Saturday, February 14, 2009

NADA report proves California waiver would create regulatory patchwork

NADA report proves California waiver would create regulatory patchwork, by Marlo Lewis
February 13, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

A front-burner issue facing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson is whether to grant a waiver under the Clean Air Act allowing the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to implement first-ever greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards for new motor vehicles. Thirteen other states are poised to adopt the CARB program if Jackson grants the waiver. In all, about 40% of the U.S. auto market would come under the CARB rules.

Jackson’s predecessor, Stephen Johnson, rejected CARB’s application in December 2007. His reasons, published in the Federal Register in March 2008, may be summarized as follows. EPA’s historic practice has been to grant CARB waiver requests to address air pollution threats arising from circumstances specific to California–its topography, regional meteorology, and number of vehicles. In contrast, global climate change is, well, global. Conditions associated with global climate change in California are not sufficiently different from those in other states to justify a separate emissions program.

This argument, which is tantamount to saying that EPA won’t allow CARB to combat global warming because global warming is bad for people everywhere, predictably elicited scorn from California politicians and environmental groups.

Patchwork Proven,” a new report by the National Association of Automobile Dealers (NADA), presents two compelling arguments against granting the waiver that Johnson should have made.
First, granting the waiver would violate the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), which prohibits states from adopting laws or regulations “related to fuel economy.” Yes, I’m well aware that in Central Valley Chrysler-Jeep, Inc. v. Goldstone (2006), the U.S. District Court for Eastern California held that EPCA does not preempt CARB from establishing GHG standards for new motor vehicles. However, the Court’s reasoning was spurious, and Johnson should not have given it a free pass.

The CARB emissions program is essentially fuel economy regulation by another name. CO2 comprises 97% of the GHG emissions from motor vehicles. Since there is no commercial technology for capturing or filtering out motor vehicle CO2 emissions, the chief way to decrease CO2-equivalent grams per mile (that’s how the CARB GHG standards are calibrated) is to decrease fuel consumption per mile, i.e., increase fuel economy.

As “Patchwork Proven” points out, the relationship between fuel economy and tailpipe CO2 emissions is so close that EPA tests compliance with federal fuel economy standards by measuring vehicular CO2 emissions. The bottom line: “Absent a significant increase in new vehicle fleet fuel economy, it is impossible to comply with CARB’s regulation.” So the CARB emissions program is substantially “related to fuel economy.” As such, it is prohibited by EPCA.

Alas, in this day and age of judicial activism and global warming hysteria, we should not expect Jackson to pay heed to the spirit of EPCA. However, she and other Obama Administration officials should be worried about havoc that the waiver would wreak on the distressed U.S. auto industry.

CARB and its allies repeatedly deny that granting the waiver would create a regulatory “patchwork,” with automakers required to comply in different ways in different states. According to them, there would be at most two programs: the federal program and the California program. A dual system of regulating air pollution from vehicles has been in place since the start of the Clean Air Act. Vehicles built to federal standards are “federal cars” and vehicles built to CARB standards are “California cars.” Automakers have had no trouble building cars that meet two different emission standards. Promulgating GHG emission standards would merely update a system that has worked well for decades, CARB contends.

The fundamental flaw in this argument is that CO2 is not like the air-quality damaging pollutants subject to existing EPA and CARB emission standards. For smog-forming pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, both EPA and CARB specify how many grams per mile individual vehicles may emit. That’s not how CARB regulation of GHG emissions would work. There would not be two types of vehicles, “California” and “federal.” Rather, the CARB standards specify the CO2-equivalent grams per mile that each automaker must attain on average for the fleet it delivers for sale. In other words, the CARB program implicitly specifies fleet-average fuel economy.

This is a radical departure from previous EPA and CARB emission standards, and it inexorably produces a regulatory patchwork.

Here’s why. Consumer preferences and the corresponding mix of vehicles delivered for sale differ from state to state. For example, in 2007, the Dodge Ram (with a fuel economy rating of 18.7 mpg) accounted for 20.66% of all Chrysler vehicles sold in California, but only 9.46% of all Chrysler vehicles sold in Rhode Island, and 8.43% in New Jersey. In contrast, the Jeep Grand Cherokee (with a fuel economy rating of 20.2 mpg), accounted for only 5.23% of Chrysler vehicles sold in California but 11.23% of Chrysler vehicles sold in Rhode Island, and 16.26% in New Jersey.

The number and percentage of vehicle models an auto company “delivers for sale” differ from state to state. For any auto fleet, no two states are likely to have the same average fuel economy or CO2-equivalent grams per mile.

Thus, to comply with the CARB standards, automakers would have to adjust the “mix” of vehicles offered for sale in each state adopting those standards. In each such state, an automaker would have to “deliver for sale” enough vehicles with CO2-equivalent per mile (fuel economy) ratings above the CARB standard to offset vehicles delivered for sale with ratings below. The “mix-shuffling” required for compliance in State A would likely be different from that required for compliance in State B, C, and so on.

