Sun 20 April, 2014

20:46 Lawmakers Call For Tighter Sanctions On Russia» Politics - The Huffington Post
WASHINGTON (AP) — Two members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called Sunday for beefing up western sanctions against Russia to include its petrochemical and banking industries and warned that Moscow thus far has ignored United States and European efforts to persuade it to back off its confrontation with Ukraine.

"We've helped in many ways to create the problems that exist there. And to leave them alone in the manner that we're leaving them alone to me is just unconscionable," Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the committee's senior Republican member, said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I don't think Putin really believes we're going to punish them in that way," he said.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the same committee, said, "I think the time is now to rapidly ratchet up our sanctions, whether it's on Russian petrochemical companies or on Russian banks."

"If Russia does get away with this, I do think that there's a potential that a NATO ally is next. And, yes, there will be economic pain to Europe (under tightened sanctions). But it's time for them to lead as well."

President Barack Obama has said his administration is prepared to take further action against Russia if diplomatic efforts to destabilize the conflict fail.

Vice President Joe Biden is flying to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, on Monday. Biden's office announced Sunday night that he would meet Tuesday with Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleksandr Turchynov, the acting Ukrainian prime minister and president, and legislators from the Rada, Ukraine's parliament. Biden also plans to meet with democracy activists before returning to Washington Tuesday night.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last week that the U.S. is looking for ways to reassure its NATO allies of its strong commitment to collective defense. The Pentagon's press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, has said that American officials are considering a range of additional measures to bolster air, maritime and ground readiness in Europe.

Corker, who plans to be in the region in May, said unless the Russians "immediately begin moving the 40,000 troops on the border which are intimidating people in Ukraine, unless they begin immediately moving them away, I really do believe we should be sanctioning some of the companies in the energy sector, Gazprom and others. I think we should hit some of the large banks there."

Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said that an international agreement forged late last week designed to ease tensions in Ukraine may be "the best chance that we have got to achieve a diplomatic de-escalation of this crisis. And we're working hard at it."

He told CNN's "State of the Union" that "there are obviously some real challenges at this point," including a fresh outbreak of violence earlier Sunday in eastern Ukraine.

"But we also believe that there has been some progress. I'm seeing reports this morning that at least one of these government buildings now has a Ukrainian flag flying over it," Pyatt said.
20:30 Open Thread - Happy Spring, Happy Easter, Happy 4/20» Latest from Crooks and Liars
Open Thread - Happy Spring, Happy Easter, Happy 4/20

Vincent Van Gogh captures Spring. Open thread below...

20:00 Open thread for night owls. Mauk: A century after it happened, the Ludlow massacre still matters » Daily Kos

 photo owl_easter_eggs_zps6f74b1e6.jpg

At The New Yorker, Ben Mauk, who teachers writing at the University of Iowa, writes The Ludlow Massacre Still Matters:

On April 20, 1914, members of the Colorado National Guard opened fire on a group of armed coal miners and set fire to a makeshift settlement in Ludlow, Colorado, where more than a thousand striking workers and their families were camped out. Today, the Ludlow massacre, which Caleb Crain wrote about in The New Yorker in 2009, remains one of the bloodiest episodes in the history of American industrial enterprise; at least sixty-six men, women, and children were killed in the attack and the days of rioting that followed, according to most historical accounts. Although it is less well-remembered today than other dark episodes in American labor history, such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that claimed a hundred and forty-six lives, the Ludlow massacre—which Wallace Stegner once called “one of the bleakest and blackest episodes of American labor history”—changed the nation’s attitude toward labor and capital for the next several decades. Its memory continues to reverberate in contemporary political discourse.

Militia man at Ludlow
Militia man keeps a bead on Ludlow strikers.
In the summer of 1913, United Mine Workers began to organize the eleven thousand coal miners employed by the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel & Iron Company. Most of the workers were first-generation immigrants from Italy, Greece, and Serbia; many had been hired, a decade prior, to replace workers who had gone on strike. In August, the union extended invitations to company representatives to meet about their grievances—including low pay, long and unregulated hours, and management practices they felt were corrupt—but they were rebuffed. A month later, eight thousand Colorado mine workers went on strike. Among their demands were a ten-per-cent pay raise, the enforcement of an eight-hour working day, and the right to live and trade outside the company-owned town. Many of the rights they sought were required by Colorado law but remained unenforced.

After getting evicted from their company-owned homes, the workers based their operations in makeshift tent cities surrounding the mines, the largest of which was the Ludlow camp. The Rockefellers responded by hiring a detective agency—comprised of “Texas desperadoes and thugs,” according to “Legacy of the Ludlow Massacre,” a sharply researched 1988 book by Howard M. Gitelman—who would periodically raid the camps, firing rifles and shotguns. In November, the state governor called in the Colorado National Guard at the company’s behest; the Guard’s wages were supplied by the Rockefeller family, and they helped to form militias whose members carried out sporadic raids and shootings in the tent cities.

The strike stretched on for months, and in April, 1914, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., appeared before Congress, where he framed the standoff as “a national issue, whether workers shall be allowed to work under such conditions as they may choose.” He balked at the possibility of allowing “outside people”—meaning union organizers—“to come in and interfere with employees who are thoroughly satisfied with their labor conditions.” The committee chairman asked Rockefeller whether he would stand by his anti-union principles even “if it costs all your property and kills all your employees.” Rockefeller replied, “It is a great principle.”

On April 20th, a day after Orthodox Easter, four militiamen brandished a machine gun at some of the striking miners. At some point, shots were fired—the accounts are predictably inconsistent as to who fired first—and a day-long gunfight ensued. […]

Yet the struggle that Ludlow embodied—and that, historically, unions have taken up—is a contemporary one, even if unions are no longer playing as public a role. Today, some of the fiercest workers’-rights battles take place over government regulations that protect low-income workers’ access to Medicaid and other social services, and that buoy the federal minimum wage, which is currently far below its 1968 peak value. In her recently published autobiography, Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote that “Big corporations hire armies of lobbyists to get billion-dollar loopholes into the tax system and persuade their friends in Congress to support laws that keep the playing field tilted in their favor.” In this, she sounds almost exactly like the Republican senators who, in the days after Ludlow, worried about Colorado Iron & Fuel’s deep government influence.

What was at stake at Ludlow remains pertinent even within the modern coal industry. Last week, the Center for Public Integrity won a Pulitzer Prize for its investigative report on efforts to deny benefits to coal miners with black-lung disease. The series describes how industry-compensated lawyers have frequently withheld evidence from judges in order to defeat the medical claims of miners suffering from the resurgent ailment, which today affects about six per cent of miners in central Appalachia, according to government statistics reported in the series.

A different kind of violence is visited upon today’s miners.  […]

Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2004GOP wants Kerry to release military records:

This one has me vexed.

Opening a new campaign front, President Bush's Republican Party on Tuesday called on Democrat John Kerry to release his Vietnam-era military records.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie made the demand after the Boston Globe reported the Kerry campaign was refusing to give up more of Kerry's military records even though he had promised to do so on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
What, does the GOP really want to give Kerry another chance to flash all his medals, all his heroic acts, and invite comparisons with Bush's AWOL record?

If so, I'm not sure what Kerry is waiting for. And honestly, this really doesn't look good for Kerry:

The day after John F. Kerry said he would make all of his military records available for inspection at his campaign headquarters, a spokesman said the senator would not release any new documents, leaving undisclosed many of Kerry's evaluations by his Navy commanding officers, some medical records, and possibly other material.

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19:33 Snowden’s Camp: Staged Putin Q&A Was A Screw-Up - The Daily Beast» Politics - The Huffington Post
Even the NSA leaker’s closest advisers now say his appearance on a Kremlin call-in show, which touched off yet another international firestorm, was a mistake.
18:53 Forget the Spin, Putin Is Holding a Losing Hand» Politics - The Huffington Post
According to the Sunday Times, Barack Obama has had it with trying to build a partnership with Vladimir Putin. Like George W. Bush before him, Barack Obama has finally written off Vladimir Putin. There will be no reset of relations. Instead, his administration's focus will be "cutting off [Russia's] economic and political ties to the outside world, limiting its expansionist ambitions in its own neighborhood and effectively making it a pariah state."

In the same story, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, expresses his disgust. "They're playing us. We continue to watch what they're doing and try to respond to that. But it seems that in doing so, we create a policy that's always a day late and a dollar short."

To a degree unmatched since the early days of the Global War on Terror, American pundits and politicians have been marching in lockstep in response to Vladimir Putin's seizure of Crimea and continuing threats to Ukraine. On April 8th, as the Ukraine story continued to unfold, New York Times columnist and foreign affairs maven Tom Friedman summed up the commonly accepted narrative of Russian aggression and American passivity in his op-ed Playing Hockey with Putin:

Putin doesn't strike me as a chess player, in geopolitical terms. He prefers hockey, without a referee, so elbowing, tripping and cross-checking are all permitted. Never go to a hockey game with Putin and expect to play by the rules of touch football. The struggle over Ukraine is a hockey game, with no referee. If we're going to play -- we, the Europeans and the pro-Western Ukrainians need to be serious. If we're not, we need to tell the Ukrainians now: Cut the best deal with Putin that you can.

Friedman's colleague at the Times, David Herszenhorn, mirrored the President's frustration as he punctuated an article this week about a posting by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Facebook with an acrid derision that has become commonplace:

And so began another day of bluster and hyperbole, of the misinformation, exaggerations, conspiracy theories, overheated rhetoric and, occasionally, outright lies about the political crisis in Ukraine that have emanated from the highest echelons of the Kremlin and reverberated on state-controlled Russian television, hour after hour, day after day, week after week.

Fifty years ago, at the height of the Cold War, American foreign policy icon George Kennan described circumstances like these. He suggested how a democracy
"becomes victim of its own propaganda. It then tends to attach to its own cause an absolute value which distorts its own vision ... Its enemy becomes the embodiment of all evil. Its own side is the center of all virtue."

Kennan describes our susceptibility succinctly. Americans cling tightly to our image of ourselves as a beneficent, if flawed, people in a Manichean world of good guys and bad guys. We prefer not to know too much about the complexities and morally ambiguities of the world as it really is.

Lost in the 24-hour coverage of the Ukrainian crisis has been any attention to the historical context of these events. This should be the job of our leading newspapers, but even the headlines of these stories in the newspaper of record, Playing Hockey with Putin and Herzenhorn's Russia Is Quick to Bend Truth About Ukraine illustrate how shallow our reporting has become.

There is a backstory that suggests an alternative narrative. Indeed, it would be interesting to know what President Obama and his staff are really thinking as they assail Vladimir Putin for his barbaric behavior. Are they really appalled by Putin's conduct, as the reporting suggests, or do they understand it to be a predictable -- and predicted -- response to America's continuing strategy to undermine Russian power in the region? And is Bob Corker similarly flummoxed by Putin's strategic superiority, or does he share the sense of satisfaction that Zbigniew Brzezinski must feel as Putin flails away in frustration, as America's decades-long campaign to contain and undermine the Russian state continues to play out?

Zbigniew Brzezinski -- who first appeared in the public eye as President Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor -- has in many respects been the inheritor of Henry Kissinger's mantle as the most influential member of the American foreign policy establishment. His life's work has been animated by his enduring hostility to the Russian state, and even as the pundits and politicians frame Ukraine as a failure of western diplomacy and strategy, one can see in it instead the success of the Brzezinski doctrine.

Brzezinski was one of the architects of the expansion of NATO in the wake of the end of the Cold War to include all of the former members of the Warsaw Pact. The expansion of NATO, with the ultimate goal of including Ukraine, was part of a strategy of exerting steadily increasing economic and political pressure on the Russian state. Brzezinski laid out his strategic perspective his 1998 book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, and his ambitions to contain and ultimately break up the Russian state are summed up in his article A Geostrategy for Eurasia.

At the time that the NATO was expanded to bring in the former Warsaw Pact states, George Kennan expressed his belief that the aggressive expansion of NATO and a hostile policy of encirclement would backfire, and ultimately lead us to the point at which we have now arrived.

I think it is the beginning of a new cold war... I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.

But where Kennan saw increasing risks of confrontation, Brzezinski saw opportunity. Brzezinski's policy objective was the neutering of Russian ambitions and assuring American dominion in Eurasia. He did not give deference to Russia's historic paranoia as Kennan counseled, instead his strategy of continued pressure was designed to force Russian leaders to make choices between alternative courses of action, any of which would work to America's advantage.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 provides an example of Brzezinski's strategic approach. Back in 1980, we all knew that the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Olympics to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. We knew this because Jimmy Carter told us so on national television, and his explanation went largely unchallenged in the media. And we all came to know that we began our support for the Islamist mujahedeen -- who would ultimately defeat the Red Army -- in response to the Soviet invasion. We know this because we saw Charlie Wilson's War. And that rendering of history has largely gone unchallenged in the media.

Only years later did we learn that Jimmy Carter signed the covert action directive initiating support for the Afghan mujahedeen on July 3, 1979, six months before the Soviet invasion. When the Red Army invaded, the Soviet leadership claimed that they were entering Afghanistan to defend the existing Afghan government against a covert war initiated by the United States. The Carter administration adamantly denied the Soviet claims, and the Soviet complaints were ridiculed in the national media -- like Medvedev's words this week -- as nothing more than self-serving propaganda. Of course we had to respond to Soviet aggression, suggested Tim Russert on NBC's Meet the Press, "We had no choice."

Except, as it turns out, it would appear that the Soviet claims were true.

On the day that Carter approved the CIA intervention, National Security Advisor Brzezinski wrote to the President, "This is our chance to give Russia its Vietnam." Or, as he explained in a 1998 interview, U.S. action in Afghanistan was designed to lure the Red Army into a war that would bleed the Soviet Union. At worst, if the Soviets didn't take the bait, the strategy still offered the prospect of overthrowing the Afghan Communist regime:

According to the official version of the story, the CIA began to assist mujahedeen in the year 1980, that is, after the invasion of the Soviet army against Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. But the truth that remained secret until today is quite different: it was on July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed his first order on the secret assistance to Kabul's pro-Soviet regime opponents. That day I wrote a memorandum to the President in which I told him that that assistance would cause the Soviet intervention (...) [W]e did not force the Russian intervention, we just, conscientiously, increase the intervention possibilities."

In subsequent years, Jimmy Carter asserted that it was definitely "not his intention" to provoke the Soviet invasion, and perhaps one can take Jimmy Carter's impassioned outrage at the Soviet invasion at face value. But it is now a matter of historical record that his covert action directive in mid-1979 was undertaken -- at least in the view of his National Security Advisor -- with an eye toward provoking the Soviets to respond as they did.

The fingerprints of the Brzezinski approach are evident in Ukraine today. Since the fall of the Soviet Union -- after that brief moment of white shoe naiveté when George H.W. Bush and James Baker gave Mikhail Gorbachev their word that America would not push NATO "one inch" closer to the Russian border--our policy of encirclement was ratcheted up. Over the course of the decade following the Bush/Baker "commitment" to Gorbachev, all of the Warsaw Pact countries were brought into NATO, and American military facilities were developed in Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakstan. By the time the dust settled, America had formed a ring of military facilities around the western and southern perimeter of the Russian landmass--from the Baltic Sea to the Chinese border, with the exception of Iran--abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and installed a forward deployed "missile defense" system.

The post-Cold War strategy of encirclement was more aggressive in design than simple containment. America's goal, in Brzezinski's words, was to "shape a political context that is congenial to Russia's assimilation into a larger framework of European cooperation." That is to say, Russia would be pushed toward the right choice -- democratization and decentralization -- and pay a price if it chose poorly. It mirrored Jimmy Carter's covert action in Afghanistan, in that it anticipated the different ways the Russians might respond. On the one hand, steadily tightening a military noose around Russia -- ultimately to include Ukraine and Georgia -- would constrain its imperial ambitions, the integration of democracies along the Russian periphery into the European community would push Russia toward political and economic reform. On the other hand, should Russia ultimately push back against the West's broken commitments and military encirclement -- as George Kennan predicted -- it would demonstrate to the world that Russia continued to harbor imperial ambitions and remained a threat to the rest of the world, justifying punitive measures to further isolate Russia economically and politically. It was a win-win strategy: Either outcome would serve America's interests in the region.

In 2008, Vladimir Putin finally pushed back. The Russia-Georgia War was the precursor to Putin's actions in Ukraine, as it demonstrated that he was serious about opposing continued encroachment on Russia's "near-abroad." At that moment, even as Georgia's ambitions for closer ties with the West were thwarted, international opinion turned against Russia, just as Brzezinski envisioned. Whatever one might have thought of Putin before the Georgia war, through his actions, in the eyes of the West, he revealed his true colors. He was an unrepentant KGB-bred spook, an emerging despot, a Russian nationalist, and a threat.

Writing in support of Putin's actions in the Russia-Georgia War in 2008, Mikhail Gorbachev expressed his frustration with the manipulation of Russia by the United States and in his anger at American duplicity:

Russia has long been told to simply accept the facts. Here's the independence of Kosovo for you. Here's the abrogation of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, and the American decision to place missile defenses in neighboring countries. Here's the unending expansion of NATO. All of these moves have been set against the backdrop of sweet talk about partnership. Why would anyone put up with such a charade?

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev mirrored Gorbachev frustration in an interview in Der Spiegel the following year.

After the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact, we were hoping for a higher degree of integration. But what have we received? None of the things that we were assured, namely that NATO would not expand endlessly eastwards and our interests would be continuously taken into consideration. NATO remains a military bloc whose missiles are pointed towards Russian territory.

This was the backstory to Ukraine today, but little of that history has been explored in the media as events in Ukraine have unfolded. In advancing the commonly accepted narrative, Tom Friedman, David Herzenhorn and their compatriots have ignored not only that history, but more specifically the long term American strategy, that has been at work. Putin might be playing hockey, as Friedman suggests, but Brzezinski owns the team.

To those who embrace Brzezinski's strategic perspective, Putin's aggressive actions will only undermine his and Russia's credibility in the world. The impact on the lives of Ukrainians in Kiev and Kharkov and Odessa is not the point, Brzezinski's strategic formulation is designed to enhance American power in the region in the long term, and whether Putin finds a way to pull back or chooses to invade is immaterial. Either choice Putin makes, in Brzezinski's long view, will ultimately serve America's interests, even if a Ukrainian civil war and an energy crisis in Europe have to be part of the price along the way.

My point here is not to assess America's foreign policies in the world or to embrace Brzezinski's approach. One can believe Jimmy Carter's intervention in Afghanistan was good or bad, that it was effective realism or unwarranted intervention. One can believe promoting Ukrainian democracy and undermining Russia's security is a good policy or an unwarranted and dangerous one. But one cannot as Friedman suggests, and the media has trumpeted from the outset, simply raise one's voice in outrage, and express shock at Russia's "incredible acts of aggression."

Despite the talk of partnership, the fact is that the United States has consistently pursued aggressive and hostile policies designed to contain Russia, and -- if Brzezinski has his way -- ultimately see Russia broken up into a confederation of smaller states. Yet, by and large, the American media has bought into the dominant narrative, and ignored the deeper strategy at play. America's core strategy remains intact, and from the Brzezinski perspective everything is on track. Vladimir Putin has not been the master strategist of the media's imagination, the puppetmaster who has outfoxed American at every turn. Instead, he has long been caught in a trap, his actions manipulated in a game of power and strategy that goes back decades and in which he is playing a role, not writing the script.
18:44 Boston Prepares For Marathon With Festivities And Tight Security» Politics - The Huffington Post
BOSTON (AP) — In many ways, it felt like any other pre-marathon Sunday in Boston.

Families celebrated Easter, diners enjoyed the spring weather at sidewalk cafes, and runners — easily identified by their trim builds and colorful jackets — picked up last-minute supplies for what will be the second-largest field in the history of the Boston Marathon. But even as runners focused on the exhilaration of crossing the finish line, the festive atmosphere was inevitably tinged with sorrow, as runners, family members and spectators recalled the twin bombings at last year's race that killed three people and injured 260.

Marathon runners were blessed at an emotional church service that celebrated Easter and remembered the victims, while heightened security measures, including bag checks, were in place at marathon events.

"It's different, coming back," said Gisele Goldstein, 55, of Germantown, Tenn., who planned to run her 12th Boston Marathon this year. "It's not just me_there's a sadness."

At City Hall, a fast-moving line of several hundred runners and their families stretched around the building, where race organizers served a pre-race pasta dinner.

"So many of us are running this year because of that day," said Justin Jackson, 32, of Chicago.

Preparing for Monday's race has been emotional, he said. While it had not initially occurred to him to be nervous about another terrorist attack, a bomb scare on Tuesday night "regenerated the worry that there might be crazy people out there."

There have been other tense moments — such as when an alarm went off on Friday, during the Runners' Expo at the Hynes Convention Center. People were spooked, Goldstein said, even though it turned out to have been a test.

But runner Susan Campbell, 41, of Waverley, Nova Scotia, said she felt completely safe returning to Boston this year.

"What are the chances of it happening again?" said her husband, Andy Legere, 41, who was planning to cheer her on near the finish line, along with their two daughters.

"I never had any doubts about coming back," Campbell said. Still, she felt a weight this year when she collected her bib near the finish line. "It was a little sad, walking up Boylston Street and remembering."

Ricardo Corral, 53, of New York, who planned to race in the hand-cycle division of the wheelchair race on Monday_his eighth marathon_said he was reassured by the heightened security.

"We are not nervous," he said. "We know the police will be here to protect people."

Corral added that it was especially important to him and his teammates to return this year, to support Boston and each other. "As the signs say, 'Boston Strong,'" he said. "That's why we come back."

That determination was echoed by many runners, including Scott Johnson, 54, of Atlanta.

"There's a sense of resiliency," said Johnson, executive director of the Scott Rigsby Foundation, a nonprofit that supports people who have lost limbs and has raised money for last year's bombing victims.

"It's sadness, but it's also a kind of fortitude. Two people created the violence, but millions counter it with love and support. I like those odds!"

Ben Rancourt, 64, of Ste-Germaine, Quebec, was planning to run his eighth Boston Marathon along with his three younger brothers.

"We're going to buy beer for the after party!" he said. "We'll see, tomorrow, with the fans on both sides of the road_it will feel very great!"
18:39 Can Democrats Go Long?» Politics - The Huffington Post

For more than 30 years, the right has been throwing long passes. The Democrats, with some fine individual exceptions in the Senate and House, have been playing an incremental game, eking out gains of a few yards at a time and often being thrown for big losses.

Guess which side has been winning.

Four decades ago, supply side economics was a joke. The idea that cutting taxes on the very rich was the key to prosperity had been laughed out of the debate as "trickle down economics." Now low taxes on the rich -- even the dead rich -- are national policy.

Forty years ago, Richard Nixon was fighting mostly on territory defined by Democrats. He had a universal health proposal somewhat to the left of the Affordable Care Act. Nixon was even for a guaranteed annual income, and that was before Watergate.

In the 1970s, both parties were environmentalist. Epic laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act were approved with large, bipartisan majorities. Now, regulation is a dirty word.

Meanwhile, Democrats have made nice incremental progress on laws like the Earned Income Tax Credit (a wage subsidy to industry that allows corporations to pay their workers less and have government make up the difference) while the distribution of wage and salary income becomes steadily more unequal.

The Office of Management and Budget, under a Democratic president, waters down environmental regulations even before the Republican House of Representatives adds further obstacles.

The Democrats have made incremental gains at insuring more people, as the entire health system is so dominated by commercial players that it is becoming generally unaffordable, and more and more people are under-insured.

We've reformed a corrupted financial system with millions of pages of Dodd-Frank regulations to the point where the very complexity invites more corruption. Meanwhile, high-frequency traders and hedge fund operators are taking more and more of the total investment gains at the expense of regular people.

So why not take a leaf from the right's playbook. Why not say what we're really for, and have a long-term plan to lead public opinion there?

How about giving the financial system the drastic simplification that it deserves. No high frequency trading (which adds nothing except profits to insiders). No hedge funds exempt from the usual disclosure rules. No mega-banks that add only risk to the rest of the system?

How about national health insurance, pure and simple?

How about a minimum wage that's a true living wage?

How about a massive public investment program in deferred infrastructure and a green transition, to provide good domestic jobs along the way?

How about a "universal, portable pension" -- not the small-bore savings incentives offered by centrist policy wonks but an easy-to-grasp general expansion of Social Security.

How about planting a flag?

I know, I know, Congress won't vote for this stuff. But Congress isn't voting for the small-bore stuff either.

At first, Congress did not vote for the policies the right was offering, but the right kept pounding away. They eventually managed to get policies enacted and ideologies entrenched that harm most people.

Progressives, by contrast, begin with one big advantage. Public opinion is mostly on our side.

The voters actually support Medicare for All, and expanded Social Security, and higher minimum wages, controls on Wall Street, higher taxes on millionaires, and increased investment in infrastructure. It's only elites who oppose them. How about leadership that validates what voters want?

It's a thankless task for Democrats to run and govern as centrists. The policies do not solve large national problems. Voters see only more bureaucracy, and voters give up on politics.

Who, after all, promotes "third way" policies? Financial elites wearing their Democrat hat, that's who. It's a great strategy for neutering the people's party and scaring away voters.

Look at progressive causes that actually won big -- LGBT rights, disability rights, equal treatment in the workplace for women. They did not begin by asking for meager incremental gains. They began by making demands far outside the mainstream, and changing the mainstream.

So let's say what we're really for, and bring public opinion to it. It may take a decade or two. It may require a genuine progressive to get nominated for president, backed by a mass movement.

But if Democrats stick to the course they are on, they are likely to lose both the politics and the policies. It would be liberating, and energizing, to plant that flag.

Robert Kuttner's latest book is Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility. He is co-editor of The American Prospect and a senior Fellow at Demos, and teaches at Brandeis University's Heller School.

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18:33 C&L's Late Nite Music Club With Natalie Merchant» Latest from Crooks and Liars

I am a big cryer. Ask my kids, they're embarassed for me. There are just some things that reduce me to tears in no time at all.

Natalie Merchant's voice and lyrics get me teary each and every time I listen to her. I was pregnant with my eldest when her song "Wonder" came out and I couldn't get through it without tears rolling down my face, no matter how many times I heard it. Still get a catch in my throat just thinking about it.

So when I went looking for "Kind and Generous" to include in my last bobblehead thread, I found out that Natalie Merchant has a new album (are they even called albums anymore?) being released May 6th, and the first track is "Giving Up Everything".

And yes, she did it to me again. I'm crying.

Goodbyes are also a big crying opportunity. I don't do well with them, so I tend to avoid it as much as possible. So this isn't a goodbye from me. I'll be back.

So my last themed LNMC: whose music just moves you to tears?

18:00 Not this Chait again: or, hating Obama is part of the right's racial animus» Daily Kos
U.S. President Barack Obama, who won a second term in office by defeating Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, waves as he addresses supporters during his election night victory rally in Chicago, November 7, 2012.    REUTERS/Jim Bourg (UNITED STAT
He's black. He's also the president.
Perhaps it's uncouth to keep on belaboring a point that has occupied certain corners of leftblogistan for this entire month, but this stuff is important. And by this stuff, I refer to the ongoing parade of criticism and commentary that has emerged from New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait's perspectives on racial politics in the era of Obama. Two weeks ago, my topic was an exchange between Chait and his fellow essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates, in which Coates explained to the the world how Chait's perspectives on race relations in a political context totally ignored minority perspectives. But on that same Sunday, Chait published yet another piece on the topic—this time, a cover story that equated, in Chait's view, the left's eagerness to see racial animus behind every political action of the right with a supposedly equally naive perspective on the right that pretends racial animus is never a politically motivating factor for them, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Over at New Republic, the ever-incisive Brian Beutler did a thorough analysis of the ways in which Chait's equivocation falls short. Follow below the fold for details.

17:05 My generation, living on the road» Salon.com
Traveling the country in my car, I'm struck by how easy it is to be a nomad, and how many others are doing the same

17:05 8 most absurd lessons Americans teach kids about sex» Salon.com
Your hard-earned tax dollars are teaching kids that vaginas are like chewed-up gum and men are sexual microwaves

17:05 A frat boy’s “gay experience”» Salon.com
I always considered myself straight. What happened with Tom left me questioning everything about my sexuality

16:50 David Gregory Proves Why He's So Bad For The National Dialogue» Latest from Crooks and Liars
David Gregory Proves Why He's So Bad For The National Dialogue

My husband, the attorney, has a golden rule for asking questions of a witness in a trial: never ask a question in such a way that you don't already know what will be the answer.

I can only presume that David Gregory, rather than playing at being a journalist and letting facts unfold as they will and informing his viewership, decided that he was in fact an advocate for a cause. However, he is such an inept one that he found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to constantly interrupt DNC Chair and Rep Debbie Wasserman-Schultz rather than let her finish a sentence that might be good for populism.

Moreover, for the comfortably ensconced David Gregory, all these issues--the Keystone XL pipeline, the Affordable Care Act, the 2016 midterm elections though political lenses...not how if affects people and chides Wasserman-Schultz a few times for "arguing on the merits".

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, that's Legislation 101. I mean, that is how we have handled laws and their evolution throughout American history. The president is right, and Jeanne Shaheen is right. We have a law that is working: 8 million people have gained health care coverage as a result of signing up for the Affordable Care Act plans. 129 people with pre-existing conditions no longer have to be worried about being dropped or denied coverage; I'm one of them, as a breast cancer survivor. You have millions of seniors who are paying lower costs on their prescription drugs.

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16:30 Remember when the GOP was the patriotic, law and order party?» Daily Kos
Hands waving American flags at a parade, in front of marching marines.
The good ol' days. Democrats were communist hippies and Republicans believed in patriotism, law and order. My how things have changed (or not).

We have a rancher refusing to pay grazing fees and calling in "militias" for help to prevent federal agents from doing their jobs. All because Cliven Bundy seems to have this very bizarre idea that, and I quote, "I don’t recognize [the] United States Government as even existing." If the United States government does not exist, then who in the hell's army did I serve in? Who sent me that tax refund earlier this year?

In Wisconsin (and other states) Republicans have brought up secession. Secession. Yes, the Wisconsin Republican party is voting on a plank in their platform that supports secession under extreme circumstances. Which I am pretty sure means that if there is a black or female president that is a Democrat the state can secede. I thought the whole secession thing was settled between the years of 1861 and 1865.

At one time the Republican Party, the conservatives of America, would have been shocked and appalled at this kind of behavior from any American citizen (at least to your face). They would have been screaming about patriotism and how wrong it is to fight the government or threaten to secede. During the George W. Bush presidency, it was unpatriotic to say anything that could be construed as unpatriotic. Just ask the Dixie Chicks what happens when you publicly criticize a sitting Republican president.

More about this sudden about-face on so-called patriotism below the fold.

15:32 Ukraine Is The Shock Doctrine, Writ International» Latest from Crooks and Liars
Ukraine Is The Shock Doctrine, Writ International

When I read The Shock Doctrine for the first time, I wrote that it was a little like watching pieces of a puzzle fall before me and being able to see the larger picture for the first time ever. It completely changed the way I filter news and issues.

I've been watching the events in Ukraine and the American response to it with an eye to how this would be exploited. When I read the Big Oil was taking meetings with Putin and ignoring the threat of sanctions, I realized that the Shock Doctrine was in play in Ukraine as well. The author, Naomi Klein, has noticed the same thing:

Now the crisis du jour is conflict in Ukraine, being used as a battering ram to knock down sensible restrictions on natural gas exports and push through a controversial free-trade deal with Europe. It's quite a deal: more corporate free-trade polluting economies and more heat-trapping gases polluting the atmosphere – all as a response to an energy crisis that is largely manufactured.

Against this backdrop it's worth remembering – irony of ironies – that the crisis the natural gas industry has been most adept at exploiting is climate change itself.

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15:27 Russia, Ukraine, and Europe are Tied by Gas Dependency» LiveScience.com
The German energy giant RWE has begun to “reverse flow” supplies of gas from Europe back to Ukraine via Poland, a process first arranged in 2012, with an agreement to deliver up to 10 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas per year.
15:17 “Cubed”: How the American office worker wound up in a box» Salon.com
From the Organization Man to open-plan design, a new history of the way the office has shaped the modern world

15:15 7 Things You Need To Know About Cancer» LiveScience.com
A beautiful country and a nation of wonderful, creative and vibrant people - the film aims to highlight some of the successes and challenges of global cancer care in low and middle-income nations.
15:00 The real IRS scandal that's costing Uncle Sam trillions» Daily Kos

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is facing a crisis, just not the one many pundits and most conservatives think.

To be sure, the Republican excavation project to unearth the smoking gun proving the agency targeted right-wing "social welfare organizations" over their non-profit status will continue. As Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus described his party's lawsuit this week, "We're done playing footsie here with the IRS."

But the real scandal is that Republicans and their conservative amen corner have already done something much worse to the IRS. After their successful 1990's crusade to gut the Internal Revenue Service, the GOP is once again slashing its budget, demonizing its employees and even questioning the legitimacy of its mission. With its funding cut by Congress for four years in a row, the agency now has 10 percent fewer agents and officers than five years ago and fewer agents auditing returns than at any time since at least the 1980s. One result is that the "tax gap"—the difference between what the American people and U.S. businesses owe the federal government and what they actually pay—has mushroomed to an estimated $500 billion from $195 billion in 1998. To put that in context, that's more than the entire projected federal budget deficit for this year.

Before looking at the frightening numbers behind today's sad state of the IRS, it's important to recount the history of how the GOP became, as Jonathan Cohn aptly put it, the "pro-deficits, pro-tax evasion" party.

Continue reading about the GOP war on the IRS below.

14:30 Rick Perry's extreme makeover» POLITICO - TOP Stories
He wants voters to forget, or at least not dwell on, his disastrous 2012 presidential bid.
14:15 Tracie Thoms on “Veep,” typecasting and Washington cynicism» Salon.com
In tonight's episode, the black actress plays a token. But she knew exactly what she was doing

14:12 The 'Spirit Of 4/20' Affects MSNBC's Boston Marathon Coverage» Latest from Crooks and Liars

I have to admit, this made me giggle when I saw it.

With the spectre of the horrific events of last year's Boston marathon, it's not particularly surprising that the media was focused on tomorrow's events and the security preparations surrounding it. MSNBC's Craig Melvin threw an intro to Ron Mott, who was there to cover preparations at Boston Common.

But in addition to being Easter, today is 4/20, which is celebrated nationally as "Weed Day."

Every April 20th weed smokers all over the country “observe” a sort of underground holiday of sorts, where marijuana is consumed on or around 4:20 pm — and depending on the circumstances, for an entire day.

As far back as pot smokers can remember this “Weed Day” has been celebrated, but few can accurately recall its origins.

Some credit the seminal ’60s rock band The Grateful Dead. Supposedly some Dead fans coined the term “420-ing” when determining the best time and location to use the illegal drug.

