Saturday, May 30, 2015

Is Solar Energy a Darker Shade of Green?

from The Globe and Mail
The Saudi Arabian oil minister’s recent comment that the world’s largest petroleum producer sees a postfossil-fuel world in which his country becomes a solar-power superpower must have comforted climate activists that even the worst offenders can come around. After all, what could be more redemptive than turning abandoned oil fields into solar farms?

Solar power’s image as “clean” and “limitless” has led princes and politicians alike to dole out huge subsidies to bask in its glow. Under the 2009 Green Energy Act, Ontario agreed to pay solar power operators as much as 10 times the market rate for the electricity they produce under 20-year contracts.

Not satisfied with risk-free deals that will make many solar players rich at consumers’ expense, Ontario’s solar industry is now lobbying for even more. And it’s leveraging solar’s apple-pie image to press politicians into giving it what it wants.

On Tuesday, the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) released a poll purporting to show that three-quarters of Ontarians “would like to see the government invest more in solar powered electricity and in technologies that enable solar power.” The same proportion apparently supports reserving revenue from Ontario’s proposed cap-and-trade scheme for more solar power and related technologies.

The folks at CanSIA are no fools. They hired the chief strategist behind Premier Kathleen Wynne’s 2014 re-election to do their polling. And David Herle put just the right spin on the results, saying, “Those who voted Wynne’s Liberals into power are looking to government to pursue opportunities presented by the solar industry.”

It’s not clear if these voters would be as gung-ho about solar power, however, if they considered the environmental implications of its expansion. The industry doesn’t talk much, or at all, about the downsides of manufacturing solar panels or where all these panels will end up when they conk out. Think of how much toxic waste is generated by consumer electronics and you get a small inkling of what a world lit with solar power, and the batteries needed to store their energy, might look like.

Solar power is still a marginal energy source, accounting for about 1 per cent of global electricity production. Yet, its environmental impact is already considerable, according to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. The San Francisco-based group started out three decades ago tracking the e-waste produced by high-tech industry. It now produces an annual Solar Scorecard on panel manufacturers that depicts an industry that has got worse over time. Most producers refuse to provide any environmental data on their supply chains or manufacturing operations at all.

“We need to take action now to reduce the use of toxic chemicals in [photovoltaic production], develop responsible recycling systems and protect workers throughout the global PV supply chain,” the coalition said in its latest report.

The main factor behind declining costs for solar panels – the shift in production to China – has also made their environmental impact harder to track and regulate. Manufacturing solar panels is energy intensive. Depending on where they’re made, the panels need to produce emissions-free electricity for quite a long time to make up for the greenhouse gases generated by their manufacturing. Their components, which include several so-called conflict minerals, are often mined in countries with weak health and safety regulations.

Panel production also generates highly toxic byproducts. Chinese panel makers used to just dump silicon tetrachloride on fields near their factories. China now requires panel makers to recycle almost all of this waste, though San Jose State University environmental studies professor Dustin Mulvaney says, “It remains to be seen how well the rules are being enforced.”

Imagine a world, then, in which solar power actually accounted for a major, rather than marginal, share of electricity generation. And consider the massive increase in battery production that would be needed to store all this energy, since the sun only shines intermittently.

Making electric batteries is even dirtier than making solar panels.
Ask the poor Chinese folk whose crops, air and water have been ruined by the “graphite rain” generated by nearby mines. The average smartphone contains about 15 grams of graphite, but an electric car battery contains 50 kilograms of it.

Solar power surely has a role to play in combating climate change. But it is not the angelic solution to the world’s energy problems its backers suggest. It could even create a whole new set of environmental woes that will require a new set of elusive global protocols to tackle.

Who’s polling Ontarians about that?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Will Hurricane HUD Devastate Baltimore AGAIN?

from USA Today
Baltimore's recent riots are not surprising in a city that has long been plagued by both police brutality and one of the nation's highest murder rates . Though numerous government policies and the rampaging looters deserve blame for the carnage, federal housing subsidies have long destabilized Baltimore neighborhoods and helped create a culture of violence with impunity.

