aye included not just those affilliated with the 48 member Blue Dog Coalition, but also Rick Boucher (VA), Nick Rahall (WV), John Murtha (PA), House Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) and House Speaker Steny Hoyer (MD). One Republican, Tim Johnson (IL) voted against the bill.
Now I know how important those protections are from my personal experience with unwarranted domestic surveillance and wiretapping during the J. Edgar Hoover period. The government's infamous COINTELPRO program ruined the lives of many innocent persons. Others, including myself, had their privacy invaded even though they posed absolutely no threat to national security. We all remember how Dr. King and his family were the victims of the most shameful government-sponsored wiretapping. We must never go down this road again. Yet here we are again.
This bill undermines the ability of Federal courts to review the legality of domestic surveillance programs, it provides de facto retroactive immunity to telecom companies and does not sunset until December 31, 2012. How can we do that? Four years is way too long.
A good bill will protect Americans against terrorism and not erode the fourth amendment. This bill scares me to death, and I urge a "no'' vote.
The Senate has the bill is on the calendar for next week and, of course, had already acceded to immunity. Barack Obama issued a statement in support of the House bill June 20, but said he would "try" to strip a provision granting immunity to telecommunication companies. Of course, a former vote to do the same failed the Senate on the last go round. Bloomberg announced on June 22 that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in an interview to be aired on "Political Capital with Al Hunt," said he may schedule a separate vote on stripping immunity from the bill, although he expressed pessimism about its success.
Pelosi's office has outlined her reasons for supporting the bill. The first is political. An unnamed "top" aide told Time's Massimo Calabresi for a June 20 post "Behind the Compromise on Spying" that as many as ten House races might have been affected.
Second, Pelosi contends that the telecoms offered a significant concession from the the Senate version of the bill in offering to let a judge decide if the letters they received from the Administration asking for their help show that the government was after terrorist suspects. The telecoms are casting it as a victory. She also argues that a Justice Department inspector general review of and report on Bush's domestic surveillance program and a provision making clear that Congress does not give the President a free pass on complying with domestic surveillance laws during wartime "strengthens Congressional oversight."
The ACLU commissioned a study by the Mellman Group back in October 2007 which showed that "voters vigorously oppose warrantless wiretaps, blanket warrants, and telecom amnesty." One wonders why Pelosi was so sure that signing away thse rights was necessary. Glenn Greenwald points out:
The very idea that Democrats would lose elections if they didn't support this bill is false on numerous levels. They could have easily removed the issue simply by voting to extend the PAA orders for 6-9 months. More importantly, Karl Rove's central strategy in the 2006 midterm election was to use FISA and torture to depict the Democrats as being Weak on Terrorism, and the Democrats crushed the Republicans and took over both houses of Congress. Pelosi's claim that they support extremist Bush policies in order to avoid election losses in "swing districts" is dubious in the extreme -- an excuse to feed to Democratic voters to justify their complicity in these matters.
Will Wall Street Lobbying Stop Brakes on Oil Speculation
Wall Street banks and other large financial institutions have begun putting intense pressure on Congress to hold off on legislation that would curtail their highly profitable trading in oil contracts -- an activity increasingly blamed by lawmakers for driving up prices to record levels.
Charles Smith ousted for doing his job overseeing KBR
They had a gigantic amount of costs they couldn’t justify...Ultimately, the money that was going to KBR was money being taken away from the troops, and I wasn’t going to do that.Risen says the Army won't acknowledge the reason for Smith's replacement, only that it reversed Smith's actions. The reasoning? According to Risen:
KBR had warned that if it was not paid, it would reduce payments to subcontractors, which in turn would cut back on services.Looks like Mr. Bush is not the only bully who gets his way. And the reward? Part of a new 10-year, $150 billion contract in Iraq.
CIA psychologists reverse engineered survival training to devise torture
particularly disturbing part of the story: how the techniques -- used to teach American soldiers to resist abusive interrogations by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions -- were turned on their head and sanctioned by senior leaders for their use offensively against detainees.Joby Warrick had a page one story in the WaPo: "Report Questions Pentagon Accounts:
Officials Looked Into Interrogation Methods Early On Military lawyers raised strong concerns about interrogation methods a month before then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved them."
