Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

‘The War’ and the war

I have sat transfixed through nearly every gruesome and heartrending hour of Ken Burns’ telling of “The War” this past week. It’s almost been enough to take my mind off the war; I mean that one our administration wants to call the war on terror. Unfortunately, the last world war didn’t make history of all war. Loss of limbs and lives continues unabated in places we Americans choose to fight and in plenty of other spots around the globe we choose to ignore.

Today I find myself looking to compare the war my father fought in with the one our soldiers are ordered to contest in Iraq. But I stop short. There really is no comparison, aside from the individual bravery, sacrifice and brutality common to all wars. Still, I can’t help but observe the Iraq news backdrop to the 15-hour airing of “The War” — BlackWater, the mercenary, ahem, private security firm coming under harsh criticism for a recent tragic confrontation in Iraq. I suspect many other Americans go to the same place I do as they hear about the involvement of Blackwater and other private profiteers of war: cynicism. We grow even wearier. What else can we expect from an administration for whom the invisible hand of the free market belongs to God. Of Blackwater, Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich remarked:

“If war is privatized, then private contractors have a vested interest in keeping the war going. The longer the war goes on, the more money they make.”

And therein grows the cynicism of the day. If it’s good for business in America, it’s good for America. Chalk up war as another commodity to be bought and sold. Of course Corporate America benefitted tremendously during World War II. But Americans then were not afforded the luxury of cynicism. The war could not be won without the all-out efforts of business and every other institution. Whatever it took, whatever the cost to win the war was what Americans signed up for. They had little choice. Those who would destroy us had to be destroyed.

When I imagine Baghdad, I don’t see the tyrants of Berlin or Tokyo. I picture the civil war leaders of Hanoi and Saigon. I don’t find towering figures like FDR and Churchill to take comfort from. I seethe over the deceit of Bush and Blair. And I don’t witness the sacrifice of all Americans. I see volunteer soldiers from the ranks of our most disadvantaged families and a depressingly large swath of our citizenry more concerned with Britney Spears’ wellbeing than that of our warriors.

So how will filmmakers years from now look back on America’s war of 2007 and counting? You can easily guess my prediction. What’s yours?

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007
Posted in Current Affairs, Film, Politics, Television | No Comments »

Global warming? No, things are just peachy in Georgia

Not to belabor my post from yesterday, but if you really want to see what a completely empty green cup looks like, check out the Georgia Legislature. While most other states are asking how they can slow or prevent climate change, a Georgia House committee this week held a hearing titled “Global Warming: Debunking the Myth or a Need for Climate Change Policy.” And the majority conclusion?

“Climate scientists and environmental activists like former Vice President Al Gore are alarmists. They use flawed statistical models to predict a catastrophic future of thawed glaciers, super-charged hurricanes, swamped coastlines and scorched crops.”

Turns out three of the four panelists invited by the Republican-led committee are among “the nation’s leading skeptics on climate-change science.” So no one could be too surprised by the testimony. As the debunkers convened in their cool majority, legislative reporters took note of Tuesday’s weather: “a 98-degree day during a record-setting heat wave.”

Friday, August 24th, 2007
Posted in Climate Change, Politics | No Comments »

The half-full, half-empty view from Oregon

Opinion makers at The Oregonian today offer differing takes on Oregon’s green reputation.

A self-described “glass-half-empty kind of guy,” columnist Steve Duin (URL unavailable) cites Oregon’s toothless Department of Environmental Quality, befouled Willamatte River and wind turbine opponents in the Columbia River Gorge. Then he concludes, “Green? Us? Please. Smug? Definitely. But as far as Oregon’s reputation as an environmental pacesetter? Way overrated.”

If Duin wants to find additional evidence for his case he need look no farther than one of his paper’s editorials today. The editorial board sees a green lining in a report by Joe Cortright. The Oregon economist dispenses with the notion that Portlanders are making financial sacrifices because of the city’s environmental protection policies. On the contrary, Portland’s economy is the richer for these policies, Cortright argues. The editorial writers like that, and — one might say, smugly — conclude, “And the other upshot — sigh — is continued stardom for Portland. It’s not easy being a green celebrity.”

I assume Duin is including Portland when he lashes out at Oregon’s “laziness and neglect” toward the environment. Portland, in particular, continues to haul in accolades across the country and globe for its green ethic. As far as Oregon overall, one of Duin’s sources laments that the state continues to “rest on our laurels.” Agree. Just look at the Willamette River. How can a so-called green state continue to tolerate such a cesspool for so long?

Still there’s no denying we’re making progress on many fronts, particularly in Portland: bicycle usage, renewable energy legislation, light rail, streetcars, green building. At the citizen level, I see widespread passion toward green issues. That’s the half-full view.

