Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Missouri May Tighten Rules on the Use of Deadly Force

What gets lost in the news, particularly on the talk shows on the right, is the need to make sure our laws are enforced fairly while ensuring equal protection under the law. No group should receive special privilege, though of course, privilege is sometimes what we see, particularly if someone who is accused of a crime also happens to be rich or receives consideration other groups don't receive.

But we also don't want to see people be treated more harshly because those who enforce the law lose sight of their official obligations. Rightly or wrongly, nearly everyone has biases. But it is part of our law that our biases cannot become part of our official duties.

The reality is that the enforcement of laws also require laws and training in the exercise of enforcing the law. I'm glad to see that the Attorney General of Missouri has decided that the laws may need to be tightened in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown (story from NBC News):
Missouri's attorney general called Tuesday night for a change in state law to make it tougher for law enforcement officers to justify the use of deadly force, a week and a half after a grand jury declined to indict former Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
I'm glad to see NBC News follow up on the broader Michael Brown story. We have a case in Ferguson of a predominately black community policed by a police department that is predominately white. That in itself is not the problem. The problem is a pattern of policing by centurion, confrontational methods than by the more effective method of community policing. The confrontational attitude presented to protestors on several occasions spoke volumes of the leadership and the general attitude of Furgeson police department. There was also the issue of city officials, the prosecutor's office and other resisting a close investigation of what exactly happened to Michael Brown and why an unarmed young black man was shot 12 times. That nine witnesses said Michael Brown had raised up his hands in surrender raises the question why the witnesses were ignored and what exactly it was that the officer was supposed to have seen or experienced. Transparency was not delivered to the members of the community.

It is also impossible not to think of the example of the French novel Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. The hero is sent to the galleys for thirty years of hard labor for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. Generations of readers have been moved by the harshness of the sentence given to Jean Valjean and his attempts to redeem himself.  We learn that Michael Brown may have stolen a box of cigars. If Brown was guilty, as his detractors claim, no opportunity for redemption was offered him. The last I heard, Americans don't execute people for misdemeanors, let alone execute them without trial.

The officer claimed he felt threatened by Mr. Brown but many questions remain.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

It's Time for Congress to Reengage

I'm a Democrat but I'm a strong believer that our country needs two parties. Although I theoretically favor third parties, the truth is that even third parties at the end of the day need to understand how to put together a coalition of votes. It's obvious that Tea Party Republicans are frankly behaving like a third party, though for reasons not well understood, they are dominating the Republican Party. It seems a combination of wealthy right wing Republicans and very conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh and news organization like Fox News give cover to Tea Republicans.

It's been apparent for some time that a growing number of rational Republicans recognize that they have a problem and that problem is that Tea Party Republicans cannot govern, largely because of their unwillingness a vast majority of the time to work with Democrats.

In Politico Magazine, Steve LaTourette has an article arguing that the Republican Party needs to get back to governing:
The governing wing of the Republican Party understands that compromise is not the root of all evil in Washington—indeed, it is the essential ingredient in moving forward any set of conservative policies like those that Reagan fought for.
While the grifters hold a great deal of sway over the Republican Party for now, they are not the majority—not by a long shot. As with any good Ponzi scheme, there are relatively few grifters; the challenge is exposing their scam.

All politicians argue their position. All politicians in our country take money from campaign donors. But at the end of the day, representatives in Congress need to get down to business and take the job of government seriously. For the past four years, Tea Party Republicans have shown they cannot do that.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

How to Win on Progressive Causes

Maybe this post should have been called how not to win on progressive causes. I'm always astonished at people who lose sight of what they're trying to accomplish by pursuing side arguments they poorly understand while their style of argument undermines even the side issue.

Maha at Mahablog has written extensively and wisely on the subject. Here's one of Maha's careful but blunt comments that comes right to the point as about clearly as one can:
Years ago I formulated a basic rule for successful demonstrating that I call the “Bigger Asshole” rule. The job of public protesters is not to change the minds of the powerful people they are opposing, but to gain public sympathy for their cause. Especially in politics, the powerful won’t change until they are compelled to do so by a sufficient critical mass of public opinion saying they must.

Maha elaborates further in the comment section of her post:
This is the whole point of the Bigger Asshole rule. You are not trying to change the minds of people you directly oppose. You are trying to win everybody else to sympathize with you more than with the people you oppose. Public support and sympathy give you some leverage to actually change things. Not having it means you are whistling in the wind.

Years ago, I talked about a related issue concerning what I called persuadables, the small but important percentage of people who are actually willing to listen. But Maha's point is a larger one involving a much larger group. One way to look at it is that when you argue with an opponent, you need to remember who the real audience is: the people who are looking over your shoulder and are listening in. How you conduct yourself is as important as what you say (as an example, you don't put up with bullying, but you work hard to make sure you don't become a bully yourself).