If this sounds familiar, perhaps you, like I did, read Katherine Eban's special report in Vanity Fair July 17, 2007, “Rorschach and Awe.”
But, long before then, in May 2005, the Physicians for Human Rights released their report, "Break Them Down: Systematic Use of Psychological Torture by U.S. Forces." And since then they have issued other reports of interest, all available at the group's site.
Update: June 18, 2008, Eban takes a look at what was revealed in the hearing, "The Psychology-Torture Connection."
McClatchy's enterprise journalism on Gitmo
"Many Gitmo detainees had flimsy ties to terror: Little or no threat, dozens or more men were imprisoned at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp on the basis of revenge, bounty payments, or fabricated evidence." by Tom Lasseter for McClatchy Newspapers
Early in 2007, as the Bush administration indicated that it intended to release most of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay, McClatchy Newspapers set out to track down as many of the freed prisoners as possible. Reporters Tom Lasseter and Matthew Schofield traveled to 11 countries — from England to Pakistan — and interviewed 66 former detainees. They also interviewed political and military officials in those countries to try to establish detainees' backgrounds and check their stories. Lasseter and Schofield also combed through unclassified transcripts of the men's tribunal hearings at Guantánamo, when available, and Lasseter interviewed former White House and Defense Department officials, former guards and lawyers for prisoners who had them.
- Monday: Abuse plagued Afghan camps, too
- Tuesday: Gitmo, a school for jihad
- Wednesday: Secret strategies led to abuse
- Thursday: The king of Guantánamo
What makes me wistful is that the series is launching, just at McClatchy announced 1400 additional layoffs.
National Security Archive: US sought unfettered action in Iraq
Recently declassified documents show that the U.S. military has long sought an agreement with Baghdad that gives American forces virtually unfettered freedom of action, casting into doubt the Bush administration's current claims that their demands are more limited in scope.Democracy Now quotes Nouri al-Maliki:
When we started the talks on August 26, we wanted an agreement between two completely sovereign countries, and when we went to the pact, we found that the US demands hugely infringe on the sovereignty of Iraq, and this we can never accept. We can’t extend the US forces permission to arrest Iraqis or to undertake the responsibility of fighting terrorism in an independent way or to keep Iraqi skies and waters open for themselves whenever they want.
House Red and George Segebade in Floyd Tonight
Suzanne and I are heading out to Sun Music Hall for the last dance of the season until September. My fellow BURG member Shawn Brenneman plays piano with Jonathan Thielen on fiddle in 2/3's of House Red and caller George Segebade from Greensboro calling.
Supreme Court Rules Gitmo Prisoners Have Habeas Rights
In the SCOTUS Blog, Lyle Denniston reported June 12,
In a stunning blow to the Bush Administration in its war-on-terrorism policies, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign nationals held at Guantanamo Bay have a right to pursue habeas challenges to their detention. The Court, dividing 5-4, ruled that Congress had not validly taken away habeas rights. If Congress wishes to suspend habeas, it must do so only as the Constitution allows — when the country faces rebellion or invasion.In an update, provided a copy of the press release in which Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the District Court which will rehear the case said
The Court stressed that it was not ruling that the detainees are entitled to be released — that is, entitled to have writs issued to end their confinement. That issue, it said, is left to the District Court judges who will be hearing the challenges. The Court also said that “we do not address whether the President has authority to detain” individuals during the war on terrorism, and hold them at the U.S. Naval base in Cuba; that, too, it said, is to be considered first by the District judges.
The Court also declared that detainees do not have to go through the special civilian court review process that Congress created in 2005, since that is not an adequate substitute for habeas rights. The Court refused to interpret the Detainee Treatment Act — as the Bush Administration had suggested — to include enough legal protection to make it an adequate replacement for habeas. Congress, it concluded, unconstitutionally suspended the writ in enacting that Act.
The Court also found serious defects in the process that the Pentagon set up in 2004 to decide which prisoners are to be designated as “enemy combatants” — the status that leads to their continued confinement. This process is the system of so-called Combatant Status Review Tribunals. The procedures used by CSRTs, the Court said, “fall well short of the procedures and adversarial mechanisms that would eliminate the need for habeas corpus review.”
