Monday, February 21, 2005

Bush's "discretionary" spending not so discretionary

Fact Check
"That's an average annual growth rate of 2.4% during Clinton's eight years, compared to an average of 11.8% during Bush's first three."

"Discretionary spending -- meaning spending that is subject to annual legislative appropriations, as opposed to spending for entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare -- actually grew only 5.6% in Clinton 's last budget year (fiscal year 2001, which began October 1, 2000 ).

Since then discretionary spending has not "steadily declined" as the President said, but has gone up. In fact, the growth has been much faster than under Clinton . In the first year for which President Bush signed the spending bills discretionary spending growth soared to 13.1%, and annual growth remained in double digits through the current fiscal year."

Friday, February 18, 2005


Pacific Biodiversity Institute studied the actual occurrence of fire, in constrast to that reported in hyped-up media and government reports. In an August 31, 2000 press release, Peter Morrison, Director of PBI noted, "Under natural circumstances, fire acted 'like a gardener that determined what grows in the garden.... It [fire] keeps these ecosystems as vibrant, healthy ecosystems.... Without fire, it's like a person who never cleans up their room, never sweeps its, never takes the garbage out, never does any of that.... It's not a very healthy place to live." (Morrison in McClure, 2000).

Pacific Biodiversity Institute studies showed that in states with some of the biggest fires in 2000, less than one tenth of the blazes occurred where tree thinning operations advocated by the timber industry would be practical. Much of the burned land was actually in grasslands or places with few to no trees, rather than not in timber. (McClure, 2000). Using advanced satellite imaging, federal fire data, and computer mapping systems, PBI scientifically analyzed the location, size, land ownership, forest type and management history of five of the largest fires, as well as reviewing regional fire patterns over the last century.

The report by Pacific Biodiversity Institute (Assessment of Summer 2000 Wildfires: Landscape History, Current Condition and Ownership) found that most of the forested area which burned was managed timberland, not pristine old growth. Contrary to timber industry rhetoric about logging to prevent fires, most of the forests which burned this year had already been logged. This is proof that logging doesn't prevent forest fires. The report shows that the arguments for salvage logging are self-serving attempts to exploit emotions and human tragedy for corporate profit. The facts simply don't support the political rhetoric.

Additionally the report found:

-Only 38% of the acres burned in 2000 were in roadless or wilderness areas.
- Most fires neither originated in, nor were confined to roadless area, demonstrating the hollowness of attacks on roadless area protection.
- Analysis of five of the largest fires (Valley/Skalkaho (MT), Kate's Basin (WY), Canyon Ferry (MT), Burgdorf Junction (ID), and Clear Creek (ID)) confirms the west-wide pattern: 36% of area was non-forested, 57% was in naturally high intensity burn forest types, only 8% occurred in naturally cool burning forest types. Most of the acres were in roaded, managed forests.
- The acres burned in 2000 were well below the century's average. The 6.4 million acres burned thus far is much less than the 13.9 million acre average from 1916 to 1999. Over 7 million acres have burned in 1988 and 1963, over 50 million acres burned in 1930 and 1931. Large regional fire years are the norm, not the exception.

"The timber industry and its supporters claim this is an extreme fire season [year 2000], but they are ignoring some very basic facts," said Peter Morrison of the Pacific Biodiversity Institute. "This year is really not all that extreme. In fact it is really well below the average for the last 84 years. This year severe fires have been burning in roaded and heavily managed landscapes near where people live. So this has been an intense year for them, but massive logging programs aren't the solution their problem."

"When the smoke clears, the claims of logging advocates are revealed to be hot air," said Mitch Friedman, Executive Director of Northwest Ecosystem Alliance. "If the American people didn't already know that you can't save a forest by cutting it down, the proof has now emerged from the flames themselves."

"Logging is the problem, not the answer," said Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity. "It is disgusting to see politicians exploit human tragedy to in order to help an industry that has already done so much damage to our forests. We need to base forest policy on facts, not heat of the moment rhetoric."

Sequoia Monument
Forests Report
What Nat'l Park visitors are saying

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Strategic Ignorance (by Carl Pope AND Paul Rauber) continued

I'd like to thank again Paul Rauber and Co. over at the Sierra Club for allowing me to post pieces from the book, and I apologize for not having Paul's name down as co-author as well.

p.85-88, from Breaking with the Clean Air Consensus:

Bush cast his lot with Cheney and the power industry on February 14, 2002, when he announced his new air pollution plan with the Orwellian title "Clear Skies." Bush promised, "We will cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent from current levels. We will cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 67 percent. And, for the first time ever, we will cap emissions of mercury, cutting them by 69 percent."

