Later On

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Archive for April 6th, 2009

Very, very bad from Obama Administration

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This is very bad—I am losing hope about "transparency" with Obama. Glenn Greenwald:

When Congress immunized telecoms last August for their illegal participation in Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program, Senate Democratic apologists for telecom immunity repeatedly justified that action by pointing out that Bush officials who broke the law were not immunized — only the telecoms.  Here, for instance, is how Sen. Jay Rockefeller justified telecom immunity in a Washington Post Op-Ed:

Second, lawsuits against the government can go forward. There is little doubt that the government was operating in, at best, a legal gray area. If administration officials abused their power or improperly violated the privacy of innocent people, they must be held accountable. That is exactly why we rejected the White House’s year-long push for blanket immunity covering government officials.

Taking them at their word, EFF — which was the lead counsel in the lawsuits against the telecoms — thereafter filed suit, in October, 2008, against the Bush administration and various Bush officials for illegally spying on the communications of Americans.  They were seeking to make good on the promise made by Congressional Democrats:  namely, that even though lawsuits against telecoms for illegal spying will not be allowed any longer, government officials who broke the law can still be held accountable.

But late Friday afternoon, the Obama DOJ filed the government’s first response to EFF’s lawsuit (.pdf), the first of its kind to seek damages against government officials under FISA, the Wiretap Act and other statutes, arising out of Bush’s NSA program.  But the Obama DOJ demanded dismissal of the entire lawsuit based on (1) its Bush-mimicking claim that the "state secrets" privilege bars any lawsuits against the Bush administration for illegal spying, and (2) a brand new "sovereign immunity" claim of breathtaking scope — never before advanced even by the Bush administration — that the Patriot Act bars any lawsuits of any kind for illegal government surveillance unless there is "willful disclosure" of the illegally intercepted communications. 

In other words, beyond even the outrageously broad "state secrets" privilege invented by the Bush administration and now embraced fully by the Obama administration, the Obama DOJ has now invented a brand new claim of government immunity, one which literally asserts that the U.S. Government is free to intercept all of your communications (calls, emails and the like) and — even if what they’re doing is blatantly illegal and they know it’s illegal — you are barred from suing them unless they "willfully disclose" to the public what they have learned.

There are several notable aspects to what happened here with this new court filing from Obama: …

Continue reading by all means. This is a very, very bad development. Where are the Democrats? What has happened to them?

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2009 at 4:59 pm

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) is a snake

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Earlier today, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) announced that she would oppose the Employee Free Choice Act — which would make it easier for workers to organize unions — should it come up for vote in the Senate in its current form. Lincoln, who is running for reelection in 2010, is the first Democratic Senator to openly oppose the legislation. The AP reports:

“I cannot support that bill. I cannot support it in its current form,” Lincoln told those gathered for the luncheon at the governor’s mansion. “I may not have said that as clearly before, but I’m saying it now.” … “It is one of those issues that creates great division, as well as distraction, at a time when we need all hands on deck,” Lincoln said. […]

“We need workers and we need business at the table, if we’re going to put this economy back on track, and I don’t think the discussion on the Employee Free Choice Act has helped us do that.”

The Arkansas-based Wal-Mart corporation had hired a former Blanche Lincoln staffer to lobby against the Employee Free Choice Act. Notably, Lincoln waited until after Vice President Biden helped her raise $800,000 before announcing her opposition to a piece of legislation that both Biden and Obama strongly support.

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6 April 2009 at 4:56 pm

Harold Koh background

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This is from ThinkProgress, written by Henry Fernandez:

As ThinkProgress recently noted, a small number of conspiracy-theory, far-right conservatives have raised concerns about Obama’s appointment of Harold Koh to be Legal Adviser to the Department of State. Their nutty views have been trumped up by Fox News and the NY Post, with extremist Glenn Beck leading the charge. This despite there being no basis in reality for the charges against Koh.

Today on his Fox News show, Beck ranted some more against Koh. Beck conceded, “There is a big debate on the internet, in the New York Times and everybody else, saying that I’m a crazy nut-job because of Harold Koh.” Watch it:

Koh is currently Dean of Yale Law School, with an international law and human rights resume that makes him uniquely qualified to be the top lawyer at the State Department. Unfortunately, these stellar qualifications have not been sufficient to move him quickly through the Senate, as he is one of several appointees being delayed by conservatives.