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s opinion for the majority in Boumediene v. Bush (06-1195) and Al Odah v. U.S. (06-1196) was an almost rhapsodic review of the history of the Great Writ. The Suspension Clause, he wrote, “protects the rights of the detained by a means consistent with the essential design of the Constitution. It ensures that, except during periods of formal suspension, the Judiciary will have a time-tested device, the writ, to maintain the ‘delicate balance of governance’ that is itself the surest safeguard of liberty.” Those who wrote the Constitution, he added, “deemed the writ to be an essential mechanism in the separation-of-powers scheme.”
Even though the two political branches — the President and Congress — had agreed to take away the detainees’ habeas rights, Kennedy said those branches do not have “the power to switch the Constitution on or off at will.”
In a second ruling on habeas, the Court decided unanimously that U.S. citizens held by U.S. military forces in Iraq have a right to file habeas cases, because it does extend to them, but it went on to rule that federal judges do not have any authority to bar the transfer of those individuals to Iraqi authorites to face prosecution or punishment for crimes committed in that country in violation of Iraqi laws.
I expect we’ll call in the lawyers for both sides to see what suggestions they have for how we can approach our task most effectively and efficiently.
Filibuster Threats Stops Energy Votes...Again
What's causing the pain at the pumps? Like me, you may have read the oil companies, the Bush Administration and the Heritage Foundation's arguments that demand from China and India is responsible. You may have read Thomas Friedman, who suggest on April 30 that tax abatement on carbon fuel v.s renewables has stymied the latter's competitiveness. On June 6, the Washington Post's David Cho brought up another possibility in "Investors' Growing Appetite for Oil Evades Market Limits: Trading Loophole for Wall Street Speculators Is Driving Up Prices, Critics Say."
Over the past five years, investors have become such a force on commodity markets that their appetite for oil contracts has been equal to China's increase in demand over the same period, said Michael Masters, a hedge fund manager who testified before Congress on the subject last month. The commodity markets, he added, were never intended for such large financial players.Whatever the case, oil companies are making historic profits: the five largest U.S. oil companies--ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips--together made $36 billion during the first three months of the year according to the AP's H. Josef Hebert. On June 10, Democrats pushed for two bills to address U.S. energy policy, the first of which, at least, Bush has threatened to veto. Most Senate Republicans saved him the trouble, when their threatened filibusters scuttled both bills. (I've noted the exceptions and linked to the votes below. Although I have not yet had time to abstract comments regarding their rationale for their votes in support of a filibuster, I have provided a link at the bill's number to the "All Congressional Actions" page of the Library of Congress's Thomas legislative data base. There, "consideration: CR" links to the discussion of the bill at each phase.)
"I've never said that financial speculation is behind all of the recent price increase here, but even if it's some of the reason, it's something society needs to look very hard at," he said.
The Consumer-First Energy Act of 2008 (S. 3044 ) would have imposed a 25 percent tax on any "unreasonable" profits. I'm not sure how you could determine what "unreasonable" is, nor whether such a tax is a good idea. Ronald Bailey, science editor for the libertarian magazine Reason certainly argued against it June 11 (hat tip to Jim Hodapp) and liberal economist Paul Krugman called it pointless April 29, at least in the context of his critique of the gas tax "vacation." The bill would have made oil and gas price gouging a federal crime, with penalties of up to $5 million during a presidentially declared energy emergency. It also would have tried to dampen oil market speculation alluded to in the Washington Post piece I opened with--by requiring traders to put up more collateral in the energy futures markets and by authorizing the regulation of U.S.-based trading in foreign markets. So, this seems to be coupling two very different matters.
The Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008 (H.R. 6049) which would have extended tax breaks that have either expired or are scheduled to end this year for wind, solar and other alternative energy development, and for the promotion of energy efficiency and conservation.
This is the second time a filibuster threat sufficed to stop energy legislation designed to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. On June 6, a 48 - 36 vote had similarly stopped a carbon "tax and trade" proposal, the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008 (introduced May 20 by Barbara Boxer as S. 3036. Lieberman had introduced the bill as America's Climate Security Act of 2007 or S. 2191 on 10/18/2007. Iits transformation and the amendments are so complex that I'll need to cover them in another post.)
