Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dingell: Cap and trade a "great big" tax

Dingell: Cap and trade a "great big" tax. By Glenn Thrush
Politico, April 24, 2009

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the former chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, raised eyebrows during his questioning of Al Gore today -- describing cap-and-trade as a "great big" tax.

Dingell, who backs a carbon tax, didn't express opposition to House leadership's cap-and-trade proposal but was asking Gore how to avoid missteps made in countries that implemented c-and-t.

"Every economist says that a carbon tax is a better, more efficient, fairer way of doing it... The Europeans have had two, maybe three fine failures in their application of cap and trade. How do we avoid the mistakes that they have made?...Nobody in this country realizes that cap and trade is a tax and it’s a great big one… I want to get a bill that works—how do we choose the best way?"

Matt Lloyd, spokesman for House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence, passed the YouTube along, saying: "Chairman Dingell agrees with what Republicans have been saying all along: the Democrat cap and trade bill is a national energy tax on working families.”

Can we start shooting the geese yet?

h/t Greg Pollowitz, Planet Gore/NRO

28 aircraft destroyed by animal strikes since 2000. By Vasiliy Baziuk (AP)
Southern Ledger, Apr 24, 2009

Airplane collisions with birds or other animals have destroyed 28 aircraft since 2000, with New York's Kennedy airport and Sacramento International reporting the most incidents with serious damage, according to Federal Aviation Administration data posted for the first time Friday. And the problem appears to be growing.

The FAA list of wildlife strikes, published on the Internet, details more than 89,000 incidents since 1990, costing 11 people their lives. Most incidents were bird strikes, but deer and other animals have been hit on runways, too.

The situation seems to be getting worse: Airplane collisions with birds have more than doubled at 13 major U.S. airports since 2000, including New Orleans, Houston's Hobby, Kansas City, Orlando and Salt Lake City. Wildlife experts say increasingly birds, particularly large ones like Canada geese, are finding food and living near cities and airports year round rather than migrating.

The figures are known to be far from complete. Even the FAA estimates its voluntary reporting system captures only 20 percent of wildlife strikes. The agency, however, has refused for a decade to adopt a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation to make the reports mandatory.

Friday's first disclosure of the entire FAA database, including the locations of strikes, occurred largely because of pressure following the ditching of a US Airways jet in the Hudson River after bird strikes knocked out both of its engines on Jan. 15. Within days, The Associated Press asked for the database under the Freedom of Information Act.

All 155 people aboard survived that incident as pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger ditched the powerless jet safely. That plane had at least seven earlier collisions with birds since February 2000, including one in March 2002 at Orlando International Airport when it sucked a red-tailed hawk into an engine during a night takeoff. The plane returned to the airport immediately with a damaged engine.

The data revealed one positive trend: strikes that caused major damage dropped noticeably in 2007 and 2008. In 2000, pilots reported 178 such strikes; in 2007 there were 125, and in the first 11 months of 2008 only 85. December 2008 numbers are not yet listed.

There was no immediate explanation from the FAA for the decline in major damage, but the agency tightened engine design standards in 2004 to better withstand bird strikes, and more and more airports engage in wildlife management.

Topping the list of airports where planes were either substantially damaged or destroyed by birds since 2000 were John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York with at least 30 such accidents and Sacramento International Airport in California with at least 28.

Kennedy, the nation's sixth-busiest airport, is located amid wetlands that attract birds. Ron Marsico, spokesman for the port authority that owns JFK, said it has been protected for years by aggressive wildlife management that includes habitat disruption, fireworks and the "killing of thousands of birds each year." He said the agency recently added a wildlife expert to increase vigilance.

Sacramento International, the nation's 40th busiest, lies beneath the Pacific Flyway used by millions of geese, swans, ducks, cranes, raptors and other birds that migrate with the seasons and stop to feed on crops in the farms that abut the airport. Airport spokeswoman Karen Doron said that in 2007 alone the five airports managed by Sacramento County "used loud noises, distress calls and other techniques to disperse more than 53,000 birds from our runway areas."