Yet just last week, Baltimore officials were in Washington asking for more. Given the history, it defies understanding.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was created in 1965, and Baltimore received massive subsidies to build housing projects in the following years. Baltimore's projects, like those in many other cities, became cornucopias of crime. One 202-unit sprawling Baltimore subsidized housing project (recently slated for razing) is known as "Murder Mall." A 1979 HUD report noted that the robbery rate in one Baltimore public housing project was almost 20 times higher than the national average. The area in and around public housing often becomes "the territory of those who do not have to be afraid — the criminals," the report said. Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke in 1993 blamed maintenance problems at one public housing projects on drug dealers who refused to let city workers enter the buildings.

In the 1990s, the Baltimore Housing Authority began collecting lavish HUD subsidies to demolish publish housing projects. But critics complained that HUD was merely replacing "vertical ghettos with horizontal ones." Baltimore was among the first cities targeted for using Section 8 vouchers to disperse public housing residents.

HUD and the city housing agency presumed that simply moving people out of the projects was all that was necessary to end the criminal behavior of the residents. Baltimore was one of five cities chosen for a HUD demonstration project — Moving to Opportunity (MTO) — to show how Section 8 could solve the problems of the underclass. But the relocations had "tripled the rate of arrests for property crimes" among boys who moved to new locales via Section 8. A study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that boys in Section 8 households who moved to new neighborhoods were three times more likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and behavioral problems than boys in the control group. A 2009 research project on Section 8 published in Homicide Studies noted that in the one city studied, "Crime, specifically homicide, became displaced to where the low-income residents were relocated. Homicide was simply moved to a new location, not eliminated."

Ed Rutkowski, head of a community development corporation in one marginal Baltimore neighborhood, labeled Section 8 "a catalyst in neighborhood deterioration and ghetto expansion" in 2003.

Regardless of its collateral damage, Section 8 defines Valhalla for many Baltimoreans. Receiving a Section 8 voucher can enable some recipients to live rent-free in perpetuity. Because recipients must pay up to a third of their income for rent under the program, collecting Section 8 sharply decreases work effort, according to numerous economic studies. Last October, when the local housing agency briefly allowed people to register for the program, it was deluged with 73,509 applications. Most of the applications were from families — which means that a third of Baltimore's 241,455 households sought housing welfare. (Almost 10% of Baltimoreans are already on the housing dole.) Section 8 is not an entitlement, so the city will select fewer than 10,000 "winners" from the list.

HUD's Federal Housing Administration also has a long history of destabilizing neighborhoods in Baltimore and other big cities. A HUD subsidized mortgage program for low-income borrowers launched in 1968 spurred so many defaults and devastation that Carl Levin, then Detroit City Council president and later a long-term U.S. senator, derided the program in 1976 as "Hurricane HUD." In the late 1990s, more than 20% of FHA mortgages in some Baltimore neighborhoods were in default — leading one activist to label Baltimore "the foreclosure capital of the world." HUD Inspector General Susan Gaffney warned in 2000: "Vacant, boarded-up HUD-owned homes have a negative effect on neighborhoods, and the negative effect magnifies the longer the properties remain in HUD's inventory."

The feds continued massive negligent mortgage lending in Baltimore after that crisis, creating fresh havoc in recent years. In late 2013, more than 40% of homes in the low-income Carrollton Ridge neighborhood were underwater. Reckless subsidized lending in Baltimore and other low-income areas helped saddle Maryland with the highest foreclosure rate in the nation by the end of last year. One in every 435 housing units in Baltimore was in foreclosure last October, according to RealtyTrac.

