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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cargo Cult Politics

In one of my favorite speeches, the 1974 CalTech commencment, physicist Richard Feynman decried what he called "cargo cult science." Cargo cults are the anthropologically fascinating result of the interaction between primitive cultures and developed ones.

Most famously, during the U.S. island hopping campaign in the Pacific during WWII, we built military bases on many small pacific islands. The native inhabitants previously had little or no contact with modern materiel, and when the war ended and the bases were deserted. Not understanding the source of the equipment, many native societies formed cults to bring back the supplies. They constructed all the superficial trappings of the military bases; they built runways with bamboo airplanes to lure the planes back. Men sat watch with coconut and bamboo radio headsets. Soldiers marched with wooden rifles.

Feynman described cargo cult science as scientific research that had the trappings of real science, but lacked the crucial substantive measures tha defined science. A laboratory with colored fluids in beakers doesn't make a chemistry experiment. Testable hypotheses carefully measured and controlled for do.

In that same vein, I believe that the PUMA movement is an example of cargo cult politics. The PUMA groups (Party Unity My Ass) are nominally disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters, but a careful (or even cursury) examination of their politics betrays that they're more aptly described as cargo cult Democrats.Since Sen. Clinton failed to recieve the nomination of the Democratic party, the PUMAs have tried to convince themselves and others that their movement is larger than the candidate, and that they are forming a "New Democratic Party." They have their slogans, and posters, and chants, and YouTube videos. They have all the trappings of a political movement, but where they fail short is the substance.

Presidential politics is bigger than hurt feelings and bruised egos. There are real, consequential policies at stake, and hundreds of millions of Americans (not to mention the rest of the world) are impacted by the choices we make. The PUMAs seem to acknowledge this, and yet they don't seem to understand it, and that is what makes it cargo cult politics.

They come up with lists of grievences, issues, and demands, without apparent thought to their meaning. They held a conference with no agenda, and the contradictory purpose of promoting Clinton's agenda and defeating Obama. They're all constructing coconut radios and blogging about it. For example, the much belabored distinction between Sen. Clinton's and Sen. Obama's health care plans was the issue of mandating adults purchase coverage for themselves. They both were otherwise similarly structured; reducing costs, an optional national plan, guarenteed coverage, etc. Neither were completely universal, and both aimed for universal health insurance, not universal healthcare. And yet, the PUMAs seized upon the adult mandates (which Obama actually has a rather sophisticated take on), declared that Obama's plan was insufficient, and accordingly, they support John McCain, whose plan for universal healthcare is emergency rooms.

They have all the righteous fury of a movement demanding action on issues, and yet they have no more than a superficial embrace of the policies. John McCain is staunchly anti-choice? That doesn't have real world impacts, it's just an abstract issue to the PUMAs. Reckless foreign policy? Just another talking point. Further examples abound.

They are a cargo cult because they seem to think that just by printing banners and blogging they have a movement. They have invented silly demands, but they are little more than paint on their wooden rifles. They miss that movements are driven by real issues and real grievences. Movements don't grow by hurt feelings, because anybody who doesn't already identify strongly with the cult doesn't have their feelings hurt.

After their matron saint, Hillary Clinton, repudiated them at the convention they turned ever more deeply inward, safely into the reassuring embrace of themselves. It's kind of sad, in a way, as they sit and blog from their bamboo airplanes, waiting for the rise of their movement. Their numbers and influence are exaggerated, and their ranks are bouyed by opportunistic cranks. But they were fun for a while.


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Thoughts On Palin

Since McCain picked Sarah Pali, Governer of Alaska to be his Vice Presidential running mate, everyone has been scrambling to figure out "what it means" and "how it plays." I have a few general thoughts, and what better place to air them than the internet? Here they are in no particular order.

1) This was first and foremost a political pick. If the first major decision of the presidency is picking a vice president, McCain just failed and Obama passed. Obama picked a politician for both political and practical reasons; Biden is a great surrogate, but he is also a reasoned and experienced voice to have as counsel. Biden and Obama by all accounts developed quite a rapport over the campaign, and with Obama's trust, Biden will be an effective advisor and confidant.

McCain, on the other hand, had no relationship with Palin at all. She was picked first and foremost to shake things up, as the McCain camp understood they couldn't win on the fundamentals. I don't know how many times McCain and Palin have ever even met before the VP search began, but I'd be surprised if it were more than a handful of times. Also on her side was the paucity of good picks for McCain. As my mom pointed out "who the hell else was he going to pick? Romney? Giulliani?"

2) I second Atrios' caution about sexist criticisms of Palin. Concerns that she is too busy with a son with down syndrome to be VP, or other such gener role based concerns, are sexist. Criticism that she doesn't have the gravitas or knowledge to be president, questions that generall aren't asked of men in similar positions (Rudy Giulliani) shouldn't be confused with her genuine lack of experience on the national stage.

3) Sarah Palin really is a very conservative wingnut. She is a global warming denier, vehemently anti-choice, and a creationist. This was probably as much a pander to Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson as it was a pick to shake things up. 2 for 1!

4) My hope is that despite the initial confusion and excitement, people recognize the political nature of this pick, and question if McCain really has the judgement to be president.

5) Sarah Palin is not Hillary Clinton, and the idea that women don't vote on issues is borderline sexist. Minority groups are constantly fighting these stereotypes, and they usually fight back and do the right thing. Republicans try to run every African-American candidate they can, but African-Americans don't vote for them just because they're black. See Steel, Michael. Give female voters some credit.