Democratic leaders needed 60 votes to stop debate and bring S. 3044 to a vote (invoke cloture) and they got only 51 senators' support. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) whose state is tied closely to the oil industry, voted no, as did Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who may have done so as a parliamentary move to preserve his right to bring up the proposal again. Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Teddy Kennedy (D-MA), who have been ill, did not vote, nor did Obama, McCain or Clinton. Republicans bucking their party included Norm Coleman (MN), Charles Grassley (IA), John Warner (VA) Gordon Smith (OR), Susan Collins (ME) and Olympia Snowe (ME). On the second measure, the only Republicans voting for cloture were Smith, Snowe and Bob Corker (TN).
Republicans argued that the companies do not set world oil prices and raising their taxes would discourage domestic oil production. Amy Myers Jaffe (bio, email), a fellow in energy studies at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, however, just finished a two-year study looking at oil companies and how they spend their money. She told CNN May 6:
These companies are spending a very small amount of their operating cash flow on exploration. They are spending the majority of their funds buying back stock.The study (for which I'll provide a link, if Jaffee rsponds to my request) looked at the five big international oil companies - ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips. Spending on share buybacks increased from les than $10 billion a year in 2003 to nearly $60 billion a year by 2006. Meanwhile, spending on developing existing oil fields,went from about $35 to $50 billion and spending on finding new oil fields went from about $6 billion to $10 billion.
So what's causing the high price of gasoline? If Jaffee's research is any indication, much of the information we have been getting so far is more spin than substance. And there's no filibuster or veto-proof consensus in Congress about how to address the question or the larger question of long-term energy policy. Tomorrow, though, I'll share more information on commodities trading and how it may be affecting energy prices and how the current situation came to be.
The Internet and Civic Engagement with Congress
Almost half of all voting-age Americans contacted a Member of Congress in the last five years – often at the urging of a third party – to support, oppose or learn more about issues of interest to them. However, the majority do not believe Congress is interested in what they have to say.
OMB Watch et al's critique of Bond's FISA "compromise
While the threat level remains high, some in this country, and in Congress, want us to let our guard down....Letting our guard down is not a choice, it’s an invitation to disaster.Here is a list of the other coalition members for which I'll be adding links, as available. Below that you'll find the critique in its entirety.
American Civil Liberties Union
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
American Library Association
Association of Research Libraries
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Letter of June 9, 2008
Center for American Progress Action Fund
Center for Democracy & Technology
Center for National Security Studies
Congressman Bob Barr, Liberty Strategies
Defending Dissent Foundation
Doug Bandow, Vice President for Policy, Citizen Outreach Project
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Fairfax County Privacy Council
Friends Committee on National Legislation
League of Women Voters of the United States
National Lawyers Guild – National Office
Open Society Policy Center
People For the American Way
Republican Liberty Caucus
The Multiracial Activist
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation
This bill unreasonably and unnecessarily authorizes broad surveillance of Americans’ international communications without meaningful Fourth Amendment protections: no individualized warrant issued by a court, no determination of probable cause of wrongdoing, and no specification of the location or means of the surveillance.
Touted as a compromise to end an impasse between House and Senate versions of FISA legislation, the bill proposed by Senator Bond is far from a compromise. Its chief provisions are not significantly different from those contained in the bill passed by the Senate in February of this year (S. 2248). Like that measure, the “compromise” would threaten Americans' privacy by severely curtailing judicial review and failing to include other reasonable civil liberties protections that appear in the House-passed version of the legislation (H.R. 3773). Neither Sen. Bond nor the administration has made a persuasive case that these sweeping new powers are needed or that existing authorities are inadequate to ensure the effectiveness of U.S. intelligence-gathering activities.
In addition, this legislation would use the secret FISA court to rubber stamp a grant of immunity to telecommunications companies that assisted with unlawful warrantless surveillance.
The Bond proposal does incorporate a few improvements, including an audit of illegal warrantless surveillance and a provision reaffirming that FISA is the exclusive means by which foreign intelligence surveillance can lawfully be conducted in the United States. But these modest concessions do not offset the vast new unchecked surveillance powers the bill confers on the government.
Among the most important reasons to oppose this bill are the following:
The bill would authorize massive warrantless surveillance. The bill allows the government to intentionally acquire millions of Americans’ international communications with no individualized warrant or determination of probable cause, so long as one party to a phone call or e-mail is believed to be located abroad and the purpose is to gather foreign intelligence.