While those numbers sound impressive, they actually represent a major retreat (the books emphasis) from existing requirements. Bush's numbers ignore cleanups already required and under way; rather, they compare his plan with pollution levels that would exist if every grandfathered power plant and refinery in the country simply ignored the Clean Air Act. Clear Skies eliminates the current requirement that every industrial facility clean up, and postpones standards for meeting public health goals by nearly 25 years. Instead, it proposes a series of national "caps" on how much pollution power plants, overall, can emit. This means that, as long as the national caps are being met, communities near Southern's Bowen and Scherer plants can continue to breathe polluted air for decades, perhaps forever.

Clear Skies also coddles emitters of toxic mercury. Under a current consent decree, mercury emissions from power plants have to be reduced by up to 90 percent by December 2007. Clear Skies, however, does not require any mercury reductions until 2010; even by 2018 there would still be more toxic mercury raining down on our rivers and lakes than current law would allow in 2007. Even that was not enough for Republican Senator James Inhofe, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, who tried to raise the "acceptable" levels of mercury pollution in Clear Skies from 26 tons of mercury per year to 34 tons. In January 2003, the implications of the laxness came into much sharper focus, when, after six months of stalling, the EPA reluctantly reported that 8 percent of American women of childbearing age carry potentially toxic levels of mercury in their bodies.

An immediate effect of the Bush plan was the resignation of the EPA's head of regulatory enforcement, Eric Schaeffer. A career EPA official and former staffer to Republican Representative Claudine Schneider, Schaeffer said that he had finally given up fighting "a White House that seems determined to weaken the rules we are trying to enforce." Schaeffer was particularly alarmed about Clear Skies' effect on the nine lawsuits filed in the last year of the Clinton administration against power companies that had flouted the Clean Air Act. "The companies named in our lawsuits emit an incredible 5 million tons of sulfur dioxide every year," Schaeffer wrote, "a quarter of the emissions in the entire country." The EPA had already negotiated settlements with four power companies, "yet today we seem about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory." Previously negotiated settlements were falling apart, he said, and "other companies with whom we were close to settlement walked away from the table. ...We have filed no new lawsuits against the utility companies since this Administration took office. We obviously cannot settle cases with defendants who think we are still rewriting the law."

In July 2003, it was discovered that for months the EPA had been withholding from Congress its own analysis showing that proposals by moderate Senator Thomas Carper (D-Del.) would be more effective than Clear Skies in reducing pollutants--and only marginally more expensive. A leaked memo obtained by the Washington Post showed that, by 2020, the Carper plan (which was cosponsored by two Republican senators) "would result in 17,800 fewer premature deaths from power-plant air pollution than would Clear Skies. That would save $140 billion a year in health benefits--about $50 billion more than Clear Skies." This information, however, was withheld from Senator Carper. "All we're interested in is having a full and honest debate so we can make a well-informed decision, he later told the Post. "I don't believe that's too much to ask."

A full and honest debate, however, was not what Bush's EPA had in mind. The New York Times described a meeting at which EPA air programs czar Jeffrey Holmstead was briefed by career staff on the merits of the competing pollution reduction plan: "At a meeting on May 2, employees who attend it said, Mr. Holmstead of the E.P.A. wondered aloud, 'How can we justify Clear Skies if this gets out?'" Even the OIRA risk wizards could not help to justify Clear Skies. A major OIRA study showed that the economic benefits of tougher clean air regulations implemented by the Clinton administration were five to seven times greater than the costs, for a net economic gain to American society of at least $100 billion. John Graham released the report with the terse comment, "The data shows that the EPA's clean-air office has issued some highly beneficial rules." Highly beneficial, but apparently not beneficial enough to warrant keeping.

Ultimately, the EPA stopped worrying about justifying Clear Skies and simply eliminated the existing requirements. Instead of making plants modernize whenever they made substantial changes, the agency specified that clean up was required only if 20 percent of the total cost of a plant was spent at one time--a level that is almost never reached in upgrading an old facility. California's legislature promptly rejected application of the new rules to plants within its jurisdiction; eastern states that were victims of pollution from upwind states did not have that option.

