Category Archives: Politics

How can you trust them with this when they have done that?

I was reading this New York Times
article this morning. It covers the case the administration makes for
its policy of making people enemy combatants, and thus to keep them
locked up, outside of the court system for as long as they want to, and
without any recourse. I’m definitely not the first one to think that
this is really un-american, exactly opposite of the freedoms we were
raised to believe in and that we stand for as a nation. This debate has
gone on for years now, and it seems our laws are not so clear on the
issue as we would like to believe. How anybody can’t see how simple it
would be to use their policy to imprison political prisoners is beyond
me. But it seems like it’s dragged on long enough now that people are
just forgetting about it. No doubt some of the people imprisoned are
really bad people, so why try to help them, eh? The key comes down to
the administration having the authority to do what it wants to based
only on its understanding of the facts.

Nuclear reality

I got an email related to the current discussions on national energy policy. I have been a supporter of nuclear energy going back to the ’70s and now I think it’s an even better idea, in spite of all its potential problems. Here is what I had to say.

--- "Jennifer Giegerich, WISPIRG State Director"  wrote:

> Dear WISPIRG supporter,
>
> Today, the U.S. Senate begins consideration of the anti-environment energy
> bill, and some senators are threatening to make the bill even worse.
>
> Senators John McCain (AZ) and Joe Lieberman (CT) may offer an amendment to
> the energy bill that includes massive government handouts for the nuclear
> power industry to build the first new nuclear reactor in the U.S. in 30 years
> as part of an amendment aimed at reducing global warming pollution. We can
> meet our future energy needs and reduce global warming pollution without
> increasing our reliance on nuclear energy, which is dangerous, expensive and
> creates more nuclear waste that we have no way to store safely or get rid of.

I am a paying member and long time supporter of your organization, however I
really disagree with your point of view on this topic. I live in Green Bay,

within site of a large coal pile and downwind of the output of the Pulliam
power plant as well as an industrial stack. Between coal dust from the piles
and output of the stacks, I have to breathe this every day. I have to clean it
off my house every day. The consequences are real, and they are real now,
something that is not the case with the 2 nuclear power plants within 30 miles
of my house.

Based on the resistance of neighbors to wind power, and it’s overall limits for
production in Wisconsin, I don’t hold much hope that this will be a significant
source of energy, as appealing as it is. Similar story for wave power whose
environmental impact would be unacceptable to me. Even with some dramatic
conservation efforts, I don’t see electricity demand shrinking. While small
scale solar power is very worth pursuing, the land acres required for it to
compete with chemical forms of energy is something I find worrisome on a large
scale.

We can make significant efforts on our overall energy policy in regards to oil
consumption, but most of those involve shifting the needs to other forms of
energy, electricity high among them. True whether you favor hybrid cars, fuel
cells, ethanol or other biomass solutions, they all require electricity to
produce the portable form of energy needed in the vehicle. I believe we could
cut our oil demand (probably not more than 1/2) if we enforced strict gas
mileage requirements, which I believe we should do NOW. The demand for
increased electricity production remains even with an oil reduction though, so
short of building more natural gas (PLEASE save that for my furnace), oil (just
say no), or coal plants (see above, see the mining devastation in the west), I
see nuclear plants as the least evil of many hard choices.

The *potential* impacts of nuclear plants are worse by far than with other
forms of energy production, however these potential problems have not been
significant *compared to* the existing real problems of the alternatives. I
breath the coal dust and ash now. I breath carbon monoxide now. Oil will run
out within my children’s lifetime. The snow line is moving north all the time,
affecting my favorite outdoor pastime. The arctic is melting now. It’s time for
environmental groups like ours to make a realistic plan for a long term energy
policy instead of believing that just by resisting the current energy companies
with their history of bad decisions, that any real problems will be solved. The
policies WISPIRG and others support can at best only slow the hard decisions
about what to do, unfortunately prolonging the existing problems rather than
building a complete vision of a long term strategy that could actually work. I
think nuclear power should be in that vision along with a set of inspired plans
for dealing with the waste. The waste is a huge problem, but not bigger than
the combined size of a Montana strip mines, Green Bay coal piles, coastal oil
slicks, melted artic tundra, lost Atlantic shoreline, sunken pacific islands,
forests and lakes lost to acid rain or wars fought to “protect” our oil supply.
Please consider making some of these hard choices when you formulate your
policies going forward.