“420 started somewhere in San Rafael, California in the late ’70s. It started as the police code for Marijuana Smoking in Progress. After local heads heard of the police call, they started using the expression 420 when referring to herb — Let’s Go 420, dude!” read a flyer distributed by Deadheads in the early ’90s.

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13:54 Writing Off Putin» Politics - The Huffington Post
The White House may be signaling a new approach to its standoff with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The headline in Sunday's New York Times reads, "In Cold War Echo, Obama Strategy Writes Off Putin." While such a strategy may not address short-term issues, it may be the best approach in the long-term.

President Putin's ultimate ambitions are not known, though it is clear he is using the seizure of Crimea and threats against Ukraine in part to strengthen his position at home. Russia's economy is struggling, and government is riddled with corruption and cronyism. Human rights abuses abound in Russia, as does suppression of free speech. Russia has slowly been slipping in relevance on the world stage.

President Obama has had great difficulty getting European support for crippling sanctions against Russia. The problem is that many European countries are heavily dependent on Russian gas and oil resources. And many global banks and businesses do not favor harsh tactics.

The challenge to reining in Putin is complicated further by Russia's role in difficult negotiations with Iran over its nuclear enrichment program, and the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons. American troops and equipment are also passing through Russia to Afghanistan.

President Obama and President Putin have spoken by phone several times since the crisis in Ukraine began earlier this year. The American and Russian accounts of those conversations vary widely, but they agree that no real progress was achieved.

Last Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry brokered an agreement with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, Ukraine and European diplomats. The agreement calls for pro-Russian gangs to give up the government buildings they seized and lists other steps to de-escalate the crisis. President Obama greeted the agreement with skepticism last Thursday, and pro-Russian groups continue to occupy the buildings. Meanwhile, an estimated 40,000 Russian troops remain in place just across Ukraine's eastern border.

President Obama and European allies have identified additional sanctions that can be imposed on Russia. And there are reports that the Pentagon is planning on expanding NATO's presence in Eastern Europe by deploying troops and fighter jets into Poland. Nonetheless, President Obama has ruled out going to war over Ukraine.

While the administration debates its long-term plans with Russia, The New York Times reports that there is a debate within the administration over how far to go in the short-term. Conservatives have been critical of the president's tactics for not being strong enough. But the president is focused on isolating Putin with sanctions and other forms of pressure. According to the Times, he has concluded, even if there is a resolution to the current Ukrainian crisis, "he will never have a constructive relationship with Mr. Putin," according to aides.

Given Russia's weak economy, President Putin cannot easily take on the additional costs of annexing Eastern Ukraine. Military intervention would be difficult and costly for Russia. Further, Putin has already cast himself, by his actions to date, as an unreliable partner to much of Europe.

Putin is a bully who cannot be ignored. But President Obama and Western allies are on the correct course by continuing to tighten sanctions and by applying other meaningful steps to isolate Putin. In time, even Putin's own people will likely tire of his act.
13:50 David Gregory And Bob Corker's Hard Ons To Scare Putin» Latest from Crooks and Liars

(h/t Heather the Amazing for vid)

I'm trying to wrap my head around what the media elites think foreign policy is supposed to be. Clearly, there's a distinct disregard for human lives, be it Russian, Ukranian or American. The overarching need appears to be dick-swinging to prove who has the biggest one hanging. Seriously, it's a Freudian wet dream to listen to these guys.

So that's why Dancin' Dave Gregory is so worried that Putin isn't learning the "right lessons" by our lack of military aggression towards him. What are these lessons, Dave? That we're packing bigger 'guns'? And what does that mean? That every country should concede we are the "big man" on the global campus? Why? I'm still confused as to why we should feel obligated to be involved in what's happening in Ukraine. It's not for the sake of global peace to hear Gregory speak about it. It's all about being the alpha dog and establishing dominance.

Ahem...that's not global peace, you nimrod.

And as for Putin feeling no penalty for his actions, I'm more concerned by the consequences that we don't apply in this country and what that means for the continued existence of this republic. Entities like the Bush administration and Wall Street have done more to devastate the lives and well-being of Americans than Vladimir Putin could ever do with his actions in Ukraine, and they've not only gotten off scot-free, they're lauded as supermen by the Beltway elites.

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13:44 CNN asks: “Can the Klan rebrand?”» Salon.com
Racism is facing a branding problem, and CNN is on it

13:25 We unlucky few: A look at the incumbents who lost their primaries, 1994-2012» Daily Kos
U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R) joins Co-chairman and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative Sam Nunn as they listen at the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction symposium at the National Defense University in Washington, December 3, 2012.         REUTERS/Larry Downing  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY) - RTR3B6F3
Former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), one of seven unlucky senators to lose their primary since 1994
For the most part, incumbent representatives, senators and governors who seek renomination get it. It's not hard to see why: To start with, most challengers have difficulty competing with the incumbent for name recognition, money and critical endorsements. Most incumbents have a good understanding of their party's primary electorate and are careful not to alienate them.

Even incumbents who may be vulnerable to a primary often prevail. While some southern states force the top two vote-getters into a runoff if no one receives more than 50 percent in the first round, most states do not use this system. If too many challengers enter the race, they can split the anti-incumbent vote, allowing the unpopular office-holder to clinch renomination with a plurality.

However, every so often, an incumbent is unseated in a primary. Since 1994 a sitting member of the House has lost renomination to a challenger 31 times. This may sound like a high number, but it's important to note that during this period primary voters across the nation have re-nominated their Congressman or Congresswoman numerous times. In 2010 alone, of the over 390 representatives who sought renomination, only four were denied it. Among senators during the 1994-2012 period only seven have been denied renomination; of governors, only six were defeated. These primary losers are a rare breed, as they fell despite the seemingly sky-high odds to win.

What follows is an analysis of the members of the House members, senators and governors who lost renomination during this time. I've omitted representatives who lost renomination to another sitting representative since the dynamics of those races were different. I've also omitted the few incumbents who lost a general election to a member of the same party (In 2012, California Democratic Reps. Pete Stark and Joe Baca were defeated in a general election because of California's new top-two electoral law). In those general elections, the electorate was far larger than it would be in a primary and included members of the other party and independents who would otherwise have been barred from voting in a party primary, or chosen not to vote.

Head over the fold for a look at the unlucky incumbents.

13:25 Fox Conspiracy Theory: Hillary Is 'Too Old' To Run So She 'Planned' Chelsea's Pregnancy » Latest from Crooks and Liars
Fox Conspiracy Theory: Hillary Is 'Too Old' To Run So She 'Planned' Chelsea's Pregnancy

Fox News media analyst Lauren Ashburn speculated on Sunday that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have "planned" her daughter Chelsea's pregnancy to coincide with a 2016 presidential bid.

After the younger Clinton announced that she was expecting a child last week, so-called "Chelsea Truthers" in the conservative media began dropping hints that the timing may not have been a coincidence.

During a Sunday panel segment on Fox News' Media Buzz, host Howard Kurtz asked, "Are we perhaps over-analyzing, over-thinking what ought to be a routine, joyous occasion?"

"You've been in this town for how many years, and you don't have a cynical bone in your body?" Ashburn quipped. "I think a lot of reporters think maybe this was planned."

"Maybe this was planned!" Kurtz exclaimed. "You don't think that Chelsea Clinton and her husband are entitled to try to have a baby whenever they want? And by the way, if it was going to be planned, it would be planned for next year when the campaign might actually be underway!"

Fox News contributor Jim Pinkerton offered the theory that the pregnancy "was a happy providential event, and then the mainstream media, trying to help Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign, decided to make this baby the royal baby."

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13:00 GOP Campaign Committee Has $31 Million To Help Hold On To The House» Politics - The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Republican campaign committee raised almost $10 million in March and has $31.2 million banked to defend the party's majority, according to financial reports filed Sunday.

The National Republican Congressional Committee's $21.2 million fundraising haul in January, February and March gave the group its best first-quarter showing since 2003. It also puts the committee roughly $8 million ahead of its fundraising at this point in 2012.

Still, the GOP committee faces a well-funded challenge from House Democrats, who amassed a $40 million fund.

Those fundraising updates — like dozens of others due by midnight Sunday — suggest that donors are starting to open their wallets for groups willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on federal races from coast to coast. The fundraising was fast approaching the $1 billion mark, fueled by donors on each side writing checks to committees and organizations in a show of just how politically divided the United States remains.

"This outstanding fundraising effort will enable the NRCC to stay on offense against House Democrats who continue to support Obamacare and failed leadership of (House Democratic leader) Nancy Pelosi," committee executive director Liesl Hickey said.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $10.3 million in March despite deep skepticism that Republicans can lose their majority in November. Its $40 million in savings puts it atop the fundraising contest among party-directed campaign committees and outpaced most three-month fundraising tallies released thus far from super political action committees, which can accept unlimited donations. Donations to party-run campaign committee are capped at $32,400.

"The DCCC has sustained a blistering fundraising pace this election cycle because Americans are sick and tired of a Republican Congress," Rep. Steve Israel of New York, who leads the Democrats' House campaign arm, said this past week.

Republicans outnumber Democrats by 34 seats in the 435-member House and there are three vacancies. Democrats face a steep climb to reclaim control for the first time since tea party-aligned candidates helped put the GOP back in power after the 2010 elections.

Democrats also had an advantage with their Senate committee. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee reported raising $8.1 million in March and saved $22 million. The National Republican Senatorial Committee reported raising almost $6.4 million in March and saving $15.9 million.

Republicans need to pick up six seats in win the majority in the Senate.

At the central committees, Republicans had an edge. The Republican National Committee reported raising $10.2 million last month and banking $12 million. The Democratic National Committee raised $10.3 million last month and had $9.8 million in the bank.

The DNC also remains laden in debt: $14.1 million, to be exact.

Heading into Sunday's filing deadline for groups that disclosure their finances every month, Democrats appeared to be raising more cash than Republicans.

Among outside groups, Democrats enjoyed a more than 2-to-1 margin.

But some of the Republicans' most visible allies reported strong fundraising numbers. For instance, the Senate Conservatives Fund raised almost $2 million during the first three months of 2014. The group, which often challenges GOP leaders' preferred candidates, has raised almost $9.7 million so far this cycle and has spent $9.4 million, according to filings ahead of Sunday's midnight deadline.

And the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads super PAC raised more cash in March than it did during the previous 14 months combined. The group in March returned to its donor network after a one-year fundraising hiatus. The group raised almost $5.2 million last month and reported it had more than $6.3 million in the bank.

American Crossroads was expected to release its donors' identities by Sunday's deadline, as well.

Among groups that reliably support Democrats, the Service Employees International Union's Committee on Political Education raised another $1.2 million from union members' voluntary donations during March. The committee has raised $22.8 million so far this cycle and has $16.4 million in the bank.

At party-run committees, just $22 million separated Democrats from Republicans — out of the $503 million the six major campaign committees have raised combined.

All told, Democrats' outside groups and committees had about a 30 percent advantage over what Republicans had reported, although GOP groups such as Americans for Prosperity operate under rules that let them delay reporting.


Follow Philip Elliott on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/philip_elliott

12:46 420 Gaining Popularity In Mainstream Culture» Politics - The Huffington Post
DENVER (AP) -- Once the province of activists and stoners, the traditional pot holiday of April 20 has gone mainstream in the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

Tens of thousands gathered for a weekend of Colorado cannabis-themed festivals and entertainment, from a marijuana industry expo called the Cannabis Cup at a trade center north of downtown, to 4/20-themed concerts at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater -- acts include Slightly Stoopid and Snoop Dogg -- to a massive festival in the shadow of the state capitol where clouds of cannabis smoke are expected to waft at 4:20 p.m. MDT Sunday. The festival in Denver's Civic Center Park is the most visible sign of the transformation. It started as a defiant gathering of marijuana activists, but this year the event has an official city permit, is organized by an events management company and featured booths selling funnel cakes and Greek food next to kiosks hawking hemp lollipops and glass pipes.

Gavin Beldt, one of the organizers, said in a statement that the event is now a "celebration of legal status for its use in Colorado and our launch of an exciting new experience for those attending. "

Denver is just one of many cities across the country where 4/20 marijuana celebrations are planned Sunday. Elsewhere, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said his officers would be cracking down on illegal parking, camping, drug sales, underage drinking and open alcohol containers at Golden Gate Park's Hippie Hill. Officials don't want the unofficial pot holiday to disrupt Easter Sunday activities in the park

On Saturday, the first day of a two-day festival in Denver, only a few people lingered on the steps of a Roman-style amphitheater where marijuana activists spoke angrily about bans on the drug in other states. Thousands instead lingered on the park's broad lawns, listening to hip-hop music blasting from the sound stage and enjoying the fresh, albeit marijuana-scented, air.

"It's a lot mellower this year," said Cody Andrews, 29, of Denver. "It's more of a venue now. More vendor-y."

Last year's event was marred by an unsolved shooting that wounded three. This year a fence rings the park. Security guards in protective gear roam the grounds, and all entrants are being checked for weapons.

Earlier this year, there was tension when some organizers wanted to officially sanction a 4:20 p.m. Sunday smokeout, but the city noted that public consumption of marijuana is still illegal in Colorado. By Saturday night, Denver police said they had issued at least 17 citations for public pot smoking.

Still, participants expect to light up on Sunday, which happens to also be Easter Sunday. Plenty weren't waiting until 4/20 proper. On Saturday, Jairin Genung, 25, of Aurora, sat on the grass with friends, including one who was carefully rolling a thick joint.

"We're going to light up no matter what," Genung said. "If you can't smoke at the 4/20 rally, it just doesn't make sense."

The whole scene was wonderfully surreal for Bud Long, 49, from Kalamazoo, Mich., who recalled taking part in his first 4/20 protest in 1984.

"Nationwide, it'll be decriminalized," he predicted, "and we'll be doing this in every state."


Associated Press writer Terry Chea in San Francisco contributed to this report.


Follow Nicholas Riccardi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/NickRiccardi .
12:42 General Mills reverses controversial policy on right to sue» Salon.com
"We’ve reverted back to our prior terms," the company's blog states

12:27 Thousands celebrate marijuana in Denver’s 420 Rally» Salon.com
Colorado celebrates the legalization of marijuana

12:12 After Former KKK Leader Shoots Up Jewish Centers, CNN Asks: ‘Can The Klan Rebrand?’» ThinkProgress

CNN asked marketing experts for their advice how a hate group can improve its image.

The post After Former KKK Leader Shoots Up Jewish Centers, CNN Asks: ‘Can The Klan Rebrand?’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.

12:11 The brain injury that made me a math genius» Salon.com
Twelve years ago, Jason Padgett had never made it past pre-algebra. And then a violent mugging changed everything

12:10 Cardinal Tim Dolan Defends Hobby Lobby: Women Can Get Enough Birth Control At 7-11 » Latest from Crooks and Liars
Cardinal Tim Dolan Defends Hobby Lobby: Women Can Get Enough Birth Control At 7-11

Cardinal Timothy Dolan says that Christian businesses like Hobby Lobby should not be forced to obey government rules that require all health care insurance plans provide access to contraceptives because women can already buy birth control at 7-11.

In a interview that aired Sunday on CBS, host Norah O'Donnell asked Dolan where he stood on the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case.

"I would be inspired by the Hobby Lobby [owners]," Dolan said. "I think they're just true Americans. They're saying, look, the genius of America is that religious convictions affect the way we act... They sure have my admiration."

"But doesn't that set a dangerous precedent?" O'Donnell wondered. "If a private company can use religion to deny benefits to its employees?"

Dolan acknowledged that it could be dangerous in extreme circumstances, but he doubted that the Hobby Lobby argument was a detriment to the common good.

"Is the ability to buy contraceptives, that are now widely available -- my Lord, all you have to do is walk into a 7-11 or any shop on any street in America and have access to them -- is that right to access those and have them paid for, is that such a towering good that it would suffocate the rights of conscience?"

12:00 Obamacare is working. Now's the time to start talking about making it better.» Daily Kos
President Barack Obama holds a press conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, April 17, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
Markos argued last week that the harder the Republicans fight Obamacare, the easier it's going to be to make a single-payer system happen. He uses Vermont, which is working now to implement a statewide single-payer system under an Obamacare waiver, as his example. Is he right? From a political perspective, yes, though there's more to the picture than he included. From a policy perspective, things get a lot murkier, and a lot harder. Still, there's good reason to look to the law as it stands, what Vermont is trying to do, and how Republican intransigence is going to help move the cause beyond expanded insurance coverage to actual universal health care.

On the Republican side, yes, as Markos writes, their intransigence means that the Heritage-devised plan they should have embraced and worked with Democrats to home and perfect is less than perfect, still leaving out too many people. That's particularly true of all the people in the Medicaid gap. Those millions, as many as 6 million, are in health insurance purgatory—too poor to qualify for subsidies to buy private insurance, making too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid.

Graphic showing Medicaid coverage, the Medicaid gap, and private coverage percentages.
Righting that wrong, making access to health coverage more universal, can be the rallying cry for progressive activists, for Democrats. Most of us who had great hopes for health care reform have had to accept the Affordable Care Act as a step toward the ultimate goal of universal health care. When it passed, and many of us ended up grudgingly lobbying for it to pass, we hoped to take the momentum from its passage to start working on expanding it. Instead, it's been more than three years of a rear-guard action to fight Republican efforts to kill it. That wasn't just necessary to keep Obamacare alive, but to convince Democrats that health care reform is not the kiss of political death and it's something they shouldn't be running away from. If this reform effort didn't work, it could take decades longer for a political generation willing to take it on again.

But, now that Obamacare's success seems to be firmly assured, we can press its shortcomings and highlight it as the first step toward the universal health care. Vermont is a great place to start and plays a key role here, but it can't do it alone. Below the fold, we'll talk about why that's the case.

11:57 Washington, Colorado 4/20 Celebrations Draw Thousands» Politics - The Huffington Post

(Updates throughout with latest citation numbers; adds details from Seattle event, byline)

By Keith Coffman and Bryan Cohen

April 20 (Reuters) - Thousands of marijuana enthusiasts gathered in Colorado and Washington state over the weekend for an annual celebration of cannabis culture with rallies, concerts and trade shows in the first two U.S. states to legalize recreational marijuana.

Voters in both Western states approved ballot initiatives in 2012 allowing personal possession and use of marijuana by anyone aged 21 and or older for purposes of just getting high, though public consumption of pot remains illegal.

In January the world's first state-licensed retail marijuana outlets opened for business in Colorado, and stores in Washington are set to follow suit later this year. Both states are among 20 that have already removed criminal sanctions for medical use of marijuana.

The federal government still classifies marijuana as an illegal narcotic, but the Obama administration has given states new leeway to experiment with legalized cannabis.

In Denver's Civic Center Park near the state capitol, revelers on Sunday gathered to hear music and listened to speakers during a weekend event that organizers billed as the "world's largest 4/20 rally."

The date of April 20, or 4/20, corresponds to the numerical code widely recognized within the cannabis subculture as a symbol for all things marijuana.

Police officers standing by on the fringes of the Denver festival issued 63 citations on Sunday, most for smoking pot in public - a ticket that carries a fine of $150. About half as many were cited on Saturday, police said.

At least eight individuals were taken to a detoxification facility for treatment during the two days, police said.

Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson said officers have refrained from wading into the crowd to arrest violators, but instead were citing people who openly defied the public consumption ban.

"Those ticketed were blatantly in violation of state law and city ordinances," Jackson said.

Organizers of the rally and city officials beefed up security at the event after three people were wounded by gunfire at last year's rally.

Separately, the Cannabis Cup, a trade show sponsored by High Times magazine, drew sold-out crowds over the weekend at a Denver convention venue.

The two-day event featured marijuana sampling and workshops, such as how to open a pot shop, cultivation tips, and how to talk to children about weed, according to the event's website.

Rachel O'Bryan, spokeswoman for Smart Colorado, an organization that advocates for stricter enforcement of marijuana laws, said the cannabis industry needs to do more to police its own.

"People are flouting the law by openly consuming," she said. "We're concerned about the message that sends to our kids."


In Seattle, several hundred people who paid $15 a head crowded the cavernous interior of a former brewery where Rainier Beer was made for decades to attend a 4/20 gathering organized by sponsors of the city's annual Hempfest rally.

Reggae music played over loudspeakers and the air inside was thick with the sweet, skunky odor of cannabis. But no police were visible at the event, which organizers deliberately held on private space leased from the brewery owners in an industrial section of the city south of downtown.

The gathering featured a workshop on how to roll a joint with an entire ounce (28 grams) of marijuana - the legal limit for personal possession in the state - as well as vendors selling pipes and other paraphernalia, and a blind-toke test in which participants tried to distinguish between different strains of pot by sampling them. Attendees ranged from middle-aged baby boomers to a younger crowd from the so-called millennial generation.

A cheer from the crowd went up at precisely 4:20 p.m. local time, as many attendees milling about outside lit joints and pipes simultaneously, sending puffs of smoke into the air followed by raucous fits of coughing.

One woman in the crowd accepted a joint handed her from a bearded bystander.

"You look just like Jesus," she exclaimed in an apparent reference to the event coinciding with Easter Sunday. "How does it feel to be risen?"

Doug Medina, 54, said he traveled hundreds of miles with his wife and daughter from Billings, Montana, to Seattle for the 4/20 weekend celebrations there.

"It feels a little more open than it did five or 10 years ago," he said while smoking a joint outside the brewery. (Additional reporting by Bryan Cohen in Seattle; Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Leslie Adler and Eric Walsh)
11:47 In Memoriam» Latest from Crooks and Liars

This Week with George Stephanopoulos notes the death of one service member in Afghanistan:

US Army SPC Kerry M G Danyluk, 27, Cuero, TX

The total number of allied service members killed in Afghanistan is now 3,431. There have been 22 casualties to date in Afghanistan this year.

In addition, the following notable names lost their lives this week:

read more

11:40 Ukrainian interim Prime Minister: “Putin has a dream to restore the Soviet Union”» Salon.com
"The world has a reason to be concerned about Putin's intention," warned Arseniy Yatsenyuk

11:27 David Brooks Actually Talked About Obama's 'Manhood Problem In The Middle East'» Politics - The Huffington Post
New York Times columnist David Brooks decided to go there on Sunday's "Meet the Press."

Brooks suggested that President Barack Obama has a "manhood problem" when it comes to his foreign policy in the Middle East. Brooks made the comment during a roundtable discussion about Russia president Vladimir Putin's aggression toward Ukraine. NBC News' Chuck Todd said that Obama's response to the situation is critical as other countries are watching the situation closely.

"Basically since Yalta we've had an assumption that borders are basically going to be borders, and once that comes into question, if in Ukraine or in Crimea or anywhere else, then all over the world ... all bets are off," Brooks replied.

He continued, "And let's face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a -- I'll say it crudely -- but a manhood problem in the Middle East. Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad or somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair, but certainly in the Middle East there is an assumption that he's not tough enough."

Watch his comments in the clip above.

(h/t Think Progress)
11:09 Blood vows: Joseph Smith, Mormonism and the invention of American polygamy» Salon.com
How polygamy created a schism among early Mormons — and ultimately led to the murder of the religion's founder

11:09 4 songs you had no idea were inspired by Gabriel García Márquez» Salon.com
From Oscar Chavez to Shakira, the acclaimed author's impact extends well beyond the world of literature

11:08 John Walsh: Preventing Veteran Suicide Is 'The Cost Of War'» Politics - The Huffington Post
WASHINGTON -- Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.) posed a question to his colleagues on Capitol Hill this Sunday: If lawmakers are willing to spend billions of dollars on war, why are they less willing to invest in the welfare of veterans when they come home?

Walsh, an Iraq War veteran, appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" to discuss legislation he introduced last month called the Suicide Prevention Act for American Veterans. The bill would extend veteran eligibility for the Department of Veterans Affairs' health system to 15 years, as opposed to the current five-year window. It would also require the military to review discharge cases for soldiers who were removed from service for exhibiting behavior related to post-traumatic stress.

When host Candy Crowley asked Walsh if concerns have been raised over how much his bill would cost, he said that was simply "the cost of war."

"We spend billions of dollars making sure that our men and women are trained and equipped and ready to deploy, to go to Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever they're stationed around the world," Walsh said. "So we should take that into account when they come home, as well ... We need to make sure that they're ready to go back into society."

"We do a very good job of taking [a] citizen soldier and making a warrior out of him," he went on. "But we aren't doing a very good job of taking that warrior and reintegrating him back into society."

A VA study from last year found that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide daily. According to a member survey conducted by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, more than 47 percent of respondents said they knew a veteran who had attempted suicide after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Veterans' groups have sought to focus attention on the problem. Last month, the IAVA sent 31 representatives to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and President Barack Obama to discuss mental health.

The VA has increased its annual spending on mental health to roughly $6.5 billion, up 57 percent from 2009. Walsh said more steps are needed to address the longer-term psychological impact of war, given that 69 percent of the veterans who commit suicide are over the age of 50.
11:05 Franklin Graham: The Anti-gay Crackdown Is Putin Doing 'What's Right For Russia'» Latest from Crooks and Liars
Franklin Graham: The Anti-gay Crackdown Is Putin Doing 'What's Right For Russia'

Rev. Franklin Graham on Sunday said that he stood by earlier comments agreeing with so-called gay "propaganda" bans in Russia because President Vladimir Putin was doing "what's right" for the country.

During a March interview with the Charlotte Observer, Graham had asserted that LGBT people were trying to "recruit" children by adopting them, and suggested that it was "exploitation."

He also said that he "agreed" with Putin because "protecting his nation's children was a pretty smart thing to do."

Speaking to ABC News on Sunday, Graham doubled down on his praise of the Russian president.

"Putin is going to do what's right for Russia, and not what's right for America, but for Russia," he opined. "We used to have a president in this country that did what's right for this country, but we don't seem to have that right now."

"Putin is going to make these decisions that he thinks is best for the Russian people, and he thinks that taking advantage of children -- exploiting children -- is wrong for any group so they passed a law," Graham added. "So, I do agree with him."

When asked about his father, Rev. Billy Graham, he again brought the discussion back around to the issue of same-sex parents.

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10:38 Boxer and activist Rubin “Hurricane” Carter dies at 76» Salon.com
He spent 19 years in prison for a wrongful conviction, then spent the rest of his life fighting for justice

10:30 Anything Russian 'in czarist times' is fair game in Putin's mind» Daily Kos
Map of Ukraine
Vladimir Putin provided a glimpse into what he thinks the map of Eurasia should look like when he offered this thought on the current crisis in eastern Ukraine: Those territories, the Russian president noted, were part of Russia "in czarist times." One can almost hear him thinking to himself: And so why shouldn't they be part of Russia today? After all, the lands he referred to as "New Russia" only became part of Ukraine in 1920, and only "God knows" why that happened.

It is one thing to cite (false) accounts of ethnic Russians being abused as a pretext for intervening in a neighbor's sovereign territory. It is another to cite the historical borders of a country that was twice as large not that long ago.

Know who else was Russian "in czarist times?" How about NATO members Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, not to mention much of Poland, as well as non-aligned Finland. Know who else in Europe had larger borders before 1918 (i.e., in czarist times) than they do now? Hungary, Serbia, Germany, Turkey, Austria ... you get the picture. For example, I don't trust Hungary's semi-authoritarian, sharply nationalist government to resist the opportunity to restore its Habsburg-era borders if it got the chance, something that would tear NATO apart.

But let's keep the focus on Russia. Putin's citing of historical borders created by czarist conquest (which, of course, altered even older, more "historical" borders) opens up another justification for him to wreak havoc all over the area of the former Soviet Union.

As a historian, I can tell you that virtually all of today's borders (including our own) resulted in part from conquest and often resettlement. War has long been how disputes over territory are settled. But since the establishment of the United Nations, countries are not supposed to be allowed to take land from one another. More specifically, Russia agreed to respect Ukraine's borders when Kiev gave up its nuclear weapons 20 years ago. Putin has shredded that historical document.

And since we are on the subject of history, please remember that Putin once described the breakup of the USSR as the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the previous century. I guess he likes some parts of history better than others. That's what concerns me about the future.

10:25 Glenn Greenwald Reacts To Pulitzer Prize» Politics - The Huffington Post
Glenn Greenwald told CNN's Brian Stelter on Sunday that receiving the Pulitzer Prize for public service was "really gratifying."

On Monday, Greenwald and other journalists at The Guardian and The Washington Post were awarded the Pulitzer for their reporting on the National Security Agency. The big question as the awards approached was whether the Pulitzer Prize committee would recognize their work, and they did just that.

On Sunday's "Reliable Sources," Greenwald told Stelter that he was having lunch with his phone on the table when the announcement came, and described his reaction.

"I think there was an expectation that the committee had to recognize the reporting in one way or another, and the question was going to be how," said Greenwald. "To learn that it was the public service award and that it was given to The Guardian and to The Washington Post for the work that we had done was really gratifying, because I think that is the ideal that we always tried to fulfill, which is doing the reporting in public service."

Congressman Peter King, like other critics of Greenwald, reacted to the news less kindly, calling the win a "disgrace." When asked about King's condemnation of the award, Greenwald said it was "an enormous badge of honor." He compared it to the reactions of those who called for prosecuting Daniel Ellsberg and The New York Times for releasing the Pentagon Papers.

"That's just part of what I think journalism is ... If you want to be adversarial to those who wield power, those who yield power won't like what you're doing so much," Greenwald said. "And not only doesn't that bother me, I see that as a vindication that what I'm doing is the right thing."
10:23 Four Years Later, BP Oil Spill Still Taking A Toll On Gulf Fisherman: 'We Haven't Started To Recover'» Politics - The Huffington Post
The BP oil spill, often called the worst man-made environmental disaster of our time, first began four years ago today. On April 20, 2010, BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling platform exploded, causing more than 200 million gallons of oil to spew into the Gulf of Mexico. 11 workers on the rig died, and the resulting cleanup has already cost BP more than $26 billion.

But for many fisherman along the Gulf, despite all the time and money spent to try and heal the region, lasting effects are still taking their toll. The Gulf Coast's oyster populations, home to about two-thirds of American supply, have been in decline since the spill.

Byron Encalade, a fisherman along the Gulf Coast, joined HuffPost Live's Josh Zepps to discuss the ongoing impacts of the spill.

"You have to start to recovery, we haven't started to recover." he said. "We're 4 years out now, and we haven't saw the first sign, and most of the businesses, I know my business is at a 100 percent loss. Right now we're solely relying on BP to keep it's word, something they haven't been doing. The oysters are not recovering."

However, BP has said oyster populations were not impacted by the spill, providing this comment to HuffPost Live:

"Multiple sources of data indicate that oil and dispersant compounds did not affect oyster populations in 2010 after the spill occured. A Louisiana report from 2010 after the spill states that 'no direct oiling of sampled reefs was noted during annual sampling of public oyster seed grounds in Louisiana. Field notes from 2010, 2011 and 2012 NRD sampling to not document a single visibly oiled oyster bed.'"

But Encalade said that couldn't be further from the truth.

"Well, I'm going to say this, and God knows that I'm tired of being politically correct: BP's lying." he said. "I was out there on that boat ... that's one of the biggest lies ever told."

Take a look at the oysterman's story above, and watch the clips below to hear more about the ongoing recovery throughout gulf communities, four years and billions of dollars later.
10:23 Mayor's Gripes Over Parody Twitter Account Prompt Police Raid» Politics - The Huffington Post
Jim Ardis, mayor of Peoria, Illinois, ordered police to track down whoever was responsible for a parody Twitter account mocking him.
09:55 Bob Corker: Assad Was 'Wise' To Kill 1,200 With Chemical Weapons And 'Embarrass' The U.S.» Politics - The Huffington Post
WASHINGTON -- Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are following a formula in which the common denominator is to embarrass the United States, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Sunday. He added that the "wisest thing" Assad did was use chemical weapons to slaughter 1,200 people, and predicted that Putin will only escalate military aggression in Ukraine if the U.S. doesn't take swift action.

"I think the [Obama] administration is basically saying to Russia, 'Look, don't do anything overt. Don't come across the border with 40,000 troops. Don't embarrass us in that way. But you can continue to undermine the sovereignty of Ukraine by doing the things that you've done,'" Corker said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused President Barack Obama of leading the U.S. with an "air of permissiveness" since the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people last August. Corker argued that Putin, like Assad, doesn't believe he will pay any penalty for increasing Russia's military presence in Ukraine following its seizure of Crimea last month.

"It's going to be too late," Corker said. "I hate to say such a crass thing on Easter Sunday morning ... The wisest thing that Assad did really was to kill 1,200 people with chemical weapons. Because, in essence, we said, 'Don't embarrass us anymore that way. You can go ahead and kill another 60,000 people with barrel bombs and by other means, but don't embarrass us.'"

Obama has mostly pursued a cautious approach in Syria, where the three-year civil war has now left more than 150,000 people dead. Last year, the Obama administration said it would move ahead with plans to arm Syrian rebels. A brief proposal in August to engage in targeted military strikes was not pursued in favor of a diplomatic approach, which Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier this month has removed 54 percent of the chemical weapons from the conflict.

Conservatives have nonetheless faulted Obama's foreign policy for being too passive and blamed the president for Putin's actions in Ukraine. Speaking shortly after Corker on Sunday, New York Times columnist David Brooks said Obama has a "manhood problem" in the Middle East.

"Basically since Yalta we've had an assumption that borders are basically going to be borders, and once that comes into question, if in Ukraine or in Crimea or anywhere else, then all over the world all bets are off," Brooks said during a "Meet the Press" roundtable. "And let's face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a -- I'll say it crudely -- but a manhood problem in the Middle East."

"Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad or somebody like Putin?" he added. "I think a lot of the rap is unfair, but certainly in the Middle East, there is an assumption that he's not tough enough."

With respect to Ukraine, Obama has signed several executive orders in the last two months consisting of sanctions against Russian officials and key sectors of the Russian economy. One of the orders announced by Obama last month gave the Treasury Department the authority to target individuals and institutions in Russia's financial services, energy, metals and mining, defense and engineering sectors.

The president ruled out military action against Russia during a press conference on Thursday. "I've been very clear that military options are not on the table in Ukraine because this is not a situation that would be amenable to a military solution," Obama said.
09:52 More Than 3 Million Smartphones Were Stolen Last Year» ThinkProgress

More than 3 million people got their smartphones stolen last year, many of which weren't sufficiently protected with as much as a simple passcode to keep the phone's data safe, according to a new survey.

The post More Than 3 Million Smartphones Were Stolen Last Year appeared first on ThinkProgress.

09:05 The sad psychology of the spoiler» Salon.com
People aren't consciously trying to be jerks. So why can't they control themselves from talking about King Joffrey?

