You may only read this site if you've purchased Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me
• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

December 18, 2008

The Hits Just Keep Coming

By: John Caruso of The Distant Ocean

I didn't know much about Obama's choice for Interior Secretary (Ken Salazar), but all the information I needed was contained in these two paragraphs from the New York Times article about the appointment ("Environmentalists Wary of Obama's Interior Pick"):

Oil and mining interests praised Mr. Salazar’s performance as a state official and as a senator, saying that he was not doctrinaire about the use of public lands. "Nothing in his record suggests he’s an ideologue," said Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association. "Here’s a man who understands the issues, is open-minded and can see at least two sides of an issue." ...

"He is a right-of-center Democrat who often favors industry and big agriculture in battles over global warming, fuel efficiency and endangered species," said Kieran Suckling, executive director of Center for Biological Diversity, which tracks endangered species and habitat issues. "He is very unlikely to bring significant change to the scandal-plagued Department of Interior. It’s a very disappointing choice for a presidency which promised visionary change."

Oil and mining interests happy?  Check.  Environmentalists unhappy?  Check.  Yes, I believe I get the picture.  The usual translation applies, by the way: "ideologue" = someone insufficiently dedicated to advancing corporate interests.  I'm sure Suckling, as an actual environmentalist, qualifies.

But this is the most important paragraph in the article:

Mr. Salazar, wearing his customary ten-gallon hat and bolo tie, said that his job entails helping the nation address climate change through a "moon shot" on energy independence. But that would include not just the development of "green" energy sources like wind power, but also the continued domestic development of coal, oil and natural gas, fossil fuels that generate greenhouse gases when they are burned.

Addressing climate change through the continued development of coal is like addressing drug addiction through the continued freebasing of heroin.  Handwaving about the unicorn of "clean coal" aside, though, Obama has done nothing but genuflect to coal and mining interests, and this is just one more bow.  But why should we worry?  It's not like the fate of the entire planet hangs in the balance.  Oh, wait.

So Obama's record of flipping off his liberal supporters remains unbroken.  You've got to admire him; it takes real talent to pull off such a thoroughgoing bait-and-switch, and Obama not only did it but made it look easy.  The guy's a pro—in every sense of the word.

— John Caruso

Posted at December 18, 2008 01:22 AM

Bait and switch? I don't think so. Obama has always been in the service of corporations, not the public. It's obvious from his record and his speeches. It's just that his liberal supporters are too blind and dumb to have noted the obvious.

Posted by: Jean at December 18, 2008 04:14 AM

it takes real talent to pull off such a thoroughgoing bait-and-switch,

I don't think it takes that much talent; Obama's mostly been pretty honest about his center-right politics, and in a two-party system it takes very little to gain the support of your average lefty or rightie. You just have to be one tiny iota better then the other guy. If you convince people that McCain's a big nutjob, then they'll vote for you, even if you're a tiny nutjob. What the hell else are they gonna do?

Posted by: Christopher at December 18, 2008 06:04 AM

Obama has always made it clear that he is not an idealogue but a conciliator, and that the heralded "change" would come in terms of right/left cooperation and not in confrontation. Translated: Corporations rule will be enhanced.

From Obama's 2005 dailykos diary: "According to the storyline that drives many advocacy groups and Democratic activists - a storyline often reflected in comments on this blog - we are up against a sharply partisan, radically conservative, take-no-prisoners Republican party. They have beaten us twice by energizing their base with red meat rhetoric and single-minded devotion and discipline to their agenda. In order to beat them, it is necessary for Democrats to get some backbone, give as good as they get, brook no compromise, drive out Democrats who are interested in 'appeasing' the right wing, and enforce a more clearly progressive agenda. The country, finally knowing what we stand for and seeing a sharp contrast, will rally to our side and thereby usher in a new progressive era. I think this perspective misreads the American people."

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 18, 2008 09:52 AM

Butbutbut we're changing the face of politics as we know it with our hope for change in the most important election ever in the history of elections ever andandanduhuh ANYBODY BUT BUSH! ANYBODY BUT BUSH! IT'S ALL RALPH NADER'S FAAAAAAAULT!!!

Posted by: AlanSmithee at December 18, 2008 10:26 AM

Don't take this as me liking the lesser of two evils, but what exactly do you want to do with coal?
It only powers 80-90 of everything we do, and as someone with a big stake in computers and modern lighting I don't see many alternatives that can match it. And before you say nuclear, figure out how you can rationalize switching immediate pollution with millennial pollution. Seems we might better off aiming for clean coal compared to trying to fill production needs with wind, geo, or solar.

