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Farewell purveyor of useless oddities.  You will not be missed.

Skymall filed for Chapter 11 today after seeing its revenue utterly plummet the second airline passengers had the opportunity to look at literally anything else.

As soon as airlines started providing wi-fi, coupled with the prevelence of iPads and other handheld devices, no one felt compelled to browse through 30 glossy pages of high-heel shoe wine glass holders, arthritic gloves, strange pillows, and a day of the week clock

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I’ll give Virginia credit where credit is due; I like their legislative process.  No full time legislators, no round the calendar sessions down in Richmond, and no ridiculously high number of delegates (yeah, I’m looking at YOU New Hampshire!).

Here’s how it works:  The General Assembly convenes on the second Wednesday of January.  In even number years it lasts for 60 days; in odd number years it lasts for 45 days.  All laws passed (unless specifically given a later effective date) go into effect July 1.  Delegates are paid $18,000 per year for this service.

That’s it.  In and out.  Single session.  Pass things, don’t pass things, whatever.  Go to Richmond, line up a 45-day agenda, plan your work, work you plan and get the hell out of Dodge.  The end.

Not a bad system overall, I gotta say.  So the legislature starts tomorrow and there are already over 1,001 bills submitted for consideration.  

This list is simply ones that I’ve flagged to track through the process.  There were MANY related to criminal prosecution, taxes, education and health care that really do seem important, but I don’t know a lot about those issues nor o I follow them closely so they aren’t on my list but would have probably garnered a spot on someone else’s.  Also, many of these House bills have companion bills in the Senate, but I didn’t list those as well just to try to cover a broader range of topics.  The Senate bills I did list are ones that have no companion in the House and are new proposals originating in the Upper Chamber.

Here’s the 30 bills I’m watching:

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According to Congressman Lacy Clay, the St Louis County Police Force will no longer be responsible or involved in policing the city of Ferguson.

Updates as I get them.  This is turning into a bit of a liveblog covering a lot of local media reports, Anonymous and Federal responses.  Chime in with anything you got from the ground!

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I’m in the middle of selling my house and buying a new one so it’s been a little while since I wrote one of these.

Let’s check in first on the hard numbers:

Today’s Coal trading price: 61.50 per Short Ton, which is actually a bit of a recovery from its $52 low point earlier this year, but still well off its former days of $80+ back in 2011, much less its $140 high-point back in 2008.

The FERC released its Infrastructure Report for May and it’s heartening to see that there has still not been a single new coal powered energy source brought online in 2014.  And coal continues to only provide 28.45% of the US Energy off its former bragging point of 41%.  (Note:  this is Utility scale energy only and specifically excludes all the gains in rooftop solar)

Jump the fold for specific updates from around the world

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Wed Apr 16, 2014 at 06:00 AM PDT

Ontario is now 100% Coal Free

by Wisper

I write periodical "War on Coal" diaries summing up the past few weeks or months of news in the floundering coal industry, but this headline is not one to wait for the next update.

Ontario Canada closed its VERY LAST COAL PLANT yesterday

Ontario had pledged to be coal-free by the end of 2014 and here we are in April and Thunder Bay Power Plant has burned its last piece of coal.  ...and that's it.  

And entire jurisdiction of North America is now 100% coal free and committed to staying that way.

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I was going to wait a full month before writing another one of these diaries.  ..but so many things have happened!  

The War on Coal has so many subtle fronts and off-the-radar developments I almost feel like I could write one of these every other day.

So let’s start where we always do: the price.  Thermal Coal is currently trading at $59.53 per short ton, down from its $139/short ton peak in 2008.  This a slight uptick recently which can be ascribed mainly to transport issues where rail congestion is causing utilities to run down their on-hand supply and scramble in the spot market to get quick shipments from nearby while their contracted supply shipments struggle to make their way to the sites.

And remember, LOW PRICES are good.  We’ve had comments in previous diaries about people wanting to see price spikes or something that will make coal expensive relative to other fuels.  No.  We want LOW prices; bottoming-out, cratering, floor-dropout prices.  We are trying to eradicate this market.  You don’t destroy a market by limiting supply or spiking demand (which is what a price increase would signify).  You do it by over-supply and withering demand.  I have linked many stories about coal mines being idled and new BLM Coal Leases failing to generate a single bid for mining.  All of that would be reversed if suddenly there was profit to be made in the Dirty Black Rock Industry.

