Archive for April, 2006

Curse the Darkness, or Light a Candle

Posted by Aaron on April 27th, 2006

Ford Motor Company and TerraPass today announced that they have created a partnership to “market TerraPass-branded carbon offsets to all drivers of Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury cars and trucks.” This essentially allows any purchasers of these vehicles to offset the amount of carbon dioxide emissions they create in a year’s time with investment in clean fuel technologies.

Our local electric company, the Long Island Power Authority, has offered its customers the equivalent of powering their houses with 100% wind energy through NewWind Energy, or with other clean-energy alternatives including low-impact hydroelectric. While the “grid is the grid,” and we can’t have 100% wind energy piped directly to our house, what we’re doing is telling LIPA that we want the equivalent amount of electricity that our home uses to be put into the grid from clean/renewable energy sources. Since clean-energy electricity currently costs more to generate than dirty-energy electricity, LIPA charges the standard rate plus a certain per-kilowatt surcharge depending on whether all your home’s power will come from 100% wind energy (surcharge is 2.5c/kWh) or from a combination of 60% wind energy and 40% small hydroelectric (surcharge is 1.3c/kWh). LIPA customers also have an option of only selecting that 50% of their home’s energy come from clean sources. Chances are, your local electric company offers something similar. The important thing is to make sure your local utility’s offerings are certified through an agency like Environmental Resources Trust, Inc., a non-profit organization that verifies the utility is purchasing the clean energy it has contracted to purchase on behalf of its customers.

TerraPass goes about offering clean energy in a different manner, by purchasing “carbon credits” from clean energy facilities and by investing in the building of such facilities. If you’re not familiar with carbon credits, here’s an explanation from Iowa State.

Of course, it’s easy to suggest this whole process does nothing but allow people who drive Hummers to buy their way out of guilt, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Carbon offsetting is something that many people can do now to help lessen their own footprint on the environment, and it’s also a concept based in sound logic. It’s easy to just say that offsetting your own carbon output might not make a difference, but I urge you to check out this article at WorldChanging.com that discusses “Stabilization Wedges.” The article starts as follows:

Far too often, discussions of efforts to mitigate the worst effects of global warming bog down under an argument that is simultaneously factual and irrelevant: there’s no single solution. Solar power (or wind, or nuclear, or sonofusion) is not going to be sufficient to replace all coal and oil use. Efficiency won’t improve fast enough. Sequestration can’t bury enough CO2. These are all true, but only in isolation. The solution that will work comes not as a single bolt from the blue, but from a combination of multiple, varied efforts.

Princeton’s Robert Socolow has captured this beautifully in a concept he calls “stabilization wedges.”

With stabilization wedges, a multitude of projects, from efficiency to de-carbonization to sequestration and more, combine to reduce overall carbon emissions, a task that at times can seem impossible. Individually, the wedges are difficult but achievable. As Scolow is quoted by the Economist, this approach “decomposes a heroic challenge (eliminating the emissions in the stabilisation triangle) into a limited set of merely monumental tasks.”

There is also an excellent Flash presentation on the concept, which clearly shows that CO2 offset is real, that it works, and that it could significantly stop the dramatic worldwide increases of CO2 emissions year-to-year.

That said, some people still cling to the “buying our way” idea. When the Ford/TerraPass deal was announced on the TerraPass blog, the first reader comment appended to the press release was this:

This is an interesting way to monetize a combination of guilt and complacency. I suggest terrapass expand their business model to include offsets for other things people feel bad about but are unwilling to change. Obvious candidates are spouse and child abuse (offset by donations to social service agencies, shelters, etc) and crimes such as murder and assault (offset by donations that increase police forces).

That’s a rather simplistic view, and one that discounts real people trying to do small things to help out. The TerraPass response was as follows:

Rsomers – I think we’ve heard this tune before, but we never get tired of sticking up for carbon offsets, which we think are one important tool for addressing climate change, along with greater conservation, renewable energy, and a host of strategies.