Note that the CARB program would create a vehicle-rationing patchwork even if there were no competing federal fuel economy standards. As the NADA report puts it, “If CARB’s regulation were to take effect in all 50 states, the resulting 50-state patchwork would require automakers to manage 50 unique state fleets and to individually meet CARB’s standard 50 different ways.”

Since the current mix in each state is determined by consumer preference, the adjusted mix would clash with consumer preference. The most likely compliance strategy would involve “rationing larger vehicles, discounting smaller models for quick sale, or other pricing strategies that distort the market,” the NADA report warns. Is that any way to rescue the auto industry?

Adding insult to injury, it’s not even clear that the CARB standards would achieve any significant reduction in emissions. CARB claims that adoption of its standards by 13 states would eliminate 59% more CO2 emissions in 2020 than would compliance with federal fuel economy rules. But companies forced to “deliver for sale” smaller, lighter, more fuel-economical vehicles in the CARB states would be allowed, under the federal fuel economy program, to sell more large, heavy, gas-guzzling vehicles in non-CARB states.

Moreover, if CARB rules restrict the supply and increase the cost of gas-guzzlers “delivered for sale” in California, for example, Californians would still be free to buy lower-priced gas guzzlers in Nevada and bring them back home. Emissions in California might go down somewhat, but auto sales, jobs, and tax revenues might go down even faster.

California politicians and environmental lobbyists talk about the CARB emissions program as if it were the greatest thing since sliced bread. Lisa Jackson would be well advised to read “Patchwork Proven” before deciding on CARB’s waiver request.

Canadian Freedom Seen From the US

Canadian Freedom, by Will Wilkinson
February 11, 2009

Whenever I say nice things about Canada, some people get annoyed. After all, they have socialized medicine and are more inclined to regulate certain kinds of speech. But these are anecdotes. If looks for anecdotes on the lack of freedom in the U.S., one becomes buried in them. If I look at actual indices that attempt, however imperfectly, to measure various freedoms, the U.S. and Canada come out pretty much identical on a classical liberal conception of freedom. And Canada comes out ahead on contemporary capabilities conceptions of positve liberty. To my mind, the evidence pretty strongly supports the conclusion that Canada is at least as free as the United States. Why is this a problem for some Americans?

It’s true that the U.S. has in many ways a more libertarian culture and political tradition than does Canada. But then isn’t it all the more interesting to note that, despite America’s unique “land of the free” self-conception, we’re no more free than Canadians? I feel strongly that American culture is more varied, alive, weirder, synthetic, and creative than probably any other. This is in part because of, and not despite, the odd conservative and religions strands in American culture. And it is a culture especially amenable to all sorts of entrepreneurial experiments, which gives American culture a level of innovation and vitality (including countless varieties of religious weirdness) that I think partly explains why it is the world’s dominant exporter of culture. And I think the U.S.’s wealth relative to other countries is actually underestimated. We are astoundingly rich (recession or no recession) and this is a place of crazy opportunity. So I think the U.S. does better in positive liberty terms than it sometimes gets credit for.

But that doesn’t begin to mean that we live up to our reputation for the kind of liberty classical liberals tend to care about. My sense is that some American libertarians have a vague sense that if Canada really was more free, then they should want to move there. But they emphatically don’t want to move to Canada. My diagnosis is that many libertarians prefer to live in a place where it easy to find others who share their individualistic and libertarian values over living in a place where they would actually be more free, but would feel more culturally alienated.

Germany, Russia, and US foreign policy

The New Ostpolitik, by Melana K. Zyla
America's German problem.
The Weekly Standard, Feb 16, 2009, Volume 014, Issue 21

No sooner had Russia turned off the gas flowing through Ukrainian pipelines in the first days of the new year, sending tens of thousands of Europeans into a deep freeze, than German economy minister Michael Glos pointed out that "if we already had the Nord Stream pipeline," which would bypass Ukraine, flowing from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, "then we in Germany, at least, would be a little more reassured."

The official desire to replace the current Russia-Ukraine pipeline with a Russia-Germany pipeline says a great deal about how Germany sees the gas dispute, and other global issues as well: Get the small fry--Balts, Poles, Ukrainians, and other former Russian suzerainties--out of the way and let Moscow and Berlin restore some Ordnung to things. In the January crisis, Russia cut off gas heading west to Ukrainian pipelines after Ukraine and Russia disagreed over what penalty Ukraine owes Russia for disputed late payment fees, and what the price of the gas should be now that global prices have fallen.

Glos's comment underscores to what degree Berlin has entered a new era of shared interests with Moscow and divergence from Washington. Incoming administration officials would be wise to recognize that on issues ranging from the gas dispute to Eastern Europe to Afghanistan and Iran, the Germany of today is not the partner the United States once had.