The right’s fabricated concern is that Koh would allow international law to trump U.S. law. This is based apparently on Koh’s speech to the Yale Alumni Association of Greenwich Connecticut, from which observer Steve Stein gathered that Koh wanted Islamic sharia law to govern in U.S. courts. But there is good reason to not believe Stein. The organizer of the event and head of the Alumni Association, Robin Reeves Zorthian, wrote to the NY Post:

The account given by Steve Stein of Dean Koh’s comments is totally fictitious and inaccurate. I was in the room with my husband and several fellow alumni, and we are all adamant that Koh never said or suggested that sharia law could be used to govern cases in US courts. The subject of his talk was Globalization and Yale Law School, so, of course, other forms of law were mentioned. But never did Koh state or suggest that other forms of law should govern or dictate the American legal system. Hopefully, your readers are interested in the facts.

More facts: Koh has consistently used US federal law in the U.S. federal courts to go after the leaders of military juntas that have killed Americans and citizens of other countries. This is the exact opposite of allowing foreign laws to trump U.S. law. He has also used US law to protect those who face persecution at the hands of powerful dictators.

Koh’s commitment to the rule of law is what really offends the hard right. His belief in the supremacy of US law has put him in direct conflict with some of the conspiracists’ favorite folks. Dean Koh testified before Congress against the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General because of Gonzales’ support for torture. He also challenged the right of George H.W. Bush to house innocent Haitian refugees at a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Koh’s opponent — then-Solicitor General Ken Starr — argued that US law did not apply at Guantanamo, and thus the Haitians had no rights. Koh argued that both U.S. law and U.S. morality certainly applied there.

Harold Koh should be appointed, while liars and crazy people should be ignored.

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6 April 2009 at 4:54 pm

Spencer Ackerman examines the Gates budget

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Well worth reading. It begins:

Defense Secretary Gates took a major step toward rebalancing U.S. defense priorities on Monday, announcing a budget request that would severely cut or restrict cherished and expensive Cold War-era programs and institutionalize support for counterinsurgency and irregular warfare.

The long-awaited fiscal 2010 budget request, which has a price tag of $534 billion and climbs to $663.7 billion when the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are factored in, cancels the Army’s major vehicle-modernization program, stops the production of the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor fighter jet, halts the increase of ground-based missile defense programs in favor of more limited missile defense approaches, and treats the Navy’s large surface-warfare platforms like the DDG-1000 with skepticism. It gives priority to the needs of a military at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gates said, by providing $11 billion to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps and expanding intelligence, surveillance and helicopter programs that have performed well in the two ongoing wars — including the Predator drone used by the CIA to attack extremists in Pakistan — as well as to support partner militaries’ counterinsurgency development. “This is a reform budget,” Gates, who was Pentagon chief under George W. Bush and remained on in the Obama administration, told reporters Monday.

Several defense reformers agreed. “The boom finally lowered on the Pentagon’s budget today,” said Laura Peterson, defense budget analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense. “We applaud [Gates’] rigor in wielding the budget axe.” Robert Work of the Center on Strategic and Budgetary Assessments called it a “very, very encouraging first step.” Winslow Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information was more cautious, but said “Secretary Gates deserves much good credit,” especially for making warfighter support “his first priority.”

The White House indicated its support for the budget request, though it has already come under fire from some members of Congress…

Continue reading.

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6 April 2009 at 4:34 pm

Afternoon break

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Thanks to Beth for the pointer:

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6 April 2009 at 4:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

Gates proposes radical overhaul of Pentagon budget

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Noah Schacntman in The Danger Room at Wired:

Defense Secretary just proposed the most sweeping overhaul of America’s arsenal — and of the Pentagon budget — in decades.  Major weapons programs, from aircraft carriers to next-gen bombers to new school fighting vehicles, will be cut back, or eliminated. Billions more will be put into growing the American fighting force, both human and robotic.

For a year and a half, Gates has been trying to force the American military-industrial establishment to concentrate on the dirty, irregular wars America is actually in — instead of tomorrow’s hypothetical showdowns with China or Russia. After 18 months of jawboning the generals, the defense executives, and the Pentagon bureaucracy, Gates is now backing up his words with a truly radical reworking on the Pentagon’s $1.6 trillion weapons portfolio. Troops and low-cost tools to fight insurgencies and terrorists are in. Gold-plated weaponry for tangling with another superpower are out. Critics will try to paint this new budget as some kind of kneecapping of America’s ability to project power around the world. But really what we have here is the Defense Secretary trying to shake the defense establishment free of the Cold War, finally.