09:00 The ghosts, joys and unexpected obsessions of seeing it live» Daily Kos
Samuel Barnett and Mark Rylance in Twelfth Night.
There's nothing wrong with watching television. You will never find a "kill your television" bumper sticker on any car of mine. But there is something special about live performance. It's more difficult to do, for one thing—and again, difficult isn't always better, but sometimes it's good to trade our couch-sitting clothes for going-out clothes. There's a particular pleasure to following the same story and set of TV characters week in, week out, to sharing that experience via social media with friends we don't often see. There's also a particular pleasure to hearing and seeing something live and available only in that moment, something that will be different in the next performance, something shared by everyone in the room with you, whether you know them or not. And sometimes it's transcendent.

At intervals, I become obsessed, or maybe possessed, by a live performance. Usually it's music; the creak and throb and texture of the live voice not smoothed and perfected in the studio, the way sound becomes a tactile experience, the sway or stillness, the silence or shout of the people around you. When you get down to it, being part of an audience is a collective experience we don't most of us get on a regular basis, and it can heighten the immediacy of the performance itself. Then, too, we are seeing the performer unedited and in 3-D. Even if we don't get the close-ups of TV, we see or hear things we wouldn't in the physical effort of performance.

For years my ongoing performance obsessions have been two musicians: Australian country singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers, and "hardcore Americana" musician Tim Eriksen. You may gather, if you listen to them, that I have a thing for intense, stripped-raw vocals. When you see a musician perform over decades of your life, and still more when your relationship with the music and musician become deeper and more complex, music can raise the ghosts of your own past, of where and who and how you were other times you heard a song. I see ghosts, too, as well as rapturous dancing and virtuosic choreography during performances of the Mark Morris Dance Group.

Sometimes, though, a performance comes from nowhere to grab you, enchant you, tear your heart out. The mime show (no, really) I saw a couple years ago that shocked me by delighting me. And, recently, two performances a metaphorical world apart: the recent Broadway production of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, and figure skater Jeremy Abbott performing in Stars on Ice.

Like I said, different.

09:00 'Hurricane' Carter dies at 76» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Bob Dylan sang about his murder case, and Denzel Washington played him on the big screen.
08:59 Four Years After The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, The Gulf Is Still Suffering» ThinkProgress

The spill has led to increased erosion off the Louisiana coast and has destroyed former habitats for nesting birds.

The post Four Years After The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, The Gulf Is Still Suffering appeared first on ThinkProgress.

08:34 Ditch the 10,000 hour rule! Why Malcolm Gladwell’s famous advice falls short» Salon.com
Contrary to what the bestselling author would tell you, obsessive practice isn't the key to success. Here's why

08:27 DWS: Politics not part of Keystone» POLITICO - TOP Stories
She wouldn't say whether the latest delay would be potentially helpful to Democrats.
08:19 Louis C.K. seems to have a lot of health problems in next season of “Louie”» Salon.com
The newest FX trailer offers a glimpse into the dark comedy of season 4

08:19 Elizabeth McCracken: I plan to eat the humorless!» Salon.com
One of our great writers on her Twitter obsession, the quirks she fights in her own writing -- and cannibalism

08:09 There’s A Hidden Timebomb In The Senate Rules That Will Go Off If A Supreme Court Justice Retires» ThinkProgress

The Senate Democrats' decision to cut Supreme Court nominees out of the nuclear option could prove deadly for any Supreme Court nomination Obama sends to the Senate.

The post There’s A Hidden Timebomb In The Senate Rules That Will Go Off If A Supreme Court Justice Retires appeared first on ThinkProgress.

08:05 New York Times’ David Brooks Says Obama Has ‘A Manhood Problem In The Middle East’» ThinkProgress

"Let's face it," New York Times columnist David Brooks said on Meet the Press, "Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a -- I'll say it crudely -- but a manhood problem in the Middle East."

The post New York Times’ David Brooks Says Obama Has ‘A Manhood Problem In The Middle East’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.

07:48 Listen to Prince’s new surprise single, “The Breakdown”» Salon.com
He also has another album on the way

07:48 'We're going to lose eastern Ukraine'» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Corker says he hopes to see the United States impose tougher sanctions on Russia.
07:36 Patrick assures safe Marathon» POLITICO - TOP Stories
"We're very alert. We're very prepared," the governor says ahead of Monday's race.
07:30 It’s time for the Alan Grayson health care narrative: ‘Don’t get sick or die quickly’» Daily Kos

President Obama stepped into the press room to discuss the crisis in Ukraine yesterday and to provide his sympathy for the Korean maritime tragedy on Thursday. And he had a confident hop in his step as he approached the podium—because he had something big to say about health care.

Actual Obamacare results are in. And in most cases they are exceeding expectations.

  • 8 Million+ citizens are now enrolled in Obamacare.
  • 35% of citizens enrolled in Obamacare are under 35 years old.
  • Obamacare has brought economic security to all consumers of health insurance.
  • Over 14 million have received insurance over the exchanges and via the Medicaid expansion to Obamacare.
  • Medical cost is now growing at less than 1/2 the previous rates.
  • Obamacare is shrinking the deficits.
  • It is fact that repealing Obamacare would increase the budget deficit, raise premiums, and take away insurance from millions of Americans.

When asked if Democrats should campaign on Obamacare, President Obama said:

Democrats should forcefully defend and be proud of the fact that millions of people like the woman I just described who I saw in Pennsylvania yesterday we’re helping because of something we did. I don’t think we should apologize for it. I don’t think we should be defensive about it. I think there is a strong good right story to tell. I think what the other side is doing and what the other side is offering would strip away protections from those families and from hundreds of millions of people who had health insurance before the law was passed but never knew if the insurance company would drop them when they actually needed it or women who were getting charged more because they are a woman.
Please read more about this strong stand below the fold.
07:25 Stevens won't judge himself» POLITICO - TOP Stories
"All I can say, I did the best I could. I didn't do well enough on many occasions," he says
07:23 Ginsburg 'doesn't need my advice'» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Former Justice John Paul Stevens says the 81-year-old justice can decide fine on her own.
07:17 Is Apple trying to torpedo the market for affordable smartphones?» Salon.com
Low-income consumers are now increasingly able to buy smartphones — but an Apple lawsuit could change all that

07:02 Pope Francis prays for peace with large crowd on Easter Sunday» Salon.com
The pontiff led Mass with more than 150,000 people in attendance

06:50 Kelly fears 'copycat' attack» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Former New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says he's concerned about a "copycat" incident at Monday's Boston Marathon, but believes authorities there have done all they can to secure the race and the region.
06:35 Ambassador: Shades of the Cold War» POLITICO - TOP Stories
"We do not believe that the language of sanctions is a good one in the 21st century," says Kislyak.
06:19 Anti-Semitic leaflets denounced» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Kislyak suggests that pro-Kiev -- not pro-Russian -- forces were behind the distribution of pamphlets.
06:15 Meet the university students trying to send a spacecraft to the moon — for $10 million!» Salon.com
Penn State's "Lunar Lions" tell Salon about their trailblazing effort to put students in space

06:00 Repeat after me: President. Obama. Is. Black.» Daily Kos
President Barack Obama bends over so the son of a White House staff member can pat his head during a family visit to the Oval Office May 8, 2009. The youngster wanted to see if the President’s haircut felt like his own. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Jacob Philadelphia touches President Obama's hair.
I happened to run across this item in the Washington Post this week, Is Barack Obama ‘black’? A majority of Americans say no, penned by Chris Cillizza (Jon Perr has described him as a "conventional wisdom regurgitator"). Cillizza links to data in his article from PEW Research (which gets it wrong) and natters on and on about a topic that should be case closed. We discussed it in Black Kos, and we all had the same reaction.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and young, black Jacob Philadelphia touching Barack Obama's close-cropped black hair said it for me. As Jonathan Capeheart wrote in Photo speaks volumes about Obama and race:

A black man allowing his head to be touched by a stranger. But not just any stranger. A child seeking a familiar link between himself and the black man, who also happens to be the leader of the free world.
I'm already worn out from the relentless racial obduracy of Jonathan Chait, last seen defending himself again on the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC after his back-and-forth with Ta-Nehisi Coates—who scored point, game match against Chait.  

The rabid racist right-wing in this country already knows that "their" White House has been violated by blackness. The birthers and their ilk still spew venom (see Rand Paul's new pollster). Klan-fueled, white supremacist haters murdered people at a Jewish Center, slayed Sikhs and plot to kill the president. This is familiar news.

That's why the timing of Cillizza's piece is curious.

Could it have anything to do with the recent activities of President Obama and upcoming elections?

Follow me below the fold for more.

06:00 Ukrainian PM previews Biden visit» POLITICO - TOP Stories
He says his government is asking the administration for economic and military support.
05:14 Welcome to the permanent dusk: Sunlight in cities is an endangered species» Salon.com
As cities grow taller, light has become a precious commodity. Is it time for it to be regulated like one?

04:31 Pope prays for Ukraine» POLITICO - TOP Stories
More than 150,000 tourists turn out for the Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.
04:12 “You want people like that to hate you”: Reza Aslan on Glenn Beck, that Fox News interview, and who gets to speak for Jesus» Salon.com
Reza Aslan on why he loves being on Glenn Beck's "chalkboard of crazy," and why Jesus would raise the minimum wage

04:12 Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the dangerous anti-Islamic logic of the war on terror» Salon.com
Ayaan Hirsi Ali lost an honorary degree from Brandeis for articulating the same twisted thinking as Dick Cheney

04:12 Straight into the Fox News buzzsaw: Why elite, billionaire liberalism always backfires» Salon.com
Liberal righteousness is a road to nowhere. Bloomberg and the Koch brothers have same contempt for working people

04:01 Obama's Asia pivot: A work in progress» POLITICO - TOP Stories
After years of talk about a strategic "rebalance," the White House still faces a wall of skepticism.
00:49 Fox Scrapes Conspiracy Barrel In Cliven Bundy Defense» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

Fox News revived the smear that President Obama planned to build a "domestic militia" during a segment defending Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his armed militia supporters.

In a July 2, 2008 campaign speech in Colorado, Obama called for the expansion of service organizations such as AmeriCorp and the Peace Corps, along with America's Foreign Service. During his speech, Obama said:

OBAMA: We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.

Obama's call for more involvement in civic service organizations was distorted by Fox and the right-wing media, who employed inflammatory rhetoric such as claiming Obama wanted to build a "civilian army" that would be part of the president's "thugocracy" and is "what Hitler did with the SS." Even Fox News CEO Roger Ailes was reportedly concerned that Obama's comments meant he "wanted to create a national police force."

On the April 20 edition of Fox & Friends Sunday, co-host Kelly Wright dredged up the smear while discussing Bundy and his armed standoff with members of the federal government, claiming Obama was "telling Americans that the U.S. needs to beef up its domestic police force. And with the recent raid of Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch, well, his push for a stronger domestic militia could be fulfilled."

Sat 19 April, 2014

23:06 Most Interesting Science News Articles of the Week» LiveScience.com
From really old dirt to an ancient wrestling contract, these are the most interesting stories in Science this week.
21:59 Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: Douthat lays an Easter egg edition» Daily Kos
Douthat Easter Eggs
This morning, Dana Milbank examines the Republican rush to the exit, the New York Times editorial board wants a kinder gentler policy on trade, Ruth Marcus argues for campus civility, Freddie Wilkinson hangs with those at the top of the world, and most of your Sunday morning regulars take a (deserved or not) vacation day.

But first...

Ross Douthat is really determined to prove that he can write just damn anything and still get paid. As an lesson in Advanced Conservative Thinking, let's tackle it in three easy pieces.

In the season of resurrection, it’s fitting that he’s with us once again — bearded, prophetic, moralistic, promising to exalt the humble and cast down the mighty from their thrones.

Yes, that’s right: Karl Marx is back from the dead. ...

Piketty ... is a social democrat who abjures the Marxist label. But as his title suggests, he is out to rehabilitate and recast one of Marx’s key ideas: that so-called “free markets,” by their nature, tend to enrich the owners of capital at the expense of people who own less of it.

This idea seemed to be disproved in the 20th century, by the emergence of a prosperous, non-revolutionary working class. But Piketty argues that those developments were transitory, made possible mostly by the massive destruction of inherited capital during the long era of world war.

Absent another such disruption, he expects a world in which the returns to capital permanently outstrip  —  as they have recently  —  the returns to labor, and inequality rises far beyond even today’s levels. Combine this trend with slowing growth, and we face a future like the 19th-century past, in which vast inherited fortunes bestride the landscape while the middle class fractures, weakens, shrinks.

Okay, so there's a new book out that points up what's immediately obvious to the most casual observer: except for the period where the government was injecting huge amounts of capital into infrastructure and research, corporate capitalism has acted as a highly effective system for sucking up wealth and funneling it to a tiny number of hands. Which Douthat doesn't really seem to dispute... except that pointing this out means that leftists are replacing Jesus with Marx! And in this Easter season! Oh, the Douthanity.
... even if Piketty’s broad projections are correct, the future he envisions might be much more stable and sustainable than many on the left tend to assume. Even if the income and wealth distributions look more Victorian, that is, the 99 percent may still be doing well enough to be wary of any political movement that seems too radical, too utopian, too inclined to rock the boat.
I have to stop there. What Douthat has just said, with apparent seriousness, is that it doesn't matter that the 1% suck up all the wealth, just so long as 99% gets just enough to keep them from rushing the Bastille. So long as the wealthy can keep the poor "too wary" to take any action, things will be "stable." Well, thank goodness.

But wait, wait, wait.  This is two thirds of the way through the article, and one not-so-subtle allusion aside, Douthat hasn't yet told us that the real problem is that atheists are wrecking the religious core of American life. What the...

The taproot of agitation in 21st-century politics... may indeed be a Marxian sense of everything solid melting into air. But what’s felt to be evaporating could turn out to be cultural identity — family and faith, sovereignty and community — much more than economic security.
Ahhh. There we go.

Honestly. Douthat writes a whole column in which seeing all the wealth go to the 1% is perfectly fine so long as the 99% aren't starving so badly that they are rioting in the streets, and the real threat is that people might attack those institutions that keep people living under the rule of the 1%. Because, you know, that might lead to instability.

And that, friends, is 21st Century Conservatism in one painful lesson.

Let's see if there's any more sanity on other pages...

21:00 Sunday Talk: This land is my land» Daily Kos
Almost 50 years after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, the non-violent tactics of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. were back in the news.

But in a sign of just how far we have come as a nation, this time it was white people who were engaging in the great American tradition of civil disobedience.

On April 5, agents of the Bureau of Land Management descended on the Nevada ranch of welfare queen Cliven Bundy.

This court-ordered siege marked the culmination of a 20+ year fight between Bundy and the federal government—whose authoritah he doesn't respect.

A distress call went out over talk radio, and soon there were hundreds of heavily armed militiamen on the scene, ready for battle.

These über-patriots refused to be cowed by Harry Reid's stormtroopers; their message was clear: You may take our lives wives, but you'll never take our freedom!

So, on April 12, recognizing that they were outgunnedliterally if not legally—the BLM backed down.

And that's how Ronald Reagan won the Cold War.

19:44 Searching Underwater for MH370 is a Shot in the Dark (Op-Ed)» LiveScience.com
The ongoing search for missing flight MH370 has shown how finding objects such as debris on the ocean is difficult, but finding them underwater in the deep ocean is much more challenging.
19:31 The highs and lows of legal pot» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Colorado's legal marijuana industry is growing, but some of the business owners face challenges.
19:18 Searching High and Low for Dark Matter (Q+A)» LiveScience.com
Astrophysicists are getting to the depth of dark matter.
15:00 Open thread: Obamacare, patriotism, primaries, race and a black (yes) president» Daily Kos

What's coming up on Sunday Kos ...

  • Obamacare is working. Now's the time to start talking about making it better, by Joan McCarter
  • We unlucky few: a look at the incumbents who lost their primaries, 1994-2012, by Darth Jeff
  • The ghosts, joys and unexpected obsessions of seeing it live, by Laura Clawson
  • Repeat after me: President. Obama. Is. Black. by Denise Oliver Velez
  • The real IRS scandal that's costing Uncle Sam trillions, by Jon Perr
  • Not this Chait again: or, hating Obama is part of the right's racial animus, by Dante Atkins
  • Remember when the GOP was the patriotic, law and order party, by Mark E Andersen
  • It’s time for the Alan Grayson health care narrative: 'Don’t get sick or die quickly,' by Egberto Willies
  • Anything Russian 'in czarist times' is fair game in Putin's mind, by Ian Reifowitz
13:00 Spotlight on Green News & Views: Blue tortoise v. Bundy, solar summit, Keystone XL decision delayed» Daily Kos
Many of the dozens of environmentally related posts that appear at Daily Kos each week don't attract the attention they deserve. So, more than seven years ago, a new feature was launched to highlight those diaries. Initially called Eco-Diary Rescue, the name was changed to Green Diary Rescue after a couple of years. Now, after nearly 17,000 green diaries have been rescued, the name is changing again. From now on, because of the growing number of diaries being posted at the site, "Spotlight on Green News & Views" will appear twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Wednesday April 16 Spotlight can be found here. As has all along been true, inclusion of a diary in the Spotlight does not necessarily indicate my agreement with or endorsement of it.
Bundy vs the tortoise—by Blue Tortoise: "There is a bigger story behind the recent standoff between the BLM and rancher Clive Bundy. The confrontation is part of a long battle over Federal land management practices after the Mojave Desert Tortoise was listed as an endangered species in the fall of 1989. I think the battle could have negative consequences for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Endangered Species Act. I am a wildlife biologist that has worked on desert tortoise related projects in southern Nevada since 1990. A large part of the Mojave Desert has been classified as tortoise habitat by the United States Fish and Wildlife Sevice. In the eastern half, southern Nevada, this habitat area is where people decided to build Las Vegas and other sorts of communities. The response to the federal listing was ugly, and the science community was met with howls of derision from the developers, realtors, and local politicians. It would stifle the growth of Las Vegas, they said. Other interests, such as the ranching and mining communities, derided the listing as well. There was much speculation by these groups that the listing was bogus, that the justification for it was a lie."
green dots
The Gift of Fracking: Multiple Swarms of Earthquakes in Ohio and Oklahoma—by Steven D: "Fracking our way to destruction, one state at a time. In Ohio, a swarm of earthquakes is being attributed to hydrofracking activity: Geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue new permit conditions Friday in certain areas that are among the nation's strictest. A state investigation of five small tremors last month in the Youngstown area, in the Appalachian foothills, found the injection of sand and water that accompanies hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Utica Shale may have increased pressure on a small, unknown fault, said State Oil & Gas Chief Rick Simmers. He called the link 'probable.' [...] Oklahoma, which is usually more concerned about tornadoes this time of year is also a hotbed of earthquake activity this past month. Take a wild guess as to why that might be."
green dots
The Daily Bucket--A Mother's Fears—by 6412093: "I work at, and roam a golf course west of Portland, Oregon. A recontoured farmers's field, it includes four multi-acre lakes, a handful of bogs, lowlands, wood lots, and expanses of open fields. For 16 years, I've followed the tribulations of the feathered, furry, and finned critters that eke out a life amid its fertilized boundaries. This week I've peered into the details of feathered females who care for their prospective progeny; as they deal with the aftermath of that emotional (or instinct-driven) afternoon or evening when avian desire overcame common sense. I'll start with the coots.  From Google: Coots are medium-sized water birds that are members of the Rallidae (rail) family. They constitute the genus Fulica. Coots have predominantly black plumage, and—unlike many rails—they are usually easy to see, often swimming in open water. They are close relatives of the moorhen. During the winter, I often see over 100 coots on the course ponds, mostly flocked in a single pond. In the Spring, the coots have generally scattered to all four ponds and begun nesting. I've taken the following pictures at what I call Coot Pond. Cattails envelope most of the 600 yards of Coot Pond shoreline."

You can find more rescued green diaries below the sustainable squiggle.

12:37 Ukraine PM: 'God knows' Putin's plan» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Arseniy Yatsenyuk says there's no telling where Russia will stop its land grab.
11:54 Four Bad Things We Learned About The Epic California Drought This Week» ThinkProgress

Those concerned about California's record-breaking drought received four pieces of bad news this week: The drought is as bad as ever, the snowpack is melting rapidly, the drought is projected to persist or worsen in the next three months, and climate change appears partly to blame.

The post Four Bad Things We Learned About The Epic California Drought This Week appeared first on ThinkProgress.

11:50 Coal Company Cuts Off Ex-Miners From Their Health Benefits» ThinkProgress

Murray Energy redirected the blame for cutting benefits to the Obama administration, insisting that the largest independent coal company in the U.S. is the real victim here -- of the so-called war on coal.

The post Coal Company Cuts Off Ex-Miners From Their Health Benefits appeared first on ThinkProgress.

11:16 Justice Scalia Tells Law Students ‘Perhaps You Should Revolt’ If Taxes Become Too High» ThinkProgress

The remark was in response to a question about the constitutionality of a federal income tax.

The post Justice Scalia Tells Law Students ‘Perhaps You Should Revolt’ If Taxes Become Too High appeared first on ThinkProgress.

10:55 This week in the War on Workers: Tensions in the battle for New York City classrooms» Daily Kos
Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, laughs during a news conference to announce details of a newly renovated Madison Square Garden in New York, October 24, 2013. Over a billion dollars was spent on the three year, top-to-bottom renovation.  REUTERS/Carlo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has tilted the playing field toward well-funded charter chains.
With New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature giving away the educational farm to politically connected charter school chains and preventing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio from making decisions about how classroom space in the city will be allocated (Cuomo's answer: What charters want, charters get, and screw public school students), a lot of the coverage has focused on the people and organizations with their own PR staff. Former city councilwoman and Success Academies founder Eva Moskowitz has had her say far and wide, for instance. But what about the kids being crowded out of their traditional public schools by Moskowitz's incessant demand for more public space in which to run the business that pays her a hefty salary? They don't have a PR staff.

In one school building, which houses a traditional public school, a special education public school, and a Success Academies school:

... when the classrooms of P.S. 149 and Mickey Mantle give way to Success Academy on the third floor and part of the second, one notices the aesthetic differences immediately. The public school hallways are cheerful but basic, with a ragtag assortment of colors and student art on the walls. A few fluorescent lights flicker; the bathrooms are standard cinderblock.

In Success Academy’s bright hallways, signs are stenciled in the same font and bear inspirational quotes like “Actions speak louder than words.” Classrooms are outfitted in splashy blues, reds and greens, with the same multi-colored, polka-dotted carpets. Success Academy students wear orange and blue uniforms: jumpers for the girls, shirts and ties for the boys.

According to Barbara Darrigo, principal of P.S. 149, there’s an unmistakable discomfort in the building.

“It’s this underlying tension,” she said. “There’s almost an air of elitism. When they’re not making eye contact with you [in the hallways] and they’re not acknowledging your existence, you kinda start thinking, ‘I guess I’m less than.’ I know my kids must feel that.” [...]

“I find it really hard to accept that my kids have to have lunch at 10:40 in the morning,” she said, while Success Academy eats lunch later. “I can’t open up another pre-K class.” Even if Darrigo had enough phys-ed teachers to meet compliance, she said, she wouldn’t have enough time in the gym.

Continue reading below the fold for more of the week's education and labor news.
10:23 FLOTUS speech draws complaints» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Her presence at a Kansas event may limit the number of seats allotted to each graduate.
10:00 Saturday hate mail-a-palooza: Meet Robert Jackson, my new pen pal» Daily Kos
Baby crying holding his ears
Robert Jackson, probably.
He may not be a neo-Nazi like my last pen pal George Rockwell, but Robert Jackson is the epitome of conservatism, all wrapped up in a delicious two-day back-and-forth. With all the debate skills of a three-year-old and the mental capacity of one too, you should come away from this exchange nodding your head and thinking, "Oh, that's why they're so stupid!"

So head below the fold for all the fun!

09:52 Baltimore Will Stop Automatically Detaining Immigrants, Maryland Governor Says» ThinkProgress

Baltimore will stop automatically cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

The post Baltimore Will Stop Automatically Detaining Immigrants, Maryland Governor Says appeared first on ThinkProgress.

09:00 This week in the war on voting: IA felons and the right to vote, NY joins National Popular Vote» Daily Kos
This week in the war on voting is a joint project of Joan McCarter and Meteor Blades

Iowa is one of four states that requires felons who have finished their sentences to appeal directly to the governor if they want their voting rights restored. As Nicole Flatow at Think Progress points out, when Democrat Tom Vilsack was governor, he issued an executive order automatically restoring felons' voting rights when they completed their sentences. But Republican Gov. Terry Branstad reversed that ruling. As a consequence only 12 of the 8,000 felons who have finished their sentences have had their voting rights restored.

The way the law works now is confusing both to ex-convicts and public officials.
For the 2012 election, at least a dozen citizens who weren't felons were included on a list of people barred from voting and at least three offenders were mistakenly removed from the list.

As a result of a ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court, that situation may be headed for a slight change that could enfranchise some felons.

The case involved Anthony Bisignano, a state Senate candidate whose opponent sought to have disqualified on the grounds that Iowans who have committed an "infamous crime" cannot run for public office. Those who have committed "infamous crimes" are also barred from voting unless the governor proves merciful.

Without making a distinction between misdemeanors and felonies, the Iowa Supreme Court has previously categorized an "infamous crime" as one that carries the possibility of time in the penitentiary. Bisignano's crime was a second offense of drunk driving, which he said should not be considered "infamous." Under the law, that offense is an "aggravated misdemeanor," which can be punished with time in the slam. But the justices this time found the "infamous" label too harsh for that particular crime and reaffirmed the lower court's decision saying Bisignano should not be disqualified.

But they went further, noting at length that the Court had previously considered the meaning of "infamous crime" in a number of cases. The justices determined that the Supreme Court had wrongly decided previous cases and mere punishment by prison time should not be the determining factor as to whether a crime is "infamous." The upshot: Many misdemeanor offenders and some felons now may not have to depend on gubernatorial clemency to get their voting rights restored.

But the ruling leaves behind a tangled web since, other than Bisignano's particular offense, no bright line was drawn between what is and what is not an "infamous crime." Tom Vilsack had the right idea. Returning to that approach would make a lot more sense, be a lot more fair and present no danger to the public or the electoral process. The system was broken, Vilsack fixed it, and Branstad rebroke it.

More on the war on voting can be found below the orange butterfly ballot.

08:13 Half of New York City Teens Behind Bars Have A Brain Injury, Study Finds» ThinkProgress

Brain injuries may affect the likelihood that teens up in jail in the first place, and their behavior while they're there.

The post Half of New York City Teens Behind Bars Have A Brain Injury, Study Finds appeared first on ThinkProgress.

08:03 Improbable Resurrections: 5 Real Cases of Coming Back to Life» LiveScience.com
On Easter Sunday, Christians around the world will celebrate Jesus Christ's resurrection, in which, according to the New Testament, Christ rose from the dead after his crucifixion.
08:00 Animal Nuz #195» Daily Kos


08:00 This week at progressive state blogs: Clear & present danger in NV, deadbeat in LA, sedition in AZ» Daily Kos
Just as states with progressive lawmakers and activists have themselves initiated innovative programs over a wide range of issues, state-based progressive blogs have helped provide us with a point of view, inside information and often an edgy voice that we just don't get from the traditional media. This week in progressive state blogs is designed specifically to focus attention on the writing and analysis of people focused on their home turf. Let me know via comments or Kosmail if you have a favorite state- or city-based blog you think I should know about. Inclusion of a diary does not necessarily indicate my agreement or endorsement of its contents.

At Nevada Progressive, atdnext writes—Clear & Present Danger:

Nevada Progressive
We could definitely see this coming. Ever since they caught wind of Cliven Bundy's attempt to subvert federal law at Gold Butte, G-O-TEA media personalities have been sharing their wet dreams of "Second Amendment Remedies". And a number of G-O-TEA politicians have gone out of their way to celebrate the extreme right "Patriot Movement" Militia's "victory" over the rule of law. [...]

Not only are Cliven Bundy and his "TEA" fueled allies completely wrong on the facts and wrong on the law, but they're also sending out a dangerously wrong message. That message is the same one we heard 19 years ago this week in Oklahoma City.

Before 9/11, this was the worst terrorist attack on US soil. And it was no hidden secret that Timothy McVeigh was motivated by the kind of extreme "Patriot" ideology that we've been catching glimpses of at #BundyRanch.

This is why we've been urging G-O-TEA politicians who have all too eagerly endorsed this lawless "uprising" to reconsider what they're advocating. Cresent Hardy & Michele Fiore may think it's cute to grandstand alongside the Bundy Gang and their new extreme right militia BFFs, but it's not. Rather, they're cozying up to what all the rest of us see as a clear & present danger.

At Intelligent Discontent of Montana, Don Pogreba writes—TEA Party Facts for Tax Day!:
Intelligent Discontent, state blogs
I didn’t understand last year when the Montana media decided totumbleweed-lebowski cover the dying TEA Party movement on tax day, and I don’t really understand why they chose to today, but there are some gems of facts from TEA Party “rallies” that perhaps make it worthwhile to read. Or at least enjoy. [...]

Then child-hating Tom Burnett, Republican candidate in House District 67, in his non-stop war against feeding poor children offered this statistic, only problematic in that it is complete nonsense:

He also took aim at reduced-cost school lunches, bringing black-and-white images of food left on cafeteria trays: "Kids on free and reduced school lunch waste 46 percent more than the average kid who pays their way."
Below the fold, you can read excerpts from more progressive state blogs.
07:07 Animal Sex: How Elephants Do It» LiveScience.com
Despite some human-like characteristics, elephants' mating behaviors are very different from our own.
07:00 Obama offers Easter and Passover greetings in weekly address» Daily Kos

For me, and for countless other Christians, Holy Week and Easter are times for reflection and renewal. We remember the grace of an awesome God, who loves us so deeply that He gave us his only Son, so that we might live through Him. We recall all that Jesus endured for us – the scorn of the crowds, the agony of the cross – all so that we might be forgiven our sins and granted everlasting life. And we recommit ourselves to following His example, to love and serve one another, particularly “the least of these” among us, just as He loves every one of us.
Worst. Muslim. Ever.

President Obama used the occasion of his weekly address to wish listeners of all faiths an inspired celebration of holy days and a joyful weekend. He emphasized his own faith and that of his family, and discussed the universal messages for believer and non-believer alike, of hope, responsibility for our fellow beings and the spirit of human endurance.

The common thread of humanity that connects us all – not just Christians and Jews, but Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs – is our shared commitment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. To remember, I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper.  

Whatever your faith, believer or nonbeliever, there’s no better time to rededicate ourselves to that universal mission.

To read the transcript in full, check below the fold or visit the White House website.
06:00 This week in science: Kepler bags the Holy Grail» Daily Kos
Hypothetical illustration of Kepler 186f
"Lycoris," a hypothetical illustration of the surface of Kwepler 186f by Karen Wehrstein. Click image for detailed description.
If you haven't heard yet, the now defunct Kepler planet finder bagged a planet almost exactly the same size as Earth orbiting in its star's habitable zone. Why is this such a big deal? For starters, Kepler 186 is a Class M star, the same kind that make up about three-quarters of our galaxy, meaning there are roughly 75 billion in the Milky Way alone. Statistically, that means a billion or more Earth-sized planets in or near the habitable zone. This particular star is a largish red-dwarf, it is not a flare star and does not exhibit great variability like some of its smaller, redder cousins. Class M dwarfs last a long, long time giving life plenty of opportunity to develop and evolve.
It's only about 1.1 times the size of Earth! Together, these make it potentially the most Earth-like planet we’ve yet found.

I say potentially because honestly we don’t know all that much about it besides its size and distance from its star (and its year—it takes 130 days to orbit the star once). The next things we’d need to know about it are the mass, what its atmosphere is like, and the surface temperature.

Based on the NASA hypothetical image and a bunch of guesses, Karen and I produced the image above. For a detailed background on what it is, click here.
  • NASA Ustream press conference with multimedia slides on Kepler 186f
  • Despite decades of devaluing science, Americans are still bullish on its benefits.
  • We may be looking at a Super El Nino, rivaling the 1998 maximum. But if it comes to pass, it might restrain hurricane formation.
  • The lunar eclipse was spectacular in the southern parts of North America (nice round up of pics here) this week. But there are always those folks anxious to exploit ancient superstitions for a buck:
    The Blood Moon predictions are going to be with us for a while because there will be four of the same lunar eclipses over the next year and a half. And Hagee’s theories have sold a heck of a lot of books on Amazon. But they lack the exciting specificity of the classic end-of-the-world prophecies. Like polar shifts (earth crust moves, triggering volcanoes, floods and eliminating all life-forms) or the Amazing Criswell, who was waiting for a black rainbow to show up and suck off all the oxygen.

04:30 Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: What ACA success looks like» Daily Kos
Jonathan Chait:
The health-care system still has lots of problems, beginning with the 5 million poor Americans cruelly denied health care by red state Republicans. Compared to an ideal blue-sky health-care system, we still fall short. What’s beyond question is that Obamacare has effected a revolutionary improvement by its own standards.
If it’s so easy to massively improve health care, why didn’t it happen before? Because passing a health-care reform through Congress is incredibly hard. The system’s waste created an enormous class of beneficiaries with a vested interest in the status quo. And the insecurity of private insurance made Americans terrified of change (which was necessarily complex).

And this is what conservatives have never understood. They act as if reforming health care is a mere matter of drawing up a health-care plan on paper and rounding up the votes, something they could do anytime they really feel like getting around to it, rather than a Herculean political task. They further convinced themselves that administering the new law would prove devilish if not impossible. They had it backwards.

The triumphs of Obamacare were designing a plan that could acceptably compensate the losers and generating the resources to cover the uninsured without alienating those with insurance. Designing and passing Obamacare was a project requiring real policy and political genius. Implementing it was easy.

In case anyone needs a Fox News-style interpretation of today's ACA enrollment statistics http://t.co/...
More politics and policy below the fold.
04:04 Beyond 8 million: Obamacare math» POLITICO - TOP Stories
No single number tells the whole story of the Affordable Care Act.
00:52 Wow! The Most Amazing Images in Science This Week» LiveScience.com
The lunar eclipse, a time to reflect and the crash of a black hole are just the tip of the iceberg for this week's images.
00:22 A Swell New View: Satellites Can Monitor Volcanoes» LiveScience.com
Satellite observations may tie the ground's movement to volcanic eruptions.
00:16 Science Suggests 'The Dog' Doesn't Exist (Op-Ed)» LiveScience.com
Do you ever stay up late wondering if there really is a dog?