President Bush learned that lesson the hard way. His administration at first hailed Germany's Christian Democratic Union chancellor, Angela Merkel, as a foreign-policy soulmate, akin to France's Nicolas Sarkozy. But on issue after issue, she fell short of expectations.

Consider Bush's efforts to expand NATO. In the run-up to a NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels in early December, Merkel publicly torpedoed Ukraine and Georgia's chances to proceed towards membership. Her government did the same last spring, ahead of the Bucharest NATO meeting. Both times, news of Germany's opposition coincided with Merkel's visits with Russian leaders, who vociferously oppose Ukraine and Georgia's inclusion in NATO.

Russia's influence "is unfortunate because all of us have said no third party gets a veto" in NATO matters, says Daniel Fata, deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy during Bush's second term. As for Afghanistan, Germany in October announced the withdrawal of its only combat troops there--some 100 special operations soldiers. It plans to expand only its NATO peacekeeping force, to 4,500, and thereby add to the risk of creating what Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called a "two-tier alliance," in which only the United States and a few other NATO countries do the fighting. Germany's own soldiers don't think much of their restricted, noncombat missions, with Ger-many's top special operations general, Hans-Christoph Ammon, calling his country's training of an Afghan police force a "miserable failure" and adding that at Germany's current rate of effort and financing, "it would take 82 years to have a properly trained Afghan police force." Indeed, the United States has had to take over Germany's police-training mission.

Merkel supporters try to explain her weakness as a result of her sharing power with the left-leaning Social Democratic party. Yet Labour-led Britain has 8,050 troops in Afghanistan, many of them in combat roles.

Which raises the question: With German conservatives like these, who needs Socialist pacifists? In 2006, after a newly elected Merkel gave a tough speech on making the trans-Atlantic relationship her priority, "we had hoped that we would see a big change" from the anti-American politics of the outgoing Social Democratic chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, says Fata. Instead, "there was a lot of disappointment on our side."

And there's the prospect of more disappointment to come. Merkel is now in an election year in which she will face off against Frank-Walter Steinmeier, her foreign minister and vice-chancellor from the Social Democratic party. Until the September vote, she's likely to channel Steinmeier's views, particularly the pro-Moscow ones. That's because she wants "to avoid having Russia [be] a topic of the election campaign," says Joerg Himmelreich, transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

German voters don't like Vladimir Putin, says Himmelreich, a former policy-planning staffer at the German foreign ministry and banker in Moscow. But as Fata puts it, "Germany and Russia are always going to have a special relationship," not least because of Germany's dependency on Russian energy and large amounts of trade with Russia.

Of course, Germany's Christian Democrats often showed great solidarity with Washington, even in the face of solicitousness from Moscow, during the Cold War. But even if Merkel's party regains a majority in 2009, that tradition may be gone for good. For one thing, the party's base is German industry, which is now heavily invested in Russia and dependent on Russian gas. Germany gets one-third of its gas from Russia, and will be dependent on that source for years--even if it does develop alternatives. Moreover, German companies and the political class are heavily tied to the Nord Stream pipeline project, which is controlled by Russia's state-owned energy giant Gazprom.

Indeed, gas is the leading means through which Moscow manipulates Berlin. Gazprom's gas cutoffs this January, like those in 2006, prompted Germans and other West Europeans to see Ukraine as an unstable partner that gets in the way of their economic needs: Cut Ukraine out of the relationship, and things will be golden is the message from Moscow.

In Russia's gas politics with Germany, the most powerful connection of all is between Gazprom and former chancellor Schröder. He chairs the $16 billion Nord Stream project, which is 51 percent owned by Gazprom. Schröder's service to Gazprom may be the most disturbing illustration of Moscow's influence on German elites ("It has never happened in German history that a chancellor acts as an agent of a foreign company that doesn't always follow the interests of Germany," says Himmelreich), but it's hardly the only one. Himmelreich says Berlin's foreign policy think tanks are pressured by Moscow. Even the prestigious German Council on Foreign Relations, he says, has been pressed not to invite Putin critics or Russian opposition voices to its events.

The head of the Council's Russia program, Alexander Rahr, confirmed that there have been occasions when "official Russia criticized us," but added, "we never adjusted our themes and seminars to their wishes."

Beyond Russia, there's a gap between Germany's tough rhetoric and action on Iran as well. While Merkel and Steinmeier have been critical of Iran's nuclear ambitions and blocked Germany's biggest banks from doing business there, Germany's economic relations with Iran continue to grow. With annual trade between the two now over $7 billion, Germany is Iran's biggest EU trading partner.

