Monday, August 25, 2008

Obamanomics or Green Opportunity

I would like to connect three fairly recent reports that, in my opinion, define a wonderful opportunity for the Green Party to be the real truth tellers, if we really care enough to do that. If rural America sees little difference between the two major parties, if McCain is leading us to a hotter hell on earth by design and Obama is too tied to big corporate Agriculture to really care, then it is left to Cynthia and the Greens to show rural America that a better tomorrow is possible.

The opportunity is there because most of Rural America sees little difference between the two major parties. This comes from a poll authorized by the Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA), Lyons, NE and was reported in their July 2008 Newsletter.
Neither party has demonstrated real commitment to ensuring that rural people – who contribute so much to the nation’s prosperity – share in it. Neither party seems to understand that America will never be as strong as it can be until all of America has the opportunity to share in building wealth, assets, and prosperity.
This is why states like Colorado are now considered Swing States and maybe rue the decision they made in 2004 to reject proportional representation in the electoral college.

The real problem with both parties is that they have defined agriculture as Big Ag, Corporate Farming and are suckered into bad decisions by the lucrative cash contributions from the likes of Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra or Cargill. The Center of Rural Affairs concluded: date in this election and every election for the last generation, neither party has demonstrated that it will fight for ordinary rural people. The party that finally does can capture the rural margin it needs to win this election and many elections to come.
With that perspective, we have to turn to Obamanomics. David Leonheardt opined in the NY Times Magazine that this is a melding of the policies of Robert Rubin and Robert Reich, two Clinton administration cabinet members. That may be true on Wall Street, but if you are on Main Street in Lyons, NE these is a different tale. Obamanomics is all about supporting the same big ag policies as did the Bush administrations (both of them) and the Clinton's in between. Nicole Colson calls him the Senator from Ethanol-Land.

The problem for all the rest of us (who don't own stock on Cargill, ADM or ConAgra) is that these policies distort that markets for everything else: the bread we eat cost more as farmers switch from wheat to corn; eggs cost more as the price of feed has gone up radically. I used to pay $6.50 for a 50 lb bag of hen scratch that was mostly corn. Now, it is $10.95 and there is very little corn in the mix. You get the picture. It is the same for almost everything we eat and drink where the labels include "high fructose corn syrup." (aside... maybe we will all lose a little weight if the stop adding that stuff to soft drinks.).

Corn producers and their marketers would love to connect corn and cheaper gas prices in the voters minds. It is good for their business, if bad for the economy as a whole. According to Colson's particle...
In April, ADM announced that its quarterly profits had risen 42 percent, largely thanks to biofuels. Unsurprisingly, ADM CEO Pat Woertz told investors, "Biofuels are a real solution to a real problem. To retreat from biofuels is wrong."
You get the picture. What is good for ADM is good for America.

The first problem with all this corn based ethanol is that it does not solve our number one environmental problem. It may be even more polluting that burning petroleum products for transportation. The second problem is that these big corporations will get bigger and more profitable while rural America continues to lose family farms and small towns wither and die in the heat of government subsidized markets.

The answers for all of these connected problems is right in the Green Party Platform, even the one from 2004. We don't need corn base ethanol. We don't need factory farms. We do need strong local, regional sources of food that does not have to be shipped half way round the world just so you can enjoy fresh peaches in January. Maybe, we need a little self restraint in our demands, but that is also a Green idea.

Green everywhere should be taking our story to the boondocks. We just might find people who understand what we are talking about and, if we stay on this message, we just might become the party that will fight for ordinary rural people. It is clear that no one else is doing that.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Carbon Cycle

The Carbon Cycle is not some new exotic mountain bike. Still, like a mountain bike in rough terrain, we are headed for a wild ride if we don't know what we are doing... and there is plenty of evidence that we don't.

Eric Roston's new book, The Carbon Age, gives a chilling story of why the carbon cycle is at the center of everything. His carefully chosen subtitle is How Life's core element has become civilization's greatest threat. I would recommend this book to everyone who is not convinced of the danger's of greenhouse gas accelerated global warming and who has an open mind.

