Friday, March 28, 2008

It's not just poor Republicans who vote against their economic interests...

It has been well documented that poor white Republicans consistently vote AGAINST their own economic interests. Thomas Frank wrote a book about this strange phenomenon titled, What's the Matter with Kansas: How Conservative Won the Heart of America.

It's also been well documented that the economy does better under a Democratic President than under a Republican President (the distortions of the Republican noise machine notwithstanding). See for example, here, here, and here.

So I was fascinated this week when the Wall Street Journal ran a front page story titled, Stocks Tarnished by 'Lost Decade.' From the article:

The stock market is trading right where it was nine years ago. Stocks, long touted as the best investment for the long term, have been one of the worst investments over the nine-year period, trounced even by lowly Treasury bonds.

The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index, the basis for about half of the $1 trillion invested in U.S. index funds, finished at 1352.99 on Tuesday, below the 1362.80 it hit in April 1999. When dividends and inflation are factored into returns, the S&P 500 has risen an average of just 1.3% a year over the past 10 years, well below the historical norm, according to Morningstar Inc. For the past nine years, it has fallen 0.37% a year, and for the past eight, it is off 1.4% a year. In light of the current wobbly market, some economists and market analysts worry that the era of disappointing returns may not be over.

It's not just poor Republicans voting against their economic interests -- it's also the pinstripe wearing, MBA toting, Wall Street Journal writing (and subscribing) Republicans who vote against their economic interests. Indeed, if people voted their economic interests, Republicans would get exactly 1% of the vote every election -- because the richest 1% are the only people who benefit from Republican governance.

A couple points about the article.

The 2,000 word article by E.S. Browning NEVER MENTIONED George Bush, government spending, the federal budget, or the Iraq War. I kid you not. Seriously, the guy tries to make the claim that this stuff is just cyclical, just a coinkydink, without ever making the connection that the dismal economic performance of the last 8 years is the fault of George W. Bush and his Republican enablers in Congress and at the Wall Street Journal.

Let me say that a different way:
  • The Wall Street Journal day in and day out bangs out a maniacal tribal beat proclaiming the evils of Democrats and the virtues of Republicans.
  • The 2000 election was decided by 500 votes (and a little help from Diebold). The 2004 election was decided by 100,000 votes in Ohio (with a LOT of help from Diebold).
  • It's safe to say that no Wall Street Journal, no George W. Bush in the White House.
  • Bush then gives $1 trillion in tax breaks to the super rich, invades the wrong country after 9/11 (which is costing taxpayers $3 trillion), runs up record budget deficits (which lead us to borrow massive sums of money from the Chinese), and FAILS TO REGULATE ANYTHING leading to the Enron disaster and the current housing market collapse.
  • At the same time, Bush fails to invest in road, bridges, hospitals, ports, schools, teachers, and universities -- you know, the sorts of things that actually CAUSE economic growth.
  • All the while, the Wall Street Journal keeps up its drum beat "Good job George! Kill more brown people in the Middle East George! Tax cuts good George! Don't worry about global warming George! Pollution is a sign of progress George!"
  • Then 8 years later the assholes at the Wall Street Journal look around and go "hunh, how come the stock market sucks right now? Must be just a random variation."

Seriously, reading the Wall Street Journal is like listening to a fascist version of Lennie Small from Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. They kill the economy and then wonder, "whut happind?"

Is Mark Penn a registered Democrat?

I imagine Mark Penn is registered to vote somewhere -- maybe in D.C.? Maybe in Virginia or Maryland? Is he registered to vote as a Democrat or not?

I suppose it doesn't really matter because in practice he doesn't seem to see partisanship in terms of Democrats verses Republicans or progressives verses conservatives. Rather in practice he appears to believe in oligarchs verses everyone else (and he's always on the side of the oligarchs).

But it sure would be interesting to see the piece of paper where he signed his name and stated his party affiliation.

Quote of the Week

I saw the movie Fracture (with Ryan Gosling and Anthony Hopkins) last week. I had previously stayed away from the movie because it seemed like it was just Anthony Hopkins playing another sociopath. But I had heard it was well done (and the cable company was offering it free as part of a movie channel preview week). To my surprise, the movie turns out to be this fascinating and impassioned defense of the value of public sector work and a stinging indictment of corporatism.

