Friday, February 24, 2012

Did the Stimulus Work?

The next time that someone asks whether Obama's Recovery and Reinvestment Act worked, point them towards this helpful video., which outlines how gross domestic product, payroll, and employment all improved post-stimulus spending. I also found the graphics helpful in isolating just how successful President Obama's economic policies have been in turning around the Great Recession.

We know that interventionist economics are sometimes needed. Objectively speaking, the stimulus was absolutely needed in 2009 and successful in its eventual outcomes.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Natural Gas "Fracking": Public Enemy #1

We've been told that natural gas as an energy resource is a positive step towards the future and an environmentally-friendly energy source. Unfortunately, that is certainly not the case with the natural gas industry's use of "fracking," a horizontal drilling practice that injects chemicals and water miles underground in order to release natural gas. Currently, there is virtually no regulatory mechanism for keeping tabs on the environmental devastation caused by this practice.

recent article rightly points out some of the negative environmental repercussions and health issues associated with this practice: "There are many reports that identify negative effects from fracking, including: thepoisoning of wells, aquifers, streams and soil; the detrimental health effects to people living near the drilling sites." The article also cites a Cornell University study that found natural gas to be more harmful to the environment than even the dirty coal industry.

If you live anywhere near the mountains, then your state is probably complicit with the natural gas industry, and fracking is occurring in your backyard without any regulation. The Eastern section of the country has a massive natural gas reservoir called the Marcellus Shale, and drilling has begun in earnest in multiple states. Currently, my state of West Virginia has no environmental regulations to rein in the natural gas industry; fracking can and is occurring here and elsewhere, unfortunately. Further, as with the coal industry, many prominent politicians, including our governor, are "in bed" with the natural gas industry and do not favor any "pesky" regulations keeping tabs on it. Environmental problems have already occurred because of fracking, and regulation of this industry is desperately needed.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Appalachia Thanks the EPA (and The New York Times)

Last week, the EPA did its job and protected communities from the devastating effects of mountaintop removal by revoking a permit for the largest mountaintop removal operation in West Virginia, Spruce Knob. In an editorial in The New York Times, the writers rightly mentions "the beginning of the end of a mining practice that has caused huge environmental harm across Appalachia." Instead of miles of pristine mountain streams being destroyed from dumping the toxic coal refuse, this mountain will now be preserved, pending appeals by Arch Coal. In the past, the EPA has been toothless in enforcing its permits and the Clean Air Act in particular; this revoking of the Spruce Knob permit shows the EPA is finally enforcing its policies, policies that protect the public from environmentally-devastating practices.

Please join me in doing everything humanly possible to stop mountaintop removal, including contacting Senators Manchin and Rockefeller, both of whom have antiquated, pro-coal approaches on this issue.

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Monday, August 09, 2010

New Article on Virginia Graf in Charleston Gazette

In this weekend's Gazette, the Democratic challenger to Shelley Moore Capito finally gets some deserved notice in a fairly-decent biography and write-up. Graf has been an educator for the rural poor and has worked for social justice for much of her life. In the article, she mentions that West Virginia has been last in education rankings, in salaries, and in job opportunities for far too long. My sense is that she understands the value of government programs to rectify these systemic inequities, though a larger plan for addressing West Virginia's economic problems should be introduced.

There are two main issues that are key to West Virginia's betterment that contrast Graf's positions with Capito's. On the destructive practice of mountaintop removal, Graf opposes this environmentally-unsustainable practice while Capito supports any and everything associated with the coal industry. The second issues is health care. On health care, Capito voted against the weakened Democratic bill introduced in Congress, this despite it offering quality health care opportunities for tens of thousands of West Virginians. Graf, by contrast, supports "Medicare for all" from birth to death, a program which would eliminate the for-profit healthcare companies participation as health care providers. Graf's website clarifies her positions on these and other issues.

The Gazette article is a good start for introducing voters to Graf. But, as Graf mentions, voters deserve full press coverage of candidate's positions, and "grassroots campaigns" deserve just as much attention as the races that the major parties deem worthy of their financial support.

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Friday, July 09, 2010

Hope for Democrats in 2010: Possible Red-to-Blue Senate Seats

Conventional wisdom is that the ruling party generally loses seats in the first midterm election after a presidential race. I'm not arguing against this logic and do think that Democrats will lose house seats, though not control of the house. According to cqpolitics race ratings, there are currently 9 toss-up senate seats: 5 of which are Democratic, while 4 are Republican.

