Thursday, September 30, 2010

Christine O'Donnell and Ozzy Osbourne

From the website of SALT (Savior's Alliance for Lifting the Truth), we find evidence that the Four Horsemen may be saddling up.
Talking Points Memo actually thought to go back and check the SALT website, and found this frightening photo:
Melissa Charvanneau (White House Correspondent), Ozzy Osbourne, Christine O'Donnell and Matt Smith (from the White House Public Liaison Office) at the 2002 Correspondence [sic] Dinner
Long after this campaign season is thankfully over, we will look back and tell our grandchildren that we lived through the madness that was 2010. Of course, we will still have the difficult task of governing this country after the election. But that's a matter for another day. But who can think about governing while the Christine O'Donnell freak show is in town?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Glen Urquhart's Apologies for his Nazi Remark

In a recent comment, a reader asked whether Glen Urquhart had even apologized for saying, "The next time your liberal friends talk about separation of church and state, ask them why they're Nazis." The comment, which was captured on YouTube, continues to dog Urquhart’s campaign. National media, including The Hill and CBS have covered the gaffe.

To review, here's what he said in the clip:
Do you know, where does this phrase separation of Church and State come from? Does anybody know?
At this point, an audience member mentions Thomas Jefferson’s famous Letter to the Danbury Baptists:
Actually it was not in Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists. He was reassuring that the federal government wouldn't trample on their religion. The exact phrase "separation of Church and State" came out of Adolph Hitler's mouth, that's where it comes from. Next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of Church and State ask them why they're Nazis.
As blogger Michael Stafford pointed out, in a post later expurgated from Delaware Tomorrow, Jefferson wrote of "building a wall of separation between church and State."

I have read three apologies from Urquhart, the first to reporter Beth Miller in the News Journal:
"It was an April mistake," he said Thursday. "In that segment, it was not as skillfully worded as I would like to have been. I'm a little more experienced campaigner today than I was in April."

What he was trying to say -- albeit unskillfully -- was that people must be careful about their words.
Good advice. Perhaps Urquhart himself intended to demonstrate the consequences of careless speech.
"Let's all be careful about what phrases we use without thinking them through," he said. "The Nazis used the same separation-of-church-and-state rhetoric for a very, very bad purpose. I didn't mean to suggest -- and I am not suggesting -- that people who are liberals are Nazis."
A second apology was reported in The Hill:
A spokesman for the Urquhart campaign, David Anderson, said the candidate has apologized repeatedly for the remark. Urquhart, he said, “believes 100 percent in religious freedom for all Americans.” Anderson said Urquhart was speaking out against the “oppression of religious freedom in the name of separation of church and state,” mentioning limits on school prayer and an attempt to force a veterans cemetery to remove a cross as examples. “The phrase he used was unfortunate, and he apologized for it,” Anderson said.
A a third apology, also relayed by Anderson, was published in the blog, Delaware Politics:
Mr. Urquhart explained to me where he was coming from on that score. He first offered an unqualified apology for giving the impression that he sees his opponents as Nazis. Upon reflection, he seemed to regret something he called a rookie mistake. He was passionate and in the moment. He does not wish to imply that liberals are Nazis.
No, but he said it out loud. Continuing with this explanation:
He wanted to illustrate the danger of the modern interpretation of the doctrine of Separation. Like myself, Urquhart has read a lot on the Nazi persecution of the Church. In fact when I mentioned a book which had the Hilter [sic] quotes (The Nazi Persecution of the Church 1933-1945), he mentioned that he was reading it at the time of the debate and it was on the forefront of his mind.
While David Anderson focused on the "modern interpretation," nowhere have I read Urquhart either supporting or retracting his assertion that today’s understanding of the separation of church and state is fundamentally different from Jefferson’s.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Positive Growth Alliance Sues to Block Recycling

The Positive Growth Alliance (PGA) has filed a lawsuit in Chancery Court to stop the implementation of the law to institute curbside recycling for all Delaware households. The suit repeats the oft-heard claim that the temporary four cent bottle fee is a sales tax, and SB 234 should have originated in the House and required a 3/4 majority. This assertion was dismissed by rulings from Matt Denn, who presided over the Senate debate, and House Speaker Bob Gilligan, who both relied on clear opinions from the Senate and House attorneys.

