Monday, March 30, 2009

Poli-Sci Homework: Republican Richard Riordan

Editor's Note: Richard J. Riordan was the Republican mayor of Los Angeles from 1993 - 2001. He was elected in 1993 as the first Republican mayor in thirty years when Mayor Tom Bradley retired. It was a difficult time in L.A. The economy was recovering from a major recession and the 1992 Rodney King uprising.

In office Riordan streamlined certain business regulations and established "one-stop" centers around the city for functions such as permit applications. He appointed African-American Bernard Parks as chief of the LAPD. He strongly supported subway and light rail projects. Riordan spearheading the creation of neighborhood-based councils and campaigned heavily for reform-oriented candidates for the School Board. A wealthy venture capitalist, Riordan put a lot of his own personal money into California schools, nearly $50 million for new classroom furnishings, including computers.

The Op-Ed reprinted in it's entirety below, was published in the Sunday Los Angeles Times. Richard Riordan is generally considered "Too Liberal" for today's right-wing California GOP. I think Riordan is (unintentionally) making a case for independent (definitely not Republican) political action.

Greens: this is your Political Science homework: Read this op-ed and post a critique.

From the Los Angeles Times, Sunday, March 29, 2009
California's May Ballot Scam
by Richard Riordan

If you think Bernard Madoff is the swindler of the year, stop and consider Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature, the gang responsible for the ballot measures we'll be voting on in May.

Let's start with the misleading titles of their initiatives.

Take Proposition 1B. It's called "Education Funding. Payment Plan," but all it really does is allow the Legislature to continue stealing money from education with the promise that the state will kick in $9.3 billion to K-12 education and community colleges starting in 2011.

Or how about Proposition 1C, the "Lottery Modernization Act"? What this measure does is allow the state to borrow against future lottery money to fund this year's budget. It also promises to improve marketing of the lottery to sell more tickets. But by its nature, the lottery places a disproportionate burden on the poor, who are more likely to buy tickets. It's hard to see how that's "modernization."

Then there's Proposition 1D, with its clunky and dishonest title: "Protects Children's Services Funding. Helps Balance State Budget." How does it "protect" children's services funding? By taking $1.6 billion currently committed to children's health services and preschool and throwing it into the budget maw.

Proposition 1E, "Mental Health Services Funding. Temporary Reallocation," is another travesty. It simply grabs $450 million that voters specifically directed to mental health services.

The May ballot leaves me with some questions for my fellow Californians.

First, to my liberal friends: Can you really support propositions that will drastically cut services to the state's neediest -- especially after legislators increased the state sales tax, a regressive tax that places a larger burden on the poor?

And to my conservative friends: Will you be intimidated into voting for something you know is wrong? You should be against increases in taxes, not for ideological reasons but because they will be economically disastrous for California. The rich (and I am one of them) already have their mansions, airplanes and yachts. There is nothing morally or ethically wrong with increasing their taxes. But if the burden becomes too great, the rich will simply take their money (and the taxes they pay and the jobs they create) and move elsewhere. And it is the poor who will be hurt by such an exodus.

In the 1950s, Britain increased taxes on the rich astronomically. The result was a brain and talent drain that was deeply damaging to the country.

So can I be persuaded to support the May ballot measures?

Yes, but only if the governor and Legislature take action to truly restructure government and cut costs now, not after the May vote. The pattern in California has always been that in good times we overspend rather than saving for the future. We should never allow ourselves to be in a position like this again.

The Legislature needs to immediately move to contain costs by combining duplicative departments in the state government. The state also needs to stop telling local governments how to spend their money, and to eliminate all the anti-business rules and laws that are scaring companies out of California.

We can save billions of dollars by restructuring education, healthcare and other services. Healthcare must be revamped, and the state should study the lessons of Kaiser Permanente and the Veterans Administration, which have managed to contain costs and provide excellent preventive care. Changes to entrenched programs will always be opposed by special-interests groups, but elected leaders have a responsibility to stand up to them.

Education costs can be reduced substantially over time by giving all schools the same powers that charter schools have to control their destinies. Control needs to be taken away from bureaucrats and unions, so that teachers are allowed to teach and principals are allowed to lead. And if educators aren't capable, we need simple mechanisms to get rid of them.

It now appears that the budget fix the Legislature is proposing won't even fill the gap, which could be as much as $8 billion more than was anticipated. Rather than coming up with another Houdini magic trick, lawmakers need to get to work now cutting costs and restructuring government, not just for the year but forever. They also need to plan for what they'll do if the May ballot measures fail.

It's time for our leaders to wake up and pay attention to the needs of Californians rather than to those of the special-interest groups that got them elected.

= = = = = = = = =

Dear Green Readers: Please leave a comment. In the context of our struggle with the city-hating Republicans in Sacramento and Democratic Party Machine in Los Angeles, I agree with a lot of what he says. I have my opinions about what is right and what is wrong with this essay, but I want to know what you thing. And please, no "Lefty" clich├ęs. Please comment on specifics.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Future is Fresno

I am getting a sense that the world is beginning to pay attention to Fresno. The first inkling came when I saw the article Tarp Nation in High Country News. The picture was not pleasant. I made reference to the Hoovervilles that sprang up around this country during the 1930's, when a great depression held this country in it's grip for years and the climate brought clouds of dust rolling through the Midwest. There is great irony in HCN's choice of a title, in that the people living under the tarps of Taco Flat are not part of any T.A.R.P.