None of this is a done deal — Congress will push back on Gates’ budget, hard. But under his proposal, the Navy will have its new aircraft carrier program slowed, and its hulking destroyer effort cut short. The Air Force will see the production of its prized stealth fighter, the F-22 Raptor, ended at 187 planes — almost two hundred less than what the air service wanted. The Missile Defense Agency’s interceptor portfolio will be reoriented around the threat from rogue states. But the biggest change, perhaps, will be in the Army. Gates is gutting "Future Combat Systems," the $200 billion behemoth modernization project. (More on that, in a sec.)

Instead, Gates will pour $11 billion into increasing the number of troops in the Army and Marines while halting manpower reductions in the Air Force and the Navy. $2 billion will go towards increasing the number of drones and manned surveillance planes in the skies above Afghanistan and Iraq. Special forces troops will grow by five percent, or 2,800 commandos…

Continue reading.

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6 April 2009 at 12:39 pm

Defense Dept threatens Gitmo lawyer with jail

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Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

This story, which was reported in The Guardian and confirmed by publicly filed court documents, is one of the stranger means the Obama administration has used thus far to keep quiet the sins of its predecessor.

As I’ve written before, lawyers representing the ex-Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed have been complaining that the U.S. government is forbidding the release of evidence that the Ethiopian-born U.K. resident was tortured in U.S. custody.In February, Clive Stafford Smith, executive director of the nonprofit organization Reprieve, which represents many Guantanamo Bay detainees, sent President Obama a letter saying that the Defense Department was not letting Obama see the evidence. Smith suggested that, as the commander-in-chief, Obama may want to change that.

Well, officials from the Department of Defense who make up a “privilege review team,”  which monitors and censors communication between Guantanamo prisoners and their lawyers, didn’t like that at all.  So in March, they filed a report with a federal court in Washington, D.C., calling the Reprieve lawyers’ letter “unprofessional” and charging that they’d violated the court’s protective order, which protects classified evidence. The odd thing about it was the letter to President Obama contained no evidence, and the attached memo discussing the torture was entirely blacked out — illustrating what Smith called the “bizarre reality” of the court’s order, which forbids even the president from seeing the evidence.

So how his this violating a protective order? The Defense Department’s report isn’t clear, but Judge Thomas Hogan has ordered Smith and his colleague Ahmed Ghappour to appear in his court on May 11 and explain why they should not be held in contempt of court — and perhaps jailed for up to six months — for their alleged transgression.

“What is particularly irksome about this is the issue involved,” Smith wrote in an e-mail this morning. “The government is covering up evidence of torture against Binyam Mohamed, while accusing us of violating a rule in (bizarrely) NOT revealing that evidence.” He added: “What this is really all about is official embarrassment at looking bad.”

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6 April 2009 at 12:34 pm

Big surprise regarding Business attitudes

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Kevin Drum has a very good post:

The blogosphere had a few laughs last week at the expense of RedState head honcho Eric Erickson, who warned that revolution was coming and told residents of Washington state, "I’d be cleaning my gun right about now waiting to protect my property from the coming riots or the government apparatchiks coming to enforce nonsensical legislation."  The subject was…..phosphate-free dishwasher detergent.

Seriously.  But guess what?  This story isn’t quite the stuff of populist wrath Erickson thinks.  Yes, Spokane has banned the dishwasher detergent with phosphates and Washington state will follow suit next year.  And yes, residents of Spokane have been sneaking into Idaho to buy boxes of Cascade and Electrasol.  But check this out, from today’s LA Times:

For those inclined to chuckle at the travails of distant, desperate people with dirty dishes, consider this: The detergent industry has pledged to make every automatic dishwashing soap sold in the U.S. and Canada nearly phosphate-free by mid-2010.

With 12 states — including Washington — phasing in low-phosphate laws by the end of next year and four others considering them, industry officials say they are gearing up to produce a new generation of products that will clean dishes while not harming lakes and streams. (The California Legislature passed a phosphate law last year, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it.)

The pledge marks a significant turnaround for an industry that until recently not only opposed such laws but also warned that many phosphate-free dishwashing detergents didn’t work the way consumers expected them to.

