Monday, July 1, 2013

VP Biden: Virginia GOP Slate Extreme Captives of Tea Party Ideology

Vice President Joe Biden continued a busy political pace Saturday, appearing with Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial candidate at the swing state's premier party fundraiser and ridiculing this fall's conservative Republican statewide ticket as extreme captives of tea party ideology.

Biden brought about 1,000 Democrats to their feet repeatedly at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner barely four months ahead of the nation's only competitive governor's race. His appearances at state fundraisers haved evoked speculation that he is laying his footing for a 2016 presidential bid.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we stand for equal rights and women's rights," Biden said. "With virtually zero support from the Republicans, the president and I have moved the country from the worst recession since the Great Depression to 38 months of private-sector growth."

With Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe at his side, Biden took aim at McAuliffe's opponent, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who won the GOP nomination with strong tea party support and his socially conservative ticket mates.

"There is so much they stand for that is so at odds with the value set of Virginians," Biden said.

The vice president warned that a GOP victory in Virginia would only galvanize the tea party's grip on the GOP in Congress, where he said even longtime moderate Republicans are fearful of a primary challenge if they don't do the tea party's bidding.

"They are so afraid of a challenge by the tea party that they vote against what is the right vote. Imagine what they will do to Barack and me if Terry McAuliffe loses," he said.

A McAuliffe victory, he said, would "send a strong signal to Republicans across America that there's no reason to be afraid of these extreme guys."

Before speaking to activists who paid $175 or more per ticket, Biden joined McAuliffe, a longtime confidante of Bill and Hillary Clinton, in surprising patrons at a Richmond restaurant, shaking hands before wolfing down two plates of fried whiting.

Among other campaign events this season, Biden aided Democratic Rep. Ed Markey in a Massachusetts special election ? Markey won, thus keeping Secretary of State John Kerry's old seat in Democratic hands ? and held a series of closed-door "donor-maintenance" events in Washington.

Sen. Tim Kaine, elected on the same Virginia ballot as President Barack Obama last fall, said it's too early for Democrats to take sides in a potential nomination contest between Biden and Hillary Clinton, but he counseled both to try pragmatism over progressive partisanship.

"I think the Virginia Democratic success model is, we'll let the other guys be the ideology people and we will be the work-together, compromise, make-things-happen party. That's been the model that has allowed Dems to win," said Kaine, like McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman.

In speeches warming up the crowd, Kaine and Sen. Mark Warner congratulated gay-rights activists for the ruling that cleared the way for same-sex marriages in 13 states but not in Virginia, where a 7-year-old amendment to the state Constitution prohibits it. And both hailed the immigration reform bill that they supported ? it now faces an uncertain future in a conservative Republican-led House.

The Cuccinelli campaign joined the Virginia GOP in using Biden's visit as an occasion to attack the ticket for Obama's clean-energy initiative, warning that it will devastate Virginia's struggling coal industry and drive up utility bills.

"With no economic plan or message to tout, Vice President Biden and Terry McAuliffe doubled down on an empty strategy of division and false attacks tonight," the campaign said in a statement that referred to the "Obama/Biden/McAuliffe War On Coal" and government-run healthcare as "harmful to job growth and economic opportunity in Virginia."

State GOP Chairman Pat Mullins called it "the most anti-coal slate of candidates ever fielded in the history of Virginia," a distinction intended to lock up the rural, rugged but independent southwestern tip of the state for the GOP in a neck-and-neck governor's race.

Republicans weren't alone in protesting Biden's trip. About three dozen environmental activists opposed to construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline stood on a street corner as Biden's motorcade passed, waving placards that read "Say No to Big Oil" and chanting "Hey, Joe, you ought to know, Keystone pipeline's got to go."

? Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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Especially proud: Parades across country celebrate LGBT community and recent gains

Justin Lane / EPA

Todd Fernandez (L) and Giovanni Miranda (R), who were just married today, kiss while marching during the 44th annual gay pride march in New York, New York, USA, 30 June 2013.

By Elisha Fieldstadt, NBC News

Gay Pride weekend festivities are rarely understated,? but after the Supreme Court?s decisions last week, marches and rallies all over the country were expected to be especially celebratory this year.

Pride weekend generally occurs at the end of June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, in which the gay community exploded against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, in New York City on June 28, 1969.