President Obama said the Baltimore riots showed the need for new "massive investments in urban communities." What Baltimore needs is an investment in new thinking. The highest property taxes in the state and oppressive local regulation often make investing in jobs and businesses in Baltimore unprofitable. Only fixing that will produce a stable community. Shoveling more federal money into the city is the triumph of hope over experience.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Hogan Vetoes Legislature's Rush to Redemption, More Taxes and Decriminalized Public Lawbreaking

from the Baltimore Sun
Gov. Larry Hogan took out his veto pen Friday, rejecting a bill that would allow felons to vote as soon as they leave prison rather than waiting to finish parole or probation.

The veto, one of several announced by the governor's office, quickly drew a pledge from the legislation's sponsor to find the votes to override.

"I just think Maryland should be more progressive," said Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat. She said she needs to line up only a handful of additional votes in each chamber to override Hogan's veto when the General Assembly returns in January.

In a letter to legislative leaders, Hogan said current law that makes felons wait to vote until completing all aspects of their sentence "achieves the proper balance between repayment of obligations to society for a felony conviction and the restoration of the various restricted rights."

The Republican governor was not available for interviews Friday, aides said.

Maryland is one of 39 states allowing ex-convicts to vote after they have completed their sentences — including any probation and parole. There are about 40,000 former felons in Maryland who are out of prison but unable to vote because they are still on parole or probation.

The bill was approved during the Assembly session largely along party lines.

Hogan had been pressured by advocates on both sides of the issue. The website, founded by Del. Neil Parrott, a Western Maryland Republican, facilitated an online letter-writing campaign to urge Hogan to veto the measure. Meanwhile, a group of ex-offenders rallied in Baltimore last week as part of a campaign aimed at persuading the governor to sign the bill.

Communities United, a group that promoted the voting rights bill, issued a statement criticizing Hogan's veto.

"Governor Hogan has learned nothing from the uprising in Baltimore and what the city and state residents need. Freddie Gray's West Baltimore neighborhood has the highest rate of disenfranchisement in the state," the group said. "Former felons need a voice and the ability to influence what happens in their communities and lives."

The bill's opponents have argued that ex-offenders who haven't completed parole and probation haven't fully repaid their debts to society.

"They haven't earned back the right to vote yet," said Parrott.

Conway noted that Maryland's voter registration system can't distinguish between a felon who is on parole or probation and a felon who is not, potentially leading to felons registering to vote when they are not eligible. She said it makes sense to strip the prohibition.

Hogan also rejected a measure that would result in online hotel booking services paying more state taxes. A sponsor of that bill also vowed an override.

Led by the Bethesda-based Marriott chain, hotel industry officials had sought to close what they consider a loophole in Maryland law allowing online travel companies to pay less in sales tax for booking rooms than the hotels themselves must charge.

But online travel firms, and many Maryland travel agencies, complained the legislature was trying to impose a new tax on fees they charge for serving travelers. They warned it would hurt the state's tourism industry.

Hogan took neither side, saying that since the Maryland comptroller's office is in litigation with online company Travelocity over its tax liability, that issue ought to be left to the court to decide first.

Philip Minardi of the Travel Technology Association, a trade group that opposed the bill, welcomed the governor's veto.

"This decision just re-emphasizes the point that you cannot tax your way to prosperity," he said.

Sen. Richard Madaleno, who sponsored the hotel tax bill, said he was "shocked" by Hogan's veto but that the bill passed with enough votes for an override.

"It's mind-boggling," said Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat. "It demonstrates what we're in for over the next few years, and that is an allegiance to an ideology over the best interests of our state, including our in-state business community."

Madaleno said his bill would have netted the state $3 million to $5 million more in taxes each year that the online companies are collecting from customers but not remitting to the state with their "creative misinterpretation of the state sales tax law."

Hogan vetoed a similar hotel tax bill that applied only to Howard County.

Another measure vetoed by Hogan would make smoking marijuana in a public place a civil violation punishable only by a fine and eliminate criminal penalties for possession of marijuana-related paraphernalia. The bill was passed by lawmakers on the heels of a 2014 bill that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

In his letter to legislative leaders, Hogan acknowledged that the new legislation cured issues created by last year's measure — a person could face criminal charges for possessing a marijuana pipe but not the small amount of marijuana it held. But the bill also created "legal uncertainties," he said, including leaving police officers no authority to pull over drivers who are smoking marijuana while behind the wheel.

The Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland said it hopes lawmakers will override the veto, given that the bill was "widely supported, common-sense legislation."

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said it's important for public safety for officers to be able to pull over drivers who are using marijuana. Shellenberger and the Maryland State's Attorneys Association unsuccessfully tried to have prohibitions on using marijuana while driving and using marijuana in public added to the bill.

"People should do it in the privacy of their own home," said Shellenberger, a Democrat who is a vice president of the association.

The governor also vetoed a bill that would put more restrictions on when police officers can seize cash and property during criminal investigations. Hogan said in his veto letter that he'll create a work group to review the rules on asset forfeiture, which he said can be a valuable tool in drug investigations.

The governor's office said Hogan would allow several other bills to become law without his signature, including bills banning hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," for natural gas for two years; requiring insurance companies to cover fertility treatments for lesbian couples; and allowing transgender people to permanently change the name and gender on their birth certificate without it being marked as amended.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller declined Friday through a spokesman to comment on the governor's decisions. House Speaker Michael E. Busch could not be reached for comment.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Another Victory for Kronie Capital on Capitol Hill

from Yahoo News
Washington (AFP) - The US Senate advanced legislation Thursday to give President Barack Obama fast-track authority to forge a huge Asia-Pacific trade accord, after lawmakers struck a deal on a vote re-authorizing the Export-Import Bank.

The measure would allow the Obama administration to conclude negotiations with 11 other Pacific Rim nations and bring a trade accord to Congress for an up or down vote, with lawmakers not permitted to make changes.

"It was a nice victory. We're going to continue and finish up the bill this week," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has strongly backed Obama's expanded free-trade agenda despite opposition from leading Democrats.

A final vote could come Friday or Saturday.

Obama hailed Thursday's vote as "a big step forward."

"It's an agenda that is good for US businesses, but most importantly, it is good for American workers," the president said at his White House cabinet meeting.

If it passes the Senate, Obama's top legislative priority for his second term goes to the House of Representatives, where leaders have discussed a possible June vote.

But several Democrats have signaled it will be tough to whip up enough support in that chamber.

Supporters say the measure, known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), features 150 progressive US negotiating priorities, including key human rights provisions, and provides assistance for American workers affected by globalization.

Critics, such as independent Senator Bernie Sanders, say the Pacific accord would fuel a race to the bottom, with American workers losing out to laborers in other countries "making pennies an hour."

TPA nearly failed to advance in the Senate, when several pro-trade Democrats withheld their support until they received reassurances from McConnell on another issue: reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.

Operational authority for the bank, which provides financing for American exports, expires on June 30, and several Republicans, including members of House leadership, have signaled they want to see ExIm's operations draw to a close.

"I think in today's world, where interest rates are low, this is a perfect time to wind down ExIm," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Monday.

- Greasing the skids? -

In a bout of old-school congressional haggling on the Senate floor, huddling lawmakers broke the impasse on trade, voting 62-38 to end debate on the bill.

Senate Democrat Patty Murray of Washington state, where top employer Boeing benefits from the bank's financing, told reporters she had been promised a vote on ExIm in June.

"I supported the trade package that came out of the Finance Committee," she said. "I'm glad that we have a path forward on both ExIm and trade."

Democrats are poised to offer several amendments to the trade bill, including one that would require the Obama administration to crack down on countries that manipulate their currency in order to gain unfair price advantage and boost their exports.

The White House strongly opposes the amendment, warning it could threaten the entire Asia accord.

The trade push has caused a rift between Obama and several Democrats in his party, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Warren, an emerging liberal firebrand, has clashed openly with Obama on trade, slamming the administration for negotiating the Asian accord -- known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- in absolute secrecy.

The Senate will "vote on whether to grease the skids to make that secret trade deal, the TPP, the law of the land. This isn't how democracy is supposed to work," she said on the Senate floor.