But plenty soon will be available, said Dennis Griesing, vice president of government affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based Soap and Detergent Assn.

So here’s the deal.  Phosphates really are a danger, creating runoff that kills fish and plants.  And Spokane has a uniquely bad problem with phosphates.  And apparently it’s entirely possible to create phosphate-free detergents.  The industry just didn’t feel like doing it.

But now their hands are being forced.  And guess what?  It turns out they can do it after all.  Imagine that.

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6 April 2009 at 12:32 pm

Michelle Bachmann: Still crazy

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Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent:

Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” — George Bernard Shaw

At The Minnesota Independent, TWI’s sister site, Andy Birkey points out an odd discrepancy between state foreclosure rates and the priorities of lawmakers who represent the various districts.

Take Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), for example. Her district just north of the Twin Cities, Birkey found, suffered an estimated 5,227 foreclosures in 2008 — the most of the eight congressional districts in the state. And yet:

Bachmann voted against five key foreclosure relief bills, including the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act, which would set standards for mortgages and reduce predatory lending, and the Neighborhood Stabilization Act, which would provide funds for buying and rehabilitating foreclosed properties in affected neighborhoods. She also opposed the Expanding American Homeownership Act, which allows more people to qualify for FHA-backed mortgages, and the Expand and Preserve Home Ownership Through Counseling Act, which aims to improve financial literacy. Bachmann additionally voted against the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, a law signed by President Bush that contained many provisions to assist struggling homeowners and also the only one of the bills to become law.

In fact, Birkey writes, “Bachmann hasn’t authored or sponsored any legislation to assist homeowners facing foreclosure, but she has co-sponsored 14 bills to restrict abortions and five to promote Christianity in government.”

Birkey then compares this track record to that of Rep. Keith Ellison (D), who represents Minneapolis. Residents in Ellison’s district suffered 4,413 foreclosures in 2008 — second only behind Bachmann’s district. In response, Birkey says, Ellison has authored legislation to prevent predatory lending practices and to help renters living in foreclosed buildings.

Ellison is also a co-sponsor of 12 other bills aimed at providing relief to individuals and communities impacted by the foreclosure crisis. His voting record in Congress on housing is virtually the opposite of Bachmann’s.

Shaw, it appears, might have been on to something.

Actually, Rep. Bachmann may be getting worse. The rant at the link sounds as though she’s gone off her meds entirely.

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6 April 2009 at 12:19 pm

A Cassandra from North Dakota

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Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent:

In November of 1999, when the Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve legislation deregulating the finance industry, The New York Times described part of the debate like this:

The opponents of the measure gloomily predicted that by unshackling banks and enabling them to move more freely into new kinds of financial activities, the new law could lead to an economic crisis down the road when the marketplace is no longer growing briskly.

”I think we will look back in 10 years’ time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930’s is true in 2010,” said Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota. ”I wasn’t around during the 1930’s or the debate over Glass-Steagall. But I was here in the early 1980’s when it was decided to allow the expansion of savings and loans. We have now decided in the name of modernization to forget the lessons of the past, of safety and of soundness.”

Compare that to the predictions of then-Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who now serves as the top economic adviser to President Obama. ‘This historic legislation,” Summers told the Times in 1999,” will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy.”

Ten years later, we all know what Wall Street’s experiment has done to the country. Dorgan, just one of just eight upper-chamber lawmakers to vote against the bill (vote is here), told Newsweek recently about the frustrations of being a real-life Cassandra.

Newsweek: How did you see this coming?

Dorgan: I saw the development of these complicated financial instruments … and it occurred to me that it’s an unbelievable amount of risk. I introduced several pieces of legislation to regulate it, but my warnings were widely ignored.

Newsweek: Why?

Dorgan: I guess they thought I was old-fashioned. The financial establishment had no interest in slowing down the march toward modernization. But the firewalls were made of tissue paper.

Newsweek: What was it like watching your fears realized?

Dorgan: It makes you sick. I felt strongly that if the banks want to gamble, go to Las Vegas. There’s very little solace in being right, given the carnage. This is one of the most expensive lessons in American history.

Asked about his confidence in Summers to lead the country out of the mess, Dorgan bit his tongue.