This has been said better elsewhere, but there is no single solution to global warming. The notion of stabilzation wedges is one of the more useful frameworks we have for breaking the problem into achievable steps. No credible expert seems to share your view that a little belt-tightening is all we need.

From the earth’s point of view, a pound of carbon dioxide is a pound of carbon dioxide, whether it comes out of a Hummer, a hybrid, a cow, or a volcano. Along with conservation, buying a TerraPass is one tangible thing people can do to lower carbon dioxide emissions today.

It’s easy to say we should all stop driving, we should all take mass transit, we should all be using solar power, etc. Bush in his energy speech the other day suggested if we don’t like gas prices, we should buy hybrid cars. Easy, right? Not so much. I think it’s important to do what we can as individuals, but it’s also important to push our representatives to create POLICY that will get us going in the right direction. The current White House is obviously not interested in doing that (starting with Kyoto, and ending with the oil companies creating the country’s energy policy), so we’re on our own for the next few years anyway.

So I bought a TerraPass Utility for the wife’s Subaru Forester, and a TerraPass Performance for my MazdaSpeed6, and our house will continue to use wind-generated electricity probably indefinitely. For right now, it’s the very least I can do, and I challenge everyone reading this to check out the articles linked above (so you’ll know what you’re investing in is making a real difference) and do the same. And by all means, if you’re in the market for a new boiler/furnace, and can afford a geothermal heating system, no no could ever accuse you of being a right-wing anti-environmentalist.

Carbon offsetting and purchasing clean-energy electricity not only helps curb greenhouse emissions in a very real and concrete way, but it is also using your dollars to send a message (as my wife correctly says about all the organic food she buys at a higher cost than standard supermarket meats and vegetables — have you noticed all the new organic products now being offered by Kraft, Frito-Lay, etc.?) — you’re telling the corporations that manufacture our cars and that generate our power that you want them to make environmentally-sound choices on your behalf. And if there’s one thing corporations listen to, it’s the consumer dollar. It’s no substitute for electing responsible leaders, but it is another effective way to light a candle for change at a time when it seems as if politicians and pundits are all busy pointing fingers at each other and cursing the darkness.

Bush Calls for Big Oil Investigation

Posted by Aaron on April 26th, 2006

The White House released a fact sheet today dealing with the recent rise in energy prices across the United States. Governor Bush discussed the contents — a four point plan to confront high gas prices — at a conference held by the Renewable Fuels Association in Washington D.C. on Tuesday morning.

Plan number one: Make sure Americans are treated fairly at the gas pump. According to the subtext, “The President is also directing the Department of Justice to work with the FTC and the Department of Energy to conduct inquiries into cheating or illegal manipulation related to current gasoline prices.”

Now, is it just me, or does that sound a whole lot like asking the fox to launch an investigation into why the hens keep disappearing?

Last year, ExxonMobil cleared THIRTY SIX BILLION DOLLARS in profit. That’s a greater profit than ANY company in the history of the United States has ever declared. Do we really need an investigation? What will an investigation yield? Of course the oil companies are gouging us. But as far as I know, the market decides these things. If gasoline goes up to six bucks a gallon, will we continue to pay it? Probably. What alternative do we have?

The real problem is that we have an administration that has an interest in keeping its buddies in the oil industry happy, and it’s sure doing that. Oil companies lobbied for a long time to determine this administration’s energy policy, and Dick Cheney make sure all his friends were in on it. And have we yet seen who was in those meetings? Nope. For some reason, Cheney is holding back the papers that the court ordered he turn over. He REALLY doesn’t want you to know who created this administration’s energy policy. America either put these guys in office, or let them stay there even though they weren’t legally elected. It’s our own fault. I mean, I’m as pissed as anyone each time I get the oil tank filled up or pull into the gas station, but I don’t drive a Prius either. We’re addicted to oil, and the only way we’re really going to do anything about high gas prices is to rid ourselves of the addiction. The only way we’re going to rid ourselves of the addiction is by electing officials who are going to make sure that the United States has an energy policy that pushes us toward energy independence.

