Archive (2008)

More Energy Reading

In the last few weeks, we've been hearing all kinds of crazy talk from politicians about the price of gas. To separate reality from delusion, here are a couple McClatchy stories on that topic.

Here's an interesting one: the Department of Energy has determined that drilling in ANWR would lower the price of oil by 75 cents a barrel.

This story mentions three things that could lower the price of gas in the short term:

  1. More regulation of the commodity markets, where speculation has driven up the price of oil.
  2. Releasing up to a million barrels of oil per day from the strategic oil reserve, for a period of 90 days.
  3. Boosting the value of the dollar, since oil is traded internationally in dollars, which is a weak currency compared to others. One way to do this is for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates.

The piece notes that all of these suggestions are politically unpalatable. Eric Massa has mentioned boosting the value of the dollar before. Randy Kuhl has mentioned none of these possible cures.

Finally, on the windfall profit tax, this piece is a pretty good run-down of both sides of that issue. I agree with this quote:

Jared Bernstein, economist at Washington's Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, called the windfall tax a "feel good idea."

More effective, he said, would be "closing loopholes and tax forgiveness...these guys are getting out of paying billions of dollars."

Among his ideas: Stop the "royalty relief" given to oil producers about 10 years ago. When oil companies drill on public land, they're supposed to pay royalties to the government, but Washington gave the firms a break when prices were low-and never repealed it.

Massa has been a consistent supporter of ending tax breaks for oil companies. Kuhl hasn't taken a position that I've seen on this issue.

Kuhl's Context-Free Facts

Randy Kuhl's latest blog post makes the following claims about ANWR:

The mean estimate of technically recoverable oil in ANWR is 10.4 billion barrels – all of which is now economically recoverable.
  • That’s more than twice the proven oil reserves in all of Texas.
  • That’s almost half of the total U.S. proven reserve of 21 billion barrels.
  • That represents a possible 50 percent increase in total U.S. proven reserves.

These facts would make one believe that ANWR could make a huge difference in our current oil supply. However, let's look at a couple of other facts from the Reuters' article I linked to earlier:

  • US oil consumption is 20.6 million barrels per day, or 7.5 billion barrels per year.
  • Peak production from ANWR would be 780,000 barrels per day. But that couldn't be accomplished until 2020, when it will be 2% of our daily oil consumption, assuming a steady increase in oil use. Even assuming zero growth, ANWR's peak flow is less than 4% of our current daily consumption.

Whatever your position on drilling in ANWR, it isn't a magic bullet, especially when you put Kuhl's raw numbers in context.

Kuhl Mental Health Caucus Op-Ed

Reader Elmer sends Randy Kuhl's op-ed [pdf] from today's Corning Leader. Kuhl's topic is the newly-formed bi-partisan Veterans' Mental Health Caucus. The goal of the caucus is to "increase awareness" of mental health issues around injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Another Perspective on Nuclear Power

Last week's Environmental Orthodoxy post sparked an interesting discussion on science and science journalism. One of the orthodoxies that wasn't discussed much was environmentalists' continued opposition to nuclear power, so I've been on the lookout for a good overview of the current state of nuclear power.

Jonathan Golub is a MD/PhD student at the University of Washington, and the science columnist at the Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger. On his blog, he's recently posted a multi-part series on the physics of nuclear power plants, the parts needed to build a reactor, the biological effects of radiation, nuclear waste, the two biggest fiascoes in commercial nuclear power and what a new nuclear power plant should look like.

If you know the physics of nuclear reactions, you might want to skip his comparison of a nuclear reaction to a cocktail party. But his discussion of new technology for reactors is very interesting, as is his conclusion about the latest nuclear technology (fourth-generation plants), which are far more advanced that our current nukes, and which also have the potential to reprocess high-level nuclear waste:

If we were smart, we would throw resources at these fourth generation technologies, pushing to have the pilot reactors and designs finalized within ten years. None of these are perfect. No source of power is without risk or environmental injury. None. Our planet hosts nearly seven billion people. Fossil fuel reserves are dwindling. The atmosphere and oceans are buckling under the carbon strain. Nuclear power, particularly responsibly applied with standardized plant designs and a real plan for dealing with the waste, remains are best hope. The physics and technology is available.

Sunday Morning News

The Corning Leader has a story about gas prices that highlights the differences between Eric Massa and Randy Kuhl on drilling in ANWR. Kuhl thinks the US can be "totally independent" using our own oil supplies.

Today's D&C has an earmark round-up that includes information on Kuhl's process for picking earmarks. Though he uses information from lobbyists, he says isn't influenced by them. Instead, he has a "smell test".

Massa Open House - Free Food

The Massa campaign is having an a grand opening of their Victor campaign office at 5 p.m. today. The office is at 139 Turk Hill Rd, across from Eastview Mall, and food is being served.

Democrats can meet a whole bunch of other Democrats, includng State Senate candidates David Nachbar and Paloma Capanna, there. Republicans can go back for seconds on Massa's dime. In short, fun for everyone.

