Ben Buchwalter

Is Renewable Energy Headed for a Nuclear Wedgie?
February 17, 2010, 8:40 pm
Filed under:, Congress, Environment | Tags: , , ,

In January, I started blogging for’s environment page. In my first post, I wrote about the strain expanding our nuclear program will place on the prospects for a comprehensive renewable energy system in the US. Despite almost universal acknowledgement in the environmental community that nuclear power is dirty, obstructive, and less efficient than its proponents suggest, Congress plans to flood the industry with billions in loan guarantees in order to get a climate bill passed. We’re already starting to see the results of this renewed commitment to nuclear power:

The result? The proposal of new nuclear plant in California, once a hotbed for anti-nuclear activism. In 2006, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a global warming bill that requires the state to increase renewable energy production 30 percent by 2020 and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. Nuclear critics didn’t expect is that those goals could lead the state to go nuclear.

“When you look at the need to cut carbon emissions, and California is in the lead in that department, you have to consider nuclear power,” says a spokesman for Areva, the French utilities company that proposed the California plant.


Dodd Deemed ‘Unelectable’ in CT Senate Race

It’s been a crappy year for embattled Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd. Toward the end of 2009, it became increasingly clear just how dire his reelection chances were. In mid-December, the respected elections predictor the Cook Political Report called Dodd “as unelectable as unindicted incumbents get.” That was a pretty safe prediction considering that, at the time, Dodd trailed former GOP congressman Rob Simmons and former WWE CEO Linda McMahon by 13 and 6 points respectively. On the MoJo blog, I predicted that Dodd’s retirement was imminent and rounded up the field of potential Conn. Dems to replace him. Looks like I was right about one of them:

As Connecticut Attorney General for the past 20 years, Dick Blumenthal has made ripples most recently for his harsh words about financial badboy AIG, which has offices in the state. Back in March, Blumenthal called the legal justification for AIG bonuses “a joke of a justification for squandering scarce taxpayer resources.”

Conn. Sen: Former WWE CEO Linda McMahon Enters the Fray
January 10, 2010, 5:45 pm
Filed under: 2010 and 2012, Congress, Mother Jones, Republicans | Tags: , , ,

Since former WWE CEO Linda McMahon jumped into the GOP’s primary to challenge embattled Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, I wrote a few blog posts on her candidacy and how it shakes up the race. First, came the supposed shock that McMahon and her husband have supported Democrats in past elections. Next, I asked if the candidate’s bombastic (and some might say crazy) husband WWE Chairman Vince McMahon could hurt her primary and, luck permitting, general election chances. As McMahon continued to hemorrhage her own funds on the campaign and became a serious contender to the state’s establishment, Conn. GOPers started to attack the newcomer. But as I wrote for MoJo, I think this was a risky move in the solid blue Lieberman-loving state:

“I think it’s very unusual [for a Republican to contribute to a Democrat]. These are big numbers. These are big dollars,” said Simmons, the race’s current front runner. But attacking McMahon’s bi-partisan past is a risky move, considering that Connecticut is predominantly Democratic and many state Republicans supported democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman over his Republican opponent in 2006. Moreover, since McMahon is campaigning on an anti-establishment platform, her past contributions could be helpful if she makes it to the general election next fall.

Congress’ Travel Hypocrisy?

August 7, 2009

There’s no doubt that Congress is nuts. But that fact was more pronounced when the Wall Street Journal reported in August that in the middle of the recession, after lambasting corporate executives for flying on personal jets after receiving taxpayer bailout money, the House approved $550 million to buy eight brand new jets for congresspeople and their staff. I spoke to Dave Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics about Congress’ unsurprising lack of judgment. Here’s what he said:

“It’s obviously an economically difficult time in this country, so every decision such as this will be looked at with more scrutiny than in times of prosperity” says Dave Levinthal, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics. “There could indeed be outcry by citizens of this country.” But, he says, congressional accountability will depend on how incensed constituents get about wasteful spending. With the public focused on the healthcare debate, an issue that directly impacts their wallets, these kinds of proposals could slip below the radar.

Is Party Affiliation Important? For Specter, Absolutely.
March 25, 2009, 8:23 pm
Filed under: 2010 and 2012, Congress, Republicans

Things are looking bad for Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter. Club for Growth Chairman Pat Toomey  said recently that he would challenge the moderate Republican when he’s up for reelection in 2010, and a Quinnipiac poll released today showed Specter trailing the ultra-conservative wingnut by 14 points.

Right wing aside, though, Specter is very popular in Pennsylvania and was expected, until recently, to win reelection pretty easily. That is, if he survived the Republican Primary.

So this raises the question: should Specter follow in Joe Lieberman’s footsteps and run as an independent? Lieberman was forced to do this when he lost in 2006 to Democratic challenger Ned Lamont in the primary. Lieberman’s popularity in Connecticut carried him through, though, and he won the general election easily.