Fri 18 April, 2014

23:52 Politico's Ken Vogel: Mark Levin's Political Endorsements "Flip[ped] Completely" In Conjunction With His Tea Party Backer's» Media Matters for America - Latest Items
23:51 Beware the Lure of the Bunnies (Op-Ed)» LiveScience.com
Chickens make lousy house pets (and bunnies take a lot of work) — something to remember at Easter.
23:29 Kindle vs. Books? Children Just Don't See It That Way (Op-Ed)» LiveScience.com
A furious debate has been raging for some years now between adults. Are you a Kindle lover or a devotee of the good, old-fashioned book?
23:15 Australian Endangered Species: Largetooth Sawfish» LiveScience.com
Sharks and rays are some of the world’s most threatened animals, with a quarter of all species at risk of extinction.
23:02 The Easter Bunny Tale: Fun Fiction or Harmful Myth? (Op-Ed)» LiveScience.com
All around the world many parents are preparing for Easter – possibly thinking of how Easter eggs will be hidden, how they will explain their delivery and perhaps bracing themselves for some challenging questions about the Easter Bunny.
22:25 Keeping Time: Why 60 Minutes? » LiveScience.com
Dividing the day into hours, minutes and seconds is a recent practice with thousands of years of science and tradition behind it.
20:34 Man detained in LAT building incident» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The Times says a woman reported that her co-worker had shown her a bag of bullets.
20:30 Open thread for night owls: Our country was built on inequality» Daily Kos
At The Nation, Mychal Denzel Smith writes We Built This Country on Inequality:

I admit to tuning out most conversations surrounding income and/or wealth inequality in the United States. It’s not because I don’t find these conversations important; they are vital. The problem is that I always hear the issue of inequality situated around what has happened in the last thirty or forty years, which ignores the fact this is a nation built on inequality. The wealth gap didn’t spring up from policy gone awry—it is the policy. This country was founded on the idea of concentrating wealth in the hands of a few white men. That that persists today isn’t a flaw in the design. Everything is working as the founders intended.

The source of that inequality has changed, as the past thirty/forty years have been dominated by the financial class and rampant executive corruption, but the American economy has always required inequality to function. Even times of great prosperity, where the wealth gap decreased, inequality was necessary. The post-WWII period is notable for the lowest levels of inequality in the modern era, but the drivers of that prosperity (the GI Bill, construction of the highway system, low-interest home loans) deliberately left black people out, and the moments of robust public investment that have benefited racial minorities and women have always been followed by a resurgence of concern over government spending and “state’s rights.”

Our job, then, if we’re serious about forming a society of true equality, is to interrogate and uproot the ideologies that created the original imbalance. In other words, we can’t deal with income/wealth inequality without also reckoning with white supremacy and patriarchy.

So far, we haven’t done a very good job of that.

Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2003Massive protests against US:

The US has occupied Iraq all of 37 minutes, and already is facing mass protests.

In the first Friday prayers since U.S. tanks drove to the heart of Baghdad last week, a Muslim preacher said the United States had invaded to defend Israel and denied Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, a key justification Washington offered for the war.

No prayers were held last Friday. Followers of the preacher, Ahmed al-Kubaisi, carried Korans and waved banners that read "No to America. No to Secular State. Yes to Islamic State."

"Leave our country, we want peace," one banner read.

"This is not the America we know. The America we know respects international law, respects the right of people," Kubaisi said.

What is worrisome to me is not the protests against the US—this was to be expected. It's the way the US invasion and nacent occupation is strengthening the hand of Islamists. Say what you will about Saddam, but he kept the hard-core fundamentalists under control (the reason Hussein and Osama Bin Laden hated each other). They have now been let loose, and it does not portend good things, either for the US occupation or for the region's future.

Tweet of the Day:  

Lofoten, Norway. Photo by Daniel Kordan. http://t.co/...

On today's rerun of the Kagro in the Morning show, there was tough news everywhere today, from the Senate floor to West, Texas. We spent a little more time clearing up issues of procedure, and pointed out that maybe Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, both conservatives, have a little bit of thinking to do about who supports you when you go out on a limb to do what you think is the right thing, and who leaves you hanging out to dry. Rep. Aaron Schock declares good corporate PR is now a government entitlement. The attacks in Boston give rise to renewed inquiry into the nature of terrorism, and the political symbolism of using the word.

High Impact Posts. Top Comments.

18:00 Keystone punt: Dems in hot seat» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Some, like Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, have yet to take a firm stance on the pipeline.
17:03 Kerry warns Lavrov on Ukraine pact» POLITICO - TOP Stories
He urges compliance with the agreement that would take steps to de-escalate the crisis.
16:15 W.H. won't boot Justin Bieber» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The administration says it's not going to comment on the petition, which got 270,000 signatures.
16:00 Cheers and Jeers: Rum and Stale Marshmallow Peeps FRIDAY!» Daily Kos
C&J Banner


Late Night Snark: Hippity Hop Edition

"This year's Easter Sunday happens to fall on the same day as the marijuana holiday, 4/20. Which means no matter what your religion, this Sunday you're probably going to see a giant bunny."
---Conan O'Brien

Vintage Easter graphic of chicks climbing into an airship
"Chickies! Don't get on that ship!
The rest of the book 'To Serve
Fowl,' it's... it's a cookbook!"
"Walmart's owners are so absurdly rich that one of them, Alice Walton, spent over a billion dollars building an art museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, 500 miles away from the nearest person who ever would want to look at art. And she said about it: 'For years I've been thinking about what we can do as a family that can really make a difference.' How about giving your employees a raise, you deluded nitwit?"
---Bill Maher

"A woman in Las Vegas was arrested after she threw a shoe at Hillary Clinton while Hillary was giving a speech. The woman was tackled, cuffed, and thrown into a police car. Then the cops said, 'Normally, we do that, Hillary, but thank you for the help.'"
---Jimmy Fallon

"Kim Jong Un was re-elected as leader of North Korea, winning 100 percent of the vote, easily defeating his challenger, Or Else."
---Colin Jost

"It's Derek Jeter's final year in baseball. Don't you hate it when a guy announces his retirement a year in advance and then spends every day milking it for cheap sentimentality?"
---David Letterman

And five glorious years ago:
"People have been mailing tea bags to members of Congress to express their dissatisfaction with taxes and government spending. Nothing shakes a politician up like a complimentary bag of tea. Next year will be crumpets, buddy!"
---Jimmy Kimmel

"Let me get this straight. To protest wasteful spending, you bought a million tea bags? Are you protesting taxes or irony?"
---Jon Stewart

C'mon down and splash---we turned the kiddie pool into a giant coconut nest and filled it with Cadbury egg goop. Your west coast-friendly edition of  Cheers and Jeers starts below the fold... [Swoosh!!] RIGHTNOW! [Gong!!]
14:50 Schweitzer: Cliven Bundy 'a grifter'» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The former Montana governor says the Nevada rancher doesn't represent cattlemen.
14:49 The Clintons' 'conspiracy' memo» POLITICO - TOP Stories
A memo shows how the Clinton White House viewed the "conspiracy commerce" of the right wing.
14:40 Fox News primetime lineup is obsessed with grazing fee disputes» Daily Kos
Fox News Sean Hannity program on April 15, 2014
Media Matters went through the painstaking research of calculating just how much time Fox News primetime hosts have spent during the past two weeks covering deadbeat cattle rancher Cliven Bundy's dispute with the Bureau of Land Management over his refusal to pay grazing fees for the last 21 years like every other cattle rancher in Nevada, and the numbers are staggering:
Led by Sean Hannity, Fox News has devoted 4 hours and 40 minutes of its prime-time programming to cheerleading for a Nevada range war.
The reason for the coverage is obvious: Even though the real story amounts to nothing more than a guy who doesn't want to pay his bills, Fox was able to spin it into a clash between a simple cattle rancher and a Leviathan federal government, creating a storyline guaranteed to enthrall their conservative audience.

Sure, turning Bundy's story into a symbol for something which he has no business representing required Fox to invent a narrative disconnected from reality, but what's the harm in a little bit of storytelling? Well, there's a serious answer to that question: The harm is that by making Bundy into something that he is not, Fox created a flashpoint for dozens of extremists, turning what should have been a run-of-the-mill law enforcement operation into a dangerous standoff featuring scenes like this:

Eric Parker from central Idaho aims his weapon from a bridge as protesters gather by the Bureau of Land Management's base camp, where cattle that were seized from rancher Cliven Bundy are being held, near Bunkerville, Nevada April 12, 2014. The U.S. Burea
Fortunately, nobody got seriously hurt. But you can bet that if tragedy took place, Fox would be right there, covering the story they helped to create.
14:34 Huge Antarctic Iceberg Drifts Out to Sea (Time-Lapse Video)» LiveScience.com
A massive chunk of ice broke loose and is now drifting away from Antarctica.
14:31 5 Unanswered Questions About Jesus» LiveScience.com
As Christians worldwide gather for Easter to celebrate their belief in the death and rebirth of Jesus, researchers continue to delve into the mysteries that surround the man.
14:25 Changing Earth: 7 Ideas to Geoengineer Our Planet» LiveScience.com
Take a look at ratings for seven wild geoengineering ideas that could change the Earth's climate for better or for worse.
14:16 Pot of Gold: Innovation Helps Cannabis Industry Flourish» LiveScience.com
A former NASA scientist hired to consult on marijuana growing light technologies is just one example of the innovation spurred by the legalization of the drug in Colorado.
14:05 5 Pot Facts for 4/20» LiveScience.com
For the international day of celebrating all things weed, April 20, here are some quick facts about this controversial, mind-altering plant.
13:59 Katherine Tallmadge: Responding to Rush Limbaugh Attacks on Obesity (Op-Ed)» LiveScience.com
Why is nutritionist Katherine Tallmadge being attacked by conservatives?
13:34 Stunning New Orchid Species Discovered» LiveScience.com
A new orchid species has been discovered in Panama.
13:21 Possibility of GOP taking over Senate has Republican immigration reform supporters scared» Daily Kos
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (C) is flanked by Senator John Thune (R-SD) (L) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) (R) as he addresses reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, February 4, 2014.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst    (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTX1880M
GOP immigration reform supporters want action now because
they're afraid of what might happen if these guys win.
At the end of a Wall Street Journal report on how House Speaker John Boehner and other top House Republicans are privately telling campaign donors who support immigration reform that they still believe it can happen in 2014 comes this amazing passage explaining why some Republicans believe it's important to take action this year instead of waiting until 2015 or beyond:
GOP lobbyists and some congressional staff say the task might grow harder if the party waits.

If Republicans win control of the Senate, for example, Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), who is widely seen as opposing an immigration overhaul, would be slated to lead the Judiciary Committee, which handles immigration.

Many in the business community have shifted their lobbying to emphasize this point, several lobbyists said.

In other words, Republicans who support immigration reform want to act now because they're afraid of what would happen if Republicans were to take full control of Congress. In a way, that makes sense, but it's also a damning indictment that the possibility of winning the next election is one of the biggest fears of the GOP's immigration reform supporters.

But how about this for a better solution? Deny Mitch McConnell his dream of becoming Senate Majority Leader and put the Democrats back in control of the House. Short of a miracle from House Republicans, that's the only way immigration reform is going to happen anytime soon.

13:10 In Photos: Orchids» LiveScience.com
Images: Lophiaris silverarum and other orchid species.
13:07 Disabled Pets Get 'Bionic' - PBS Show Trailer» LiveScience.com
PBS's show Nature is featuring animals who have been treated with latest state-of-the-art prosthetics. It premiered April 9th, 2014.
13:06 How the Bluefin-21 Searches For Flight 370 Wreckage on the Ocean Floor (Infographic)» LiveScience.com
Unmanned submersible uses sonar to scan the ocean floor and return a 3D map to the surface.
13:06 Obama signs Cruz Iran diplomat bill» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The bill saw unanimous passage in the House and Senate last week.
13:01 “This Thing Is Working”» ThinkProgress

The evidence continues to pile up that the Affordable Care Act is working, and conservatives on the defensive.

The post “This Thing Is Working” appeared first on ThinkProgress.

12:57 Is Global Warming a Giant Natural Fluctuation? (Op-Ed)» LiveScience.com
Natural fluctuations have driven Earth's climate for millennia, but they are not the cause of modern warming.
12:49 Calculus Is Fun! Math Exhibit Demos Principles of Motion» LiveScience.com
Most people probably don't think of learning calculus as fun. But a new interactive exhibit here at the Museum of Math (MoMath) lets visitors learn about the principles of motion in an interactive way, by walking or running on a special motion-sensing tra
12:36 Court-Ordered Deportations Plunge, But This Mother Is Still Caught In The Deportation Dragnet» ThinkProgress

One mother doesn't want her children to be killed in Mexico if she gets deported.

The post Court-Ordered Deportations Plunge, But This Mother Is Still Caught In The Deportation Dragnet appeared first on ThinkProgress.

12:22 Republicans marginalized again in poll about income inequality» Daily Kos
Rep. Paul Ryan at CPAC 2014
He doesn't represent America.
The conservative vision of the world is in stark contrast to what the rest of the country sees. That's been obvious in all sorts of issues, from abortion to gay marriage to marijuana legalization, but here's an issue that's particularly salient this election year: poverty and income inequality.
Among all Americans, 44 percent said they think poor people are poor mostly because of a lack of opportunities, while only 30 percent said it's mostly because of their individual failings. More specifically, 47 percent said poverty has to do more with the fact good jobs aren't available, while only 28 percent said it's because poor people have a poor work ethic.

Likewise, 52 percent said most wealthy people got where they are primarily because they had more opportunities, while 31 percent said the wealthy just worked harder than other people.

When it comes to unemployment, 51 percent said most are trying to find jobs but can't, while only 36 percent said most could find jobs if they want to. On the other hand, respondents were more divided about the long term unemployed. Forty-five percent said people who have been unemployed more than 6 months are trying to find jobs but can't, while 41 percent said they could find jobs if they wanted to.

Those in the minority on every question were, of course, Republicans who "tended to think the poor are poor because of individual failings, rather than lack of opportunities (48 percent to 23 percent), and that they have a poor work ethic rather than good jobs being unavailable to them (49 percent to 21 percent)." So it's no surprise that 58 percent of Republicans think that the unemployed don't have jobs because they don't want them. Even people making more than $100,000 a year in this poll believe that the rich just have more opportunities available to them than everyone else, by a 49-33 margin.

Here's just one more issue on which Republicans are far, far apart from the mainstream.

12:15 With Climate Change, Wildfires Getting Worse in the West» LiveScience.com
Across the West, wildfires grew bigger and more frequent in the past 30 years, according to a new study that blames climate change and drought for the worsening flames.
12:01 Midday open thread: $50 billion oil pit, ethnic America mapped, campaign money skews white» Daily Kos
  • Today's comic by Mark Fiore is George W. Bush's Art of Legacy:
    Animation still
  • Coming up on Sunday Kos ...
    • Obamacare is working. Now's the time to start talking about making it better, by Joan McCarter
    • We unlucky few: a look at the incumbents who lost their primaries, 1994-2012, by Darth Jeff
    • The ghosts, joys and unexpected obsessions of seeing it live, by Laura Clawson
    • Repeat after me: President. Obama. Is. Black. by Denise Oliver Velez
    • The real IRS scandal that's costing Uncle Sam trillions, by Jon Perr
    • Not this Chait again: or, hating Obama is part of the right's racial animus, by Dante Atkins
    • Remember when the GOP was the patriotic, law and order party, by Mark E Andersen
    • It’s time for the Alan Grayson health care narrative: 'Don’t get sick or die quickly,' by Egberto Willies
    • Anything Russian 'in czarist times' is fair game in Putin's mind, by Ian Reifowitz
  • These Daily Kos community posts were the most shared on Facebook April 17:
    Jews Ordered to Register in Eastern Ukraine, by Timaeus

    Justice Stevens: Supreme Court has Misinterpreted the Second Amendment, by night cat

    Industry Expert Says StopRush Has Destroyed Limbaugh's Business For Good, by ProgLegs

  • The world's $50 billion toxic money pit: A giant oil field was discovered in 2000 50 miles off shore in Kazakhstan's slice of the Caspian Sea. It's called the Kashagan oil field and it's huge. But the international consortium of companies—including ExxonMobil—seeking to get the oil out in the tough climate and problematic underwater terrain has proved difficult and expensive.
    In thirteen years, they've spent $50 billion, building islands and pipelines and digging deep, some two and a half miles below the surface, to reach a so-called supergiant oil field where sour crude is mixed with toxic gas at ungodly pressures. In industry circles, Kashagan has become a watchword for massive complexity and near impossibility, and adopted an unofficial motto: "cash all gone."
  • Ethnic America, on a map:
    The history of European colonization of the Americas is still evident today in most of the United States. This very cool map shows which ancestries make up the largest population in each of the country’s 3,144 counties. [...] The legacy of slavery still shows up in many rural Southern counties, where African Americans make up dominant slices of the population. Mexican Americans are dominant in border states, and in rural areas where agriculture is a big slice of the economy in places like eastern Washington and southern Idaho.

    And note those of non-Mexican Hispanic/Spanish origin in northern New Mexico. Those are the families who were in the United States before there was a United States. Or a Mexico, for that matter.

  • Texans lose another abortion clinic:
    Texas’s harsh anti-abortion law has claimed another victim, as a clinic in El Paso has been forced to immediately halt its abortion services. The Reproductive Services clinic attempted to seek an injunction against the provision of the law that requires abortion clinics to get admitting privileges from local hospitals—a medically unnecessary requirement that’s often impossible to meet—but a federal judge denied that request.
  • How the BP oil spill turned African American oystermen into an endangered species.
  • John Roberts and the Color of Money v. People of Color:
    People of color are almost entirely absent from the top donor profile, and none more so than members of the community that white Americans enslaved for two centuries:

    While more than one-in-six Americans live in a neighborhood that is majority African-American or Hispanic, less than one-in-50 superlimit donors do. More than 90 percent of these elite donors live in neighborhoods with a greater concentration of non- Hispanic white residents than average. African-Americans are especially underrepresented. The median elite donor lives in a neighborhood where the African-American population counts for only 1.4 percent, nine times less than the national rate.

    In other words: Political money and hence influence at the top levels is disproportionately white, male, and with almost no social context that includes significant numbers of African Americans and other people of color.

  • Chelsea Clinton expecting a baby in the fall:
    With her mother at her side, Ms. Clinton added, “I just hope that I will be as good a mom to my child and, hopefully, children as my mom was to me.” [...]

    In September, CBS News asked [Bill] Clinton whether his wife would rather be president or grandmother. “I think she’d say grandmother,” he replied.

  • The rollercoaster-building business:
    according to Roller Coaster Database, there are 2,956 roller coasters in 2,067 amusement parks worldwide, with nearly 400 million riders each year. How did these feats of engineering become so popular, and who are the people behind them?
  • On today's rerun of the Kagro in the Morning show, it's 4/18/13. West, TX has just exploded, the gun bill has gone down, we pondered what is & isn't "terrorism," and Aaron Schock presaged the court ruling discussed yesterday, declaring good PR a new corporate entitlement.

11:58 Ah-CHOO! 7 Tickling Facts About Sneezing» LiveScience.com
Everyone knows the feeling: it begins with that insidious tickle in the back of your nose, then comes the gasping intake of breath and the final, cathartic blast: a sneeze.
11:54 Dispute over Nebraska pipeline route spurs Obama administration to delay Keystone XL decision» Daily Kos
Keystone XL pipeline route
Unnamed sources familiar with the decision have told Reuters that the Obama administration will announce Friday that it is extending the government comment period for the Keystone XL pipeline. This will likely delay any decision on whether to build the pipeline until after the November midterms:
President Barack Obama has said he will make a final decision on whether to allow the pipeline connecting Canada's oil sands region to Texas refiners but several government agencies were expected to weigh-in by the end of May.

A dispute over the proposed route of the pipeline has stalled the project in Nebraska, though, and officials will cite that uncertainty in its announcement on Friday justifying the delay.

A judge ruled in February that the state had unconstitutionally transferred authority to the governor's office to approve the revised route that TransCanada, the pipeline builder, has chosen for Nebraska. That decision, she said, should be made instead by the Nebraska Public Service Commission. The case is being appealed by the state attorney general.

Please read below the fold for more on this story.

11:51 HIV-Positive Basketball Player Kicked Out Of City Rec League» ThinkProgress

There are no recorded cases of HIV being transmitted through sports.

The post HIV-Positive Basketball Player Kicked Out Of City Rec League appeared first on ThinkProgress.

11:47 Clinton's 'Keep your plan' dilemma» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Newly released records show he also struggled with this promise.
11:42 Here come the positive campaign ads. Wait, what?» Daily Kos
Scott Brown in his pickup, giving a thumbs up.
"Scott Brown. He, um, owns a truck."
Oh Gawd, this is going to be hilarious to watch.
Some of the best-known “super PACs” and outside groups — like Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the conservative billionaires David H. and Charles G. Koch — are making an effort to also cast their candidates in an appealing way instead of solely attacking opponents. Already this year, 16 percent of Americans for Prosperity’s spots have been positive; in 2012, the group did not run a single one.
Sixteen percent? That's off the positivity charts, baby!
The shift is the product of several factors — the renewed hope that positive commercials can break through the advertising clutter; lessons of the 2012 presidential race, when Mitt Romney and outside Republican groups largely failed to offer an alternate message to an onslaught of negative spots; and the increasing prevalence of stock footage made public by campaigns that makes producing positive ads easier.
Ah ha ha ha ... so that's it. Campaigns are going to release footage of their candidate "to the public," which will mean that the SuperPACs can "appropriate" those candidate images for use in their own totally uncoordinated advertising campaigns for that candidate. And since no campaign is going to release footage of their candidate biting the head off a squirrel "to the public," positive ads it is!
“Any idiot can do a negative ad badly, and many do, but a good positive ad captures a sense of the candidate and the candidate’s connection to the place where he’s running,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist who advises roughly a dozen super PACs and candidates, and who made the 2002 ad tying a Democratic senator from Georgia, Max Cleland, who lost both legs and his right hand in the Vietnam War, to Osama bin Laden.
And fuck you for that forever, fella. Run all the positive ads you want from now on, you're still a piece of trash. And I mean that in the most positive of ways.

Note that the Koch brothers alone are worth 100 billion dollars. They could spend one billion dollars on every last American Senate race in the next six years and still have enough left over to buy a cheeseburger. When they want a certain candidate in office, or don't want a certain candidate in office, Americans for Prosperity can spend as much money as they want to try to make that happen because the Supreme Court doesn't think one family personally buying all the Senate seats would be a problem. With the kind of money being thrown around these days, of course there's going to be some percentage of positive ads. There will have to be, simply because they will eventually have run through every possible smear on every possible opponent and have nothing else to run.

11:36 Mountainous Fib: Andes Lie About Their Age» LiveScience.com
New research into the height of a very remote Andean plateau reveals just the latest surprise from the Earth's second-greatest mountain belt.
11:33 State Department To Delay Keystone XL Pipeline Decision Until After November» ThinkProgress

The delay is reportedly in response to a recent Nebraska court decision.

The post State Department To Delay Keystone XL Pipeline Decision Until After November appeared first on ThinkProgress.

11:26 Keystone decision delayed yet again» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The move could easily push the president's final decision past the November elections.
11:25 Teen Driving: Loud Talking & Rowdiness Are Risky Distractions» LiveScience.com
Although texting and talking on the phone can be hazardous for young drivers, old-fashioned distractions such as loud conversations and rowdy passengers may be more likely to lead to car crashes, a new study suggests.
11:21 Tsunami Facts You Need to Know» LiveScience.com
How much do you know about one of the most destructive forces in nature?
11:12 The U.S. Isn’t Very Good At Preventing Our Food From Making Us Sick» ThinkProgress

Federal health officials aren't making significant progress at lowering the rate of foodborne illnesses.

The post The U.S. Isn’t Very Good At Preventing Our Food From Making Us Sick appeared first on ThinkProgress.

11:11 RIP LADEE: NASA Moon Probe Crashes Into Lunar Surface» LiveScience.com
The space agency's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer spacecraft (LADEE) made its planned crash into the lunar surface between 12:30 a.m. EDT (0430 GMT) and 1:22 a.m. EDT (0522 GMT) on April 18 after orbiting the moon since October 2.
11:09 Fox News warns of 'The Unholy War on Easter'» Daily Kos
The number of things that set decent God-fearing folks off really does seem infinite. Chief among them is daring to even express an opinion other than their own, because that's oppressing them, you see.
The new unholy war on Easter finding a new battleground in the Windy City.
Well that's quite the intro. Do go on.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation, an atheist group that already posted an anti-Easter sign in the Wisconsin state capital, is now erecting a massive display in Chicago's Daley Plaza. Two eight-foot banners featuring Thomas Jefferson and President John Adams promoting the secular views of our founding fathers.
One banner reads "In reason we trust", the other will say "Keep state and religion separate." The exhibit, aimed at countering the Jesus in Daley Plaza displaying a display that is going on today or going up today, it's been going on for eight years there in Chicago, it'll feature a nineteen foot tall cross and a 10-foot tall image of the resurrected Jesus. Has Easter evolved into an occasion to demean religious beliefs and Christianity?
Blah blah interview Satan blah. And since it's been going on eight years, it's clearly our national tradition and how dare some other group try to bring the hellhound Founding Fathers into this.

Thankfully all parties agree that it's within atheists' rights to put up their own public display, even if it lacks, quote, "class." What we can't agree on is whether merely expressing an opinion other than a belief in Christianity in the public square is an "unholy" attack on Christianity. Fox News says it is, the founding fathers didn't seem to think so, and I guess the founding fathers don't have their own television network so it sucks to be them.

"God bless you both," the Fox anchor ends the interview with. Now that's class.

10:58 President Obama makes the case for Medicaid» Daily Kos
Infographic showing result of decision by states to refuse Medicaid expansion money.

In Thursday's press conference announcing that the Affordable Care Act had reached 8 million exchange enrollees, President Obama was asked whether that would mean Democrats would start campaigning on Obamacare. His answer in part:
I think that Democrats should forcefully defend and be proud of the fact that millions of people like the woman I just described who I saw in Pennsylvania yesterday we’re helping because of something we did. I don’t think we should apologize for it, and I don’t think we should be defensive about it. I think there is a strong, good, right story to tell.
He gave them the blueprint for telling that story, here:
[I]f the Republicans want to spend the entire next six months or year talking about repealing a bill that provides millions of people health insurance without providing any meaningful alternative, instead of wanting to talk about jobs and the economic situation of families all across the country, that's their prerogative. At some point I think they’ll make the transition. That's my hope, anyway. If not, we're just going to keep on doing what we're doing, which is making it work for people all across the country.

I'm sorry, I'm going to say one last thing about this, just because this does frustrate me: States that have chosen not to expand Medicaid for no other reason than political spite. You’ve got 5 million people who could be having health insurance right now at no cost to these states—zero cost to these states—other than ideological reasons. They have chosen not to provide health insurance for their citizens. That's wrong. It should stop. Those folks should be able to get health insurance like everybody else.

Democrats can stand behind Obamacare, making the case that it has helped millions of people. But that's just part of the story. The other side of it is that Republicans aren't just fighting to take all that away from the people who just got it—anywhere from 14 to 23 million people—they're keeping 5 million out of coverage. Simply because of politics. People are dying simply because of Republican politics.
10:47 Mt. Everest Avalanche: Is Climate Change to Blame?» LiveScience.com
Many Sherpas insist that Mount Everest and other slopes in the area have become more dangerous because of climate change.
10:32 Epidemic of GOPer virus will kill thousands in red states» Daily Kos

Imagine that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warned that America was about to be hit by a preventable epidemic of a deadly, though curable, virus. In response, the federal government budgeted funds for each of the 50 states to purchase antidotes to save the afflicted and vaccines to immunize residents against future outbreaks. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the White House raised the revenue to completely cover the costs of the emergency program for three years and promised to pay 90 percent of the bill after that. Even having to pick up 10 percent of the tab, most states would come out ahead by virtue of not having to pay for the care of the sick and the dying. All the 50 governors and state legislatures had to do to save thousands of their residents from needless deaths was to say one word to free money from Uncle Sam: Yes.

Now, imagine that 24 states simply said no, for no other reason than their leaders' dislike of the president and his political party.

If that sounds inconceivable, it shouldn't. It's actually happening right now. By rejecting the Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid, Republicans are making the unconscionable routine by guaranteeing that thousands of their own constituents will die every year.  Die, that is, from the GOPer virus.

That's not hyperbole, but a grim reality. Due to what might be the greatest act of political spite in modern American history, Republicans will needlessly leave millions of people uninsured, many hospitals on the edge of financial ruin and thousands of Americans dead, mostly in the states the GOP itself controls.

Continue reading to see how the Republicans' killer math works.

10:30 Bill Clinton's 'letter' to Don Imus» POLITICO - TOP Stories
A 1999 memo by the administration's humorist strikes a decidedly hostile tone.
10:18 Fired Yahoo Executive Made More Than The Company’s Female CEO» ThinkProgress

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer will make less than someone who worked under her and was let go.

The post Fired Yahoo Executive Made More Than The Company’s Female CEO appeared first on ThinkProgress.

10:17 Why You Forget: 5 Strange Facts About Memory» LiveScience.com
Although forgetting is normal and vital to how the brain works, it sometimes happens in strange or unexplained ways.
09:59 Vitamins from Space! B3 Found in Meteorites» LiveScience.com
An essential nutrient for life on Earth also cooks up in space, a new study finds.
09:44 When Will You be Miserable This Allergy Season? » LiveScience.com
The start of spring signals many things, one of which is the start of allergy season.
09:41 Bright Idea or Shady Scheme? Cosmetic Company Wants to Lighten Moon» LiveScience.com
A think-tank associated with a cosmetics company has a plan to brighten the surface of the moon in an effort to lighten up the night sky and reducing the need for electricity to run street lights. Scientists are skeptical.
09:34 Spox: Sebelius not mulling Senate» POLITICO - TOP Stories
A Health and Human Services spokeswoman says she is continuing her work at the federal agency.
09:26 McAllister campaign coffers: $8,425» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The embattled Louisiana Republican's campaign finances are in poor shape.
09:23 Nebraska joins the states that no longer allow employers to ask job applicants about criminal record» Daily Kos
A woman's hands behind bars
Gov. Dave Heineman signed a bill Wednesday making Nebraska the 11th state that bars employers from asking prospective employees if they have a criminal record. The prohibition is a provision in a law designed to reduce prison overcrowding. It removes a box that asks job applicants whether they have been arrested or convicted of a crime. Checking that box instantly keeps many job seekers from getting hired for the lowest-paid jobs.

In fact, unemployment among ex-convicts, studies indicate, can be as high as 75 percent. A study in New York City found applicants admitting they have a criminal record were 50 percent less likely to be offered a job. Not surprisingly, in one more impact of the racist nature of the criminal-justice system, black applicants with records were far less likely than white applicants with the same background to get job offers.

Besides banning the box, the Nebraska law also includes provisions for job training, mental health and transitional programs, reports Annie-Rose Strasser:

The bill passed with “little fanfare,” said a spokesperson for the Governor. It was approved by the legislature on a vote of 46-0.

State Senator Brad Ashford (D-Omaha), who authored the bill, said that the potential budget savings from helping keep people out of prisons was one of the keys to getting everyone on board. But he also said the state has been focused on criminal justice issues for a while—they started with juveniles—and that there’s been consensus from Republicans and Democrats alike on it.

Please read below the fold for more on this story.
09:23 Gargantuan Iceberg – 8X Manhattan-Size – Has Left Glacier | Time-Lapse Video» LiveScience.com
“Ice island B31” is 200 feet thick and 21mi X 12mi. It separated from the Antarctic Pine Island Glacier in Nov. 2013. NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites have been imaging its progress towards open ocean.
09:20 Parkinson's Drug Shows Promise in Preventing Breast Cancer» LiveScience.com
Women with mutations in the BRCA1 gene are at high risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Early research suggests that existing drugs may help prevent this type of breast cancer.
08:59 Six families whose lives have been changed by Obamacare» Daily Kos

While President Obama was in Austin this week, he and First Lady Michelle Obama met with six families who had written to him to tell him how the Affordable Care Act has helped them. Watch their meeting:

08:56 Governor Will Automatically Restore Voting Rights For All Virginians With A Drug Record» ThinkProgress

The move will roll back a Reconstruction-era policy that disenfranchises one in five African American adults in Virginia.

The post Governor Will Automatically Restore Voting Rights For All Virginians With A Drug Record appeared first on ThinkProgress.

08:50 Mitt Romney, party elder and statesman» Daily Kos
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney walks off stage at the conclusion of a campaign rally at the airport in Columbus, Ohio November 5, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
The sign that convinced Karl Rove that Mitt would win
This article is sort of hilarious, not so much for the content of the article itself...
After retreating from public view following his crushing loss to President Obama in the 2012 election, [Mitt] Romney has returned to the political stage, emerging as one of the Republican Party’s most coveted stars, especially on the fundraising circuit, in the run-up to November’s midterm elections.
...but because the first comment pretty much sums things up:
A commentary on the current state of the Republican Party that a guy who has lost every election he's ever been in, except one, is considered a star and elder statesman. He served as a one-term governor and didn't run again because he was so unpopular. This is who is revered in the GOP? Sad.
Sad for the GOP, I guess. Comedy for the rest of us. I'm sure it feels good for Romney to be wanted by certain segments of his party (for example, fellow Massachusetts politician Scott Brown has asked him to campaign on his behalf), but at the end of the day, he's still a guy who doesn't appeal to his party's base and doesn't appeal outside his party's base.

That being said, what other options do the GOP have when it comes to party elders? John McCain? George W. Bush? Dick Cheney? Sarah Palin? Hell, Romney is probably the best they've got. And even though he says he's not running in 2016—and would surely lose if he did—he'd certainly be one of the GOP's best candidates and arguably even the best. And that really is a pathetic commentary on the current state of the GOP.

08:43 Strong Earthquake Shakes Mexico City» LiveScience.com
An earthquake of preliminary magnitude 7.5 struck today near southern Mexico's Pacific resort city of Acapulco, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
08:42 Republicans respond to good Obamacare news: 'Lalala, we can't hear you!'» Daily Kos
9 year old boy with his mouth open in a scream, and his ears covered. Isolated on dark background.
Obamcare enrollments exceeded all expectations, premiums are going to be lower than predicted, millions of Americans now have health coverage. So, as President Obama said Thursday, in announcing 8 million enrollments, "It's well past time to move on as a country." Right? Ha.
No, we can't. RT @ZekeJMiller: Obama:  "I think we can all agree that it's well past time to move on."
Oh, but that's not all:
From dropped coverage, to increased health care costs, to less access to preferred doctors, #ObamaCare is hurting millions of Americans.
Tell Congress to stop spending $17 million of your tax dollars every month on #Obamacare ads! http://t.co/...
Or in the words of a Republican in House leadership:
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy said Obama was “right” when he said the GOP refuses to accept the Affordable Care Act “as settled law.”

“Republicans cannot and will not accept this law,” McCarthy said in a statement.

For Republicans, no Obamacare news is good Obamacare news. It's just another opportunity to roll out the talking points, the "unskewing" and the conspiracy theories about how the numbers really can't be all that good. Because everybody knows, this law is doomed to collapse under its own weight. That's their theory, and they're sticking to it all the way through November.
08:34 Clinton files: Hillary, GOP intel and 'conspiracy'» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The Clinton Library in Little Rock, Ark., releases 7,500 pages of documents.
08:21 Brazilian Company Sells T-Shirts Using Gay Slurs To Trash Talk World Cup Players» ThinkProgress

Shirts from a Brazilian designer say that "Cristiano Ronaldo is gay" and that former Argentina star Diego Maradona is a "maricon," a slang term for "faggot."

