Archive for June 17th, 2010

Our technical difficulties

| June 17, 2010 | Reply
Our technical difficulties

A few days ago we upgraded our platform, but things did not go well. It became clear over 48 hours that our platform was no long stable and we were forced to revert back to our former set-up. In the process, we lost a few days of comments, though we were able to recover most of our posts.

If you were one of the dozen or so people who submitted comments over the past few days, and if you no longer see your comment, I apologize. Please feel free to resubmit your comments and I will promptly approve them.

We learned some lessons about upgrading in the process, and I don’t expect this problem to repeat itself.

Erich

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How to really kick the fossil fuel habit

| June 17, 2010 | Reply
How to really kick the fossil fuel habit

If you’d like to hear some upbeat ideas and inspiration for weaning ourselves off of oil, watch this video of Amy Goodman’s round table featuring Sierra Club Exec Director Michael Brune and Rocky Mountain Institute Scientist Amory Lovins.

Whereas many people have harshly criticized Obama’s recent speech regarding the Gulf tragedy, Lovins sees a significant policy shift. He notes that President Obama is now seeking to end our addition to all fossil fuels, not just oil. Second, he heard a new approach to consensus building:

[H]e pointed out that this has cost—our dependence on fossil fuel has cost not only to our economy but also to our national security and our environment. And I think that starts a new conversation of a new kind in energy policy, because we’ve always supposed people had to want the same things we wanted in energy for the same reasons. So if you had different priorities than somebody else, you couldn’t agree on the outcome. What the President started to do here is to say, let’s focus on outcomes, not motives, and then we can build a strong consensus. Whether you care most about national security or environment or economy, we ought to do the same things about energy. And if we do the things we agree about, then the things we don’t agree about become superfluous.

Lovins mentioned several effective techniques for reducing our use of fossil fuels. For example, we can use “freebates,” whereby those who insist on purchasing less efficient products are hit with surcharges that directly flow to reducing the prices of more efficient products. France used this approach regarding automobiles two years ago and cut the sales of inefficient cars by 40%. Doing things like this will “align the incentives, which will change behavior.”

Lovins also stresses that more states need to use the energy utility model employed by California and Oregon, whereby the utilities are rewarded by cutting our use of fuel rather than by selling us more fuel. He further indicates that most of the electricity we use is completely wasted. He is a big fan of “net metering,” whereby those who produce more electricity than they use (e.g., by use of solar panels) can make money by running their meters backwards and selling that energy to their electric utility. A dramatic illustration of what we could look forward to comes at the 38 minute mark, where Lovins describes his own 4,000 square foot incredibly energy efficient home near Aspen.

Of course, many Americans will hate these ideas. They will see nothing by deprivation, and they’ll fail to see the immense benefits for making big changes in how we make and use energy. Bob Cesca senses this too, and suggests that this is why President Obama ended his speech by asking Americans to pray, rather than telling us to get ready to make changes in our lives.

The president wrapped up his address Tuesday night by asking Americans to pray for the victims — both human and environmental — of the BP oil spill. I thought it was a strange way to end his first Oval Office address during a national emergency insofar as praying makes the situation appear too big for conventional solutions. As though all that remains between us and a sea of oil is the Hail Mary. This morning it occurred to me that this was the only thing he could really ask Americans to do.Why? Simply stated, it doesn’t require any effort to silently invoke spirituality while stopped at a traffic signal . . .

What should Obama have done rather than invoking supernatural beings?

Instead of prayer, the president could have asked us all to make sacrifices towards the goal of weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels. Maybe he should have asked for sacrifice. It probably wouldn’t have hurt. But it would have been mostly ignored. Americans simply don’t do “national sacrifice” anymore.

I’m concerned that Cesca is correct, but I still hold out hope. I suspect that the reason that so many American resist doing anything is because they don’t want to be doing something while others are doing nothing. They don’t want to be seen as suckers. Therefore, our aim should be to make it clear that we’re all going to do this together. We’re need to let everyone know that we’re all going to hold hands and jump in.

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Barack Obama: the secrecy president

| June 17, 2010 | 4 Replies
Barack Obama: the secrecy president

At Democracy Now, Amy Goodman converses with Daniel Elsberg about the Obama Administration’s crackdown on those who seek to distribute information (accurately) putting the military action in Afghanistan in a bad light.

Pentagon investigators are reportedly still searching for Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, who helped release a classified US military video showing a US helicopter gunship indiscriminately firing on Iraqi civilians. The US military recently arrested Army Specialist Bradley Manning, who may have passed on the video to Wikileaks. Manning’s arrest and the hunt for Assange have put the spotlight on the Obama administration’s campaign against whistleblowers and leakers of classified information.

