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July 10th, 2008:

You there! Quit whining!

Here’s your quote of the day, courtesy of John McCain’s good buddy, Phil Gramm.

“You’ve heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession,” he said, noting that growth has held up at about 1 percent despite all the publicity over losing jobs to India, China, illegal immigration, housing and credit problems and record oil prices. “We may have a recession; we haven’t had one yet.”

“We have sort of become a nation of whiners,” he said. “You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline” despite a major export boom that is the primary reason that growth continues in the economy, he said.

I wonder if any of those whiners would describe themselves as being bitter? Maybe we could have a week-long media feeding frenzy to find out. Of course, Gramm was just taking a cue from McCain, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

TPM Election Central and Texas on the Potomac have more. And I love this quote on TPM:

I’m not even sure I know what it means to say you don’t agree with your chief economic advisor’s comments about the economy. If he is McCain’s chief economic advisor, what good is he?

Yeah, I know McCain isn’t obliged to take all of his advice but on something as critical as the state of the US economy wouldn’t you think he’s advising McCain on what the problems and solutions are?

So if he hasn’t told McCain he thinks the economic problems are all in our head what has he told him? If a candidates chief adviser differs so much from the candidate what value is he to McCain?

Yes, well, that’s what you get for having a charlatan like Phil Gramm on your team in the first place.

Capuano responds to Culberson

Rep. Mike Capuano, chair of the Committee on House Administration, who has come under steady assault from Rep. John Culberson and a growing number of Republican activists for his recent letter (PDF) on modifications to House rules concerning standards for official communications, fires back at his critics.

First, the ONLY item we seek to address is LOOSENING existing rules to allow Members to post videos as a first step toward making the rules meet our constituents’ expectations regarding how they communicate with us in the 21st century. This was completely ignored during the years that Republicans controlled Congress while the internet grew exponentially. It is currently against House rules to post video on any site with commercial or political advertising or to use taxpayer-funded resources to post outside of the House.gov domain.

We are not currently seeking to address anything other than video – not blog postings, online chats or any other written form of communication anywhere on the internet. Any assertion to the contrary is a lie. Perhaps the people spreading those lies should take some time to actually read the letter I wrote, which is attached below.

Our only concern is commercialization – not imposing limits on free speech. It is amazing to me that Republicans think they can obscure the issue with this completely false assertion.

[…]

NO ONE is suggesting changes to the rules regarding content of messages or what Members can post and any assertion to the contrary is inaccurate. My letter specifically and clearly states that in the fourth paragraph.

It should be noted that the Franking Commission began reviewing this specific issue when a Republican Member requested the rules be updated so that videos could be posted on outside sites. This Member originally applauded our efforts as “a step in the right direction”. I believe it is a step in the right direction; the first in what I hope will be an ongoing process to make the House rules meet the communications needs of the 21st century while balancing our responsibility for the appropriate use of government resources.

[…]

I hope this clarifies the issue for anyone following this temper tantrum by some of my colleagues. Thank you for reading this and for caring about the House of Representatives and how every American can be best engaged in our deliberations.

So there. From what I can see, Culberson isn’t backing down. Game on, y’all.

More recycling

Very good news: The City of Houston’s recycling program will now accept more types of plastic for both curbside pickup and recycling-center dropoff.

Up until now the plastic you could recycle was limited to mostly water bottles and plastic milk jugs, but now a whole range of things can be placed in the green box.

Whether you toss recyclables in the green bin for curbside pick-up or drop them off at City of Houston recycling centers, you can now recycle even more plastics than ever before – just take a look at the small triangle on your plastic containers. In the past, only plastics with a #1 or a #2 could be recycled. Now, if you see a #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, or #7, it can be recycled.

[…]

The City of Houston is already accepting the extra recycling material — for those who get curbside collection, simply place the plastics in the box.

“They are now allowing us to take those types of material, so we are excited to be able to take those materials and divert it from landfills,” City of Houston representative Marina Joseph said.

While the program is expanding, there are still a few things you cannot recycle.
If an item has a #6 in the middle of its triangular recycling symbol, do not put it in a green bin or bring it to a collection center.

This ban extends to a few other specific items as well.

“We will not accept furniture, toys or packaging material, and #6 plastics are like Styrofoam, so we are not accepting that material,” Joseph said.

Excellent. We buy a brand of apple juice for the girls that comes in a one gallon container made of #5 plastic, and it just kills me every time I put it in the garbage. I’m so glad I won’t have to do that again. Kudos to the city and its recycling program for making this happen.

By the way, if you want to know what the participation rate is for curbside recycling pickup where you live, you can find that information here. I’m happy to see that my neighborhood is above the citywide average, though there’s definitely room for both to grow.