A few months later, in November 2003, Schaeffer's nightmare came true: the EPA announced that it was going to drop investigations of 50 power plants for past violations of the Clean Air Act. This meant that the weakened rules were going to be applied retroactively as well, not only increasing pollution in the future but excusing it in the past. The EPA discouraged its staff from discussing this unprecedented decision to grant power plants a retroactive waiver of the law. On the same day the agency abandoned its cases, it also warned employees in the finest terms not to communicate with members of Congress, the press, or the public about this change--using as its excuse the need to preserve secrecy while prosecuting wrongdoers--even though it had decided to abandon the prosecution!

The New York Times reported that "the change grew out of a recommendation by Vice President Dick Cheney's task force... Representatives of the utility industry have been among President Bush's biggest campaign donors, and a change in the enforcement policies has been a top priority of the industry's lobbyists."

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

From Carl Pope's "Strategic Ignorance"

Strategic Ignorance

In keeping with this Beltway machismo, the Bush administration has played fast and loose with the health of people unlucky enough to live near power plants or toxic industrial sites. More than 16,000 old and dirty power plants, petroleum refineries, chemical factories, and industrial facilities were permanently exempted from having to install modern pollution control technologies. Under Bush's so-called Clear Skies proposal, many communities would be subjected to four times more toxic mercury from coal-fired power plants than they would if the Clean Air Act were simply enforced. Property contaminated with highly toxic PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) can now be sold without any obligation for the seller to clean up. Caveat emptor: let the buyer beware.

The president allowed his brother, Jeb Bush, to resume injecting untreated wastewater into Florida's drinking water aquifiers. The administration allowed hazardous waste to be "recycled" into fertilizer, which could be used on playgrounds, golf courses, and parks--and then decided that such waste-based fertilizers could be used to grow food as well.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Other enviro news

Expanded drilling in Alaska
"While most of the 22 million-acre reserve is open to oil development, its lake-pocked northeastern corner has been fenced off, dating back to the Reagan administration, because of environmental concerns. That area also is viewed as having the highest oil and gas potential within the reserve."

My question is when is enough? I suspect that since the flood gates have already opened it will only be a matter of time. On the other hand, the oil industry might show gratitude to the Administration for all the favors by leaving the untampered northeastern for the people.

"Most of the federal petroleum reserve was opened for oil drilling during the Clinton administration, although then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt fenced off 840,000 acres, including the area around Lake Teshekpuk. Norton expanded drilling in the reserve last year, but also left the northeastern section alone."

Very generous of the Interior Secretary. Gale Norton has a horrific environmental record. One of the "key players" which I hope to expose in later posts. (Though others have already done so.)

Fourth-warmest year on record

Ah, what the hell... it's only $9 billion

$9 billion missing?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Republican Spending Explosion

Special thanks to a member at Bob Beckel's forum.

"Unfortunately, the balanced budgets of the late 1990s created an "easy money" mindset in Congress, which began a spending spree that continues unabated today. Total federal outlays will rise 29 percent between fiscal years 2001 and 2005 according to the president's fiscal year 2005 budget released in February. Real discretionary spending increases in fiscal years 2002, 2003, and 2004 are three of the five biggest annual increases in the last 40 years. Large spending increases have been the principal cause of the government's return to massive budget deficits.

Although defense spending has increased in response to the war on terrorism, President Bush has made little attempt to restrain nondefense spending to offset the higher Pentagon budget. Nondefense discretionary outlays will increase about 36 percent during President Bush's first term in office. Congress has failed to contain the administration's overspending and has added new spending of its own. Republicans have clearly forfeited any claim of being the fiscally responsible party in Washington."

On an inflation-adjusted basis, the biggest spenders were:
Richard Nixon (R)
+ 8.6%
John Kennedy (D)
+ 8.3%
Dwight Eisenhower (R)
+ 7.6%
Franklin Roosevelt (R)
+ 6.7%
Lyndon Johnson (R)
+ 6.7%

The smallest spenders were:
Bill Clinton (D)
+ 1.6%
Ronald Reagan (R)
+ 2.1%
Jimmy Carter (D)
+ 2.7%
George H.W. Bush (R)
+ 3.5%
Harry Truman (D)
+ 3.5%

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Sick Super Bowl Sunday and the conspicious consumer

Rah, Rah, The Money
"Like those who worship the sun, Americans who worship football, money and excess take this opportunity in dead of winter to pay tribute to the notion that sheer waste is the highest form of display. Thorstein Veblen would love this validation of his theories explaining the behavior of the leisure classes. The only major difference is that by the end of the 20th century the leisured classes have grown to become the leisured society.

