Saturday, December 26, 2009

Will Our 'Green Jobs' Dollars Help a Ritzy Car Company Open a Toxic Manufacturing Plant? | Politics | AlterNet

2389356214_0277f6694d_b.jpgTesla Motors has been hunting for a production plant at which to build their Model S sedan. A likely site is in Downey CA, and a recent article suggests this comes with serious toxic problems. Further that it's tax dollars being put to use to develop green industry that is, in part, supporting Tesla to build this plant.

Let's look first at the government loans. The article discusses it as "tax dollars" being handed over to Tesla. The money is part of the DOE’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program whose purpose is to expand green business and especially manufacturing work related to green technology. The article doesn't make it very clear, but this is a loan not a grant. Tesla is required to repay the loan (it is a loan after all) and there are stringent business development goals Tesla has to meet for each phase the loan program. (See: Fisker, the vast rightwing conspiracy, and the $528 Mil DOE loan)

Many recent articles have raised the question of the proper role for government to play in shaping the economy and businesses around us. It seems many believe the government should keep it's hands off free market economic forces, and that the economy will sort everything out. On the other hand the DOE claims the program serves the common good of helping the country become free of foreign oil dependency. In my mind this is a very good argument especially because economic forces is a very bad mechanism for weaning the country from fossil fuels.

The last part of this saga is the plant that Tesla is looking at. It used to be a Boeing plant, for 70+ years, and is now thought to be very toxic. The article quotes a few people discussing health problems they think stem from work at that site. The site is currently underused because Boeing abandoned it a couple decades ago.

In other words it sounds like the typical polluted ex-industrial site. Maybe the local government desperately wants some industry at that location but there's a question over what to do about the pollution. However the article doesn't make it clear there is documented evidence of toxic pollution, instead it gives some hearsay style interviews.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Naomi Klein: 3 Biggest Blown Opportunities of Obama's Presidency | Politics | AlterNet

No President since FDR has been handed as many opportunities to transform the U.S. into something that doesn't threaten the stability of life on this planet. Is he blowing it? That's from Naomi Klein. She starts the article with the failure to get a groundshaking deal at the Copenhagen summit. If Obama had come to Copenhagen with a transformative commitment to getting the U.S. economy off fossil fuels, the other major emitters would have stepped up. The EU, Japan, China and India all indicated that they were willing to increase their levels of commitment, only if the U.S. took the lead. Instead Obama arrived with embarrassingly low targets and the heavy emitters of the world took their cue from him. But the 3 FAIL's listed are economic, the stimulus package, and bailouts of the auto and banking industry. No President since FDR has been handed as many opportunities to transform the U.S. into something that doesn't threaten the stability of life on this planet.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Twitter Tapping - government agents tracking public information

An NY TImes editorial Twitter Tapping discusses a Freedom of Information Act suit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. There is widespread understanding that government agents are snooping around social networking sites looking for clues of nefarious activities.

The issue seems to be that various government agencies are hoovering around public social networks like twitter looking for clues. However it's not just public social networks as the editorial mentions Facebook specifically, and most of the social data on Facebook is supposedly under the control of privacy settings.

The editorial explains: The suit seeks to uncover what guidelines these agencies have about this activity, including information about whether agents are permitted to use fake identities or to engage in subterfuge, such as tricking people into accepting Facebook friend requests. For example there's some data on Facebook visible only to "friends" and a fake friend request could give some agency access to otherwise private information.

Something to think about is the distinction between publicly disclosed and privately disclosed information. Twitter is a public site, and every tweet is public. Facebook however is largely private with the information only visible to friends (depending on each users privacy settings). Obviously publicly disclosed information can be freely read by anyone, right? What kind of privacy expectations could one have for tweets or other publicly disclosed postings? Facebook goes to great length to create an illusion of privacy but maybe the government has a special arrangement with Facebook?

The EFF press release (below) has this to say: "Millions of people use social networking sites like Facebook every day, disclosing lots of information about their private lives," said James Tucker, a student working with EFF through the Samuelson Clinic. "As Congress debates new privacy laws covering sites like Facebook, lawmakers and voters alike need to know how the government is already using this data and what is at stake."