Then, last night, I watched Brian Williams paint a different picture of Fresno on the Nightly News. It is the same Taco Flat, but with a sense that people are doing something about it rather than the despair.

Click Read more! and see why neither manage to capture the reality of life in the Central Valley.

Neither of these stories get to the reality of the Central Valley. Fresno is an easy city for journalists to cover. You can fly in, look around, fly out again. Maybe, Brian Williams should start reading the Fresno Bee. There, Chris Collins gives us a close-up of conditions much worse than Taco Flat. Try Mendota, where drought and the lack of water for irrigation this year have dried up the entire agricultural economy, where the jobless rater exceeds 40% and hope has disappeared.

It is beginning to look more like the double hit of the 1930's with climate and the economy but affecting lives in ways that we had forgotten about. We have not yet seen the likes of a 1930's dust storm, but the photo's of Mendota carry just as much despair. Dorothea Lange captured that as well as any photographer.

The climate threat now is being positioned as a temporary drought and that the farmers would be OK if only the environmentalists would quit protesting. You definitely get that from the West's biggest Agricultural news source, the Capital Press which calls for more dams, more canals.
California's lack of a long-range water plan puts more than the state's substantial agriculture economy at risk. The ever-expanding population depends on a diminishing resource. Conservation will always be an important part of any water plan, but that alone won't solve the problem. While there's nothing the state can do to create more rain or snow, there's a lot it could do to catch, retain and move what does fall.

Opposition to these plans comes from expected sources. The Sierra Club has said that new dams are unnecessary.

Tell that to the growers who are losing income. Tell it to the merchants who depend on the farm economy for their livelihoods. Tell it to the families of the 80,000 displaced workers, who like the withering crops are fighting to survive.
Whenever California Agriculture needs more water, more anything they always end up railing against the environmentalists, even though some of the most organized opposition to the plans for the San Joaquin Valley come from organizations like Restore the Delta that have brought environmental and agricultural interests together.

So, while Brian Williams made the story about the economy, a story that can be written with an urban view and give a glimpse of a happy ending, he must have thought that bringing climate into the picture was just too complex for us to understand. All of the projections for the effects of our human induced climate change call for an increased desertification of California. These worst effects will be in the San Joaquin Valley and the prospect for economic growth is bleak... but the news wants to be upbeat.

The other danger is that of looking to scapegoat immigration as the cause for the high unemployment. Read the Fresno Bee story linked above and then the comments that follow.
FTNE wrote on March 24, 9:01 AM:

maybe if all the illegals went back to thier native country there would be jobs for the 41% unemployed
Recommend (5)

There are answers for the problems of Fresno. There are answers even for the problems of Mendota. They are not filled with slogans or scapegoating or up beat news programs that are supposed to help the nation feel good. They are Green solutions, community based economics, ecological solutions that look at the way a living system functions and how it is changing over time. These are the type of solutions that the Fresno Bee celebrates, small business helping the community rather than mega-projects that enrich the developer with the aid of tax breaks and all the other tools of exploitation.

The Green Party needs to be in Fresno, in Mendota. We need to be engaged where people are in need and that isn't marching down Market Street yet again. This is one more chance to show that we are relevant.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Climate Insurance

They always tell you to follow the money. A good example is the money flow away from AIG and to some of their highly valued employees.

Perhaps the way we will get more public attention on the issues surrounding the climate disruption that we have brought on this planet will come from the outflow of money from insurance companies for losses stemming from extreme weather events and sea level rise.

According to the Wall Street Journal, state insurance regulators will require insurance companies to disclose how climate change is affecting their business.
The officials acted after concluding that climate change threatens insurers in two ways. It increases the risk of extreme weather events such as floods and wildfires, which would boost claims. And it is prompting governments to cap industrial carbon emissions that contribute to global warming -- a move threatens the profits of companies such as coal-fired utilities in which insurers commonly invest.

Click Read more! for the rest... it gets interesting.

If the big guys are worried about what is going to happen with coal fired power plants, what should the rest of us think about. Maybe we need to be on the lookout for public / private partnerships and quasi governmental organizations that will need to be bailed out because they have already sunk funds is a project that can only cost more and never deliver what it promises. Case in point: Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. I posted the following in a comment at Climate Progress where I first read of this.
There is a major project being planned for Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. This is property that the City of San Francisco has acquired when the US Navy decommissioned their facilities.
The January 14, 2009 meeting of the TREASURE ISLAND DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY had this on their agenda.

Their approach leaves much to be desired, including the 36″ sea level rise projection.

The preferred design approach is to achieve finish floor elevations with a free board of six inches in a worse-case scenario (100 year storm event plus 36” inches sea level rise). Perimeter open space areas will having limited, short term ponding at high tide. The geotechnical design approach includes a range of techniques for densifying soil and subgrade materials to mitigate issues associated with liquefaction and settlement.

It will be very expensive and not do the job if all they plan for is a 36 in rise. I wonder how hard it will be for any potential tenant to get insurance. I wonder if those who are already occupying Treasure Island will have recourse against the City for failure to consider the effects of global warming before they started this project. I wonder if the project’s chief cheerleader, Gavin Newsome, gets a pass because he claims to be “green”.
It might be time for San Francisco's Green Supervisor to call for a review of the entire project.