After the Supreme Court?s decision on Wednesday to overturn DOMA, granting legally married same-sex couples the same federal benefits as their heterosexual counterparts, and to let "Prop. 8" die, resuming the legalization of gay marriage in California, the festive atmosphere surrounding Pride events has been ramped up several notches.

While many of the largest and most notable Pride rallies and parties occur in New York, San Francisco and Chicago, smaller but equally colorful celebrations were set to take place in Seattle, St. Louis, Cleveland and other cities throughout the U.S. and around the globe.

Although the first gay pride march was in New York, in forty-plus years, pride events have spread throughout the world. The Paris pride march also had a duel celebration purpose on Saturday, marking the one month anniversary of France?s first gay marriage. Simultaneously, LGBT groups and supporters marched in Spain, Portugal and Mexico. Canada, Sweden, and Finland held parades on Sunday.

Jose Cabezas / AFP - Getty Images

Members of the LBGT community and their allies celebrate around the world.

Appropriately leading the way in New York City, was Edith Windsor ? the woman who championed the fight against DOMA.

Signs along the route read, "Thank you, Edie" ? celebrating Windsor for her successful challenge of a provision of DOMA that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

"If somebody had told me 15 years ago that I would be the marshal of New York City's gay pride parade in 2013, at the age of 84, I wouldn't have believed it," said Windsor.

Singer Harry Belafonte and activist Earl Fowlkes, both equality and civil rights advocates, wijoin her in leading the two-mile march down New York's famed Fifth Avenue from Midtown to the historic Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.

?LGBT rights are expanding across the country and these individuals embody the soul of a movement far from over,? organizers NYC Pride said in statement.

The NYPD this year increased plain-clothes patrol to deal with problems that may occur before and after the parade, officials said. The additional surveillance is in response not only to expected record-breaking crowds but also the deadly shooting of a gay man that took place just a month ago in the area that Pride-goers are set to congregate.

Progressive songstress Lady Gaga spoke out against gay violence at New York?s kickoff rally on Friday, declaring "The violence that has taken place towards LGBTs in the past months is unacceptable here and anywhere ? enough is enough," according to NBCNewyork.

While the parade marks the peak of excitement in New York, marchers may have trouble trumping the grandeur of her surprise appearance and performance of her pride-centric ?Star-Spangled Banner? including the line, ?Oh, say does that flag of pride yet wave."

Although New York's Stonewall sparked gay pride marches, San Francisco is equally famous for its gay community, and also boasts a large and colorful pride weekend. According to NBCBayarea, San Francisco?s police chief expects over 1.5 million people to attend the parade.

"Even though the World Series was huge, this could quite possibly be larger in light of the decision that just came down from the Supreme Court ? but it will be just as happy as the World Series," Police Chief Greg Suhr said. Police presence has also been bolstered in San Francisco to keep musical performances, rallies and the parade enjoyable and safe.

Meanwhile, announced that their pride weekend will also include performances, over 200 floats and of course, marchers.

According to the Chicago Transit Authority, the parade route was expanded to include more streets last year and maintains that distance this year to accommodate the greater amount of people who wish to display their pride in Chi town.

According to NBCChicago, the gay rights advocates of their city could use a joyous occasion after Illinois could not garner enough support from the house to legalize gay marriage in the state, even after a petition on and a plea from President Barack Obama to the lawmakers of his home state.

Related: Justice Kennedy denies motion to halt gay marriage in California


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Are These Apple?s Lower Costing iPhone Plastic Rear Shells?

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Photos claiming to be of the back-plate of Apple?s rumored low-cost iPhone have made their way online. The photos first appeared on Weiphone forums, the back-plate which cannot be verified to be that of an iPhone appears to be made of soft plastic material vs the aluminum unlike the current iPhone. Only time will tell if these do belong a real product that Apple has been developing in their top secret labs or if these are just rumors.

2013-06-30 04.02.40 pm



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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Obama meets Mandela family, police disperse protesters

By Jeff Mason and Mark Felsenthal

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - President Barack Obama met the family of South Africa's ailing anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela on Saturday and he praised the critically ill, retired statesman as one of history's greatest figures.

The faltering health of Mandela, 94, a figure admired globally as a symbol of struggle against injustice and racism, is dominating Obama's two-day visit to South Africa.