The U.S. government has been, for a long time, increasing its ubiquitous surveillance capabilities. It's worthwhile for more to be known about this since Americans have a huge expectation of privacy and belief that "Big Brother" will never happen in America. (see Big Brother is watching us all)

During this decade the "war on terror" has of course been a major concern and it seems some privacy intrusions have been instituted under the guise of finding and stopping terrorism. But does this supposed war on terror justify the government in destroying core qualities of America?

Some of the intrusions are "link analysis" where the FBI is looking at "envelope" information in emails and telephone calls of pretty much everybody. (see: F.B.I. Data Mining Reached Beyond Initial Targets and Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report - New York Times)

Satellite images are an example of public information being consulted by spy agencies. I say "public" because something visible from an orbiting satellite can be seen by any number of commercial or government owned cameras. (see An example of likely legal U.S. spying inside U.S.)

This sort of effort is very similar to the programs under the umbrella Total Information Awareness (TIA) project formerly run by DARPA and (supposedly) canceled. However various elements of the TIA have obviously lived on. The TIA was publicly disclosed 2001, a time before widespread use of social networking websites, but clearly this kind of information hoovering is exactly what the TIA would have developed. (see DARPA's Information Awareness Office, The Total Information Awareness System; Or, Big Brother in-carnate)

Lawsuit Demands Answers About Social-Networking Surveillance

Government Agencies Withholding Information on Data-Gathering from Facebook, Twitter, and Other Online Communities

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), working with the Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (Samuelson Clinic), filed suit today against a half-dozen government agencies for refusing to disclose their policies for using social networking sites for investigations, data-collection, and surveillance.

Recent news reports have publicized the government's use of social networking data as evidence in various investigations, and Congress is currently considering several pieces of legislation that may increase protections for consumers who use social-networking websites and other online tools. In response, the Samuelson Clinic made over a dozen Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on behalf of EFF to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies, asking for information about how the government collects and uses this sensitive information.

"Millions of people use social networking sites like Facebook every day, disclosing lots of information about their private lives," said James Tucker, a student working with EFF through the Samuelson Clinic. "As Congress debates new privacy laws covering sites like Facebook, lawmakers and voters alike need to know how the government is already using this data and what is at stake."

When several agencies did not respond to the FOIA requests, the Samuelson Clinic filed suit on behalf of EFF. The lawsuit demands immediate processing and release of all records concerning policies for the use of social networking sites in government investigations.

"Internet users deserve to know what information is collected, under what circumstances, and who has access to it," said Shane Witnov, a law student also working on the case. "These agencies need to abide by the law and release their records on social networking surveillance."

For the full complaint:

Friday, December 11, 2009

Technosanity #42: contemplating the cost of making tea

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Making tea is such a simple thing isn't it? Or, is it? Where do the tea leaves come from and what is the environmental impact of growing the tea? Where does the paper for the tea bag come from, what is the environmental impact of that? What about limited water resources? Is the tea shipped across the planet?

Many tea makers attempt to appeal to green consciousness with fair trade practices, or claiming to grow the tea sustainably, etc. All that is laudible, but then they ship the tea thousands of miles and the environmental impact of the globalized shipping probably destroys several times over the gains from the sustainable farming practice.

Technosanity #42: contemplating the cost of making tea

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Anti-science groups funded by ExxonMobil hype email story « Climate Progress

Over the past decade, oil giant Exxon Mobil has paid millions to organizations and “think tanks” in an attempt to deceive the public about the science behind global climate change. It’s no surprise that those very same organizations are now doing everything in their power to please their benefactor by drawing attention to the so-called “Climategate” scandal involving hacked emails from the University of East Anglia in England. The article goes on to list several organizations and the payments made to them by ExxonMobil. Exxon Mobil Has Given The American Enterprise Institute Nearly $2 Million Since 2001. Exxon Mobil Has Given The Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow Over $465,000 Since 2001. Exxon Mobil Has Given The Competitive Enterprise Institute Over $1.6 Million Since 2001. Exxon Mobil Gave FreedomWorks Over $275,000 In 2001. Exxon Mobil Has Given The Heartland Institute Over $530,000 Since 2001. ...etc...