Debate and Vets

Reader Elmer sends today's Corning Leader (front [pdf], jump [pdf]), where Randy Kuhl reacts to Eric Massa's challenge to debates similar to those proposed by John McCain. Kuhl says he's open to those debates and then goes on to say how busy he will be, so it looks like we'll probably have a few debates late in the election, as we did last year.

I'm sure Randy Kuhl isn't going to take my advice, but I really don't see a major downside for him if the 29th were to have a good number of freestyle debates along the lines of McCain's proposal. When you have a few, highly structured debates, then much more is at stake in each event. And when those debates are so close to the election, a "gaffe" can be used by one's opponent, with little chance for the person who made a slip of the tongue to correct his statement. Debating early and often makes each individual debate a less stressful and more productive discussion.

The Leader also covers Kuhl's role in the creation of a bi-partisan Veterans' Mental Health caucus in the House.

Toss Up

The Cook Political Report's latest issue re-rated the 29th as a "toss up". It was "leans Republican". Cook just re-rated ten districts, and every district's rating got worse for the Republican.

Two Blog Posts

Dr. Denny at Scholars and Rogues has an extended take-down of Randy Kuhl's latest mailer. I haven't seen the mailer, but it's apparently an attempt to publicize Kuhl's "Fix Washington" program. Money quote:

Representatives in Congress are paid $169,300 annually. Their retirement and pension benefits are substantial. They receive a Member’s Representational Allowance for office expenses that reached between $1.2 and $1.4 million in 2005. They may buy or lease virtually any vehicle (and the gasoline’s included) at taxpayer expense. They receive significant health benefits. They get to be addressed as “Congressman” or “Congresswoman” for the rest of their lives.

And people give them money. In his federal fundraising career, Rep. Kuhl has pocketed $3,082,985 (nearly 60 percent from PACs). If he leaves office with money in the fundraising bank, so to speak, he retains control over the balance, as did retiring Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds.

Despite all these privileges — and responsibilities — as a congressman, Rep. Kuhl has reduced the American system of government to a reality game show. And surely it’s possible that he has plenty of inept company among his remaining 434 peers.

Speaking of Randy Kuhl and blog posts, his new blog post tries to blame the lack of progress on the Iraq supplemental on "Democratic Infighting". Those of us with memories longer than a goldfish, or perhaps a Congressman, might remember that Kuhl voted present on that bill as part of a Republican protest last month.

Massa Press Conference

I attended today's Massa Press conference, which is nicely written up by Grievous Angel at Rochesterturning, so no need to duplicate that fine effort. I'll do the color commentary instead.

Other than the aftermath of last night's primary, the most interesting exchange had to do with gas prices. Massa floated the possibility of a gas price freeze, which is what Richard Nixon did during the last "gas crisis". While I recognize that politicians need to feel that they're doing "something", having lived through the last set of price freezes, I don't think this idea will work. You can read more about that here.

As a threat, it might have some effect on gas prices, if oil companies took it seriously.

The other part of his recommendation, strengthening the dollar, has to be our nation's long-term goal. But the only way to achieve that goal is to reduce our debt. That won't happen overnight.

Massa's diagnosis of the current energy problem, and his long-term energy plan, are both correct. Short-term, I don't think there's anything he or any other politician can propose that will change today's unfortunate energy situation.

CPR/AED Awareness Week

This is CPR/AED awareness week, as proclaimed by a bill sponsored by Randy Kuhl and Dan Boren (D-OK-2). Kuhl's office has a press release on the week, which includes a link to a free, online CPR and AED training. The link only works during this week.

The Democrat and Chronicle mentions the week as part of a story on how a woman in Webster helped save her husband's life using CPR.

Obama's GOTV

Long-time readers might remember my political story, which included a little bit about my old man. He's 77 and a lifelong Democrat, and he's been working for the Obama campaign. Today I talked to him about the Obama get-out-the-vote effort, since my home state (South Dakota) has its primary today. It's impressive.

Current turnout in Dad's county looks to be about 400, with about 250 in my hometown. Dad was assigned 1/4 of the approximately 500 potential voters in our home town, under the guidance of a paid Obama staffer in a nearby town who had updated voter lists. For the last two weekends, he walked the neighborhoods and knocked on doors. Every Obama-preferring or undecided voter was contacted at least twice, hopefully three times. Two unpaid volunteers from a nearby state arrived on Tuesday to help with the effort.

When he got home tonight, he had three GOTV calls on his answering machine. Two were robo-calls, and one was a call from a live Obama volunteer.

Obama lost, but the larger story is that the money that's being poured into the Obama campaign is being spent on a quality effort to turn out Democrats. Whether this will translate into a similar, well-financed effort in the 29th district is not clear, especially since New York probably won't be a battleground state. Nevertheless, Obama's campaign has the ability to do first-rate GOTV, unlike anything I've ever seen in Monroe County.