But Obama also faced protests by South Africans against U.S. foreign policy, especially American drone strikes.

Police fired stun grenades on Saturday to disperse several hundred protesters who had gathered outside the Soweto campus of the University of Johannesburg, where Obama was due to address a town hall meeting with students.

Obama, in South Africa on the second leg of a three-nation Africa tour, met Mandela relatives to deliver a message of support instead of directly visiting the former president at the hospital where he has spent the last three weeks.

The meeting took place at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg.

Obama told reporters afterwards he also spoke by telephone with Mandela's wife Graca Machel, who remained by her husband's side in the hospital in Pretoria.

"I expressed my hope that Madiba draws peace and comfort from the time that he is spending with loved ones, and also expressed my heartfelt support for the entire family as they work through this difficult time," he said, using the clan name Madiba by which Mandela is affectionately known.

Obama earlier had talks with South African President Jacob Zuma and the two held a joint news conference in which Zuma said Mandela remained in a "critical but stable condition".

Obama's visit to South Africa had stirred intense speculation that the first African-American president of the United States would look in on the first black president of South Africa in his hospital room.

But Mandela's deterioration in the last week to a critical condition forced the White House to rule out the possibility of Obama and his wife seeing the frail ex-statesman.

Speaking to reporters at Pretoria's Union Buildings, where Mandela was inaugurated as president in 1994, Obama said the prayers of millions around the world were with the Nobel Peace laureate, who lay just one km (mile) away in hospital.

Adding to his previous praise of Mandela, Obama likened him to first U.S. president George Washington because of the decision of both to step down at the peak of their power.

"What an incredible lesson that is," Obama said, calling Mandela "one of the greatest people in history".

Obama had said on Thursday he did not "need a photo op" with Mandela, whom he met in 2005 in Washington when he was a U.S. senator.


After holding talks with Obama, Zuma said Mandela's critical condition was unchanged. "We hope that very soon he will be out of hospital," he added, without giving further details.

In welcoming Obama, Zuma underscored the historical similarities between Mandela and his U.S. guest in overcoming decades of institutionalized racism and discrimination to rise to the highest political office.

"The two of you are also bound by history as the first black presidents of your respective countries," Zuma said. "You both carry the dreams of the millions of people in Africa and the diaspora."

On Sunday, Obama flies to Cape Town from which he will visit Robben Island, the windswept former penal colony in the frigid waters of the south Atlantic where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in apartheid jails.

Zuma said Mandela had told him before his latest hospitalization that "when I go to sleep I will be very happy because I left South Africa going forward".

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Mark Felsenthal, and Dylan Martinez and Jon Herskovitz in Soweto; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Pascal Fletcher)


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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Chopped Recap: Climbing and Cooking


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The Best and Worst Parts of Obama?s Climate Plan

President Obama visits the Copper Mountain Solar Project in Boulder City, Nevada, March 21, 2012. President Obama visits the Copper Mountain Solar Project in Boulder City, Nev. on March 21, 2012. Obama's recently announced climate action plan puts a lot of emphasis on measures to adapt to climate change.

Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters

One should be grateful for a president who is willing to stand up and declare?as President Obama did in his speech Tuesday announcing his long-awaited climate action plan?that global warming due to carbon dioxide emissions is a serious problem requiring serious measures, and that ?We don?t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.? After all, as presidents go, we could have done much worse. President Obama is working under serious constraints in the form of a completely uncooperative Congress, and insofar as there is no real substitute for congressional action, there are limits to what he can be expected to do. One can always hope, but anybody hoping for a miracle in the unveiling of Obama's plan will be severely disappointed.

For the most part, the plan follows the recommendations of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which many of us found wanting. Stanford's Ken Caldeira has described them as a ?bunch of small-bore measures? that ?fail to articulate a vision in which we transform our energy system into one that doesn't treat the atmosphere as a waste dump.? I am inclined to agree with this assessment, and I don't see much in either the president's speech or the climate action plan to change my mind.