My favorite scene in the movie: Ryan Gosling, is at his girlfriend's house for Thanksgiving. He's trying to decide whether to proceed with a high profile murder case in the DA's office or leave for a well-paid job with a corporate law firm. His girlfriend's dad is a judge and gives him a bit of advice in the kitchen:

"You know what nobody understands about certain kinds of low pay public service work? Every now and then you get to put a fucking stake in a bad guy's heart. I'm not supposed to talk about that when I visit third grade classes for career day and it doesn't get you very far in the country club locker room. But its hard to beat when you actually get to do it." Judge Gardner, in the movie Fracture.

Yep, that's it exactly.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Coal Awareness Week, Part 6: Additional Ways to Stop the Coal Lobby

Imagine your city has a basketball team and they really suck (worse even than the Clippers, if you can imagine that!) This team sucks so bad that not only do they never win a game, BUT THEY REGULARLY KILL MANY OF THEIR FANS! And there's something about the arena or the pyrotechnics before each game that gives asthma to thousands of children in attendance and shortens the lifespan of thousands of fans. (See, I said they were worse than the Clippers!) You'd be pretty outraged right?

Now imagine if that same team took the money from season ticket holder and everyone in the entire community, and used it NOT to improve the team, NOT to bring in new management or new players, NOT to clean up their arena, NOT TO STOP KILLING PEOPLE, but instead to launch a massive advertising campaign to tell you that THIS TEAM IS GOOD (AND NEVER MIND THE PEOPLE WE KILL AND INJURE).

That's pretty much the situation we have with the coal industry today.

The coal lobby seems to have more money than God. The coal lobbying group, Americans for Balanced Energy Choices is spending $35 million THIS YEAR to try to influence the public debate. $35 million buys a lot of PEOPLE. ABEC has 5 press officers. They have an outside agency that runs their website and a full-time "researcher" who just goes around commenting on blogs. They have a contract with R&R Partners (the same advertising agency that brought you the "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" campaign) to produce their advertising. They also appear to be running a nationwide ground campaign that mirrors the campaigns of the Presidential contenders. In each state they visit they apparently hire an additional local PR agency to help them spread their message.

It'd be brilliant if only it wasn't so evil.

But where does all of the money that is funding this coal misinformation campaign come from? Well, it comes from the coal companies and a handful of utilities. Yes, but where does their money come from? IT COMES FROM YOU AND ME EVERY TIME WE PAY OUR ELECTRICITY BILL.

A little historical background and then some action steps to kick some ass. When Thomas Edison first figured out how to use coal to generate electricity, he worked with J.P. Morgan (the same folks who just stole AN ENTIRE INVESTMENT BANK in the middle of the night, but I digress) to figure out how to profit from his invention. Edison's right hand man was a guy named Samuel Insull, Jr. It was Insull who was really responsible for taking Edison's invention and figuring out how to get the first power plants built across the country.

The problem that Insull faced was that the start-up costs for a power plant were enormous -- not only did they have to build the power plant but there was no electrical grid at the time so all the transmission lines had to be built as well. Insull didn't want to invest all that money only to lose out to a competing utility in the same region. So he came up with the clever idea that power companies should be regulated by public utilities commissions. It sounds strange for an industrialist to insist on regulating his own industry but in the process the power companies were able to divide up the entire country and NOT HAVE TO COMPETE WITH EACH OTHER. (All the info in the last 2 paragraphs comes from Jeff Goodell's book, Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future.)

Public utilities commissions set the price that the public will pay for electricity, while guaranteeing that the power company will recover its investment plus a profit.

Which brings me back to ABEC. The $35 million that they are blowing on TV ads and a nationwide ground campaign is coming from you and me in the form of the utility bills we pay. THE FACT THAT THE COAL LOBBY HAS ALL THIS MONEY LAYING AROUND TO SPEND ON FANCY TV ADS MAKES ME BELIEVE THAT WE ARE PAYING TOO MUCH FOR OUR ELECTRICITY.

And I think we should ask for our money back.

Public utilities commissions are just that, public. Every state has one. And they are required to take public comments. If you are unhappy with the coal industry taking your money and spending it on a massive misinformation campaign that will ultimately jeopardize your health -- you have a right to complain.

Here's a list of the Public Utilities Commissions in every state.