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reminder from the George W. Era

In 2004, near the end of George W. Bush's first tern, my wife and I were among several dozen people being honored for volunteer work for a government agency that has major environmental responsibilities in the local community. It was more a social occasion, but like a number of other volunteers, we were receiving our ten year pins.

There had been concern that some staff changes had been made and that one of our favorite people was more or less being kicked upstairs and sideways into a research program that kept him away from environmental issues. Weirdly, his replacement spent twenty minutes "honoring" Ronald Reagan, who had passed away a couple of weeks earlier. This was the year the Bush Administration spent an entire month honoring the former president. I can't recall anything like this in my lifetime. The period of mourning was usually a week or less when a former president died.

It didn't take long to figure out what was going on. We already knew that the longer than usual "mourning" was being cynically used by Bush to distract from his many problems. It quickly became clear that our new manager was a Bush person and she was thoroughly pleased to be spending twenty minutes talking about Reagan. Many in the audience, including myself, found ourselves looking at one another.

It was clear the new manager was a political appointee and not someone who had earned her way up through management. To this day, I'm not sure how many people realize many of these low level appointees from the George W. Bush years are still in positions that they might not have earned otherwise. In addition, it is highly probable that some of these appointees were illegal. The early 2000s were a strange era. We are in serious danger of that era returning if voters don't start paying closer attention to the radical right.

Why do I mention this? Because many politicians and officials on the right are bending and sometimes breaking the law to get their way. Even the Supreme Court, with Scalia apparently leading the way, is coming up with rationales that haven't been seen in almost a century.

Monday, June 23, 2014

46 Countries Are More Than 60% Renewable

Momentum for renewable energy is growing. Solar and wind are now competitive with fossil fuels. And the rate of innovation for solar cells, storage systems, more efficient wind turbines and other cost saving measures in alternative energy systems is expected to increase for the next few years, dropping prices even further. Around the world, many countries take global warming seriously. And many countries are discovering that renewable energy has a longterm future while fossil fuels are simply getting harder and more expensive to produce and bring to market.

On a site called Lenz Blog is a list of 46 countries that are now more than 60% renewable. (Thanks to  Cleantechnica for the link).

It's a shame that the U.S. has so much opposition to alternative energy coming from the fossil fuel industries. Global warming has been seriously on the radar for 25 years. That's 25 years that fossil fuel companies could have spent making the transition to a diverse energy portfolio. Luckily, there's still time to diversify. The sooner fossil fuel companies start diversifying, the easier the transition to alternative energy will be. And the less risk we will pose to our planet from excessive fossil fuel emissions.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Is Cheney Running for President in 2016?

My apologies to anyone with a heart condition who read the title of today's post. Cheney, who was less than honest with the American people in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003…. and yes, 2014, has never acknowledged the blunders made during the George W. Bush presidency, nor has he acknowledged the many inaccurate statements he made and continues to make.

Please see:

Look, I'm not a pacifist but war is not an option that should be treated as lightly as Rumsfeld, Cheney, Karl Rove, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Bill Kristol did in 2003. I can say they treated the war in Iraq with less than due diligence for the simple reason that in March 2002, they stopped trying to get Osama bin Laden. In fact, they simply abandoned any coherent policy in Afghanistan. Their attitude, which I'm admittedly surmising since they never clearly explained themselves, seemed to be: Okay, never mind that the bullets are still flying, and that we didn't catch bin Laden and that Afghanistan is a mess: we won and we're moving on to the next war.

Once the new war started, what was supposed to happen at that point? We know Rumsfeld had no plan after taking the city of Baghdad, but let's say the Iraqis had miraculously greeted Americans as liberators and miraculously ended the animosity among Iraqi factions and had actually created a democratic government in two months. What was supposed to happen next? Does anyone know? Were we headed to Iran? Syria? Pakistan? Where were we headed next? That's a question that neither Cheney or Rumsfeld have the nerve to answer. Why? Because we would quickly begin to understand how flawed the thinking in the Republican Party has become.

Smart people learn from their mistakes. Even smart conservatives. Winston Churchill wasn't a conservative purist but he was certainly very fond of colonialism and the manner of the British Empire and all its pomp and ceremony. He made a number of mistakes in during World War I. But he learned from them and was instrumental in holding off the Germans long enough for the Germans to change their target to Russia. He also gave the United States enough time to make an enormous difference in the outcome of the war.

So, is Cheney running for president in 2013? I hope not. There's absolutely no sign that he has learned anything.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

West Virginia Governor Says: It's Your Decision

In the age of global warming and rising fossil fuel production costs, the paralysis of pragmatism among many right wing Republican politicians is becoming more evident. For Republicans, it's the age of do-nothingism.

