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The High Cost of Fossil Fuels

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has released a working paper that attempts to quantify the total cost of subsidies we pay for fossil fuels. This includes not just direct payments and tax breaks for energy companies, but also the cost of “externalities” like cleaning up after oil spills and health costs directly attributable to the use of fossil fuels (costs that are borne by us all).

The number they came up with is an astonishing annual cost of $5.6 trillion. Which is more than 7% of the Gross World Product. That is a lot of money.

Republicans like to complain about the high costs of switching away from fossil fuels, but they ignore the even higher costs of continuing to use them. And of course there are other benefits to reducing our subsidies to energy companies. According to the research:

Eliminating post-tax subsidies in 2015 could raise government revenue by $2.9 trillion (3.6 percent of global GDP), cut global CO₂ emissions by more than 20 percent, and cut pre-mature air pollution deaths by more than half. After allowing for the higher energy costs faced by consumers, this action would raise global economic welfare by $1.8 trillion (2.2 percent of global GDP).

That’s right, eliminating the use of fossil fuels would save us a bunch of money, and also save 3.2 million lives every year. Indeed, it seems like the only losers would be the politicians who would stop receiving huge campaign contributions from the corporations that benefit from energy subsidies.

Republicans also claim that it doesn’t make sense for the US to take unilateral action until other countries get on board. But the paper specifically states that the local benefits from ending subsidies are high enough that they should be eliminated even in the absence of action in other countries. Again, according to the research:

An important point, therefore, is that most (over three-fourths) of the underpricing of energy is due to domestic distortions – pre-tax subsidies and domestic externalities – rather than to global distortions (climate change). The crucial implication of this is that energy pricing reform is largely in countries’ own domestic interest and therefore is beneficial even in the absence of globally coordinated action.

Ironically, the most subsidized fossil fuel is not oil, it is coal (both because of its high environmental damages and because unlike road fuels, no country imposes meaningful excise taxes on its consumption). Coal subsidies alone account for almost 4% of the Gross World Product (around $3.2 trillion annually).

So the next time conservatives say they are in favor of free markets, we should ask them when we are going to have a real free market for fossil fuels, rather than “the government picking winners and losers” through massive energy subsidies.


Late Night Political Letterman

In honor of the retirement of David Letterman after more than three decades hosting his late night talk show, The Hill published a list of the “top 10″ times that Letterman made a significant impact on politics. Here are the first three:

  1. When John McCain suspended his presidential campaign because of the financial crisis, he also cancelled a scheduled appearance on Letterman’s show, and instead gave a live interview with Katie Couric (just down the hall). Letterman blasted McCain for nine minutes, questioning his temperament in a time of crisis. McCain did appear on the show a month later and admitted “I screwed up”.
  2. After 9/11, Letterman was the first late night show to return to the air, poignantly saying “If you didn’t believe it before, you can absolutely believe it now. New York City is the greatest city in the world.”
  3. Letterman teased Dan Quayle mercilessly during the 1988 presidential election, even saying that Quayle might someday make a great president because he “would not seem like a brainy egghead when visiting the nation’s injured professional wrestlers”.

But my person favorite is when he called Bill O’Reilly a “goon” to his face and accused the Fox News anchor of playing the part of a conservative and not actually believing the things he reported as news.


The Rape of Logic

Jen Sorensen
© Jen Sorensen

Even many people who are “pro-life” carve out exceptions for rape and incest, not to mention if the health of the mother is threatened. But not the Helms Act, which makes no exceptions.

And that’s what leads to this incredibly stupid situation.

We condemn radical Islamists because some of them treat women badly, but what does this situation with Boko Haram say about us?


Late Night Political Humor

“By accident Jeb Bush announced that he was running for president. And then he said, ‘No, not yet. OK, I made a mistake.’ And then later in the day, by accident, he called Hillary and congratulated her. ” – David Letterman

“Hillary Clinton’s younger brother Tony is facing criticism for using the Clintons’ political connections to help his career. So on the down side, she has a sketchy brother named Tony. On the up side, she just locked up every vote in New Jersey.” – Jimmy Fallon

“It turns out Hillary’s brother could damage her campaign. But then Jeb Bush said, ‘I think we all get a pass on who our brothers are.'” – Jimmy Fallon

“Tomorrow, Mitt Romney will have a boxing match with Evander Holyfield for charity. And I suspect that’s what Romney will be yelling the whole time. ‘For charity, Evander!'” – Seth Meyers

“Mitt Romney will box Evander Holyfield tomorrow. So finally, someone can honestly say ‘Mitt, I think you should run.'” – Seth Meyers