Berlin's interests now diverge from Washington's on several key issues. The new administration's best chance to lead on issues of concern to Europe will therefore be to play Europeans off each other the way Moscow does, Himmelreich says. For example, "German policy towards Russia will be considerably weakened if the United States succeeds in getting Sarkozy onboard for a new Russia policy." The United States should support energy transport routes for Europe that bypass Russia, such as those that tap Central Asian energy, and be wary of Gazprom's efforts to gain control of gas interests in North Africa, which remain an alternative source for Western Europe. Himmelreich says the United States should also push Europeans to improve their military capabilities.

On NATO, the United States will need to continue to push to bring Georgia and Ukraine into the fold. Otherwise, Russia will control the issue, using Germany to represent its interests. How strongly Berlin will ultimately embrace Moscow isn't clear. But as the gas and NATO disputes show, the two are now more tightly linked than they have been in decades.

Melana K. Zyla is a reporter in Washington.

Don't Dumb Down Afghanistan. Lower expectations would lead to lesser results

Don't Dumb Down Afghanistan, by Gary Schmitt & Daniel Twining
Lower expectations would lead to lesser results.
The Weekly Standard, Feb 23, 2009, Volume 014, Issue 22

Reading tea leaves is a dangerous business when it comes to a new administration. There is always a fair amount of floundering around that comes from having too few senior people in place, unsettled -policymaking processes, and indecision over which campaign promises to keep and which to toss overboard.

Take, for example, the Obama administration's policy toward Afghanistan. While running for president, Barack Obama promised that help was on its way in the form of thousands of additional troops; now President Obama appears to have put his own promised surge on hold.
The ostensible reason is that the new administration wants to have a thorough review of Afghan policy before making that decision. On its face, reasonable enough-although America's civilian and military agencies spent much of last year undertaking such reviews in order to recommend policy options to the new administration.

Nonetheless, comments from senior administration officials in recent days suggest that "the review" might already have its conclusion in hand: U.S. goals for Afghanistan will be trimmed and the size of our commitment limited. The new buzz words being tossed around by administration strategists and military advisers are realism, attainable, end game, and even "How do we get out?"

The crux of the matter is that while candidate Obama could claim the Bush administration had taken its eye off the 9/11 ball when it went to war with Iraq, once Obama's own eye turned to Afghanistan, he discovered a difficult conflict that will require a generational commitment and sustained investment in building civilian and military institutions. Faced with that fact, it appears President Obama might blink, not wanting to own a war that could possibly eat up his administration's time and energy and which liberals in his own party are losing the stomach to prosecute.

This is ironic. Opponents of invading Iraq portrayed Afghanistan as "the good war," and the necessary one. And there is no question that Saddam Hussein's armies were more formidable military opponents than its cave-dwelling Taliban counterparts. Now, however, as in Alice's Wonderland, everything is upside down: Iraq has become the winnable war, and Afghanistan the quagmire.

But is lowering the bar in Afghanistan a workable strategy? Does de-emphasizing the building of a capable, democratic Afghan state, moving away from a full-scale counterinsurgency effort, and focusing instead on keeping the Taliban and al Qaeda at bay lead, in Vice President Biden's words, to "a stable Afghanistan that is not a haven for terrorists"? More likely it results in an Afghanistan that is unstable, balkanized, and home to more, not fewer, terrorists. The real, on-the-ground choice is between a democratic Afghanistan whose governance extends throughout the whole country or no legitimate government at all, with every man, family, tribe, and ethnic group looking out for its own.

In a balkanized Afghanistan, cooperation between U.S. and Afghan security forces will be uncertain and make the job of rooting out radical Taliban and al Qaeda elements more difficult. In such an Afghanistan, the Taliban, with access to millions upon millions in drug money and willing to be as ruthless as necessary, will have the upper hand when it comes to securing the "cooperation" of the Afghan population.

Perhaps a stratagem of lowered expectations might work if the United States were willing to act as Britain did when it was the colonial power. But how likely is that? Would either the American public or its military support trying to establish a balance of power within Afghanistan by playing off one warlord or tribe against another? It seems doubtful. And, lest we forget, in the end it didn't work for the British either.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is right to say that "if we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of Central Asian Valhalla [in Afghanistan], we will lose." But that is a straw man: No one expects Afghanistan to become, as the phrase was often used by critics in Iraq, some sort of "Jeffersonian democracy." Nevertheless, failing to establish a functioning and accountable Afghan state, as difficult as that may be, is a recipe for losing the war.

A minimalist military surge, as some within the administration are advocating, cannot succeed in securing our strategic goal of an Afghanistan able to deny safe haven to terrorists. A pseudo-surge of this sort, followed by trimming our commitment, will send exactly the wrong signals to (1) the Taliban, who know they only have to wait us out, (2) our allies, many of whom are already looking for ways to edge away from the mission, (3) Afghanistan's neighbors, including Iran and Pakistan, who will intensify their support for the Taliban or other tribal factions so as to secure their interests, and (4) the Afghan people, who will find it increasingly risky to cooperate with the Afghan government and international forces if it appears that the Taliban will outlast both.