The post Brazilian Company Sells T-Shirts Using Gay Slurs To Trash Talk World Cup Players appeared first on ThinkProgress.

08:17 Poor People’s Lives Are Getting Shorter» ThinkProgress

The gap in life expectancy between the richest and poorest Americans is more than a decade.

The post Poor People’s Lives Are Getting Shorter appeared first on ThinkProgress.

08:15 Connecticut Takes A Step Closer To Keep Fracking Wastewater Out Of The State» ThinkProgress

The bill now moves to the Senate floor.

The post Connecticut Takes A Step Closer To Keep Fracking Wastewater Out Of The State appeared first on ThinkProgress.

07:54 Wild Chimps Prefer a Firm Bed» LiveScience.com
Chimpanzees are quite choosy when it comes to their sleeping arrangements, and new research suggests the apes prefer a firm bed made from stiff, resilient wood.
07:02 Chart of the Day: Obamacare sign-up tally if Fox News does the counting» Daily Kos
Satirical count of ACA sign-ups.
Thanks to Daniel Liebman for this chart that would surprise nobody if it appeared on Fox.  
06:51 Cartoon: George W. Bush's Art of Legacy» Daily Kos

Really?  George W. Bush is having an art show at his presidential library featuring his painted portraits of many of the big important people who he met during his presidency?  Okay, I just couldn't resist this one.  He's capturing emotion!  He's showing Putin's personality!  Look!  He painted a cuddly duck for his grandchild!  (Cartoon not necessary for that one.)  He's trying to paint his way to a nice cuddly legacy.

Methinks there are a few other things he should be painting.  If he's not forced to paint the victims of his reckless foreign policy in real life, at least I can make him do it in my cartoons.  Please, Dubya, visit a disabled veteran's house and ask him to sit for a portrait.  Oh wait, I forgot, your portraits only come from the top searches of Google.

Alas, one can only hope.  If only Bush really wanted to capture the pain, loss and suffering of his ridiculous war escapade.  He'd have to make so many visits to Iraq, a full C-130 full of art supplies would be required at regular intervals.  Enjoy the cartoon and pass it along to your favorite ex-president hobbyist painter.

06:27 31-Day Underwater Mission Splashes Down This Summer» LiveScience.com
A monthlong underwater research mission led by the grandson of famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau will begin on June 1. The so-called aquanauts will spend 30 days living and working in an underwater laboratory off the coast of Florida.
06:10 Poll: Clinton favorability slides» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Her rating has hit a 6-year low, a Fox News poll says.
06:04 Man's Best Friend Helps Traumatized Veterans Heal» LiveScience.com
When U.S. Navy hospital corpsman Marshall Peters returned from a tour of duty in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2010, he couldn't sleep. He felt depressed and anxious, and hated being around crowds or loud noises.
06:03 Photos of the Veterans and Service Dogs» LiveScience.com
Warrior Canine Connection utilizes the healing power of the human-animal bond to help Warriors in recovery from post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.
05:22 Fox Revives List Of Clinton Smears After Polling Shows People Trust Hillary» Media Matters for America - Latest Items
05:09 Economics Daily Digest: Inequality was not an accident» Daily Kos
Economics Daily Digest by the Roosevelt Institute banner

By Rachel Goldfarb, originally published on Next New Deal

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

We Built This Country on Inequality (The Nation)

Mychal Denzel Smith writes that the U.S. economy was built on a foundation of inequality for women and racial minorities, and that we must fight racism and sexism if we hope to close the wealth gap.

Oklahoma Governor Signs Law Barring Cities From Raising Minimum Wage (AJAM)

The Oklahoma law also bars cities from requiring paid sick leave or vacation time, reports Amel Ahmed. This seems intended to preempt a push for a state-level minimum wage increase, as in California and Maryland.

Treat Wage Theft as a Criminal Offense (WaPo)

Catherine Rampell asks why the consequences for stealing thousands from workers' paychecks are so much less severe than the consequences of stealing from someone's home.

Obamacare Succeeded for One Simple Reason: It's Horrible to be Uninsured (Vox)

Sarah Kliff says the eight million sign-ups are proof that insured pundits didn't understand how desperate the uninsured and underinsured were to get health insurance.

Antitrust in the New Gilded Age (Robert Reich)

Robert Reich suggests that today's concentrated wealth resembles the Gilded Age, right down to the need to break up too-large corporations. He cites the pending Comcast-Time Warner merger as a troubling example.

New on Next New Deal

Not Just the Long-Term Unemployed: Those Unemployed Zero Weeks Are Struggling to Find Jobs

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal looks at the data on those who move from one employer directly to another, without any unemployment. When even those workers struggle on the job market, wage growth slows.

04:51 Clinton book title: 'Hard Choices'» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The book will focus on Hillary Clinton's four years heading the State Department.
02:19 Fox Champions Bundy Supporters Who Threatened Violence Against Federal Agents» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

Fox figures praised armed supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy as good, patriotic, hard-working Americans, ignoring their threats of violence against Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents and indications that they were willing to put women in children in the line of fire.

Nevada Rancher Cliven Bundy Refuses To Pay Grazing Fees, Resulting In Standoff With BLM

Los Angeles Times: Bundy Refused To Pay Grazing Fees For Use Of Federal Land.  As the Los Angeles Times reported on April 7:

Bundy is battling with federal officials over his cattle's grazing on 150 square miles of scrub desert overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. He has refused to pay BLM grazing fees since 1993, arguing in court filings that his Mormon ancestors worked the land long before the BLM was formed, giving him rights that predate federal involvement. His back fees exceed $300,000, he says. [Los Angeles Times4/7/14]

AP: Court Ordered Bundy To Pay Fees Or His Cattle Would Be Confiscated. Bundy refused to pay the fees he owed, and so the BLM attempted to carry out court orders to confiscate his cattle to settle the debt:

A federal judge in Las Vegas first ordered Bundy to remove his trespassing cattle in 1998. The bureau was implementing two federal court orders last year to remove Bundy's cattle after making repeated efforts to resolve the matter outside court, Kornze said, adding the rancher has not paid grazing fees in 20 years. [Associated Press, 4/13/14]

AP: BLM Halted Cattle Confiscation After Armed Militias Showed Up To Protest. As the Associated Press reported, after the Bureau of Land Management began confiscating Bundy's cattle, armed  "states' rights protesters, including militia members, showed up at corrals outside Mesquite to demand the animals' return to rancher Cliven Bundy," leading to the BLM's decision to halt the confiscation:

Federal land managers say "escalating tensions" led them to release all 400 or so head of cattle rounded up on public land in southern Nevada from a rancher who has refused to recognize their authority.

Bureau of Land Management Chief Neil Kornze announced an abrupt halt to the weeklong roundup just hours before the release.

"Based on information about conditions on the ground and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concerns about the safety of employees and members of the public," Kornze said in a statement. [Associated Press, 4/13/14]

Sen. Harry Reid Calls Armed Protestors "Domestic Terrorists"

Las Vegas Review-Journal: Sen. Reid Called Bundy's Armed Supporters "Domestic Terrorists." At an event hosted by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) called armed protesters supporting Bundy "domestic terrorists," saying, "Those people who hold themselves out to be patriots, are not. They're nothing more than domestic terrorists." [Las Vegas Review-Journal4/17/14]

Bundy Repeatedly Threatens Violence Against BLM Agents

Las Vegas Sun: Bundy Said He Would "Do Whatever It Takes" To Protect His Cattle. In 2013, Bundy told the Las Vegas Sun he would "do whatever it takes" to prevent the government from seizing his cattle:

[T]he rancher insists his cattle aren't going anywhere. He acknowledges that he keeps firearms at his ranch and has vowed to "do whatever it takes" to defend his animals from seizure.

"I've got to protect my property," Bundy said as Arden steered several cattle inside an elongated pen. "If people come to monkey with what's mine, I'll call the county sheriff. If that don't work, I'll gather my friends and kids and we'll try to stop it. I abide by all state laws. But I abide by almost zero federal laws."Bundy's wife Carol told the Sun that she owns a shotgun and is prepared to use it:

Carol Bundy said her husband is not a violent man, just a person who will protect what he owns. For that matter, so is she.

"I've got a shotgun," she said. "It's loaded and I know how to use it. We're ready to do what we have to do, but we'd rather win this in the court of public opinion." [Las Vegas Sun9/23/13]

Bundy's Response To Question About Resorting To Violence: "I Didn't Say I Wouldn't Carry A Gun." On the April 10 edition of The Laura Ingraham Show, Ingraham asked Bundy whether he would resort to violence to settle the dispute:

INGRAHAM: When you said you would do quote "whatever it takes," to stop the government from impounding your cattle, what did you mean by that? Did you mean you would resort to violence?

BUNDY: What I said was -- I didn't say I wouldn't carry a gun. [The Laura Ingraham Show4/10/14, via Media Matters]

Fox Figures Praise "Patriotic" Bundy Supporters

Fox's Earhardt: Bundy Supporters Are "Good, Hardworking Americans." On the April 18 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt expressed outrage at Sen. Harry Reid's comments that Bundy's supporters are "domestic terrorists," saying:

EARHARDT: And then the question this morning, the government's reaction to all of this. They're pulling guns on these individuals, on Harry Reid's community. These are folks that live in Nevada, these are good, hardworking Americans. So they disagree and the government goes out there and pulls guns and now Harry Reid's calling them terrorists? [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/18/14]

Fox's Morris: Supporters Were "Protesting Peacefully." In a later segment during the April 18 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Clayton Morris claimed that, "Suddenly people are there protesting peacefully, arguing against government intervention here ... and all of these police and folks roll in with guns and sniper rifles pointing at them." [Fox News, Fox & Friends4/18/14]

Fox's Napolitano: Ranch Protesters "Shows You The Resistance Of Patriotic Americans." Fox contributor Andrew Napolitano and Bill O'Reilly discussed the Nevada standoff on the April 17 edition of The O'Reilly Factor. Both conceded that Bundy's actions were illegal, yet Napolitano called his supporters "patriotic" and downplayed their threats of violence:

O'REILLY: But here's the fact. The federal government sent more force in to handle Cliven Bundy's cows than they did to Ukraine. Right, I mean we can't even get binoculars over there for those people but we have all of this.

NAPOLITANO: It shows you the attitude of the federal government today, and it shows you the resistance of patriotic Americans -- Americans whose voices were silenced at the scene by being moved three miles away. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor4/17/14]

Fox's Starnes: Bundy Supporters Are "Law-Abiding" Patriots.  On the April 17 edition of Hannity, Fox contributor Todd Starnes told guest-host Eric Bolling, "The idea that you've got the Senate Majority Leader going out there and calling law-abiding American citizens -- patriots -- domestic terrorists for protesting against their government is beyond the pale." [Fox News, Hannity, 4/17/14]

Fox Guest: Why Were Guns Pointed At "Hardworking Ranchers"? During the April 17 edition of Fox News's The Kelly File, frequent Fox guest and conservative filmmaker Dennis Michael Lynch demanded an explanation from Sen. Harry Reid as to why guns were pointed at "hardworking ranchers":

LYNCH: That man [Sen. Reid], I want an explanation from him. I want to know why it is that I had M-16s pointed at my face. Why those M-16s were pointed at women and children and hardworking ranchers. I want an explanation. Because the more I keep on looking at my footage -- that looked like Afghanistan. [Fox News, The Kelly File4/17/14]

Bundy Supporters Who Fox Praised Were Armed, Threatened Violence

Las Vegas Review-Journal: Armed Militia Members Mobilized For "Armed Confrontation."  The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on April 9 that armed militia members were joining Bundy in his standoff with the BLM:

From near and wide, armed men are trickling toward Cliven Bundy's ranch, where the rancher's fight with the federal government has become a rallying cry for militia groups across the United States.


They say they are prepared for armed confrontation, but they insist they will not be the instigators if bloodshed happens. [Las Vegas Review-Journal4/9/14]

Reuters: Many Supporters "Wore Military Fatigues And Carried Rifles And Pistols." Reuters reported on April 17 that many of Bundy's supporters carried rifles and pistols:

A number of Bundy supporters wore military fatigues and carried rifles and pistols and had traveled from California, Idaho, Arizona, Montana and beyond. Most kept their handguns holstered.

[Former Arizona sheriff Richard] Mack, who wore his gun on his hip, and other Bundy supporters interviewed by Reuters said they would not shoot first but would retaliate if fired upon. [Reuters, 4/17/14]

Review-Journal: "Serious Bloodshed Was Narrowly Avoided" At The Protest. The Las Vegas Review-Journal also reported that:

On Wednesday, that dispute teetered at the edge of deadly conflict, when Cliven Bundy's family members and supporters scuffled with rangers from the Bureau of Land Management sent to protect the federal roundup of Bundy's cattle on public land. [Las Vegas Review-Journal4/9/14]

Huffington Post: Former Sheriff Wanted To Put "Women Up At The Front" If A Shootout Occurred. According to the Huffington Post, former Arizona sheriff and Bundy supporter Richard Mack proposed putting women on the front lines if a shootout with the BLM occurred and claimed he "would have put my own wife or daughters there":

"We were actually strategizing to put all the women up at the front," he said on Fox News, according to TheBlaze.com. "If they are going to start shooting, it's going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot by these rogue federal officers."


"If they're going to start killing people, I'm sorry, but to show the world how ruthless these people are, women needed to be the first ones shot. I'm sorry, that sounds horrible. I would have put my own wife or daughters there, and I would have been screaming bloody murder to watch them die. [Huffington Post, 4/15/14]

Reuters: Bundy Supporter "Aimed His Semi-Automatic Rifle" At Federal Agents. On April 17, Reuters reported on the aftermath of the Bundy ranch protest, writing that during that during the standoff an armed protester aimed his gun at federal agents:

Flat on his belly in a sniper position, wearing a baseball cap and a flak jacket, a protester aimed his semi-automatic rifle from the edge of an overpass and waited as a crowd below stood its ground against U.S. federal agents in the Nevada desert. [Reuters, 4/17/14]


          Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Urquhart

KLAS-TV Las Vegas: Militia Man Joining Bundy Protest Said "We Provide Armed Response." On April 10, a local Las Vegas news station KLAS-TV reported that one militia man coming to support Bundy said, "That is what we do. We provide armed response ... We need guns to protect ourselves from the tyrannical government." [KLAS-TV Las Vegas, 4/10/14]

02:06 Dems' midterm strategy: Triage» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The party will likely leave some of its upstart hopefuls to fend for themselves.
00:31 Fox News Carnival Barkers Gin Up A Range War» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

Led by Sean Hannity, Fox News has devoted 4 hours and 40 minutes of its prime-time programming to cheerleading for a Nevada range war.

Coverage by show

Media Matters examined Fox News' weekday programming from 4 p.m. through 11 p.m. ET since it first started covering the story.

Fox News began agitating for a range war on April 9, sympathetically portraying Cliven Bundy as a folk hero based on the Nevada rancher's refusal for two decades to pay the required fees for grazing his cattle on public land. While Nevada reporters have made clear that Bundy is "clearly wrong" and "breaking the law," Fox has waged a PR campaign romanticizing Bundy and the armed militia groups that fled to his ranch and forced a standoff with federal agents who were executing a court order that allowed them to impound his cattle.

Fox Radio hostTodd Starnes fanned the flames by implying that federal agents could be "strung up" for confiscating Bundy's cattle, regardless of a court order. Even after the Bureau of Land Management announced that it would return the cattle to Bundy, Hannity asked Bundy whether he was worried that government agents might kill him.

Hannity has effectively turned his Fox News show into a public-relations firm for Bundy and the militias backing him, dedicating more than 1 1/2 hours of coverage since April 9 to effectively agitating for armed conflict with the federal government.

Hannity led Fox News' Cliven Bundy coverage


Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of Fox News programs from April 5th to April 17th. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: Bundy, Nevada, ranch!, cattle, Bureau of Land Management. The search included the Fox programs The Five, Special Report, On the Record with Greta van Susteren, The O'Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, and Hannity.

00:14 WSJ Sold On Ineffective And Potentially Unconstitutional Surveillance Of American Muslims» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

The Wall Street Journal is misleadingly defending a highly controversial and recently abandoned surveillance program that targeted innocent American Muslims.

Earlier this week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city planned to dismantle the constitutionally-questionable "Demographics Unit" of the New York Police Department (NYPD), a secretive program that relied on blanket surveillance and racial profiling of Muslim American communities both within and without the city. The program's indiscriminate spying on innocent Muslims on the basis of ethnicity and religion raised red flags not only among civil liberties advocates, but also among counter-terrorism experts. As The New York Times explained, the FBI was so alarmed about this CIA-initiated program that "F.B.I. lawyers in New York determined years ago that agents could not receive documents from the Demographics Unit without violating federal rules." The top FBI official in New Jersey, where the Demographics Unit conducted "surveillance of mosques and Islamic student organizations," pointed out that this widespread "police surveillance had made Muslims more distrustful of law enforcement and made it harder to fight terrorism."

Nevertheless, the WSJ editorial board was quick to defend these newly discontinued tactics.

In an April 17 editorial, the WSJ praised the former surveillance unit, calling the program "strikingly successful." The editorial went on to lament de Blasio's decision to scrap the program as "a bow to political correctness."

This is being hailed by the usual suspects as a triumph for civil liberties, but it's really a bow to political correctness that removes an important defense for a city that has stopped at least 16 terror plots since 9/11. It's also more fallout from a series of sensationalist Associated Press stories from 2011 that were riddled with distortions and have since been rebuked by a federal judge.


The result [of the surveillance program] was a strikingly successful effort, under former police commissioner Ray Kelly, to keep all New Yorkers safe. Part of that effort involved a small "Demographics Unit" (later renamed the "Zone Assessment Unit") to keep an eye on "hot spots" and "venues of radicalization," including mosques, bookstores, barbershops and other public places. The point wasn't to spy on entire communities, which the unit -- with never more than 16 officers -- lacked the resources to do in any case. It was to keep an eye on places where terrorists would seek to blend in.


Also false is the claim that the unit was ineffective. "The Demographics Unit was critical in identifying the Islamic Books and Tapes bookstore in Brooklyn as a venue for radicalization," Mitchell Silber, a former NYPD director of intelligence analysis, noted in Commentary magazine. "Information the unit collected about the store provided a predicate for an investigation that thwarted a 2004 plot against the Herald Square subway station."

Thu 17 April, 2014

23:12 Guns Make Domestic Violence Deadlier» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

When guns are involved in domestic violence, women die.

This simple fact was the basis for a tweet from Everytown for Gun Safety, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg's new gun violence prevention group, which noted that the presence of a gun makes it five times "more likely that domestic violence will turn into murder." Everytown has stated that they want to help prevent these deaths by closing "the loopholes that make it easy for domestic abusers to get guns without a background check." While federal law prohibits a convicted domestic abuser or individual subject to a permanent restraining order from owning a gun, abusers subject to temporary restraining orders can still buy firearms in many states, and abusers can avoid background checks by purchasing their firearms through private sales. 

But conservative media ignored these facts to falsely claim Everytown wanted to "disarm women," not their abusers, and argued women would be safer if they had increased access to guns to use as self-defense. Breitbart.com's AWR Hawkins wrote that Everytown was putting victims in danger because "the gun may be the only thing that gives the victim of abuse a fighting chance of survival." Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich told NRA News that the gun safety group was playing on the fears of "ignorant, emotional women." And former Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller claimed on Fox that all of Everytown's gun safety efforts were merely an effort "to lure in women voters," arguing that because gun murders are down, it was somehow impossible that domestic murder could be a significant problem facing women.

But the data shows that Everytown is right. Having a gun in the house doesn't make women safer -- in fact, studies have shown that domestic violence involving guns is significantly more likely to result in women dying.

22:01 Local Media Fooled By Discredited Economic Competitiveness Report» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

Local media outlets across the country published uncritical reports highlighting a conservative influence group's so-called economic competitiveness report, despite criticism of previous editions of the report over its methodology and findings.

On April 15, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) published the 2014 edition of its annual "Rich States, Poor States" economic competitiveness ranking, which claims to be "a forward-looking measure of how each state can expect to perform economically." For the seventh consecutive year, Utah was given the top spot for future economic outlook in 2014; New York was ranked last, and has never risen past 49th place.

Local media outlets quickly picked up the report and mainly discussed their own state's rankings and the rankings of neighboring states. Conservative radio station WOAI in San Antonio, Texas, published a blog detailing the report; including a quote from co-author and Heritage Foundation economist Steven Moore whom WOAI referred to as an "ALEC analyst":

A conservative group says Texas is tops in the country in economic activity today, but the American Legislative Exchange Council warns that the state's economic performance in the future will be rocky, largely because state government is spending too much money.

 "That wasn't the good budget," ALEC analyst Steven Moore told 1200 WOAI news about the budget approved by the Legislature in 2012.  "Not withstanding [sic] all of the very good things that are happening in Texas, and with the very big increase in the size of the economy."

 ALEC ranks Texas no better than 13th nationally in terms of future economic performance.

Despite the uncritical, often glowing, pick-up by local media outlets, ALEC's competitiveness report has received scrutiny in the past, mostly due to evidence showing that economic data does not comport with the results of their study.

19:14 Sometimes when I get nervous, I hold my gun & squeeze my fingers closed like this! BLAM! GunFAIL LXV» Daily Kos
Seven of 51 guns discovered by TSA agents in airports across the country last week.
Another week heavy on the self-shootings. We have 40 total listings, and 21 of them involve people accidentally shooting themselves.

Seven of our listings involved law enforcement officers, active duty military, or security guards. Their seven accidents wounded three and killed two, including the astonishing death of a Marine guard posted at the entrance to Camp Lejeune, NC, accidentally shot by the other guard with whom he was standing duty.

Speaking of astonishing stories, here's one I didn't include in the list, because it just doesn't fit the category:

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department acknowledged Thursday that its deputies mistakenly shot and killed an aspiring TV producer earlier this week while responding to a stabbing and hostage standoff in West Hollywood. Sheriff’s officials said deputies believed John Winkler, 30, was the attacker when they encountered him at a Palm Avenue apartment complex Monday night. In fact, he was one of three hostages being held inside an apartment by a man with a knife. Winkler was shot in the chest when he rushed out of the apartment with one of the other victims, sheriff's officials said in a statement.
There were six child victims of GunFAIL in today's compilation, ages, 4, 8, 9, two 11 year olds, and 17. And two kids who accidentally shot their siblings, including a 2 year old who somehow managed to fire someone's (very manly) .357 with an 8-inch barrel. In our other standard categories, we find four target shooting accidents, three home invasion shootings, three gun cleaning accidents (and one gun "securing" accident, if you're not full-up on irony yet), plus one guy who accidentally shot himself at an NRA event.

Anyway, you get the gist. So without further ado, this week's dishonor roll, below the fold.

18:46 Why Are You Taking Fish Oil Supplements?» LiveScience.com
People taking fish oil supplements, or any type of supplements, should know why they're taking them, and what the risks are.
18:23 We're coming for you, Boehner» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Opinion: I've been a GOP insurgent for 50 years. And I'm not done yet.
18:03 Fitness Trackers May Help Older People Lose Weight» LiveScience.com
People who used a fitness tracker to help their weight loss efforts lost more weight and kept it off, compared with people who didn't use the devices, a new study shows.
17:48 What to expect when she's expecting» POLITICO - TOP Stories
For Hillary Clinton, the political implications of being a grandmother are less obvious.
15:31 Obama: Marquez a great visionary» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The president describes meeting the author once in Mexico City.
15:29 South Korea Ferry: How Can a Huge Ship Sink?» LiveScience.com
The sudden sinking of a ferry carrying 475 passengers off South Korea's southern coast brings up the question: How can a large, modern passenger ship just sink?
15:28 Warren book dishes on D.C. names» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The book chronicles meetings with powerful politicians like Obama and Clinton.
13:54 Tea party fuels right-wing radio with millions in cash» Daily Kos
Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh
Ken Vogel and Mackenzie Wagner of Politico put a dollar figure on the massive flow of cash from conservative groups to talk radio hosts between 2008 and 2012:
A POLITICO review of filings with the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission, as well as interviews and reviews of radio shows, found that conservative groups spent nearly $22 million to broker and pay for involved advertising relationships known as sponsorships with a handful of influential talkers including Beck, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh between the first talk radio deals in 2008 and the end of 2012. Since then, the sponsorship deals have grown more lucrative and tea party-oriented, with legacy groups like The Heritage Foundation ending their sponsorships and groups like the Tea Party Patriots placing big ad buys.
That $22 million helped fuel the rise of the tea party, and while Vogel and Wagner say the mix of groups funding right-wing radio have evolved, the flow of cash shows no signs of slowing down. Because disclosure rules don't require releasing documents about spending until the year following an election, there isn't much recent data to go on, but this is the sort of thing they are talking about:
Senate Conservatives Fund paid at least paid $427,000 to Simon & Schuster to purchase copies of one of [radio host Mark] Levin’s books in September and October of 2013.
And of course Levin has returned the favor, calling one of the Senate Conservatives Fund's favorite tea party challengers, State Sen. Chris McDaniel of Mississippi, "solid as a rock." The irony in all this payola is that as distasteful as it is, it's a pretty good example of the right-wing media machine unwittingly helping Democrats win elections, because no matter how conservative their politics are, these radio hosts have shown time and time again that they'd rather make money than win elections.
13:37 Chart of the Day: Killing eco-activists» Daily Kos
chart on dead journalists
Earlier this week, the London-based Global Witness released its 25-page report—"Deadly Environment: The Dramatic Rise in Killings of Environmental and Land Defenders"—which makes for grim reading:
The issue is notoriously under-reported, but between 2002 and 2013, we have been able to verify that 908 citizens were killed protecting rights to their land and environment. Three times as many people were killed in 2012 than 10 years previously, with the death rate rising in the past four years to an average of two activists a week. There were almost certainly more cases, but the nature of the problem makes information hard to find, and even harder to verify. However, even the known level of killings is on a par with the more high-profile incidences of 913 journalists killed while carrying out their work in the same period. The death rate also points to a much greater level of non-lethal violence and intimidation, which are not documented in this report. [...]

People have died protecting a wide range of environmental needs and rights, but dominant themes also emerge. Many of those facing threats are ordinary people opposting land grabs, mining operations and the industrial timber trade, often forced from their homes and severely threatened by environmental devastation. Indigenous communities are particularly hard hit. In many cases, their land rights are not recognised by law or in practice, leaving them open to exploitation by powerful economic interests who brand them as 'anti-development.' Yet local communities are invariably struggling to secure good livelihoods as a result of their stewardship of natural resources, which is fundamental to sustainable development. Often, the first they know about a deal that goes against their interest is when the bulldozers arrive in their farms and forests.

Please read below the fold for more on this story.
13:31 Chelsea Clinton is pregnant» POLITICO - TOP Stories
In a joint appearance, Chelsea and Hillary Clinton announce that Chelsea is expecting a child.
13:24 Missouri mayor faces possible impeachment over racist remarks» Daily Kos
After Marionville, Missouri, Mayor Don Clevenger's comments that he "kind of agrees" with some of the racist views espoused by Frazier Glenn Cross—the white supremacist who shot and killed three people at the Overland Park, Kansas, Jewish Community Center on April 13, 2014—some members of the community are taking action:
A group of citizens, many of whom backed Clevenger's opponent in the recent mayoral election, are calling for Clevenger's ouster.

Debbie Sallee said, "We plan to go to the city council or board of alderman and ask for his resignation, and we will be asking, if he doesn't resign, for the Marionville City Council to begin impeachment because we feel he has failed to do what is in the best interest of the citizens of Marionville.  No matter what his personal beliefs are, he portrayed those on his interview as the mayor of Marionville, and we are getting feedback from the community and the nation that if we elect a man like that to be our mayor of our city, that we must be like that, too, and that is very important people know that is not our city."

For his part, the mayor wants to make it clear that he no longer considers Cross a friend and he doesn't hate all Jewish people. Just the ones destroying the country:
"I don't stereotype.  Just because some people like running those corporations that are destroying us, that doesn't mean that the rest of the race or religion or whatever is bad.  I don't stereotype," Clevenger stated.
12:00 Giving away guns is the newest chicken-in-every-pot» Daily Kos
Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell brandishes rifle at Conservative Political Action Conference 2014 on March 6, 2014
All hail the mighty gun, master of us all.
It does seem that the number of Republicans giving away guns has been considerably elevated of late.
Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), 2014: The US Senate candidate gave away a Colt AR-15 and a Colt Marine Corps 1911 Rail Pistol to two members of his email list.

South Carolina state Sen. Lee Bright, 2014: Bright, who is challenging Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), is handing out an AR-15 from Palmetto State armory to a member of his email list. [...]

Former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), 2014: The former presidential candidate and current Colorado gubernatorial contender is teaming up with Ted Nugent—who once told his rivals to "suck on my machine gun"—to hand out an AR-15 to one supporter (no donations necessary).

Colorado state Sen. Greg Brophy, 2014: Not to be outdone by Tancredo, his rival for the gubernatorial nomination is offering a Smith & Wesson M&P15—personally modified by the candidate, to one lucky member of his email list. "I tricked this baby out with all the MagPul stuff you can add!" he explains. [...]

Maryland Del. Don Dwyer, 2013: He raffled off an AR-15 and an AK-47 at "Delegate Dwyer's Gun Rights and Liberty BBQ Gun Raffle, Auction & Strategy Meeting."

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), 2013: Stockman, who advocated using liberals' tears as a gun lubricant, gave away an AR-15 on the Fourth of July to entice people to sign up for his email list. [...]

The AR-15 seems to be the most popular prize, presumably because the base is especially keen on guns that have been associated with famous mass murders; AK-47s pop up from time to time as well, for those folks that prefer their guns have a little Red Army flair. But the practice in general seems to have taken off since the recent mass murders in Newtown and Aurora. Politicians have been especially keen on being seen with guns, being seen shooting guns, and giving guns to other people ever since.

It's curious. It used to be the practice that, after every mass murder, all the gun-fetishist politicians and lobbyists and hangers-on would say how sorry they were that it happened but warn that now was not the time to talk about our nation's gun policies. Now there's not even much pretense of caring. Instead of now is not the time, the latest shootouts and murders and daily "accidents" in which some child finds his parent's loaded gun and shoots another child are met with a more belligerent this is our culture, deal with it line. Rather than wondering how to stop such things from happening, the politicians hold contests and give out the guns used by the killers. If a bunch of lunatics who do not recognize the authority of the federal government arm themselves to the teeth and prepare for a shootout with federal agents enforcing laws they do not like, Sean Hannity will devote an approving segment to the lunatics' cause.

The Newtown murder of elementary school children in their classrooms may have been a turning point. Not the one a sane society might have expected, one in which we confront how such things could happen and, at long last, how to stop them, but one that was so monstrous that it became impossible in the mind to both feign sorrow for the murdered and simultaneously defend the killer's supposedly unfettered right to the weapons. So the fetishists stopped feigning sorrow. We chose the guns over the victims, and we've been doing so ever more proudly and insistently of late. And the politicians have decided that the daily victims are not their constituents, but the guns are.

11:16 Life and death and Obamacare» Daily Kos
Doctors with patient, 1999 Item 100429, Fleets and Facilities Department Imagebank Collection (Record Series 0207-01), Seattle Municipal Archives.
Yeah, this saves lives.
This is what Republicans have to answer for. This is what Republicans want to repeal. Meet Elizabeth Hand, a writer from Maine, who from January 1, 2001 until this February spent at least $60,000 in insurance premiums and medical costs for herself and two dependent children on a relatively cheap premium plan, with exceedingly high deductibles. She and her kids are on the whole pretty healthy, minus asthma and seasonal depression and for that they are among the lucky ones. But that was all that Hand took care of—the things already diagnosed. She relied on free clinics and health fairs for immunizations and basic screenings, and that was it.

Her health insurance premiums for herself and her one still dependent child went up to  $466.35 this year, with a $15,000 deductible. So in February, she called the 800 number for HealthCare.gov. She found out she could get a plan with a $1,500 deductible for $51.56, and "started to cry." But that's not the remarkable part of the story, the life and death part. That started the next weekend when she saw an old friend at a party, and found out that the friend had had colon cancer. Hand is 57, and because her previous insurance wouldn't pay for it, had never had a colonoscopy. She got the name of her friend's doctor, and made her screening appointment.

A few Mondays ago, I finally had my colonoscopy.  No, the prep wasn't fun, although the gallon of stuff I had to drink actually tasted pretty good (drinking it with a straw helps).  During the procedure, a large polyp was removed. Or so I was told: I don't remember a thing. Afterward I went home and slept.  Late the following afternoon, the doctor called.

"You were very, very lucky," he said.  He sounded somber, and went on to explain that the kind of precancerous polyp he'd removed, and the place where he'd found it, were both indicative of a highly aggressive form of colon cancer. […]

"If you hadn't had that colonoscopy when you did, and had that polyp removed, within a year you would have had cancer," he said. "Maybe two years. Maybe three."

He spoke to me for at least 20 minutes, explaining exactly what he'd done and the different kinds of polyps that could be found during screening. He also told me that while the recommended time between colonoscopies is usually five years, I would need to come back in six months. If that test looked clean, I could wait five years before the next one. I told him that one reason I'd made the appointment was because I finally had decent insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The other reason was Lorelei.

"I remember Lorelei," the doctor said thoughtfully. "You call her and tell her 'Thank you.'"

Hand will have to pay for part of that six-month follow-up colonoscopy, a small price to pay for avoiding aggressive colon cancer which she has avoided because the first procedure—the one where the polyp was found and removed—was covered entirely.

Repeal that, Republicans.

10:24 North Carolina Senate candidate Greg Brannon is what's wrong with the Republican Party» Daily Kos
North Carolina senate candidate Greg Brannon (R)
Dear Republican Party: Stop. Propping up. Crazy people.
Dr. Greg Brannon, a Republican contending for the party’s Senate nomination in North Carolina, once called U.S. property taxes as central planning, referencing the Holocaust and Soviet Union as other examples of central planning, in a 2012 radio interview. [...]

“When has central planning worked, Bill?” Brannon said. “It’s called Holocaust, it’s called Soviet Union, it’s called, you know, apartheid. Central planning does not work but America’s version of it is better? Think about that. You pay your property tax every single year on the same property and if you don’t pay it the government takes it away. So who owns that property, Bill?”

The bank, probably? But of all the things to compare to central planning—property taxes? Federal government doesn't do those, buddy. Those are supposed to be the good, local taxes. I don't think—wait, you know what? Screw this. Screw arguing with the crazy person just because the Republican Party of North Carolina can't tell the difference between a would-be statesman and a man yelling that the fillings in his teeth are telling him to find the seventh horcrux. Screw. This.