“I offered the president my advice about financial advisers early on,” he said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

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6 April 2009 at 12:15 pm

Women in Film

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This is pretty cool. Via Open Culture:

Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Gloria Swanson, Marlene Dietrich, Norma Shearer, Ruth Chatterton, Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn, Carole Lombard, Bette Davis, Greta Garbo, Barbara Stanwyck, Vivien Leigh, Greer Garson, Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth, Gene Tierney, Olivia de Havilland, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Crawford, Ginger Rogers, Loretta Young, Deborah Kerr, Judy Garland, Anne Baxter, Lauren Bacall, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak, Audrey Hepburn, Dorothy Dandridge, Shirley MacLaine, Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, Janet Leigh, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Ann Margret, Julie Andrews, Raquel Welch, Tuesday Weld, Jane Fonda, Julie Christie, Faye Dunaway, Catherine Deneuve, Jacqueline Bisset, Candice Bergen, Isabella Rossellini, Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sigourney Weaver, Kathleen Turner, Holly Hunter, Jodie Foster, Angela Bassett, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Salma Hayek, Sandra Bullock, Julianne Moore, Diane Lane, Nicole Kidman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, Halle Berry

Music: Bach’s Prelude from Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007 performed by Yo-Yo Ma

For other videos of this type, click the link.

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2009 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Movies & TV, Video

Scrambled eggs by Gordon Ramsay

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6 April 2009 at 11:56 am

Cool shoes

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Though The Wife disagrees, I think these are pretty cool. She doesn’t like the colors, but I pointed out that with a little pink paint, one could make the toenail areas distinctive and pretty.

Unfortunately, I have Morton’s Toe (and he has mine), so they would not be comfortable for me.

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6 April 2009 at 11:47 am

Posted in Daily life

When the GOP goes too far

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Hilzoy has a must-read analysis of the GOP’s attempt to hold confirmations hostage to internal Executive Dept decisions. This is a vital post, which begins:

Scott Horton:

"Senate Republicans are now privately threatening to derail the confirmation of key Obama administration nominees for top legal positions by linking the votes to suppressing critical torture memos from the Bush era. A reliable Justice Department source advises me that Senate Republicans are planning to "go nuclear" over the nominations of Dawn Johnsen as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel if the torture documents are made public. The source says these threats are the principal reason for the Obama administration’s abrupt pull back last week from a commitment to release some of the documents. A Republican Senate source confirms the strategy. It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward. (…)

The Justice Department source confirms to me that Brennan has consistently opposed making public the torture memos — and any other details about the operations of the extraordinary renditions program — but this source suggests that concern about the G.O.P.’s roadblock in the confirmation process is the principle reason that the memos were not released. Republican senators have expressed strong reservations about their promised exposure, expressing alarm that a critique of the memos by Justice’s ethics office (Office of Professional Responsibility) will also be released. "There was no ‘direct’ threat," said the source, "but the message was communicated clearly — if the OLC and OPR memoranda are released to the public, there will be war." This is understood as a threat to filibuster the nominations of Johnsen and Koh. Not only are they among the most prominent academic critics of the torture memoranda, but are also viewed as the strongest advocates for release of the torture memos on Obama’s legal policy team.

A Republican Senate staffer further has confirmed to me that the Johnsen nomination was discussed at the last G.O.P. caucus meeting. Not a single Republican indicated an intention to vote for Dawn Johnsen, while Senator John Cornyn of Texas was described as "gunning for her," specifically noting publication of the torture memos.

That’s a lot more plausible than Newsweek’s claim that the administration does not want to embarrass countries whose names it could simply redact. It’s also completely appalling.

For one thing, the slurs on Koh and Johnsen are vile. They are widely respected legal scholars. For heaven’s sake, Ted Olsen, Bush’s solicitor General and his lawyer in Bush v. Gore, supports Koh:

"The President and the Secretary of State are entitled to have who they want as their legal adviser," Olson said in a phone interview with me.

Olson was sharply dismissive of claims that Koh is too solicitous of international law. While he declined to discuss the specifics of the case against Koh, much of which has been already debunked, he pushed back hard against the broader claim that Koh’s regard for international law is cause for suspicion.

"I have the greatest respect for Harold Koh," Olson said. "He’s a brilliant scholar and a man of great integrity."

Besides the ugliness of the attacks, what the Republicans are doing is really unprecedented. First, the President has traditionally been given deference in the choice of his advisors. If some President wants to have someone in his cabinet, the presumption is that he ought to be able to do so, absent illegality or some sort of manifest incompetence. For the Republican Senators to hold these appointees up not for those reasons, but because they disagree with their policies, is just wrong; if this happened every time a new administration came into office, the opposition party would filibuster half the nominations and no one would never govern at all.