At the turn of the previous millennium, Veblen described the styles of conspicuous consumption, conspicuous leisure and conspicuous waste as the means by which the leisured classes display their wealth to one another and to the lesser beings in their society. On a planet plagued by collapsed and collapsing economies, the ravages of war and malnutrition, and the human struggle for survival, the level of consumption at this time each year challenges the boundaries of the merely vulgar and obscene. With the maturing of the Super Bowl into a national festival, the upper classes display their wealth to one another while America itself displays its wealth to the world."

"Super Bowl Sunday is truly a great day - a tribute to American life as we enter this new millennium; a notice given to the rest of the world about who has the wealth and who aims to keep it; an invitation to all to share vicariously in the pleasures of imperial decadence during the high holy days of the American Century. No wonder Norman Vincent Peale once said, "If Jesus were alive today, he would be at the Super Bowl.

Finally, it should be noted that Ordinary Americans do not resent this spectacle of waste done largely at the taxpayers expense (nearly all costs are tax write-offs as business expenses), but rather it is admired and vicariously shared via the media, who dutifully report the excesses and extravagance. It is, of course, all good clean fun and it gets bigger, better and more excessive every year.

Proving once again that Welfare for the Rich can be fun."

"Christiansen Capital Advisors, a leading management consulting and market research firm servicing the gaming and entertainment industries, estimates that between $375-400 million will be bet on the Super Bowl through online sports books alone, an increase of between $50-75 million from 2002.

Compared to the $71.6 million wagered with land-based sports books in Las Vegas in 2003, online gambling is rapidly gaining popularity and acceptance among consumers throughout the United States."

How Stuff Works
"Americans double their average daily snack food consumption on Super Bowl Sunday. Let's take a look at what Americans are eating while they watch the big game:

* 30.4 million pounds of snack foods
* 11 million pounds of potato chips
* 13.2 million pounds of avocados
* 8.2 million pounds of tortilla chips
* 4.3 million pounds of pretzels
* 3.8 million pounds of popcorn
* 2.5 million pounds of snack nuts"

Source: Snack Food Association

How effective is advertising?
"How much did an advertiser pay for a 30 second spot on the last Super Bowl broadcast?

According to Advertising Age, January 12, 2004, $2,250,000 ($2.25 million).

To put that $2.25 million into some perspective, think about this. In 2000, the average teacher in the U.S. earned $36,972. At that rate, if one advertiser decided to forego one 30 second ad on the Super Bowl, s/he could pay the salaries of 60 new teachers for one school year. There were 54 thirty second in-game ad spots available during the Super Bowl broadcast. That means if we took the money that advertisers spent during that one program (approximately 3 to 4 hours long), we could pay the average yearly salaries of an additional 3,286 teachers in the U.S. That raises the question of what is more important to the nation, one afternoon's ads on one broadcast, or yearly salaries for 3,286 teachers. Looking at the advertisers' side, we need to remember that the money we spend on the products and services advertised goes to support people who might be out of work if we didn't spend that money. How many they are, and how much they earn, I can't say. Maybe we should know that too."

Don't Forget the Dip
"The teams and fans aren't the only ones who eagerly look forward to the Super Bowl. Super Bowl Sunday is also a favorite day of restaurants, bars, and food retailers. A long television program, plus a gathering of friends of family equals lots of food being eaten. Only Thanksgiving surpasses Super Bowl Sunday for one-day food consumption in America, according to the American Institute of Food Distribution."

% of the adult U.S. population (ages 20+) classified as overweight (a body mass index (BMI) equal to or greater than 27.8 for men, and 27.3 for women)
1976-80: 25.4% 1988-94: 38.4% 1998: 55.3%

Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States

"It is probably not coincidental that the leading restaurant, food and beverage companies spent nearly $11.5 billion in 2002 to convince us to eat and drink their products. That amounted to just under $4.8 billion more than they spent in 1996 (source: Advertising Age, Leading National Advertisers issues). While I don't have the numbers for the years leading up to 1996 in front of me, I feel confident in saying that they have increased steadily; probably matching the increase in our weights, and the changes in our beverage consumption patterns.

How many ads do you think you are exposed to on an average day?

3,000 according to Eli Noam ("Visions of the Media Age: Taming the Information Monster", in Multimedia: A Revolutionary Challenge) quoted in Data Smog by David Shenk. This is up from 560 per day in 1971.