Here's the How to File a Complaint link for California (and each state will have a similar link with step by step directions you can follow).

Specifically, I think the Public Utilities Commissions across this country owe rate payers (that's you and me) $35 million in rebates for excess profits given out to the power industry this past year. How do we know they have charged us $35 million too much? Because ABEC is spending $35 million of our money on a campaign to lie to the us about the dangers of coal, that's how.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Coal Awareness Week, Part 5: What you can do about it

As we've seen this week, coal is a horrible energy source. It dramatically decreases quality of life while increasing heart attacks, asthma, lung disease, autism, global warming, acid rain, and smog. So what can we do about it?

It seems to me that there are several different ways to get involved in addressing the problems posed by coal-fired power plants (I imagine you'll have additional ideas and I'd welcome them in the comments). I've organized them into 3 different categories:


There are several national organizations fighting against coal and working for sane alternatives such as solar, wind, and geothermal power. Working with existing organizations can help focus our efforts and amplify our voices. Each one has a wealth of creative ways to get involved (and the websites have gotten increasingly sophisticated -- in many cases helping you to quickly and easily target your message to your Representative or Senator). Here are some of my favorites:

National Resources Defense Council
Jump right in and take action (here) -- awesome site by the way.
Sign up for the NRDC Action Network (here).

Sierra Club
Learn more about Sierra Club initiatives (here).
Sign up with the Sierra Club (here).

Rainforest Action Network
For background info on Rainforest Action Network and their current campaigns click (here).
Learn about how to get involved with their campaigns against coal-fired power plants (here).


On February 27th, 2008 the House of Representatives passed the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008, H.R. 5351, which will extend and expand tax incentives for renewable electricity, energy and fuel, as well as for plug-in hybrid cars, and energy efficient homes, buildings, and appliances.

This is a really important bill because current tax credits for solar, wind, and geothermal energy sources are set to expire this year. If these tax credits are allowed to expire, investment and research into alternative energy will plummet. Kudos to Nancy Pelosi for getting H.R. 5351 through the House of Representatives (96% of Democratic Representatives supported the bill, 92% of Republicans opposed it). Now the bill is in the Senate where it faces a much more uncertain future. The Senate is expected to begin debating the bill in early April. There is a great automated e-form (here) that you can use to contact your Senator and urge him/her to support passage of H.R. 5351.

Also, Henry Waxman and Edward Markey have introduced a bill that would require any new coal-fired power plant to capture and permanently sequester carbon dioxide. It would be a huge step forward. You can use the zip code search box in the upper left corner of (this page) to find your representative and urge him/her to support this bill (it does not have an H.R. # yet -- but it's called the "Moratorium on Uncontrolled Power Plants Acts of 2008").

Finally, if you're tired of Republican presidents vetoing environmental legislation, you can always send some love to the soon-to-be Democratic Presidential Nominee, Barack Obama (here). (Love ya Hil, but the math ain't on your side.)


It seems to me that CNN has some explaining to do. They took money from Big Coal and then, when hosting Presidential Debates, failed to ask any questions about global warming or energy policy (other than the "snowman question" in the CNN YouTube debate which hardly qualifies). CNN uses airwaves owned by the public and has a obligation to use these airwaves responsibly. I've written to CNN to ask them to explain how much money they accepted from Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (the coal lobby) and why they failed to ask any questions about global warming or energy policy. But I would urge you to contact them as well. Please be kind and respectful (remember, honey attracts more flies than vinegar, or something like that) but I think it's fair to ask hard questions and demand accountability. Below are links to the forms to send questions to the various anchors at CNN:

Anderson Cooper (he's their star and seems like a decent guy. I'd be curious to know how he feels about the fact that CNN accepted sponsorship money from these toxic polluters and then seemed to pull its punches during the debates.)

Wolf Blitzer (Wolfie moderated the South Carolina Democratic Debate on January 21, 2008).

Comment form for The Situation Room (CNN's afternoon political show).

If you have ideas for other media outlets we should be contacting, I'd welcome them as well.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Coal Awareness Week, Bonus: RFK Action Front Debates Americans for Balanced Energy Choices

It appears the folks at the coal industry lobbying group Americans for Balanced Energy Choices have seen my new videos. "David, with ABEC" posted a comment on my last post. I thought I would reply -- but rather than making you dig through the comments, I've decided to do a whole post about it here. (A quick note, I've written to ABEC to ask whether "David, with ABEC" is officially authorized to speak on behalf of ABEC -- it appears that he is, but I'll let you know what I find out.)