The lawsuit was filed pro se by PGA executive director Richard Collins and five other like minded citizens, which means they are acting as their own attorney, and names Governor Markell, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and DNREC secretary Collin O'Mara as defendants. Beyond claiming that the fee is a sales tax, the suit asserts that "the passage of SB 234 represents an unwarranted expansion and abuse of the police powers of the State of Delaware."

After a lengthy excerpt from the preamble of the Delaware constitution, the suit offers this explanation as to how instituting curbside recycling involves an abuse of police powers:

Specifically, we believe the state government can not legally force persons engaged in waste collection services to offer an only marginally related service in the area of recycling, thus forcing Plaintiffs to pay unwarranted higher fees and also prohibiting Plaintiffs from knowing the cost of recycling services.
The suit does not explain how recycling waste is only "marginally related" to dumping waste in a landfill. The only difference that I can see is that the same trucks will deliver material to a recycling facility on Tuesday and to a landfill on Friday.

It seems to me that if the state can mandate delivery of waste to a landfill (as opposed to an unregulated dump), it can mandate delivery to a recycling facility. The state has a compelling interest in the prudent management of solid waste. Proper disposal of trash is a public health issue, and landfills cost $100 million or more to build, as Markell spokesman Brian Selander noted when he told the News Journal that the law "should help residents and businesses by reducing the need for costly expansions at landfills."

As for how the plaintiffs will be harmed, the suit simply repeats the assertion that waste haulers will see their costs increase because of the law, even though no one has yet seen a price increase. The law provides $22 million, funded by the four cent fee, to assist in start-up costs. Once those costs are covered, it should not cost much more to deliver material to a recycling facility than it does to deliver material to a landfill.

It is worth noting that no waste haulers have signed on to the suit. To the contrary, they worked with environmentalists and state officials to develop a statewide recycling program and testified in favor of SB 234.

One passage from the suit seems better fitted to a Tea Party rally than the dry deliberations of Chancery Court:

Plaintiffs are asking the court to decide if in this case the State of Delaware has gone “over the line” as to the amount of power they can take for the state government through police powers. It should be noted that Plaintiff’s concerns are heightened because of the numerous, arbitrary and capricious ways in which defendants violated the state constitution as noted. Indeed, these violations are so numerous and in disregard of the defendants duties to defend the state constitution as to shock the conscience.
Why did it take so long for the suit to be filed? An e-mail message from the PGA offers an explanation:
As for our motive, as we approach Election Day, we believe that the oath of office that our elected officials take to "defend and protect" the Constitution should mean something.
I take it that "defend and protect" means preventing the government from doing anything the plaintiffs disagree with. The Positive Growth Alliance has taken other anti-environmental positions, opposing even the most reasonable land use protections, challenging climate science as "fraud" and arguing that the impact of the BP oil spill was overblown. Given that the plaintiffs have not actually been harmed by the law, I conclude that the lawsuit is driven by the Alliance's anti-environmental ideology.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Energy and Sustainability Conference at the University of Delaware

The Energy and Sustainability Conference at the University of Delaware opens today. There should be plenty of technical detail and policy discussion to satisfy the most hard-boiled energy wonk.

The three day conference will cover technical topics like energy storage, carbon capture and materials for advanced photovoltaic systems as well as broader policy issues. Speakers include authors Amanda Little (Power Trip), Toby Hemenway (Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture) and Daniel Lerch (Post Carbon Cities: Planning for Energy and Climate Uncertainty).

The conference is free and open to the public. Tell 'em TommyWonk sent you.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Candidates for Congress Differ on Cap and Trade

As the News Journal reports, Delaware's congressional candidates differ sharply on cap and trade proposals to reduce carbon emissions. The article doesn't just report the controversy, but provides some useful background, as when it correctly points out that the market based approach was put in place to cut SO2 emissions under the first President Bush. As Tom Carper says, that approach worked:
"The emissions reductions were achieved for sulfur dioxide in about half the time anticipated, for about one-fifth the cost," said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who has sponsored several bills to cut smog, acid rain and greenhouse gas emissions over the years.
This is what makes cap and trade so attractive; it harnesses market mechanisms to seek out the most cost effective ways to reduce emissions.