If the price were to go up it would resurrect the incentive to mine more coal and get it to market.  Right now the biggest reason why major producers, miners, utilities, investors and haulers are walking away from coal is not some newfound climatological awareness and a sense of stewardship for our planet.  No; it’s the simple one-line profit-based business assessment of “It Just Ain’t Worth It”.

Let’s keep it that way.  Jump the fold for the new stuff.

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I've been on a kick lately seeking out some intellectual entertainment.  Specifically, things to watch or listen to (my reading list truthfully needs no supplement; it is already over-capacity to the point where I am close to admitting that I'm never actually going to read all this stuff).

I've been on a documentary binge (I think The House I Live In is still the best one I've seen in a while), TED talks (watch this one if you just want experience a few minutes of earnest child-like wonder), RSA lectures (See the ones about Strategy or "The True Cost of Economics), author interviews (See the NPR's interview with Karen Russell)

I've been doing some free on-line courses in areas of interest, etc.  I'd like to find some really good podcasts but I've struggled to locate anything that isn't some amateurish rehash of a conventional news format, a self-made soapbox from which someone is transparently pushing an agenda or just stunningly poorly done.  There has to be a good lecture series out there, I just know it.  

In fact, if anyone else has some other sources they can recommend, I'm always on the look out for new things and would appreciate any guidance.  I'll pass on anything with even the faintest whiff of some kind of political outrage generator.  I don't want to read about how bad the Republicans are or how some other thing that is singularly designed just to anger the viewer.

Particularly if it is about Food and Food Issue or Energy.  I'll watch, listen to or read anything.  (Here is one on how our historical relationship with food has worked to design the very cities in which we live.  Not exactly "Fast Food Naiton" by any means but I found it absolutely fascinating)

Anyway, jump the fold to see one simple 15 minute talk that has really had me thinking for the past month since I watched it.  I think it is one of the most accurate ways to think about some of the root problems in this country, disentangled from our normal repetitive cycle of Red vs. Blue.

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Oh, where do we begin since we left off?

Lets start with general news that US Coal distribution fell another 7% in the fourth quarter of 2013.  

This lack of demand continues to batter the trading price of coal.  Its currently trading at $60.53 and positioned to fall.  Remember the price of all fuel rises in the Winter due to heating demand and today, boys and girls, is the first day of SPRING!   ..and ICF International recently released their market analysis and expects 2014 to be the weakest year for the US Coal industry ever.

But whatever, even the lesser-political Koch brother has read the writing on the wall and pulled his company, Oxbow Carbon, out of the Coal business altogether…. So let’s get to some details!

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Mon Jan 13, 2014 at 09:24 AM PST

My Sleep is not Dreamless Hunter

by Wisper

The elegant eulogy of our National Dream penned by Hunter in The Nation Sleeps a Dreamless Sleep is as poignant as it is well-written but laments the passing of only a single iteration of this cyclical dream.

The post-war Golden Years, for those of us white enough to have enjoyed been entitled to them, were the product of a generation of strife.  A decades long struggle against a brutal Depression book-ended by first “The War to End All Wars” and then the bigger, badder follow-up which suggested maybe these war-things weren’t so easy to end after all.

What we told ourselves we had won was “Peace and Prosperity”; an alliterative balm to apply to the wounds of the last 40 years.  America, returned (twice) from the battlefields of Europe, emerged from the worst drought in 350 years that blighted 100 million acres of our Heartland and with no threat on the horizon that will once again leave our sons buried overseas and force the population at home into rationing, war debt and arms-race manufacturing.

We felt we had paid in blood for the right to those pretty white pickets.

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Wed Nov 20, 2013 at 07:29 AM PST

Killing Coal - A Very Convenient Truth

by Wisper

How long have we worked against the coal industry?  How many times have we said that there is no viable option for climate solutions that involve burning one of the dirtiest fuels on Earth?

Coal-fired electric power generation produces 2,000 pounds of atmospheric CO2 for every megawatt of power generated; by comparison natural gas produces 1,100.

