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Election 2012


Obama likes Keystone XL now

Well, that was nice while it lasted. But despite the fact that domestic oil production doesn't do a dicky bird to bring down gas prices, President Obama is now paying election-year lip service to the idea of, and I quote, "drilling all over the place." And even more depressingly, he's now saying that the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, which he'd previously opposed, should be "a priority."


Media produces, laments public ignorance on gas prices

[See update at bottom.]

Painful source: Why can't the media get gas prices right?

Media coverage of gas prices has made me want to smash my head on my desk. So it was with some amusement that I read the first paragraph of Politico's piece on how dumb voters are:

Voters are appalled at President Barack Obama's handling of gas prices, even though virtually every policy expert in both parties says there’s little a president can do to affect the day-to-day price of fuel in a global market.

Ha ha stupid voters! Where do they get such bad information?

As Politico says, the U.S. president has virtually no control over gas prices. Time's Bryan Walsh lays it out clearly here (in an entirely factual piece that is nonetheless labeled "viewpoint"). Gas prices are tightly linked to oil prices, which are set by forces over which the U.S. has little control.

This is something that energy experts and analysts are more or less unanimous on. The Initiative on Global Markets gathered a panel of economic experts, from across the professional and ideological spectrum, and asked them to react to this thesis: "Changes in U.S. gasoline prices over the past 10 years have predominantly been due to market factors rather than U.S. federal economic or energy policies." Some 92 percent agreed. Eight percent were "uncertain." Not a single one disagreed.

So, just to be clear: Anyone who says the president is responsible for gas prices is either lying or woefully ignorant. This category includes all of the Republican candidates for president, virtually every GOP elected official, many conservative Democrats, legions of conservative and centrist pundits, and occasionally Obama himself.


About that record-breaking dead heat in Illinois (no, not the polls)

It’s election day in Illinois, and the hottest topic in the Land of Lincoln will -- I can forecast with complete confidence -- be totally ignored by the GOP challengers.

That would be ... the weather. Today may mark the seventh straight day of 80 degree temperatures at O’Hare, something that’s never happened before in March. Or in April, for that matter. "It is extraordinarily rare for climate locations with 100+ year-long periods of records to break records day after day after day," the local office of the National Weather Service said in a statement Sunday morning, following a Saint Patrick's Day that shattered 141 years of records.

And the Windy City is not alone. In International Falls, Minn., which threatened suit when a Colorado city tried to steal its “Nation’s Icebox” moniker, the mercury went to 77 degrees on Saturday -- which was 42 degrees above average, and 22 degrees above the old record. It’s possible, according to weather historian Christopher Burt, that no station with a century of weather data has ever broken a mark by that much.

Here’s how Jeff Masters, founder of the website WeatherUnderground and probably the internet’s most widely read meteorologist, put it from his Michigan base: “As I stepped out of my front door into the pre-dawn darkness from my home I braced myself for the cold shock of a mid-March morning. It didn't come. A warm, murky atmosphere, with temperatures in the upper fifties -- 30 degrees above normal --greeted me instead. Continuous flashes of heat lightning lit up the horizon, as the atmosphere crackled with the energy of distant thunderstorms. I looked up at the hazy stars above me, flashing in and out of sight as lightning lit up the sky, and thought, this is not the atmosphere I grew up with."

Indeed -- later in the day an F-3 tornado wrecked a swath of homes and businesses just west of Ann Arbor, the earliest such storm Michigan has ever seen. “Never before has such an extended period of extreme and record-breaking warm temperatures affected such a large portion of the U.S. in March, going back to the beginning of record keeping in the late 1800s,” Masters wrote.


Earth out of balance: The challenge of controlling corporate greed

When David Rothkopf came to Grist’s hometown of Seattle in 1999, he was a member of President Clinton’s commerce team, here to spread the gospel of free trade at the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting. You may recall that the delegates didn’t get the warm welcome they might have imagined.

“I remember being at this black tie thing and was talking to Bill Gates … and the Sultan of Brunei walked in,” says Rothkopf, who was clearly impressed with the crowd. “And then a friend of mine walked in and said, ‘Somebody just punched me in the face.’”

Outside, the police had used tear gas to break up nonviolent protests against the WTO, and chaos and riots were spreading through downtown.

When Rothkopf made a return visit this week, we made sure he felt more welcome. (Pretzels! Tap water! The sultan would have felt right at home.) And this time, Rothkopf was singing a tune that might well have gotten him booted from the black tie affairs back in 1999, and put him in solidarity with the people in the streets.


Obama debuts new energy theme: Past vs. future

Photo by Nick Knupffer.