Mike Castle's vote for the Waxman-Markey bill last year is often mentioned as one reasons conservatives voted against him in the Republican primary. Christine O'Donnell and Glen Urquhart oppose cap and trade, saying it would increase energy costs and not produce any benefit. Chris Coons is reported as being willing to support a cap and trade system, while John Carney is on record as supporting the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) developed by Delaware and nine other states.

According to the News Journal, conservatives are calling for Delaware to pull out of the program, though the governor's office hasn't exactly seen a groundswell of opposition:
Brian Selander, Markell's chief spokesman, said he was unaware of any calls to pull the plug on RGGI.
"There's not been a strong call for the state to abandon this initiative, probably because Delaware benefits from it," Selander said. "The initiative has helped create jobs, reduce energy use and allows consumers to save money -- and will hopefully continue to do so in the future."
Delaware has already raised millions for clean energy investments through RGGI, with a negligible effect on energy costs. We saw the same argument during the wind power debate, when opponents offered wildly inflated cost projections and dismissed the economic and environmental benefits. Chris Coons and John Carney are both pretty wonky guys who will not let fear overwhelm careful analysis of the costs and benefits of reducing carbon emissions.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Christine O'Donnell's Unpolished Background

The latest sensation in the search for bizarre comments by Christine O'Donnell involves a 1999 clip from the show "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher" in which she describes dabbling in witchcraft, including a date involving a satanic altar. The News Journal reports she responded to the furor surrounded by supporters, saying "Oh my gosh, I was in high school." She tried turned the question on the rest of us, asking, "How many of you didn't hang out with questionable folks in high school?"

Actually, I don't recall hanging out with witches or midnight picnics on any altars, satanic or otherwise. But enough about me.

O'Donnell has pointed out that, unlike Mike Castle or Chris Coons, she isn't a career politician.
O'Donnell's unpolished background almost endears her to some supporters, said Susan Cooksey, 53, of Frederica. Cooksey, a member of the Delaware 9-12 Patriots, said the country needs "regular people" and "citizen politicians."
We can take the euphemism "unpolished background" to mean she has a way of saying ridiculous things in front of a camera. She has had close to twenty years to polish her presentation skills. In a sense, saying things in public is her life's work.

If we set aside her glib comments about what she did in high school or college, I don't think it's too much to ask that she be held accountable for her statements on public issues. Let's be generous to Ms. O'Donnell, and just look at her public statements since she started running for public office in 2006.

this from 2007:
American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains.
this from 2008:
But only 1 percent of the oil pollution in the sea is the result of oil drilling, while 63 percent is the result of natural seepage on the ocean floor.
And of course there's
the classic about her opponents "hiding in the bushes" from earlier this month.

As for O'Donnell's claim that she isn't a career politician, she has done nothing else but run for public office for the last five years. She's had her three campaigns and nearly twenty years of going on television to talk about public issues to polish her speaking skills. She's old enough and experienced enough to take responsibility for the silly things she has said in public.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Christine O'Donnell on Mice with Human Brains

The gold rush to mine Christine O'Donnell's extensive video history for ever more preposterous remarks has reached a fever pitch. Little Green Footballs (via TPM) has dug up this remarkable conversation she had on the O'Reilly Factor in 2007, in which she warned of the moral danger of breeding lab mice with human brains:
O'DONNELL: They are — they are doing that here in the United States. American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains. So they're already into this experiment.
TPM helpfully offers this explanation for O'Donnell's astounding assertion:
It's possible that O'Donnell was misremembering this 2005 report on scientists who successfully grew human brain cells within mice -- which is not the same as an actual functioning human brain, but a demonstration that human brain cells can be made from stem cells.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tom Toles Describes the Trajectory of the GOP

Tom Toles captures just what has happened to the Delaware Republican Party tonight:The Delaware GOP must be in utter shock at the loss of Mike Castle tonight.