The one San Francisco Supervisor who is on the Treasure Island Development Authority, Chris Daly, has always had a political game going on. He wants to make this the affordable housing solution for San Francisco. This sounds like a typical un-thoughtful project. Sell all the poor people a sinking solution.

Monday, March 23, 2009

My Delta Vision

The title of this post is part of the problem. Since we invented this thing called a visioning process it has become a tool for politicians to avoid taking responsibility for any and all positions that they take. It isn't their position, it came from the visioning process.

That is pretty much what happened with California's water. It has always been known that California's water supply is over allocated, even in an average rainfall year. There are just more demands on our water supply than nature is capable of meeting.

Most of that water, especially that which originates as melting Sierra snow, eventually flows through the Sacramento / San Joaquin River Delta. So, before I start down the path of talking about the Delta Vision Foundation's recommendations, I should make sure that everyone has the same set of facts about the Delta.

The following is from the publication, Delta Facts accessible at the Delta Vision Foundation web site. One key figure is the population, just over half a million... not enough votes when stacked up against San Diego, just a little more than Long Beach and we have not even considered how many voters there are in Los Angeles. Politicians count votes first.
  • Population: 515,264 (2000 Census)
  • Counties: Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano, Yolo, Alameda
  • Major Cities Partly Within the Delta: Sacramento, Stockton, West Sacramento, Oakley, and Rio Vista
  • Levees (total mileage, 1987): 1,100
  • Rivers flowing into the Delta: Sacramento, San Joaquin, Mokelumne, Cosumnes, and Calaveras
  • Diversions Directly from the Delta: State Water Project,Federal Central Valley Project,Contra Costa Canal, North Bay Aqueduct, City of Vallejo, Western Delta Industry, 1,800+ Agricultural Users
  • Water Supply: Drinking water for 25 million people; supports California’s trillion dollar economy(eighth largest in the world) and $27 billion agricultural industry (nation’s number one)
  • Agriculture (2001): Average Annual Gross Value totals more than $2 billion. Crops include corn, grain, hay, alfalfa, tomatoes, asparagus, pears, and wine grapes. There are over 500,000 acres of agricultural land in the Delta.
  • Wildlife: 52 mammals, 22 reptiles and amphibian species, 225 birds, and 54 species of fish. The Deltais also home to approximately 260 invasive species of plants and animals.
  • Recreation: Over 12 million visitors annually. There are 290 shoreline recreational areas, 300 marinas, and about 500,000 boaters. The Delta has 57,000 acres of navigable waterways. (Figures from the Department of Boating and Waterways)

Water Wars have begun

We all knew that California was due to have another round of water wars. They appear every time there is a drought and disappear when we get a good rain. Nothing is resolved, only postponed. Now, as our climate changes to a warmer reality where we can no longer store so much water in the Sierra snowpack all of the water users will demand their fair share and everyone will suffer because of it.

Restore the Delta has fired a salvo across the bow of the water power structure of California with an ad-buy in the San Francisco Chronicle and Sacrament Bee that asks us all to "Stop the Delta Water Grab." I am sure that this will garner fairly strong reactions, especially as people begin to understand the implications of RTD's call for a system based on (bio)regional water self-sufficiency.

You can learn the story behind the ads from RTD's web site here.

Over the next two weeks, I will publish a series of posts that discusses the Delta based on a set of 12 interconnected recommendations published by the Delta Vision Foundation. They were commissioned by Governor Schwarzenegger to analyze California's water problems and propose a solution. The recommendations that they published were designed to be a complete package; all of the pieces need to be in place for it to be effective.

Needless to say, politicians and lobbyist are picking and choosing which ones they want and using these reports as their justification. This is typical Sacramento politics where people are only voting statistics.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

TARP Nation

How ironic that the initial bailout package from our government was called the Troubled Assets Relief Program (T.A.R.P.) High Country News reminds us that we are fast becoming the Tarp Nation with more and more people having to move into the tent cities that are growing up around the country, building their own tarp covered shanty towns along railroad tracks, near industrial parks with the hope for a possible temp job at minimum wage.. if that.

Did you know that Fresno, where the subjects of the HCN story live, has been labeled the American City with the greatest concentration of poverty? I guess we get a little conceited when we think of California as Silicon Valley, or Santa Monica / West Hollywood / Beverly Hills. In reality it is Fresno, and Sacramento, where their NBA Mayor is embarrassed enough to tear down a T.A.R.P. city since it gives the community a bad image. It is all about the image to some.

We need more voices like that of Green Cathy Deppe, whose shows us how Low-Income Single Moms Struggle to Survive in Recession with No Health Insurance and the only comments come from a Rush Limbaugh clone not embarrassed at all to blame the victims.

Greens have been on the streets protesting the Bush Wars. That time may have been better spent in the T.A.R.P. cities of this state working for economic justice.

Earth Day 2009

(I sent the following to the National Committee, Green Party US this morning.)

It is one month and one day until Earth Day 2009.

This is a day that wants to be branded with the name Green. The Earth Day Network site says that this year they will start the Green Generation Campaign. The list of Earth Day Events starts with one on April 19th... Earth Day at the National Mall, but events will be held all over the country.

I can easily remember the first Earth Day. I thought it was a great event. At that time, 1970, it was very much at the center of the national consciousness. There were two highly respected members of Congress heading the committee: A Democratic Senator (Gaylord Nelson - WI) and a Republican Representative (Pete McCloskey - CA).