If you can be convinced, this book will do it in such detail that you wonder what the professional deniers, especially politicians like Sen. James Inhofe (D. OK) or Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R. CA) are going. They pass themselves off as intelligent, educated people and so must really have decided that they don't really want to know anything about science and the future.

While I am disappointed in the role that politicians are playing, as they run their messages through focus groups looking for the words that will get themselves elected, as they talk about global warming and build their candidacies on policies that can only make matters worse, I am even more disappointed in the 4th Estate, a press that allows them to get away with it.

Here one good example of what I am talking about:

August 13, 2008. KGO-TV (ABC in San Francisco) based their story on a poll that examined the impact that the price of gas is having on Bay Area families. While that is news-worthy, they have obviously not gone beyond soliciting responses to this very particular question.

Responsible journalism would also give consideration to the well established fact that there is a connection between gasoline usage (as well as other combustion source) and the changes we are seeing in climate, changes that are lightning quick in terms of geological time. But that was not the story.

However, if you read the comments made by those responding to the poll you might see why the Democrats are in such a quandary over energy policy. I need only quote one.
It's time to tell the 'environmentalists' to SHUT UP and use our natural resources. As long as we're dependent on foreign oil we're going to have this problem. We have the oil; let's use it. Also- car manufacturers should make cars more efficient.
The public is obviously not getting the real message. This commenter seems to believe that the US have enough oil to solve the gasoline problem, (We don't.) or that setting up a program to drill offshore or in the Arctic will pay immediate benefits. (It won't.) Some, maybe those who would bother to read Roston's book, understand just how precarious our situation is, but only those who already understand would be likely to read The Carbon Age.

I want to see our media start connecting the dots... transportation to global warming to the question of gasoline prices and drilling for more oil. Maybe, we need our newspapers to start asserting themselves with a dose of truth. Tell it like it is, not like the public wants it to be.

I wonder how the survey results would have changed had they asked this question. If you knew that increasing the supply of petroleum now would cost America $3 Trillion to mitigate the effects of global warming that it will cause, would that change your position? Of course, with Exxon-Mobil sponsoring convention coverage we should not expect aggressive television journalism or the truth from politicians.

There are many small decisions being made every day and the tyranny of those decisions will be devastating.

Near the end of The Carbon Age, Roston asks us to imagine a not so distant future.
...forty years from now some of those Americans living a lower quality of life may wonder about the generation that knew they had it all and set decline in motion, unfazed. Ours will be a generation of narcissism. Each of us is competitive with Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned, frittering away time on bread and circuses. Each of us is Tsar Nicholas II, whose attention to traumatic personal circumstances -- am ill son -- distracted him form his empire, crumbling toward what would become the Soviet dictatorship. The climate debates stands at an analogous point. There is still hope that industrialized nations can transfer civilization on to an energy system that will not scorch the earth.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

While all eyes are on the Olympics...

Georgia and Russia decided to start a war that they thought no one would notice.

The California State Legislature can't come up with a budget and it hardly makes the news. Michael Phelps is much more important. Then, when was the last time our legislature passed a budget on time.

While attention is diverted elsewhere, politicians know that they can do whatever they want and the results are not pleasant. To see the list, click read more below.

To begin with, SB 1806, Lois Wolk's proposal to protect the California Delta and it's fisheries, died in the State Senate by an 18 - 2- vote. According to a release from Dan Bacher (Ed. The FishSniffer) the failure was devastating.
The bill would have required fish rescue contingency plans in the event of future fishery disasters like the one that took place at Prospect Island in the northern Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in November 2007. During last year's fish kill, thousands of striped bass, Sacramento blackfish, Sacramento splittail, black bass, bluegill, catfish, threadfin shad and other species perished after the Bureau of Reclamation drained the island during a levee repair operation.
There is much more on this at

The Governor Ahnuld is rightfully keeping some focus on the lack of a State Budget. However, we need to watch this carefully. Real problems will arise when we begin to unravel the compromises that were reached in order to get on approved. Since Republican votes are needed, it would not be unlikely that those Republicans from the Central Valley will only vote for one if they get the new dams that they want, along with the Peripheral Canal that the Governor wants.