But Democrats also need to make sure their politicians don't go down that road. Democratic Gov. Earl Tomblin says to West Virginians that 'it's your decision' whether to drink the water that was recently contaminated by a chemical spell. I'm sure many Americans have noticed many chemical spills, refinery accidents, oil spells and exploding fertilizer plants have occurred lately across the nation.

With all due respect, I disagree with the oddly lax attitude of the governor (he sure sounds like a Republican to me). Making sure the water supply is healthy and communities are livable should be a major goal of every state. But making sure the United States has a responsible energy and global warming plan going forward for the coming decades should be the highest priority of our nation.

It's a fact of life that we now have two critical issues facing us. No one in the world is more impacted by the two critical issues than the United States. We are, first of all, the world's biggest energy user per capita. So the need for new forms of energy is crucial. If we wish to remain economically healthy, we need over the next 10 to 25 years to turn to other forms of energy in a major way.

We are also one of the largest countries in the world. It would be an illusion to think that global warming will not affect us. We have three large climate change issues and a not so small issue. The not so small issue is in Alaska where the permafrost in the north is melting and homes and communities are literally sinking into the ground.

A big second issue is that the American West is having repeated bouts of drought, and the computer models expect more of them. Keep in mind that in places like California, the weather tends to be feast and famine. In the years that California gets rain, it gets far more than it wants. This may happen more often in other areas of the country.

Actually, the Gulf states and the Eastern seaboard at times will also have an increased number of the largest hurricanes, but possibly not more hurricanes in general (the science of our new changing climate isn't always going to be able to read exactly the changes and timing of what will come; but the energy pouring into the Earth's various climates is already having measurable consequences; and one of the major consequences is the way warm water is moving north in the late summer — warm water fuels hurricanes).

The final issue involves our coastlines. One part of the issue is already here: the rising seas are sending a great deal more water inland when big hurricanes and even thunder storms drive water inland. But the seas will continue rising and over the next few decades we will lose a certain percentage of our coastal lands. No one can precisely predict what will happen and when for a number of reasons; the biggest wild card is when the production of fossil fuels will begin to significantly drop.

The reality is the age of light sweet crude is over. We can no longer produce the best quality oil cheaply. Cheap oil is gone and is not returning. One call also see growing stresses in the refinery, fossil producing, and chemical sectors. And keep in mind that fossil producers have known about climate change for at least two decades. Most of them made a political choice to ignore the science. The smartest thing many of these companies should have done was take their enormous wealth and diversify. Some did, but most chose not to (curiously, there is still time to diversify but the window is on the edge of closing).

We have many politicians in the United States, particularly on the Republican side, who are currently in the back pockets of fossil fuel producers. Many of these producers interested in politics have been warned for years. Or rather decades. They have largely chosen not to listen. They refuse the evidence of global warming. And they refuse the evidence of the older issue: that we need new sources of energy. The first call for diversifying into other forms of energy, made purely on economic grounds, came in the 1970s. Here's something many people don't know: many of those calls came from those in the fossil industries, particularly those who had been in the business for 20-40 years.

In the end, maybe Gov. Tomblin is right, it's your decision. It's the decision of every American. Except the decision involves more than West Virginia. Do we push harder to begin the changes we need (there are exciting changes for cheaper sources of energy happening for those who are observant), or do we let the United States slip into irrelevance? I can virtually guarantee other nations will push for the new forms of energy that are falling rapidly in prices while we let fossil producers fantasize about dreams that have no relevance during the growing crisis we are facing. American genius is still alive. But the ground has shifted. The future no longer lies in fossil fuels that now cost four more times than what they cost just in the early 21st Century.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Faux Outrage from the Right?

I think we've all been aware of an incredible amount of anger coming from the far right. Even common sense Republicans who have more in common with Goldwater or Reagan than the Teas have commented on this from time to time, though perhaps using politer language in public. I happen to sympathize with common sense Republicans since sometimes the anger of the Tea Party is specifically directed at them, and is just as irrational as the anger directed at progressives.

In any case, articles show up from time to time that puzzle me. For example, there have been a lot of articles around oil, natural gas and fracking that are head scratchers. Here's an item from the Daily Camera in Colorado:

Founder and CEO Jonathan Sawyer [of XetaWave] said the Lafayette Community Rights Act, which was passed by voters in November and bans all new oil and gas drilling within city limits, puts a business like his in questionable legal territory

XetaWave provides radios to oil and gas operators that can relay information about operational aspects at remote sites, such as condensation tank levels or flow rates at the well.