Today is very different. A recent (March 5-8, 2009) Gallup Poll says that American concern for economic growth is higher than their concern for the environment. This, at a time when economic growth deals with the quality of life and the environmental issue is whether we will be able to sustain life as we know it at all.

April 12 - 18 has been named National Environmental Education Week. It is an effort to raise the level of awareness for children in K-12 schools.

So, what do your State and Local Green organizations plan to do for these events?

Last week was the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges & Decisions in Copenhagen, DK. Attended by over 2000 scientists, the Conference published some key findings, beginning with the fact that what was recently considered to be worst case scenarios for climate change must now be considered most probable outcome. Coupled with the current economic crisis, we will see social disruption on a massive scale. Consider that the homes of over 20% of Vietnamese will be flooded.

Do we just let this happen or do we try to turn the spotlight on the Know Nothing Republicans and the Do Nothing Democrats? This is a time of moral crisis and future generation, if there are any, will judge us by what we did or didn't do.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Media coverage of Global Warming.

I have on multiple occasions found reason to fault the media for taking the easy road, asking questions of any supposed player and then expecting the public to make up their own mind. This may be OK when there are no verifiable facts regarding the issue being presented, but it is inexcusable where one presenter lies misrepresents the facts.

But the biggest sin practiced by the media is to define news as old or to ignore it completely. That is exactly what nearly every major US media outlet has managed to do regarding the recent Copenhagen Climate Science Congress. This was a major meeting of 2000 scientists involved in the study of climate and the disruption of normal climate patterns that we are currently experiencing. More details by clicking Read more!

The Congress had 5 key findings. Any one of these would have been news had the media not been saturated with a universal reaming of AIG and their bonus policies. Some in the media, and almost all of the Republican Congressional delegation will say that the climate scientists have been alarmist, scaring people, fabricating data to keep their projects funded, etc. In fact, most scientist are so scared of the alarmist title that they have been conservative in their forecasts for future climate scenarios and almost universally wrong. The #1 finding from Copenhagen was:
Recent observations confirm that, given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realized.
In the face of an increasing amount of data and an increasing imperative to take some action, the Republicans in the House of Representative are holding fast to their Do Nothing policies. In fact, it seems that they are so reactionary to have returned to the policies of one of their predecessors, the Know Nothing Party. That rather fits their immigration policies, but that is another story.

It is not unreasonable to claim that we are living in The Age of Stupid. As this UK Documentary looks back at our time from a not to distant future, it finds many instances of Know Nothing-ism and, sadly, too much of do-nothing form those who really understood but failed to act for one reason or another. That clearly defines the Republican (Know Nothing) and Democratic (Do Nothing Effective) stances.

At least, the UK Greens do not accept the status quo of the Age of Stupid. They turned out en masse to swell the numbers attending the public premier of this documentary.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What Next? A Positive Vision of the Future.

After I commented on Tom Friedman's NY Times Column form 3/8/2009, I decided to ask another Green what he thought about it. This is his response. Click Read more!.

What Next? A Positive Vision of the Future.

By Howard Switzer

Seeing Tom Friedman admit that the growth economy was a mistake we cannot continue is something we should encourage many more to do. I think doing what he did may be deeper than simply realizing the level of crisis we've created. It was an admission that he was wrong, that his world view was mistaken and he’s turned his focus to problem solving instead of reacting to perceived fears. I thought it was another sign of the apocalypse, the “lifting of the veil”, the great awakening if you will and many more will follow in an accelerating wave around the world. Well maybe it’s not too great yet but if you look at all the websites and community initiatives pursuing a more sustainable life it begins to look encouraging. Examples include community wise dialogue and listening projects, localized food production, localized fuel production, localized currencies, ecosystem protection and restoration projects, natural building, etc. etc.. All these things and much more speak to an understanding that human well being is threatened and we need to come together around a decentralized system to survive. While some internet activities may seem more a waste of time, the fact that we can find positive efforts to connect people doing good things, besides being a great store of information, is important to informing the human organism. Tom Friedman may be demonstrating the necessary change in attitude toward planet/species, a reversal of the attitude of civilization over the last 6000 years. Paradigm shifts are more a social/political phenomenon than a technological question and have to do with a new worldview and creating whole new structures which are supported by the larger culture. However there are technological artifacts we can probably incorporate into that new worldview.

The system, “Obama World,” is focused on the economic issue at the exclusion of the climate issue and will continue to fail miserably even if they can generate some momentary spurts of economic activity. This is because they not only don’t know what to do but that they work for the banks so any idea of what to do must squeeze through the narrow gate of those interests and all sustainable solutions are much too broad to even come close to getting through. Their list of priorities is anemic and intentionally deceptive. I do think that blogging and twittering endlessly about their machinations has diminishing returns. It seems to me we need to be articulating a positive vision of the future that people can embrace while also hooking people up to something they can dig their toes into. While climate may not make it into the “national dialogue” consider where that dialogue happens, the system’s media. The same media that spoke approvingly of Bush and his agenda and now speaks glowingly of Obama’s agenda. However, on the internet it is not only a national but a planet ‘round dialogue. I also find it is often in the local dialogue because the elders of communities recognize that there are changes, especially in rural areas.