More on the Twitter battle in Congress

Following up on yesterday’s post about the battle over Twitter (*) and other uses of social networking software from the floor of Congress, TechPresident’s Daily Digest tries to inject a little calm to counteract some of Rep. John Culberson’s fulminations.

We’ve been over the Capuano letter (pdf) with a fine-toothed comb, and it takes a great deal of extrapolation to see it as an assault on members’ use of tools like Twitter and Qik.

Well, such is the nature of politics. The thing is, Culberson is right to point out the shortcomings of Rep. Capuano’s proposals, which at least attempt to deal with the far greater shortcomings of the current House rules – rules that were adopted, as some people have noted, when the Republicans were in the majority – but he’s so desperate to spin this as a partisan attack on freedom and the Internets that he can’t seem to see that he’s needlessly arguing with people who’d be right there next to him if he’d just dial it back a bit. Go down into the comments of that TechDirt post, where Culberson gets into it with author Mike Masnick, who tries unsuccessfully to tell Culberson they’re “talking at cross purposes”, to see what I mean. For those of us more familiar with Rep. Culberson, all I can say is “welcome to our world, Mike”. Greg has more, as does that TechPresident link, which has a few other links that provide a GOP-friendly perspective.

(*) I can’t say “Twitter” and “battle” in the same sentence without thinking of Tweetle Beetles. This is what happens when you read a lot of bedtime stories to young children.

Pickens’ plan for wind and natural gas

Robert Boyd writes about T. Boone Pickens and his plan for wind and natural gas.

The plan, in a nutshell, is this. The U.S. should convert as much of its automobile fleet as possible from gasoline to compressed natural gas (CNG) as quickly as it can. The benefit is that we produce most of our natural gas domestically, whereas we import 70% of our oil–sending American dollars out of the country, into the grubby fists of various thugs, kleptocrats, fanatics, and all-around assholes. (There is also an environmental benefit, as natural gas burns cleaner than gasoline.)

But wait a minute? Don’t we already use every btu of gas that we produce already? Yep–about 22% of America’s electricity is generated with natural gas (not to mention homes that are heated with and cook with gas). So if we switch all that electricity-producing gas to vehicle-powering gas, where do we get the electricity from?

Boone’s answer is windmills. He believes that vast quantities of windmills, built north-to-south in the Great Plains, where wind blows down unimpeded from Canada, can produce that 22% of America’s electricity currently being produced by gas.

As a fan of wind energy, I mostly like the sound of this. There are certainly issues: Pickens is focused a bit too much on the fact that oil is mostly imported – one gets the impression that if we were still consuming mostly domestic oil, he wouldn’t care about this – and not on the environmental effects of oil consumption. Indeed, as we see in this YouTube clip, he’s perfectly happy to include things like coal – which wind energy should be replacing – in the equation to reduce oil imports, and he’d push for more offshore drilling of natural gas. Gas is also pretty much a peak product, so the swap from oil to CNG may be just replacing one problem with another. And finally, though it’s not directly on point, one cannot escape the fact that Boone is, to put it bluntly, a real sumbitch. One embraces someone like him with great hesitation.

Still, he’s right about the problem with oil, and it’s a good thing to see a genuine oilman like him baldly refute the moronic “Drill here, drill now” nonsense that some Republicans are pushing, as this more thorough critique points out. As I said, I’ve got some issues with his solution, but he’s correctly identified the problem, and I love seeing wind energy get a big boost. I think this sums it all up as well as anything:

Seriously, though, it’s great that gazillionaire TBP is talking up peak oil and joining the wind power bandwagon (see “Wind Power — A core climate solution”). And it’s great he plans to spend tens of millions of dollars pushing this idea and delivering the message that $15 billion dollars for the wind production tax credit is peanuts compared to the $700 billion this country is going to spend on foreign oil this year.

But if you want to displace oil, the obvious thing to do is [to use] wind power to charge plug-in hybrids (see “Plug-in hybrids and electric cars — a core climate solution”), multiple models of which will be introduced into the US car market in two years. Indeed, with electric utilities controlling the charging of the plug-ins, they can make optimum use of variable windpower, which is mostly available at night time. That would be win-win-win.

The Pickens Plan, however, is based on the utterly impractical idea that “Harnessing the power of wind to generate electricity will give us the flexibility to shift natural gas away from electricity generation and put it to use as a transportation fuel.”

Uhh, never gonna happen, T. Boone. Never. The most obvious reason is the gross inefficiency of the entire plan.

