Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Good News/Bad News On The Environmental Front

First, from the NYT, comes the bad news.
A new ranking of the world’s nations by environmental performance puts some of the globe’s largest economies far down the list, with the United States sinking to 61st and China to 121st.

In the previous version of the Environmental Performance Index, compiled every two years by Yale and Columbia University researchers, the United States ranked 39th, and China 105th.
The top performer was Iceland, which gets nearly all of its power from renewable sources, followed closely by Switzerland, Sweden, Norway and Finland.
“Countries that take seriously the environment as a policy challenge do improve, and those that don’t deteriorate,” said Daniel C. Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, who oversees the index project.
The paper does note that because most of the data is from 2007 and 2008, "the index does not fully reflect new efforts by the Obama administration" to improve environmental performance. It also notes that the U.S. scores well in forestry and safe drinking water, but our ranking is abysmal because we score low in areas like heat-trapping emissions and urban air pollutants.

Increasing renewable energy would help decrease our emissions. The good news is that we're advancing quickly in one area - wind power.
Despite a crippling recession and tight credit markets, the American wind power industry grew at a rapid pace in 2009, adding 39 percent more capacity. The country is close to the point where 2 percent of its electricity will come from wind turbines.
According to the NYT, that's up from virtually nothing a few years ago, and they reported that the American Wind Association said "the amount of capacity added last year, 9,900 megawatts, was the largest on record, and was 18 percent above the capacity added in 2008, also a banner year."
The nation’s wind turbines generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 9.7 million homes, according to the report. Last year, Texas consolidated its lead as the nation’s top wind producer, with a total capacity of 9,410 megawatts, about three times more than the second-largest producer, Iowa. They were followed by California, Washington and Minnesota.
And guess what the AWEA credits for the growth of wind power? “The U.S. wind industry shattered all installation records in 2009, and this was directly attributable to the lifeline that was provided by the stimulus package,” said Denise Bode, the trade association’s chief executive.

However, as extraordinary as growth has been in this area, they also point out that it would be better if Congress would pass a a federal mandate requiring that a certain percentage of power come from renewable sources. Mandates already exist throughout the European Union and in China, and in the U.S. 29 states have adopted a renewable power standard, including Michigan, which set a standard of 10% of electricity from renewable resources by 2015.
“The wind manufacturing sector has the potential to employ many more Americans in green jobs, but without a renewable electricity standard to provide a long-term market, the sector will be slow to grow,” the trade group said in its report.
I'm so tired of the U.S. falling behind in everything but the strength of our military. The U.S. should be leading the way in this area instead of falling further behind. And although we're fortunate to have Gov. Granholm and other Democrats with foresight and vision pushing for higher standards, we're still stuck with obstructionist Republicans who would rather help their fossil fuel cronies than our environment. Just imagine how much better our country could be if Republicans didn't always stand in the way.

(Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Supreme Court Overturns Corporate Campaign Spending Limits

The Supreme Court just struck down a key campaign-finance restriction that bars corporations from pouring money into political ads, and the ruling divided the court along ideological lines with the newest justice, Sonia Sotomayor, joining the liberal wing in dissent.
The ruling is a victory for Washington-based Citizens United, the corporation that created “Hillary: The Movie.” The 90-minute film, which creators sought to air on a video-on- demand channel during Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, features interviews with a number of prominent critics of the New York senator, including Ann Coulter and Newt Gingrich.
Guess who helped fund Citizens United? Wealthy sources, like the Betsy & Dick DeVos Foundation.

So, what's at stake? This is what a constitutional law expert had to say.
"American citizens have repeatedly amended the Constitution to defend democracy when the Supreme Court acts in collusion with democracy's enemies, whether they are slavemasters, states imposing poll taxes on voters, or the opponents of woman suffrage. Today, the Court has enthroned corporations, permitting them not only all kinds of special economic rights but now, amazingly, moving to grant them the same political rights as the people. This is a moment of high danger for democracy so we must act quickly to spell out in the Constitution what the people have always understood: that corporations do not enjoy the political and free speech rights that belong to the people of the United States." [emphasis added]
Voter Action, Public Citizen, The Center for Corporate Policy, and the American Independent Business Alliance have started an organization - Free Speech for People - in an effort to correct the damage the Supreme Court has done to the First Amendment, and the only way that's possible is to pass a constitutional amendment of our own that puts people ahead of corporations.

Please read their resolution and sign your name in support. What the Supreme Court did today dramatically dilutes the vote and the voice of every American who does not control a large corporate treasury. And the decision unleashes billions of dollars in corporate money to dominate legislatures and elections. The problem actually goes beyond money in politics and elections, "The courts have used the fabrication of the First Amendment corporate rights doctrine to strike down a range of democratic enactments in recent years, from those concerning clean and fair elections; to environmental protection and energy; to tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, and health care; to consumer protection, lottery, and gambling; to race relations, and much more."