Another of Bush’s key points is “Boosting supplies of Crude Oil and Gasoline.” A subtext to this point in the fact sheet is that we need to drill more, particularly in ANWR. We are never going to drill ourselves out of this addiction. The only way you stop an addiction is to stop using the drug. Just finding more ways to obtain it is not going to solve the actual problem. Not only that, but it seems that everyone I have talked to who is for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge doesn’t seem to understand that we won’t see one barrel of that oil in the United States. It’s too close to Asia. All that oil is going to be on a boat to China, not to the continental U.S. It simply won’t be cost effective to ship it down here.

Probably Bush’s biggest announcement, and one that’s been featured in sound bytes for two days now, is that he’s going to stop pulling oil from the market for use in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Any idea how many barrels a day we’ve been putting in that reserve? Well, reports vary from just over 57000 barrels a day, all the way down to 25000 barrels a day. The difference becomes rather insignificant when you see in that last article that we import about 10 MILLION barrels of oil a day.

Can I just divert from this story to bitch and moan just a little about how Bush complained up and down when Clinton dared touch the Strategic Petroeum Reserve? Remember back in the year 2000, when Al Gore proposed to the President that he release some oil from the SPR to ease home heating prices in preparation for what was expected to be an extremely cold winter that year? Bush, who was running for president at the time, said that the Clinton/Gore administration was to blame for “soaring gas prices,” and that any attempt to tap the SPR was an election-year ploy to gain favor with voters. Oil had risen from around $24 a gallon to $35 a gallon (ah, the good ol’ days), and Gore suggested releasing 5 million barrels from the stockpile of 600 million barrels to try to calm the market down a bit, but Bush was having none of it. At every campaign stop, he claimed that the Clinton administration would threaten national security by releasing that 5 million barrels, and said that “the White House is to blame for oil prices because of its lax energy policies,” and also noted that “We need to work with our friends and allies in OPEC as well as energy-producing countries in our own hemisphere to ensure greater stability in our oil markets.” And another interesting quote from the linked article at NewsMax (of all places): “We need to use a strong hand in the diplomatic circles to make it clear to our friends overseas that we don’t want them holding our nation and our consumers hostage. We expect them to increase the supply of crude oil so that the price of crude oil drops.”

Wow. Incredible, huh?

But we all know it’s not the price of crude oil alone that causes the high prices at the pumps. We’ve been hearing for years now that the oil companies are being hamstrung by the Democrats in Congress and the EPA who will not allow new refineries to be built to increase the gasoline supply. This line has been brought up again recently, and I’m getting a little tired of hearing that one. Um, guys, aren’t YOU in charge here? Don’t YOU control the ENTIRE government? I mean, you appoint the head of the EPA, you control the House and Senate, couldn’t you have done SOMETHING in the past three or four years other than point a finger at the Democrats who have been out of power now since 2002? Damn.

It just really makes me sick, you know? All the doublespeak. When the Democrats are in charge and when they try to do something about it, it’s all “bad bad bad,” but when the Republicans do the same thing, it’s just fine??

Just as a little right-wing refresher in hypocrisy, check out this page. It’s a page that details all the things that Republicans and right-wing pundits said about Clinton during Kosovo, and it must drive the right-wing hatemongers nuts knowing that their words are documented for all time. And as long as they keep talking with forked tongues, I’m going to keep pointing it out as much as I can, and I hope others do too. Here’s two particularly good quotes from that page…

“I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarifiedrules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our overextended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today” — Tom Delay (R-TX)

“No goal, no objective, not until we have those things and a compelling case is made, then I say, back out of it, because innocent people are going to die for nothing. That’s why I’m against it.” — Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/5/99

And here’s another list from the Daily KOS with a bunch of Hannity clips from the time leading up to the war in Bosnia. Here’s two more quotes…