6) I'm not really ever persuaded by the experience argument (owing perhaps to my own age and lack of experience...). No job really prepares you for the presidency, and a bright and ambitious politician like Obama is every bit as qualified, in my view, after 4 years in the senate as McCain and his 26 years in the senate. I'm more concerned that Palin is extremely right-wing than I am that she has only been governer for 2 years. Though that is perhaps stretching the bounds of my inexperience-tolerance.

7) I'm not impressed that Palin rides snowmobiles or eats mooseburger, and if I hear that from my TV one more time I'm gonna scream. I wasn't impressed that George W. Bush had a ranch and would have been fun to drink beer with (even though I never thought so), and I'm not impressed with Palin's "Real American" credentials. Eating mooseburgers and riding snowmobiles doesn't make her any more American or credible to me than any other American.

8) Ultimately, people don't vote for Vice President. They vote for President. Palin is new and exciting, but McCain can't hide behind her.


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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Things That Make My Ears Bleed

Cable news.

Specifically, when I come home and turn on the TV and hear talking heads complaining that politicians and parties "don't get" the problems of "average" Americans, and that these politicians and parties need to "explain" what they're going to do. I'm looking at you Tom Brokaw.

Perhaps I find this so exasperating because Obama's plans are so easily found on his website, accessible to any American with access to the internet (which certainly includes members of the media). Meanwhile, cable news spends hours upon hours complaining about the lack of substance, or policy, or details, or solutions, and quite literally no time examining the policies or proposals of the candidates.

I've seen hundreds of hours of news coverage this election, and not once have I seen even a 5 minute substantive report on the competing healthcare proposals, or energy proposals, or tax plans, or Iraq plans.

I have heard quite a lot of opinions and speculation from Tom Brokaw.


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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

More Speechifying

The Big Dog smacked around the GOP pretty well.

Joe Biden brought the heat also, but I can't find the video up yet. In the meantime here is his bio/hagio-graphy

One of the nice things about being a Democrat is all the elder statesmen of our party. Compare Clinton, Biden, and Kerry with Guilliani, Romney, and Thompson(!). We win.


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Hillary Clinton's Convention Speech

Was pretty good I thought. I actually thought it was one of her best oratorical performances this campaign, but perhaps that's just because I'm predisposed to the message.

Meanwhile, The Daily Show skewers the dead enders. Gotta love how they brought in a child psychologist!


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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

John McCain's Missed Energy Votes

One of the aspects of this election that hasn't really penetrated most of the mainstream media narrative is John McCain's complete lack of leadership or coherent position on energy, particularly with regard to renewables and energy independence. Recently, Tom Friedman noticed that McCain had missed a number of key votes on energy, but it's even worse than Friedman wrote. As I noted many times before, John McCain didn't even have an energy policy during the Republican primary. His rhetoric is completely unmatched by his plans and his record. His lack of a coherent energy plan has been discussed here and elsewhere before, however, so now I'm going to explain in moderate detail McCain's dismal senate record on energy policy.

Here is a graphic depicting 33 of the votes that John McCain skipped that dealt with energy in the 110th congress. Several were important votes, and in one instance a bill failed cloture by one, vote, 59-40, and John McCain was the only senator to miss the vote. Now, I know that "missed votes" is often a simplistic partisan attack that neglects to take into account the importance of any particular vote, whether a measure would have succeeded or failed without the vote, and how busy senators are when they run for president. However, I think it is abundantly clear, and I will attempt to show, that this is not the case here. McCain missed every important energy vote over two years, in one case he was actually in his senate office but declined to go to the floor to vote.

Click image for larger version.

McCain's vote skipping is quite clearly not a matter of tight scheduling, but a combination of the low priority he places on energy, and the fact that his positions just aren't popular, and he doesn't want to be pinned by voting for them. However, his absence is effectively a "no" vote when Republicans block renewable energy legislation through filibustering.

On top of this though, McCain has the gall to tell voters that he supports renewables, and even lies about his support for the ITC/PTC tax credits. Take this video from August 14th. McCain's claim to support renewables is belied by his record and his plan.

In the interest of ducumenting his duplicity, here are several situations when John McCain has, through action or inaction, fought renewable energy legislation.

1) The CLEAN Energy Act of 2007, HR 6, was the omnibus energy bill of 2007. John McCain missed all relevant votes on this bill, including vote 223 in June of 2007. This vote was on the Baucus amendment to extend the renewable tax credits that are so important to the renewable industries. That vote failed 57-36, with Biden and Obama both voting for it, and McCain not voting.

Then, in December of 2007, HR 6 came up again. After failing to make cloture on the 7th (McCain not voting), it was again introduced at 10 AM on December 13th for vote 425. This time the bill failed 59-40, with McCain not voting. Crucially, this failure that McCain single handedly could have avoided, forced the senate to replace the version of HR 6 that contained amendment 3841 with amendment 3850, which stripped title XV from the bill and with it tax credits for renewables. This new version, without tax credits for renewables, was passed by the senate that afternoon overwhelmingly. John McCain missed that vote too, for good measure (Vote 430).

Interestingly, though, the day before at a Republican debate in Iowa John McCain said:"
"If oil reaches $100 a barrel, which many people think it may, $400 billion from America treasure will go to oil-producing countries. Some of those -- those monies will go to terrorist organizations. We have got to achieve energy independence, oil independence in this nation. I will make it a Manhattan Project, and we will in five years become oil independent."
The very next day he single handedly killed tax credits for renewable energy.

2) After the failure to include the tax credits in the CLEAN Energy Act of 2007, Democrats in congress tried to get them passed by attaching them to legislation in 2008. In February Senator Reid offered an amendment to the economic stimulus bill (HR 5140, amendment 3783). That amendment was fillibustered, and failed to bring cloture 58-41, with McCain not voting (vote 8).