Manning has made his motives clear. Sunshine is the best disinfectant:

Manning has claimed he sent Wikileaks the video along with 260,000 classified US government records. Manning, who was based in Iraq, reportedly had special access to cables prepared by diplomats and State Department officials throughout the Middle East. During an internet conversation prior to his arrest, Manning explained his actions by writing, quote, “I want people to see the truth, regardless of who they are. Because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

It’s too bad that Barack Obama, Oslo’s “Peace President” doesn’t listen to his own campaign speeches and act on them. In this same Democracy Now video, Daniel Elsberg calls the leakers “patriots,” and I concur. Someone needs to stand up and stop the indiscriminate series of Afghanistan murders that officially go by the name of “war.” By the way, if the U.S. military is doing so damned much good over in Afghanistan at a cost of several billion U.S. dollars per week, where are the photos of all of those good things?

It is more clear than ever that the U.S. is knowingly doing despicable acts in our names in Afghanistan and working feverishly to keep them secret.

What kind of danger are the leakers facing? Daniel Elsberg comments:

[Bradley Manning is] in danger of more than arrest. Arrest is probably the major thing, even though it’s not clear what he would be arrested on. But he—I have to say that as of now, under this president, he’s under danger of kidnapping, rendition, enhanced interrogation, even death. The fact is that this president is the first in our history, in any Western country that I know of, who has claimed the right to send military forces not just to apprehend, but to kill suspected, even American citizens. Bradley Manning is probably more safe now being in custody than he would have been if he himself were eluding arrest. Assange, I would say, is in some danger. And even if it’s very small, it should be zero. It’s outrageous and humiliating to me as an American citizen to have to acknowledge that someone like that is in danger from our own government right now . . .

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Fool me once…

| June 17, 2010 | 2 Replies
Fool me once…

The events since the BP well exploded and began spewing oil and gas into the Gulf of Mexico have forced President Obama’s hand. No politician wants to be the one to catch the Peak Oil hot potato, but it looks like it’s landed right in Obama’s lap. In his Oval Office speech the other night, he came the closest any president has yet to frankly discussing the challenges we face (emphasis mine):

So one of the lessons we’ve learned from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling. But a larger lesson is that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. And that’s part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean — because we’re running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.

For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked — not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.

The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight.

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The Norway Advantage

| June 17, 2010 | Reply
The Norway Advantage

My 19-year old Norwegian niece (“Katja”) just left town after visiting my family for four days. We had the opportunity to have several long conversations with her comparing Norway to the United States. I’m not going to suggest that Norway is perfect, but when you read the following list, it might make you wonder why the United States can’t get its act together to be at least somewhat more like Norway. Here’s what Norway offers to its citizens:

– Single-payer healthcare (“The only requirement for receiving healthcare in Norway is that one be alive.”)

– Free schooling at the grade school and high school level. In fact free schooling at the university level as well. Competition can be fierce for getting into particular schools at the University level (my niece is keeping her fingers crossed that she gets into law school this fall), but anyone who can do the school work is allowed to go to school.

– The average Norwegian has five weeks of vacation every year.

- Generous maternity and paternity leave, with pay. Further, many businesses offer high-quality child care for their workers. The government offers subsidized child care.

– A generous social security system

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How did democracy cease to be in Iran?

| June 17, 2010 | Reply
How did democracy cease to be in Iran?

What happened to democracy in Iran? It didn’t die a natural death. Iranian democracy was killed by well known actors that included British Petroleum and the United States. You can learn more by listening to Stephen Kinzer, former New York Times reporter, who was iran-oil-creative-commonsinterviewed by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now (video interview). From the 1920’s through the 1940’s Great Britain controlled all of the oil in Iran, thanks to “a corrupt deal that they had struck with a few representatives of the old declining Iranian monarchy, all of whom had been paid off.” The troubles began when Iran began to assert ownership of its own oil:

[A]fter World War II, when the winds of nationalism and anti-colonialism were blowing throughout the developing world, Iranians developed this idea: we’ve got to take our oil back. And that was the general—the kind of national passion that brought to power Mohammad Mosaddegh, who was the most prominent figure in the democratic period of Iran during the late ’40s and early ’50s. It was Mosaddegh’s desire, supported by a unanimous vote of the democratically elected parliament of Iran, to nationalize what was then the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. They carried out the nationalization.

The British and their partners in the United States fiercely resisted this. And when they were unable to prevent it from happening, they organized the overthrow of Mosaddegh in 1953. So that overthrow not only produced the end of the Mosaddegh government, but the end of democracy in Iran, and that set off all these other following consequences. The Shah ruled for twenty-five years with increasing repression. His rule produced the explosion of the late ’70s that produced the Islamic regime. So, it was to protect the interests of the oil company we now know as BP that the CIA and the British Secret Service joined together to overthrow the democratic government in Iran and produce all the consequences we’ve seen in Iran over the last half-century.img_0083

Why was the United States willing to get involved in this despicable overthrow? Kinzer suggests that the U.S. was more than willing to believe that there were “communists” in Iran, despite any supporting evidence. The British merely took advantage of this American paranoia. Therefore, the U.S. facilitated the overthrow of a sovereign Middle Eastern country without any justification.

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