“They’re making a movie about Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date, called ‘Southside With You,’ and the producers say they’ve already cast someone to play young Barack Obama. Now, I’m not saying the president has aged a lot but that young actor is Morgan Freeman.” – Jimmy Fallon

“George Clooney is on the program tonight. Next week at this time I will be in a hardware store watching them mix paint.” – David Letterman

“I got a call today from a guy I have never heard of before, and he said, ‘Hi, Dave, it’s Bob. I’m with CBS. Look, the day after you guys leave the theater we’re going to send a team in there to take care of the asbestos. – David Letterman


The Only Thing That Matters

Ruben Bolling
© Ruben Bolling

I can’t fault Bolling’s somewhat cynical assertion that when a prominent Republican says or does something, they are pretty much only considering whether it will give them a political advantage. Whether or not it is a good idea or what kind of effect it will have on the country is largely immaterial. It is a big game, and they are playing to win. Unfortunately, we are often the losers.

And of course, it isn’t just Republican politicians who are susceptible to this disease…

Tom Tomorrow
© Tom Tomorrow


Late Night Political Humor

“Even the White House is weighing in on the Deflategate scandal. Yesterday they encouraged Tom Brady to ‘be mindful of the way he serves as a role model.’ And then President Obama stuffed out his cigarette and went golfing at noon on a weekday.” – Jimmy Fallon

“The White House encouraged Tom Brady to be more of a role model. They would’ve said more, but there was a drunken Secret Service agent streaking across the Rose Garden.” – Jimmy Fallon

“I have nothing against the North Koreans but this Kim Jong Un has got a screw loose. A member of his cabinet, his security minister, nods off, falls sleep. We’ve all done it. Kim Jong Un takes the guy out and has him executed, just for just falling asleep. Oh, and he was also deflating footballs.” – David Letterman

“Kim Jong Un reportedly had his defense chief executed after he fell asleep during a meeting. Not only did they execute him, they shot him with an anti-aircraft gun. I’d like to see NBC hire Kim Jong Un to host ‘The Apprentice’. His way of firing people is much more exciting than Donald Trump’s.” – Jimmy Kimmel

“Kim Jong Un — it’s really Catch-22 with him. If you close your eyes, you get shot for nodding off. If you open them, you get shot for laughing at his haircut.” – Jimmy Kimmel

“Things like that make me glad I live in America — where our political figures are free to fall asleep wherever they want.” – Jimmy Kimmel

“Senate Democrats blocked President Obama’s trade bill yesterday because they’re worried it could hurt jobs. It’s not an issue for Republicans, since they’ve all found work as presidential candidates.” – Jimmy Fallon

“Last night we had Bill Clinton, the former president. Security was as tight as Governor Christie’s yoga pants.” – David Letterman


Executive Disorder

Last month, Indiana passed a strong anti-gay-rights law and it caused a national backlash against the state. So you might think that other states would think twice before doing something similar.

But that logic doesn’t apply to Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana and likely presidential candidate. Instead of thinking twice, he is doubling down.

Jindal has been pushing a “religious liberty” bill that allows people to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against gays. Possibly mindful of what happened to Indiana, the legislative committee considering the bill defeated it by an overwhelming 10-2 vote.

Did that stop Jindal? No, instead he issued an executive order, and publicly announced:

We are disappointed by the committee’s action to return the Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act to the calendar. We will be issuing an Executive Order shortly that will accomplish the intent of HB 707 to prevent the state from discriminating against persons or entities with deeply held religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.

What makes this truly hypocritical is that Jindal has been an outspoken critic of president Obama’s executive order about immigration, calling it “an arrogant, cynical political move”. Jindal also chastised Obama, saying that the president “should go make the case to Congress and our people.”



Late Night Political Humor

“In celebration of Mother’s Day yesterday, President Obama called three moms who had written him letters. Then kids who made their mom a macaroni necklace said, ‘Thanks, Obama’.” – Jimmy Fallon

“Happy Mother’s Day. Yesterday, President Obama personally called three mothers who had written him letters recently. Man, do I feel sorry for any of their kids who forgot to call.” – Seth Meyers

“The mother would say, ‘Oh, you didn’t have time to call. Do you know who did have time? The president — of the United States of America — yeah, that president. So no, flowers on Wednesday does not make it OK.'” – Seth Meyers

“The White House is testing out new spikes that would make it difficult to jump the fence. So if you’re wondering what kind of cutting-edge technology the Secret Service is using to protect the president, it’s spikes. I think someone saw an episode of ‘Game of Thrones’.” – Seth Meyers