The bill would require no individualized warrant even when an American’s communications clearly are of interest to the government. The bill requires an individualized warrant only if and when the government decides to “target” a particular American by using the person’s phone number or e-mail address to select his or her communications for acquisition. While the legislation provides for judicial review of targeting and other guidelines, the court procedures are inadequate to meet Fourth Amendment requirements.
The bill would curtail effective judicial review of surveillance. While the bill contains provisions for FISA court review of targeting and other guidelines, those provisions do not provide a meaningful role for the court in ensuring that the government does not seize and data-mine the private communications of law-abiding Americans. Moreover, the bill contains an exception for “exigent circumstances” that could be misused to circumvent even the limited court review provided by the bill with respect to new surveillance programs.
The bill would grant retroactive immunity for wrongdoing. The bill would give blanket immunity to companies that aided the government in conducting warrantless electronic surveillance of Americans. Like S. 2248, the bill would direct the court to dismiss privacy lawsuits against telecommunications providers if they received written assurances that the President had authorized the surveillance—assurances which in fact they received.
One change which makes the “compromise” worse than the Senate bill is a provision which would require the transfer of all of the lawsuits brought against the telecommunications providers from federal district court to the secret FISA court—a body whose only job for the past thirty years has been to approve FISA surveillance applications, not to try cases. This is not a compromise on immunity; it is the same old immunity dressed up to look like a judicial proceeding.
The bill would not provide a reasonable sunset. The bill would authorize the government to conduct this massive surveillance for six years, just like the original Senate bill.
The proposed bill would grant unnecessary and unconstitutional powers to the Executive Branch. We urge you oppose it, and to vote against any legislation that contains the defects described above.
BBC: JAg Lawyer says Pentagon urged interrogators to destroy notes
In "Pentagon 'urged notes destroyed': Guantanamo Bay interrogators were told to destroy handwritten notes in case they were called to testify on detainee treatment, a military lawyer alleges, the BBC reports that JAG attorney Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, says in a signed affidavit that a Pentagon operations manual told interrogators
The mission has legal and political issues that may lead to interrogators being called to testify, keeping the number of documents with interrogation information to a minimum can minimise certain legal issues.The lack of notes stopped Kuebler from challenging alleged confessions in the case of his client, Omar Khadr, a Canadian, and the only Westerner still held at Gitmo. The 21-year-old, who has been interred since he was fifteen stands, accused of killing a US soldier and wounding another during a battle in Afghanistan in 2002.
May 23, Canada's Supreme Court ruled the Canadian government had acted illegally by handing over documents from an interview with the suspect by its own intelligence services a year after his capture.
February 22, Khadr had signed an affidavit released in redacted form on March 18 alleging torture.
Senate climate change bill includes $455 billion in nuke subsidies
Nuclear power is a dirty and dangerous distraction from real global warming solutions.
David Mamet: Redbelt
The film has gotten mixed reviews. Am going to see it at the Lyric tommorrow after selling popcorn last night. Will let you know what I think. Chiwetel Ejiofor won the 2000 London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Outstanding Newcomer for his performance in British playwright Joe Penhall's Blue/Orange which was reviewed by Philip Fisher, who interestingly tied the performance back to Mamet:
David Mamet's Oleanna showed how a decent, educated man could be brought to ruin as a result of what many would regard as relatively minor prejudices. In Blue/Orange, Joe Penhall attacks a similar subject slightly differently. In this case, the two major issues are race and madness. As with Oleanna, this play not only shows how an individual can be brought to his knees, it also raises interesting moral questions with regard to what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and what punishment should be meted out to a person who oversteps the limit.
Having seen Oleanna (I'm thinking at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, and then there is the 1994 film with William Macey and Debra Eisenstadt), I looked up the Guardian's interview of Penhall to learn whether he mentioned Mamet as an influence. He didn't. But in contrasting the resources available for up and coming playwrights in Britian v.s. the U.S., he did provide what is my nomination for quote of the day:
In America they won't give you the steam off their piss. It's like boot camp. They seem to think that by tormenting and abusing and pissing on their aspiring writers they'll eventually find the next Arthur Miller.
Senate Intelligence report says Bush inflated WMD threat
President Bush and top administration officials repeatedly exaggerated what they knew about Iraq's weapons and its ties to terrorist groups as the White House pressed its case for war against Iraq, the Senate intelligence committee said yesterday in a long-awaited report.