Warren opposes fast-track authority, which she said would force lawmakers to relinquish their right to weigh in on the accord before it is completed.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Chris Mathew's Wife for Congress???

from the Baltimore Sun
WASHINGTON -- Kathleen Matthews, a longtime television news anchor in Washington who is rumored to be considering a run for Maryland's 8th Congressional District, is leaving her post at Marriott International to "seek a challenging new role in public service," according to a memo distributed Wednesday by the Bethesda-based company.

Matthews, 61, was an anchor for 25 years at WJLA before joining Marriott International in 2006, where she serves as chief global communications and public affairs officer. The Chevy Chase resident is married to MSNBC's Chris Matthews.

Matthews' name has long been floated as a possible candidate for the House seat that will be left vacant by Rep. Chris Van Hollen's candidacy for U.S. Senate. She has not returned repeated calls from The Baltimore Sun placed over the course of several weeks.

"Kathleen Matthews, Marriott International's chief global communications and public affairs officer, has announced she will leave the company in June to seek a challenging new role in public service," according to a memo sent to Marriott's leadership team by president and CEO Arne Sorenson.

If she decides to run, Matthews will join Sen. Jamie Raskin, Dels. Kumar Barve and Ana Sol Gutierrez as well as former White House aide Will Jawando in the race. The district is based in Montgomery County -- and is widely considered a safe bet for a Democrat in the general election -- but it also includes portions of Frederick and Carroll Counties.
Evidently, being famous (and married to someone famous) is the only criterion for being a politician in MD.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Chrys Kefalas to Run for MD Senate Seat?

from the Baltimore Sun
WASHINGTON -- A former aide to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and speechwriter for Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. created a federal campaign account Monday to explore running for Maryland's open U.S. Senate seat.

Chrys Kefalas, a 35-year-old Parkville resident, is one of only a handful of Republicans expressing an interest in a contest that to date has been largely defined by the race for the Democratic nomination. Other possible GOP candidates include Rep. Andy Harris of Baltimore County and former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

"We need a new direction in Washington and new leadership because the career politicians who have created barriers to opportunity cannot possibly renew the American Dream,” said Kefalas, whho would be making his first run for office if he enters the race.

Kefalas, by creating a campaign finance committee, is not committing to run for the seat that will be left open in 2017 by retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. The statewide contest will be an uphill climb for any Republican, particularly if, as expected, turnout is higher because of next year's presidential contest.

Kefalas works for the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington. He previously served as a speechwriter and aide to Holder, a trial and appellate attorney at the Department of Justice, a business lawyer and deputy legal counsel to Ehrlich.

So far two Democrats are running: Reps. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County and Donna F. Edwards of Prince George's County.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Fasten Your Seatbelts, America...

...the Lesson of Baltimore, "Violence WORKS!"

But the "product" the Black Lives Matter 'hacktivists" are selling - DOJ Commissars to monitor and control local PD body camera footage is a sham. It's ALL about maintaining CONTROL now. It all about shifting BLAME now. SOMEONE has to pay for the violence and the "crimes" that were committed by the "police". But who will pay for the lack of job opportunities in Baltimore? Who will challenge a system built on selling cheap imported products to unemployed food stamp recipients.

They say that a dog will never bite the hand that feeds it, and politicians are the hand that feeds Sandtown. So if you are looking for a political solution, expect a SHAM solution like "body cameras" and "Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights" Political Commissars. JOBS for politicians or jobs for people CONTROLLED by politicians. Not jobs for the perpetually unemployed/ under-employed people of Baltimore.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Baltimore Pharmakoi?

...or misdirected Anger?

Excerpts from "Punishment in Ancient Athens" by Danielle S. Allen
A society’s approach to punishment reveals its soul: how it understands cause and responsibility; what its utopian hopes are; and how it has decided to approach conflict. These four questions (why, in the sense of “what cause?”; why, in the sense of “what purpose?”, how, and what) should open up Athenian punishment in ways that convey a living society that continually had to make choices about how to construct authority. This story about Athens should, by way of contrast, provoke our own thoughts about how punishment serves the construction of authority in modern states.