“My question to you is from all reports that I have been able to dig up, 2,000 killed in Kosovo in the last year. We keep hearing the president refer genocide, ethnic cleansing, comparisons to Adolf Hitler. Is the president purposefully using propaganda and hyperbole to garner the American public for support?” — Hannity, March 26, 1999

“Colonel Maginnis, I want to turn it over to you because we have to ask ourselves some question here. What is our stated goal, our mission, our objective? How do we get out of here? and I want to go back, and this is a point that I made — you know, even in “The New York Times” just two days ago — you know, what is phase 4, now that phase 1, 2 and 3 have failed? There isn’t a phase 4. The president with the Italian prime minister, when asked “What’s next?” if the bombing doesn’t work — he didn’t have an answer for this! So it’s a matter of — well, maybe we can debate being in there, or debate arming opposition, which hasn’t been discussed. But what are we doing there? And if we don’t know what’s next, we have no business being there!” — Hannity, April 2, 1999

They never change. Never will.

We Can’t Afford Education?

Posted by Aaron on April 24th, 2006

I’ve been complaining for years now (along with everyone else) that Democrats will never win an election based upon just being the alternative to the GOP. I mean, it’s quite possible it will happen in November 2006 given the dramatic missteps, criminal activities and self-indulgence of the current crop of GOP-ers in power, but we can’t rely on that for this upcoming election cycle, and we certainly can’t rely on that after this election cycle.

Among other things, the Democrats really need to push the message of optimism to the American public — that tomorrow could be a whole new day, a brighter day. It has been plenty dark in America for several years now, and people are tired of bad news, rising costs of living, and political greed.

So yesterday, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy was on Meet The Press talking about his new book, America Back On Track, and he actually started offering some proposals — some big ideas that the Democrats should grab hold of and run with. One of the most important proposals he mentioned, and one that received a gasp from host Tim Russert, was that students entering high school should have a contract with the federal government that if they study hard and are accepted to college (he didn’t say if there were any restrictions on this — tech colleges? arts colleges?) that the government would guarantee to pay their way through college. Russert almost choked on his water, asking how Kennedy was going to pay for such a program — would Kennedy raise taxes to pay for this? The Senator suggested that if the tax structure under Clinton — a tax structure that led to the longest economic expansion in US history — was reinstated, it would pay for this. Russert did not seem convinced.

Now, I can’t remember if my parents actually had this as a motto or not, but it was drilled into my head from a relatively young age — education is always a wise investment.

Kennedy noted a recent study contracted by the VA that stated that the GI bill has returned $8 for every $1 invested in education for america’s youth.

Republicans are sure to balk at any suggestion that the government should be involved in paying for more education than it already does. After all, the way to keep people voting Republican is to keep them uneducated, keep them scared, and then convince them that the GOP is here to protect them against the evils of the world. And while they complain about the drain social programs put on the government, they certainly couldn’t continue to plunder the Federal Treasury if people were weren’t distracted by the War on Terror that’s currently costing us $10 billion per month in Iraq alone (lots of that money going to government contrators affiliated with the White House). I believe that an educated voter is always much more aware of any political slight-of-hand that is being attempted right in front of their eyes.

I’m not sure if the education card is the best one to play in the upcoming election, but I credit Kennedy for trying to push it. People in my neck of the woods have endured endless tax hikes due to school budget increases averaging just under 10% year-over-year. Add to that the fact that there have been a number of embezzlement scandals at numerous school districts across Long Island, and you can see why people are reluctant to spend any more money on public education.

People may be upset over the cost of public education, but I believe they still know how necessary it is. I think where you’ll find the greatest backlash against a plan like Kennedy’s would be when right-wingers decide they don’t want to spend government money on liberal arts colleges. It will have nothing to do with actual money, it will come down to personal decisions, and the fact that the GOP doesn’t want alert students of communcations. One college-level Media and Persuasion course would cure most people of their “FOX News” trance. But I digress…

The Democrats need to refocus the entire country — no mean feat — away from military supremacy and more toward self-sufficiency and self-improvement. Attempting military supremacy against the world (and the United States in particular) is the very thing that bankrupted the Soviet Union. With our present deficit, how much longer can we hold out? We need to cultivate the brightest and best in this country in preparation for tomorrow. The only way we can do that is by NOT being afraid to invest in education. Should a nation as supposedly wealthy as the United States claim that it cannot afford to adequately educate its citizens to compete in the global economy and scientific community?