Second, what the Republicans are trying to do is to dictate to the President a matter that is purely his prerogative: deciding whether or not to unclassify documents. This is insane: it’s as though Obama threatened to withhold funding for the Senate unless Mitch McConnell fired some staffer he didn’t like…

Continue reading.

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6 April 2009 at 11:37 am

75.3 mpg in 2010 Toyota Prius

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Seventy-five-point-three miles to the gallon! That was enough to win the 2010 Toyota Prius fuel economy competition that stacked 28 auto journalists against one another in Yountville, Calif. on Feb. 24, 2009. (The results were embargoed until today.) While it was a cheap thrill to score so high—that’s less remarkable than the average mileage for the group of journalists on the media preview drive: 69.9 mpg.

Of course, this level of fuel economy should not be expected for typical owners of the 2010 Prius. But the fact that it happened, and without applying any black magic or severe “hypermiling” techniques, is amazing. The drivers took between 70 and 85 minutes, traveling on average between 27 and 29 miles per hour on the 33.8 mile course through Yountville and Napa—not including one outlier that took more than two hours. I drove with the slow traffic and let most cars pass me, but my pace was certainly within legal limits—and could represent the efforts of a reasonable but motivated fuel-conscious driver…

Continue reading.

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6 April 2009 at 11:31 am

More on the Supreme Court decision on power-plant cooling

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Interesting column by Michael C. Dorf, the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University. It begins:

Last week, in Entergy Corp. v. Riverkeeper Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s use of cost-benefit analysis in regulating water pollution by power plants. Writing for the Court, Justice Scalia said that the EPA acted reasonably in weighing the costs and benefits of various technologies when it promulgated regulations under Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act. That law requires that power plants employ "the best technology available for minimizing [their] adverse environmental impact."

Most of the back-and-forth among the Justices in Entergy Corp. concerned issues of statutory construction and administrative law. Yet, as I shall explain in this column, Entergy Corp. is also a very significant case for what it may portend for so-called "best-practice standards" (a term which I shall define and explain below).

The majority in Entergy Corp. appears to treat this form of regulation as a license for regulatory agencies to promulgate lax rules and standards for industry. Yet, properly implemented, best-practice standards actually hold out the promise of stricter and more effective regulation. As the United States and the world enter a period of renewed belief in the need for regulation in a variety of domains, it would be unfortunate if best-practice standards were unfairly discredited as a cover for lax regulation.

The Statute and Regulations at Issue

Coal-fired (and other) power plants generate heat as a by-product of their activity. To prevent overheating, such plants use enormous volumes of cooling water, which they typically obtain from nearby natural bodies of water. Doing so is hazardous to the fish and other aquatic life forms that live in these bodies of water, and so Congress has, over the years, required that power plants take various measures to mitigate the harm they thereby cause.

Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act is one such measure. For new power plants, the EPA regulations require the use of any technology at least as effective as a "closed-cycle cooling system," which re-uses the same water, thereby substantially reducing the amount of water used, and thus diminishing the impact of new power plants on fish and other aquatic life. However, because it is much cheaper to build a closed-cycle cooling system into the original design of a power plant than it is to retrofit an existing plant with such a cooling system, the EPA regulations exempt old plants from this requirement.

Under the challenged EPA regulations at issue in Entergy Corp., an old power plant will not be subject to the closed-cycle-cooling-system-or-its-equivalent requirement if it can show either that the cost of retrofitting would be significantly greater than the EPA assumed in setting the standard for new plants, or that compliance costs "would be significantly greater than the benefits of complying with the applicable performance standards." Such a showing then subjects the existing plant to a requirement to use alternative technologies that produce results "as close as practicable to" the results of closed-cycle cooling.

The key weasel-word there is "practicable." …

Continue reading.

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6 April 2009 at 11:24 am

Why is Obama still concealing torture memos?