My problem is that we don't need new dams and the peripheral canal is the right solution to the wrong problem. If we allow the problem to be defined solely in terms of protecting our future water needs, then the battle is over, the Salmon fisheries are dead and the only thing that smells worse than a dead salmon is a back room deal in Sacramento.

Restore the Delta has a new action alert out today that lists the reasons we should reject the peripheral canal and the water bond that seems to be destined for our next election.
  1. The peripheral canal will not solve the crisis in the Delta or make more water for California.
  2. There are bond funds left from previous to begin doing the work needed to protect Delta levees.
  3. The Department of Water Resources, while working on projects on behalf of the State Water Contractors, fails to answer for the people of the Delta "How much fresh water is required for the health of the Delta estuary?"
  4. The peripheral canal will not restore fish populations.
  5. Theperipheral canal will destroy the $ 2 billion Delta agricultural economy.
  6. This water bond will not help to protect the lives and property of the 400,000 people living in the Delta.
  7. We want a water bond that would support aggressive water conservation measures, regional ground water clean up and desalinization projects, ground water banking in historic floods plains, regional reservoirs to support ground water banking, water recycling, and projects making use of storm water runoff. Employing new technologies, rather than clinging to outdated methods, will give us more water to work with in California for people and fish.
What can this out of power Green Party do to prevent this? We can start by calling Arnold, Sen. Diane Feinstein and your own state legislators.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger State Capitol Building Sacramento, CA 95814 Phone: 916-445-2841

Senator Diane Feinstein:

  • San Francisco One Post Street, Suite 2450 San Francisco, CA 94104 Phone: (415) 393-0707 Fax: (415) 393-0710

  • Los Angeles 11111 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 915 Los Angeles, CA 90025 Phone: (310) 914-7300 Fax: (310) 914-7318

  • San Diego 750 B Street, Suite 1030 San Diego, CA 92101 Phone: (619) 231-9712 Fax: (619) 231-1108

Monday, August 11, 2008

What do the Danes and the Chinese have in common?

If all you are doing is following the Olympics, you might think it is only badminton or table tennis. However, the real answer is wind. In my previous post, I cited the NY Times editorial call for a sane energy policy. I also mentioned an OpEd by Thomas Friedman. It deserves a separate reference.

Friedman is always looking at the world as though you can tell the future by watching the way international commerce work. I don't want to debated that. However, in his OpEd Sunday, he compares the very practical Danish energy policy with that of the US. There are two very clear points of difference.

First, they view high gasoline prices as a good thing...
“I have observed that in all other countries, including in America, people are complaining about how prices of [gasoline] are going up,” Denmark’s prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told me. “The cure is not to reduce the price, but, on the contrary, to raise it even higher to break our addiction to oil. We are going to introduce a new tax reform in the direction of even higher taxation on energy and the revenue generated on that will be used to cut taxes on personal income — so we will improve incentives to work and improve incentives to save energy and develop renewable energy."

The second is that America, lacking political leadership, is asleep at the switch while other countries are making substantial progress in solving our real problems, not teasing votes from commuters with promised that won't be fulfilled. Here is how Friedman cites one interviewee.
Ditlev Engel, the president of Vestas — Denmark’s and the world’s biggest wind turbine company — told me that he simply can’t understand how the U.S. Congress could have just failed to extend the production tax credits for wind development in America.
> Why should you care?
> “We’ve had 35 new competitors coming out of China in the last 18 months,” said Engel, “and not one out of the U.S.”
Friedman does not mince word about politicianss.
Unlike America, Denmark, which was so badly hammered by the 1973 Arab oil embargo that it banned all Sunday driving for a while, responded to that crisis in such a sustained, focused and systematic way that today it is energy independent. (And it didn’t happen by Danish politicians making their people stupid by telling them the solution was simply more offshore drilling.)

I guess I am not the only one who thinks the Republican magic formula is stupid.

