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Archive for August, 2013

Fighting Discrimination, As Inequality Grows

August 28th, 2013


I grew up in the segregated South. I tell students the story of how, as a young boy, I went with my mother to Bloomberg’s Department Store on High Street in Portsmouth, Virginia. There was a stack of doilies on the ladies’ hat counter and I asked my mother what they were for. She explained that a black woman had to put a doily on her head before trying on a hat, because a white woman would not purchase a hat that had been on a black woman’s head.

My students think I am making all this up. They refuse to believe such things were true. It is too absurd, they insist.

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Fear of Government Rivals Fear of Terrorism

August 12th, 2013


At his August 9 news conference, President Obama said “People may want to jigger slightly sort of the balance between the information that we can get versus the incremental encroachments on privacy that, if [they] haven’t already taken place, take place in a future Administration or as technology is developed further.” Pretty tentative language for an issue that’s exploding on the political scene.

For the first time since 9/11, according to the July Pew poll, more Americans say they are concerned that the government’s anti-terrorism policies “have gone too far in restricting civil liberties” than say that they “have not gone far enough to protect the country.” Concern about civil liberties has jumped from 27% in 2010 to 47% today. That’s the impact of the Edward Snowden revelations.

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Congress Sends Hydro Reforms to President’s Desk. What’s the Next PowerBook Policy to Pass?

August 7th, 2013


In a Congress that is setting records for its ineffectiveness, the last week of July 2013 offered a glimmer of hope. For the first time in four years, the Senate and House passed substantive energy legislation and sent it to the President’s desk. Make no mistake, these two successful bills (which reform the licensing of hydroelectric dams) are not going to radically alter the country’s energy system. But that’s the point: despite the enormous divide between the Senate and House and Democrats and Republicans, Congress was able to agree to small, but important, changes in energy policy that will help increase clean electricity in the US. As we found in the development of the PowerBook, a tool we developed for policymakers to build clean energy policies, this is a model that can be replicated.

The two bills Congress passed are simple enough. One expands the ability of the federal government to develop hydropower on its existing water resources. The other streamlines the permitting process for new hydropower projects. These ideas are representative of the targeted, bipartisan ideas we included in the PowerBook. They are built on a basic premise: that there are lots of small “nuts-and-bolts” issues that legislators from both parties can get behind and move through Congress, even if the House and Senate can’t agree on larger pieces of legislation.

Even on hydropower, there are more incremental steps Congress can take. Most pressing is to make it easier for utilities to modernize existing power dams. More than five-dozen major dams are still stuck using inefficient, 1960s-era technology to generate electricity. Minimal funding by the US Bureau of Reclamations could change that, and lead to the addition of 225 MW of clean energy to our grid. That’s enough energy to power approximately 168,750 houses, which is the entire housing stock in the city of Pittsburgh. The legislation that just passed, combined with the other hydropower proposals in the PowerBook, could create as many as 48,000 jobs and power at least 6.2 million homes, primarily across the South and Midwest. That’s a huge benefit to the country, all from just three little policy proposals.

The good news is that there are plenty of similarly small policy ideas that could make a big impact in the PowerBook. If all of our current policies in the PowerBook were implemented, the U.S. would save 473.6 million barrels of oil, add over 1.8 million gigawatt-hours of new clean energy to the grid, and eliminate 2.45 million tons of conventional pollutants (CO, NOx, SO2, PM10, Hg) from its skies. If the action by the House and Senate on hydropower is any indication, there’s even a chance that energy policy offers Congress an opportunity to buck it’s “do-nothing” label.

This piece was co-written with Sam Cramer, Clean Energy intern at Third Way.

Chill Out About the American Embassy Closings

August 7th, 2013


From the tiny island-nation of Mauritius to mighty Saudi Arabia, numerous U.S. diplomatic facilities are being shuttered this week because of an intercepted message by al-Qaida’s chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, calling for the head of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasir al-Wahishi, to strike American targets

But, dear reader, there is no need to freak out, because the system is working. Here are three reasons why:

1) America caught wind of the terrorists’ plot. This signals intercept shows that that the mission of the much-embattled National Security Agency remains critical to thwarting terrorist attacks. Given that this communication occurred between two terrorists living abroad, the U.S. government’s overseas signals collection effort did not impinge on Americans’ civil liberties or privacy. Stopping or thwarting terrorist plots is exactly why the U.S. has these sophisticated tools and techniques – and we can see it here in action.

It’s not like the U.S. intelligence community’s intercept capabilities work in a vacuum. The embassy closures were based upon a “broad range of reporting” – presumably from information derived from other American intelligence agencies and foreign liaison services.

This is not new. For example, the CIA has worked with other intelligence services in the region, helping to thwart AQAP attacks in 2010 and 2012. America’s lethal counterterrorism tactics have taken key AQAP operatives (such as the group’s second in command) “off the battlefield” – though some argue this broad effort is ultimately counterproductive. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Will Be NYC’s Next Mayor?

August 6th, 2013


New York City is going to elect a new mayor this fall and it won’t be Anthony Weiner. Who will it be? My money is on Bill de Blasio. Why? Because he’s the un-Bloomberg.

The September 10th Democratic primary will produce a runoff between de Blasio, the city’s elected Public Advocate (whatever that is), and City Council speaker Christine Quinn. Quinn is seen as very close to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. She engineered the City Council vote that allowed Bloomberg to run for a third term in 2009 even though the city’s voters had voted— twice! —for a two-term limit.

In 2011, after discussing the race with Mayor Bloomberg, former Mayor Ed Koch said, “There’s no question in my mind that, of all the candidates, he sees Chris Quinn as far better for the city of New York.” Read the rest of this entry »