At the recent Munich Security Conference, General David Petraeus, former commanding general in Iraq and now Central Command's lead officer, laid out a sensible strategy. In his words, the Afghan people are the decisive "terrain" in this struggle-implying that a focus on finding and fighting Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents is viewing the problem from the wrong end of the telescope. Our strategy, instead, must focus on protecting the population and connecting them with the Afghan state. Giving short shrift to that mission-by failing to put sufficient boots on the ground, provide the level of assistance needed, implement a comprehensive civil-military campaign plan, tackle pervasive corruption, or invest in building Afghan governing capacity-will only make it more likely that we will face a resurgent Taliban and al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan.

As difficult as all this might be, the particular irony in the administration's possibly emerging verdict that building a democratic state in Afghanistan is too hard is that Afghans themselves disagree. Recent polling by the Asia Foundation shows that, despite insecurity and misgovernance, 78 percent of Afghans still believe democracy is the best form of government, and 65 percent believe free and fair elections can deliver a better future. But only 38 percent of Afghans believe their country is moving in the right direction-because of the pervasive insecurity and corruption that characterize life there today. Afghans have not given up on democracy; it would be a sad and self-defeating commentary if we did.

Gary Schmitt is director of the program on advanced strategic studies at the American Enterprise Institute and Daniel Twining is senior fellow for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Remember Rev. Wright? A colleague of his has just been added to the roster of the Obama administration

Remember Rev. Wright?, by Meghan Clyne
A colleague of his has just been added to the roster of the Obama administration.
The Weekly Standard, Feb 23, 2009, Volume 014, Issue 22

Back in May, when the furor over Jeremiah Wright threatened to derail the Obama campaign, the candidate mournfully explained his decision to leave the controversial Trinity United Church of Christ. "We don't want to have to answer for everything that's stated in a church," Obama said. "On the other hand, we don't want to have a church subjected to the scrutiny that a presidential campaign legitimately undergoes." After Obama parted from Wright, the preacher and Trinity United became the campaign issue that dared not speak its name.

Now the campaign is over and so, it appears, is the scrutiny--for the new president has just made a personnel decision that reopens the entire issue. Earlier this month, he appointed the Reverend Dr. Otis Moss Jr. to serve on the new President's Advisory Council established as part of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The official White House press release notes that Moss is the pastor emeritus of Cleveland's Olivet Institutional Baptist Church. Not noted, however, are Moss's many ties to Trinity and its troublesome former pastor.

To begin with, Moss's son, Reverend Otis Moss III, succeeded Wright at Trinity. The younger preacher is known for his own fiery sermons and for likening the backlash against Wright to a "public lynching." The new member of the Obama administration, though, has plenty of ties to Wright on his own. Otis Moss Jr. and Wright shared a mentor in Samuel DeWitt Proctor, who helped give rise to black liberation theology. In fact, it was the radical Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference that sponsored Wright's now-infamous National Press Club appearance in late April 2008--which led to Obama's break with Trinity and Wright. Less noted was the fact that the symposium's guest preacher that day was Reverend Otis Moss Jr. Moss has publicly defended Wright and compared his preaching to that of Amos, Micah, Malachi, and John the Baptist.

Moss's closeness to Wright is expressed most clearly in the 40-minute tribute sermon he preached from Trinity's pulpit on the occasion of Wright's 36th anniversary at the church in February 2008. Of Wright, Reverend Moss said: "All of us who know him and love him have been blessed by his genius, his creativity, his scholarship, his discipleship, his sensitivity as an artist, his boldness as a prophet, and, I agree, his rhythmic poetry." This homage came long after Wright's hit parade of sound-bites: "God Damn America" .  .  . "America's chickens are coming home to roost" . . . "Bill did us like he did Monica Lewinsky." Poetry indeed.

Even more interesting, perhaps, is Moss's own rhetoric. He is a political preacher and has said, "If you are preaching a gospel that has nothing about politics, nothing about economics, nothing about sociology, you are preaching an empty gospel with a cap and shoes but no body to it." His sermons at Olivet are hard to come by. But from public lectures, one concludes that, while his style is more subdued than Wright's (or his own son's) and his themes more benign, there are still plenty of comments that call into question his suitability for government service. Take, for instance, this observation made at Yale in October 2004:

You have heard that it was said, "God bless America." But I say unto you, Pray for all of the Osama bin Ladens and the Saddam Husseins. . . . I say unto you, Be kind, be as kind to Castro as you are to the Saudi family and the leaders of China and Russia. This, however, is difficult in a society . . . when we are afflicted or infected with hubris. It's almost an incurable disease--incurable not because of despair, but because of arrogance.