Obama's plan puts a lot of emphasis on measures to adapt to climate change; these are worthwhile and necessary, but they won't amount to much more than a pinky in the crumbling dike if carbon dioxide continues building up at anything like the rates we are currently seeing. The most important part of the action plan and Obama's speech deals with measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which the president refers to throughout the plan and speech as ?carbon pollution.? This terminology is reasonable, as it is the carbon in fossil fuels which, when combined with oxygen during burning, makes the carbon dioxide, the principal and most enduring cause of global warming. One must not confuse ?carbon pollution? in this sense with the emission of particulate soot, known loosely as ?black carbon.? Soot is a much shorter-lived and more minor part of the global warming story, which comes up somewhat later in the action plan. Another thing to keep in mind is that, while the president refers to ?carbon pollution,? all the tonnages of emissions referred to in the document are tonnages of carbon dioxide, not tonnage of carbon. Carbon dioxide is 27 percent carbon by weight, so one ton of carbon dioxide is equivalent to about one-quarter ton of carbon, which is also roughly the amount of carbon you need to burn in order to produce it. This is just a matter of accounting convention, but one must keep it straight in order to do the arithmetic right. I prefer to do my accounting in terms of tonnage of carbon, and the numbers I refer to are converted accordingly.

The usual unit of carbon accounting is billion metric tons of carbon (gigatons carbon, or GtC); 1 metric ton is 1,000 kilograms or about 2,200 pounds, just a bit more than a conventional English (or ?short?) ton. U.S. emissions amounted to 1.36 GtC in 2012, representing about 17 percent of the world total, and the contributions of Obama's decarbonization plan should be measured against these figures. The 2012 U.S. emissions were back down to levels not seen since the 1990s. This welcome decline is in part due to switching between coal and natural gas, but in order to sustain the decline into the future, much more will have to be done (as discussed here and here). Worldwide emissions are what count for the climate, but if the United States is to exert the leadership required to help bring the developing world (notably China and India) on board, it must first get its own house in order.

When it comes to carbon pollution, coal is Public Enemy No. 1 by a wide margin. That is because, both in the United States and worldwide, coal represents the biggest, cheapest, and most accessible pool of carbon that is threatened to be dumped into the atmosphere. To make matters worse, coal is a very inefficient fuel, and as usually burned produces more carbon per unit of useful energy than any other fossil fuel. Obama?s commitment to extend EPA carbon pollution regulation from new to existing power plants is perhaps the most important part of the climate action plan. Even if such regulations take years to put into place, as they probably will, the mere fact that such regulations are on the way signals to the energy markets that the future may not be business as usual with regard to carbon pollution, and the rule will help direct capital to more carbon-neutral forms of energy. Until the regulations are formulated, however, it will be hard to pin down how many gigatons of carbon they keep out of the atmosphere. The potential leverage is huge, since current U.S. emissions from coal (primarily in power plants) add up to nearly a half-gigaton of carbon per year.

However, Obama has failed to fully engage in the war on coal. The biggest shortcoming of the plan is that it doesn't do anything to address U.S. coal exports, which have grown as domestic demand has dropped. This has helped keep U.S. coal production steady or growing, and it will cancel the benefits of switching fuels in domestic power plants. The atmosphere doesn't care where the coal is burned so long as it is burned somewhere. I don't think much of our exported coal is going to rock collectors who are keeping it locked up in cabinets. U.S. coal exports have doubled since 2007, with much of the increase going to Asia. This increase is equivalent to at least 27 million tons of carbon annually, which cancels out one-half of the reduction in U.S. emissions achieved during 2012. It wouldn't take too much more growth in coal exports to entirely undo the good the president's plan may achieve.

Insofar as the United States holds some of the world's greatest coal reserves, there is much more that Obama could have done?and still can do?to assure that as much as possible of it is left in the ground. For starters, he could mandate that climate effects be taken into account in evaluating the environmental impact of new coal export terminals. The current permitting process used by the Army Corps of Engineers does not do this, and indeed it is lax in many other regards. Additional measures the president could have taken would be to include climate effects in the permitting process for coal mining on federal lands and impose climate-impact extraction fees on such mining.