“According to a new report, since he’s been governor, Chris Christie has spent $82,000 at a concession stand at MetLife Stadium. Now, I know it seems like the perfect story for a Chris Christie joke but I’m actually on a Chris Christie joke diet. So nothing for me, thanks.” – Jimmy Fallon

“If you’re going to do a Chris Christie joke, just say, ‘Christie spent $82,000 at a concession stand at MetLife Stadium. Then he turned to his friends and said, ‘You guys want anything?” That’s a joke. I can’t believe it. I caved in. I feel awful.” – Jimmy Fallon

“A new report reveals that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spent over $82,000 on food at NFL games. Christie said, ‘Hey, both of those games went into overtime.'” – Conan O’Brien

“The U.S. unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in nearly seven years. The job sector that has seen the most growth is in the field of Republican presidential candidates.” – Conan O’Brien

“Former President Bill Clinton is on the program tonight. He says that while his wife runs for president, he would like to stay out of the limelight. Well, he’s certainly come to the right place. He’ll be fine here.” – David Letterman

“Bill Clinton may in fact be moving back into the White House. And coincidentally I’m thinking about moving back into my mother’s house.” – David Letterman


Fifty Shades of Grayson

I usually try to stay out of the personal lives of politicians. In addition I will admit that I have a bit of a soft spot for Alan Grayson, who as a Congressman was willing to say things that other politicians would not dare. But what can I do when his big mouth blurts out something crazy about his personal life?

Grayson is likely running for Marco Rubio’s Senate seat, but has been going through a nasty divorce. In case you haven’t heard, Grayson was married to a woman named Lolita (you can’t make this stuff up), who was still married to someone else when she married Grayson. There are also other crazy tidbits, like when their divorce trial was delayed because she had to have emergency breast implant surgery. She has also gone through six lawyers during the divorce. For his part, Grayson called the police on her for buying groceries with his credit cards.

But when you are thinking about running for the Senate, and the media (of course) asks you about the divorce, it is best to say as little as possible. But not Grayson, who replied “I’ll sum it up for you: Gold diggers gotta dig. that’s all I got to say.”

All he had to say was already too much.


Late Night Political Humor

“People are being really picky about the upcoming election. I read that Americans do not want the next president to be a first-term senator, be over 65, or have a former president in the family. Then the Secret Service said, ‘Hey, whoever slips through slips through. No promises.'” – Jimmy Fallon

“A new poll finds that the majority of GOP voters say they can’t see themselves supporting Chris Christie. The trick is to lift with your legs, not your back.” – Seth Meyers

“According to a new poll, 48 percent of Americans believe that Hillary Clinton is honest and trustworthy. Then Hillary said, ‘Actually I just made that poll up.'” – Jimmy Fallon

“Apparently there are incriminating texts and emails about what they call Deflategate. Earlier today Hillary Clinton announced that she would be happy to delete them.” – David Letterman

“A house panel in Texas has approved full marijuana legalization for the state. Yeah, meaning Texas could go from having dude ranches to ‘Dude, ranches’.” – Jimmy Fallon


You Win, You Lose

Republicans are in real danger of getting something they badly want. Except that they are just realizing that if they get it, it will backfire badly on them. Rock, meet hard place!

One of the cornerstones of the Republican party over the last 6 years has been to oppose everything Obama does (even if it was their idea in the first place). There is nothing they have fought against harder than the ACA, which they have derisively labeled Obamacare. They filibustered it, but it passed anyway despite dire predictions that it would destroy the country. They have voted numerous times to repeal it and have sabotaged it at every turn, even if it meant people dying.

It is safe to say that Republicans hate Obamacare with all their heart and soul. And suddenly there is a chance to destroy it. Last summer, two Republican-appointed federal judges (despite a furious dissent of the lone Democratic appointee) ruled in favor of a patently ridiculous lawsuit that was hatched by a right-wing think tank for the sole purpose of destroying the ACA. The lawsuit takes advantage of what is widely regarded as a typo in the wording of the law. If the lawsuit wins, federal subsidies for health insurance would be eliminated in all states that use the federal health insurance exchange.

As a result, around 7 million Americans will lose their insurance. Over ten thousand people with life threatening cancer will no longer get their chemotherapy, and another ten thousand people with bad kidneys will lose their dialysis.

As New York magazine puts it:

The lawsuit works more on the level of an elaborate prank than as a serious reading of the law. And yet it stands at least some chance of success — it only needs to persuade Republican-appointed judges. That prospect has grown suddenly unnerving because, unlike previous Republican efforts to strangle the law, the current one comes as Obamacare is functioning extremely well. Premiums on the exchanges have come in well under projected costs, customers report higher satisfaction with their coverage than those who have employer-sponsored insurance, and overall medical costs have grown far below the projected rate. It is one thing to take away a scheduled future subsidy, of which most intended beneficiaries are unaware. It is quite another to take away a benefit they’re already using.