Here's what "David, with ABEC" wrote,

Hi there. I watched the videos... there's a lot to respond to but I'll focus on what you said about mercury.

First off, over half of the mercury in the atmosphere comes from natural sources. And the government estimates that as much as 70 percent of all of the mercury that is deposited in U.S. waterways come from emission sources outside the United States.

Coal-based power plants in the United States contribute about 1% of total global emissions.

The United States is the only country in the world to regulate utility mercury emissions. About three years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency released new stringent rules to regulate mercury emissions from power plants in the United States. The reduction required is a 70 percent reduction in utility mercury emissions from U.S. power plants, resulting in the need for the industry to invest about $52 billion in new technology.

Human exposure to methyl mercury comes from fish. The methyl mercury in ocean fish comes mostly from natural sources in the deep oceans — there has been methyl mercury in ocean fish since there were fish. Given that our nation’s power plants account for only 1% of global mercury emissions, eliminating them would have no detectable effect on fish.

And here's my reply:

Dear "David, with ABEC":

Thanks for taking the time to write and thanks for watching the videos.

Yes, let's definitely talk about mercury.

According to the EPA, coal-fired power plants are the largest single man-made source of mercury pollution in the United States.

Every 1,000 pound increase in mercury emissions causes a 43% increase in special education rates in the community and a 61% increase in autism. To argue that eliminating mercury from coal-fired power plants would not improve public health is completely disingenuous.

The EPA's March 2005 mercury rule is the best argument you've got? You've gotta be kidding me! As you know, the EPA mercury rule was a WEAKENING of existing standards under the Clean Air Act. The EPA was sued by 14 states as a result. THE EPA JUST LOST THE COURT CASE! THE BEST ARGUMENT YOU'VE GOT IS A RULE THAT WEAKENED AIR STANDARDS AND WAS THROWN OUT IN COURT!? Yes, let's definitely talk about this some more:

"The Washington Post reported that at least a dozen passages in the EPA's proposal were lifted, sometimes verbatim, from memos prepared by West Associates, an industry organization representing western coal burners, and Latham & Watkins, a powerful Washington law firm that often represents corporations on environmental issues and where EPA air policy chief Jeffrey Holmstead once worked... In the following months, the Government Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog agency, blasted the EPA for in effect, cooking its books...

The EPA's mercury rule was finalized in March 2005. Within weeks, fourteen states filed suit to have the new rule overturned, charging that the cap-and-trade scheme was unlawful under the strict requirements for the regulation of hazardous air pollutants in the Clean Air Act." (Big Coal p. 144 - 145.)

And how'd that court case turn out? From the NY Times:

"This month, the D.C. Circuit ruled that the E.P.A. had once again ignored the law by failing to require deep and timely reductions in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Like most clean air cases, this one was mind-numbingly complex. The gist of it was that the E.P.A. — seeking as usual to please industry — had approved a weak set of regulations that would let many plants off the hook for emissions reductions that would be required under any honest reading of the law."

The NY Times continued:

"The D.C. Circuit, by no means a radical group of judges, has become so exasperated that it has taken to quoting Lewis Carroll. In 2006, in a reference to “Through the Looking Glass,” the court said that the E.P.A.’s reading of the law would make sense “only in a Humpty Dumpty world.” This month, invoking “Alice in Wonderland,” the court said the agency’s reasoning recalled “the logic of the Queen of Hearts, substituting the E.P.A.’s desires for the plain text” of the law."

So in defense of your toxic polluting industry you cited a rule that you knew had just been thrown out in court? Does your plan for counteracting bad PR rely on the hope that no one knows how to use Google?

What's maddening about ABEC and other coal industry lobbying groups is that doing the right thing is often easier than your Neanderthal commitment to continuing toxic pollution. You don't even pay for the bill for environmental improvements -- consumers do through rates set by utilities commissions that guarantee that you will recover your costs plus a tidy profit:

"According to one report by state air pollution regulators, installing scrubbers that would remove 90 percent of the mercury from power plants' emissions would add just 15 to 60 cents a month to the typical residential electric bill." (Big Coal, p. 143.)