How many billions of dollars that were given away in tax cuts meant to make the rich even richer could’ve helped people get a solid start in life by helping to fund a college education?

Why are there so many whistleblowers these days? I mean, wasn’t this supposedly the most clamped-down White House in history? I guess when you have so many scandals, it’s inevitable that when people leave, they’re going to tell what they know, especially if the policies of the White House under which they served meant the deaths of thousands of people.

If you watched 60 Minutes last night, you saw former CIA official and head of European Covert Operations, Tyler Drumheller, tell Ed Bradley that the Iraq invasion wasn’t prompted by an intelligence failure, but by the Bush administration’s need to cherry-pick CIA information to support its desire to depose Saddam Hussein. Of course, this is not the first time we’ve heard this. So who are we to believe — the testimony of several ex-government officials, or a White House that is desperate to cover up its criminal activities?

You can read the whole interview here and come to your own conclusions on whether or not Drumheller has anything to gain by telling his story, but it is just another voice in the ever-growing choir that is singing against Bush’s claims that it was all an intelligence failure that led him to initiate the invasion of Iraq to find Saddam’s WMD. As soon as Bush found out, before the invasion, that Saddam had no WMD and did not even have a plan to reconstitute any such program, Drumheller says that he was told, “this isn’t about intel anymore. This is about regime change.” That certainly wasn’t stated by the White House as the reason for the invasion. The Bush administration only adopted that line in a failed attempt to rewrite history and save face with the world once it was obvious that Saddam Hussein had zero WMD.

Lies, lies and more lies…

Continuing the numerous cover-ups, the Bush White House has gone on another “PR offensive” to coincide with its recent personnel shakeups. Time magazine has printed the new roadmap for the administration, written by newly-appointed White House Chief-Of-Staff, Josh Bolten. Perhaps the scariest bullet point is strategy number four, reclaim security credibility. How does Bush plan to do that? Easy. Put pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear programs. That alone sounds like a good idea, but it’s the lack of any attempt at diplomacy in the past that has me worried most about this. Justapose bullet point four with Sy Hersh’s recent article in the New Yorker on Bush’s attack plan for Iran, and I think we have the potential makings of WWIII.

I just hope that the November elections come before Bush has “regained his security credibility” is given free reign to launch an attack that might end the world as we know it.

Don’t you right-wingers miss peace and prosperity?

Slightly Off-Topic

Posted by Aaron on April 24th, 2006

I haven’t written in these virtual pages about my love of NHL hockey, perhaps mostly because my favorite team, the Boston Bruins, has been mostly pathetic on the ice for the past few seasons. Even when the team finishes near the top of the league, it still can’t seem to get past the first round of the playoffs. This year the Bruins finished fourth worst in the league. So why am I writing about hockey when my favorite team is playing golf? Because there is a certain sense of justice in watching my LEAST favorite team, the NY Rangers, completely unravel in the playoffs due to a lack of discipline.

Now, the reasons I dislike the Rangers so much are many. Even for the near decade that the Rangers were out of the playoffs, the local media continued to write as if they were the best team in the NHL. For years I had to look at Mark Messier’s face, watch him elbow other players, watch him yap at the refs, and be generally treated like a god for bringing a Stanley Cup to NY (at the very least, watching any Bruins/Rangers contest the past season was much more enjoyable knowing I would not have to see his face on camera anymore). Also, before the salary cap was put in place this season, if the Rangers wanted a player, they could pay him anything he wanted to come to NY. It didn’t matter if he was a third- or fourth-line player, his salary would be inflated if the Rangers wanted him, and that drove up salaries all over the league, meaning that teams that could NOT afford such talent were put in an even WORSE position because suddenly any third-string player could look to someone on the Rangers payroll and say, “hey… I scored three more goals than that guy, and my +/- is much better — I deserve to be paid that much too,” and any arbiter would agree.

