While Capitol Hill is working on a "compromise" I thought it fitting to take a look at how the usual suspects in the media are dealing with Republican leaders that dare speak out and identify elements of the stimulus package that have nothing to do with stimulating the economy. For this task I turned to Rolling Stone Magazine and quickly came upon an article headlined "The Unserious Opposition".
In that article Rolling Stone Magazine Contributing Editor Tim Dickinson rolled out his Mother Jones bona fides with a predictable attack on Republican Senators after CNN published a Republican list of 32 wasteful provisions contained in the proposed bill.
With the simple phrase "And look at what the GOP considers to be pork in this bill", Dickinson takes the common path of those that can't stop living in the past and sarcastically twists the list to portray the Republicans as "Cheneyite" ideologues. In his logic however we find a convoluted line of reasoning that is misleading at best. It exemplifies the typical approach taken by gushing media types that have forsaken their watchdog duties to become members of the Presidential fan club.
According to Dickinson the list only amounts to "just 2%" of the $900 billion package so why fret over so little things? "The Republicans are nibbling around the edges here", says Dickinson. From my perspective I view the edge as a starting point for identifying pork, for Dickinson it appears to be an endpoint that must be worked backward in an effort to save eco-friendly projects.
The first leap of faith Dickinson expects his readers to take is the uninformed and laughable argument that the greening of federal buildings is "stimulus at its best".
The biggest line item is $6 billion for greening federal buildings.
This is stimulus at its best. Thousands of labor-intensive American jobs. Hundreds of millions in new orders to American manufacturers for windows and weather stripping and caulk and insulation. And it has the added bonus of saving taxpayers millions down the line: You reap long term savings in energy costs and have the added bonus of reduced greenhouse emissions. The only justification for calling this "wasteful" is Cheneyite ideology.
Stimulus at its best? Hardly. Let us first inspect this line of reasoning with a real world example of how these efforts cost Americans money and potentially their health before I move on to a more general look at the hidden risks of green sustainable building as researched by forensic architects that work in the field.
From Dickinson's point of view you'd have to be a Darth Vader like oaf to oppose the greening of federal buildings. How one might come away with such an opinion is epitomized by a glowing asessment that appeared in the New York Times of the newly constructed green monstrosity known as the San Francisco Federal building.
The building may one day be remembered as the crowning achievement of the General Services Administration's Design Excellence program, founded more than a decade ago to remedy the atrocious architecture routinely commissioned for government offices. Under the leadership of Edward A. Feiner, the agency's former chief architect, it has pushed through some of the most important civic buildings since the New Deal, including a stellar courthouse designed by Richard Meier in Islip, N.Y., and Mr. Mayne's new federal courthouse in Eugene, Ore.
As is typical of most advocacy pieces that appear in the New York Times they couldn't have been more wrong. That "crowning achievement" has been deemed an unmitigated disaster by the people that work in the structure and reinforced by the fact that the new federal building failed to meet the standards required for LEED certification. LEED is the yard stick for certification as a nationally accepted benchmark for the design and operation of green buildings.
Thus the facts contradict the hype in this case. According to a March 2008 report published in BeyondChron.org the building lacks controlled heating and air conditioning except in managers' offices leaving the other non-managerial workers too to toil away in an uncomfortable working environment that is either too hot or too cold. The report confirmed that many workers actually use umbrellas to block the sun from their cubes and open windows to let in air to compensate for the atrocious air quality and stifling heat on hot summer days.
Tip of the Wasteful Iceberg
The wizards of smart, those people that supposedly know better than you, designed the 18 story building with no cafeteria in an effort to force the employees to walk more. As an added incentive they installed a laughable elevator system where the cars only stop at every third floor. Result? As a workaround the workers cram into the handicapped access elevators to work their way around the 18 story dud. Nice job.
Rather than being the model for all future government projects the building stands as a testament to why we should fear and dissect any legislation that falls under the vague premise of "green".
Did I mention that the building came in millions over budget and didn't even meet the minimum satisfactory working conditions demanded by the Labor Department? Ironic considering that the person making that claim is a Labor Department employee that actually works in the building!
Some may argue that we can write this off as lessons learned but there are many that caution on the rush to green sustainable construction due to problems with air quality, mold, structural longevity, high cost, and unproven design standards.