Then, in April, the tax credits were added to the housing bill (HR 3221, amendment 4419). Again, however, Republican objection to the PAYGO provisions caused Democrats to strip title X from the bill. McCain missed all three relevant votes.

Following the housing bill, HR 6049 was introduced in the senate. HR 6049 was a bill to extend the tax credits for renewable energy, as attaching the measures to other bills wasn't bearing fruit. John McCain missed all three cloture votes, 147, 150, and 190. All three votes failed by slim margins.

After HR 6049 stalled, Sen. Baucus introduced S.3335, nearly identical to HR 6049. John McCain again skipped the only cloture vote, which failed 51-43.

3) John McCain's failure to support renewable energy or forward thinking energy plans isn't a new position, either. In 1999 an important vote came up that defunded solar and renewable energy research in the DOE by tens of millions of dollars, and though McCain showed up for that vote, he voted the wrong way.

In 1999 President Clinton sent his FY 2000 request for the Department of Energy (DOE) appropriations to the senate, including a request for $836.1 million for Energy Supply R&D, of which $446 million was for Solar and Renewable R&D. This represented a $62.9 million, or 19%, increase over FY 1999 funding of solar and renewables. When the Republican senate took up the bill, they reduced the Energy Supply R&D by $258.5 million, allocating only $577.6 million. This included reducing the Solar and renewable R&D funding by $90 million, an $11 million decrease in nominal terms from FY 1999 funding.

Jim Jeffords attempted to send the bill back to committee to restore the funding after his amendment to do that was ruled out of order. The vote that killed the funding was a "Motion to Table the Decision of the Chair Re: Motion to Recommit." The motion passed 60-39 (50 needed), and the funding wasn't restored. John McCain voted to defund solar and renewable R&D. Joe Biden voted to restore the funding. Vote 171 in the 1st session of the 106th congress. The CRS report is enlightening and infuriating.

John McCain apparently put the same priority on energy 9 years ago that he does today. At least that's one thing he hasn't flip-flopped on.

Finally, don't forget how important these tax credits are to encouraging renewable energy. Even as renewables are approaching price parity with current grid power, the tax credits are vital to achieving financing. Furthermore, the tax credits allow economies of scale to pick up in the manufacturing and production of renewable capital investments. Remember how much installed wind capacity dropped everytime the PTC expired?

By the way, as I wrote this, Mitt Romney was on my TV lying about McCain's energy policy.


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David Shuster is the Man

Joe Scarborough is an ass. Has Scarborough been asleep for the last five years? After the Bush administration and the Iraqi government essentially adopt Obama's responsible withdrawal timeline, he's acting like the GOP had been there all along!

David Shuster was too smart to sit idly by. The rest of that gang? Not so much.

Somebody go dig up video of Scarborough calling Democrats defeatists for calling for timelines or benchmarks for withdrawal.

Scarborough has blood on his smarmy hands.


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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Joe Biden, a "Statesmen" for VP

(How am I beating John to this? :)

With the announcement today that Sen. Joe Biden will be Sen. Barack Obama's running mate, my political fervor has been restored. I've taken a bit of a vacation from politics since the primaries wrapped up, holding back from reading the news compulsively because I was tired of being run around in the same old political circles...the pundits bouncing back and forth on who is more of an elitist or who can take which demographic for whatever over-generalized reason. But the question that drove me crazy the most the last few weeks was the one none of us could ignore: "Who will Obama pick as his VP?"

I was soooo tired of it. All the speculation, and then the last few days the media stalking those being was getting a little ridiculous.

But now we have an answer, and it's a pretty damned good one.

As everyone in the media and across the interwebs is echoing right now, Biden brings the "experience" factor that Obama needs the most. He brings the white-working-class spirit. He brings a depth of character that complements Obama's, as the presumptive nominee emphasized in introducing his new running mate today. And he has the necessary oratorial strength to campaign alongside such a dynamic crowd-pleaser of a politician as Barack Obama, wielding a sharp tongue that won't hesitate to take an honest jab at the competition.

But the most significant thing that struck me today during their appearance, was the fact that they've got chemistry. There in Springfield with their contrasting red and blue ties, they greeted each other on stage like old friends who hadn't seen each other in years, about to embark on the greatest journey of their lives. They told each other's life stories, fawned over each other's accomplishments. "There's somethin' about this guy..." Biden said, after apologizing for his tendency to "talk too colloquially." Frankly, it was pretty adorable, as far as political appearances go.

As U2's "Beautiful Day" blared to play the running mates off stage, I could feel the next chapter in this seemingly endless election saga opening. And reflecting on their speeches, I'm reminded of how skilled the Obama campaign is at telling a clear story that people can listen to and connect with. It's one of their greatest strengths, and if today is any evidence, Joe Biden is the right man to contribute to their ongoing, carefully crafted narrative.

One thing, however, felt downright eerie throughout their speeches. "Four more years" was the campaign chant for Bush in 2004, and they're using it now to rail against a McCain presidency. I remember thinking back in '04 "How could we possibly vote for four more years of this?" And yet, somehow, we did. Hopefully this time around the American people won't repeat that mistake.

If you didn't catch the speeches earlier, check 'em out now.


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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Office Space

We received our office space assignment from the Office of Campus Activities (OCA) the a while back, and surprise surprise, our office mates are...The Drexel College Republicans! I don't know whose bright idea that was, but I think somebody had been watching too many episodes of "The Odd Couple." Naturally, now we won't really use our office. We won't store membership data, voter lists, schedules, briefings, or campaign paraphenalia, because how can we trust the CRs not to mess with it? It's too small to use for meetings, but perhaps it would be good for small meetings with staff, as long as the CRs aren't there at the time.