Weather for a fee

The long discussion in this blog , pretty much covers the range of opinion. That range is pretty much 99% opposed, 1% in favor of making it illegal for the National Weather Service to transmit feeds of the data it collects and forcasts it makes unless it’s a weather emergency. This is because the authors of the bill believe that this is something that the private sector should do and of course be able to make money at. They have more difficulty doing that when the government is providing the data for free.

Naturally this is supported by Weather.com and Accuweather, the later of which is located in the bill sponor’s home state. Opposed is nearly everybody else. The blog comes from a private company that makes money repackaging the feeds from the government. They sell ads, and offer an add free subscription option that I have taken up for the last three years.

I think the bill is just another attempt by weak minded politicians and business people who look to make their money by squeezing the profits out of the existing competivie landscape rather than my outperforming the competition with innovative ideas, better skills, better service or new ideas that competitors haven’t come up with. A bill like this is the last thing America needs to support where innovation should be our emphasis rather than eliminating competition. Having a central source of basically raw weather data that everybody can use, and over which commerical pressures do not come into play is just good common sense. For me as a skier, I love the fact that private weather hobbyists, or academics, or professional weather people who love skiing will take the data and put a nordic skiing spin on the weather. Having a single network of data reporting and disemination of the data is by far the most efficient way to allow unique services to be built on top of the information. If this data was private, I would have to convince Weather.com to build a nordic oriented web site with all the unique details skiers and wax techs are interested in, and based on the numbers, it just wouldn’t happen.</p?

Fortunately, opinion is wildly against this from what I can tell. That won’t stop me from writing some of the Senators involved.

What will become of us?

As more and more facts come out about the poor choices made in our hijacked war on terror, a voting process looking like it’s worthy of dictatorships, a policy schiziphrenia between unilateralism and global economics, a complete and total inability of somewhere between 48 and 52% of our population to digest factual information, I am getting weary of thinking about how I’ll feel if Bush wins this election. Perhaps with the rhetoric turned down, some civil politeness will find it’s way back into the dialog, but I can’t imagine how. A significant part of the US population seems to be perfectly OK with rationalizing a preemptive war on countries, individuals and institutions based on what can only *EVER* be partial information about the truth. As all the current news has shown us, the whole reason for going into Iraq was wishful thinking at best and a fabrication at the worst. When you look at how difficult it is to convict a person in a court of law, imagine how difficult it would be to accurately single out terrorists from innocents in other countries. Worst of all is the number of people I have always respected that have turned out to have points of view that I find reprehensible. These people act like they have done some evil deed themselves and now can’t turn their back on the force that pushed them there without having to face the truth of what they have done. What holds these people to this nonsense? I can hardly be alone. I still don’t feel particularly partisan and unless something dramatic happens, I will not vote a straight ticket.

I also have new respect for John Kerry after watching the new documentary about him, “Going Upriver” the story of his Vietnam days and the aftermath that led him to his speech to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee speaking for Vietnam Veterans against the War. I think if anybody doubts that he can lead, you should watch this film. Without any authority, meaing he was not a commander, a manager, a ceo, a ranking politician, he was able to organize a very well done peaceful demonstration and get a first class speech to the committe and national television, all at the ripe age of 27. Remarkable accomplishment for anybody, but to do this with the very mixed VVAW was amazing. It was the force of his words, his understanding of the politics of that situation, his patient talking with other vets and ultimately the trust he engendered in the other veterans that did it.

Now compare that to our current president who has yet to garner a majority of the popular vote, relies on fear to steer people in the direction he wants to go and hasn’t been successful in any great venture where leadership is important. OK, OK time to move on.

I think this can turn out yet, but if it doesn’t I will be morose in a big way.

Politics is taking over most of my thoughts these days

I have always been interested in politics, but the upcoming presidential election has probably been the most important election in my life so far. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, and many people think that of the remaining candidates, there isn’t enough difference between them to make it worth the effort. Apparently this was true for lot’s of people in the last election, where people really couldn’t see a difference between George Bush and Al Gore, as amazing as that seems in retrospect. I suppose if your only measure of how a candidate stands comes from their relationship to corporate America, you might feel justified. But for me, affiliation with corporate backers is a ridiculous predictor of what a president would do, and especially in relation to the symbolic event the choice of a party is. The point of this blog is to whine about about the anti-corporate point of view in politics.