If, as Tom Friedman recently wrote, “we’ve hit the wall,” then what is next? I think the answer is that we clearly articulate a positive vision of the future that millions of people can embrace. So what would be a positive vision of the future? To Greens it would a one that is sustainable. There is much we cannot determine about the future but we can be pretty sure we will be facing less and less fossil fuels, a collapsed global economic system and a climate change. These don’t seem very positive unless you consider them an important catalyst to change in the human organism’s relationship with the planet. The only model of sustainability I know of is that of a healthy mature ecosystem, like a rainforest. That is; one in which every species is fully employed, all work cooperatively while recycling all of their resources, and all products and services are distributed in such a way that every species remains healthy.

Okay, this should be easy; eco-villages full of happy people of all ages employed at growing their own organic foods, medicines and clothing materials, producing energy from the sun, wind & water flows and plants, biologically cleaning water and recycling all materials used; large scale mining would be stopped and metals recycled into their most efficient use in systems for food, healthcare, energy, and transportation, all broadly distributed. Creativity would be encouraged. As many of needed goods as possible would be grown or otherwise produced at the village or regional level. Local credit unions and currencies would be used. Currencies would only be used for a measure of value and a means of exchange. Various forms of non-violent conflict resolution techniques would be utilized as needed. Pre-industrial modes of building using earth, straw, wood, sand and stone, would be utilized in modern passive solar designs. There would be a variety of energy systems, some configurations would produce more than electricity but would also produce fertilizers and bio-char for agriculture, animal and human foods, liquid and gaseous fuels and certain pharmaceuticals utilizing human, animal and plant wastes.

Well, I’ve only begun to fill in this vision, there are doubtless many holes yet to fill, I am only one cell in the human organism. I invite everyone to join in. Whatever the final vision, it will be a collaboration. But there are many roadblocks to any of this happening because we live in a society that is extremely, if not pathologically, polarized. The major divisions include the religious/secular divide related to the science/religion debate and the political divisions we know too well and the divisions within those that we are also familiar with. So a critical part of the vision will be to resolve these polarizations. If we can do that, I believe there is no other party so well positioned to clearly articulate a positive vision of the future that millions can embrace as the Green Party.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

If we have hit the wall, what then? Pt. 1

If the major symptom of our economic sickness is the fact that banks are not extending credit, I guess that I need to report things are headed back to normal. I received a credit card promotions in the mail yesterday. That makes 2 for the week. I did not even bother to look to see what the deal was, what the rates were, but it seems that banks want us to spend again.

Still, the bigger question is always whether all of the spending is a good thing.

In my previous post, I cited Tom Friedman and compared his view that our current system is not sustainable with that promulgated by the Center for American Progress. Friedman follows that first column with another that asks a similar question in a more fundamental manner.
What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”
Wait a miniute%hellip; is this really Tom Friedman, champion of all things global in a very flat world? Or is it that global understanding which led him to be nearly the only writer in our MSM dominated world who is daring to ask that question.

It is clear that Greens would say that Friedman has posed the fundamental question for our economy. Unfortunately, Greens have not reached any consensus as to what we should do about it. To me, that is the invitation to explore a range of solution. For some of this, I will invite a guest blogger or two. I will try to have at least one update per week. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Progressive Growth?

In an earlier post today, I pointed out the fact that we are not making a lot of progress in getting climate change into the national dialog. The people making the decisions are still willing to put almost everything else ahead of it.

This is just to call attention to yet another discrepancy in how perceptions differ depending on the problems you are trying to solve. While, as I pointed out, Tom Friedman made a glowing reference to the Climate Lack of Progress blog, his real point was about the fact that economic growth is not sustainable.
We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese ...

We can’t do this anymore.
Friedman is right, but no one is listening. I have written before about the influence on the Obama Administration from the Center for American Progress. Here, according to their web home page, are our goals

  • Restoring America's global leadership
  • Seizing the energy opportunity
  • Creating progressive growth
  • Delivering universal health care
Not one time do the linked pages contain the idea "sustainable." It is all about seizing the opportunity and making a better life. Consumption corruption is not progressive.

Are we making Climate Progress?

For all the efforts, it would seem that we are beginning to get somewhere. It feels like we are when Tom Friedman refers to Joe Romm's Climate Progress as the "indispensable blog".

Still, I am beginning to wonder if blogging, and twittering is not the new opiate of the people, making them feel good about doing something while the real power is applied behind the scenes to achieve other goals. Yes, I know that I am blogging about this, but the irony is that this is the one outlet that is open to me.

While Friedman is referring his readers to Climate Progress, Times reporter Andrew Revkin has an article on the Heartland Institute sponsored International Conference on Climate Change (Denial). It was a pretty one-sided gathering, reported honestly. What Revkin showed is that there is a large group of people who listen to a minority of scientists and are willing to swallow anything.
Many participants said that any division or dissent was minor and that the global recession and a series of years with cooler temperatures would help them in combating changes in energy policy in Washington.
It appears that the real goal is to not change policies, rather than to understand what is really happening.