Don't you think most consumers would be willing to pay 15 to 60 cents a month to dramatically reduce special education rates, autism, asthma, heart attacks, and lung disease? In fact, you and I both know that environmental regulations are incredibly cost-effective and produce a huge net benefit to society at little cost to producers.

I'll close with this quote from Jeff Goodell about the coal industry's bone-headed opposition to sensible regulation of mercury emissions:

"For Big Coal, the obvious question is this: was the fight over mercury worth it? Yes, the industry won a decade or more of delay before it has to install mercury controls on power plants. But in return, it received mountains of bad press, provoked passionate anti-coal outbursts at public meetings around the country, triggered more than a dozen lawsuits, and inspired nearly half a million protest letters to the EPA. One might easily argue that Quin Shea has been correct back in 2000: by engaging in a political street fight over mercury, Big Coal made a mockery of its own PR rhetoric about being "increasingly clean" and undermined whatever credibility it had as an industry willing to face up to tough problems." (Big Coal, p. 145)

So what we know about mercury is that it is a huge public health problem, coal-fired power plants are a big source of the problem, it wouldn't cost the coal industry much to address the problem -- but you (ABEC and the coal industry) still insist on the right to poison our communities with this hideous neurotoxin.

And mercury is just the tip of the iceberg. Coal-fired power plants also release "67 other air toxins, many of which are known or suspected carcinogens and neurotoxins." If you like, I'd be happy to debate the problems created by these other toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants as well.


To see the videos that have gotten ABEC's undies in a bunch click (here and here).

Update #1: I got an e-mail reply from Steve Gates, Senior Communications Director at ABEC. He writes:

"David is in fact a real person. He is a researcher and editor who works for a vendor that helps us with our website."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Coal Awareness Week, Part 3: RFK Action Front strikes back at Americans for Balanced Energy Choices

In January, I was watching the Democratic Presidential Debate on CNN and I was surprised that there were absolutely no questions on global warming or energy policy. It seemed like a pretty huge oversight on the part of CNN given that we are currently fighting a 3 trillion dollar war that has cost nearly 4,000 American lives in lieu of having a domestic energy policy.

After about an hour CNN started cutting to commercial breaks. I thought, that's odd, the public owns the airwaves and this is a Presidential debate -- why are we having commercial breaks? As they went to break, CNN proudly announced that the debates were sponsored by the Orwellian-named Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC) -- and again I thought, that's weird, since when are Presidential debates, sponsored by anyone other than the League of Women Voters? And CNN kept running these peppy commercials by ABEC telling people how great coal-fired power plants are! The commercials even used the song "Celebration" by Kool and Gang to put us all in that feel good mood!

It turns out that Americans for Balanced Energy Choices is a PR front group for the coal-fired power industry. ABEC is spending $35 million to try to get more coal-fired power plants built in the U.S. They have to spend $35 million on PR (and Kool and the Gang songs) because coal is a horrible energy source. Coal mining causes black lung, mining accidents, and destroys entire communities. Burning coal causes asthma, heart attacks, and shortens the lives of thousands of Americans (it may also cause autism).

The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. CNN should be ashamed of itself for taking money from these toxic monsters. And it's about time someone slapped ABEC for lying to the American people.

As it turns out, I was recording the debates. So I decided to remake the ABEC commercial with actual, real world facts about coal (and thankfully, I couldn't afford to license the Kool and the Gang song). I made two version, the funny version, and the serious version. Check 'em out:

Solar kick's coal's ass #2, Funny:

Solar kicks coal's ass, just the facts:

You can subscribe to my YouTube channel by clicking (here).

Tomorrow I'll have more on ABEC and some ideas for ways to fight back against the coal-fired power industry.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Coal Awareness Week, Part 2: Do Mercury Emissions from Coal-Fired Power Plants Cause Autism?

Here's what we know: There is an autism epidemic in this country right now. 1 in 150 children in the U.S. has autism -- which is an astonishingly high number.