So I went down and checked it out yesterday, and it seems the CRs have moved in already! Please enjoy these pictures of the small basement office we were assigned to with the CRs. When you walk into the room, their desk is in the back left corner, while ours is the empty one directly to the right, in the opposite corner.

You'll notice that the CR's have taken to decorating with some young Republican posters, and that got Sean and I thinking (always a dangerous proposition): How should we decorate our side?

I think the best way is to let all of you decide. Below you will find ten images and charts that I think would be excellent to decorate our office with. Please check them out, and vote for whichever ones you want us to print out and tack up on the walls.

1) Federal Deficit

2) Bartel's research on incomes under Republicans and Democrats

3) Cumulative job creation of last three presidents (through 2004)

4) Republican economic priorities

5) Relative perceptions of wealth.

6) Maybe party identification of 18-29 year olds?

7) How about the actual impact on supply of lifting the offshore moratorium?

8) Or how about a little context? Oil and gas contributions to the candidates.

9) Maybe something less wonky and more poignant?

10) Finally, an image that would just blow their minds. Obama and the troops.

We're not just doing this to be agitating jerks. I've met and know most of the current CR leadership, and they really aren't horrible people. Hopefully, our interior decorating will spark a constructive dialogue, wherein we can helpfully explain to our friends in the other corner some of the consequences of the policies they support.

Which image(s) should we decorate our office with?
1) Federal Deficit
2) Bartel's graph
3) Bush vs. Clinton Jobs
4) Republican priorities
5) Perceived Wealth
6) Young voters Party ID
7) OCS supply
8) McCain's big oil friends
10) Obama with the troops

Please click "There's more..." and help us decorate our office!


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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dunces in the Corner

Last night at Drinking Liberally somebody who wasn't familiar with the National Review Online's "the corner" blog asked why we all thought it was the "most retarded collection of thoughts on the internet."

It would be impossible to document even a small fraction of the absurdity and stupidity at the corner, but I offer this non-comprehensive collection of corner highlights from the very recent past anyway. Note that this is a non-comprehensive list, in no particular order.

Starting recently, a mere 40 minutes ago, Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote the following:
McCain-Clinton 2008 Watch [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

Carly Fiorina meets with Tony Rodham.

08/20 11:24 AM
No, Sister Mary Kathryn, McCain-Clinton isn't going to happen. Next?

Yesterday, at 11 AM Kathryn Jean Lopez dropped a huge scoop on the cornerites.
It's Rudy [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

So many e-mailers this morning are predicting that the McCain trial balloon is really about Giuliani. I'm not there, but here's one:

I don't think it's being floated for Liebermann or Ridge.
I think he's considering Giuliani.
- Might put NY in enough play to make Obama spend a lot of money there.
- Has name recognition and gets plenty of respect on law enforcement/national security
- Might be more palatable to pro-lifers if he were to make clear that it's McCain's pro-life administration

The McCain campaign has already hired a Giuliani staffer as the unnamed veep's communications director...

08/19 10:59 AM
I'm actually having a hard time deciding what the stupidest assertion in that post was, but I'm leaning towards the idea that Rudy 9ui11iani could put New York state "in play." And two hours later she suggested McCain pick Santorum for VP.

But Kathryn Jean Lopez isn't the only idiot receiving institutional right-wing welfare. Jonah Goldberg, whose scholarly works include "Liberal Facism", also blogs at the corner.

And Larry Kudlow, the grouchy supply-sider and former host of Kudlow and Cramer, never misses a chance to look like an idiot. Like last month when he breathlessly reported that he was advised by a "senior McCain official" on double secret deep background, that McCain was abandoning his cap-and-trade.
So I picked up the phone and dialed a senior McCain official to make sure these old eyes hadn’t missed it. Sure enough, on deep background, this senior McCain advisor told me I was correct: no cap-and-trade. In other words, this central-planning, regulatory, tax-and-spend disaster, which did not appear in Mac’s two recent speeches, has been eradicated entirely — even from the detailed policy document that hardly anybody will ever read.
Except, not. It is true that McCain's cap-and-trade is a lamer version of a good idea, and that he certainly won't prioritize it like Obama would, but the idea that McCain would take the signature component of his climate change plan and secretly abandon it, but then tell Larry Kudlow (!) on deep background, is something that only a Cornerite could believe.

Finally, I note that the stupidity at NRO is not limited to the corner. For the magazine, Lou Aguilar recently penned a top ten list of why "Real Men Vote for McCain." Without getting bogged down on the whole list, I'll just note that his third reason doesn't make any sense at all to me.
3. McCain supports nuclear power. Obama backs wind energy.
I really don't know what kind of psychological issues or sexual hangups would make somebody write something like that, and frankly, I don't want to.

The National Review Online's Corner is for right-wingers who are too ugly for Fox News, and too stupid for a real job. It's where ideas go to die, and liberals go to laugh.


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Friday, August 15, 2008

Abstinence Only Engineering Education

The next big thing at Drexel? I doubt it.

I support a comprehensive engineering education.

(Via Cosmic Variance)


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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Jerome Corsi is Slime

Jerome Corsi, the worthless slug who co-authored the swift boat hit piece on John Kerry in 2004 that questioned whether Kerry earned his medals, despite having never served in uniform himself, is back at it with Barack Obama. Corsi wrote the recently released "The Obama Nation" and it instantly became a New York Times bestseller through the wingnut welfare system (conservative organizations and donors buy books in bulk to inflate sales numbers).