A spokesman for Moss explains that he meant his audience to "understand that you must 'pray for your enemies' and those that would do you harm. No more, no less." So in the spirit of Christ's admonition to turn the other cheek, Moss wants us to pray for those who have killed thousands of American citizens within the last decade. Yet he's still holding a 400-year-old grudge against the settlers of Jamestown. In a panel discussion on "the State of the Black Union" with Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, on the occasion of Jamestown's quadricentennial, Moss noted:

When we think of Jamestown, we must see the triple holocaust that came out of Jamestown . . . that African holocaust, that Native American holocaust, that African-American holocaust. And until we deal with that and place it in the collective memories of our own history, and the wider history of the world, we are in a state of denial--often celebrating when we need to be correcting the propaganda of history.

Moss was loudly opposed to American action in Iraq, a theme woven throughout his lectures and writings. In a book coauthored with Jeremiah Wright, Moss explained:

I know where the weapons of mass destruction are, and they are not the ones we went looking for in Iraq. I know where they are, and you know where they are! According to statistics, AIDS is a weapon of mass destruction. Miseducation and no education are weapons of mass destruction. Forty-four million people without health care is a weapon of mass destruction.

Even the experiences of day-to-day life in America draw Reverend Moss's ire. Air travel? "Now when I go to the airport I have to take off my shoes--not because the ground is holy ground, but because of a man somewhere in a cave that we can't find." A long drive? "You can travel from New York to California and listen carefully to radio or media and never get outside of the beam of hate." Not even classic films are safe: In a tag-team sermon with his son, Moss assumed the persona of a 21st-century Moses, then proceeded to declare the Jewish prophet a man of "Afrocentric heritage"--despite "Eurocentric Hollywood movie distortions of [his] Africanness." (Take that, Cecil B. De-Mille.) Moss also seems to enjoy sowing racial discord. At the "State of the Black Union" conference in Jamestown, he accused President Bush of "pimping New Orleans."

Given the enormous backlash he endured over his connections to Wright, Trinity, and black liberation theology, one wonders why Obama tapped Moss to serve on the President's Advisory Council. At least three other members--Fred Davie of Public/Private Ventures; Dr. William J. Shaw of the National Baptist Convention; and Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie, the first woman bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church--bring what might be called a black perspective to the council's work. With Wright, Obama could at least argue that his affiliation with the pastor was a personal matter of private faith. Yet by appointing Moss, Obama has given him the imprimatur of the White House and a position from which to help shape public policy. While Moss and other members of the faith-based President's Advisory Council aren't paid, they are entitled to public funds for travel costs, per-diem expenses, and support staff. They can hold hearings and form task forces. And of course, they can guide the work of Obama's faith-based office as it directs public funding to religious and community groups.

Perhaps the quiet installation of Moss is part of a grander design for the faith-based office: to make it a mechanism for nationwide "community organizing." In 1995, Obama told the Chicago Reader:

In every church on Sunday in the African-American community we have this moral fervor; we have energy to burn. But as soon as church lets out, the energy dissipates. We must find ways to channel all this energy into community building. The biggest failure of the civil-rights movement was in failing to translate this energy, this moral fervor, into creating lasting institutions and organizational structures.

By tapping the likes of Moss to help steer his faith-based policies, Obama could be using the White House to "translate the energy" of black churches into "creating lasting institutions" of left-wing political agitation. A look at the other members of the advisory council certainly supports this interpretation. Vashti McKenzie is another proponent of black liberation theology, and another friend and defender of Jeremiah Wright who has preached at Trinity United. Jim Wallis also publicly supported Wright and has even been an inspiration to the reverend. In his National Press Club speech, Wright quoted Wallis as saying "America's sin of racism has never even been confessed, much less repented for." In an earlier life, Wallis once said he hoped "more Christians will come to view the world through Marxist eyes." In recent years he has settled for working through congressional Democrats, helping them make their policies more palatable to people of faith. Wallis has been joined in that task by Rabbi David Saperstein--another prominent liberal and member of the new faith-based advisory council.The council looks like nothing so much as an attempt to build a powerful political grassroots network to advance the liberal causes dear to Obama's heart.

The ironic humor in the whole thing is that back when it was President Bush's White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Moss warned other pastors:

Sometimes the king will call you up even out of your dungeon and ask: "Is there any word from the Lord?" . . . If we are tied to the stuff of the king, it is difficult to tell the president--or the king [laughter]--it's difficult. . . . It's difficult if you are tied to a "faith-based grant" [more laughter] and your whole sustaining budget is contingent upon the next appropriation. When the question comes up, "Is there any word from the Lord?" you might have to say, "Wait, let me check with the board. Let me check with the budget committee."

Now that he is in a position to shape where those faith-based grants go, one suspects Moss will be singing a different tune.

Meghan Clyne is a writer based in Washington, D.C.