* Advertising helps to keep consumers dissatisfied with their mode of life, discontented with "ugly" things around them. Satisfied customers are not as profitable as discontented ones. While the products may differ, the message is the same: Buying Things will make your life better."


* Television has so successfully spread the religion of conspicuous consumption, that the world consumed as many goods and services since 1950 (the launching of TV) as had all previous generations put together.1

* North American children in 1995 spent over $10 billion and influenced over $150 billion worth of family purchases.1

* Since the 1950's global advertising spending per capita has steadily increased from $15 to $50 per person.1

* Every year the average American child watches 40,000 TV commercials.1

* The New York Timesestimates that the average American is exposed to 3,500 ads a day.

Impacts of Consumer Society
* If all the world's people lived like today's North Americans, it would take two additional planet Earths' to produce enough resources and to absorb the wastes.

* Each American produces about 4.3 pounds of trash every day. The total waste generated by Americans every day fills 63,000 garbage trucks.

* Reducing waste and recycling saves energy and slows global warming, it also reduces water pollution, acid rain and the soil erosion caused by logging.

Cheerleading degrades women

Rabbi Schmuley Boteach was on Michael Medved's program talking about the decline of female attire since the dawn of the feminist movement. It's an interesting subject when one considers feminism itself could arguably be traced as the culprit to the undoing of a woman's voice in society. Of all places it was Harvard college students who posed nude for an erotica magazine, and that some conservative commentary have cited feminism's celebration of women in (or atleast once was) a male-dominated workforce, as opposed to the celebration of uniquely feminine qualities--that being the nurturing, suckling, and other child-rearing duties of what is a traditional stay-at-home Mom.

The conversation between the rabbi and Medved became all the more alarming to me when I realized the latter was basing his defense not on what is, but what was. Medved pointed out the NFL cheerleaders of the '70s wore small and tight outfits. That women need room to jump and stretch while cheering for their team with [high] skirts as apparently opposed to something a little more subtle like shorts.

I then realized something that is almost a never with Medved's gifted mind: He was losing the debate, citing 'we have always seen cheerleaders underwear when their cheering' as a plausable counter to the rabbi's debunking. What? The Rabbi's point is women in society are something more than "Go team, go!" and "Do you think I look pretty?", in what has become an increasingly tired and cliched easy grab bag in the sports market game.

Then a caller defended his girlfriend, who is a Golden State Warrior pompomer, with these are "professional dancers" and go through months of rigorous training. I decided to investigate these GSW dancers for myself, soon realizing to an obvious conclusion that both sexes enjoy being the entertainer and entertained. This boyfriend was after all defending the best interests of his maleness.

I appreciate women more who have the attained wisdom from the likes of Hollywood's Golden Era. They were schooled in and understood a proper standard of dress and etiquette must be met irregardless of what the individual temptations were. This was still a decade before the beginning of the feminist movement, and when men went bonkers over clothed women. Because women only had (and have) to exist, period, to be noticed and garnished by male nature.

Today, Hollywood is filled with raunchy comedians, and the heroine-look amongst actresses doesn't seem to be totally passe as of yet. I look forward to the day when Norah Jones's career does have the final say over Britney, and reality television realizes its reality is maybe a little too real and pointless in seeking new lows for its participants to make a quick buck. Even what was funny at one time in Celebrity Deathmatch is now little more than a satire on to its own culture, let alone that of a Hollywood decline in sophistication.

Michael Medved's suprisingly unconvincing commentary on rabbi Schmuley Boteach's article leaves me with the impression he doesn't either believe or know that women have been short changed in the appreciation department for decades. If this is the case, it is tragic. And we as men, women, feminists, and a society must come together and work as one to create new ways that will bring about a stronger tradition which appreciates and hallmarks womens' natural gifts on a sustained level that goes beyond Mother's Day.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Reasons why I usually do not get caught up in Presidential speeches

1. The self-congratulating
2. The day after news coverage
3. Because President's are crooks...
4. ...and even worse, they wear suits and ties to hide their crookidness in front of the camera to the country
5. The empty promises
6. The carefully prepared speeches spoken by the President but written by someone else
7. The already expected applause
8. The acting
9. The "Why should I have to miss my favorite TV program for this?!"
10. The repeation of the same speech in the following days on several stations
11. The knowing there will be another one of these televised speeches in the not too distant future