Even the NY Times gets it.

There were two recent items in the NY Times Editorial pages regarding US energy policy. One was an editorial, the other a column by Thomas Friedman. I have cited Friedman before, not always in a complementary manner. However, this time they both have the correct ideas. It is too bad that our presumptive presidential candidates don't read that paper. Maybe they are both like George W. Bush in that regard.

Of course, I always have more to say.
A toxic combination of $4 gasoline, voter anxiety and presidential ambition is making it impossible for this country to have the grown-up conversation it needs about energy.
That is the manner in which the NY Times starts it's editorial. That is also the point I made in my previous post on the stupidity of the McCain / Obama campaigns.

The Times editorial concludes:
Here is the underlying reality: A nation that uses one-quarter of the world’s oil while possessing less than 3 percent of its reserves cannot drill its way to happiness at the pump, much less self-sufficiency. The only plausible strategy is to cut consumption while embarking on a serious program of alternative fuels and energy sources. This is a point the honest candidate should be making at every turn.
If there is to be an alternative, it will have to come from the honest politicians of the Green Party. I am excited that Rosa Clemente was quoted in a yet to be uploaded press release from the GP today.
Green candidates and leaders called Barack Obama's and John McCain's positions on energy policy, gas prices, and global warming a capitulation to corporate lobbies, and urged adoption of the Green Party's plan to reduce fossil fuel consumption, generate new jobs in conservation and new energy sources, and curb the advance of climate change.
We need to have all GP Candidates hammering at the energy issue and the patronizing political playacting of the major party campaign.

Everyone who reads this should be writing their local papers, supporting the Green position and pointing out the lack of respect that Obama and McCain have for voters, playing us for losers and that is what we will all be if either are elected.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Do You Follow your Budget?

One of the other writers at my home town newspaper, the Morgan Hill Times, fired a salvo at the legislature over the lack of a California State Budget. I don't always agree with Lisa Pampuch, but I do on this one. And it gave me a couple of ideas.

I would have loved to see a GP Press Release on this issue have been equally hard on the legislature as it was on Arnold. To begin with this problem has been in the making for a long time. The legislature is filled with bright people. They knew what was happening and chose to play politics rather than to take care of the people's business. Every action has been chosen in order to gain re-election (for you party if you are bing term limited out). Rather than seek any kind of compromise that will work, they choose to posture and preen and issue meaningless press releases that are aimed at getting votes, not at telling us the truth of the matter.

The second idea comes from the fact that Lisa suggested that we all take our had at trying to set up a budget for California. The basic information and a model is there to play with at the Next10 site.

We all say that the Green Party could do a better job. Well, lets prove it. Let's get our best minds to work on developing a proposed Green budget for California. Use the Next10 site. Then, defend it against any and all critics. If you think you have it down, let me know and I will give it a front page post and everyone can let you know what they think of it.

Any takers?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Campaign Stupidity

The Democratic Party has developed a terrible energy policy, and it is being pushed on the local level by Democratic Party office holders around the country. Just about the only thing that I have seen that is worse is the one being pushed by the Republicans, starting with Presidential Candidate John McCain.

It appears that neither policy was developed from an understanding of science, or of economics. Rather, using the best methods of Madison Avenue, they have taken focus group results and polls to determine what it takes to get elected. They must think that voters are stupid... and they may be right. Of course, I have more to say on the matter.

Bryan Caplan warned us about the Myth of the Rational Voter. It is subtitled Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies . According to Caplan, most voters do not truly understand the manner in which science, or economics works in the real world. As a result the policies that have the greatest immediate satisfaction will be chosen without regard for long term consequences.

When politicians use that in order to structure position and policies the result is frequently catastrophic. Basing energy policy on the need to lower gasoline prices is idiocy, but that is what both candidates appear to be doing.

For all practical purposes, the Earth on which we live is a closed material system. The rate at which we might pick up dust from the interstellar void is minuscule in relation to the rate at which civilization is using it. When the material in question is is carbon, linked with a few hydrogen and oxygen atoms, you are dealing with the very basis of life and had damned will better get it right if life as we know it is to survive.