So the question becomes, what's causing it? Increasingly, scientists are focusing on the role of mercury. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin and some of the symptoms of autism and mercury poisoning are similar. Incredibly, pharmaceutical companies used mercury (in the form of thimerosal) as a preservative in vaccines and many parents have reported that their child's autism began after being given vaccine shots. (Even more mind-boggling, even though pharmaceutical companies have removed thimerosal from vaccines, they continue to put it in the common flu shot given to kids and pregnant women). But, scientists haven't been able to determine a direct one-to-one link between mercury in vaccines and autism. Now scientists are speculating that autism may be caused by a combination of environmental factors (largely mercury) and genetic factors that regulate how the body processes mercury:

[University of Kentucky biochemist Boyd] Haley has garnered evidence from hair samples that [shows] autistic children do not clear mercury from their bodies as efficiently as most kids do. They may have a genetic susceptibility that allows more mercury to accumulate in their tissues, he says.

Here's what else we know:

Coal fired power plants are the largest emitters of mercury in the United States, releasing about 48 tons, or 96,000 pounds, into the air each year... Because mercury is a neurotoxin, it is particularly dangerous to the still-forming brains and nervous systems of fetuses and young children. Some studies show that children who are exposed to tiny amounts of mercury in utero have slower reflexes, language deficits, and shortened attention spans. (Big Coal, p. 134)

The problem with mercury is that it is an element that does not break down. Rather, once released into the environment, mercury builds up over time -- in our soil, in fish, in our bodies.

As more and more mercury is released into the environment, it keeps building up. One way to think of coal plants is as giant mercury-excavating machines, taking tons of mercury and other heavy metals that had been safely sequestered underground and recycling them in the air and water. David Krabbenhoft, the leader of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Mercury Project, estimates that the deposition rate of mercury today is three to five times greater than in preindustrial times. (Big Coal, p. 136)

We may in fact, have simply reached the tipping point. As mercury has built up over time in our environment and in our bodies, we may have simply reached the point where mercury levels are now high enough to cause widespread developmental problems, including autism.

In 2004, scientists decided to study the connection between mercury emissions [from coal-fired power plants and other sources] and autism rates in the community. They compared data about autism and special education rates from the Texas Department of Education with pollution emission data available from the Environmental Protection Agency. They found that:

There was a significant increase in the rates of special education students and autism rates associated with increases in environmentally released mercury. On average, for each 1000 pounds of environmentally released mercury, there was a 43% increase in the rate of special education services and a 61% increase in the rate of autism.

Power companies tend to locate their coal-fired power plants in poor and minority communities. Given this data -- that every 1000 pound increase in mercury emissions causes a 61% increase in autism in the community -- you understand that not only are coal-fired power plants committing environmental racism they may, in fact, be committing a very profitable form of genocide.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Coal is Evil Awareness Week, Part 1: Book Review, Big Coal

RFK Action Front is dedicating this week to exposing the evils of the coal-fired power industry. In many ways, coal is like sweatshop labor. The industry goes to great lengths to keeps its evils out-of- sight and out-of-mind. But once people know the facts, they tend to demand sensible solutions.

Here's the schedule for the week (subject to change of course):
Monday: Book review of Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future
Tuesday: Is there a link between coal-fired power plants and autism?
Wednesday: RFK Action Front strikes back at Americans for Balanced Energy Choices;
Thursday: How the coal industry buys off the TV networks and politicians;
Friday: What you can do to fight back.

I just finished reading Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future by Jeff Goodell and found it incredibly informative. Big Coal reveals the dirty secrets of the coal industry in much the same way that Fast Food Nation showed the dark side of the American diet. In Big Coal, author Jeff Goodell uses interviews and in-depth research to chart the entire life cycle of coal -- from the toxic Appalachian strip mines, across the railroads to the coal-fired power plants, and then follows the pollution that they emit and the politicians bought with coal profits. Goodell is a journalist who goes out of his way to make sure all sides are fairly represented. But, like so many issues, once all of the facts are on the table, it's pretty clear that coal is a lousy energy choice that dramatically reduces quality of life for most Americans while enriching a few.