TommyWonk Reports on the House Race for the Huffington Post

Thanks to the national media's keen interest in Delaware, I have now debuted in the Huffington Post with a piece on the campaign for Delaware's House seat:
Rollins and Urquhart were both campaigning at an arts festival in Wilmington on Sunday, standing no more than forty feet from each other. When I asked Urquhart how the divisions would affect the party, he said that he "wants to be a healer" after Tuesday's primary, though he added that the party would have to stand on conservative principles. Rollins said, "The Republican Party has to come together," while placing the onus of making up on the other campaign, saying "Old Delaware would never do or say the kinds of things we have seen in this campaign."
The Old Delaware GOP could be in for a shock unlike anything we have ever seen. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 13, 2010

It Can Happen Here

The shock waves from the Public Policy Polling results released last night will be reverberating through Delaware and beyond for some time to come. The poll has Christine O'Donnell leading Mike Castle by a narrow margin of 47 to 44. Glen Urquhart leads Michele Rollins by 50 to 38. The poll's crosstabs reveal that the break point for support for Castle versus O'Donnell is age 65.

Come Tuesday, the GOP ticket could be led by a candidate who believes
"only 1 percent of the oil pollution in the sea is the result of oil drilling, while 63 percent is the result of natural seepage on the ocean floor." Not to be outdone, the party's candidate for Congress believes "The exact phrase 'separation of church and state' came out of Adolf Hitler's mouth."

The Republican Party in Delaware is in for a lot of pain. For the last two weeks party stalwarts have been saying that what happened in Alaska can't happen here. If Castle pulls through, it will leave half of the primary voters feeling disaffected. And if Castle loses, many old line Republicans will feel they don't even know their party any more. Either way, the party organization will be badly crippled by these divisions.

Chris Coons supporters go to bed at night dreaming of polls like this. They woke up this morning believing their dreams could come true. If the primary shakes out according to the polls, Delaware could become part of a national trend of Tea Party candidates handing seats back to the Democrats. It also means that the GOP could nominate a hard right candidate for the presidency in 2012. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fracking: What's In the Water?

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has been largely unregulated. The New York Times reports that the EPA is taking a closer look at the practice:
The Environmental Protection Agency sent letters to nine drilling companies on Thursday requesting detailed information about the chemicals contained in fluids used to crack open underground rock formations in the hunt for oil and natural gas.
Natural gas companies are buying up the rights to drill the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and New York in a later day land rush, with a paucity of environmental oversight reminiscent of the bad old days of wildcat drilling. As far as I know, one company has agreed to list the chemicals used in fracking. The EPA is right to seek information on the chemicals mixed with the millions of gallons used in the practice.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Did Christine O'Donnell Say that Offshore Drilling Reduces Pollution?

Christine O’Donnell may be squirming in the glare of new-found publicity and the resulting scrutiny of her statements and misstatements on her personal finances, her standing in the polls and her assertion that unidentified trackers were hiding in the bushes outside her home, which doubles as her campaign headquarters. Her spinning of tall tales has given national news organizations plenty to snicker at and left would be supporters shaking their heads.

Her statements on energy and the environment are equally deserving of greater scrutiny. During her last campaign, O’Donnell offered this startling assertion in an op-ed published July 24, 2008 in the News Journal:
Biden would like us to believe that offshore drilling is an environmental catastrophe. But only 1 percent of the oil pollution in the sea is the result of oil drilling, while 63 percent is the result of natural seepage on the ocean floor.
So the earth itself is messier than oil companies? I imagine that Gulf coast residents might be surprised to know this. Two years ago, I did a little research on the topic. Ms. O'Donnell may have come across this surprising finding from this excited post in the Free Republic, which links to a 1999 press release from the University of California, Santa Barbara:
Next time you step on a glob of tar on a beach in Santa Barbara County, you can thank the oil companies that it isn't a bigger glob.
I think it’s safe to say that the globs grew bigger and more numerous following the BP oil disaster. BP has spent $8 billion to date cleaning up the estimated 4.9 million gallons that spewed into the Gulf.