At Sacramento International on Friday, Dawn Holliman, a 51-year-old real estate agent from Placerville who was flying to Phoenix, said she felt the odds of being in an airplane struck by birds were relatively low. She was more concerned that the government previously withheld the information.

"It's irritating they don't let the public know about the risks," said Holliman.

The FAA had long argued the public couldn't handle the full truth about bird strikes, so it withheld the names of specific airports and airlines involved while releasing only aggregate data. The agency said the public might use the data to "cast unfounded aspersions" on those who reported strikes, and airports and airlines in turn might make fewer reports.

On Friday, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor cautioned "against comparing one airport's bird strike numbers to another airport. If a certain airport is very diligent in reporting these kinds of events, its diligence could make it appear as if it has more bird strikes than an airport that isn't as diligent."

The most recent fatal bird-strike came in October 2007: A student and instructor pilot died when their twin-engine business plane crashed in Browerville, Minn., after it struck a Canada goose during a night training flight. The plane's left engine had been damaged by a bird strike the day before and was repaired the day of the fatal crash.

All told, pilots reported striking at least 59,776 birds since 2000. The most common strikes involved mourning doves; pilots reported hitting 2,291 between 2000 and 2008. Other airborne victims included gulls (2,186), European starlings (1,427) and American kestrels (1,422).

A single United Airlines 737 passenger jet suffered at least 29 minor collisions with birds and one with a small deer _ more than any other plane since 2000. Only one case produced significant damage _ when the jet climbed out of Philadelphia International Airport into a flock of gulls at 1,000 feet the night of Jan. 30, 2006. The pilot declared an emergency after one engine sucked in a large gull and began vibrating badly. No one was hurt, but repairs cost the airline $37,000.

That same plane experienced incidents in San Francisco; Salt Lake City; San Jose, Calif.; Houston; Denver; Toronto; New Orleans; Chicago, Spokane, Wash, and most recently in Denver.

Since 2000, reported bird strikes have resulted in five fatalities and 93 injuries. The cost of repairs during that period was estimated at more than $267 million in inflation-adjusted dollars, but many of the incident reports contained no estimate of the repair cost.

The largest trade association of U.S. airlines hastened to note that bird strikes "are, of course, rare events,"

"The vast majority of cases result in little or no aircraft damage," the Air Transport Association of America added.

An overwhelming majority of reported strikes _ nearly 16,000 _ occurred on approach for landing, the data showed. An additional 20,000 were split nearly evenly among takeoff, landing and climbing.

This week, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood rejected a proposal quietly advanced by the FAA on March 19 to formally make the data exempt from public disclosure _ even as other FAA officials were saying the AP would soon get the records in response to its Freedom of Information Act request.

With President Barack Obama promising a more open government and releasing secret Bush administration legal memos about harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects, LaHood said he found it hard to justify the FAA's plan to withhold records about birds at airports.
Associated Press writers Ted Bridis, Frank Bass and Joan Lowy in Washington and Samantha Young in Sacramento contributed to this report.

FAA database: [obsolete link]

Update Aug 2019: FAA Wildlife Strike Database

Check also Can We Start Shooting the Geese Now? By Greg Pollowitz. Jan 2009. 

Let the Senate Investigate the Interrogations

Let the Senate Investigate the Interrogations. By Dianne Feinstein
It's the only way we'll understand the program.
WSJ, Apr 26, 2009

President Barack Obama's release of memos detailing CIA interrogation policies under the Bush administration has ignited a political firestorm that continues to dominate the nation's front pages and news programs. The pressure is intense -- on Capitol Hill and elsewhere -- for Congress to "do something," and do it fast.

It's time to step back, take a breath, and set the record straight.