Here are some of the best nuggets from the book (all page numbers refer to the hardcover edition):

"Amory Lovins estimates that by the time you mine the coal, haul it to the power plant, burn it, and then send the electricity out over the wires to the incandescent bulb in your home, only about 3 percent of the energy contained in a ton of coal is transformed into light." p. xvi

"Since 1900, more than 100,00 people have been killed in coal mine accidents... Black lung, a disease common among miners from inhaling coal dust, can be conservatively estimated to have killed another 200,000 workers. " p. xx
So basically, between mining accidents and black lung disease, the coal industry is responsible for as many deaths as 9/11 -- every year for the past 100 years.
"According to a ten-year study know as ExternE, which Princeton University professor and energy expert Robert Williams calls "state of the art," factoring in just the public health effects of air pollution from U.S. coal plants would add an average of about $13 per megawatt-hour to the price of coal-fired power. (This does not include damages connected to mining, nor does it include costs related to global warming.)" [For the worst coal-fired power plants] "added costs could be as high as $33 per megawatt-hour. In comparison, the cost of externalities on a natural gas plant are only about 40 cents per mega-watt hour. In a market that accurately reflected the true cost of power, old coal burners would be shut down because the price of the power they generated would be too high for the market to bear." p. 116

In the mid-1980s, [Brigham Young University researcher C. Arden] Pope recognized "a unique, natural experiment" when the Geneva Steel mill in the Utah Valley shut down during a labor dispute, allowing Pope to explore the health effects of pollution from the plant. Geneva Steel was the focus of tremendous anger in the region. Residents blamed the black plumes from its smokestacks for making their children sick. Pope discovered that children's hospital admissions for respiratory disease essentially doubled during periods when the mill was operating versus when it was not." p. 130
Both coal-fired power plants and steel mills emit massive amounts of particle pollution and studies have shown that there is "no threshold below which particle pollution ceased causing illness and death." p. 130
"By any measure, the volume of pollution released by coal plants remains staggering. Nationwide, power plants account for two thirds of all sulfur dioxide, 22 percent of all nitrogen oxides, nearly 40 percent of carbon dioxide, and a third of all mercury emissions. Coal plants also release some sixty varieties of what the EPA terms "hazardous air pollutants," including known toxins such as lead (176,00 pounds), chromium (161,000 pounds), arsenic 9100,000 pounds) and mercury (96,000 pounds). And that's just what goes into the air. Each year, coal plants produce about 130 million tons of solid waster -- about three times as much as all the municipal garbage in the nation. This combustion waste -- fly ash, bottom ash, scrubber sludge -- is laced with heavy metals and other potentially toxic compounds..." p. 123

In fact, one study by the EPA found that between 1970 and 1990, for every dollar spent on pollution controls, the public saves $42, mainly in reduced health care costs and increased productivity from people who would otherwise have been injured or killed by air pollution." p. 161

"A few days before President Bush's inaugural, as the new president was assembling his team of transition advisers, the Washington Post reported that Big Coal was "particularly well-represented on the Bush team." And Peabody Energy was particularly prominent among the Big Coal representatives. Irl Engelhardt, the company's aggressive fifty-three-year-old chairman and CEO, was appointed to the EPA transition team. Peabody vice president John Wootten and Steve Chancellor, chief executive of a Peabody subsidiary, Black Beauty Coal, were on the Energy Department team. And Thomas Sansonetti, a former lobbyist with a Wyoming law firm representing Peabody and other energy firms on leasing matters, headed the group choosing the top personnel for the Interior Department.

How did Peabody score such access? It didn't hurt that in the 2000 election, Peabody's holding company gave $846,000 to federal campaigns, 98 percent of which went to the Republican party. " p. 186-187

"It is important to see that the barriers to change are not technological but political." p. 251

Big Coal is expertly researched, fasted-paced (the author also writes for Rolling Stone and the NY Times), and well-worth the read.

Check back tomorrow (or better yet, add me to your RSS feed) as RFK Action Front takes on the Coal industry's favorite lobbying group.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

john and vicki and charlie and rick

(Some of you may remember the 1969 movie, bob & carol & ted & alice? I thought it was a fitting image to capture John McCain's fondness for surrounding himself with Washington lobbyists.)

John McCain sure does love him some lobbyists.

Here's what we know:

John McCain's describes himself as a "reformer."

His record shows that he is in bed with Washington lobbyists.

February 21, 2008, the NY Times reported that McCain's staff had to intervene because they believed he was having an affair with lobbyist Vicki Iseman. Iseman is a partner with Alcade & Fay which has done $46.2 million in lobbying over the last five years. They represent clients such as CACI (linked to torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq) and Dow Chemical (one of the largest toxic polluters in the country). [Vicki is pictured on the right side of the picture above.]

Turns out, Vicki Iseman is just the tip of the iceberg.