Weekly address by the federal president on ARRA: A major milestone

A major milestone
Whitehouse, Saturday, February 14th, 2009 at 5:30 am

Today President Obama is celebrating the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as a "major milestone on our road to recovery," while still emphasizing that we have many miles yet to go."

This historic step won't be the end of what we do to turn our economy around, but the beginning," he says in his weekly address. To get us there, he invokes President Kennedy, who said, "

Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks."

President Obama acknowledges that some people are skeptical about the plan given how Washington has performed in the past, which is why he's encouraging people to check back at -- the site where, once the plan is in action, you'll be able to track the funds."

Utlimately, this is your money, and you deserve to know where it's going and how it's spent," he says.

Watch the address here. Full transcript:

This week, I spent some time with Americans across the country who are hurting because of our economic crisis. People closing the businesses they scrimped and saved to start. Families losing the homes that were their stake in the American Dream. Folks who have given up trying to get ahead, and given in to the stark reality of just trying to get by.

They’ve been looking to those they sent to Washington for some hope at a time when they need it most.

This morning, I’m pleased to say that after a lively debate full of healthy difference of opinion, we have delivered real and tangible progress for the American people.

Congress has passed my economic recovery plan – an ambitious plan at a time we badly need it. It will save or create more than 3.5 million jobs over the next two years, ignite spending by business and consumers alike, and lay a new foundation for our lasting economic growth and prosperity.

This is a major milestone on our road to recovery, and I want to thank the Members of Congress who came together in common purpose to make it happen. Because they did, I will sign this legislation into law shortly, and we’ll begin making the immediate investments necessary to put people back to work doing the work America needs done.

The work of modernizing our health care system, saving billions of dollars and countless lives; and upgrading classrooms, libraries, and labs in our children’s schools across America.

The work of building wind turbines and solar panels and the smart grid necessary to transport the clean energy they create; and laying broadband internet lines to connect rural homes, schools, and businesses to the information superhighway.

The work of repairing our crumbling roads and bridges, and our dangerously deficient dams and levees.

And we’ll help folks who’ve lost their jobs through no fault of their own by providing the unemployment benefits they need and protecting the health care they count on.

Now, some fear we won’t be able to effectively implement a plan of this size and scope, and I understand their skepticism. Washington hasn’t set a very good example in recent years. And with so much on the line, it’s time to begin doing things differently.

That’s why our goal must be to spend these precious dollars with unprecedented accountability, responsibility, and transparency. I’ve tasked my cabinet and staff to set up the kind of management, oversight, and disclosure that will help ensure that, and I will challenge state and local governments to do the same.

Once the plan is put into action, a new website – Recovery DOT gov – will allow any American to watch where the money goes and weigh in with comments and questions – and I encourage every American to do so. Ultimately, this is your money, and you deserve to know where it’s going and how it’s spent.

This historic step won’t be the end of what we do to turn our economy around, but the beginning. The problems that led us into this crisis are deep and widespread. Our response must be equal to the task.

For our plan to succeed, we must stabilize, repair, and reform our banking system, and get credit flowing again to families and businesses.

We must write and enforce new rules of the road, to stop unscrupulous speculators from undermining our economy ever again.

We must stem the spread of foreclosures and do everything we can to help responsible homeowners stay in their homes.

And in the weeks ahead, I will submit a proposal for the federal budget that will begin to restore the discipline these challenging times demand. Our debt has doubled over the past eight years, and we’ve inherited a trillion-dollar deficit – which we must add to in the short term in order to jumpstart our sick economy. But our long-term economic growth demands that we tame our burgeoning federal deficit; that we invest in the things we need, and dispense with the things we don’t. This is a challenging agenda, but one we can and will achieve.

This morning, I’m reminded of words President Kennedy spoke in another time of uncertainty. "Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks."

America, we will prove equal to this task. It will take time, and it will take effort, but working together, we will turn this crisis into opportunity and emerge from our painful present into a brighter future. After a week spent with the fundamentally decent men and women of this nation, I have never been more certain of that. Thank you.

State Dept On Persecution of Religious Minorities in Iran

Persecution of Religious Minorities in Iran. Robert Wood, Acting Department Spokesman
US State Dept, Washington, DC, February 13, 2009

The United States condemns the Iranian government’s decision to level baseless charges of espionage against seven leaders of the Iranian Baha’i community: Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, Mr. Vahid Tizfahm and Mrs. Mahvash Sabet. Authorities have detained these Baha’i for more than nine months without access to legal counsel or making public any evidence against them. The accusations reported in Iranian and international media are part of the ongoing persecution of Baha’i in Iran. Thirty other Baha’i remain imprisoned in Iran solely on the basis of their religious belief.

Other religious minorities continue to be targeted solely on the basis of their beliefs. Last month authorities arrested three Christians: Jamal Ghalishorani, Nadereh Jamali and Hamik Khachikian. In addition, authorities detained several members of the Gonabadi Dervishes, followers of Sufism, on Kish Island in January.