At the same time, those of Friedman's readers who follow his link to Climate Progress will find that Romm is a Sr. Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Thus, the name of the blog... Climate Progress. If they were willing to dig around a bit, they might find their way to Romm's opinions on the future of coal or on advisability of pursuing Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) as a way to continue the use of coal despite its proven contributions to greenhouse gas emission.
But I am against anybody thinking that CCS is going to be practical or affordable anytime soon, against people relying on the “false sense of security,” as the Economist put it, that CCS is likely to be a major contributor to national or global CO2 emissions reductions before, say, 2030
While Romm, the scientist, is writing this, the Center for American Progress where he is a Senior Fellow, is making the case for CCS as good policy. Carbon Capture and Sequestration 101 is more than the tutorial that it's title makes it appear. It is a statement of policy imperatives.
Widespread CCS deployment—in combination with other policies to reduce CO2 emissions and diversify energy sources—could be invaluable in meeting our emission reduction goals for greenhouse gases and would encourage the export of CCS technology around the world, particularly to developing nations such as China and India, many of which are depending on low-cost coal to fuel economic growth. The Bush administration’s discontinuation of FutureGen, a power plant employing IGCC, set the process back, as it would have been the world’s first functioning power plant to demonstrate the feasibility of CCS technology. To take the reins on this emerging technology, we must start now with an aggressive program of proper legislation, demonstration projects, and funding backed by political will.
There is a big difference between Romm (a physicist with experience in climate research) and Kenneth Berlin or Robert Sussman. The latter are high powered Washington Lawyers. Berlin's practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom has been to represent corporations who were trying to minimize the effects of environmental regulation.

I will believe that we are truly making progress when the Center for American Progress (CAP) puts Romm front and center, rather than their top notch legal protection team. Given the close connection between CAP and the Obama administration, I fully expect to see Romm ignored and the lawyers prevail, carrying us one step closer to Climaticide.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Greens hit the street, Coal visits the governor.

The entire environmental movement has had a series of well publicized, heavily hyped actions that were intended to pull Americans together, get them behind a movement to save our planet and to make sure that our elected officials are listening to us. The list includes Step it Up National Day of Climate Action, Earth Hour 2008 / 2009, and its international Day of Climate Action.

While all of this mass movement has been gathering, the facts are that the opposition, those for whom the continued exploitation of dwindling petroleum reserves and ever more ecological destructive coal, oil shale or tar sands makes them rich are doing what they have always done. They lobby the lawmakers and law enforcers and they flood the airways with mass media advertising that convinces the public that global warming is a myth, or at worst something we can deal with when the technology is ready. They convinced legislatures and executives that our economy can not afford to back away from cheap energy now. They are successful and the mass movements are not growing. In fact, in the United States, Global Warming is rapidly dropping off the poll lists as a major concern of the voting public.

For clues as to why we remain clueless, please click Read more!.

We are ever exhorted to join the masses in the great awakening. Ted Glick, who went on a hunger strike for carbon freedom is ever at the forefront of this mass movement activism, as he wrote this week on the demonstrations at a coal fired power plant in the nations capitol.
Throughout this jubilant day, there was a palpable sense of a psychological line being crossed which has had a parallel in all great movements for nonviolent social change. It is the moment when a movement becomes aware that it is tapping into the immensely strong and unstoppable power of truth. It is a time of spiritual awakening, when seekers of change suddenly realize they have unleashed an infinite force far beyond the strength of any individuals - what Gandhi referred to as ‘satyagraha.’
For all of his optimism, Glick's mass movement has failed to materialize. In 2006, 68% of Americans thought government should do more about global warming. Today, it ranked dead last in a Pew Center poll.

The congruence of events this past week points out just how bad things are and why we need to start doing things differently. On March 2, demonstrators blocked the entrance to a coal fired power plant in Washington DC. This plant provide energy to many places, including the Capitol Building. When it did make the national news, it was coupled with a statement from Nancy Pelosi that there was already a bill in Congress that will change this to a gas fired plant. I doubt that this bill will emerge from the depths of our legislative mine. Some even said that This is What Democracy Looks Like.

It would have been so encouraging if I did not know that lobbyists were busy turning NY Governor David Patterson in to a hypocrite. Patterson was one of those governors who gained a lot of credit for backing a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Along with California's Governor Schwarzenegger, he was held a an example of what progressive, environmentally responsible government could accomplish. Against the backdrop of the Bush administration policies, it was a significant step forward. The NY Times put Patterson on page A-1 Thursday, just three days after the Demonstrations in Washington.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which New York signed onto four years ago, established a system whereby power producers were required to obtain what are called allowances, which permit them to release certain levels of carbon dioxide emissions. They typically obtain the allowances by buying them at auction or trading them.
But if this is the public position, the Times laid out what really happened.
Mr. Patterson appeared to overrule the State Department of Environmental Conservation in making the move, which would reopen state regulations to provide power plants leeway to release greater amounts of emissions at no additional cost. Administration officials said the governor was concerned the rule might unfairly burden the energy industry.

His decision infuriated environmental groups, which learned of Mr. Paterson’s decision just this week, though he met with energy executives privately last fall and assured them he would take the step.

I really hate the way that economists can hide basic truths behind their convoluted technical terminology, but UCLA's Matthew I Kahn does a great job of explaining why Patterson's actions are so potentially damaging.
If business people anticipate that politicians cannot credibly commit to keep certain policies in place and that lobbying can reverse these policies, then many dirty firms will not invest in costly "green" technology but instead will hire firms to lobby the political leaders.
I would never have thought to look for this in a blog entry entitled Time Consistent Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Policy but luckily I follow most of what Kahn cares to blog about. Patterson's actions are the equivalent of economists also call "moral hazard". In the bailout of banks and securities firms, the government appeared to send the signal that taking extraordinary risk with other people's money is OK if you are "too big to fail." It now seems that you can argue that the economy needs cheap energy right now and do anything you want no matter how much it damages the economy or how much is will cost future generations to repair or mitigate that damage.