Free speech is for people — not corporations. Please join their campaign and protect our democracy.

(Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Broadband Suffers From Lack Of Big Government

Yet another area where the U.S. trails the rest of the world. Via Paul Waldman at TAPPED:
But a new report on global broadband shows that the country that invented the Internet, the microchip, and most of what makes our global digital village possible ranks a pathetic 18th in broadband speeds. The top spot is taken, as usual, by South Korea, where their smoking fast connections give them an average speed over three times as fast as what our pokey little modems give us. We also don't score too well when it comes to broadband penetration (the proportion of households that have broadband, as opposed to the actual speed people are getting). Our slow broadband is also really expensive. So that's nice.
We trail countries like Romania, Sweden and the Czech Republic. And on a year-to-year basis, all the countries in the top 10 saw a boost in speed. Ireland topped the list with a 73 percent gain. What about the United States? We were hit by a 2.4 percent decline in speed.

Waldman says they are multiple reasons we lag so far behind, but "the most important one is probably that we don't have enough big government. With a combination of public infrastructure investments and regulations forcing ISPs to share lines, other countries have driven down prices and driven up speeds."

Republicans have been too busy giving tax breaks to the rich and taking care of their corporate cronies over the past couple of decades to care about our public infrastructure. Thankfully, the stimulus bill President Obama signed in February provides $7.2 billion for projects that will increase the spread of broadband. He also instructed the FCC to come up with a plan to achieve universal high-speed access.

Those are good first steps, but something also needs to be done about bringing the price down or making it available for free to low income individuals. Voters depend on the media for information about our democracy and that information shouldn't be limited only to those who can afford to buy it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

National Tea Party Convention Embraces Right-Wing Media

The teabaggers appear to be playing by the George Bush/Republican playbook. Via Think Progress:
Having previously announced that the National Tea Party Convention would be closed to the press, organizers announced yesterday that they would reverse course. However, the Nashville Post reports that only five media organizations will receive credentials for the entire convention, and they all conveniently happen to be right-wing outlets:

The five approved outlets are: Fox News,,, World Net Daily and The Wall Street Journal. All five are widely considered to be Right-leaning organizations.

The press release explains that the requests for credentials have been overwhelming and that to preserve the nature of the event they are limiting press availability.
They also used the excuse that as "we have set expectations that this is a working convention, we have tried not to make it a media event.”

Right...because Fox News is always so circumspect and diplomatic when it reports the news and they would never turn any event into a media circus.

A media event is exactly what the teabaggers wanted, and by inviting only these right-leaning organizations their message will be tightly controlled and scripted. Ironically, their website currently claims they believe in "Free Speech." I think they should change that to reflect what they really mean - "Free Speech as told by right-wing media outlets."

Friday, January 08, 2010

Salaries Could Be Squeezed For Some Time To Come

A new CBS MoneyWatch article confirms what Muskegon Critic pointed out the other day: Increased productivity does not translate into prosperity for average Americans.

In fact, MoneyWatch warns that a "combination of short-term factors and long-range changes may conspire to squeeze salaries for some time to come," and annual raises "could be in jeopardy."

So how did we get to this point? It turns out real wages have actually been flat for years.
Looking back, it turns out a decade’s worth of easy credit and faux real estate wealth obscured the fact that incomes for the majority of workers weren’t keeping up. After healthy salary growth of roughly 1.8 percent annually from 1995 to 2000, for example, inflation-adjusted, or real, wages for the median worker remained essentially flat from 2000 until 2007 when the recession started, according to government data (average wages increased roughly 2 percent, but that number is skewed by huge gains at the top). In fact, after the recovery in 2002, notes Shierholz, no real wage growth occurred at all for the median worker — despite an increase in productivity of 11 percent over the seven-year time frame. [emphasis added].
In other words, we've been working our tails off and have little to show for it. So who reaped the productivity gains?
Typically, companies and their shareholders.
And what do experts point to as the reason for our declining prosperity?
Shierholz and other economists attribute the disconnect between wages and output to declining unionization and the need to keep prices low in a competitive global environment.
The "kill the unions" and "outsource everything" crowd accomplished what they set out to do - drive wages down for average Americans. And the scenario for new jobs created doesn't look any rosier.
A 2009 analysis of figures from the U.S. Department of Labor showed that sectors that expanded through this decade have paid an average annual compensation of $55,300, compared with $65,100 for industries that are shrinking. This is partly because many of the newly-created positions are in service industries, which tend to be less organized and have less bargaining power. Think home healthcare and “green” jobs versus auto manufacturing and heavy industry.
In fact, six of the top 10 fastest-growing jobs are low wage.

There are steps Washington can take to start improving living standards for average Americans, but as long as people keep voting for anti-union, globalization embracing politicians, I don't see things changing.