Saturday: A Grab Bag For Your Reading Pleasure

in other news2

Good Morning!!

Yesterday the State Department released its report on the Keystone XL Pipeline, apparently giving it their seal of approval. The original NYT headline on their story by John Broder was “A 2000-Page Lubricant for Keystone XL.” At some point it was changed to “Report May Ease Path for New Pipeline.” I guess the first was was a little too graphic for the Gray Lady, but the two combined sound even more lewd–or is is just me? Anyway, here’s an excerpt:

The State Department issued a revised environmental impact statement for the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline on Friday that makes no recommendation about whether the project should be built but presents no conclusive environmental reason it should not be.

The 2,000-page document also makes no statement on whether the pipeline is in the United States’ economic and energy interests, a determination to be made later this year by President Obama.

But it will certainly add a new element to the already robust climate change and energy debate around the $7 billion proposed project. The new report does not make any policy recommendations, but its conclusion that the environmental and climate change impacts are manageable could provide Mr. Obama political cover if he decides to approve the pipeline.

Although the study will help guide the president’s decision, it does not make the politics any easier. Environmental advocates and landowners along the route have mounted spirited protests against the project, including a large demonstration in Washington last month. They say they view Keystone as a test of Mr. Obama’s seriousness about addressing global warming.

And of course, as Broder points out, “the pressure from industry, the Canadian government, most Republicans and some Democrats in Congress, local officials and union leaders” is also intense.

Are you getting the feeling this is a done deal? Isn’t John Kerry supposed to be an environmentalist?

The “sequester” cuts have begun, and guess who has an op-ed in the NYT about it? Brace yourself.

Singing the Sequester Soap Opera, by Joe Scarborough. I’ll skip the fake-poetic introductory paragraphs {Gag} … go to the link and read them if you desire. Actually, all the paragraphs are over-the-top, IMO. Joe’s point seems to be that Obama “overplayed his hand”

Americans who endured the grimmest warnings from President Obama and his administration need not fear that the cuts will jeopardize military readiness; limit our nation’s ability to forecast hurricanes; compromise food safety; lead to outbreaks of E. coli; undermine airport security; and cause older Americans to go hungry.

The Republicans have won this round, according to “Morning Joe,” because no one is going to feel any pain whatsoever.

…this year’s reductions will not do great damage to domestic and defense programs. Congress will have $85 billion less to spend this year, but the Congressional Budget Office projects that the actual cuts implemented this year will amount to only $42 billion out of a $3.5 trillion budget. That means that politicians will have to cut a little more than a penny out of every dollar that it spends this year.

Does Mr. Obama really want to claim that his administration, which has added $6 trillion to the national debt, is unable to save a penny out of every dollar it spends? Does he really expect Americans to believe — after four years, the banking and auto bailouts, several stimulus bills and a run of record deficits — that our $16 trillion economy cannot absorb $42 billion of spending reductions?

Good to know, Joe. Thanks for that comforting message. Now we’ll just have to wait and see if your predictions are accurate.

Oddly, WBUR in Boston is reporting that thousands of Federal workers in the city are facing furloughs:

Thousands of people work in the John F. Kennedy Federal Building at Boston’s Government Center. It’s actually twin 26-story buildings. On Thursday, the word “sequester” seemed to be on the lips of federal employees going in and out. Bethany Seed said she’s not looking forward to Monday, when she might be handed a furlough notice.

“For me, personally, a furlough would be a problem because I’d still be paying for full-time child care,” Seed said. “And I’d be losing my pay from work. So it’s not something I would like to see happen.”

Seed is an economist with the U.S. Department of Labor. When you hear things like jobless numbers, she works on those statistics. Her boss — not her director supervisor, but way up the chain — is Seth Harris, the acting U.S. labor secretary, who was visiting Boston Thursday.

“Unfortunately, a sizable number of my workers are going to be subject to furloughs,” Harris said. “It’s going to vary from agency to agency across the department. We’re going to lose about six days of work from our employees on average. That’s a big loss.”

But Seed can now breathe a sigh of relief, because “Morning Joe” has decreed that no one will be hurt by the “sequester” cuts. Or did he only me no one who is important to him will be hurt? Again, we’ll just have to wait and see.

In contrast to Know-Nothing Joe Scarborough, Bob Cesca seems to know a little bit about the issues–at least this piece at HuffPo made sense to me: The Sequestration Fight Is Based on Lies and Stupidity. Here’s the introduction; if it grabs you too, please read the whole thing at the link.

As a political writer, being outraged by certain issues and policies is like rocket fuel. I’m not an angry guy by nature, but there’s a universe of things in politics that anger me and, combined with an almost involuntary drive to seek and disseminate the truth, I’m never really at a loss for topics to cover.

But the sequestration issue has been one of those rare items that frustrate me to the point of being incapable of spending time on it. When I read about sequestration, my brain seizes. The stupidity of it all simply confounds me to the point of being speechless. For me, this is a shocking and rare predicament.