I e-mailed O’Donnell’s campaign last week to ask if she still believes that offshore drilling reduces pollution, but have yet to receive a response.

In the op-ed, O’Donnell also went on to repeat the discredited assertion that China would “soon be drilling for oil 60 miles off the coast of Florida.” Even Dick Cheney felt compelled to back off of this tall tale, which was based on a George Will column. Will himself offered a correction on this point — five weeks before O’Donnell repeated the assertion.

The op-ed has long since disappeared from the News Journal website, and the O’Donnell campaign has not maintained any record of it. O’Donnell’s tale spinning on her personal finances and opposition staffers hiding in her bushes may make more entertaining reading. But we should not forget her ability to spout nonsense on energy and the environment with a straight face.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Obama Proposes a $50 Billion Infrastructure Bank

As the New York Times reports, President Obama yesterday proposed $50 billion in infrastructure investment to help spur job creation. The later-day Hoovers in the Republican Party will shout about more government spending, but the proposal makes economic sense. The investment, which would be managed by an infrastructure bank, would deploy some of the unused capacity that has been sitting idle for two years, and create long term assets like roads, runways and rail lines, which have useful lives measured in decades. These assets will still be in use long after the government has paid off the low interest debt used to finance their construction.

In a Labor Day speech, Obama pointed out that Republicans in Congress were not likely to help pass the infrastructure plan:
When it comes to just about everything we’ve done to strengthen our middle class, to rebuild our economy, almost every Republican in Congress says no. (Boos.) Even on things we usually agree on, they say no. If I said the sky was blue, they say no. (Laughter and applause.) If I said fish live in the sea, they’d say no. (Laughter.) They just think it’s better to score political points before an election than to solve problems. So they said no to help for small businesses, even when the small businesses said we desperately need this. This used to be their key constituency, they said. They said no. No to middle-class tax cuts. They say they’re for tax cuts; I say, okay, let’s give tax cuts to the middle class. No. (Laughter.) No to clean energy jobs. No to making college more affordable. No to reforming Wall Street. They’re saying right now, no to cutting more taxes for small business owners and helping them get financing.
Actually, some Republicans like the idea of an infrastructure bank:
Indeed, some leading proponents of such a bank — including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican of California; Gov. Ed Rendell, Democrat of Pennsylvania; and Michael R. Bloomberg, the independent mayor of New York — would like to see it finance a broader range of projects, including water and clean-energy projects. They say such a bank would spur innovation by allowing a panel of experts to approve projects on merit, rather than having lawmakers simply steer transportation money back home.

Friday, September 03, 2010

The Lost Decade

The argument for extending the Bush tax cuts all the way to the top income levels has come down to expressions of faith, without even an attempt to consider the actual evidence. Think Progress reports this inarticulate comment from Representative Mike Pence (R-Indiana) on the Larry Kudlow show:
C’mon, we know what works. Larry, you know what works better than most Americans, and that is across-the-board marginal tax relief…
The trouble is that we have had a fairly neat experiment over the last four presidential terms. As this report from the Economic Policy Institute illustrates, the Bush tax cuts did not deliver greater prosperity for middle class Americans:

As Ezra Klein points out, the falling incomes came during relatively good times:

And note that the graph ends in 2007 -- before the Great Recession had actually begun.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Energy Efficiency in the Champagne Industry

The New York Times reports that Champagne bottlers are reducing the weight and carbon footprint of the bottles used to contain their product:
The current retooling, which uses 65 fewer grams (2.3 ounces) of glass, is in response to a 2003 study of Champagne’s carbon footprint, which the industry wants to cut 25 percent by 2020, and 75 percent by 2050.
Critics complain that energy efficiency measures are being forced upon businesses and consumers. But the Champagne industry has voluntarily taken on this project, and will save money on shipping the two pound bottles. As for consumers, the new bottles will be only subtly different, and will not diminish the value of the product to the consumer.

It's hard to see how any additional cost or hardship is being imposed on anyone by this modest measure. Presumably the contents will fizz just as much and taste just as good when the 2.3 ounces of glass is reduced from the weight of the bottle.