Of course, like the swift boat book, Corsi's latest product is just another pile of innuendo and bullshit, without merit or credibility. Media Matters for America does a fine job debunking specific claims in the book, as they always do. Here is Paul Waldman of MMA, who does an excellent job (Via Atrios) on Larry King Live with Corsi.

Corsi is really a despicable human being. He has a long history of being a bigoted wingnut, and the fact that the conservative movement would let him be a public face astonishes me. The fact that he isn't publically denounced by every Republican from Bangor to Seattle speaks volumes about the character of that party.

The frustrating thing about assholes like Corsi is that it's a lot easier to pee in a pool than clean get it out. So if you have any crazy family members emailing you stuff from Corsi, just direct them to these two posts. Who is Jerome Corsi? and the debunking of the book.


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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Glenn Beck Falls for the Hype

After the Olympics last night I briefly flipped to Glenn Beck (why do I do this to myself before bed?), and though I was expecting him to say any number of astonishingly ignorant things, I didn't expect him to talk about the BIG HUGE BREAKTHROUGH IN SOLAR ENERGY THAT WILL REVOLUTIONIZE EVERYTHING!

I couldn't resist a little debunking, in case anyone else has heard of this.

The short version is this. MIT researchers led by Dr. Daniel Nocera made a genuinly interesting and important discovery in electrocatalysis. Their discovery was an electrocatalyst for water electrolysis that uses more readily available elements than platinum, is about 70% energy efficient rather than sub 50%, and is self-healing (ie can be used without being replaced) and it surely has important applications.

However, MIT put out a press release hailing this discovery as a "revolutionary" breakthrough in solar energy. It's not. First of all, not to put too fine a point on it, but it isn't a breakthrough in solar technology at all. It's an advance in energy storage technology, but solar is sexier to the PR people at MIT. When Dr. Nocera says in the above clip "Yep, it makes hydrogen power." he is being simplistic to the point of inaccuracy. It's not generating any power, it's converting power, and doing so at a significant cost of energy. The claim is that this electrocatalyst makes distributed solar a practical energy choice where it wasn't before. This is baloney.

The idea presumes that people install enough solar capacity to more than meet their daily needs, and that the excess can be stored by conversion to hydrogen and fed through a fuel cell to power homes at night. This is foolish for a number of reasons.
  1. This system will be expensive, despite reduced costs of the electrocatalyst. Fuel cells are expensive. Significantly more expensive than batteries. This system requires people to purchase not just the solar panels, but a reformer, a fuell cell, and a hydrogen storage tank.
  2. On top of that, the sub 50% energy conversion efficiency of PEM fuel cells makes the round trip storage and use about 25% efficient.
  3. PEM fuel cells are not only expensive, but have limited lifetimes. Automotive PEM fuel cells need working lifetimes of about 5,000 hours, but this proposed system would require a much longer duration use. Many tens of thousands of hours of useful operating lifetime would be needed to last 5-10 years. (Fuel cells can degrade by impurities in the gas supply or particle coalesence.)
  4. Most residential solar installations don't meet 100% of household energy consumption, and there is nothing magic about 100%. Solar panels that meet 50% of your energy will cost you about half as much as meeting 100% of your consumption. Being grid tied is much more efficient than investing in distributed storage.
Since peak power loads (and costs) are during the day, when solar is available, it makes much more economic sense to generate and consume solar power during the day, complimenting it with baseload (nuclear, biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric) or intermittent (wind, kinetic hydropower) from the grid at night.

Why would you want to store valuable peak energy, throw away 75% of it, and use it or sell it back to the utility at night when power is cheap?

This isn't to say that fuel cells aren't worthy of further research, but the technical capability for what Nocera and Beck are claiming just isn't there. Furthermore, the usefullness of such a distributed storage system is highly questionable. A quasi-distributed storage network for intermittent distributed generation is surely more practical, technically and economically.

Beck can be almost excused for his ignorance, if only because it's so expected. Dr. Nocera, however, is making what a lot of people are considering exaggerated claims about the importance of this research.

I couldn't help but laugh at Glenn Beck, though, when he said
"This story broke I think what, last week? I haven't seen anybody on this story yet. I haven't seen congress, I haven't seen Al Gore, I haven't seen RFK Jr., I haven't seen you know, Barack Obama or John McCain or anybody say 'This is it.'"
Well, Glenn, when you don't hear anybody say "This is it." there are three possible reasons. 1) Nobody is paying attention like you are (unlikely) 2) There is a conspiracy of silence (unlikely) 3) It's not "it." I think the answer is the latter.

PS: Glenn, nobody wants your whiny voice on a ringtone.


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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Meet John McCain's Policy Director

In my thus far vain attempt to understand who is advising Sen. McCain on energy policy, I came across this handy compilation of key people on Sen. McCain's campaign. Of course, only a few people were identified on the policy end of things, except for a hilarious press release from the McCain campaign identifying 36 "economic advisors," no doubt an early attempt to shore up his weakness there.

While the familiar Douglas J. Holtz-Eakin is McCain's Senior Economic Policy Advisor, I wanted to know more about who might have helped craft the energy policy, not just shill for it. Dan Crippen, formerly of the CBO, is McCain's Senior Domestic Policy Advisor, but as far as I can tell he's never been particularly involved in energy policy. In fact, I can't find a single thing he's ever written or said about energy (which doesn't mean it isn't out there, but I can't find it), but there was this Fox News blurb that he had "helped McCain craft his health plan."

So what about that Policy Director, Dan McKivergan? Well, he's not an energy guy either, but he is interesting enough for other reasons.