While most of the administration's prewar claims about Iraq reflected now-discredited U.S. intelligence reports, the White House crossed a line by conveying certainty about the threat that Saddam Hussein posed to the United States, according to the report, approved over the objections of most of the committee's Republican members.
"In making the case for war, the administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted or even nonexistent," Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the committee chairman, said at a news conference. "As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed."
WSJ: McCain's Health Plan embraces troubled model
Cartoon of July , 2004 by Tim Dolighan (site, email, bio)
Currently, the National Academy of Sciences is looking at the health repercussions of lacking health insurance coverage, but back in 2004, it noted,
Although America leads the world in spending on health care, it is the only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not ensure that all citizens have coverage.So on June 2, I was interested to read the Wall Street Journal article "McCain's Free-Market Health Plan Would Boost Role of High-Risk Pools," by Laura Meckler and Anna Wilde Mathews. (The article is only available as a synopsis, if you're a non-subscriber, unless you go grab a copy at the library. I happened to run across the article when I looked at the actual paper, courtesy of our local bakery and coffee shop, Bollos. )
McCain derides government-run health care, but the high-risk pools in existence now require a heavy dose of government intervention.Although the Journal would be expected to be sympathetic to Mr. McCain, it actually pointed out that the plan has more problems than those of his Democratic rivals. While all would continue to rely on insurance companies to shore up the system, McCain proposes a federally funded Guaranteed Access Plan to establish the high-risk health insurance pools for individuals who cannot obtain private coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions or no previous group coverage. (which doesn't, by the way, take into account the higher premiums charged those with previous group coverage who join COBRA plans to replace their group plans.)
Take a look at the observation in the WSJ article by those who operate such plans. Douglas Stratton, chair of the National Association of State Comprehensive Health Insurance Plans, said,
There's no way you can ever charge a premium that's going to pay the cost of this population.Sara Collins is an assistant vice-president at Commonwealth Fund,
a private foundation "working towards a high-performance health system." She told the Journal, that the risk pool plans
tend not to work particularly well. States have really struggled to finance these adequately.According to the Journal, fewer than 200,000 U.S. residents currently are enrolled in high-risk health insurance pools, which charge "high premiums and sometimes sharply restrict benefits." In 2006, premiums provided 61% of the funds for high-risk health insurance pools, with most of the remainder of the funds -- about $722 million, or an average of $3,800 per enrollee -- provided by state governments.
McCain senior policy advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin said that McCain's proposal would require $7 billion to $10 billion from the federal government to fund the high-risk health insurance pools. Others maintain that the estimate is "nowhere near enough, particularly given the large number of people with pre-existing conditions who would need this help if employers send their workers out to the open market."
It makes a gal wonder what happened to the fiscally conservative maverick?
McCain's proposal would also replace a tax break for employees who receive health insurance from employers with a refundable tax credit of as much as $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families for the purchase of private coverage. As health care analyst Robert Laszewski noted back in February,
With the average cost of employer-provided family health insurance at $12,000 a year a $5,000 tax credit will often come up way short.The candidate had unveiled his current iteration in a speech in Tampa on April 29. New York Times reporters Michael Cooper and Kevin Sack covered the topic April 3o, in "Federal Money in Health Care Plan From McCain:"
His proposal to move away from employer-based coverage was similar to one that President Bush pushed for last year, to little effect. And his call for expanding coverage through market-based competition is in stark contrast to the Democrats’ proposals to move toward universal health care coverage, with government subsidies to help lower-income people afford their premiums.McCain's health care plan also allows insurers to operate across state lines. As noted by LA Times reporter Rong-Gong Lin II in "McCain’s health plan fails her test," on March 30, 2008, Elizabeth Edwards voiced criticism of McCain's proposal when she spoke at the annual meeting of the Association of Health Care Journalists on March 29.
Although mosts attention was devoted to her statement that "Neither one of us would be covered by his health policy," (referring to her breast cancer and his melanoma), she especially criticized McCain’s provision to allow companies to sell health insurance across state lines, which his campaign website justifies as offering consumers more options and thus promoting competition.