Ted Glick and Bill McKibben, and all of the other generals in the Climate Change War need to start re-thinking their tactics. In the long run there is no question that they have the right goals. But when you are losing the war, it is time to change tactics. When big coal and big petroleum organizations have the power to recruit at will through their massive ad campaigns efforts like those listed above gain little, not even the headlines.

Maybe it is time to start challenging PBS, whose News Hour and Nightly Business Reports are routinely sponsored by extractive industries and their trade organizations. That being the case, then we should strike the word Public from their name.

Since the power to be a hypocrite seems vested in those Democratic politicians who talk the best game, it is time to make sure that they have Green opposition that is uncompromising on those issues, that will tell the world that Patterson's energy policies are no better that Dick Cheney's. They both negotiated deals with the energy industry behind closed doors. The NY Times and all should be demanding that Patterson produce the records of these secret meetings in the same manner that they demanded that Cheney produce his.

I am not hopeful that such a challenge will happen. Most major environmental organizations are too closely tied to the Democratic Party to raise any kind of challenge. When looking for a statement in opposition to Patterson's actions, they went to the Environmental Advocates of New York… not the Sierra Club nor Natural Resources Defense Council. It is not mentioned at Gristmill or Climate Progress. They are all too busy trying to get Carbon Trading passed and this is a prime example of why Carbon Trading will not work.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Transportation and Climate Change

Grist's David Roberts is using Twitter to report on the Wall Street Journal's Eco:Economics Conference going on this week in Santa Barbara. Last year, he gave us more substantive reports blogging live. Still, I learned that journalists were not allowed into the happy hour bar and that Roberts drinks Scotch. Neither fact will do either of us much good since I doubt that anyone will pay for me to go the conference if they hold it again nor will I likely meet David to buy him a scotch - rocks.

However, one of his tweets did trigger additional thoughts, and maybe that is all it was supposed to do.
It occurs to me, despite the obsession with transportation through this whole conference, nobody has even mention public transit.
To see where this leads, click Read more!

I live in the San Jose, CA area. It is a monument to urban sprawl where only a few McMansions and condo complexes achieve a 2nd story. All efforts to draw a ring around it have failed, big ideas for a New Town complex in the Coyote Valley between San Jose urban boundary and my community of Morgan Hill have died in the economic realities of cities whose budget deficits are exceeded only that the State's own revenue problem. My local newspaper is filled with letters to the editor that proclaim the opinion that the Valley Transit Authority is a failed concept.

Having lived for some time in Tokyo, which has a massive public transportation system that I used every day, I have some observations. The most important thing about the Tokyo system was it's convenience. There is nothing convenient about the systems that we have in place here. The entire structure of society is one that reinforces the auto orientation of everything. If I need to buy a gallon of milk, I have to drive. The buses that come to my subdivision do not stop near the grocery stores and the milk would probably spoil while waiting for the next one.

We lack two elements that are necessary for an effective and highly utilized mass transit system. One is the ability for people to get from a mass transit station / stop to their actual place of employment. For most, this is not possible. Some major employers run shuttle buses. Most can not afford to. The solution may lie in Personal Rapid Transit. There is a conference tomorrow (March 6, 2009)in Oakland devoted to Carbon Free Mobility. I am not sure who will attend. I tried to get a local city councilman to attend, but did not even get a return call. I know that some Greens will be there.

The second element that we lack, especially in comparison to locations like Tokyo, is having shopping in proximity to the mass transit hubs. In Morgan Hill, the empty space near our train station has been taken by a satellite court house / sheriff's office. While there are restaurants withing walking distance, there is no regular shopping. The remaining vacant land has been allocated for multi-family housing. That is not bad, but further exacerbates the problem. It is the same almost everywhere I look, with only parking lots surrounding the rail stations and the shopping concentrated at highway intersections.

Most cities use tax incentives to lure stores from other nearby communities. Until we start using those incentives to influence the location of new facilities, we will continue building the infrastructure to prohibit the development of mass transit rather than encouraging it. It is not just a matter of having trains and light rail vs automobiles. We need to have transit integrated into the total planning process for the entire community and allowing transit goals to determine what we do rather than reacting to what we have already screwed up.

The passing of the torch

Two respected writers passed away this week and left behind holes that will be challenging to fill. They presented all of us with the best of what the internet should provide.

Robert Guskind, proprietor of the Gowanus Lounge did not think of himself as a blogger but rather as an online journalist, a distinction that was real for anyone who ever walked in to the lounge and paused to quaff a thought or two. The Lounge will stay open for a while to allow others to post their rememberances. I refer you to a tribute posted by my daughter to her own site. Guskind knew his subject, Brooklyn, very well and wrote with passion.

Johnnie Rook was the nom de blog of Steven Kimball. It was a name chosen well for all of it's dark Shakespearean connotations. His subject was none other than the murder of our climate as laid out in the Climaticide Chronicles. He wrote about one death with the understanding that came from staring his own imminent death in the face.