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ed Markey, chairman, House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming - -

“It is vitally important that we show we are no longer turning a blind eye to the problem of climate change,” Markey told POLITICO. “The Obama administration will be able to say to the world, ‘We are no longer going to preach temperance from a bar stool; we are now ready to begin to make a commitment.’” Still it is possible Markey and dozens of other House members would be no-shows, if their presence was needed on Capitol Hill to vote on the health care bill. But if he makes it to Copenhagen with his colleagues, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Markey said, “our message will be that the Congress is committed to partnering with the Obama administration toward the goal of passing historic energy and climate legislation.”

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Our Lives Are Filled With Worthless Crap That's Destroying the Earth: Here's What You Can Do | Environment | AlterNet

The way to lower the quantity of energy required to make and distribute short-lived consumer goods is to make them durable, repairable and upgradable. And to buy less stuff. Now nearly everything is produced in China and made to be discarded. According to a 2008 report by the Economic Policy Institute, the United States imported $320 billion in Chinese goods in 2007. In that year alone, this country imported $26.3 billion in apparel and accessories, $108.5 billion in computers and electronic products, and $15.3 billion in furniture and fixtures from China. The manufacture, distribution and disposal of an ever-growing mountain of short-lived consumer goods has taken an enormous environmental toll. Annie Leonard’s website “The Story of Stuff,” which has garnered more than 7 million views in less than two years, has helped spread awareness of that cost far beyond the usual environmentalist circles. Functional obsolescence and fashion obsolescence.

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This Is George Bush's Recession: Why Doesn't Anybody Talk About That? | Politics | AlterNet

If the partisan tables were turned, the GOP would waste no time laying the blame on Democrats. According to the article "We" (aka "progressives"?) need to do the same to build political capital for key fights ahead. Modern conservatives "are descended from monarchists,” and have a "natural instinct to follow the king." Presumably, then, progressives are descended from rabble that can't agree? The article discusses a failure of the Democrats to do as the Republicans would do, there is a failure of Democrats to fall in line with President Obama's leadership and instead they are left free to kvetch. My question is whether it's better for the party in charge to practice message discipline and order in the ranks, or for free reigning democracy to engender an open and frank discussion from all quarters.

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BBC News - Solar panel costs 'set to fall'

The cost of installing and owning solar panels will fall even faster than expected according to new research. Tests show that 90% of existing solar panels last for 30 years, instead of the predicted 20 years. According to the independent EU Energy Institute, this brings down the lifetime cost. Incentive programmes for solar panels in Germany, Italy and Spain have created manufacturing volume that's bringing down costs. Solar panel prices dropped 30% last year alone due to an increase in output and a drop in orders because of the recession.

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Copenhagen climate conference: Emission impossible | Environment | The Guardian

According to this article the defining challenges of our time is climate change and "overcoming poverty" but that formulation leaves out the issue of peak oil aka energy supplies. The global society has gotten addicted to cheap energy, but that cheap energy is soon to become very expensive, which is a major challenge not addressed by the article. The article does a great job of posing these questions: Do we collaborate and act to reach a strong political agreement that both decisively cuts the devastating risks posed by climate change, and rapidly opens up the opportunities offered by low-carbon economic growth? Do we in that way set ourselves to overcome poverty and promote prosperity? Or, do we give way to narrow, short-term interests, quarrelling, lack of ambition and delay, thus allowing the risks to the climate to grow to dangerous levels which will derail development in both rich and poor countries?

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Naomi Klein: Why Rich Countries Should Pay Reparations To Poor Countries For The Climate Crisis | Environment | AlterNet

A grassroots movement says that the countries that created the climate crisis should pay for the costs of adapting to a more hostile ecology. The thesis seems to be that developing countries are being victimized by the advanced west. There is a lot of evidence to support that. NAOMI KLEIN: ...the climate crisis as we know was created in the industrialized world. There is a direct correlation between industrialization (what we call development) and carbon emissions. In fact, 75 percent of the historical carbon emissions have been produced by only 20 percent of the world's population. Then we have this cruel geographical irony, which is that the effects of climate change our felt overwhelmingly in the developing world, and the parts of the world that are least responsible for creating the crisis. According to the World Bank, 75-80 of the effects of climate change are being felt in the developing world. So, you have this inverse relationship between cause and effect.

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