Here are the facts:

We already are doing something. Last year, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence began reviewing CIA materials on the first two high-value detainees to be captured, and is finalizing a classified report on their detention and interrogation.

Last month, we launched a comprehensive, bipartisan review of CIA interrogation and detention policies. Since then, we have identified and requested from the CIA, among other things, a voluminous amount of materials and records related to conditions of detentions and techniques of interrogations.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is the appropriate body to conduct this review, because it is responsible for the oversight of America's 16 intelligence agencies -- most specifically, the CIA. The committee has access, on a regular basis, to classified materials and is supplementing its existing professional staff to carry out the investigation with bipartisan oversight.

All of this will be done in a classified environment, and the results will be brought to the full committee for its careful consideration. The committee will make a determination with respect to findings and recommendations.

It's important to note the fundamental realities underpinning this effort. First, it's vital that our work be structured in such a way as to avoid a "witch hunt" or a "show trial." That's easy. We do the vast bulk of our work behind closed doors -- precisely because the subject matter is highly classified. This allows us to examine the entire, unvarnished record in our search for the truth.

Second, for our review to succeed, it simply must be bipartisan, as is our tradition. This committee's last major investigation, in 2004, into prewar Iraq intelligence, was both bipartisan and critical in providing public understanding of the failed intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Democrats and Republicans on the committee came together with shared purpose in this latest endeavor. And we announced the committee's action, in a joint statement issued March 5.

Here's part of what we said: "The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has agreed on a strong bipartisan basis to begin a review of the CIA's detention and interrogation program. The purpose is to review the program and to shape detention and interrogation policies in the future."

We went on to explain that the review would specifically examine:

- How the CIA created, operated and maintained conditions of detention and interrogation.
- Whether the CIA accurately described the detention and interrogation program to other parts of the U.S. government, including the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel, and the Senate Intelligence Committee.
- Whether the CIA implemented the program in compliance with official guidance, including covert action findings, Office of Legal Counsel opinions and CIA policy.
- The intelligence gained through the use of enhanced and standard interrogation techniques.

Our objective is clear: to achieve a full understanding of this program as it evolved in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

So amid all the quarreling and confusion, I say this: Let's not prejudge or jump to conclusions. And let's resist the temptation to stage a Washington spectacle, high in entertainment value, but low in fact-finding potential.

Let the Senate Intelligence Committee do its job.

Mrs. Feinstein is chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

WaPo: What does the Obama administration hope to accomplish by publicly warning of a Pakistani collapse?

Sound the Alarm. WaPo Editorial
What does the Obama administration hope to accomplish by publicly warning of a Pakistani collapse?
WaPo: Sunday, April 26, 2009

THE TALIBAN raised fears in Pakistan last week by briefly seizing new territories near the capital, Islamabad. But in its own way, the Obama administration offered as much reason for panic about the deteriorating situation in that nuclear-armed Muslim country. In the course of just three days, the U.S. secretaries of State and Defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the commanding general of American forces in the Middle East all publicly warned, in blunt and dire language, that Pakistan was facing an existential threat -- and that its government and Army were not facing it. "I think that the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists," said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

That they felt compelled to openly air such conclusions about a nominally close U.S. ally -- for which the administration is proposing billions in new aid dollars -- was a measure of the desperation that seems to have infected the Obama administration's dealings with Pakistan's weak civilian government and obtuse military leadership. In the months since the administration took office, as in the last months of the Bush administration, private cajoling of President Asif Ali Zardari and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani to fight the Taliban has done little good. It's not yet clear whether the public campaign will have more effect -- but it is sure to get many in Washington stirred about what Ms. Clinton described as the "mortal threat" a Taliban regime armed with nuclear weapons could pose to the United States.