The Obama administration has learned from history, it seems. They're not going to sit passively by as their opponents demagogue gas prices. This week they've gone on the offensive, with the president giving a series of interviews and speeches, including a major address today at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md.

Most of the details from today's speech were familiar from previous speeches. Obama argued that his administration has substantially increased oil and gas drilling, but that drilling will never be enough to reduce gas prices or make America independent of imported energy. Thus, America needs to invent and build new technologies to produce clean energy and use less energy.

That's all been said before (though obviously nothing's wrong with repeating it). There was, however, a new theme in the speech, tying all these points together. I don't know if it's entirely new, but I've never heard it emphasized as much. And since it's a theme I've been pushing for years (clearly Obama is reading my blog), I was quite gratified to see it.

It's simply this: the past vs. the future. In his prepared remarks, he said a state of constant vulnerability to events overseas is ...


Al Gore running for Senate on green platform

Albert N. Gore Jr.Albert N. Gore Jr.

Sorry, not that Al Gore Jr. And not that Al Gore Jr.'s son, Al Gore III. It's a completely different Al Gore Jr. -- one who doesn't look all that junior.

Albert N. Gore Jr. won the Democratic Senate primary in Mississippi on Tuesday, earning the right to be crushed by incumbent Republican Roger Wicker in November.

This Gore is a retired Methodist minister and Army colonel who completed 91 parachute jumps during a distinguished military career. "He declined to give his age, but said he’s in good health," reports the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald. The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire blog describes him as "a political newcomer" and notes that he "doesn’t appear to have a campaign website."

Is he related to the more famous Al Gore? Maybe, says the Sun Herald:



Watch Stephen Colbert yell at a plant

Stephen Colbert understands the Republican candidates' aversion to big words, logic, facts, and critical thinking. That's why he wants to applaud how good they are at being as dumb as possible as fast as possible without stopping for any reason. Here, he highlights some notable moments where the candidates simplify climate and energy policy issues to the point of ridiculousness. Basically, he's performing a reductio ad absurdum on their reductios ad absurdum, which isn't an easy trick.

Read more: Election 2012


Top 10 prices we want Newt to lower with his magic wand

Newt Gingrich with magic wandNewt Gingrich promises he'll lower gas prices to $2.50 a gallon once he gets to the White House. Now that we know he's in possession of a magic wand that can override global market forces, there are a few other items we'd like to see priced lower.

Space travel
Come on, Newt, you're supposed to be a big-idea man (and a giant Star Wars geek)! Why just lower the cost of car travel when you could lower the cost of space travel?


Huntsman on climate change, natural gas, and competing with China

Jon Huntsman. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

For a while there, Jon Huntsman was the one Republican presidential candidate willing to deliver the straight dope on climate change. “To be clear,” he tweeted in August, “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” He even argued that climate skepticism could cost the GOP a victory in November: “The minute that the Republican Party becomes the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012.” Enviros praised Huntsman as the heroically rogue elephant.

Then he joined the herd.

In December, Huntsman told an audience at the Heritage Foundation that the "scientific community owes us more in terms of a better description or explanation” of climate change, and that there is “not enough info right now to be able to formulate policies.”

Since withdrawing from the GOP primary in mid-January and endorsing Mitt Romney, Huntsman has stayed visible in the media, challenging Romney’s position on trade with China and suggesting that the country might need a third party with “an alternative vision, a bold thinking.”

But has he come to any more clarity on his climate views? We called him up to find out.

Read more: Election 2012, Politics


Dennis Kucinich, eco-darling and vegan, ousted from Congress

Dennis KucinichDennis Kucinich: He's had a good run, but it's coming to an end. (Photo by Center for American Progress Action Fund.)

Congress is about to lose one of its most progressive environmentalists -- and its only vegan. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who became well-known in liberal circles during his 2004 and 2008 presidential runs, lost the Democratic primary for Ohio's new 9th congressional district on Tuesday. So come January, he'll be looking for a new job.

Ohio experienced slower-than-average population growth between 2000 and 2010, so it's now losing two congressional seats. Republicans gamed the state's redistricting process to pit Democratic reps against each other. Kucinich ended up running against longtime Rep. Marcy Kaptur and losing. (Kaptur will now face Joe the Plumber in the general election. Yes, really, Joe the Plumber.)

Kucinich is perhaps best known for his outspoken anti-war stance and his call for a Cabinet-level Department of Peace. In his mind, those views are closely linked to his environmental values. Here's how he described his green platform to Grist in 2007:

Read more: Election 2012, Oil, Politics