What Don Bacon's big quote means to me is that Obama is willing to sacrifice political power in the name of looking benevolent. And it ultimately means that he will end up fighting for his political life at the expense of everything else. Especially "progressivism" (See WJ Clinton, donkeys, et al) Backbone, don't make me laugh.

And if you want to continue letting the Right wing define the argument, keep touting "energy independence", an economic voodoo doll if there ever was one. Do an internet search for the "myth of energy independence."

Posted by: meshuga at December 18, 2008 11:46 AM

Seeing a hill moved for some black rocks makes me grit my teeth though...

Posted by: mushuga at December 18, 2008 11:59 AM

What to do about coal? How about: develop alternative infrastructure? The technology to at least partially replace coal plants exists, and can be brought to a commercially viable point with some research commitment to it. A strong series of DARPA or NSF grants, a TVA-style public works project, etc., would be nice. But, if you like, we can just continue empowering mining interests apace.

I'm surprised to discover that Obama's shiny exterior melting away is disappointing to me. I was expecting to relish the cynical "I told you so"s I could throw at all my starry-eyed Obama-worshipping friends. I guess what I really wanted was to be pleasantly surprised. Dangit. Four more years of the wrong stuff.

Posted by: saurabh at December 18, 2008 12:10 PM

WE got a Blackman for president---THAT IS RADICAL CHANGE. He is a LAWYER that in it self means YOU cannot TRUST a single word he says. (believe me, if ANYONE on the planet were to understand that it would be Mike Meyer)
AS far as coal, OUR infrastructure is WHOLELY dependent on MOVING ELECTRONS-electricity. There are a billion, if not a trillion, different ways to make electrons move. Its ALL a matter of choice. Cleaner coal, a reasonable choice, is possible through investment in "on the shelf techonology". CLEAN COAL is yet to exist. If one doesn't want to see Coal have political power over something else then turn off the lights and unplug, or make YOUR OWN. (Works the same way as using less did to gasoline prices)(its just like dope, as long as people buy it, it will be there no matter whose goverment does what)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 18, 2008 12:44 PM

And the advantage of energy independence is . . . we'd be entirely dependent upon international corporations instead of just mostly, and possibly invade fewer countries. Oh goody.

Or as Mike says, unplug. Our electric bill runs about seven bucks a month. How about you?

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 18, 2008 01:29 PM

Nice post except you freebase cocaine not heroin...

Posted by: fish at December 18, 2008 01:30 PM


Posted by: roy belmont at December 18, 2008 02:27 PM

From the bibliography on that reference:

COOK, C. E. (1982). Pyrolytic characteristics, pharmacokinetics, and bioavailability of smoked heroin, cocaine, phencyclidine, and methamphetamine.

Ha! I trump your pedantry with my own!

Look, I don't want to fight about this. Let's just agree that it's fun to freebase either heroin or cocaine, and make it our shared mission to teach that lesson to children everywhere.

Posted by: John Caruso at December 18, 2008 03:08 PM

I concede the point, but refuse to withdraw my nice post comment.

Posted by: fish at December 18, 2008 03:12 PM

Was it not obvious to you Johnathan from the marketing that this guy was not what he appeared to be? Didn't like him in the primary.

Seems to me whoever the press hates seems to be the one you want go for. Which is why Hillary/Bill despite their flaws seemed to be the ones who would provide a better deal for the actual populace. But clearly not a pair that hired nearly the same quality campaigning team that Obama had...

Posted by: patience at December 18, 2008 03:21 PM

fish: You, sir, are an officer and a gentleman, not to mention quite tasty filleted and grilled.

Posted by: John Caruso at December 18, 2008 03:23 PM

You could work official into that somehow.
Not to carp or anything but:

Posted by: roy belmont at December 18, 2008 03:56 PM

Lando Calrissian said it best: "This deal is getting worse all the time!"

Posted by: saurabh at December 18, 2008 04:43 PM

In his book Heat, George Monbiot allows some room for coal, even as part of a radical plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2030.

The coal-based options he supports are: 1) coal-burning with underground carbon sequestration, and 2) underground coal "gasification". I suppose you could call either one of these a "clean coal" option, although you usually don't see specific technologies mentioned when politicians talk about "clean coal."