According to his Right Web biography, McKivergan started working for the RNC "research department" out of college. From there he "left the RNC in 1993 for the Project for the Republican Future, a Washington, DC, think tank that served as a precursor organization to PNAC." Following the think tank gig, he joined the Weekly Standard in 1995 as a research director, where he caught the eye of BIll Kristol.

From Right Web:
When Senator McCain, a regular reader of the Standard, approached Kristol about needing a new legislative aide, Kristol recommended McKivergan for the job.
I would note that the fact that John McCain sought out Bill Kristol's advice for staffing should disqualify him from the a sane world.

After working for McCain from 2000 to 2002, McKivergan joined the Project for the New American Century (PNAC, the folks who brought you such hits as the Iraq War) as deputy director. Yadda yadda yadda, in 2005 McKivergan joined The Weekly Standard and posted regularly to their blog through the end of 2006, when he was assimilated into the McCain campaign borg.

Briefly skimming through his blog archive reveals a couple things. First, McKivergan wrote about energy policy exactly once in more than a year at the blog. After pasting from an article about possible oil supply shocks from terrorist attacks he writes, apparently pushing the limits of his interest in energy that "Hopefully, the U.S. will have implemented a real energy policy before a major attack is pulled off. I'm not holding my breath, though." He doesn't elaborate, and I suspect he's not my energy policy guy.

The next thing I noted was that the man is a dyed-in-the-wool neocon wingnut. His blog doesn't contain terribly much original writing, mostly just clippings and sneerings, but the man lived and breathed Fred Kagan, Bill Kristol, Stephen Hayes and company. His favorite topics seemed to be just how close Iran was to getting the bomb (Really close, apparently, in 2006), how traitorous Democrats were, and how Saddam really must have had WMDs. Someone with a pretty good working knowledge of middle east issues could surely pick through there and find some gems.

Here is a bit to get the flavor.
About John Bolton
While the far left isn't happy with Ambassador Bolton's reform efforts, the rest of America wants him to succeed.
About Iraqi WMD's (in 2006, mind you)
The article, “Looting at Weapons Plants Was Systematic, Iraqi Says,” reported on a “highly organized operation,” which apparently took place from mid-April to mid-May 2003 at Iraqi weapons sites, “as teams with flatbed trucks and other heavy equipment moved systematically from site to site,” collecting “tons of machinery...capable of making parts for missiles as well as chemical, biological and nuclear arms....”

To be continued?
On Rudy Giuliani's expertise on the NSA surveillence program
But where does Mayor Giuliani stand? Will Sen. Arlen Specter invite the mayor to give his perspective on the program? My guess is that the mayor generally backs the president's decision to implement the surveillance and given his background is someone the American people should hear from.
My guess is that the mayor generally always backs the president President Bush on everything. And anyone who thinks Giulliani is an expert on anything has no business being Policy Director of a presidential campaign.

On progress in Iraq (November 2005. This is the headline because the post is just a press clipping)
Democratic Party Defeatists on Iraq Shouldn't Read Today's Los Angeles Times -- "In a Sign of Optimism, Iraqis Spending More"
And concern trolling for the Democrats.
Democrats would be better off following the lead of the DLC, but the heart of the party believes in Dean and made him chairman -- and now they're stuck with him.
This guy should be hilarious fodder for Sadly, No!, not advising a presidential candidate on policy.

By the way, if anyone can find any other McCain policy advisors who helped craft his energy policy, besides the lobbyist Eric Burgeson, please let me know. Contrast the McCain secrecy with Obama's transparency. The Obama Campaign put out this list of advisors in November of 2007.


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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Facts Are Silly Things

Reality has a well known liberal bias.

I think that anyone who argued six months ago that McCain had too much integrity or character to try to lie his way into the Whitehouse have about a bakers dozen eggs on their face.

The man is going all in.


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Friday, August 08, 2008

Emily's List's Loss is Our Gain

Normally I wouldn't really care who won the Democratic primary in Tennesse's 9th district, but normally candidates who run against popular and progressive incumbents and compare them to the KKK aren't backed by major Democratic interest groups like Emily's List. Tonight's primary wasn't normal.

Freshmen incumbent Steve Cohen, a Jewish white male (this comes up later), was being challenged by corporate attorney Nikki Tinker, a Christian African-American female. The Tinker campaign deployed absolutely appalling campaign propoganda, including trying to link Cohen to the KKK in ads, criticizing him for clapping in "our churches" while not representing "our values," and was associated with the following flyer.

I don't much care for Nikki Tinker. Even more astonishing, though, was that Emily's List, a formerly reputable Democratic group, was backing Nikki Tinker. Good call there, Emily's List.

Barack Obama even jumped into the fray to decry Tinker's ugly tactics, saying "These incendiary and personal attacks have no place in our politics, and will do nothing to help the good people of Tennessee. It's time to turn the page on a politics driven by negativity and division so that we can come together to lift up our communities and our country."

Fortunately, the good citizens of TN-9 nominated Cohen over Tinker with a whopping 79% of the vote last yesterday. Congratulations to Rep. Cohen, shame on Nikki Tinker, and tsk tsk to Emily's List.


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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Obama Comes Out Strong for Plug In Hybrids

On Monday Obama gave a speech in Michigan where he unveiled more aspects of his energy plan. As readers of this blog know, Obama was way out in front of the energy debate. He put out his plan back in October last year, more than 8 months before McCain bothered to put one together.