Both of these men had a passion for their subject, gave it a sense of importance that may have escaped the rest of us. Both had a reverence for getting the facts right and were often critical of those journalistic efforts that failed to live up to their own standard. We owe it to both to continue that tradition, to speak with passion secure in the knowledge that we too, got the facts right.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Avoiding water wars.

One of the blogs that I closely follow is Climate Progress, principle author Joseph Romm. It is particularly relevant since Romm is a physicist specializing in climate and also is associated with John Podesta's Center for American Progress, a close Obama ally. While I may disagree with him on the policy implications, I trust Joe to get his facts right.

I am also a fan of good crime fiction and he caught my interest with a post headed "Murder, she wrote." That post wrote of a climate researcher / blogger named Johnnie Rook, a man who is dying and wants to be assured that the world he lives behind will be one in which his grandchildren can live. Poignantly Rook continues to provide good input on climate even as he knows his end from cancer will be relatively soon, his current treatment is only pallative.

Still, for all his story makes us care what happens, and for all the work Rook has done to warn us of what is going to happen with the climate, he steps into deep mud when he tries to be prescriptive about how to avoid the water wars and the feces wars.

Click Read more! for an analysis.

Rook does a very good job in describing the scope of the problem with particular attention to the way that it has been positioned by vested interests. The choice of the Klamath River potato / salmon war was a wise one, because it illustrates the way that unintended consequences accompany political tinkering. Choices seemed easy when the crisis could be defined as farmers / food supply against fish.
Aside from the ecological impact, such decisions also affect our food supply and individual livelihoods. Cheney stepped in to tinker with the science so that instream uses were canned in favor of diverting water to the farmers. The collateral consequences of this tinkering were 77,000 dead salmon, the federal government declared a “commercial fishery failure”, Congress provided disaster aid of $60 million to the fishermen and $15 million to farmers to not farm in order to reduce water usage.
It is obvious that wiser solutions are required, solutions that consider long range impacts on entire ecosystems and not just individual uses at a given location and a particular point in time. That is what ecology is all about.

Unfortunately, when Rook tries to define his own solutions, he makes the same mistakes, putting people outside the ecosystem instead of including us along with all other life. He ignores the manner in which bio-regions exist and proposes gigantic infrastructure spending to redistribute the fresh water that we have rather than to consider changing the distribution of water needs, of reducing usage, of not planting cotton in the desert and all of the other dumb things the people do.

We would honor Rook by taking action now to prevent as much of the coming climate change as we can, hopefully before it becomes a climate collapse. We would honor all life by learning to live with the planet we have instead of re-distributing it's resources in unsustainable ways. We have done enough of that already.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Who gives a tweet?

It seems that one of the stories of the week is that fact that some politicians have discovered Twitter. While I have my own ID on both Twitter and Facebook, there is a side of me that wants to pull away from using Twitter at all.

I was going to write something a bit more serious on this subject, but it is hard to be serious after listening to John Stewart and Brian Williams take twitter to task on The Daily Show recently. Williams does not tweet because he doesn't think that what is he doing right now is very important.

Electronic media is very good at connecting people to events as they happen. Television news can catch on to relatively minor things and put us all in the middle of events with a great sense of presence. At it's best, it can make us feel the impact of those events in a way that print journalism can rarely do. Yet for all of the immediacy, it is images such as this that remain seared into the memory years later. Still images, captured for ever.

The phenomenon we call social media has a similar effect, only amplified. The more we know, the more detailed picture we get of what anyone is doing at any point in time, the less likely it is that the event so capture, so described, so broadcast to followers, will have any lasting importance. As we become inundated with things that we care little about, as in the following that I received when I checked this AM.
at work...working...Happy Monday!
What is missing is the process of selection, of deciding what is important and how that important event, thought, image should be put in context to help all of us understand something about the world we live in. I find myself turning more and more to print journalism to get this because it is not coming from the internet nor is it coming from television.

I really did not elect any official to spend time and energy tweeting. I elected them to be legislating, to be thinking about what we need to do to improve this country. What we learn is that Arlen Spector was a lonely Republican when he applauded one of Obama's points in his speech to Congress. (Courtesy of a Claire McCaskill tweet).

I guess it is time to say "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a tweet."

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Depression Economics

I can't claim to have lived through the Great Depression, but I am the youngest of 4 children and it is clear that the rest of my family did. The only two things that I every heard my mother brag about was the fact that she didn't always know where the next meal was coming from, but the family never went hungry and that we "never went on the dole." Maybe it was the fact that we lived in rural Illinois that made this possible. The sense of thankfulness for what we had and a focus on what we really needed never left her and I think never left the rest of the family either.

I wonder whether the current economic crisis will have the same effect, lasting for a generation. On the CBS Evening News last night, they talked about the way that Toyota was dealing with its slumping sales; reducing hours and salaries but not laying off anyone. They even cut salaries by 30% at the top, 20% for some in the middle and only 10% for those on the production line.

But I think the real story came from this comment, made in passing by the owner of Rockland (NY)Toyota.
We had people wanting the new car -- the shiny, new car, the new model the exciting car that's out there. They wanted that. Now what's happening is we're finding people need the car -- the car breaks down, they have a big bill in service, their lease is over, they needs to buy that car. We got to get these wanna-bes back in
If the American public has truly gone from buying everything they want to buying only what they need, then the recovery is not going to come quickly and that is a good thing... in the long run.