Greg Brannon ran a website that supposed the Aurora theater shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing to be false flags, panicked over "Agenda 21" and warned of the menace of fluoridated water. He calls food stamps "slavery". He was previously caught lifting large parts of his campaign website directly from Sen. Rand Paul's website, apparently because that's what Ayn Rand would have done, and far from being chastened by the discovery has in fact continued to pilfer from everyone from Rep. Justin Amash to the Cato Institute to the Coalition for Jobs. So he's not just stupid, he's an unapologetic crook.

And yet there is no act that will render Greg Brannon, doctor, patriot and defender of our precious bodily fluids, too stupid or too disreputable for the Republican Party to prop up under the Big, Big Stupid Tent. That's what we're reduced to these days. In a party in which shutting down the government for unclear reasons sounds like a brilliant thing, in a party that considers the primary purpose of Congress to be spigot for the month's newest conspiracy theories, in a party that launched campaigns to convince young Americans they should do without health insurance, regardless of the obvious risks to them and their welfare, because the health and welfare of those Americans was not worth two little shits compared to the possibility of doing vague damage to the other party in the next set of elections, you cannot pipe up and say that overtly mean, conspiracy-peddling, anti-patriotic crackpots aren't who the party is. It has become all the party is. If Dr. Greg Brannon makes it to the Senate, he won't be an outcast. He'll fit right in.

You own this guy, Republicans. He's getting funding, he's getting support, he's getting the chance to be a Real Big Boy Politician because of an intentionally dumbed-down and corrupted base that can no longer tell the difference between honest and dishonest, or between conspiracy theories and provable fact. And you've gone to a great deal of trouble to mold your base into that, so you can take all your professed worries about how to appear more reasonable and jam them up your Agenda 21 factory.

Is there some lower bound? Is there some jackass that cannot get the support of a sizable portion of the dwindling Republican base of fantasists and morons? Are we there yet, or do we still have a ways to go?

04:27 Media Expert Highlights Problematic Tea Party Ties In Right-Wing Talk Radio» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

Media consultant Holland Cooke highlighted the deceptive advocacy of right-wing talk radio hosts on behalf of sponsors such as tea party groups, arguing that listeners "might not understand that free speech had a price tag."

In a piece titled "The tea party radio network," Politico highlighted the relationship between conservative talk radio shows and tea party non-profit groups who often act as sponsors of the shows. The report "found that conservative groups spent nearly $22 million to broker and pay for involved advertising relationships known as sponsorships with a handful of influential talkers including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh between the first talk radio deals in 2008 and the end of 2012." 

On the April 17 segment on MSNBC's The Ed Show, Ed Schultz hosted talk radio consultant Holland Cooke and Ken Vogel, a co-author of the Politico piece. Vogel pointed out that the nature of right-wing radio's sponsorship "begs the question 'where does the line between the core ideological beliefs of the host end and where does the paid sponsorship start?'" Cooke pointed out that the conservative radio advertising landscape had shifted after Rush Limbaugh's notorious attacks on Sandra Fluke caused an advertiser boycott, due in large part to groups like Flush Rush, and explained that sponsors are often "treated like a news source," leaving many listeners not realizing that they are even listening to ads:

04:10 Fox-Led Anti-Medicaid Campaign Leaves 5.7 Million Uninsured» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

The Fox-led campaign to pressure GOP governors to decline the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion has left 5.7 million people uninsured who could have gained coverage under the law. 

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that states could decide whether to expand Medicaid eligibility to all adults living below 133 percent of the federal poverty line, under a provision of the ACA which would provide federal funding for the expansion.

Immediately following the ruling, Fox News began a campaign to convince Republican governors to turn down the funding and refuse to expand the program. On July 2, 2012, Fox & Friends praised Florida governor Rick Scott for turning down Medicaid expansion. The same day, then-Fox News contributor Sarah Palin appeared on On the Record and said she "would like to see governors be tough and opt out" of the expansion":

PALIN: Many, many states are not going to be able to afford expansion of Medicaid and these exchanges that are going to try to be forced down states' throats through "ObamaCare." I would like to see governors be tough and opt out of this and exert our 10th Amendment rights and tell President Obama, who does not understand the Constitution -- he even being a constitutional lecturer and supposed scholar in our Constitution, not understanding and probably never reading or absorbing the 10th Amendment to understand that states have rights.

Fox continued to demagogue the program long after the Supreme Court's decision, misleading on its costs, falsely claiming it would bankrupt states, and ultimately blaming the ACA for the coverage gap that resulted from the very expansion refusal it advocated.

The decision not to expand Medicaid is not without consequences. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that 19 states are not moving forward with expansion, while five more are engaging in debate, but have not made a decision. Today, the White House revealed the human costs of the campaign to demonize Medicaid: (emphasis added)

02:57 Fox's Dana Perino: Obama Is A Jerk For Attacking GOP Over Obamacare Repeal Plans» Media Matters for America - Latest Items
02:08 The tea party radio network» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Sponsorship deals between hosts and the party become lucrative as the 2014 elections approach.
01:56 Mitigation of Climate Change – Part 3 of the new IPCC report» RealClimate
      Guest post by Brigitte Knopf             Global emissions continue to rise further and this is in the first place due to economic growth and to a lesser extent to population growth. To achieve climate protection, fossil power generation without CCS has to be phased out almost entirely […]

Wed 16 April, 2014

13:53 Rand Paul wants to know when U.S. economy last created millions of jobs. Here's the answer.» Daily Kos
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during a  news conference to announce legal action against government surveillance and the National Security Agency's overreach of power on Capitol Hill in Washington June 13, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul asks a question:
When is the last time in our country we created millions of jobs?
Unfortunately, he wasn't interested in the answer. Or, more specifically, he thought he knew the answer:
It was under Ronald Reagan.

One way you could look at it is total number of jobs created during each presidency since Reagan. If you did that, here's what you'd get:

  • Reagan: 16.1 million (8 years)
  • Bush 41: 2.6 million (4 years)
  • Clinton: 22.9 million (8 years)
  • Bush 43: 1.3 million (8 years)
  • Obama: 4.0 million (6 years, 2 months)

Or, to look at it a different way, since Reagan became president, a total of 20 million jobs have been created in the 20 years with Republicans in the Oval Office. Meanwhile, 26.9 million jobs have been created in the 14 years with Democrats in office. And here's the amazing thing: These numbers attribute 4.3 million jobs lost during Bush's Great Recession to Obama—if you factored those out, the total job tally would be 31 million jobs under Democrats to 16 million jobs under Republicans.

As Bill Scher pointed out, the absurdity of Rand Paul's misstatement of facts really disproves the case Paul was trying to make—that the Republican economic philosophy is better for regular working people. Paul believes the GOP needs to shed its image of being the party of the rich, which is obviously true, but his solution for doing that is to fall back on the same old trickle-down economic policies that make the economy so much worse under Republican presidents. Republicans don't need new spin: They need new policies.

11:44 Fox News' Gutfeld 'envies' Americans too poor to pay income tax» Daily Kos

You know, Fox News talking head and department store mannequin that has finally become a real boy Greg Gutfeld, if you envy the Americans so poor that they pay no federal income tax I can think of a very simple way to join their ranks.
Yay, it's tax day! Or for seventy million households: Tuesday, because for them they pay no federal income tax so they're left wondering why everyone's at the post office sweating through their shirts. I don't blame them, I envy them! A tax form to them is like a coupon for Head and Shoulders if you're bald. This is how dependence works, big government is grand if you don't feel its hand.
The actual Lucky Duckies argument in the wild. Wow, and I thought it existed these days only as parody.
Not that I don't love taxes, without them how would people like Harry Reid thrive. Useless in productive society, hucksters rely on us as their welfare. Reid and his ilk look at America and see millions of wallets and purses ready to be picked to perpetuate their power.
Please read below the fold for more of this ridiculousness.

Tue 15 April, 2014

05:26 Politico, Tal Kopan, and what's wrong with American political journalism» Daily Kos
Eric Parker from central Idaho aims his weapon from a bridge as protesters gather by the Bureau of Land Management's base camp, where cattle that were seized from rancher Cliven Bundy are being held, near Bunkerville, Nevada April 12, 2014. The U.S. Burea
If anyone needs to hear another example of just how incredibly awful American journalism has become, look no further than this piece by Tal Kopan in Politico. I suppose this is what is thought to be "objective coverage" in modern journalism, in which the truth is irrelevant and the press is there only to act as a stenographer's megaphone rather than as an informer. The piece is about the "standoff" in Nevada, whatever that is, between a rancher and the Bureau of Land Management. It starts off badly, as one would expect from Politico, but then it just gets so awful one wonders if Ms. Kopan would have been better off just printing the opposing sides' press releases.
“I only want to talk to one person in each county across the United States, and here’s what I want to say: County sheriffs, disarm U.S. bureaucracy. County sheriffs, disarm U.S. bureaucrats,” Bundy said on Glenn Beck’s radio show on TheBlaze on Monday.

“I only want to talk to one person in each county across the United States, and here’s what I want to say: County sheriffs, disarm U.S. bureaucracy. County sheriffs, disarm U.S. bureaucrats,” Bundy said on Glenn Beck’s radio show on TheBlaze on Monday.

Beck said he invited Bundy on his show after speaking with him Sunday to try to understand the man whose cattle have ignited a flashpoint between federal regulators and states’ rights advocates over federal land. On Saturday, the Bureau of Land Management released Bundy’s cattle back to him after rounding it up on federal land over what they say are unpaid grazing fees.

Please read below the fold for more on this story.

Tue 08 April, 2014

05:25 Shindell: On constraining the Transient Climate Response» RealClimate
Guest commentary from Drew Shindell There has been a lot of discussion of my recent paper in Nature Climate Change . That study addressed a puzzle, namely that recent studies using the observed changes in Earth’s surface temperature suggested climate sensitivity is likely towards the lower end of the estimated range. However, studies evaluating model […]

Sun 06 April, 2014

08:02 Unforced variations: Apr 2014» RealClimate
More open thread. Unusually, we are keeping the UV Mar 2014 thread open for more Diogenetic conversation and to keep this thread open for more varied fare.

Fri 04 April, 2014

01:41 Impacts of Climate Change – Part 2 of the new IPCC Report has been approved» RealClimate
The second part of the new IPCC Report has been approved – as usual after lengthy debates – by government delegations in Yokohama (Japan) and is now public. Perhaps the biggest news is this: the situation is no less serious than it was at the time of the previous report 2007. Nonetheless there is progress […]

Sun 30 March, 2014

18:29 IPCC WG2 report now out» RealClimate
Instead of speculations based on partial drafts and attempts to spin the coverage ahead of time, you can now download the final report of the IPCC WG2: “Climate Change 2014:Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability” directly. The Summary for Policy Makers is here, while the whole report is also downloadable by chapter. Notably there are FAQ for […]

Fri 28 March, 2014

16:34 Unforced variations: Mar 2014. Part II» RealClimate
This is mid-month open-thread for all discussions, except those related to Diogenes’ comments. People wanting to discuss with commenter Diogenes should stick to the previous UV thread. All such discussion on this thread will be moved over. Thanks.

Tue 25 March, 2014

09:40 The most common fallacy in discussing extreme weather events + Update» RealClimate
Does global warming make extreme weather events worse? Here is the #1 flawed reasoning you will have seen about this question: it is the classic confusion between absence of evidence and evidence for absence of an effect of global warming on extreme weather events. Sounds complicated? It isn’t. I’ll first explain it in simple terms […]

Sat 22 March, 2014

10:06 How Many Cans?» RealClimate
XKCD, the brilliant and hilarious on-line comic, attempts to answer the question How much CO2 is contained in the world’s stock of bottled fizzy drinks? How much soda would be needed to bring atmospheric CO2 back to preindustrial levels? The answer is, enough to cover the Earth with 10 layers of soda cans. However, the […]

Thu 20 March, 2014

12:46 Facts About Flight 370: Passengers, Crew & Aircraft» LiveScience.com
As the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continues, here are some facts about the passengers, crew, aircraft and airline.

Thu 13 March, 2014

06:57 Can we make better graphs of global temperature history?» RealClimate
I’m writing this post to see if our audience can help out with a challenge: Can we collectively produce some coherent, properly referenced, open-source, scalable graphics of global temperature history that will be accessible and clear enough that we can effectively out-compete the myriad inaccurate and misleading pictures that continually do the rounds on social […]

Fri 07 March, 2014

08:51 The Nenana Ice Classic and climate» RealClimate
I am always interested in non-traditional data sets that can shed some light on climate changes. Ones that I’ve discussed previously are the frequency of closing of the Thames Barrier and the number of vineyards in England. With the exceptional warmth in Alaska last month (which of course was coupled with colder temperatures elsewhere), I […]

Tue 15 October, 2013

Sun 22 September, 2013

06:34 The Last Post» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

The Oil Drum (TOD) was an internet energy phenomenon that ran for over eight years from April 2005 to September 2013. The site was founded by Prof. Goose (also known as Professor Kyle Saunders of Colorado State University) and Heading Out (also known as Professor Dave Summers formerly of the Missouri University of Science and Technology).

The site took off with the advent of Hurricane Rita in September 2005 and resulted in the first 200+ comment event, indicating that there was demand for a site where concerned citizens could gather round a camp fire to discuss events impacting their energy supplies and ultimately, their well being. In eight years, >960,000 comments have been posted. Two other energy linked disasters, the Deepwater Horizon blowout and the Fukushima Daiichi reactor melt downs would see readership soar to >75,000 unique visits per day.

These pages have hosted over 7,500 articles covering every aspect of the global energy system. It was not unusual for a post to attract over 600 comments, many of which were well informed and contained charts and links to other internet sources. The site would become known for a uniquely high level of discourse where armchair analysts of all stripes added their knowledge to threads in a courteous, and ultimately pro-social way that energy experts at hedge funds, corporations or universities might not have the freedom to do. It is this emergent property of smart people sharing knowledge on a critical topic to humanity's future that will be missed.

The site was built on twin backbones that would often pull the readership in opposite directions. Drumbeats, edited by Leanan (who remains anonymous to this day) provided daily energy news digest and a forum for debate. And articles, written by a legion of volunteer writers, that strove to provide a more quantitative analysis of global energy supplies and the political, social and economic events that lay behind them. All the content would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Super G, our site engineer, who maintained and updated software and hardware as the site grew and evolved for over eight years on a voluntary basis.

In the course of 2013, a decision was made to archive The Oil Drum and the main purpose of this Last Post is to provide some direction to new and future readers of the vast content it contains. The main contributors are listed below along with links to where their writings can be now be found. If you are looking for content there are two main options. The first is to look for author specific content where clicking on the live hyper linked name of the contributor will take you to a page giving access to all the content produced by that author. The second option is to use the Advanced Search facility at the top left of this page. Simply enter a few key words and this will return a page of the most relevant articles.

Editorial board

Arthur Berman (aeberman) Arthur E. Berman is a petroleum geologist with 35 years of oil and gas industry experience. He worked 20 years for Amoco (now BP) and 15 years as consulting geologist. He gives keynote addresses for energy conferences, boards of directors and professional societies. He has been interviewed about oil and gas topics on CBS, CNBC, CNN, Platt’s Energy Week, BNN, Bloomberg, Platt’s, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone and The New York Times.

He was a managing editor and frequent contributor of theoildrum.com, and an associate editor of the AAPG Bulletin. He is a Director of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, and has served on the boards of directors of The Houston Geological Society and The Society of Independent Professional Earth Scientists. He has published more than 100 articles on petroleum geology. He has done expert witness and research work on several oil and gas trial and utility commission hearings.

He has an M.S. (Geology) from the Colorado School of Mines and a B.A. (History) from Amherst College.

Nate Hagens is a well-known speaker on the big picture related to the global macroeconomy. Nate's presentations address opportunities and constraints we face in the transition away from growth based economies as fossil fuels become more costly. On the supply side, Nate focuses on biophysical economics (net energy) and the interrelationship between money and natural resources. On the demand side, Nate addresses the behavioral underpinnings to conspicuous consumption and offers suggestions on how individuals and society might better adapt to the end of growth. He will be writing at themonkeytrap.us.

Nate has appeared on PBS, BBC, ABC, NPR, and has lectured around the world. He holds a Masters Degree in Finance from the University of Chicago and a PhD in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. Previously Nate was President of Sanctuary Asset Management and a Vice President at the investment firms Salomon Brothers and Lehman Brothers. Nate is the former President of the Institute for the Study of Energy and Our Future (non-profit publisher of The Oil Drum), is current US Director of the Institute for Integrated Economic Research, and serves on the Board of the Post Carbon Institute. Nate also served as the lead editor of the Oil Drum for several years.

Rembrandt Koppelaar has since 2010 been a Research Associate at the Swiss Institute for Integrated Economic Research (IIER), where he works on modelling of costs of resource and energy flows. Since June 2012 he combines this with a PhD research position at Imperial College London, to contribute to a spatial simulation of the resource flows of an economy at a micro-level using agent-based approaches. He joined the Oil Drum in 2006 first as a contributor and later as an editor, triggering by his concern in oil depletion. An interest that also led him to establish and become President of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas Netherlands from 2006 to 2010. He is author of the book “De Permanente Oliecrisis” discussing the end of cheap oil and its consequences (Dutch language, Nieuw Amsterdam publishers, 2008). Rembrandt holds a BSc and MSc in economics from Wageningen University, the Netherlands.

Brian Maschhoff (JoulesBurn) earned a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of New Mexico and a Ph.D in Chemistry from the University of Arizona. He has worked at several academic institutions and government laboratories, and currently engages in a wide variety of scientific and technical pursuits including web-based education, data visualization, and research on salmon recovery. His research on the oil fields of Saudi Arabia is also posted at Satellite o'er the Desert. He also blogs at Picojoule, and he might eventually be found @joulesburn on Twitter.

Euan Mearns has B.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in geology from The University of Aberdeen. Following an academic career in Norway and a business career in Scotland I took time off work in 2005 to help care for two sons and two dogs and to allow my wife's career to blossom. In 2006, wondering why the oil price and the value of my oil stocks kept going up I stumbled upon the The Oil Drum that provided unique insight, at that time, into The Earth energy system. Feeling the need to put something back I submitted a couple of articles and have since written roughly 100 posts and hosted many guest posts from worthy authors.

In 2009 I was appointed as Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Aberdeen and teach occasional courses there. For the last 7 years, writing and editing articles for The Oil Drum has consumed a fair portion of my time, but I have in return learned a huge amount. I also continue to work as a consultant for the oil industry. The focus of my interest is the importance of energy to society, society's response to the infrastructure and secondary impacts of energy provision and the political response. I plan to continue writing about Energy, Environment and Policy at Energy Matters.

New post, 8th October: UK North Sea Oil Production Decline
New post 18th November: Marcellus shale gas Bradford Co Pennsylvania: production history and declines
New post, 28th November: What is the real cost of shale gas?
New post, 9th December: OPEC oil production update July 2013
New post, 18th December: OECD oil production update July 2013
New post, 3rd January: Global Oil Supply Update July 2013
New post, 6th January: The Primary Energy Tale of Two Continents

Paul Sears was born in the UK, and did a Ph.D. in chemistry at Cambridge. Since first coming to Canada on a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Western Ontario in 1973, he has worked at the University of Toronto and in the Canadian Federal Government in Ottawa. Most of his work since the mid 1970s has been on the supply and use of energy in one form or another. His interest in the limitations to oil supply dates back to about 1962, when he was at school watching a promotional film from an oil company. The subject of the film was oil exploration, and this caused him to wonder about the dependence of our society on oil and the limits to supply. Other interests are canoeing, kayaking, skiing, hiking, camping, keeping planted aquaria and learning Mandarin Chinese. Sadly, Paul Sears passed away on September 13, 2012. You can read an obituary here.

Dave Summers who writes under the pen name, "Heading Out", comes from a family that for at least nine generations has been coal miners, and he started his working life, as an Indentured Apprentice, in 1961 shoveling coal on one of the last hand-won coal faces in the UK at Seghill, after a few weeks supplying that face with the help of a pit pony. With bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from Leeds University in the UK he moved to Rolla, Missouri and Missouri University of Science and Technology (then UMR) in 1968. He was named Curators’ Professor of Mining Engineering in 1980 and for many years directed the Rock Mechanics and Explosives Research Center at MS&T. His main work has been in the developing use of high-pressure water for cutting, cleaning and demilitarization. As one of the quiet revolutions that has crept into industry during his career, his research group worked in nuclear cleanup, rocket motors, and surgical applications as well as developing tools to cut, drill and mine more mundane rock, coal and metals. The team carved the half-scale Stonehenge out of Georgia granite, using only water, and later cut Edwina Sandy’s Millennium Arch from Missouri granite, both of which are on the MS&T campus. They also used the technique in a demonstration excavation that resulted in creating the OmniMax theater under the Gateway Arch in St Louis.

He retired from the University, and was named Emeritus in 2010, and lives quietly with his wife Barbara, with occasional commutes to visit their children, located on the two coasts very far from rural America.

In 2004 he began to write a blog, and in 2005 teamed with Kyle Saunders to jointly found The Oil Drum, a site for “discussions on energy and our future.” He now writes on energy, the applications of waterjets, a little on the use of the 3D modeling program Poser, and occasionally on climate matters. His blog, where the Tech Talks continue, can be found at Bit Tooth Energy. He again thanks all those who have contributed to The Oil Drum over the years and wishes them joy and prosperity in their futures!

Dr. David Archibold Summers has written numerous articles, a textbook, Waterjetting Technology, and jointly holds several patents, the last two of which have been licensed and deal a) with the use of waterjets to remove skin cancer and b) for high speed drilling of small holes through the earth.

Gail Tverberg (Gail the Actuary) became interested in resource limits and how these affect insurance companies and the economy more generally in 2005. She began writing about this issue while working as a property-casualty actuarial consultant at Towers Watson. In 2007, she took early retirement to work specifically on the issue of oil limits.

Between 2007 and its suspension in 2013, Gail worked as a contributor and editor at TheOilDrum.com. She also started her own blog, OurFiniteWorld.com, where she continues to write on a regular basis. Her writings include Oil Supply Limits and the Continuing Financial Crisis, published in the peer-reviewed journal Energy in January 2012. She has spoken at at many conferences on subjects related to oil limits, including both academic and actuarial conferences. She now plans to write a book, tentatively called "Discontinuity Ahead: How Oil Limits Affect the Economy."

Gail worked for CNA Insurance prior to joining Tillinghast (which eventually became part of Towers Watson) in 1981. She has a BA in Mathematics from St. Olaf College and an MS in Mathematics from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She is a fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society and a member of the American Academy of Actuaries.

Her Twitter feed is @gailtheactuary.

Chris Vernon originally graduated with a masters degree in computational physics before working for ten years in the field of mobile telecoms specialising in radio network architecture and off-grid power systems in emerging markets. He subsequently returned to university to take an MSc in Earth system science and a PhD in glaciology focusing on the mass balance of the Greenland ice sheet. Chris is a trustee at the Centre for Sustainable Energy, works for the UK Met Office and maintains a personal web page.

Selected contributors

Big Gav studied Engineering at the University of Western Australia in Perth. Since then he has travelled widely and worked in the oil and gas, power generation, defence, technology and banking industries. He has been blogging about peak oil for almost 3 years at Peak Energy (Australia) and is probably the most prolific example of a techno-optimist in the peak oil world. He may be alone in thinking that peak oil represents a great opportunity to switch to a clean energy based world economy, rather than the trigger for the end of industrial civilisation.

Jason Bradford is currently a Farm Manager in Corvallis, OR and a Managing Partner for a sustainable farmland fund, Farmland LP. Most of his writing for The Oil Drum occurred while he lived in Willits, CA, where he was instrumental in the founding of Willits Economic Localization, hosted a radio program called "The Reality Report," and was a board member of the local Renewable Energy Development Institute. He also founded and ran a small farm at a local elementary school with a lot of community support and the backing of The Post Carbon Institute, where he is currently a board member. His brief but enjoyable academic career began at Washington University in St. Louis and the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG), where he taught courses in Ecology and from which he received a doctorate in Evolution and Population Biology in 2000. After graduation he was hired by the Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development at MBG, and between 2001 and 2004 secured grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society for multi-disciplinary research on issues related to species extinction and ecosystem function. His "aha moment" came during this research period where the connections between environmental decline, resource consumption, economic growth, belief systems and institutional inertia led to a dramatic change in the course of his life's work.

He continues to blog at Farmland LP.

David Murphy is an Assistant Professor in the Geography Department and an Associate of the Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability, and Energy, both at Northern Illinois University. He serves also as an Environmental Policy Analyst for the Environmental Science Division at Argonne National Laboratory. Dr. Murphy’s research focuses on the intersection of energy, economics, and the environment. Recently, his work has focused on estimating how the extraction of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale has impacted the provision of ecosystem services from the local environment. In addition, he researches how the energy return on investment from oil is related to oil price and economic growth. Dr. Murphy's work for Argonne National Laboratory addresses the environmental impacts associated with energy development.

He tweets: @djmurphy04

Robert Rapier works in the energy industry and writes and speaks about issues involving energy and the environment. He is Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President at Merica International, a forestry and renewable energy company involved in a variety of projects around the world. Robert has 20 years of international engineering experience in the chemicals, oil and gas, and renewable energy industries, and holds several patents related to his work. He has worked in the areas of oil refining, natural gas production, synthetic fuels, ethanol production, butanol production, and various biomass to energy projects. Robert is the author of Power Plays: Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil. He is also the author of the R-Squared Energy Column at Energy Trends Insider. His articles on energy and sustainability have appeared in numerous media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, The Economist, and Forbes.

Jeff Vail (jeffvail) is an energy intelligence analyst and former US Air Force intelligence officer. He has a B.S. in engineering and history from the US Air Force Academy and a Juris Doctor from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. His interests are in global energy geopolitics and the the "rhizome" theory of social and economic organization. He is the author of the political anthropology book A Theory of Power and maintains a blog at http://www.jeffvail.net.

Jérôme à Paris is an investment banker in Paris, specialised in structured finance for energy projects, in particular in the wind power sector. After graduating from the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, he wrote his Ph.D. in economics in 1995 on the independence of Ukraine, with a strong focus on the gas relationship between Ukraine and Russia, and he worked on financings for the Russian oil & gas industry for several years after that. He is the editor of the European Tribune, a community website on European politics and energy issues. He has written extensively about energy issues, usually from an economic or geopolitical angle for the European Tribune and for DailyKos where he led a collective effort to draft an energy policy for the USA, Energize America.

Rune Likvern After Rune's first time seeing The Oil Drum (TOD and Institute for the Study of Energy and Our Future; ISEOF), in 2005 he created an account as nrgyman2000 and later got an invitation to become part of the staff of volunteer writers at what was then TOD Europe. In 2008 he started to post under his real name.

He is a Norwegian presently living in Norway and holding a masters degree from what is now the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. For more than two decades he was employed in various positions by major international oil companies, primarily Statoil, working with operations, field/area developments (in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea) and implementation (primarily logistics) of Troll Gas Sales Agreement (TGSA) which is about natural gas deliveries to European customers. This was followed by a period as an independent energy (oil/gas fields assessments, cash flow analysis, portfolio analysis etc.) consultant and as VP for an energy hedge fund in New York. In recent years he had a sabbatical to do more in depth research, reading and participating in discussions about energy, biology (what makes human {brains} what they are and why), and not least financial and economic subjects in several global forums as well as some advisory work.

Presently he is looking for gainful employment/engagements.

He also posts on his blog Fractional Flow
(primarily in Norwegian, but some future posts are planned for in English).

Phil Hart studied Materials Engineering at Monash University in Melbourne before spending five years with Shell UK Exploration and Production, based in Aberdeen, Scotland. He worked on two new North Sea oil and gas field development projects followed by a stint with the Brent field maintenance team as a corrosion engineer. In late 2006, Phil returned to Melbourne and was for a while an active member of the Australian Association for the Study of Peak Oil. He provided many briefings to government, business and community audiences and is still available for presentations around Melbourne and Victoria. Phil now works primarily in the water industry but consults as required for The Institute for Sensible Transport as well. He is also a keen astronomer and night sky photographer: www.philhart.com.

Luís Alexandre Duque Moreira de Sousa (Luís de Sousa) is a researcher at the Public Research Institute Henri Tudor in Luxembourg and a Ph.D. student in Informatics Engineering at the Technical University of Lisbon. Luís created the first Portuguese language website dedicated to Peak Oil in 2005 (PicoDoPetroleo.net); in 2006 he would be one of the founders of ASPO-Portugal and later that year integrated the team that started the European branch of The Oil Drum. Since then he has continuously written about Energy and its interplay with Politics and Economics, both in English and Portuguese. Luís is a regular presence at the collective blog European Tribune and writes on the broader issues of life on his personal blog AtTheEdgeOfTime.

Sat 21 September, 2013

14:34 The House That Randy Built» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

One of the nice aspects of the 7+ years I have been involved with The Oil Drum has been attending conferences and meeting with some of my cyber friends, who by and large figure among the nicest bunch of folks I ever met. In 2007 I attended the ASPO meeting in Houston and it was then that I met Randy Udall for the first time. Well you know what some Americans are like - you meet, you chat a while, discover you get along, down a couple of beers and before you know it you are invited to go visit. And so it was with Randy Udall....

The house that Randy built, sunk low in the Colorado terrain, provides shelter from winter storms and from exposure to summer sun. Photovoltaics, solar hot water (on the roof) and a single wood burner (chimney) provides all the energy needs.

Three years later, my wife and I had a trip planned to the States to go visit Dave Rutledge (another cyber mate) at his mountain lodge in New Mexico and I thought it would be cool to visit Randy en route. We exchanged a couple of emails, he warned that his wife Leslie was cautious about some of his friends coming to stay and that his son once claimed that the family lived in a "mud hut" and by now I was wondering if this was such a good idea. But plans were made and we went to stay with Randy in Colorado for a couple of days in August 2011; on arrival, any trepidation melted away.

A "mud hut", not quite. The stucco exterior finish covers thick foam insulation that in turn covers compressed earth (adobe) blocks. This provides protection from winter cold and summer heat, and thermal inertia from the large temperature swings prevalent in this part of the world.

At first sight Randy's house did indeed have the feel of a "mud hut" but upon entering the reality of a beautifully and lovingly crafted passive house unfolded. I was astonished to learn that Randy had designed and built every inch of this house himself, including the manufacture of every compressed earth brick and the hammering in of every nail - in neat serried ranks.

I wish I had recorded the vital statistics but the mass of bricks was carefully calculated to provide thermal inertia, keeping the house warm in winter but cool in summer. I was also very surprised to learn that all of the insulation was on the outside of the masonry structure which is the opposite of the way we build our houses in the UK. South-facing windows collect wintertime solar energy and the adobe block walls and brick floors soak up much of that heat energy, keeping the home warm through cold nights. During the summer, just opening the windows at night cools off the massive floors and walls, helping the house stay cool during hot days. Putting the insulation on the outside of the exterior walls is the only way to make this adobe wall strategy work effectively.

The house was set low in the terrain, providing protection from winter storms and from the worst excesses of summer heat. Outside you find a large solar PV array, providing a surplus of electricity and solar hot water arrays on the south facing roofs providing all the hot water required and, if my memory serves correctly, some interior heating during winter time.

The rather plain exterior gave way, inside, to simple, beautifully crafted, elegance.

Every timber cut and every nail hammered by one man. This is a masterpiece that will hopefully endure.

Inside, beautiful craftsmanship provides simple but elegant living space to match the view of Mount Sopris that dominated the surrounding landscape. Not many of us leave a lasting legacy. Randy has left memories of a wonderful and thoughtful teacher and a house that will hopefully stand as a testimony to his passion for sustainable living for centuries to come.

The view out of the front window wasn't that bad either. Mount Sopris (3,952 m /12,965 ft) offered Randy and his family fantastic walking, climbing and ski mountaineering opportunities.

Renewable energy and renewable transport. I am seldom pleased with the pictures I take, but there is something about this one I really like.

On the second evening of our visit, we dined with the local mayor and downed a few glasses of red. Randy may look pensive but he is actually looking at his lap top, has my credit card and is planning a road trip for us through Mesa Verde and Grand Canyon en route to New Mexico, one of the best trips my wife and I have ever made. He knew this area like the back of his hand.

To some, this house and lifestyle may seem fabulously exuberant. But the house, in fact, was built for a relatively tiny amount of money with most of the cost coming by way of blood, sweat, tears, knowledge and love of a vision for the future. These Udalls lived a simple life with a very strong sense of community involvement.

Most folks who read these pages will already know that in June of this year Randy died aged 61 of natural causes while hiking alone in the Wind River range of Wyoming, hunting for wild trout. The tragedy here is that he was snatched from his family and the sustainable living community he championed 10 to 20 years prematurely.

Thank you to Leslie Udall for consent to publish this article and to Steve Andrews for some useful editorial comments.

Thu 19 September, 2013

21:27 Twenty (Important) Concepts I Wasn't Taught in Business School - Part I» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

Twenty-one years ago I received an MBA with Honors from the University of Chicago. The world became my oyster. Or so it seemed. For many years I achieved status in the metrics popular in our day ~ large paychecks, nice cars, travel to exotic places, girlfriend(s), novelty, and perhaps most importantly, respect for being a 'successful' member of society. But it turns out my financial career, shortlived as it was, occurred at the tail end of an era ~ where financial markers would increasingly decouple from the reality they were created to represent. My skill of being able to create more digits out of some digits, (or at least being able to sell that likelihood), allowed me to succeed in a "turbo" financial system that would moonshot over the next 20 years. For a short time I was in the 1% (and still am relative to 'all humans who have ever lived'). Being in the 1% afforded me an opportunity to dig a little deeper in what was really going on (because I quit, and had time to read and think about things for 10 years). It turns out the logic underpinning the financial system, and therefore my career, was based on some core flawed assumptions that had 'worked' in the short run but have since become outdated, putting societies at significant risks.

Around 30% of matriculating undergraduate college students today choose a business major, yet 'doing business' without knowledge of biology, ecology, and physics entirely circumvents first principles of how our world really works ~ my too long but also too short summary of the important things I wasn't taught in business school is below.

The Blind men and the Elephant, by Rudyard Kipling

Business as usual as we know it, with economics as its guide and financial metrics as its scorecard, is in its death throes. The below essay is going to appear critical of finance and the nations (world's) business schools. But it is too, critical, of our entire educational system. However, physicists, plumbers and plowmen do not have the same pull with respect to our cultural goals and narrative that financial folk do - as such an examination of the central assumptions driving society is long overdue. But before I point out what I didn't learn in MBA school, I want to be fair - I did learn things of ‘value’ for the waters I would swim in the future: statistics, regression, how to professionally present and to facilitate meetings, and some useful marketing concepts. Of course, like any 20 something student, 1/2 of the value of graduate school is learning to interact with the group of people that will be your peers, and the relationships and contacts that develop. Plus the placement office was very helpful in getting us jobs as well.