Perhaps even worse, even the health insurance companies like Obamacare, as they are making lots of money off of it. Is there anything scarier to a Republican politician that losing some fat campaign contributions?

So what do Republicans do? If the Supreme Court goes along with this stupid lawsuit, Obama will certainly propose fixing the typo in the law. If Republicans vote for the fix, they will be crucified by their base. If they vote against it, it will be a public relations disaster of epic proportions for them.

For now, all they are doing is secretly hoping that the Supreme Court rules against them!


Patriotic Filibuster

Rand Paul (R-KY) took to the Senate floor for 10 hours and 30 minutes to protest the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, which would continue the widespread spying on ordinary Americans by the NSA.

There was some discussion about whether this actually constituted a filibuster under Senate rules, but at least he actually got up and spoke nonstop (lately, often just the casual threat of a filibuster was enough to kill a bill), and it will have the effect of bringing attention to the spying bill.

Paul began by saying:

There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer. That time is now, and I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged.

Even if he is just grandstanding to gain attention as a presidential candidate, I applaud his efforts. It is time to reign in the spying abuse.


Late Night Political Humor

“Hillary Clinton made a campaign stop in Las Vegas yesterday. She said she wants citizenship for undocumented immigrants. But after seeing Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo yesterday, immigrants said, ‘You know what, we’re good. We’re gonna head back now. We’ve had enough.'” – Jimmy Fallon

“Today Secretary of State John Kerry visited the small African nation of Djibouti. Or to use the official diplomatic term, he made a Djibouti call.” – Conan O’Brien

“The birth certificate of the royal baby lists her parents’ occupations as being ‘the prince and princess of the United Kingdom.’ It says that under occupation, which I guess sounds better than ‘unemployed’.” – Conan O’Brien

“Welcome to the program. My name is Dave Letterman, and tonight I’m giving my two-week notice.” – David Letterman

“Don’t worry about me. I plan to continue to be in show business. I have already been booked to be in a production of ‘The Sunshine Boys’ with Jay Leno.” – David Letterman


Jeb Bush Moves Right

Dispelling any idea that he might be a moderate Republican, Jeb Bush made it clear in an interview on Sunday that he is absolutely against gay rights.

When asked if he believes there should be a constitutional right to marriage (which the mostly conservative Supreme Court could rule this summer), he said “I don’t”.

Bush could claim that this is a states rights issue (and gay marriage is legal in 36 states, DC, and 22 Native American tribal jurisdictions). But of course Bush had to double (and triple) down.

He went on to state that the country’s future would be at risk without traditional marriages:

To imagine how we are going to succeed in our country unless we have committed family life, committed child-centered family system, is hard to imagine. We need to be stalwart supporters of traditional marriage.

Seriously? Our country will fail if we allow gay marriage?

But it gets worse:

If we want to create a right-to-rise society, where people, particularly children born in poverty, if we want to have them have a chance we should be—a core American value, we have to restore committed, loving family life with a mom and a dad loving their children with their heart and soul.

As he is speaking against gay marriage, he is basically saying that gay couples are not capable to loving their children with their heart and soul. That’s about as bigoted and hateful as you can get (short of saying that gays aren’t actually human).

Bush also said that “absolutely” businesses should have the right to discriminate against gays based on religious beliefs.

Remember, Jeb Bush is widely regarded as the most moderate of the Republican presidential contenders. Given that 59% of us support allowing same-sex marriage, it is incredible that Republicans can be so out of step with American values of tolerance. But Bush believes that a “tolerant country” is one that allows people to discriminate against gays.

Given that he also believes that invading Iraq was a good idea, is he trying to make a habit of being on the wrong side of every issue?


Doomed to Repeat?

Ted Rall
© Ted Rall

Yes, Jeb Bush really did say that he still would have invaded Iraq, even knowing everything we know now. Personally, I think that that is so incredibly stupid that it should automatically disqualify him from being president.

It also makes him blaming Obama for creating the mess in Iraq even that much more hypocritical. If you refuse to learn from the past, you are doomed to repeat it. His father invaded Iraq (although he didn’t go far), as did his older brother. Is he so willfully ignorant that he will follow in their footsteps?

UPDATE: Obama responds: “One of the central flaws I think of the decision back in 2003 was the sense that if we simply went in and deposed a dictator, or simply went in and cleared out the bad guys, that somehow peace and prosperity would automatically emerge, and that lesson we should have learned a long time ago.”