McCain's campaign is crawling with Washington lobbyists -- 59 in all. They include:

Rick Davis, Manager of the McCain campaign, and Partner in the lobbying firm Davis Manafort, Inc. Davis's lobbying firm made $2.85 million in fees between 1998-2005. Davis's firm has lobbied on behalf of GTECH (the troubled lottery company), SBC, and the government of Nigeria. [Rick is the unhappy fellow second from the left.]

Charlie Black, Senior Adviser to McCain, and Chairman of BKSH & Associates. BKSH has made $57.4 million on lobbying since 1998. Black's company has done lobbying work for cancer-stick maker Philip Morris, Ahmed Chalabi (Iraqi huckster who gave misinformation to the U.S. to encourage the invasion of Iraq), and mercenary private military contractor Blackwater USA. Charlie Black admitted that now, he runs his lobbying business from inside John McCain's Straight Talk Express bus. [Charlie is the happy guy on the left side of the picture.]

So next time you hear John McCain describe himself as a reformer, just remember the 59 lobbyists he is in bed with.

Hat tip to Brave New Films for their documentation of McCain's lobbyist "Friends." Hat tip to Sourcewatch for their research on Washington lobbyists. And big props to my friend Paul Salamone ( for his awesome Photoshop work.

(The photo montage above is an RFK Action Front original. Feel free to send to your friends.)

In hell there is Satan and David Brooks to tell you Satan isn't such a bad guy

Finally someone who hates David Brooks as much as I do (hat tip to Farley posting in the comments on Crooks and Liars):

David Brooks profile in Dickipedia.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Houston We Have a Problem

Regardless of how Texas comes out tonight, the Democratic Party has a huge problem on its hands.

The Republicans have already chosen their nominee. He's really old, a little crazy, and not that popular with his base -- but you can't spot him a 7 week (or even a 5 month) advantage in the Presidential race. The Democrats have two extraordinary candidates who appeal to very different groups within the party. Roughly speaking, Clinton does well amongst traditional Democrats, older voters (particularly older women), many Latinos, and people without a college degree. Obama does well with younger voters, independents and Republicans, people with a college degree, African Americans, progressive bloggers, and the media.

Obama has gotten the votes of just over half of Democratic primary voters. Clinton has gotten the votes of just under half of Democratic primary voters. You can make a powerful case that Obama deserves to be the nominee based on the popular vote count and the delegate count. But, Obama has won big in states like Utah and Idaho that are not going to go Democratic in November. So you can also make a powerful case that Clinton deserves to be the nominee because she is popular in the states that are key to winning in November (said differently, it would be odd to let Red State voters pick the Democratic nominee when they can't carry their state for the Party in November). All the Democratic nominee has to do to win the Presidency is win all of the states that John Kerry won plus Ohio or Florida (states where Clinton is popular).

The reality is that we need both of them on the ticket in order to unite the party and win in November. Clinton needs Obama's grace and huge appeal to independents and cross-over Republicans. And Obama needs Clinton's grit and knack for policy details. But neither one of these candidates is willing to be the VP for the other. They both have better day jobs (as Senators) that they can go back to that are better than the VP slot. The VP slot does not set either one up very well to run in 8 years (sitting on your ass for 8 years is not a resume builder -- isn't that right Al Gore?). And they don't seem to like each other very well (and their supporters definitely don't like the supporters from the other camp).

I believe Democratic Party officials need to broker a deal. I have a proposal.

Senior Democratic Party officials need to set up a meeting. I figure at a minimum, Howard Dean, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton need to be there. And the message needs to be this: "friends we need to broker a deal and we need a nominee now, not in July." And the deal is this -- one candidate gets to be the nominee for President and the other one is named Senate Majority Leader. For the good of the Party, Harry Reid would agree to step down immediately and give the job to Obama or Clinton in return for that person stepping out of the Presidential race. Whoever accepts the Senate Majority Leader job could begin to implement her/his vision immediately and would agree to facilitate the President's agenda should a Democrat be elected in November. In return for his leadership, Harry Reid would be the VP nominee for the Party.

So, Senator Reid, for the good of the party -- will you give up your seat as Senate Majority Leader and run for VP instead? It could unite the party, propel Democrats to victory in November, and potentially lead to decades of Democratic political dominance.