It’s not even the chronic brinksmanship — the reoccurring doomsday countdowns and the Republican-manifested economic sabotage that’s behind it all. It’s not the Keynesian in me who opposes the very notion of deficit reduction during a sluggish recovery. Granted, these are both points of irritation, but the characteristic of the sequester that ought to force us all into complete apoplexy and subsequent outrage-induced catatonia is the epidemic of ignorance regarding the status of the federal budget deficit.

This post by David Atkins at Hullabaloo is also well worth a look: Alternate Universe Land.

Sinkholes and a Missing Governor

I’m sure you’ve heard about the Florida man who disappeared into a sinkhole. This morning NPR (via AP0 reported:

Engineers worked gingerly to find out more about a slowly growing sinkhole that swallowed a Florida man in his bedroom, believing the entire house could eventually succumb to the unstable ground.

Jeff Bush, 37, was in his bedroom Thursday night when the earth opened and took him and everything else in his room. Five other people were in the house but managed to escape unharmed. Bush’s brother jumped into the hole to try to help, but he had to be rescued himself by a sheriff’s deputy.

Engineers were expected at the home to do more tests after sunrise Saturday. They spent the previous day on the property, taking soil samples and running various tests — while acknowledging that the entire lot was dangerous. No one was allowed in the home.

“I cannot tell you why it has not collapsed yet,” Bill Bracken, the owner of an engineering company called to assess the sinkhole, said of the home. He described the earth below as a “very large, very fluid mass.”

Apparently sinkholes are endemic in Florida, so much so that homeowners must have insurance for the possibility that their home may be sitting on one.

“You can almost envision a piece of Swiss cheese,” Taylor Yarkosky, a sinkhole expert from Brooksville, Fla., said while gesturing to the ground and the sky blue home where the earth opened in Seffner. “Any house in Florida could be in that same situation.”

A sinkhole near Orlando grew to 400 feet across in 1981 and devoured five sports cars, most of two businesses, a three-bedroom house and the deep end of an Olympic-size swimming pool.

More than 500 sinkholes have been reported in Hillsborough County alone since the government started keeping track in 1954, according to the state’s environmental agency.

Assumption Parish sinkhole

Assumption Parish sinkhole

Yikes! So…what about that sinkhole near New Orleans then? Residents angry as Assumption sinkhole keeps growing

BAYOU CORNE, La. — The Assumption Parish sinkhole is a lot like a living, breathing thing. More than 200 days after it mysteriously started swallowing up the swamp, hundreds of residents are still under a mandatory evacuation order.

Geophysicists say the cavern that caused the sinkhole at the surface is still collapsing, leaving Bayou Corne residents wondering if there will ever be an end in sight….Geophyisicists [sic] now say the western side of one of the brine caverns is collapsing, filling in from deep in the Earth, causing the sinkhole at the surface to expand and contract.

Former residents of the area would like some answers.

Many of the ones they keep getting are conflicting and confusing, especially from the state and the company that once mined the collapsing salt cavern Texas Brine.

“The cause of the sinkhole is the subject of pending litigation. At this point, I don’t think it’s proper to have any discussion about what the cause is and whether we accept what anyone has said regarding the cause of the sinkhole,” Troy Charpentier, an attorney for Texas Brine, told the committee.

The secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources flat-out testified at the same hearing, “The cavern collapse led to the sinkhole and created a path for the natural gas to come to the surface.”
But Secretary Stephen Chustz slipped out a backdoor, with his press secretary only offering an interview with himself after the hearing without giving us the chance to ask him any questions.

Hmmmmm… What about the governor then?

From David J. Mitchell at the Baton Rouge Advocate: Inside Report: Sinkhole critics: O, Governor, where art thou?

For months now, a vocal group of activists and residents has found fault with Gov. Bobby Jindal over his absence from the scene of the Bayou Corne sinkhole.

Why, they ask, has he not made the commonly seen leadership visit to a disaster area that, while brief, boosts morale and provides hope?

Sinkhole activist John Achee Jr., a regular critic of Jindal and state government’s handling of the sinkhole and salt dome regulation, leveled this complaint again during a Feb. 19 joint hearing of the House and Senate committees on Natural Resources.

He called Jindal’s absence “disheartening” and “very concerning.”

Jindal’s office issued a response, saying that the good governor gets updates on what’s happening and that he thinks “abundant resources” have already been provided. Translation: “I couldn’t possibly care less, so f&ck off, loser!”

Odd and Ends

I just had to share this story from Gawker about a nervous mom and her fight to find out where her son had got off to: World’s Most Embarrassing Mom Makes Peruvian Government Hunt Down Her Son When He Stops Posting on Facebook. I have to say I’m much more sympathetic to the mom than Gawker is. I think someday the young man will grow older and wiser and will look back and understand how much his mom loves him. I’d much rather have a mom like that than one who doesn’t worry when I disappear into the wilderness for months.

I’m running short on space, so I’ll end with this oldie-but-goodie from 1996 by the great Joan Didion at The New York Review of Books, in which she ripped Bob Woodward and his clunky writing from stem to stern: The Deferential Spirit. It’s long, but please go read it–even if you read it back in 1996. It’s priceless!

Now it’s your turn. What’s on your reading and blogging list today?