Al Gore had "a most excellent time" at Sundance, and if press coverage is any indication, he is well on his way to shaking his image as a stiff automaton. Check this out: He is wearing earth tones again. He seems jolly. He brought Tipper and the kids. He is attending parties and posing for pictures with his fans and enjoying macaroni and cheese at the Discovery Channel soiree. He's palling around with Larry David of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," who says, "Al is a funny guy." But he is also a very serious guy who believes humans may have only 10 years left to save the planet from turning into a total frying pan. If I were Al Gore's 2008 presidential campaign manager -- not that he's running! -- reading stuff like that would put a big fat grin on my face.
Well well. Seems Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) agrees with ThinkProgress that Big Oil doesn't want you to know about biofuels. Hot off the press-release presses: U.S. Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) today asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate whether big oil corporations are knowingly restricting consumer access to alternative fuels like ethanol and biodiesel as a result of company policies. "I believe that it is crucial for our national security and economic security that the United States lessen its dependence on foreign oil," said Senator Obama. "And if big oil companies are standing in the way of consumers who want to fill their vehicles with cleaner alternative fuels made here in the United States, then I believe the American people deserve to know why." According to an internal memorandum from a major petroleum company obtained by Senator Obama's office, gas station franchise owners are prohibited from selling non brand name renewable fuels like E85 and B20 from fuel islands or underneath canopies bearing the oil company's name or logo. The memo also said that any alternative location of fuel pumps dispensing alternative fuels must be approved. This could get interesting.
Is every conservative pundit on the take? Today Paul D. Thacker reports in The New Republic that Fox News columnist and junkscience.com proprietor Steven Milloy -- stalwart defender of tobacco and fossil fuels -- has been receiving hefty payments for years from, uh, tobacco and fossil-fuel companies. However, unlike other news outlets that have dumped pundits after finding out they're receiving money from the subjects of their columns, Fox has been looking the other way (to put it charitably). Thacker concludes: Perhaps the real reason the news organization tolerates Milloy is that his pro-industry, anti-environmentalist views dovetail nicely with those of its political commentators. Still, this misses an important distinction. Objective viewers long ago realized that Fox News has a political agenda. But, when a pundit promotes this agenda while on the take from corporations that benefit from it, then Fox News has gone one disturbing step further.
All due respect to the intrepid folks at ThinkProgress, but I think this defense of biofuels falls a bit short. There's this: First, developing a biofuel economy can actually help reduce hunger and poverty by diversifying agricultural and forestry activities, attracting new farmers, and investing in small and medium enterprises. Increased investment in agricultural production has the potential to boost incomes of the world's poorest people. In what world does "investment in agricultural production" benefit "the world's poorest people"? The trend for the last half-century has been for agricultural investment -- read, subsidies -- to go to mega-agribusiness. If biofuel really catches on, if a robust global market develops, is there any reason at all to think that the same huge corporations won't dominate it? I was browsing through this month's Atlantic Monthly; in the first 20 or so pages, I saw two advertisements touting the magic of ethanol. Guess who paid for the ads? Siemens and Archer Daniels Midland. Not exactly "small and medium enterprises." And this:
Over on Alternet, Traci Hukill has a nice and fairly comprehensive piece up about the U.N.'s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Worth a read.
Often, the first step to helping people make better choices is showing them that there are choices. One of the biggest and most important -- albeit frequently overlooked -- steps toward combating global warming, improving public health, reducing air pollution, and restoring a sense of community and fellow-feeling to American life is changing the structure of our communities. Right now, conventional wisdom is that the choice is between suburbs -- big houses, plenty of privacy and safety, big, cheap retail readily available -- and tight, cramped, dangerous, dirty living in a city, with corner stores the only source of provisions. This perception is off, but it's not that far off. There are still too few concrete examples of dense, safe, mixed-use walkable communities with all the conveniences of the suburbs. So, forthwith, Dave's Two-Step Plan for Cleaner, Safer Communities:
Well, they've got balls, you gotta give them that: Coal industry flacks, in response to safety fears raised by the Sago mine accident (among others), say that hey, maybe we'd all be safer if we just blew off the tops of the mountains instead of sending people in. "Technology has driven the fact that we can produce more coal with less workers, so there's fewer people exposed to hazards," said Joe Lucas, executive director of industry group Americans for Balanced Energy Choices. The mind boggles. In other mine safety/brass balls news, on Monday David Dye, the acting head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, was testifying before a Senate subcommittee about the administration's response to Sago. After an hour of questioning, he declared that he was busy and walked out. Seriously -- just walked out. Senator Specter responded with frustration: "I can understand your pressing other business. It may well be that some of the senators here have pressing matters, too. We don't think we are imposing too much to keep you here for another hour." After Mr. Specter added, "That's the committee's request, but you're not under subpoena," Mr. Dye got up and walked out. "I can't recollect it ever happening before," Mr. Specter said of the departure. "We'll find a way to take appropriate note of it." Think Progress has the video. Where do they find these people?
I know Hurricane Katrina is so 2005, but nonetheless there are some loose ends and ongoing outrages that deserve a little attention. The White House was warned, hours before Katrina hit, that New Orleans would likely be flooded. As you may recall, they didn't do much about it. You might also recall that Bush said "no one anticipated" a breach of the levees. That was -- what's the polite term these days? -- misleading. The Bush administration has refused to turn over documents and emails relevant to its preparation and response to the hurricane to Congressional investigators. Joe Lieberman, ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, says the Bushies have also instructed other government departments not to cooperate. He says they're trying to run out the clock on the investigation. Former FEMA director Michael "Brownie" Brown (who came in at a lowly 35 on the America's most loathsome list, though I would argue for higher placement) kept his $148,000 FEMA salary for two months after he was booted, allegedly to serve as a consultant and help Congressional investigators figure out what went wrong. But now he's refusing to cooperate with the investigation -- though he's taking money to speak on the very same subject at conferences. Toad. Meanwhile, New Orleans remains a farrago of opportunism, venality, and despair. I don't know about y'all, but I feel super comfortable about what might happen in the wake of another terrorist attack or weather disaster. We're in good hands! Update [2006-1-25 16:34:13 by David Roberts]: On Katrina, James Wolcott is a good read.
Did you know that you're the fourth most loathsome person in America (for 2005, anyway)? And my fellow blogger Tom will be happy to see that someone agrees with him about the Mustache of Understanding, who comes in at No. 7:
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