The Athenians had no doubts about why they punished: it was simply because someone was angry at a wrong and wanted that anger dealt with. Specifically, the anger of the victim necessitated punishment, and the Athenians made this idea central to their penal practice. Although the city’s penal laws allowed any citizen to prosecute on behalf of someone who had been the victim of a crime, or on behalf of the city in general, in 96% of the cases for which we still have copies of the courtroom speeches, the prosecutor was in fact either himself the victim of the wrong done or else he was personally involved in some dispute with the wrong-doer.

Observe that the laws treat the wrong-doer who acts intentionally and with hubris as deserving greater anger and punishment; this is reasonable because while the injured party everywhere deserves support, the law does not ordain that the anger against the wrongdoer should always be the same” (Dem. 21.42-43).

Anger was thus assumed to be not only the source of particular punishments but also at the root of law itself. The Athenians accordingly felt relatively little uncertainty or unease about why (that is, in response to what causes) they punished: they acted in response to anger.

Why (To What End)?
The Athenians, then, punished in answer to someone’s anger, but to what end did they do so? If a modern citizen were to hear that someone, a parent or teacher, or a state, had punished out of anger, he would expect the motives of the punisher to be essentially vindictive. Anger, we think, leads directly to a desire for payback of the eye-for-an-eye variety. In contrast, the Athenians developed a far more nuanced view of what it meant to take anger as the starting point of punishment. Anger might be the origin of punishment, but they also conceded that it was a disease.

When it came time to punish, the Athenians acted out of anger and to cure anger, but this does not mean that they acted in anger. Rather, they interposed an extensive institutional system between the moment when an angry victim pointed to a wrong-doer and the infliction of punishment. The purpose of this system was to allow the citizens to convert a moment of private anger into a public decision crafted with a view to curing the community through a restoration of peace.

The Athenian focus on anger reveals two things about punishment. First, punishment arises simply from the desires of the punishers, which is to say, from the desires of the community. Questions of how to punish therefore involve us in asking who we want to be and what our relations to our desires are as those are expressed by anger. The Athenians dramatized this idea once a year at a festival called Thargelia where they administered a “cure” for themselves as a whole city. The festival involved an especially violent ritual. It was said that the Athenians had once killed a Cretan man named Androgeos and had afterwards repented of their own act of wrong-doing. Every year thereafter, to deal with the problem of the city’s guilt and implication in the murder, they drove two undesirable members of the community out of the city in rituals resembling stonings. Such a scapegoat was called a pharmakos. It is related to the word pharmakon which means both medicine and poison and from which we get “pharmacy” and “pharmaceutical.” The ambiguity of the word pharmakon reveals two things, the first being the paradoxical nature of punishment as viewed from the Athenian perspective. Punishment forces a community into facing the idea that acts of violence are expected to cure a community that otherwise disavows acts of violence.

The second feature of punishment revealed by the ritual requires that we know a bit more about it. The festival of Thargelia marked the end of the year, and the day after saw a festival marking the beginning of the new. The Athenians moved through the year knowing that they would conclude the year with a mock stoning, in which they would mimic a communal act of passion and admit to the communal desire to inflict harm. This they would do in order to cure themselves. The festival dramatized the certainty that the community’s rules against violence would eventually break-down; it dramatized that everyone was mutually implicated in the break-down; and that everybody was mutually implicated in a system for restoring order which inevitably treated certain citizens as means to the ends of other citizens. The festival was an admission that the origin of punishment in anger implicates all citizens in a set of disordered relationships, which must be restored but which can be restored only by a process that imposes itself on different citizens in different ways and to different degrees. We can and should deplore the violent means that the Athenians used to make such an admission, but surely the admission itself is an important one: dealing with wrong-doing and punishment requires that we think about the community’s desires and the problem of anger within the community and about how best to respond to those desires and that anger.