That threat is certainly real. The government's decision to tolerate what amounts to Taliban control of the Swat Valley northwest of Islamabad has emboldened the extremists, who now are seeking to infiltrate neighboring districts even closer to the capital. The Pakistani army, untrained in counterinsurgency and rigidly focused on India, is reluctant to take on the militants; when it has tried to fight them in areas near the Afghan border, it has been mostly ineffective. Though the vast majority of Pakistanis oppose the Taliban's fundamentalism, most also dislike Mr. Zardari's government and suspect that operations against the insurgents serve U.S. interests more Pakistan's.

The loud U.S. warnings did provoke the Zardari government and Gen. Kiyani to say that they would fight the Taliban if it continued to advance; the black-turbaned fighters subsequently withdrew from one district on Friday. Pakistani officials say that the public support needed for the military offensive Washington wants won't be forthcoming unless Pakistanis believe that their government has tried all peaceful options. It is certainly the case that Pakistanis as well as their government must embrace the fight against the Taliban as their own, and not as a proxy war for the United States. It is also true that, apart from mounting missile strikes by remote-controlled aircraft, there is little the United States can do directly to defeat the Pakistani Taliban; the administration must try to work through the government and army.

But the United States has leverage: Without the billons flowing into Pakistan in direct U.S. aid as well as from other donors marshaled by Washington, Pakistan's economy would collapse. Perhaps the dire U.S. warnings will galvanize the country's political class into demanding action from the army and government -- or replacing the latter. But shouts of '"fire" have risks: They can also cause panic, or go unheeded.

WaPo: Expiring Tax Cuts - What to do before the 2010 drop-dead date

Expiring Tax Cuts. WaPo Editorial
What to do before the 2010 drop-dead date
WaPo. Sunday, April 26, 2009

THE LOOMING expiration of the Bush tax cuts offers an opportunity that the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress seem determined to squander. No one is proposing allowing all the tax cuts to expire as scheduled, on Dec. 31, 2010, nor should they. But a rational discussion of tax policy would include thoughtfully weighing which tax cuts to keep in place, which ones to pay for and perhaps even which taxes to increase. It may not surprise you to learn that this not happening. Instead, Congress is busy figuring out how to best break its own rules -- the ones that supposedly require tax cuts to be paid for rather than simply tacked on to the already bulging bill for the next generation. Meanwhile, President Obama has appointed a tax reform panel -- a good idea -- but counterproductively constrained its mission.

In an ideal world, the House and Senate would stick to their pay-as-you-go rules and offset the costs of any new tax cuts, either by raising other revenue or reducing spending. But the Senate, in its version of the budget resolution, assumes that pay-go rules will be waived to allow extension of the expiring income tax cuts for families making less than $250,000, the estate tax cuts and a temporary fix for the alternative minimum patch. The House wants to achieve the same result through a different mechanism: It would explicitly exempt these tax cuts from having to be paid for, but insist that, going forward, the rules will be really, really strict. Between the two positions, the House is right: A stricter rule is better. But a negotiation about whether to keep pay-go but waive it (the Senate solution) or to alter the rule so it is only in place once you have broken the original version (the House option) misses the larger point: Given the fiscal picture, it is absurd to consider borrowing to cover the costs of more than $2 trillion in tax reductions. For years now, the House and Senate have been limping along, patching things here and waiving things there, adding to the deficit all along the way. This would be a good time to stop.

Then there is the new tax reform panel, headed by Paul A. Volcker. The panel's instructions are to make recommendations for closing corporate tax loopholes, closing the gap between taxes paid and taxes owed, and simplifying the tax code. Great, as far as it goes. But the instructions unduly limit the panel's purview: Taxes cannot go up for any family earning less than $250,000 a year. As we have said before, this is not a sustainable or rational tax policy. By imposing that limit on the tax panel, the president is denying himself a political opening to get out of a campaign promise that, a few years and a couple of trillion dollars in debt later, will make even less sense. Mr. Volcker has said that he would like to work on the more fundamental issues of tax reform, once the panel has completed its first round of tax recommendations. Our recommendation, to Congress and Mr. Volcker: Get started now.