There are several new pieces to his plan that he unveiled, but I want to highlight specifically his pledge to support a $7,000 per car tax credit for plug in hybrids and other advanced vehicles. From his energy plan brief:
Obama will also provide a $7,000 tax credit for the purchase of advanced vehicles as well as conversion tax credits. And to help create a market and show government leadership in purchasing highly efficient cars, an Obama administration will commit to:
  • Within one year of becoming President, the entire White House fleet will be converted to plug-ins as security permits; and
  • Half of all cars purchased by the federal government will be plug-in hybrids or all-electric by 2012.
I'm a huge proponent of plug-ins. They're really the most practical forward thinking solution to our dependence on foreign oil. Biofuels certainly have a place, and they have potential, but it seems unlikely that they could simply replace petroleum, for a number of reasons.

When you add in from Obama's plan the focus on greening the grid and investing in a digital smart grid, plug-ins become golden. When you have a million plug-in vehicles, the charging will take place primarily at night and help to level the electrical load. Furthermore, with a digital smart grid, when you get hundreds of thousands of plug-ins tied to the grid at once, you provide utilities with a significant amount of short term storage capacity to match demand with consumption. This flexibilty will provide the strongest benefits during extremely high use periods, for instance the southwest during heat waves.

On top of that, when you have a digital smart grid, beefed up by revenue decoupling, with lots of plug-in hybrids, we'll start to see people putting solar panels on cars. There are already aftermarket conversions for the Prius that contain 225 Watt rooftop panels.

By themselves, they only generate enough energy to drive a half a dozen or so miles a day, but with a digital smart grid, when you aren't driving the car and the sun is shinging, you can sell the power back onto the grid. This offers the potential for tens of megawatts of distributed solar feeding into the grid, and directly into transportation.

The bottom line is that Obama's energy plan does all the smart things to push America toward an affordable, sustainable, secure, clean and effective energy future.

So do I think that this is a good idea?


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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

John McCain: Bought and Paid For

In one of the least surprising developements in political history, we recently learned that McCain pulled down a lot of money from oil company executives around the time he decided to reverse his earlier position (He's a Republican, so he doesn't flip-flop) and endorse offshore drilling as the core of his energy policy.

How much did he cost? More than I can afford, but less than a more principled politician would. From the Washington Post ("Industry Gushed Money After Reversal on Drilling" 7/27/08):
Campaign contributions from oil industry executives to Sen. John McCain rose dramatically in the last half of June, after the senator from Arizona made a high-profile split with environmentalists and reversed his opposition to the federal ban on offshore drilling.

Oil and gas industry executives and employees donated $1.1 million to McCain last month -- three-quarters of which came after his June 16 speech calling for an end to the ban -- compared with $116,000 in March, $283,000 in April and $208,000 in May.
The RNC, which can raise about 10 times as much from each individual as candidates can, also got a piece of the action. From TalkingPointsMemo:

Even more interestingly, though, many of these contributions are, shall we say, suspicious. Take the office manager for Hess and her husband the Amtrak worker, who rent an apartment in Queens. Fine, honorable, work that surely earns a decent living. Decent enough, in fact, for them to each donate $28,000 to McCain and the RNC. That's $56,000 in political contributions. I guess whatever McCain owes Hess better tricke down.

The Washington Post has more on a suspicious bundler from McCain. Among one of his donors for McCain:
Abdullah Abdullah, a supervisor at several Taco Bell restaurants in the Riverside area, and his wife have donated $9,200 to McCain.

Reached at work, Abdullah said he knows little about the campaign. "I have no idea. I'll be honest with you," he said. "I'm involved in the restaurant business. My brother Faisal recommended John McCain. Whenever he makes a recommendation, we do it."

Faisal Abdullah, 49, said he helped organize all of the contributions from members of his family. When he was asked who solicited the contributions from him, he said: "Why does it matter who? I'm telling you we made the contribution. We funneled it through the channel in Florida because that's the contact we had. I was responsible for collecting it."
Back to McCain and his big oil buddies, though. As everyone knows, the additional supply from offshore drilling is far too small to have any noticeable impact on the global price of oil. That doesn't mean it's worthless to the oil companies, however. At over $100 a barrel, a few billion barrels is a very attractive target for oil companies, even if it is more expensive to extract and will take many years. Furthermore, the additional future income is a bankable asset for the companies to borrow against and that the market would price into their stocks. They want the oil, and the environmental tradeoffs that the communities would make aren't really their concern. At all.


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Some Straight Talk

Obama just punked a whole lot of foolish Republicans.

It's like these guys take pride in being ignorant.

They think it's funny that they're making fun of something that is actually true.
That's what straighttalk really soundslike.


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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

August 6th

In 2004 John Kerry announced his running mate on July 6th.

I'm just saying.


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The Mirage Offshore

There's been a lot of talk recently about offshore drilling, and from what I've seen, most discussions in the media shed more heat than light. Both sides have their talking points, polls are commissioned, and soon we'll all move on.

The issue, however, is apparently very poorly understood by the media talking heads. As with so many important issues, the pundits are interested only in how things "play," and not in the underlying details of the debate. That's where we come in. In the Drexel spirit of education I humbly submit this brief primer on the debate regarding offshore drilling.

First, you should understand that the United States claimed for ourselves all coastal land within 200 miles of our coasts (and assorted terrotories) under President Reagan's proclamation 5030, establishing the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) (which is apparently unknown to the terminally stupid Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-OH2). This area includes the outer continental shelf (OCS), and in 1990 President Bush issued a presidential directive placing a moratorium lasting until 2000 on all unleased area offshore of Northern and Central California, Washington, Oregon, the North Atlantic coast, and the Gulf of Mexico east of Mississippi. In 1998, President Clinton extended this moratorium through 2012. (As an aside, when we talk about leasing, it's because the federal government and the states own the rights to the resources offshore, and in order to drill oil companies must lease the land from the government, paying them royalties.)