Coal produces more particulate emissions in ground-level air than any other power source.  Coal also puts a hell of a lot more things in the air then CO2.  Things like Mercury, Uranium, Fly Ash, Sulfur Dioxide (which quickly forms into Hyposulfurous Acid), Arsenic, and Selenium are all pollutants that naturally occur in coal.

Enough… you don’t need me to list off all the things that are bad about coal.  Not on this blog.  Not in 2013.

That’s not what I want to write about anyway.  I hate apocalyptic environmentalists.  We have a grave crisis on our hands but we do NOT need to be brow-beaten over and over about how we’re all going to die and there is nothing we can do.

The fact is that on this one particular front, with this one key contributor to global warming and environmental pollution, we are WINNING.

In January of 2008 coal was trading at close to $140 per ton (or “short ton” which is the term the industry uses to differentiate from the British 2240lb “long ton”).  Right now it’s at $53.54/short ton.   That hurts.  A lot.

As much as the Right-wing Nutosphere wants to rant and rave about Obama’s left-wing regulatory “War on Coal” agenda what’s really driving this is the plummeting price of Natural Gas.

Coal is not easy to produce.  It has to be mined and trucked from remote locations.  Its messy, dirty, heavy, expensive and slow.  With an abundance of cheap natural gas and a boom alternative market, coal is running out of options to compete and the markets are moving.  …and they are doing so in an accelerated pace.

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In 2003, in response to a growing number of whistle-blower reports and videos surfacing about the treatment of animals, sanitation conditions and overall practices of industrial livestock farming, ALEC created a “model bill” called the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act that would seek to criminalize the production of these videos.  The bills that would soon proliferate into State Houses around the country became known as “Ag-Gag Bills” since their clear intent was to silence any reporter that tried to communicate what they found to the public.

The tactics used in this effort are a simple two-pronged approach:

   1.     Criminalize the act of falsely seeking employment at a facility for the sole purpose of documenting abuse or conditions.  This was to target serial activists affiliated with groups like PETA and the Humane Society as well as the burgeoning food advocates that began to train their sites on livestock production.
   2.    Mandate via statute a set requirement of how quickly any evidence must be reported to the authorities.  This is to stop the investigators from accumulating footage, editing it holistically and/or releasing it to a media outfit or to the public directly.  This is done under the guise of a “If what these well-intentioned whistle-blowers observe is so criminally offensive, they should be reporting it to law enforcement immediately, not seeking to make their own expose film for YouTube” argument.

This was ALEC recommendation on how to address this problem for the food industry.  Don’t try to water down abuse laws. Don’t let the government actually regulate the practice of raising, feeding and killing animals.  And DON’T get into a litigation fight with these activists that seek to use the judicial process as their megaphone.

Just SILENCE them.  Legally.  …and it worked.

Kansas already had its Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act on the books from 1990.  Montana and North Dakota had laws from 1991.  But in 2012 we saw Iowa, Missouri and Utah all pass an ALEC version of this law.  

Amy Myer was the first US citizen arrested on Ag-Gag charges in Utah for filming a slaughterhouse from a public street.  Charges were later dropped.

Later this year, National Geographic reporter George Steinmetz was arrested for taking aerial pictures of a feedlot in Kansas.

In 2013 we saw ELEVEN new states formally introduce ALEC-modeled Ag-Gag laws in their legislatures.  The fight was on and I am proud to report that the Anti-Ag-Gag, anti-ALEC, pro-1st Amendment, Pro-Food Safety forces went UNDEFEATED and stopped every single one of these.  The only close call was Tennessee where the legislature passed the bill and we needed Republican Governor Bill Haslam to veto it on concerns that it was an unconstitutional infringement on Tennessean’s First Amendment rights.

Details of the bills we have stopped below the Vermillion Escutcheon.  Notice just how little the bills vary state-by-state, down to the very words they use.

Read Up. Rejoice.  …and be ready to fight with us in 2014.

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Just a short diary to clear something up:

Several people (including me) have been asking why the option of a Discharge Petition has not been floated to bring a clean CR bill to the floor of the House despite the Speaker's attempts to block it.

We have seen this floated for the Immigration Bill earlier this year.  We saw it of the middle class tax cuts, jobless benefits and other legislative options.

So, I did some research to see why this isn't on the table and the short answer is it cannot be used on this Continuing Resolution.

Details to back this up below the fold

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