The superiority of Democratic policies over Republican ones, from favoring environmental protection to ushering in new, landmark health care reform bill, are not in question. The recurring problem for Democrats has been an inability to articulate our policies in clear, unambiguous ways -- soundbites that present a somewhat unified policy equivalent to, say, the Republicans call for limited government. But a pragmatist must also concede that historical forces and national mood sometimes trump policy superiority; the midterm elections could be rough.

Not all is lost, though. These Republican-held senate seats are definitely winnable for Democrats:

1). Kentucky. Attorney General Jack Conway is running against Tea Party extremist Rand Paul. Kentucky, on a local level, still has many Democrats in power, and this race will be one that reflects local issues and concerns -- not as much a national race. Conway comes across as downright moderate compared to Paul's philosophy on social security and corporate protectionism. Recent polling even has the race tied. If this race is a referendum on Paul, then Conway wins.

2). New Hampshire. Congressman Paul Hodes is the Democrat running against former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte. Obama won New Hampshire by 10 points, and the state has been trending Democratic in every major election in recent years. Hodes is relatively popular, and the Republican Party is a tarnished brand in the Granite State. Ayotte is a conservative on cultural issues, which doesn't bode well once voters get to know her views better.

3). Ohio With Senator Voinovich's retirement, this open seat, a race between Republican Rob Portman and Democratic Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher, becomes perhaps the most competitive in the nation. Portman was a Bush foot soldier and represents some very unpopular right-wing policies; he has amassed an impressive campaign chest thus far, though. Fisher needs to remind voters that Republican policies helped send Ohio manufacturing jobs overseas and ensure that he and Governor Strickland have a unified Democratic ticket.

4). Missouri Here, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan is running against Congressman Roy Blunt for Senator Bond's open senate seat. Carnahan has the name recognition in this state which recently elected a female Democrat for its other senate seat. Bond has a lobbyist history that should hurt him, too.

Other Republican-held seats that Democrats should target: 1) Florida. Even if Crist wins, he could be persuaded to vote with the Democrats. 2). North Carolina. Elaine Marshall is a strong candidate in this state which has voted Democratic in recent years. 3) Louisiana. Charlie Melancon is a strong candidate in his challenge to David Vitter.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mountaintop Removal and Coal Company "Reclamation"

One of the great and underreported environmental travesties of our time is the destruction of hundreds of mountains in Appalachia by mountaintop removal, a form of strip mining that leaves devastating environmental consequences for local communities. But if one listens to the coal industry, one of the recurring arguments for mountaintop removal is that the destroyed and leveled mountaintops are "reclaimed," that is, used for economic and agricultural purposes afterwards. According to a new study by Appalachian Voices and the National Resources Defense Council, over 89% of destroyed mountaintops are not used for any economic purposes whatsoever, despite claims to the contrary.

Using their handy map below, one can view the nearly 500 mountains in Appalachia forever destroyed by mountaintop removal, as well as the scant few that have been used for economic or agricultural rebuilding. One more lie perpetuated by the anti-mountain coal industry has been debunked. Isn't it time we stop the horrific practice of mountaintop removal?


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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Stopping Mountaintop Removal in Appalachia

Before moving to West Virginia, I thought I had encountered some of the worst types of pollution and environmental devastation, from nuclear waste being dumped in South Carolina to massive toxic sites in New Jersey. Though those are indeed horrific, mountaintop removal in Appalachia almost assuredly is the most environmentally-destructive practice I've seen.

Mountaintop removal begins with blasting an entire mountain with high levels of explosives in order to get to the rich coal underneath. Essentially, the remaining mountain dirt and debris is dumped into adjacent valleys and hollows -- and streams --, thus destroying not only the mountains but also vital Appalachian streams and rivers. Coal ash is kept in "sludge" ponds nearby; there are hundreds of such toxic ponds in Appalachia left over from mountaintop removal and coal industry practices in general. Such sludge ponds have overflowed in Kentucky before, wreaking havoc on the environment and surrounding communities.

I strongly believe that mountaintop removal is a crime against humanity and the environment that must be stopped. Collective Appalachian and national organizations must continue to be the watchdog for this destructive coal industry practice and help bring people together for environmental activism.

There's a highly informative video from the organization "I Love Mountains" that highlights this destructive practice.

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