I am just now reading The Carbon Age by Eric Roston. It is a very new book, I was the first to check it out from our public library, and is the first that I have seen to address the reasons why we need to be very, very careful. Roston subtitled this book with care: How Life's Core Element has Become Civilization's Greatest Threat.

Roston takes us through the reasons carbon has always been so essential to life and always has been. The entire history of the earth may be interpreted as a series of changes in the carbon cycle. Until recently, the important players were never mammals, but bacteria and algae, transforming the carbon cycle over billions of years to create the conditions under which life as we know it could prosper. We experiment with this mechanism at our own parallel. Unfortunately, we have been engaged in an uncontrolled experiment for the last two centuries.

The key to all energy is the sun, but Barack Obama is now telling us that we need to increase domestic production of petroleum in order to grow our economy. He gives a lot of talk about developing alternative energy source, but it never goes beyond talk. When it is necessary to put together a real plan, funded by our taxes, the results are predictably more oil, more coal and more global warming. It seem that the only change he is really trying to foster is Climate Change.

The Democrats would have us believe that we can lower gasoline prices by selling off a portion of America's Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The only strategy they have is to get elected. What is strategic about tapping the reserve now and replenishing it at a higher price later? What is strategic about depleting this reserve and the having a major hurricane take out substantial offshore capacity in the Gulf of Mexico or to lose the capacity of the Alaskan Pipeline? What would we do then, pray tell?

John Kerry tried this approach in 2004. The voters did not buy it then and they will see through it now. Still, that is about all that Pelosi and the House Democrats that think of, beginning with Mike Thompson (CA-1) and even including Jerry McNerney, (CA-14) who should know better. Thompson's July 14 press release states it clearly.
Allow for additional withdrawals from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to increase domestic supply. The SPR is currently at 98% capacity, and reducing it slightly to 90% would immediately increase supply, reduce prices and still maintain a substantial amount of reserve;
The Republicans would do more. Their mantra seems to be drill here, drill now. Drill in Alaska and on the storm vulnerable outer continental shelf. Again, given that petroleum is a finite resource what is the rationality in using it up as fast as we can. That is showing real faith in our future abilities to develop alternatives when we need then since we won't be working on the soon.

Again, California has two stupid approaches to this evidenced by two Republican Congressmen. First, there in Wally Herger (CA-2) who was given a Lifetime Membership in the Obscure Caucus by Roll Call Magazine. That is for politicians who make themselves invisible in Washington. With Herger's understanding of Energy Policy that may be a good thing.

The other is Dana Rohrabacher. He became famous for his use of the term dinosaur flatulence in discussing global warming. His other take is one of distraction. With global warming being called a "security threat" by none other than the US Military, Rohrabacher is would have us invest our money in sci-fi efforts to save us all from a cosmic collision. Both are catastrophic event. The difference is that one is has a low probability if we don't act and the other is a certainty.

Green party presidential candidate Kent Mesplay had the right idea when he said that he wanted public officials who treat science with respect and who actually work to make us more secure rather than catering to their favorite businesses."

Even the US Department of Energy gets it right. I suggest reading a very recent public presentation by Dr. Patricia Dehmer, Deputy Director for Science Programs, Office of Science, DOE. It is in the form of a power point formatted program review for an advisory committee. Beginning at chart 10 is a short summary of all of the energy produced and used in the US, where it comes from and where it goes. Slide 18 outlines the requirements for improvements in Energy / Environment Solutions.
  • Zero-Net-Emission Electricity Generation
  • Fuel Switching (to renewables)
  • CCS (carbon capture and sequestration)
  • Electric Energy Storage
  • Electricity Transmission and Distribution
  • Fuel Switching (from oil)
  • End-use Efficiency (incandescent bulb efficiency < 2%)
  • Conservation
I would say that voters can understand this. I wonder about our potential future presidents. They give lip service to dealing with climate change while continuing the failed energy policies of Bush and Co. This is not change I can believe in.