We join the international community in urging the authorities to release all religious minorities who are currently in detention for peacefully exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Flower Sales Help Cultivate Peace in Colombia

Flower Sales Help Cultivate Peace in Colombia
USAID, February 13, 2009

Bogotá, Colombia - The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Colombia is launching an initiative to market high-quality, socially-responsible Colombian products for retail sale in the United States.

USAID facilitated an alliance between Tecnovo, an NGO that provides support to people affected by armed conflict, and Grower-2-Buyer, a Miami-based company which distributes fresh-cut Colombian flowers to 174 wholesalers and 11 supermarket chains in the United States and Canada.

This initiative provides legitimate business opportunities for Colombians, steering them away from cultivating illicit crops. Former enemies in the Colombian armed conflict are now working together with people who have lost their homes and the disabled to produce hand-made ceramic vases for miniature roses distributed by Grower-2-Buyer.

Grower-2-Buyer's expertise in flower distribution, along with its access to U.S. retailers, has proven to be an effective vehicle to bring USAID-supported products to the U.S. market. As a result of this alliance, 100 stores in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Delaware will carry the USAID-branded product "the Love-Bunch" in time for Valentine's Day. The product is also being sold online at"

By working together to help transform communities deeply affected by the conflict, we are more than the sum of our parts. This initiative will help inform U.S. citizens of the work that USAID is doing with companies like Grower-2-Buyer to cultivate a lasting peace in Colombia," said Susan Reichle, USAID Mission Director in Colombia."

Our experience with USAID has been inspiring. Our collaboration has resulted in the development of a new product - one that we are very proud of - as it has not only enabled our business to grow but allowed us to join in the effort to bring peace to Colombia," said Daniel Sabogal, owner of Grower-2-Buyer.

For more information about USAID, please visit:

Electric Revenue Decoupling Explained

Electric Revenue Decoupling Explained. By Robert J. Michaels
IER, February 13, 2009

It is no secret that the stimulus bill contains both wasteful spending and economically destructive policies. However, one of the bill’s most alarming provisions is little known and difficult to understand: electricity revenue decoupling. Decoupling, another in a long line of anti-consumer energy policies, will force utility companies to raise electricity rates in an attempt to governmentally-mandate consumer conservation.

Currently, most state regulatory commissions grant electric utilities territorial monopolies. The commissions allow utility companies to recover no more than their prudently incurred costs and a “fair” profit to return to investors. The percentage limit means that utilities can only earn more dollars of profit if they invest more heavily in generation and transmission. The regulatory system gives electricity providers an incentive to sell as much power as they can.

Decoupling separates the utility’s revenue from its sales of electricity. If a utility’s conservation programs are successful, it might no longer earn its allowed profit. Under decoupling, the company would generate profits at the consumers’ expense. California introduced decoupling in 1983 and a handful of other states have since joined. Traditionally, electricity utilities make more money when they sell more electricity. Decoupling, on the other hand, rewards utilities for selling less electricity.

Decoupling aggravates well-known defects in the existing regulatory system. Companies’ implicit guarantees have long posed problems in the effort to incentivize utility companies to monitor their costs. If the government eliminates even more downside risk, it will provide shareholders with even surer returns and consumers with even higher electricity bills. Further inequities and perverse incentives abound. If decoupling raises rates per kilowatt-hour actually used, it decreases customers’ motivation to conserve, as they continue to see their bill rise regardless of their efforts.

If federally mandated programs, such as discounts for politically favored industrial customers or mandatory protections for migrating animals, impose costs or cuts revenues, state regulators will not be able to question the utility’s rights to recovery. In some areas utilities already incur substantial costs for activities that bear little relation to the production and distribution of power.

California includes numerous adjustment and balancing provisions in Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E)[1] bills to its customers. These include a “Public Purpose Programs Revenue Adjustment Mechanism” for low income bill relief, as well as some research activities and expenses on renewables. There are also “California Alternative Rates for Energy,” another low-income program, a “Procurement Energy Efficiency Revenue Adjustment Mechanism,” a “Distribution Revenue Adjustment Mechanism,” with an allowance for franchise fees and uncollectibles, and a “Utility Generation Balancing Account.” These and other provisions will add $323 million to PG&E’s approximately $9 billion electricity bills in 2009. An imaginative Congress might invent many more programs that power users will have no choice but to pay for under decoupling, even if their states’ regulators object.

Decoupling rests on the false assumption that consumers use too much electricity and cannot figure out their own ways to conserve. As any of us who have turned off a lamp or put on a sweater know, consumers who want to conserve or save money on electricity have a variety options. This policy is a perfect illustration of unnecessary government intrusion into both the marketplace and American people’s homes.

A more in-depth examination of electric revenue decoupling is here.

Robert Michaels is Professor of Economics at California State University, Fullerton and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Energy Research.