An October 2008 article by expert forensic building architects concluded:
"While the goals of sustainable development and green building certainly are worth pursuing aggressively, significant care must be taken - especially in areas with a high risk of moisture and mold problems. It seems "best practices" and "lessons learned" in other fields are not being applied in a precise enough manner, at least in terms of moisture control." - The Hidden Risks of Green Buildings
Moisture control is one of the biggest challenges of any building design. Mold is only one problem as moisture can shorten the life of the structure. So as the buildings crumble the inhabitants breath in harmful mold and mildew, a problem that may be exacerbated by many structures of this design that have self contained HVAC systems.
Before discounting the merits of the architects that compiled the report you should know that they are advocates of quality "sustainable" architectures. They have scientifically evaluated hundreds of structures and found the designs to be flawed, that the LEEDS certification standards fall short in certain areas and that a mere casual review of the literature suggests that some of the products being used have had minimal on-site testing.
Read the whole article here, it is a real eye opener unlike the propaganda being spewed in Rolling Stone.
Rounding out this perfect storm of "liberalism meets reality" is a minefield of potential litigation riding the wave of disgruntled owners and sick victims of flawed construction. The lawyers are watching this closely.
Verdict: Rolling Stone wouldn't know stimulus at its best if it bit them in the butt.
Another example that Dickinson presents to his readers is the following sarcastic statement that is supposedly meant to qualify as some sort of intelligent insight.
Next: $2 billion for a "clean coal plant." Verdict: Waste. Kill it.
Sadly for the readers of Rolling Stone this statement is anything but informed. Researching the actual reason this was included in a list of waste we learn that they are talking about a project that was already defunded once by the Department of Energy because its projected costs had doubled to $1.8 billion before the project hit the ground.
$2 billion earmark to re-start FutureGen, a near-zero emissions coal power plant in Illinois that the Department of Energy defunded last year because it said the project was inefficient.
This labeling as pork by Republicans seems to have many liberal advocacy groups up in arms. This is pretty funny considering that many environmental groups opposed clean coal technology as far back as 2005. Now that President Oabam is pursiung this technology I guess all is forgiven.
But not all liberal groups are on board. An unlikely source that reinforces the Republican position can be found at Talking Points Memo where Elana Schor shoots holes in the claims being made by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin's office that this $2 billion dollars is slated "for any number of carbon capture projects" and not the Illinois based FutureGen project.
When Obama's energy secretary nominee met with Illinois lawmakers on FutureGen and the company put together a new funding proposal, it looked like a sign that the stimulus bill would include cash to put the coal plant back on track.
But FutureGen was nowhere in the House stimulus bill. According to Politico, that move was intended to signify the White House's serious intention to avoid earmarks ... especially earmarks that could be spun as benefiting the president's home state.
Given the report of FutureGen's demise, then, it was curious to see this line in the Senate stimulus:
Provided, That $2,000,000,000 is available for one or more near zero emissions powerplant(s);
Aside from the inadvertent humor in the idea of "near zero emissions," that $2 billion appropriation would appear to be a FutureGen reference. The Illinois facility is often described as the world's first "near zero emissions" plant.
TPM didn't let it go and confirmed that FutureGen may very well get the funding despite the claims to the contrary from Senator Durbin's office.
Late Late Update: FutureGen would indeed be eligible for the $2 billion, a spokesman for Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) says via e-mail: "How it will be spent will be determined by the Department of Energy. Future Gen would only be one of the options."I won't argue against the fact that FutureGen would add jobs but at what cost? There are mitigating risk factors due to uncertainties in the design and the potential impact a sequestered gas design could have on the public. The government is notorious for underestimating the costs of just about everything they touch. Experience tells us that these cost estimates never shrink. So we could be adding jobs on one side while pulling the money out in the form of debt on another.
Verdict: Rolling Stone, Wrong Again.
Successful financial companies have floors of mathematicians and quants that back their investment strategies with scientific formulas that show exactly how they expect the markets to react in any given situation. Shouldn't we, or minimally the watchful eye of the media expect the government to do the same?
From Mother Jones to the mainstream we should all lose sleep knowing that these people are filling our kids' heads with rubbish. There has to be a point where someone in the mainstream media says enough is enough and actually does the job they were meant to do. As for Rolling Stone there is little hope.
Terry Trippany is the publisher of Webloggin and holds the post as The Watcher at Watcher of Weasels. The image accompanying this article is the most recent cover of Rolling Stone Magazine as featured on the Rolling Stone website.