[…]

A 2002 analysis of why natural gas vehicles (NGVs) didn’t catch on was published in Energy Policy, “Commercializing an Alternate Vehicle Fuel: Lessons Learned From Natural Gas For Vehicles,” (subs. req’d). The study concluded, the environmental benefits of NGVs were oversold, as were the early cost estimates for both the vehicles and the refueling stations: “Early promoters often believe that ‘prices just have to drop’ and cited what turned out to be unachievable price levels.” The study concluded, “Exaggerated claims have damaged the credibility of alternate transportation fuels, and have retarded acceptance, especially by large commercial purchasers.”

So a large-scale switch to NGVs by consumers is not going to happen no matter what T. Boone does. But he could help accelerate windpower into the marketplace and for that alone he deserves some kudos.

Indeed. Let’s hope he takes the feedback to heart and runs with the best parts of his plan. He could make a big difference.

A rail plan for Central Texas

Outgoing State Rep. Mike Krusee, one of the biggest boosters of the Trans Texas Corridor in the Lege, is now an advocate for rail in and around Austin.

We should schedule an election now for a rail system based on three elements:

A downtown circulator: Wynn’s initiative to densify downtown has been successful, but could crumble unless people can move around downtown without cars.

The commuter rail stops at the Convention Center. For only $100 million (a lot of money but nonetheless a bargain for transportation infrastructure), an electric streetcar could move people to downtown work and entertainment destinations, the state office complex and the University of Texas.

Use existing rail Lines to Connect More Suburbs: Capital Metro owns track from the Convention Center east to Manor and Elgin. For less than $100 million, and in less than one year, we could provide rail service to desired development zones and to the developments springing up around Texas 130.

Any city in America would love to have such an opportunity: the existing track cuts the cost to a fraction and cuts the schedule by years.

Get to the airport: Capital Metro Chairman Lee Walker had the foresight to insist that our airport terminal be built to accommodate rail. Two routes are possible: a 2½ mile path across the Colorado River to downtown and Council Member Brewster McCracken’s proposed route along Riverside Drive.

Both are expensive, costing more than $200 million and $500 million, respectively. But compare that to building new roads; the Central Texas Turnpike cost over $3 billion.

Speaking to the National Conference of Mayors, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said, “Other governments are aggressively pursuing strategies to unlock the potential of their metro areas. To compete and win in our global economy, we have to show the same kind of leadership. Now is not the time for small plans.”

Nor is it the time for no plan at all.

That’s a pretty good vision, I think. Lord knows, anyone who tried to park during the Democratic Convention would have appreciated a non-car way to get to the Convention Center last month. Krusee’s proposal hits the obvious places, gets the suburbs involved, and uses existing resources, all of which should help build support. The mention of streetcars will probably make Mike Dahmus grind his teeth, but in context I think it makes some sense. I hope people get on board with what Krusee suggests.

By the way, the mention of Obama’s support for rail projects is instructive. Obama has been pushing transit support in a way that we just haven’t seen lately. It’ll be nice to have a President that’s from an urban area and is actually interested in urban policy matters as a priority, won’t it? Krusee link via EoW.

Three Dallas race overviews

Carolyn Barta of Dallasblog has been busy doing overviews of various races of interest in the Dallas area. Here she is on the race for HD112:

Two Asian-American women are competing to succeed State Rep. Fred Hill in District 112. Whichever candidate wins will claim the distinction of being the only Asian-American woman in the Texas Legislature. The candidates are Republican Angie Chen Button, 54, and Democrat Sandra VuLe, 39. Both women say they’ve had the opportunity to live the American dream. The contest should be a good test of the current partisan makeup of the district after longtime Republican dominance.

Here’s her take on HD102:

Longtime Republican State Rep. Tony Goolsby faces a challenge in November from Richardson School Board member Carol Kent in one of the more closely watched legislative districts in the state. Democrats need five seats to take the state House back from the GOP, and strategists regard District 102 in North Dallas as a possible pick-off seat. Goolsby had to fight off a feisty opponent in 2006 and 2004, and the Democrat candidate this time is more firmly rooted in the district, in addition to running in a more Democrat-friendly election year. She says education will be her big issue.

And on CD32.

Who better to challenge longtime GOP congressman Pete Sessions than a former Republican? At least that’s the rationale of Eric Roberson, a Dallas plaintiff’s and briefing attorney who lives in Plano, where he used to be a member of the Collin County Republican Men’s Club and was a state convention delegate. “I was Mr. Republican,” he said — even built an elephant float in his garage for an area parade. Two years ago, he switched parties and is running as a middle-of-the road Democrat who hopes to reach out to both sides of the aisle.

Check ’em out.