In most political conversations, I am the token leftist. I have a group of friends to whom I seem a moderate, and compared to others, I am must seem somewhere to the right. I think what is unique about my political views these days, especially these days, is that while I do have pretty strong opinions, and while nothing short of torture could make me vote for George Bush this fall, I still seek out a wide range of opinions. And if corporations are not short of buckets of cash to “buy” any election to force politicians to do their bidding, they are even less short of opinions on how to solve any problem. Corporations have very deep pockets when it comes to opinions. Get the managers, those people used to having to make judgments on any number of complex and confusing issues every day, to opine on any given topic, and you will get many different answers. For 1 question, you could get 10 opinions from 15 managers, and they wouldn’t match. In fact, not only wouldn’t they match, if they had to come to a consensus, unless it was an obvious one like lowering corporate taxes, you would probably get some strongly opposing opinions and nothing like a consensus. Take some of the recent mutual fund company scandals. There are many different types of solutions offered, some of which are complete opposites of others. If you are from a fund company, you would want a solution that benefits you, compared to the retirement industry that wants a solution that benefits them.

So Daddy Warbucks decides to buy a candidate, and we hear they’re going for rock bottom prices these days, somewhere around the price of pork bellies. Big Mutual Fund Warbucks, Big MF for short, is gonna make a generous donation to his candidate in exchange for a positive vote on his big issue. Now as it happens, the retirement guy is also philosophically aligned with the same party, and also makes a big donation to the same candidate.

So how does the candidate vote? Take this times thousands of contributors, and how does this play out? There is probably a good chance that some of the big contributors match the candidates and the candidates parties opinion on some of the major issues. You could say, gee Big MF Warbucks donated 10,000,000 to candidate X, and wouldn’t you know it, electee X voted just the way Big MF Warbucks wanted. But wait, the retirement industry guy also donated 10,000,000 but wanted his man to vote *his* way, just the opposite of the other donor. There could be some pork barrel politics that benefits a particular donor, but with 525 or so legislators, these pork barrels have to be used pretty judiciously, cause you aren’t going to get too many of them to spread around. One of George Bush’s biggest backers is Merril Lynch. Kerry’s, Citibank.

So what does this mean for the fairness of elections? Not so much. Dean proved you could raise good money a small bit at a time. He didn’t have a message, or style people understood and he’s out. What does it mean for the integrity of our elected officials? Again, not that much, at least in that I really don’t believe that congressmen and women have some tally sheet they use when gaging how they will vote on any given issue. Imagine writing software that would compare the relative merits of this particular bill against a database of thousands of donations and donors wishes. Utterly impossible, and I think for most votes, it is also impossible for the legislator. Don’t get me wrong, corporations are capable of great wrongs, as any reading of business headlines of the last 5 years has proved over and over again. Enron, Martha Stewart, Arthur Andersen, Nike, Clear Channel, and the list goes on and on. I don’t  have any doubt that corruption exists, and I think that it should be vigorously pursued. It just isn’t the main story.

The philosophical framework a candidate is connected to is a MUCH MUCH better predictor of how a candidate will vote than the list of donors or the size of their checkbooks. It’s the philosophical framework that attracts donors, and just as the Democrats philosophically are populist, union supporting and possibly more idealistic about the role of government, the Republicans are philosophically more tied to the idea that government can only make a mess of things and that the private sector will do a better job, unless it’s the military of course. Now that is cynical, and I think unpatriotic, but that’s a topic for another blog. I guess this has been on my mind because I have been worrying about the numbers of voters who may not come out because they think that money has polluted the situation beyond repair. I really believe that the truth is that it’s the power structures that have polluted the situation, but that these can be changed by participating. Apathy will definately produce the wrong results.

If Bush wins again, I have a number of friends who claim, without convincing me, that they will move to Canada. I wouldn’t, as if it would even be an option with their extremely restrictive work visas, but the idea would be a lot more appealing than having to listen to four more years of saber rattling, false claims and bad planning, not to mention the embarassment I sometimes feel when I have been out of the country.

So, go Kerry!