So anyway, fast-forward to last Saturday, and the Rangers are playing their hated arch-rivals, the NJ Devils in the first game of the first round of the NHL playoffs. In a fantastic show of uncontained emotion and a complete lack of discipline, the Rangers buried themselves early by allowing the NJ Devils some thirteen power-play opportunities, and ended up losing the opening game of the playoffs by a score of 6-1.

But the real story in the loss was that Jaromir Jagr, a NY Ranger who also just happens to be the league’s 2nd-leading scorer, apparently became frustrated by yet another penalty-kill late in the 3rd period of Saturday’s game. He decided to take a swing at Devils centerman Scott Gomez, but he missed and dislocated his left shoulder. It is doubtful he will play tonight in Game 2.

Now, I never like to see players get hurt, but when they bring it on themselves, there really isn’t much you can do except sit back and relax, and realize that there is some sense of karmic justice at work in the universe.

And lest you think that the Rangers have solved their little discipline problem, think again. Apparently, a recent practice didn’t go any better. Newsday reports, “In a violent display of emotion that surprised the media throng watching practice, center Michael Nylander cracked a glass panel above the sideboards with three whacks of his stick after mishandling the puck on an offensive rush with Martin Straka and Petr Sykora.”

I can’t wait to watch tonight’s matchup.

I Was Completely Wrong

Posted by Aaron on April 15th, 2006

I’m man enough to admit when I’m totally wrong about something, and in this case, little did I know that those who espouse Trickle-Down Economics are still peddling it as such, unabashedly. The other morning while going into work, Jerry Springer was talking about one of his non-politics causes (I can’t remember what it was) and I figured I’d go over to the local right-wing conservative station, 770 WABC in NYC. The John Gambling show was on and Curtis Sliwa was on along with some other guest, and they were talking about how Bush (well, they called him the president… you’ll notice I never do) should be accentuating the tremendous booming economy and talking about how great everything is going with the US economy. The third guest, whose name I did not get, was talking about how he had been one of the earliest proponents of trickle-down economics, and that the current booming economy was proof, once again, that trickle-down worked. He talked about how the deficit as a percentage of GDP was the lower than ever, and how “in all the areas where tax cuts were given, the revenues are pouring in.” Needless to say, he did not reveal any details about where the revenue was pouring in from, and what specific areas of tax cutting had resulted in such a great influx of cash to the Fed. I love how no one needs to talk about specifics when they’re talking about trickle-down economics.

I would gather there are several reasons why Bush isn’t using the bully pulpit to proclaim how the economy is humming right along. The first reason is that people are really being socked from all directions by the high cost of gasoline. I drove by the local Exxon station today, and self-serve premium is up to $3.29 a gallon. There are surcharges on everything these days for extra fuel costs. I’ve talked here about how LIPA is charging me some $100 extra a month just in “fuel surcharge” fees added to my electric bill. Produce costs more because we’ve killed all the mom-and-pop farms in the US, and now heavily rely on industrial farming for our food. That means the food has to be shipped in from wherever it’s grown. When gas was cheap, this made a whole lot of sense… Grow where it’s economically feasible, then ship it. Today? Not so much. And then there’s the fact that every month we seem to hear of some giant American corporation laying off another massive amount of workers. Those who aren’t laid off often make concessions to keep their jobs, as evidenced with the recent Delta airline pilot’s union deal.

Bush’s poll numbers are low enough. He doesn’t need to go out proclaiming everything’s hunky-dory when people are having a hard time getting by. So much for the booming economy. If the economy is booming, it’s because the richest Americans have to be doing pretty well. The middle class is getting so small, I guess it doesn’t even make a dent anymore in the economic figures if we’re not doing so well.