What’s the benefit of staying with the Republican Party as opposed to becoming an Independent? Well, for a popular incumbent in a solid blue or red state, the benefits are negligible. The GOP candidate in Connecticut, Alan Schlesinger, never had a chance and even failed to get a strong endorsement from the Bush White House.

But Specter’s situation is nothing like Lieberman’s. As we know from the “battleground state” moniker often bestowed upon Pennsylvania, statewide elections are always close, making way for moderates like Sens. Arlen Specter and Bob Casey, a Democrat. Democrats will always get a lot of votes, and Republicans will always get a lot of votes. So for Specter to remain a viable candidate as an Independent, he would have to keep 90% of his supporters even while losing funding and support from the Republican Party.

So I’d say that it’s Republican Party or bust for Specter. He’s screwed unless he finds a way to cuddle up with Pennsylvania conservatives some more. This explains why he said yesterday that he would vote against the Employee Free Choice Act, which he has supported in the past.  Expect to see Specter lurch dramatically to the right a lot more in the next year and a half.

Restructure, Don’t Abolish, the Filibuster
February 19, 2009, 10:17 am
Filed under: Congress, General Politics | Tags: , ,

One hangover from the stimulus debate is the role of the filibuster in modern American government. Many are calling for the abolishment of the filibuster, or some sort of extreme restructuring.

To me, the most effective argument against the filibuster is that elections should have consequences. Too often, it seems that whether Clinton or Dole, Bush or Gore, Kerry or Bush, or Obama or McCain wins won’t make too much of a difference. To a certain extent, if the opposition is united enough against the President’s agenda and that agenda is contrary to the public’s wishes, then it won’t succeed.

The American people should know that if they overwhelmingly vote for Democrats in a few elections in a row, then Democrats will be able to make a lasting impact for American public policy without the constant nagging of the GOP. The more cynical observers have even suggested that the GOP’s primary goal in opposing the stimulus package is to weaken it, making it less likely to succeed and destroying chances for Democrats in 2010 and Obama to seek reelection in 2012.

It is not necessary for everyone to agree. Democrats and Republicans have very different economic philosophies that inform their stances on the stimulus package. But instead of voting against this increase in government spending, many Republicans spent a week demanding spending cuts to the bill. Once they got what they wanted, they still voted en mass against it.

That’s change I can punch in the face.

So maybe Drum, Yglesias, and Klein are right – that it’s time to end the filibuster. But thinking long term, it is comforting to know that Democrats could have a voice even while in the minority. The questions should not be, as Drum suggests, whether the filibuster was intended to “become a routine requirement that all legislation needs 60% of the vote in the Senate to pass.” The question should be whether it’s beneficial that the minority has that option.

The filibuster has been weakened a few times in the past, most notably to reduce the number required to force a filibuster from 67 to 60. So let’s reform the filibuster to make it harder to use. But it is not necessary to do away with it entirely. 

Friday Brain Dump
Administration officials in and out, peace or further instability in Rwanda, and possible nationalization. All trumped by Twitter.
  • Last night Judd Gregg (R NH), Obama’s second choice for Commerce Secretary withdrew his name from consideration. Even though this should make Gregg look like a collassal idiot, he is being hailed as a conservative hero for refusing to help a liberal president save the economy and govern effectively. Kos has an idea for Gregg’s replacement: “nominate a fu*king Democrat.” Greg Sargent: “don’t hire someone for a job who voted to abolish that job.” TPM: Reed Hundt.
  • Rwanda and the DRC are collaborating against a Hutu group that fled to the Congo after the 1994 genocide to escape persecution from the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front that now controls the government. On the surface, these governments are working together to combat the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR). But some have suspicions about the real motives behind Rwanda’s sudden receptiveness to an alliance with the Congo. Could Rwanda be vying for a stake in the mineral-rich region of eastern Congo? 
  • The final stimulus package is expected to be approved by the House today. Approved with 8 Republican votes?! Holy Lucifer! This means that of the 219 Republicans in Congress (Senate and House), only 11 – or 5% – support the stimulus package. Does this represent the Republican Party? NO! In fact, according to a recent Gallup poll, 28% of Republicans (more than five times the Congressional GOP) support the $800 Billion package. I’d call that out of touch. 
  • Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske will become the nation’s Drug Czar. Ezra Klein says that he is “better than the old drug czar, worse than no drug czar.” Kerlikowske is “a progressive law enforcement type whose primary reputation is as a proponent of gun control and civil liberties.” 
  • Experts are starting to support nationalizing the banks? Reality or pipe dream? 
  • Tweet. I am swept up by twitter. See my twitter feed here. There are also some very informative peeps on twitter. And idiots like Karl Rove

Happy Valentines Day.