Because the charter amendment states that it is illegal in Lafayette to "engage in the creation of fossil fuel, nuclear or other non-sustainable energy production and delivery infrastructures," Sawyer said it's not clear to him if a company like XetaWave could be prosecuted even if it doesn't extract energy itself.

Now maybe Mr. Sawyer was misled or misunderstood, and maybe the writer of the article is just writing the facts as they came to him. In the comments, a city attorney is also mentioned who may also be part of the story. But what I see is something that I see too often that looks like a phony tempest in a teapot that is designed to make those "dangerous left wingers" look like idiots. However, in our country, our communities still have some latitude on organizing their communities how they see fit (and yes, sometimes local politics go the other way). Now as I understand it, the right to drill whether anybody likes it or not is not one I see in the U.S. Constitution. 
Now the law in Lafayette was legally passed and was intended to stop oil drilling within the city limits. That much is clear. 
But a claim seems to have been made (by opponents of the law?) that anything remotely associated with oil drilling whether inside the city or outside is somehow illegal according to the new city ordinance. This of course is ridiculous. The logic of that interpretation might mean that if a candy factory inside the city limits supplied their product to an oil company's vending machines outside the city, they would be in violation of the city ordinance. A broad interpretation by right wingers would be a classic example of right wingers looking for controversy where none exists. I've heard a phrase for it in recent years (since 2010, in fact): "Faux Outrage." Sometimes, because we hear such things so often on Fox News, I've seen it as "Fox Outrage."
The irony is that many oil companies have full-time lawyers who clean up numerous and serious company violations of the law on the quiet. It would not surprise me if the more conservative oil executives find Faux Outrage a convenient utility in their legal tool box, though of course in this particular case, the motivations of the company may simply be informational. Nevertheless, the question remains: how is it that such a trivial story came to be in the Daily Camera? And why is it that such phony stories of late have so often managed to be printed?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Fossil Fuels Have Served Their Purpose

I had an older relative who was involved in building one of the first long distance natural gas pipelines. He finished the pipeline around 1930, long before I was born. Natural gas was much cleaner than coal and was considered an improvement in that era. The truth is that coal, oil and natural gas, in their time, created the modern age. It's a simple historical fact that oil made possible victory for the allies in World War I and World War II. Without oil, the automobile age would not be possible.

But we now know that fossil fuels are a major source of the carbon dioxide emissions that are responsible for causing global warming. The Arctic is melting. Temperatures are rising (particularly in the oceans). Megastorms are beginning to appear. And we know these things sooner than we might have because coal, oil and natural gas were instrumental in helping create a huge world population increase as well as massive industrialization throughout large areas of the Earth.

But there's a second story that has been getting little attention: the decline of cheap fossil fuels. The age of cheap light sweet crude is over. It's been over for almost ten years now. We now rely on heavy crude, Fracked oil and gas, and tar sands. Coal, over the last hundred years, has been just getting lower and lower in grade. Only natural gas is holding its own and that's only if the prices stay up, but many regard natural gas as experiencing a production bubble that cannot be sustained.

The reality is that the costs of fossil fuels are rising. And more and more energy needs to be invested to bring fossil fuels to market, thus defeating some of the important value of fossil fuels. Many of the companies who produce fossil fuels are currently in denial. That's a long story I'll leave to others to explain. Some of the dominant figures in coal and oil, for example, have political agendas that they try to tie to their businesses in ways inconsistent with who we are as a nation and not consistent with our needs.

The truth is that we've known for a long time that fossil fuels are in trouble. The crucial issue, above all others, is oil. One of the largest producers of oil in the world, the United States, reached maximum production a long time ago, back in 1970. We had a resurgence because of the North Slope but we never again reached maximum production. Because of fracking in places like Texas, North Dakota and elsewhere, oil and natural gas production are once again rising in the United States. We may even surpass the totals from 1970, but it's likely to be short-lived and we are doing it at considerable cost to our future.

There are two issues. First, global warming cannot be ignored. For anyone who has looked at the science, that ship has sailed. Second, we cannot wait until the last shipload or trainload of fossil fuels to begin the transition to fossil fuels. That second issue is now crucial given the eroding circumstances of fossil fuels.

Here's a story from Cleantech about a coal terminal — a story we are seeing more often in all areas of fossil fuels:

The Gateway Pacific Terminal, near Bellingham, Washington, is poised to become the West Coast’s biggest coal export project — but it will no longer have the backing of New York-based, international banking behemoth Goldman Sachs.
On Tuesday, Goldman Sachs sold its stock back to the companies proposing to build the terminal, which would transport 48 million tons of coal from Wyoming to Asia annually.
The banks are starting to see the writing on the wall. Alternative energy is clean and competitive. And because of a host of brilliant scientists and researchers, the prices for alternative energy will continue to improve.