The culture at Salomon Brothers impressed me the most and I landed in their Private Investment Department, where we were basically stockbrokers for the uber-rich - as a trainee I wasn't allowed to call on anyone worth less than $50 million (in 1993). After Salomon shut our department down I went to a similar job at Lehman Brothers. At Lehman I increasingly felt like a high paid car salesmen and after 2 years quit to go work for a client, develop trading algorithms on commodities and eventually started my own small fund. But increasingly, instead of trading or trying to grow my business I found myself reading about oil, history, evolution and ecological issues. It really bothered me that 'externalities' were not priced into our goods or profits. One day, on a hike, it struck me that what I was doing felt spiritually hollow and despite it ‘paying the bills’ I began to realize I was more interested in learning about how the world worked and maybe doing something about improving it. In 2002 I gave my clients their money back, embarked on basically a 2 year hiking trip with my dog, and a car full of books. Eventually I would obtain a PhD in Natural Resources, but like many of you my real degree was obtained on this site, interacting with the many and varied people I met and continue to call friends and mentors. I am continuing to work on, or at least think about, making the near and long term future better, despite the tall odds, while living on a small farm in Wisconsin. More on this below.

In the years that have passed, modern society has become a crazy mélange of angst, uncertainty and worry. Many of us intuitively recognize that we’ve constructed a ginormous Rube Goldberg machine which for a number of reasons may not continue to crank out goods and services for the next 30-40 years. We blame this and that demographic for our declining prospects – the Republicans, the environmentalists, the greedy rich, the lazy poor, the immigrants, the liberals, etc. We blame this and that country or political system – evil socialists, heartless capitalists, Chinese, Syrians, Europeans, etc. We watch TV and internet about the latest ‘news’ influencing our world yet are not entirely confident of the connections. But underlying all this back and forth are some first principles, which are only taught piecemeal in our schools, if at all. Below is a short list of 20 principles underpinning today’s global ‘commerce’. I should note, if I was a 25 year old starting business school, eager to get a high paying job in two short years, I wouldn’t believe what follows below, even if I had time or interest to read it, which I probably wouldn't.

20. Economic 'laws' were created during and based on a non-repeatable period of human history

"I found a flaw. I was shocked because I'd been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well." Alan Greenspan testimony to Congress, Oct 2011

Click image to enlarge.

The above graphic shows a three-tiered time history of our planet, starting with the top black line being geologic time. The tiny black sliver on the far right, is enlarged in the second line, and the sliver on its far right is again enlarged on the bottom line, where the last 12,000 years are shown. We, both our environment, and ourselves, are products of this evolutionary history. Our true wealth originates from energy, natural resources and ecosystem services, developed over geologic time. Our true behavioral drivers are a product of our brains being sculpted and honed by 'what worked' in all 3 eras of this graph (but mostly the top 2). The dark line on the bottom is human population, but just as well could be economic output or fossil fuel use, as they have been highly correlated over this period.

The economic ‘theories’ underpinning our current society developed exclusively during the short period labeled 'A' on the graph, on a planet still ecologically empty of human systems and when increasing amounts of extraordinarily powerful fossil energy was applied to an expanding global economic system. For decades our human economies seemed to follow a pattern of growth interrupted by brief recession and resumption to growth. This has made it seem, for all intents and purposes, that growth of both the economy and aggregate individual wealth was something akin to a natural law –it is certainly taught that way in business schools. The reality is that our human trajectory –both past and future - is not a straight line but more like a polynomial - long straight stretches, up and down, with some wavy periods in the middle, and ultimately capped. Our present culture, our institutions, and all of our assumptions about the future were developed during a long 'upward sloping' stretch. Since this straight line period has gone on longer than the average human lifetime, our biological focus on the present over the future and past makes it difficult to imagine that the underlying truth is something else.

Evidence based science in fields like biology and physics has been marginalized during this long period of 'correlation=causation'. This oversight is not only ubiquitous in finance and economics but present in much of the social sciences, which over the past 2 generations have largely conflated proximate and ultimate explanations for individuals and societies. In nature geese fly south for the winter and north in the spring. They do this based on neurotransmitter signals honed over evolutionary time that contributed to their survival, both as individuals and as a species. "Flying north in spring" is a proximate explanation. "Neuro-chemical cues to maximize food/energy intake per effort contributing to survival" is an 'ultimate' explanation. In business school I was taught, 'markets go north' because of invention, technology and profits, an explanation which seemed incomplete to me even though it has appeared to be valid for most of my life. Social sciences have made great explanations of WHAT our behavior is, but the descriptions of WHY we are what we are and HOW we have accomplished a vast and impressive industrial civilization are still on the far fringes of mainstream science. Economics (and its subset of finance) is currently the social science leading our culture and institutions forward, even if now only by inertia.

19. The economy is a subset of the environment, not vice versa

If people destroy something replaceable made by mankind, they are called vandals; if they destroy something irreplaceable made by God, they are called developers.
Joseph Wood Krutch

When you have to classify the very capacity of the Earth to support life as an "externality", then it is time to rethink your theory. --Herman Daly--

Click image to enlarge.

Standard economic and financial texts explain that our natural environment is only a subset of a larger human economy. A less anthropocentric (and more accurate) description however, is that human economies are only a subset of our natural environment. Though this may seem obvious, currently anything not influencing market prices remains outside of our economic system, and thus only actively 'valued' by government mandates or by some individuals, not by the cultural system as a whole. A landmark study in NATURE showed that the total value of 'ecosystem services' -those essential processes provided to humans by our environment like: clean air, hydrologic cycles, biodiversity, etc. if translated to dollar terms, were valued between 100-300% of Global GNP. Yet the market takes them for granted and does not ascribe value to them at all!!! Part of reason is that the negative impacts from market externalities aren't immediate, and with our steep discount rates (see below), the near term 'benefits' of GDP outweigh 'abstract' costs at some unknown future date.

Mankind's social conquest of earth has brought with it some uncomfortable 'externalities'. We are undergoing a 6th great extinction, which is no wonder given that humans and our livestock now outweigh wild animals by almost 50:1. Our one species is appropriating over 30% of the Net Primary Productivity of the planet. (One can ask, how can we use 30% of sunlight yet have 50x the weight of the other vertebrates and the answer, as we will see below, is our consumption of fossil carbon). A short list of deleterious impacts not incorporated into prices/costs includes: air pollution, water pollution, industrial animal production, overfishing (90% of pellagic fishes (tuna) in ocean are gone), nuclear waste, biodiversity loss, and antibiotic resistance. Perhaps the most ominous is the threat of climate change and ocean acidification, where humans, via burning large amounts of fossil carbon, are impacting global biogeochemical systems in profound and long-lasting ways.

Since GDP, profits and 'stuff' are how we currently measure success, these 'externalities' only measurement is the sense of loss, foreboding and angst by people paying attention. Such loss is currently not quantified by decision makers. In the past, only when there was a ‘smoking gun’ e.g. in the case of chlorofluorocarbons, DDT, unleaded gasoline, did society organize and require rules and regulations for the externalities, but these examples, as serious as they were, were not anathema to the entire human economy.

18. Energy is almost everything

Without natural resources life itself is impossible. From birth to death, natural resources, transformed for human use, feed, clothe, shelter, and transport us. Upon them we depend for every material necessity, comfort, convenience, and protection in our lives. Without abundant resources prosperity is out of reach.
— Gifford Pinchot Breaking New Ground (1998), 505.

In nature, everything runs on energy. The suns rays combine with soil and water and CO2 to grow plants (primary productivity). Animals eat the plants. Other animals eat the animals. At each stage of this process there is an energy input, an energy output and waste heat (2nd law of thermodynamics). But at the bottom is always an energy input. Nothing can live without it. Similarly, man and his systems are part of nature. Our trajectory from using sources like biomass and draft animals, to wind and water power, to fossil fuels and electricity has enabled large increases in per capita output because of increases in the quantity of fuel available to produce non-energy goods. This transition to higher energy gain fuels also enabled social and economic diversification as less of our available energy was needed for the energy securing process, thereby diverting more energy towards non-extractive activities. The bottom of the human trophic pyramid is energy, about 90% of which is currently in the form of fossil carbon. Every single good, service or transaction that contributes to our GDP requires some energy input as a prerequisite. There are no exceptions. No matter how we choose to make a cup, whether from wood, or coconut, or glass or steel or plastic, energy is required in the process. Without primary energy, there would be no technology, or food, or medicine, or microwaves, or air conditioners, or cars, or internet, or anything.

A long term graph of human output (GDP) is one highly correlated with primary energy use. For a while (1950s to 1990s) improvements in efficiency, especially in natural gas plants, complemented energy use as a driver of GDP, but most of these have declined to now have only minor contributions. Since 2000, 96% of our GDP can be explained by 'more energy' being used. (For more data and explanation on this, please see "Green Growth - An Oxymoron"). Some resource economists have claimed that the relationship between energy and the economy decoupled starting in the 1970s, but what happened was just an outsourcing of the 'heavy lifting' of industrial processes to cheaper locations. If one includes energy transfers embedded in finished goods and imports there isn’t a single country in the world that shows a disconnect between energy use and GDP. Energy it turns out, not dollars, is what we have to budget and spend. Quite simply, energy is the ability to do work. How much work, we'll see below.

17. Cheap energy, not technology, has been the main driver of wealth and productivity

Click image to enlarge.

The chemical potential energy available from the burning of things (e.g. wood) is rather astounding when compared with the energy which we supply our bodies in the form of food, and the fossil fuels of coal, oil, and natural gas burn even hotter while also being much easier to store and transport. We quickly learned that using some of this heat to perform work would transform what we could accomplish in massive ways. One barrel of oil, priced at just over $100 boasts 5,700,000 BTUs or work potential of 1700kWhs. At an average of .60 kWh per work day, to generate this amount of 'labor', an average human would have to work 2833 days, or 11 working years. At the average hourly US wage rate, this is almost $500,000 of labor can be substituted by the latent energy in one barrel of oil that costs us $100. Unbeknownst to most stock and bond researchers on Wall Street, this is the real ‘Trade’.

The vast majority of our industrial processes and activities are the result of this ‘Trade’. We applied large amounts of extremely cheap fossil carbon to tasks humans used to do manually. And we invented many many more. Each time it was an extremely inefficient trade from the perspective of energy (much more energy used) but even more extremely profitable from the perspective of human society. For instance, depending on the boundaries, driving a car on a paved road uses 50-100 times the energy of a human walking, but gets us to where we are going 10 times faster. The ‘Trade’ is largely responsible for some combination of: higher wages, higher profits, lower priced goods and more people. The average american today consumes ~60 barrel of oil equivalents of fossil carbon annually, a 'subsidy' from ancient plants and geologic processes amounting to ~600 years of their own human labor, before conversion. Even with 7 billion people, each human kWh is supported by over 90kWh of fossil labor, and in OECD nations about 4-5 times this much.

Technology acts as an enabler, both by inventing new and creative ways to convert primary energy into (useful?) activities and goods for human consumption and, occasionally, by making us use or extract primary energy in more efficient ways. Even such services that appear independent of energy, are not so- for example, using computers, iPhones, etc in aggregate comprise about 10% of our energy use, when the servers etc are included. Technology can create GDP without adding to energy use by using energy more efficiently but:

a) much of the large theoretical movements towards energy efficiency have already occurred and

b) energy saved is often used elsewhere in the system to build consumption demand, requiring more and more primary energy (Jevons paradox, rebound effect). Technological improvement thus does increase efficiency, but higher levels of resource consumption and a larger scale of resource extraction offset this advantage.

Despite the power in the Trade, its benefits can be readily reversed. Firstly, if we add very large amounts of primary energy, even if it is inexpensive, the wage increases/benefits start to decline. But more importantly, and has been happening in the past decade or so, as energy prices increase, so too do the benefits of the “Trade” start to wane. The graph to the right (source, page 18) shows that as the price of energy doubles or triples the benefits of this 'Trade' quickly recede. This is especially true for energy intensive transportation, like air travel, and for highly energy intensive processes, like aluminum smelting, cement manufacture- fully 30% of US industry falls into this category. The ensuing reduction in 'salary' from large energy price increases can only partially be offset by efficiency measures or lean manufacturing moves, because the whole 'Trade' was predicated on large amounts of very cheap energy. This is why the mainstream media touting increased oil production or the growth rate in solar/wind is missing the larger point - what matters are the benefits derived at the various cost points of energy extraction/harnessing. Even with large amounts of gross energy, if it is too costly, it is much less helpful or worse, the infrastructure, trade arrangements and expectations built upon continued $40 oil and $0.05kWh electricity will have to be changed. Basically, the benefits to human societies from the mammoth bank account we found underground are almost indistinguishable from magic. Yet we have managed, over time, to conflate the Magic with the Wizard.

16. Energy is special, is non-substitutable in the production function, and has an upward sloping long term cost curve

"Oil is a renewable resource, with no intrinsic value over and above its marginal cost... There is no original stock or store of wealth to be doled out on any special criterion... Capital markets are equipped to handle oil depletion...It is all a matter of money", M.A. Adelman, Professor of Economics, MIT Source

Physics informs us that energy is necessary for economic production and, therefore growth. However, economic texts do not even mention energy as a factor that either constrains or enables economic growth. Standard financial theory (Solows exogenous growth model, Cobb Douglas function) posits that capital and labor combine to create economic products, and that energy is just one generic commodity input into the production function - fully substitutable the way that designer jeans, or earrings or sushi are. The truth is that every single transaction that creates something of value in our global economy requires an energy input first. Capital, labor and conversions are ALL dependent on energy. For instance, the intro text by Frank and Bernanke (2d ed., 2004, p. 48) offers explanations for increased productivity: …increased quantity of capital per worker, increased # of workers, and, "perhaps the most important,...improvements in knowledge and technology." Nowhere in standard economic literature is there even a hint that the "improvement" in technology they refer to has, historically, been directly linked to the progression of displacing solar-powered human and animal muscle with larger and larger quantities of energy from oil, coal, and gas. Though energy is central (in that even more difficult ore grades require more overburden to extract, requiring more diesel fuel, etc), energy is not the only key limiter – other minerals and metals are finite and deteriorating in quality and cannot be (easily) replaced.

Since energy seemed the same as any other commodity economic models assumed that energy and resources would follow the same decreasing cost curve we have come to expect from gadgets like toasters and coffee cups, where the technology, outsourcing of parts to their lowest cost countries, and efficiencies of scale have generally formed a declining cost over time. For a while, energy too followed this curve, but given that high quality resources are finite, and require high quality processed resources themselves to extract and refine, eventually the cost curve of energy and other key minerals and ores, begins to rise again. This 'dual view' of energy vs regular everyday products is a key failing in economic texts. But for most of the past 60-70 years however this omission was perhaps understandable, as there WAS a continuing supply of cheap energy so its worth seemed to be just the dollar price of it. For most, this is still the dominant worldview – dollars are more important than energy.

Historical cost curves for oil, coal and natural gas for Europe - Graph source: Rune Likvern Click to enlarge

15. Energy has costs in energy terms, which can differ significantly than dollar signals

“It is appropriate to conclude that, as long as the sun shines brightly on our fair planet, the appropriate estimate for the drag on the economy from increasing entropy is zero. William Nordhaus

“ The laws of economics are like the laws of engineering. There's only one set of laws and they work everywhere. One of the things I've learned in my time at the World Bank is that whenever anybody says "But economics works differently here", they're about to say something dumb. Lawrence H. Summers

“ ... the world can, in effect, get along without natural resources ... at some finite cost, production can be freed of dependence on exhaustible resources altogether.... Nobel Laureate Robert Solow

In nature, animals expend energy (muscle calories) in order to access energy (prey). The return on this ‘investment’ is a central evolutionary process bearing on metabolism, mating, strength and survival. Those organisms that have high energy returns in turn have surplus to withstand the various hurdles found in nature. So it is in the human system where the amount of energy that society has ‘to spend’ is that left over after the energy and resources needed to harvest and distribute that energy are accounted for. Finite resources typically follow a 'best first' concept of resource extraction. As we moved from surface exploration based on seeps to seismic surveys showing buried anticlines, to deep-water and subsalt reservoir exploration, and finally to hydro-fracturing of tight oil formations , the return per unit of energy input declined from over 100:1 to something under 10:1. To economists and decision makers only the dollar cost and gross production mattered during this period, as after all, more dollars would ‘create’ more energy flowing through our economies. Net energy can peak and decline while gross energy continues to rise, and indeed can go to zero when there is still plenty of gross resource remaining. Everything we do will become more expensive if we cannot reduce the energy consumption of specific processes faster than prices grow. Yet, financial texts continue to view economic activity as a function of infinite money creation rather than a function of capped energy stocks and finite energy flows.

Left chart - western Majors price needed for cash flow break even in yellow, overlayed on OPEC vs non-OPEC crude oil production. Source IEA, Goldman Sach 4/13 report 'Higher long term prices required for troubled industry'. Right curve total oil production from Western Majors - source

Irrespective of the dollar price tag, it requires about 245 kilojoules to lift 5kg of oil 5 km out of the ground. Similar biophysical costs apply to every energy extraction/harnessing technology we have - but they are all parsed into financial terms for convenience. After all, isn't it dollars (euros, yen, renminbi) that our system is trying to optimize? But these physical input requirements will not vary whether the number of digits in the worlds banking system increases or shrinks or goes away. Though fossil fuels are our primary source of wealth, they were created a long time ago, and in drawing down their bounty we have not needed to pay the price of their generation, only their extraction. And, despite enormous amounts of sunlight hitting the earth everyday, real (and significant) resources need to be expended in order to harness and convert the sunlight into forms and at places where it can be used.

There is an enormous difference between ‘gross’ and ‘net’ which manifests in financial sphere via costs. Irrespective of our choice of nominal statistic measuring GDP (wampum or dollars or digits or gold), an increasing % of them will be allocated to the energy sector. If our objective is just to increase GDP, we can just keep growing gross energy by locating and exploiting deeper and deeper pockets of fossil hydrocarbons, but eventually our entire food, healthcare, entertainment infrastructure will be to provide for a giant mining operation. Few media outlets (none actually) handicap the new surge in gross USA oil production by a)capex requirements going up faster than oil prices, b) the enormous increase in diesel use in the shale plays and c) the higher API gravity oil (42 for Bakken, 55 for Eagleford) which exaggerate energy content per barrel between 3.5% and 10.7%. Under current trends, the implications of energy depletion is we will move from energy costing less than 5% of our economy to 10-15% or more. In addition to the obvious problems this will create, we will be using lower quality energy as well. As oil has become more expensive, we are increasingly going towards coal and wood to replace it. Already, in countries with a large drop in ability to afford (e.g. Greece) are cutting down forests to heat their homes in winter.
Net energy is what societies should be focused on, and most don’t even know what it is.

14. Money/financial instruments are just markers for real capital

Some material things make my life more enjoyable; many, however, would not. I like having an expensive private plane, but owning a half-dozen homes would be a burden. Too often, a vast collection of possessions ends up possessing its owner. The asset I most value, aside from health, is interesting, diverse, and long-standing friends. Warren Buffet - The Giving Pledge

Some of my 'real capital': Natural capital - my backyard with trees, sun, water, Social capital Here 2 of my dogs, but equally my friends, contacts and family relationships, Built capital Our house, with solar hot water, chain saws, an aloe vera plant, and a deck, and Human Capital My health and skills (identifying edible mushrooms), my fathers health and skills (he's a doctor, and can grow vegetables, etc)

Growing a big bank account is like fat storage for animals – but it’s not, because it’s only a marker for fat – its caloric benefit stored for the future is intertwined with a sociocultural system linked to monetary and credit marker. In business school, (and on Wall St.) we were taught that stocks going up ~10% a year over the long run was something akin to a natural law. The truth turns out to be something quite different. Stocks and bonds are themselves ‘derivatives’ of primary capital - energy and natural resources – which combine with technology to produce secondary capital - tractors, houses, tools, etc. Money and financial instruments are thus tertiary capital, with no intrinsic value – it’s the social system and what if confers that has value and this system is based on natural, built, social and human capital. And, our current system of ‘claims’ (what people think they own) has largely decoupled from underlying ‘real capital’.

13. Our money is created by commercial banks out of thin air (deposits and loans are created at same time)

Though societies require ‘energy’, individuals require money in order to transact in the things energy provides. What is money anyways? I certainly didn't learn in business school (or any school for that matter). Quite simply, money is a claim on a certain amount of energy. When our economic engine kicked into gear in the early 1900s, money (not energy or resources) was the limiting factor. We had so much wealth in our natural resource bank account that we needed ways of turbocharging the broader economy so productive ventures could be undertaken by anyone with skill, products or ambition. It was around this time that banks came into existence - to increase the flow of money to match the productive output of our economies only made sense - too little money and we couldn't produce the 'power' needed by a hungry world. Creditworthy individuals/businesses could now obtain loans from commercial banks who were required to keep a small portion of their assets on reserve with a central bank. And it worked fabulously well. Correlation=causation and all that.

We were taught to view credit creation as a series of consecutive bank "intermediations", where some initial deposit rippled through the banking system and via a multiplier, created additional money. E.g. banks are unable to create credit themselves, but are just passing on some wealth already created. This is true for about 5% of money coming into existence. The reality for 95%+ of money creation is profoundly different. The standard concept of lending describes a transfer of an existing commodity to its exclusive use somewhere else. However, this new credit extended by banks does not remove purchasing power or claims on resources from anywhere else in the economy. Since banks are capital constrained, not reserve constrained they lend when (ostensibly) creditworthy customers have demand for loans, not when they have excess reserves. As such the ‘fractional reserve banking’ system taught in textbooks and demonized on the blogosphere is not the proper description. I didn't learn this until 2007 or so. Banks do not lend money, they create it. And this is why the focus on government debt is a red herring. All of our financial claims are debt relative to natural resources.

**(Edit - This new paper by Bank of England states precisely what I did just above -banks are not just intermediaries as taught in textbooks)

12. Debt is a non-neutral intertemporal transfer

The left graph, shows the disconnect between GDP and aggregate, non-financial debt. In every single year since 1965 we have grown our debt more than we have grown our GDP. The right graph shows the inverse - how much GDP we receive for each new dollar of debt - declining debt productivity. Source: FED Z.1 2013, NBER

(Note: I use the terms credit and debt interchangeably, though creditor and debtor are opposites)

Of the broad aggregate money in existence in the US of around $60 trillion, only about $1 trillion is physical currency. The rest can be considered, ‘debt’, a claim of some sort (corporate, household, municipal, government, etc.) If cash is a claim on energy and resources, adding debt (from a position of no debt) becomes a claim on future energy and resources. In financial textbooks, debt is an economically neutral concept, neither bad nor good, but just an exchange of time preference between two parties on when they choose to consume. (* we were taught in corporate finance, because of the deductibility of interest, choosing debt over equity is preferred in situations with taxes – but in the real world, when capital markets are open and credit is flowing, if a CEO has choice between financing a project with equity or debt, he/she will almost always prefer debt. And so they do.) However, there are several things that happen when we issue debt/credit that cause the impact of the convention to be much different than in the textbooks:

1) While we are issuing debt (especially on a full planet) the best and easiest to find energy and resources deplete making energy (and therefore other things) generally more expensive for the creditor than the debtor. People that choose to save are ‘outcompeted’ by people who choose to consume by taking on debt. At SOME point in the future SOME creditors will get less, or nothing. (the question now is ‘when’ and ‘who’)

2) We increasingly have to issue more debt to keep up with the declining benefit of the “Trade”, lest aggregate demand plunge.

3) Over time we consume more rather than adding productive investment capacity. This lowers debt productivity over time (debt productivity is how much GDP we get for an additional $ of debt, or the ratio of GDP growth relative to debt growth). If an additional dollar of debt created a dollar of GDP, or anything close, it would be more or less like the textbooks claim – a tradeoff in the temporal preferences of the creditor and debtor. And, when debt productivity is high, we are transforming and extending wealth into different forms of future wealth (energy into productive factories etc). But when debt productivity is low (or approaching zero as is the case now), new debt is really just an exchange of wealth for income. This is happening now in all nations of the world to varying degrees. E.g. since 2008, G7 nations have added 1 trillion in nominal GDP, but at a cost of increasing debt by $18 trillion – and this doesn’t include off balance sheet guarantees.

Debt can thus be viewed two ways – 1) from a wealth inequality perspective, for every debtor there is a creditor – a zero sum game, 2) all claims (debts) are relative to the energy and natural resources required to a) service them and b) pay off the principle. (So, think 2 Italians: Gini and Ponzi.)

11. Energy measured in energy terms is the cost of capital

The cost of finite natural resources measured in energy terms is our real cost of capital. In the short and intermediate run, dollars function as energy, as we can use them to contract and pay for anything we want, including energy and energy production. They SEEM like the limiters. But in the long run, accelerating credit creation obscures the engine of the whole enterprise - the ‘burning of the energy’. Credit cannot create energy, but it does allow continued energy extraction and much (needed) higher prices than were credit unavailable. At some point in the past 40 years we crossed a threshold of 'not enough money' in the system to 'not enough cheap energy' in the system, which in turn necessitated even more money. After this point, new credit increasingly added gross energy masking declines in our true cost of capital (net energy/EROI). Though its hard to imagine, if society had disallowed debt circa 1975 (e.g. required banks to have 100% Tier 2 capital and reserves) OR if we had some natural resource tether – like gold – to our money supply since then, global oil production and GDP would likely have peaked 20-30 years ago (and we’d have a lot more of the sub 50$ tranche left). As such, focus on oil and gas production numbers isn't too helpful without incorporating credit forecasts and integrating affordability for societies at different price tranches.

An example might make this clearer: imagine 3,000 helicopters each dropped a billion dollars of cash in different communities across the country (that’s $3 Trillion ). Citizens that get there first would stuff their backpacks and become millionaires overnight, lots of others would have significant spending money, a larger number would get a few random hundreds stuck in fences, or cracks, and a large % of the population, not near the dropzone, would get nothing. The net effect of this would be to drive up energy use as the new rich would buy cars and take trips and generally consume more. EROI of the nations oil fields wouldn’t change, but oil companies would get a higher price for the now harder to find oil because the economy would be stronger, despite the fact that those $3 trillion came from thin air (or next to it). So, debt went up, GDP went up, oil prices went up, EROI stayed the same, a few people got richer, and a large % of people got little to nothing. This is pretty much what is happening today in the developed world.

Natural systems can perhaps grow 2-3% per year (standing forests in USA increase their volume by 2.6% per year). This can be increased via technology, extraction of principle (fossil carbon), debt, or some combination. If via technology, we are accessing energy we might not have been able to access in the future. If we use debt, we are diverting energy that would have been accessible in the future to today by increasing its affordability via handouts/guarantees and increasing the price that energy producers receive for it. In this fashion debt functions similarly to technology in oil extraction. Neither one is 'bad', but both favor immediate consumption on an assumption they will be repeated in continued iterations in the future.

Debt temporarily makes gross energy feel like net energy as a larger amount of energy is burned despite higher prices, lower wages and profits. Gross energy also adds to GDP, as the $80+ per barrel oil extraction costs in e.g. Bakken Shale ends up being spent in Williston and surrounding areas (this would be a different case if the oil were produced in Canada, or Saudi Arabia). But over time, as debt increases gross energy and net energy stays constant or declines, a larger % of our economy becomes involved in the energy sector. Already we have college graduates trained in biology, or accounting, or hotel management, working on oil rigs. In the future, important processes and parts of non-energy infrastructure will become too expensive to continue. Even more concerning is that, faced with higher costs, energy companies increasingly follow the societal trend towards using debt to pull production forward in time (e.g. Chesapeake, Statoil). In this environment, we can expect total capital expenditure to keep pace with total revenue every year, and net cash flow become negative as debt rises.

In the last 10 years the global credit market has grown at 12% per year allowing GDP growth of only 3.5% and increasing global crude oil production less than 1% annually. We're so used to running on various treadmills that the landscape doesn't look all too scary. But since 2008, despite energies fundamental role in economic growth, it is access to credit that is supporting our economies, in a surreal, permanent, Faustian bargain sort of way. As long as interest rates (govt borrowing costs) are low and market participants accept it, this can go on for quite a long time, all the while burning through the next tranche of extractable carbon and getting reduced benefits from the "Trade" creating other societal pressures. I don't expect the government takeover of the credit mechanism to stop, but if it does, both oil production and oil prices will be quite a bit lower. In the long run it's all about the energy. For the foreseeable future, it's mostly about the credit

But why do we want energy and money anyways?

Continued in Part II

Wed 18 September, 2013

21:17 So, What Are You Doing?» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

It's September and we still have 7 more 'final' posts in the queue (myself, Joules, Jerome, Jason, Art, Dave Murphy, and Euan...) and will run them every 2 days until finished. Leanan will post a final Drumbeat later this week where people can leave website links contact details, etc.

For 8 years we read about what people think about energy related themes. I thought it would be a good idea to use this thread to highlight what people are actually doing in their lives given the knowledge they've gleaned from studying this topic, which really is more of a study of the future of society.

What do TOD members plan to do in the future? Herding goats, fixing potholes, creating web sites, switching careers, etc? I'll go first. Feel free to use my template or just inform others what you're doing. This might be interesting thread to check back on in a few/many years.....(Please no posting of energy charts etc. and let's not respond to others in this thread, just a long list of what people are doing w/ their time).

Ere we scatter to the ether, please share, anonymously or otherwise : what are people doing?

Thu 12 September, 2013

11:32 The Exponential Legacy of Al Bartlett» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

Dr. Albert Allen Bartlett, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Colorado, died September 7, 2013 at the age of 90. It is coincidental that, in the year that he "officially" retired from teaching (1988), I first heard his famous lecture Arithmetic, Population, and Energy (although I don't recall if that was the title at the time). I was in my last year in graduate school, and his talk was one of the keynote presentations (or perhaps during dinner) for a scientific conference. It was seemingly out of place given that the subject of the meeting was surface chemistry and physics, but it most certainly became stuck somewhere in my mind for reasons other than its novelty.

Most scientists are transfixed on interesting scientific details, some with relevance to technological problems, and perhaps buzz-worthy enough to attract funding. There has never been much money in solving problems with no real technological solution. I became reacquainted with this talk in 2006, probably via a link on The Oil Drum. TOD was by its nature dealing with limits to growth (of oil, if nothing else), and over the last few years, we have discussed the various ways in which we could perhaps keep the oil flowing or replace it with something else. Perhaps the implications of exponential growth was kept in the back room somewhere, like an embarrassing relative, while the latest "game changing" solution was bandied about. But we need to continually remind ourselves that, while important, finding the next energy source or improving efficiencies the keep the economy growing are not long-term solutions for a finite planet.

Below are some more reflections on Prof. Bartlett's legacy, from ASPO-USA (where he had long been on the advisory board) and from the University of Colorado.

Albert A. Bartlett: Ode to a Gentle Giant

Dr. Albert Allen Bartlett enjoyed 90 years of rich life on this earth; moreover, thousands of people have enjoyed and been touched by Al's life.

He is of course most widely known as a tireless, eloquent, and supremely caring voice for charting a sustainable path for humanity. With seemingly endless determination, he applied his training in math and physics and skills as a master teacher to focus attention on a simple but paramount idea--on a finite planet, "growth" is unsustainable. "Sustainable growth is an oxymoron", is how Al is sometimes quoted.

His most reknowned quote, however, is "the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function"--referring to the accelerating rate exhibited by anything growing as a constant percentage increase.

Al developed a now-famous lecture that illustrated the power and importance of this mathematical phenonomenon, and reportedly delivered that lecture more than 1700 times over the following decades. That one man would be compelled to devote much of his career to the understanding of a basic, unassailable fact of life speaks volumes about the world we live in, as well as Al's great character.

ASPO-USA is proud to have had Al as a longstanding member of our advisory board, and I was exceptionally fortunate to be acquainted with him in his latter years. While the nature of our relationship was professional, what I will always remember is the warmth, humility, and quiet joy that he brought to his work and his relationships with his colleagues and students.

For those that dare to concern themselves with the monumental issues that concerned Al, there is a risk of gloominess creeping into our outlook on life and humanity. Al is a beautiful reminder that need not be the case.

The note that Al wrote to us after he visited his doctor was filled with the peace and happiness of a man who had understood long ago what was important in life and had lived his own life accordingly. We should all be so blessed, and some of us were also blessed to know Al.

In honor to Al, inspired and informed by his life and his friendship, we re-commit ourselves to continuing and building on his legacy.

Click below to view Al's famous lecture - Arithmetic, Population, and Energy:


Jan Mueller Executive Director, ASPO-USA


CU-Boulder campus mourns death of longtime, celebrated physics professor Al Bartlett

excerpted from here

“Al Bartlett was a man of many legacies,” said CU-Boulder Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano. “His commitment to students was evidenced by the fact that he continued to teach for years after his retirement. His timeless, internationally revered lecture on the impacts of world population growth will live beyond his passing, a distinction few professors can claim. And we can all be thankful for his vision and foresight in making the Boulder community what it is today.”

Bartlett was born on March 21, 1923, in Shanghai, China. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Colgate University and spent two years as an experimental physicist at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico as part of the Manhattan Project before earning his graduate degrees in physics at Harvard. He then started his teaching career at CU-Boulder.

When Bartlett first delivered his internationally celebrated lecture on “Arithmetic, Population and Energy” to a group of CU students on Sept. 19, 1969, the world population was about 3.7 billion. He proceeded to give it another 1,741 times in 49 states and seven other countries to corporations, government agencies, professional groups and students from junior high school through college.

His talk warned of the consequences of “ordinary, steady growth” of population and the connection between population growth and energy consumption. Understanding the mathematical consequences of population growth and energy consumption can help clarify the best course for humanity to follow, he said.

The talk contained his most celebrated statement: “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” A video of his lecture posted on YouTube has been viewed nearly 5 million times.

This year, the world population is about 7.1 billion and the CU Environmental Center announced a program this summer in which 50 student and community volunteers received training in exchange for a commitment to give Bartlett’s talk at least three times in 2013-14.

Before his death, Bartlett requested that any memorial gifts be made to the University of Colorado Foundation Albert A. Bartlett Scholarship Fund, in care of the Department of Physics, 390 UCB, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, 80309.

Tue 10 September, 2013

06:59 Of Milk Cows and Saudi Arabia» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

Under the desert in eastern Saudi Arabia lies Ghawar, the largest oil field in the world. It has been famously productive, with a per-well flow rate of thousands of barrels per day, owing to a combination of efficient water injection, good rock permeability, and other factors. At its best, it set the standard for easy oil. The first wells were drilled with rather rudimentary equipment hauled across the desert sands, and the oil would flow out at ten thousand barrels per day. It was, in a sense, a giant udder. And the world milked it hard for awhile.