Canada's tar sands are Public Enemy No. 2 in the climate fight, if not in terms of current emissions, at least in terms of the size of the extractable carbon pool they represent. In this regard, a welcome surprise is that Obama included a statement concerning the Keystone XL pipeline in his speech, though not in the action plan itself. In the speech, he proclaimed that the pipeline, which taps into the tar sands production, would be approved only if it did not make climate change ?significantly? worse. The key here is how that word ?significantly? will be interpreted; the original State Department document soft-pedaled the issue and more or less said the tar sands would be burned regardless so there's no significant climate impact of the pipeline. The EPA begged to differ. I think it is clear that the pipeline will increase the profitability and hence production from the tar sands, otherwise Canada would not be lobbying so aggressively for it. The important thing with regard to Obama's policy is that he didn't really need to mention Keystone at all in his speech. A mention of Keystone followed by weaseling out through careful parsing of the meaning of ?significant? is not going to get him much street cred with environmentalists, so one can hope that Obama's remark signals an intention to take the obvious, if incremental, climate impacts of the pipeline seriously.

Some of the things mentioned in the action plan are so trivial they look like r?sum? padding to me. For example, what is the point of touting 100 megawatts of renewable energy incorporated in federal housing projects? If it displaces coal, it amounts to a fairly trivial one-quarter of a million tons of carbon per year. Similarly, the appliance and federal building energy standards save only 48 million tons of carbon per year?not exactly trivial?but the action plan inflates the significance by comparing the cumulative savings out to 2030 to a single year of U.S. energy related emissions. The 13 gigawatts of permitted renewables planned for federal lands and military installations in Obama's plan yields a similar savings of 33 million tons per year. That's nothing to sneeze at, but it will take a whole lot of actions of this sort to add up to something significant.

Obama's climate plan did add one set of actions that was not in the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recommendations. Namely, the plan gives a fair amount of prominence to control of short-lived climate pollutants, which are emissions other than carbon dioxide that cause warming, but which dissipate within a decade or less after emission (in contrast to carbon dioxide, which sticks around for millennia). The main targets for control are methane (the same stuff as natural gas, emitted from agriculture and leakage from gas extraction), HFCs (a refrigerant that is a substitute for freons that doesn?t destroy the ozone), and particulate black carbon. There is a substantial part of the scientific and policy community which has deluded itself into thinking (wishful thinking, I would say) that early action on such substances could make an important contribution to climate protection. The program is heavily backed by the United Nations Environment Program, and is very popular within the State Department, which no doubt sees it as a way for the United States to appear to be doing something about climate without having to touch the third-rail issue of fossil fuels. In reality, the short-lived nature of these pollutants means that there is little to be gained by spending money and political capital controlling them now. Since their climate effects largely dissipate within a decade, we can wait 100 years if we like, do something about them then, and still get nearly the same benefit in terms of reduced warming. The same cannot be said for carbon dioxide, which sticks around essentially forever. Every extra 100 GtC we emit (as carbon dioxide) while wasting time diddling with short lived climate pollution irreversibly ratchets up the world's temperature by another two-tenths of a degree Celsius. People also get fooled into thinking the contribution of short-lived climate pollution is a big deal by just comparing these substances? climate impact to the still relatively modest carbon-dioxide effect at present, neglecting the fact that at the rate carbon dioxide emissions are growing, the contribution of short-lived climate pollutants is going to look pretty trivial by the year 2100, even allowing for their growth. It makes sense to begin controlling the short-lived stuff once carbon dioxide emissions are on a track to go to zero, but not before. Those of us in the scientific community who have realized that early abatement of short-lived climate pollution yields little climate protection are fighting an uphill battle against the juggernaut. From the council report and conversations I have had with certain council members, it seems clear to me that the council appreciates the limited role to be played by early abatement of the short-lived emissions, but it appears that the State Department has managed to win a place for its viewpoint in the president's plan. I will have a lot more to say about the issue of short lived climate pollution in a future Slate article, but that is for another day.

So, the decarbonization measures in Obama's plan are good and constructive steps. They include a number of other sensible ideas beyond what I have already discussed, such as worldwide efforts to eliminate perverse subsidies for fossil fuels, substantial reduction of financing of foreign coal-fired power plants, and measures to increase the use of renewables and to improve energy efficiency. But all these measures still don't add up to anything like what is really needed, and nobody should succumb to the illusion that they do. The good news, however, is that Obama has brought the dialogue around to the nature of the solutions to the decarbonization problem. The solutions are many and various, mostly boring and prosaic?and not frightening. They are not precisely painless and risk-free, but neither are they the sort of challenges that Americans have shied away from in the past. President Obama has made a start on leading the nation and world down this path. Where he actually leads, and how much following he picks up, will make all the difference.


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