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Glenn Greenwald asks:

Ever since October, 2007, the ACLU has been battling in court to compel the disclosure of three key torture-authorizing memos authored by Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel chief Steven Bradbury and approved by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in 2005.  Two of those memos — the existence of which was first disclosed in a well-documented October, 2007 article by The New York Times‘ Scott Shane, David Johnston and James Risen — are among the clearest, most specific and most vivid exhibits detailing how the U.S. Government formally "legalized" interrogation methods which unquestionably constitute torture.  They are, in essence, the Rosetta Stone for documenting the war crimes committed not by low-level CIA agents but by the highest-level Bush DOJ officials.  For that reason, the Bush administration vigorously resisted the ACLU’s campaign of compelled disclosure.

Those are the torture memos that are now at the heart of a growing controversy, as the Obama administration has sought multiple delays (a total of four) of the court-imposed deadline for it either to (a) disclose those memos to the ACLU or (b) declare that it will refuse to do so and explain why.  The last deadline was Thursday, April 2, and on that date, the Obama DOJ obtained yet another extension, making the new deadline April 16.  Two weeks ago, Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff reported that Eric Holder and White House counsel Gregory Craig had overruled the vehement objections from ex-CIA Director Michael Hayden and others in the intelligence community and had decided to disclose the memos.  But thereafter, the Obama DOJ, rather than release the memos, instead sought another extension of the deadline, and numerous sources — including The New York Times’ Shane, Newsweek‘s Isikoff, and Harper‘s Scott Horton — then reported that the anti-disclosure crusade inside the Obama administration is being led by John Brennan. 

Brennan, of course, was a former top aide to CIA Director George Tenet and was Obama’s first choice to head the CIA, a prospective nomination supposedly blocked by bloggers and others, who objected to Brennan on the ground that, though he condemned waterboarding, he had explicitly defended many of the "enhanced interrogation tactics" that these memos authorized.  Despite Brennan’s defense of many radical Bush/Cheney policies (or perhaps because of it), Obama named Brennan to be his top White House counter-terrorism adviser, a position Brennan is now using — quite predictably — to block disclosure of evidence that incriminates the Bush administration.  Exactly as Brennan critics predicted (and as intelligence reporters far too close to and respectful of their sources denied would happen), Brennan has now become, as Horton put it, "Dick Cheney’s clear champion."

Today, in The Daily Beast, Horton — citing an anonymous Obama DOJ source and an anonymous Senate GOP source — claims that Senate Republicans are now "blackmailing" Obama by threatening to filibuster the confirmation of two Obama legal appointees (Dawn Johnsen as head of the OLC and Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel) unless Obama agrees not to release these OLC memos.  The Right has been obstructing the nominations of Johnsen (as a result of her aggressive rhetoric condemning Bush crimes) and Koh (for his advocacy of international law).  Horton’s DOJ source says that while it is true that Brennan has been aggressively advocating against disclosure, it is the threatened obstructionism from the Senate GOP that is the "principal" cause of concern inside the White House…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2009 at 11:21 am

Demographics and Europe

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Dean Baker:

In an analysis of the impact that the crisis is having on Europe’s welfare state, the NYT told readers that:

“Demographics, too, are a challenge. On the one hand, workers fear that as they age, they will be at a disadvantage when competing for scarce jobs against younger, less expensive workers. Experts also fear a shortage of skilled workers, as Europe’s population ages and becomes more of a burden on budgets.”

Let’s see, older workers fear that they won’t be able to compete with younger workers for scarce jobs. So the problem is too few jobs, and too many workers. Would the situation of older workers be better if they were a relatively smaller share of the population and had more younger workers to compete against?

Of course the next sentence tells us that Europe has the opposite problem when it comes to skilled workers, too few workers and too many jobs. There is one problem with this story, the ratio of the wages of highly-educated workers to the wages of less educated workers is lower in Europe than in the United States. This is not consistent with a shortage of skilled workers in Europe.

The article also includes the claim that France has a 21.5 percent youth unemployment rate. It is worth noting that the main reason that the youth unemployment rate is higher in France than in the United States is that most French college students do not work, while most college students in the United States do work. (The unemployment rate is the percentage of the unemployed among the labor force, those either working or looking for work.) Approximately the same share of young people are unemployed in France and the United States.

A couple of the comments are also worth quoting:

There’s no major inconsistency in the quoted statement if “experts” are considered to have interests congruent with those of employers and opposite to those of “workers”. Certainly this is the case in the US among “experts” in the punditry and media in general.