Edwards countered that the plan would allow insurers to move their headquarters to states in which consumer protection laws are weak. Giving as an example how many credit card companies are based in Delaware, where the state’s laws are more accommodating to corporate interests, she said,
Hard-fought state-by-state protections would be lost. They mask this proposal as a cost-saving technique. This is giving insurance companies a pass.According to the LA Times, McCain's cheif policy advisor, Holtz-Eakin, said that
Edwards’ comments were disappointing and that they revealed she did not understand the comprehensive nature of the senator’s proposal.Edwawrds makes her rebuttal in a guest post April 1 at ThinkProgress:
I freely admit that I am confused about the role of overnight funding in repurchase markets in the collapse of Bear Stearns. What I am not confused about is John McCain’s health care proposal. Apparently Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a senior policy advisor to McCain, thinks I do “not understand the comprehensive nature of the senator’s proposal.” The problem, Douglas, is that, despite fuzzy language and feel-good lines in the Senator’s proposal, I do understand exactly how devastating it will be...Holtz-Eakin had also spoken to the LA Times about the
the power of competition to produce greater coverage for Americans.Supposedly, this would reduce healthcare costs for consumers "with or without preexisting conditions." Given the way I've see my health insurance company, Anthem, cherry pick, I'd like some hard data on that.
Let me give you an example from Virginia. A secondary policy with with a $1,500 deductible costs four times as much as ten years ago. How can this be?
Anthem would tell you that the plan is grandfathered and no longer exists, except for its original enrollees. There is one just like it, which you can buy for a lot less. In order to participate in the new plan, you would have to re-enroll. If you have suffered cancer and its treatment, or other health problems and enrolled in an individual policy as a "healthy Virginian" before diagnosis, you are grandfathered under the policy with the escalating premiums. If you apply for the "new plan" you will be told you now have a pre-existing condition and thus are ineligible.
Thus, Anthem can attract the young and healthy into this year's version of the plan, and they can move on to next year's version, until they, too, are trapped. If Anthem had not cherry-picked, while the new pool would be paying slightly more, the rest would be paying slightly less. And so it goes. The power of competition? The power of competition only works when you are not locked into your current insurer, which will only be the case when pre-existing conditions cannot be factored in. And if you say, well, the insurer is allowed to make a profit, I would ask, what is insurance for, if not a pooled risk and pooled premiums. Matthew Holt, in his May 15 critique of the McCain plan, "Half A Plan is not half a loaf," has some figures on the "medical loss ratio" of various insurers--the college market, for instance takes in $10 in premiums for every dollar it pays out.
Of course, there is another solution, truly universal coverage. Until now, that has been banished by the specter of "socialized medicine." But that is a topic for another day.
- If you'd like to read the arguments on both sides of the "socialized medicine" debate, check out the materials at the Cato InstituteCenter for American Progress.
- While cost containment must be balanced against availability of care, to read a critique of the cost containment provisions offered by McCain, Clinton and Obama plans and alternatives judged to be more effective, see "Putting the Brakes on Health Care Costs: Would the Candidates' Plans Work? Are There Better Solutions?" This forum for journalists held June 3 by the Alliance for Health Reform and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation featured health economists Paul Ginsburg of the Center for Studying Health System Change (which has intersting data on health insurance costs here), Uwe Reinhardt of Princeton University and the National Academy of Sciences and Mark McClellan of the Brookings Institution.
- Check out the information at the site for the National Coalition on Health Care, a non-profit founded in 1990 is comprised of more than 70 organizations representing large and small businesses, labor, consumer, religious and primary care providers and health and pension funds.
- You can view a comparison of the candidates plans, as well as that of others at the site for the World Health Care Congress, whose April 2008 conference convened senior officials from the "nation's largest employers, hospitals, health systems, health plans, pharmaceutical and biotech companies, and leading government agencies."
- May 1, the Congressional Budget office analyzed Senator Ron Wyden's (D-OR) Healthy Americans Act of 2007 (S 334) with regard to his currently proposed amendments.Employer Health Costs In a Global Economy
- Employer Health Costs in a Global Economy: A Competitive Disadvantage For U.S. Firms, Len Nichols and Sarah Axeen, New America Foundation (may, 2008)
Swallowtail in Blacksburg
George Marshall calling w. Ron Grosslein, Tim Van Egmond, Timm Triplett and David Cantieni at Donaldson Brown.