So how much oil is offshore anyway?

This table, from the 2000 MMS study of offshore resources, documents the available offshore resources that are undiscovered but technically recoverable. Notice that the total amount of oil (mean case) is about 86 billion barrels of oil (bbo). Not including Alaska, there are about 60 bbo, the vast majority of which is in the Gulf of Mexico. I outlined in red the relevant mean estimate of how many billion barrels of oil are undiscovered but technically recoverable in each region.

So how much area is under the moratorium, and more importantly, how much oil is in there? Take this map from the EIA office of Oil and Gas, September 2005.

I know it's hard to read the numbers, but here's the gist, in table form (from the 2000 MMS study, revised 01/2007). Although the moratorium covers roughly 85% of the area, it includes only about 30% of the oil (18 bbo out of 59 bbo).

It's also important to notice that the bulk (~10 bbo) of those ~18 bbo are off the coasts off California, where the local politics make additional drilling unlikely. There is bipartisan opposition in California against leasing more land for drilling.

Florida also has bipartisan opposition to drilling, which impacts both the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic regions. Both Florida and California are reluctant to allow more drilling offshore because their beaches and maritime communities are large and important parts of their economies. 10,000 barrales of oil washing up on Miami after a hurricane would have a rather detrimental impact on tourism, I imagine.

The EIA puts this all in a handy table.

We are effectively talking about offering up for leasing less than 7 bbo of offshore oil, much of which is in deeper or rougher waters than currently exploited resources (ie off North Atlantic coasts). Also, these oil fields are typically much smaller than those in the Gulf of Mexico currently being exploited, and those in off of California, which means more drilling per barrel. This means more expensive extraction, and a smaller energy return on investment (EROI).

An additional piece of this puzzle is that there are significant discovered offshore resources available for drilling that are being leased and aren't being drilled. In fact, only 10.5 million of the 44 million acres being leased are currently being drilled.

Clearly, the idea that lifting the federal moratorim on offshore drilling will bring salvation from high energy prices is a mirage.

I have heard some interesting discussion regarding the political debate, however. I have basically heard two prominent schools of thought from energy experts on this issue:
  1. Let them drill. Lift the moratoriums, hopefully in a political exchange for more incentives for renewables or a cap-and-trade program (This seems to be Obama's direction). The idea is that it won't have any impact, except to the oil companies' bottom lines (and a few unfortunate ecosystems), but that it removes the mirage from the debate. That is to say, people won't embrace renewables as long as they believe they can still drill their way out of it.
  2. Don't cave to ignorant public pressure. Lifting the moratorium has not insignificant reprocussions for coastal ecology, and won't do a thing to really lower energy prices. Furthermore, acquiesing only further enables thebelief that we can drill our way out of it.
I think that both sides have merit, but I note that both sides agree on the futility of expanding offshore drilling. The only people who will tell you that more drilling will lower prices are Republican politicians. In fact, even Bush's Department of Energy concludes that, and I quote
"The projections in the OCS access case indicate that access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030. Leasing would begin no sooner than 2012, and production would not be expected to start before 2017. Total domestic production of crude oil from 2012 through 2030 in the OCS access case is projected to be 1.6 percent higher than in the reference case, and 3 percent higher in 2030 alone, at 5.6 million barrels per day. For the lower 48 OCS, annual crude oil production in 2030 is projected to be 7 percent higher—2.4 million barrels per day in the OCS access case compared with 2.2 million barrels per day in the reference case (Figure 20). Because oil prices are determined on the international market, however, any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant."
Emphasis mine. Here is the EIA projection of oil production with and without drilling in the currently unleased OCS areas.

That difference between the green line and the blue line is just about the entirety of John McCain's energy plan (an remember, Florida and California, which make up more than 60% of that difference, won't allow drilling anytime soon.)

Drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) is pretty much the same deal.

Long story short, if they started today, five years from now we would be pumping 1% of our current daily consumption, and that would rise to a maximum of 5% by 2020-2030. This would be a trivial amount of new supply on the global markets, which are sure to be much larger 20 years from now.

Click "There's more..." for the full post about offshore drilling.


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Monday, August 04, 2008

Two of My Favorite Things

Since John has been doing such a great job on the website I thought it was about time I gave it a shot at posting. It being my first post and all I think it's perfect to start out with two of my favorite things in the world........The Drexel Democrats and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. While filming the new season Charlie Day of the show and one of my favorite TV characters of all time, took a little time to unofficially and unknowingly show some love to the Drexel Dems!

For those of you who watch the show you will recognize that Charlie is wearing the Green Man suit. With the Green Man on hand there is no doubt that It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia will have another great season starting September 18th. And with the Green Man and Barack Obama on their side there is no doubt that the Drexel Democrats are going to have another amazing year as well. Do I hear back to back student organization of the year?

Since you are on our website already there is no need to promote the Drexel Democrats, instead I will promote It's always Sunny in Philadelphia with their new video and commercial.


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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Is That The Best You Can Come Up With?

Yes. Yes it is.

Unless he wants to run on the Republicans' successful stewardship of this country these last eight years. Didn't think so.

Man, am I looking forward to our debates with the college Republicans!


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Friday, August 01, 2008

Meet the New Boss

T.J. is our field organizer from the Obama campaign for the general election. Here's a quick video (via Mithras) of him with some volunteers from the Neighborhood team.

He's a nice guy who's excited to work for Obama, and I'm sure you all will enjoy working with him.