One of the arguments Monbiot makes that I found persuasive is that, as long as the resource is in the ground, there will be pressure to use it. Keeping the coal in the ground means not just electing anti-coal politicians now, but re-electing them forever. Burning the stuff up underground and sequestering the carbon keeps it out of the hands of future generations, too.

Posted by: SteveB at December 18, 2008 04:56 PM

SteveB - the usual technology "clean coal" refers to is this:, now dead in the water. Sequestration is basically what they're doing. It's still a pipe-dream, a few decades away from happening. But it's a useful sop that lets us keep using coal - some day, all these dirty, polluting coal plants will become "clean". Some day. Until then, we wait, and belch black smoke.

Posted by: saurabh at December 18, 2008 06:01 PM

COKE, the nonfrebaseing kind, is simply charcoal made out of coal, pure carbon. All the volitile gases are boiled off and can be burned for carbon-lite fuel, some of which can be condensed into liquids such coal oils and kerosenes. The BULK carbon could then be easily sequestered in a method of burial, much like bio-char.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 18, 2008 07:32 PM

COKE AND CHARCOAL both burn at around 3500 degrees F in an excess of air, and produce CO2 since both are pure carbon. The exhaust can be EASILY contained and compressed into DRY ICE for storage.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 18, 2008 07:37 PM

It's still a pipe-dream, a few decades away from happening. But it's a useful sop that lets us keep using coal - some day, all these dirty, polluting coal plants will become "clean". Some day. Until then, we wait, and belch black smoke.

Monbiot's not saying "Let's build some coal plants now, and figure out the sequestration technology later." He's saying, "No coal plants unless we can figure out sequestration." And there's no reason why it should take "a few decades" to figure out how to inject CO2 into the ground. It's already being done to increase the amount of oil that can be gotten from older, tapped-out oil formations - an application that increases greenhouse gas emissions.

By the way, one side effect of sequestration is that it increases the KWH cost of coal-generated electricity, which makes renewables even more competitive.

I also heard recently from someone with a local environmental organization that there have been some recent court rulings requiring utilities proposing new coal plants to "monetize" the climate impacts - e.g. add $20 a ton or so to the price of the coal they're burning. That also helps to kill any cost advantage coal might have had. Our Wisconsin Public Service Commission used a calculation of this sort to justify rejecting a proposal for a new coal plant in Cassville, Wisconsin - the first time EVER that the PSC has rejected a coal plant.

Put all this together, and it means coal may be on its way out even if Obama chooses a pro-coal interior secretary.

Posted by: SteveB at December 18, 2008 08:27 PM

It's easy to inject CO2 into the ground, and maybe even easy to get it to stay there. But all of that requires a process and energy investment - the actual sequestration - which is the really hard part. If it takes half again as much energy to sequester CO2 as you produce by burning your coal, you're not really doing very well...

Posted by: saurabh at December 18, 2008 10:07 PM

This intoxicating meme of change brings us quickly into the other side of the chute!

Posted by: Woodyeofalb at December 18, 2008 10:36 PM

I think this point of SteveB's/Monbiot's

"One of the arguments Monbiot makes that I found persuasive is that, as long as the resource is in the ground, there will be pressure to use it. Keeping the coal in the ground means not just electing anti-coal politicians now, but re-electing them forever. Burning the stuff up underground and sequestering the carbon keeps it out of the hands of future generations, too."

is true in the abstract sense, but not in the practical sense. If we elected anti-coal politicians today who passed permanent incentives for renewables, making coal more expensive than wind, the coal would probably stay in the ground forever even if the politicians who passed the incentives got booted in the next cycle.

Government programs have tremendous inertia, and are also largely invisible to ordinary people. (Do you think about how much of the price of a gallon of gas actually represents highway taxes? Or about the subsidies which now exist for coal and gas extraction?) This could be used to our advantage.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at December 19, 2008 08:03 AM

At least Salazar is out of the senate. What a loser! I worked for him here in colorado, and he sucked as a senator. Voted for alito and roberts. Voted for Gonzo as AG! Part of the gang of 14 that allowed bush to radicalize the judiciary. Voted for FISA and telecom Immunity! Of course, Obama is only marginally better. He ran as a centerist, and he is one. Truth in advertising.

Hopefully I will get to vote for a REAL progressive democrat next time an election comes around.

Posted by: Richard Wang at December 22, 2008 12:26 PM