However, this article isn't just about a metaphor; it is also about cows, the Holsteins of Haradh. But in the end, I will circle back to the present and future of Saudi oil production.

I registered on The Oil Drum over seven years ago, and one of the subjects that fascinated me was the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. There was much discussion about the largest of these, Ghawar, and whether it might soon go into steep decline - taking the world with it. About that time, an application called Google Earth added some features which enabled users to mark up the globe with their own placemarks and such, and I set out to find Ghawar (or at least its footprints) in the vast sandscape that is the Eastern Province. Starting with published maps which could be overlaid atop the satellite imagery in Google Earth, I found some initial wells...and then a lot more...and kept going. An article authored by Saudi Aramco engineers showed well locations in northern Ghawar, and I noticed that many wells which I found yet were not on the map. I deduced that these were wells drilled after the map was drawn, and their locations seems to indicate intensive drilling in the center of the field, which was previously bereft of wells. I began publishing some of these findings on the blog Satellite o'er the Desert and was invited to contribute to The Oil Drum.

In my Google Earth-enabled virtual travels around Saudi Arabia looking for oil wells and such, I have come upon many strange sights. Some of these are of natural origin yet can only be appreciated from a satellite's perspective, as is the case for this tidal pool located near a gas oil separation plant for the Safaniya oil field:

Figure 1. My favorite Google Earth view, near Safaniyah oil field, Saudi Arabia

There are many crop circles scattered about eastern Saudi Arabia -- by which I mean circles of crops watered by central pivot irrigation (as opposed to circles of crops flattened by aliens). A line of such circles cuts across the southern tip of the Ghawar field, seemingly following the course of a dry river bed.

Figure 2. Irrigation along the southern fringe of the Ghawar Oil Field, Saudi Arabia. Arrows indicate location of features of interest.

Located on this line, just to the west of the field periphery, are three rather symmetrical structures:

Figure 3. Symmetrical objects of interest near Ghawar oil field.

Each of these is about 250 meters in radius. It took me awhile to discover what these were, as at the time, crowdsourced mapping was just getting started. It so happens that they are part of a huge integrated dairy operation, one of the largest in the world. Fodder crops are grown in nearby circles, cows are milked with state of the art equipment, and the milk is packaged and/or processed into cheese and other products before being shipped. All of this happens in the northernmost fringe of the Rub' al Khali desert, one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Start here to browse around Saudi Arabia's Dairyland on your own using Google Maps.

Turning Black Gold Into White Milk

Here is a glossy PR video describing the operations:

Although the original intent was to locally breed cows more suited to the Saudi climate, it seems they had to import them. Here is another video describing the transport of cows from Australia. A bit different than a Texas cattle drive.

They Built It, But They Didn't Come

Answering why and how these dairy farms came to be located here reveals some interesting history of Saudi Arabia. Although great wealth of the country results from its abundant store of fossil fuels, the necessity of diversifying the economy has long been recognized. The lack of food security was always a big concern. In addition, there remained the nagging problem of what to do with the Bedouins, nomadic peoples who resisted efforts to be integrated into the broader Saudi society. And since they now had it in abundance, they decided to throw money at the problems. What could go wrong?

As related in the book "Inside the Mirage" by Thomas Lippman, a problem with Saudi agriculture is that most of the private land was owned by just a few people, and they were wealthy aristocrats, not farmers, and there wasn't much local knowledge of modern large-scale agriculture in any case. One of the proposed solutions was to create huge demonstration projects by which modern techniques of farming could be learned and applied. As for labor, the goal was to provide individual farms, housing, and modern conveniences to the Bedouin, who would settle down for a life on the farm. The largest such project was the al-Faysal Settlement Project at Haradh, designed for 1000 families. It didn't work out as planned, though, because the Bedouins never came:

You know of the Haradh project, where $20 million was spent irrigating a spot in the desert where an aquifer was found not too far from the surface. This project took six years to complete and was done for the purpose of settling Bedouin tribes. At the end of six years, no Bedouin turned up and the government had to consider how to use the most modern desert irrigation facility in the world.

(From a 1974 Ford Foundation memo)

Eventually, the Saudi government partnered with Masstock, a Dublin-based industrialized endeavor run by two brothers. The Haradh project became the largest of their operations in Saudi Arabia at the time. Eventually, a new company called Almarai (Arabic for "pasture") was created which involved Prince Sultan bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Kabeer. In 1981, a royal decree created the National Agricultural Development Company (NADEC) for the purpose of furthering agricultural independence, and (for reasons I haven't discerned), NADEC gained control of the Haradh project. Almarai went on the become the largest vertically integrated dairy company in the world, and Al Kabeer is a hidden billionaire.

As a side note, NADEC sued Saudi Aramco a few years ago as a result of the latter using some NADEC property for Haradh oil operations, and a lower court ordered Saudi Aramco to vacate. The web links to those reports have disappeared, and one wonders how the appeal went. Separately, NADEC has reportedly obtained farmland in Sudan. Food security.

Speaking of Cash Cows

A half decade ago, much of The Oil Drum's focus was on possible problems with Saudi Arabian oil production. Was the flow from Ghawar tanking? Were all of their older fields well past their prime, and were their future options as limited as Matt Simmons suggested in Twilight in the Desert? My analyses and those of others here seem to suggest a rather aggressive effort to stem decline. With further hindsight, it is clear that Saudi Aramco was caught a bit off guard by decline in existing production. But over time, they were able to complete several decline mitigation projects as well as many so-called mega-projects with many million barrels per day of new production. With each project, the technological sophistication has grown - along with the expense. The Khurais redevelopment, which is reportedly producing as expected, features centralized facilities for oil, gas, and injection water processing. Water goes out, and oil comes back.

Figure 4. Left: map showing Saudi oil fields, Right: Khurais Project pipeline network (source: Snowden's laptop)

The most recent project, the Manifa field redevelopment is a logistical marvel. These have so far proven to be very successful projects (even though Manifa is not fully completed). But if one looks for the impact of the projects on their total output, one comes back somewhat underwhelmed. In the following graphic I show Saudi Arabian production with the theoretical (zero depletion) and official (as reported directly by Saudi Aramco) production capacities.

Figure 5. Saudi Arabian crude oil production increases from megaprojects since 1996, compared with actual crude production (source: Stuart Staniford). Cumulative increases are superimposed on the Saudi Aramco reported baseline value of 10.5 mbpd capacity in 1995. Blue dots denote values obtained from references 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Here are some conclusions one might draw from the above (including the references):

  • Saudi Aramco has generally been self-consistent when reporting spare capacity and total capacity in light of actual production
  • Production capacity increased subsequent to startup of megaprojects. However, the net production capacity increases were uniformly and substantially less than the planned increments. In total, 5 million barrels per day of production was added, but capacity increased by only 2 mbpd.
  • It is most unlikely that reported production capacities accurately reflected what was producible at any point in time, given the reported values as correlated with the timing of the increases from the megaprojects.
  • However, actual production did not generally increase immediately after projects were completed, indicating that production capacity was not completely exhausted beforehand. But there was certainly an impetus to add a lot of production quickly.

The gap between what might have been (red staircase) and what is reported as production capacity (blue dots) is explained by considering the net of two competing developments: 1) depletion of legacy fields (Ghawar etc.) as they are produced, and b) mitigation of this depletion by drilling new wells in these fields. Since Saudi Aramco does not release data for individual fields or new vs. old wells, we are left to speculate on the relative magnitudes of these. On the plus side, the 5 mbpd from the new projects will (hopefully) deplete less rapidly than older fields. On the minus side, only 2 mbpd capacity was added - and they have exhausted all of the major fields in the pipeline. On the double minus side (for the world, anyway), only 1 - 1.5 mbpd of actual production was added since 1995, and (according to BP) all of that increase went into internal consumption. So after nearly 20 years, though total world crude production (and population) has increased, Saudi Arabia exports the same amount of oil as before. And yet, there is still a lot of hydrocarbons under Saudi Arabia. And it seems they already realize the need for more, as there are reports of planned increases from Khurais and Shaybah totaling 550 kbpd by 2017 to "take the strain off Ghawar". I feel its pain.

Addendum: According to this news report, oil has not actually flowed yet from Manifa. The new Jubail refinery has reportedly no received any Manifa oil as of yet:

The refinery is configured to run on heavy crude oil. But two industry sources said the refinery had not received any of the heavy crude expected from Aramco's new Manifa field and that it was running instead on light crude. Aramco said in April that it had started production at Manifa.-Reuters

Still the One?

Despite all of the negativity emitted above, it is also evident that Saudi Arabia has had and will continue to have a role as the primary provider of spare capacity which can be deployed to buffer variability in world demand. It can do this because Saudi Aramco, the largest oil company in the world, can effect oil prices by virtue of what it can put on or take off the world market. Contrast the Saudi production profile with that of the United States, shown below.

Figure 6. United States monthly crude oil production (source: EIA)

Aside from some minor month-to-month fluctuations and some notable downward spikes caused by Gulf of Mexico hurricanes in 2002 (Isadore), 2004 (Ivan), 2005 (Katrina and Rita), and 2008 (Gustav), production follows a smooth trend. Especially noteworthy is the contrast between Saudi and US production subsequent to the economic downturn in 2008, when oil prices collapsed: Saudi Arabia throttled back while the US kept pumping. Any individual producer in the US had little incentive to hold back oil. However, with the increased importance of Shale plays (Bakken and Eagle Ford) to US production, this might change the dynamics going forward. Since these wells deplete rapidly, any decrease in drilling caused by low prices will also throttle demand (although with a time lag).

The Hungry Cow

The other new "above ground factor" is the problem of growing internal consumption in Saudi Arabia, of just about everyting including oil. To air condition all of those cows, it takes a lot of electricity (and currently oil). And all of that milk feeds a growing, young population. But that milk is bound to get more expensive, since the aquifers from which those massive dairy operations get their water are being rapidly depleted.

Milk consumption in Saudi Arabia reached 729.4 million litres in 2012
The Kingdom has already depleted 70% of these sources of water and must now turn increasingly to desalinisation which when factored into the cost of producing fresh milk is very expensive. Experts have estimated that it takes between 500- 1000 litres of fresh water to produce 1 litre of fresh milk if one takes into around the irrigation required to grow the Rhodes grass or Alfalfa required to feed the cows.

It seems Saudi Arabia has cash flow problems, although it is hard to imagine why, given that they are currently producing as much oil as ever at $100/barrel. For one thing, their population keeps growing:

Figure 7. Saudi Arabia population growth (source: Thanks, Jonathan!)

and they need to spread around some money to maintain political stability. Their energy use is out of control, as is their water consumption. And for those segments of Saudi society into which much of the oil revenue flows, consumption is a happening thing. And nobody really knows where the all money goes.

Saudi Aramco is overseen by the Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ministry and, to a lesser extent, the Supreme Petroleum Council, an executive body. The company pays royalties and dividends to the state and supplies domestic refineries. Revenues go to the Finance Ministry, but the amounts are not published. There is no transparency in the national budgeting process, and it is unclear how oil revenues are used. Environmental impact assessments are required, but the results are not made public. Laws and decrees concerning the extractive industries are published and include guidelines for the licensing process in sectors other than upstream oil, but do not contain details on fiscal arrangements. Saudi Arabia has no freedom of information law.

Some ends up in London, where some Saudi tourists spend the entire summer. Of course, this was true in 2002 (and oil was $26/barrel then).

But they do seem to have money to throw around to garner political influence (note that the US does the same with money that it doesn't have). And they have grand plans for looking beyond their petro-heritage:

Best hopes for wise spending.

Au revoir. Au lait.

Sat 07 September, 2013

20:05 IEA Sankey Diagrams» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

The International Energy Agency has taken its share of abuse from The Oil Drum over the years for its rather optimistic forecasts. But it deserves a hearty shout-out for an invaluable resource it has on its web site: Interactive Sankey Diagrams for the World.

Sankey Diagram showing world energy flows (Click for larger view)

As long as you understand what a Sankey Diagram is, not much more introduction is needed here. You can look at individual countries, consumption patterns as well as production, and more. Click on individual flows and graph over time.

World energy use for steel production (Click for larger view)

One curiosity, though:

The world oil imports (2295) and oil exports (2218) don't match in the top graphic. "Statistical difference"?

As with data from the BP Statistical Review series, there might be occasional quibbles with the numbers. Also, I've seen prettier Sankeys. But if you've been wondering what to do with all of your time after The Oil Drum goes on hiatus, there you go.

Fri 06 September, 2013

21:13 My Last Campfire Post» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

I checked my user profile for this site and discovered that as of today I have been a member for 7 years and 37 weeks. Wow! So much has happened to me and my family over those years and a lot of it was shared on The Oil Drum. For reasons I’ll explain, I haven’t been around much lately. My most recent article was over three years ago.

My first writings for The Oil Drum were over six years ago as guest posts through Nate Hagens, and then as a staff contributor for the “Campfire” section of the site. I am not an energy expert so my role wasn’t about modeling depletion or providing context to the energy news of the week. What I did was consider the broader relationships between energy, resources and society, and explore the implications of more expensive and less energy to our consumer-oriented economy and culture. The most complete and succinct example of this role is probably my “Beware the Hungry Ghosts” piece, which includes this passage:

Several religious traditions describe what are termed “hungry ghosts.” These sad beings have insatiable appetites, with tiny mouths and huge stomachs. Modern society creates hungry ghosts among the living. We “have” more than ever, but are constantly bombarded with messages that it is never enough. The poor go to dollar stores, the middle class spend hours at Bed Bath and Beyond, the rich buy ever larger yachts, and city planners are always looking for more land and water in which to expand their urban sphere. Wants have become indistinguishable from needs. I anxiously walk among our nation of hungry ghosts, asking myself what these addicts will do when they can't get their fix?

What many of us found at The Oil Drum was a place to share our anxieties with those who share our anxieties. I am not being dismissive of this at all! Many here have points of view that place us outside of conventional wisdom, and this can be socially difficult. Where else can we go to have conversations that may be impolite, misunderstood and dismissed by the hungry ghosts we live among?

A fine example of thinking profoundly differently is in Kurt Cobb’s essay “Upside Down Economics” in which he gives a visual representation of U.S. GDP from the perspective of an Ecological Economist:

Figure 1

Many of my articles framed topics from an Ecological Economics perspective, where the economy is a subsidiary of the planet and functions by extracting resources and depositing wastes. Essential resources like energy, mineral ores, food and fiber can only be easily ignored when they are inexpensive to buy and reliably available. Many of us are alarmed because we see existential threats to the bottom of a top heavy pyramid and would like those situated higher up to pay attention and look below.

At the bottom of Cobb’s chart you see the economic sector “Agriculture & Forestry.” That is where I currently work, and where much of my writing here was about. I didn’t just explore the food growing sector, but also the so-called Food System, that includes transportation, processing and warehousing, retailing and end-use. Classic statistics discussed, and that devoted readers of The Oil Drum can probably rattle off at any cocktail party, include:

The U.S. Food System consumes several fossil fuel calories for each food calorie eaten.

The typical grocery store has about three days supply of goods on its shelves.

Each U.S. farmer (plus machines with fuel) feeds 100 people.

Figure 2. Graphic used in the post “Ecological Economics and the Food System

Two additional posts, “Save it for the Combine” and “Energy Descent and Agricultural Population” perhaps best capture the sense of the transformative change fossil fuels made in agricultural production and labor inputs, and offer some perspectives on adaptation to lower fossil fuel availability.

Figure 3. The percent agriculture population is plotted in relation to per capita energy use.  Nations with abundant use of exosomatic energy tend to have less of their population involved in agricultural production, presumably either because they can afford to import much of their food or employ labor saving devices in food production.  For example, only about 1% of the US labor force is involved in farming.  Data comes from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).  Original article containing figure is here.

The Campfire series was not only about exploring heterodox ideas, it was also meant to be a place where practical advice was shared. Many of us wanted to go beyond the talking stage and “do something” about the information and analyses presented on the site. This brings me to why I haven’t been writing here lately.

I went to the 2008 ASPO meetings in Sacramento not only to learn, but to network and hopefully meet someone who could help me with something. I wanted to farm at a significant scale to practice and demonstrate a form of agriculture that needs much fewer external inputs and is thus adaptive to our times. I met my eventual business partner (and TOD member) Craig Wichner in Sacramento. We were able to introduce our company, Farmland LP, at ASPO 2009 in Denver, where I gave two talks that eventually became posts (here and here). Over the past four years Craig and I have taken a heterodox idea and turned it into something substantial: Farmland LP currently owns and manages 6300 acres of cropland in California and Oregon.

So, I’ve been pretty busy. I am still writing on my company website but most of my posts are news related to the business. On occasion I do develop articles that look at the big picture and do in-depth analyses, such as “ The Many Benefits of Multi-Year Crop Rotations” and “Google Earth, Rotational Grazing and Mineralization, Part 1 and Part 2” but I won’t have time for more of that sort of writing until we are done with planting this fall.

This brings me to the end of my last Campfire post. In customary fashion I will pose some questions and ask readers to share their experience, wisdom, frustrations, and final thoughts for The Oil Drum.

Did any of you follow similar paths to mine, whereby the information and critical thinking shared on this site led to significant changes in your life path? (I never thought I’d be a farmer when I grew up.)

What barriers to making the changes you wanted did you encounter? Did they stop you from going on or did you overcome them somehow? (My wife gave me the foundation I needed to do this work. She had the income-earning job and the patience to allow me time to explore. Thank you Kristin!)

Thu 05 September, 2013

06:22 The Economic and Political Consequences of the Last 10 Years of Renewable Energy Development» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

I've been privileged to be an editor of TOD over the past several years, and am glad to have been invited to do a final post as the site moves to an archive status.

When I started writing about energy on the blogs in 2003/2004, I was writing mostly about Russia, gas pipelines and gas geopolitics. There were so many conspiracy theories abounding on topics like the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline or (a bit later) Russia vs Ukraine pipeline conflicts that I felt the need to put out a different version, given that I knew the inside story on many of these issues - and that got me invited to contribute these to TOD as well. In the meantime, my job (which was, and - full disclosure - remains, to finance energy projects) slowed moved from oil&gas work to power sector transactions and, increasingly, to renewable sector deals, and I started writing about the wind business, in my mind from the perspective of a banker wanting to make sure that these projects could be paid back over periods of 15 or 20 years.

While my work is now almost exclusively focused on offshore wind in Northern Europe, I still do not consider myself a 'wind shill'... but it does give me a different perspective on the debates currently going on about energy policy in various places, and on the changes to the power sector caused (among others, by renewables) that are underpinning such debates, and I thought it would be a useful complement, together with Big Gav's overview of the clean energy sector, to the other articles more traditionally focused on the oil&gas side of things.

I'll focus on Germany, where the transformation has been most advanced (and even has brought a new word to us: the Energiewende), and where the consequences of high renewable penetration are most visible.

A lot of rather unusual things have been happening in the Germany power sector lately, from negative prices, to utilities closing down brand new power plants and, naturally, a ferocious debate as to whether to cut support for renewable energy (as has already been done in Spain).

I've long described renewable energy producers as a price takers (i.e., they don't influence market prices in the short term and have to "take" market prices as set by other factors, unless shielded by specific regulatory regimes), but we are getting to the point, in a number of places, and in Germany in particular, where the penetration of renewable energy is such that it has a real macroeconomic impact on the prices of electricity, both at the wholesale and the retail levels, and thus on the way power markets run, and on the politics surrounding them. There's the additional factor that apparent spending on renewables is targeted by governments at a time of austerity in Europe, egged on by hardly disinterested utilities.

It is worth going through what's been happening in some detail.

:: ::

In the good old days, wholesale prices of power followed the price of natural gas, as gas-fired plants are the producer of the marginal kWh most of the time. This is still the case in the USA, and it looks like this:

Source: neutroneconomy

Retail prices tend to follow the average wholesale cost, plus a slice for distribution costs and taxes which can vary quite wildly from country to country:

Source: eurostat

But we've seen prices diverging across markets over the past two years, as shown in the following graphs:

  • gas prices diverging sharply across continents (notably as a result of the gas shale developments in the US and increased demand for gas in Japan following the Fukushima disaster, while European prices remain largely indexed to oil):

  • Source: Fidelity

  • wholesale power prices diverging from gas prices:

  • Source: Die Welt, via gwpf

    Note: the lines above represent long term break-even prices for, from the bottom, nuclear power plants, coal-fired plants and gas-fired plants

  • retail prices moving in the opposite direction to wholesale prices, and increasing:

Source: wikipedia (DE)

German wholesale prices have been trending down over the past several years, despite the closure of close to half of the nuclear plants of the country, and despite the persistently high natural gas prices on the continent, while retail prices have been going up, including due to contributions to pay for guaranteed fixed prices to renewable energy producers (the "EEG" component in yellow in the last graph).

The fall in wholesale prices means that most traditional power plants are not economical at current levels, as the second graph above shows.

There are some temporary factors to the current situation. One is the general economic woes of the eurozone, which are pushing demand downwards and thus prices as well. The other is the temporary higher use of coal-fired power plants, which itself comes from a combination of short term factors:

  • cheap imports from the USA (where coal use has been displaced for a while by cheap gas in power generation) made coal more profitable than gas, and
  • regulatory incentives mean coal plants have (under the (the Large Combustion Plants EU directive) a limited number of hours to run and operators have every reason to use these up quickly, and especially if the plants are profitable, or less unprofitable than gas ones (UK coal plants have the additional incentive that a carbon tax will be imposed on them from April 2013).

These factors have made it possible to claim that Germany was increasing pollution and carbon emissions because of wrongheaded policies (depending on your stance: closing nuclear plants or pushing renewables), but this looks like a temporary arbitrage between coal and gas.

:: ::

The real long term story is that the power spot markets are being completely upended by the increasing penetration of renewable energy. In Germany, new renewables represent around 50% of the overall installed capacity, and already provide close to 20% of all power generation (split in 2012 in 3 almost equal parts between wind (7%), biomass (6%) and solar (5%)), up from almost nothing 15 years ago, and on many days now they provide 50% or more of total output:

Source: Paul Gipe

This reduces demand for mid-load producers and peakers over more and more periods throughout the year. As the graphs below shows, on good days in the warm season the PV capacity almost eliminates altogether the need for intermediate load; in winter, wind takes over (in aggregate, although not with as regular a daily profile):

Source: DoDo on European Tribune


This was the slice of demand served by coal-fired and gas-fired plants and they are simply not being used as much as they used to, and certainly not as much as their owners expected.

And prices are being squeezed down not just for these producers, but for everybody else as well, in particular during the peak day time hours which used to be the most profitable for all power plants (because baseload plants also receive the more expensive peak hour prices even if they did not bid at such prices). This means that existing capacity is less and less profitable - not just the peakers or intermediate plants, but also the nuclear and other baseload workhorses of the system. Thus the few highly publicized plant closures, and the ongoing utility complaints about lost revenues. Moreover there currently is no business case to invest in any kind of power plant (other than renewables under specific revenue regimes), which utilities use to argue against renewable support.

But here's the thing: preventing new renewables will not eliminate the current existing capacity, which means that the economics of the sector will not recover even if no new renewables were built... The wholesale market as it was designed 20 years ago (de facto based on gas-fired plants of various efficiency targeted at different points of the merit order curve setting up the marginal price) is irreversibly broken. The system is now dominated by plants with very low marginal cost of production (but high upfront investment), which means that spot prices are systematically too low for everybody - you can't invest in plants with high upfront investments (like nukes), and you can't invest in plants with high marginal running costs (gas-fired plants) unless you are betting on persistently low gas prices into the future. That may explain the push for shale gas in Europe, but who believes that shale gas will bring low prices? Even in the US prices are trending up again (and forward prices even more so).

:: ::

In the meantime, retail prices have kept on increasing, and the fact that the contribution of the support regime (in Germany, the "EEG-Umlage") to retail prices has become visible has made it a target of lobbyists and thus a political topic, despite the fact that retail prices increases have been caused, to a large extent (and in particular until 2009) by increases in gas prices.

This leads us to an hidden truth: a large fraction of the massive increase in renewable energy production is not paid for by consumers, but by incumbent producers who see their revenues decline as the price they earn per MWh goes down. Utilities, which see their margins on the retail side increase, but have very little renewable energy production capacity of their own are caught between two conflicting trends, with their upstream business losing profitability, but their downstream business earning more. IPPS are suffering, but have less voice. Unsurprisingly, utilities are focusing public attention only on the first part, and are naturally blaming renewables - not hesitating to point fingers at their support regimes as the cause of rising power prices, in the hope that these regimes will be weakened. They claim they are victims of unfair competition from "heavily subsidized" sources which have priority over them and can dump power with no worry for consequences into the network. They use a mix of real arguments and weaker ones to push against renewables:

source: Goldman Sachs, via Zero Hedge

  • one of the true arguments is that the cost of supporting solar PV has become larger than expected and faster than expected. Just 5 years ago, a number of countries had tariffs in the 500-600 EUR/MWh range, and regulators were surprised by the volumes that managed to be installed - and capture the advantageous prices levels. when they dropped the price support for new projects, they were again surprised by how fast the industry was able to match the lower prices through new technology (and a brutal price war). The result has been an amazing drop in the price of solar panels (-80% in just a few years, as shown above), bringing them close to grid parity, and a rather large (multiple GWs in Germany, Italy, Spain) stock of solar PV capacity which is entitled to very high tariffs for many years, at a visible cost to consumers;
  • in some places, the regulatory regime allowed producers to capture the best of both worlds - the higher of the fixed tariff or the market price (whether wholesale or retail), thus preventing the network, and the public, from benefitting from the "cap" that a real fixed tariff would have provided;
  • in Spain, retail power prices were kept artificially low for political reasons), and the the gross cost of the fixed tariffs was not absorbed into the general cost base of the network and instead explicitly imposed on utilities, which used that as an obvious argument against renewables (even though a good part of the price increases were linked to increased gas prices before the merit order effect acted on wholesale prices); the government's U-turn on tariffs, which imposed negative tariff changes on already operational projects, alienated the utilities further (as they had, contrary to what happened in Germany, become significant operators of renewable capacity and lost money in the process) and created a precedent that also scared off lenders and investors and put the sector in disrepute;
  • in Germany, the renewable energy surcharge applies only to retail consumers, and large sections of industrial users (but not all) are exempted. That means that the gross costs is borne by a smaller fraction of the overall consumers, and that some industries are complaining that they are being treated unfairly. Meanwhile, those benefitting from the situation (the bug consumers who benefit from lower wholesale prices and do not pay the surcharge) are staying silent so as to avoid attracting attention (they failed - this quirk is likely to be corrected soon);

But what is not true is that wind has contributed in any meaningful way to retail price increases (most of Germany's wind capacity was installed before 2008 and the EEG component is all but invisible at that date), and not has offshore wind (which is indeed more expensive, but very little of which has been built to date). When you look at average costs, one sees that onshore wind is largely competitive on wholesale markets (and yes, that does take into account grid access and balancing costs - there is enough experience with large wind penetration in various networks to know that it can be done and that it has no meaningful impact on costs), that solar is already competitive against retail prices in many markets (the famous "grid parity"), and that other technologies are somewhere in-between. Offshore wind is still more expensive, but is expected to come down in price by the time it will reach significant capacity:

source: Goldman Sachs, via Zero Hedge

Note that these average costs of production, always include very political assumptions about the cost of money, and the future price of gas, to apply to such projects. The discount rate (at the time of investment) is the main driver of the cost of wind or nuclear whereas the cost of gas-fired power is only an estimate, based an assumptions about the cost of gas in the next 20 years. And that also means that the price of power from a wind farm or a nuclear plant is largely fixed and known once the plant is built, while the cost of power from a gas-fired plant in the future is essentially unknown. The cost of money is a fundamentally political decision (derived from investors' estimates of macro risks like inflation, of regulatory risks applying to the sector, and technology risk); the consensus on future gas price estimates is also influenced by many factors, including long term projections by public bodies like the IEA, the US EIA or private firms with their various agendas.

As an aside, the more renewables you have in the system, the less it is possible to take out the regulatory support regime, because spot prices tend to go towards zero - which makes investment in renewables (or in any other kind of power generation assets, for that matter) impossible. So "grid parity" is an illusory target, in a sense, because it is a moving target. Technologies with high variable costs (all fossil-fuel plants) cannot compete at any price when there is enough zero-marginal cost capacity in the system, and technologies with high upfront investment costs need comfort about price levels over a long period as they need such prices on a constant basis to amortize the initial investment. This is why the UK government is working on a "contract for differences" (essentially the same thing as a fixed tariff) for new nuclear plants.

:: ::

Altogether, the reality is that the consumers and the utilities is paying for a few expensive years of early solar PV technology (to the tune of a few cents per kWh, ie a few hundred euros per year and per household), and now the utilities are bearing almost in full the further impact on the system: they are no longer making (much) money on their current fleet - not on gas-fired plants, barely on their coal-fired plants, and they don't have much renewable energy capacity. They are stuck with a capital stock (including recent plants), which is increasingly uneconomic in today's markets, caught between high fuel prices and lower power prices. And that is the result of strategies over the past 10-15 years that willfully ignored policies to promote renewables pursued pretty consistently across Europe, and the likely impact they would have on power prices (the infamous "merit order effect" - which I discussed in detail at least 5 years ago, and which was already the topic of academic papers before that).

So it's not like they had no warning and no notice... In a sense, utilities have been consistent: one of their past arguments was that renewables would never reach critical mass and thus were not a serious solution to reduce carbon emissions. And they surely did not take recent investment decisions (mainly to build base-load or mid-load gas-fired plants) with the scenario of heavy renewable penetration in mind, otherwise they would not have been so surprised by the current situation...

:: ::

Utilities do make a legitimate point when they underline that the system still needs their capacity (because renewables are not available on demand, and do not provide the flexibility required in the very short term), and that this needs to be paid for (and, at some point in the future, existing capacity will need to be replaced, and they need to be able to make a business case for that, which is not possible today).

In the previous regime, where power prices were determined by gas prices, it was possible to pay for the flexibility in the form of price spikes that gave the right signal for mid-load and peaker gas-fired (or oil-fired, or hydro) plants to be used, and their frequency of use was relatively predictable over a year, allowing for a sound business model to be implemented. Now, with plenty of renewables, the price signal is completely different. There are many more periods of very low prices when renewables flood the system (and this is particularly the case in places with lots of solar, as it is available during the day, ie when demand is stronger and thus prices used to be higher). This has two consequences: gas-fired plants get much less use than in the past (and less than their business plans expected), and baseload plants like nukes or big coal-fired plants get lower prices during periods when they were cashing in more money. The latter earn less money (but still run); the former now run a lot less than expected , which has income implications but also consequences for gas consumption and storage - patterns of use become very different, moving from the usual "once a day" pattern (a few hour at peak demand times), to short bursts several times a day (as renewables drop out), or very long periods of use over multiple days when renewables are not available at all.

Given that the penetration of renewables will continue to change every year, it has become really hard to identify the business model to use for flexible plants - and even harder to know what it will be in 1, 5 or 10 years from now. These flexible plants will be needed, at least to some extent, and they need to be paid for, and that cannot really happen with today's regulatory regime (and as noted above, stopping support regimes for renewables won't change that now: the existing stock of wind and solar is already big enough in several countries to keep the current market arrangements broken). One solution, thankfully being considered in several markets, and which already exists in places like California, is to put in place a capacity market, where plants make themselves available for rapid changes in output, without actually producing anything most of the time, and get paid for that availability: ie a market for MW in addition to the market for MWh.

:: ::

The politics of this transition are messy. You can have articles saying (without any real argument) that "Too much green energy is bad for Britain at the very same time that you have record cold weather, with critical weakness in the gas supply infrastructure and wind actually coming to the rescue... (in the UK last March).

People are presenting capacity markets as another subsidy to renewables, whereas system security has always required a significant margin of unused capacity for safety: power demand varies from 1 to 2 or one to 3 every day, peaks can be more or less intense depending on weather, and even large plants can go offline on a scheduled or unscheduled basis. That safety margin was simply paid for in a different way, either by imposing capacity buffers on utilities, or through spot price peaks that were high enough to pay in a few hours for the peaker plants which are otherwise idle most of the time. There's naturally a lot of talk that policies to develop renewable have failed, being costly (only partly true, as shown above, and increasingly less so as time goes by), ineffective at reducing carbon emissions (not true, each MWh of renewable energy has, by and large, replaced a MWh generated previously by fossil fuel plants) and damaging to the system (obviously not the case). But the cat is out of the bag: once renewable energy reaches a critical mass, its impact on power systems is pretty much irreversible and no amount of lobbying by utilities is going to get them their previous business model back: wind turbines and solar panels are there and they will keep on cranking out zero-marginal-cost MWh for a very, very long time...

So utilities would be well advised to focus their lobbying on fixes to the system that actually solve problems (like capacity markets, or maybe new rules on grid access for "must-run plants), and to not cut the tree on which they are sitting (killing the support regime for offshore wind, the only sector in renewables which is "utility-scale" and where they have been able to take a leading share, and the only sector of the power sector where they can actually make money these days...)(I note here again, for full disclosure, that I work in the offshore wind sector and appreciate that this may sound rather self-interested).

The politics of power prices are rather volatile, and people have little sympathy for the big utilities, which are typically seen as profiteers anyway, so the focus on the high retail prices could end up damaging them more than it impacts renewable energy producers. Energy is a rather complex topic, not really suited for soundbites, and it is easy to confuse people or say outright lies without getting caught right away. But, by and large, Germans still support the Energiewende - both the move away from nuclear and the support for renewable energy - and are willing to pay for it. And for areas like Bremerhaven, all the manufacturing activity linked to wind and offshore wind is rather welcome.

:: ::

In summary:

  • Renewable energy is reaching the scale where it has an impact on the overall system; the effects are irreversible, and highly damaging to incumbents;
  • The net cost to get there has been relatively low, and largely paid for by utilities, which have constantly underestimated the ongoing changes, even as they were both (wrongly) dismissing them and (relatively ineffectively) fighting them;
  • there are legitimate worries about the way to maintain the fleet of flexible plants that was required in the past and will continue to be needed in the new paradigm, but can no longer pay its way under current market arrangements; the solution is not to fight renewables (it won't make the existing fleet go away) but to ensure that the right services (MW on demand) are properly remunerated;
  • the shale gas revolution will have a limited impact in this context (it had almost none in Europe, other than via some cheap coal exports from the US for a short period), and does not change the economics of gas-fired plants to the point that they can be competitive in a system dominated by renewable energy production capacity;
  • more generally, the future for gas suppliers is bleaker than for gas turbine manufacturers - there will be a need for a lot of gas-fired plants but they won't be burning a lot of gas (they will be selling MW rather than MWh);
  • overall, a future with high renewable penetration is not only possible but increasingly likely, and it's a good thing.

Part of the wind power series.

Wed 27 January, 2010

12:21 Image of the Day» LiveScience.com
Amazing images every day!