This one comes up every few months and is intended to reassure the readers of the NYT that all is well with American capitalism and, even if it isn’t, we’re better off than those Old Europeans, particularly the French, with their shorter work weeks, long lunches, and 15 kinds of cream at the grocery store. It’s particularly important to point this out when things are going badly here and the Old Europeans seem to have better social protections than we do.

Posted by: PeonInChief | April 2, 2009 12:00 PM

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2009 at 11:16 am

Posted in Daily life, Media, NY Times

The Washington Posts continues to fight Social Security

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How a great newspaper has fallen. Dean Baker:

The Washington Post has long been a strong proponent of reducing Social Security benefits. While it frequently expresses this view in editorials and in the opeds it chooses to publish, it also pushes its editorial position in the news section.

In keeping with this practice, it headlined an article today, "Recession Puts a Major Strain On Social Security Trust Fund." The article refers to the fact that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) now projects that annual tax revenue will be nearly in balance with benefit payments for the next several years. Previous projections had shown large surpluses.

While those seeking to cut Social Security benefits are highlighting these new projections, in reality they have very little significance for the program. Under the law, Social Security benefits are paid out of its trust fund. This trust fund has accumulated a surplus of almost $2.5 trillion. The lower projected surpluses for the next few years will have some impact (if the projections prove correct) on the date at which the fund is projected to be depleted, but the projected depletion date will almost certainly be beyond 2040, even after CBO adjusts its numbers for the downturn.

Remarkably, this piece alludes to plans to cut benefits without ever noting that older workers and retirees have just lost close to $15 trillion in wealth due to the collapse of the housing bubble and the plunge in the stock market Presumably this would be an important factor in any debate over reducing benefits.

Continue reading to see the comments, also interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2009 at 11:09 am

Sewage technology

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Interesting review:

The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage
by Jamie Benidickson

Deep Doo-Doo

A review by Christopher Hamlin

Grannie used to say she was going out to the euphemism to euphemize. She meant the 1915-era summerhouse privy built on a granite ledge in Maine. To a child raised with water closets, as I had been, the span of the hole seemed dangerously wide and the pit below dark and bottomless. But the smell was bad only by association, and it was light enough inside the privy to peruse the old New Yorker covers that papered its walls. Yet why had it been built as a two-holer? Closeness in our extended family did not extend to companionable excretion with cousins or elders. But the privy was (and is) a good sanitary technology, and we acculturated to it.

The three books about human waste under review here operate at the intersection of embodiment, technology, sensibilities and permissible speech. The matter of two of them — The Big Necessity: Adventures in the World of Human Waste , by Rose George, and The Last Taboo, by Maggie Black and Ben Fawcett — is “sanitation,” itself a euphemism for excrement, or, depending on the venue, feces, dejecta (a wonderfully Latinate and Victorian term), pooh or poop, crap or, finally, shit. The latter vulgarity is increasingly the term of choice among developing-world sanitation professionals, so that we can be sure what we’re talking about. Occasionally this “sanitation” also includes urine or household grey water, but the real problem is the third of a pound of microbe-rich merde that each of the almost seven billion human bodies eliminates daily.

Both books attack a conspiracy of silence, an “if we do not speak about it, maybe it will not exist” approach. (Black and Fawcett refer to “The Great Distaste.”) That attitude reinforces ignorance, prevents effective technical response, and kills. The international public health and development literature takes insufficient interest in excrement. And even nosy anthropologists often overlook the answering of the calls of nature.

It is widely agreed that many more people lack adequate sanitation than lack adequate water. The usual figure for the former is 2.6 billion. According to Black and Fawcett, if the flush toilet is the standard that must be met for sanitation to be considered adequate, the number of people lacking it rises to 4 billion.

It has often been assumed either that “water” will somehow subsume “sanitation” or that addressing problems with the former will resolve issues with the latter (that if one takes care with the fluids that go in at the top, one need not worry about the semisolids that come out at the bottom). The former view reflects the imposition of the flush-wash mentality common to all who live in the piped world and see water (purified, no less) as the ideal means for moving excreta from dwellings. The latter view errs in regarding drinking water as the only important transmission route of fecal-oral diseases and in neglecting the physical problem of safely disposing of biological mass. In fact, the effects of inadequate sanitation go beyond waterborne disease to include ill health due to retention, physical and social dangers that come with exposing oneself during excretion, and unwillingness to attend schools that lack suitable places to ease one’s bowels or change a menstrual pad…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2009 at 11:01 am

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