But to look through Duin’s eyes is to see that it was also the citizens who passed Measure 37, that ominous threat to our land-use laws. And you see unwillingness among state political leadership to fully fund DEQ and ensure that it enforces the environmental regulations in place.

Half full, half empty? It doesn’t really matter. In either case, the green glass is still not full. Until it’s overflowing, we can be optimistic or cranky, but not satisfied.

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007
Posted in Oregon, Politics, Sustainability | Comments Off on The half-full, half-empty view from Oregon

When green values collide

Interesting article this morning foreshadowing what is almost certain to be an ongoing clash of values as Oregon and other regions of the country and world escalate their pursuits of renewable energy. In this case, a wind farm proposed for siting near the eastern mouth of the Columbia Gorge is drawing determined opposition from nearby residents and Gorge preservationists who fear a blighted landscape within view of their property and the Gorge.

The Oregonian reports the proposed development “sets up a conflict between Northwest values, pitting a revved-up desire to advance clean, renewable energy against the long-held belief that rural and scenic areas deserve special care.”

Meanwhile, owners of property where the 40 turbines would be located relish the idea of substantial new cash flow from their farmland. Kind of like I imagine ranchers once did when they learned that oil was below the surface of their property.

This is the kind of complicated, if not wrenching balancing act between conflicting interests that we can expect to see played out in public for years to come. What is the ultimate price we are willing to pay for renewable energy? Because renewable doesn’t mean it’s free. Wind farms dominate landscapes. As long as they are located in remote areas, most people don’t object. But when ideal wind conditions are found within view of many people’s homes or a national scenic area like the Gorge, then what? Does the need for renewable energy trump the desire to protect scenic treasures? Do property owner development rights exceed the rights of nearby residents who object to noisy, marred surroundings?

And I would add one other matter not touched on in today’s article: the value or lack thereof from having an outside company as the wind project developer. From an economic development standpoint, I would much rather see Oregon companies behind these projects. If we don’t have home-grown companies willing or able to tackle energy developments like this, that signals another problem. But first comes the larger question of whether this site should be developed for wind energy. What do you think?


Corn ethanol advocates take the patriotic path

We here on the West Coast when talking about the need for renewable energy usually point to climate change. It seems the people and organizations behind corn ethanol, mainly in the Midwest, prefer to make the case in more patriotic terms, as in greater “energy security” from relying less on imported oil. And they’re finding favor in Congress at the moment.

I noticed the nuance today after doing some follow-up reading on an article that reported on the skyrocketing costs of farmland in the Midwest. The price hike is attributed to the demand for corn by ethanol producers. Can’t help but feel we’re in the midst of yet another real estate bubble and those buying the farmland today at highly inflated prices, their lenders and the taxpayers who will have to bail them out, will be big losers down the road. Among the losers right now, as the article points out, are the younger farmers who are priced out of buying more farmland.

The farm bill recently passed by the House contained provisions that apparently made the corn producers and ethanol lobby happy. One major lobbying organization, the Renewable Fuels Association, sent a letter to the House Agriculture Committee praising it for passing the bill (HR 2419) out of committee. It called the bill “a pathway that will provide a more stable and sustainable energy future for all Americans.”

A Sacramento Bee columnist called it and the recently passed energy bill “monuments to waste, stupidity and policy distortions.” Peter Schrag says the farm bill is more akin to an energy program.

“The link is corn — already subsidized to the tune of billions — since corn is the source of ethanol, which refiners are now required by federal law to mix into almost everybody’s gasoline. The theory is that gas blended with ethanol doesn’t emit greenhouse gases in the same concentrations as regular gas, and that it reduces dependence on imported oil. In fact, it does little of either.”

Schrag explains some of the reasons for this and why “the cheers for corn ethanol are far more political than they are scientific.” If the corn ethanol lobby cannot make their case as the best option for reducing greenhouse gases, it’s understandable they would hang their hat on energy security. In our post 9/11 world, politicians prefer to be seen fighting for security than against global warming. But the scientific, environmental and economic facts are not on the side of corn ethanol as a viable solution for either energy independence or lower carbon emissions.

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007
Posted in Climate Change, Politics, Sustainability | No Comments »

A candidate talks poverty – is anyone listening?

John Edwards, the presidential candidate, is spending this week on what’s being dubbed the “Poverty Tour.” Eric Pooley, a Time Magazine reporter traveling with Edwards on the tour, shares a first-person perspective today that raises the question: Can poverty define John Edwards? It probably can, but it won’t likely get him elected. Still, I admire him greatly for making the issue of poverty what he calls “the cause of my life” and a cornerstone of his candidacy. As Pooley says, “Democrats with national aspirations have been avoiding the issue for the last quarter century or so, since Ronald Reagan cast them as the party of welfare-queen-coddling big gubment.”

Meanwhile, years roll by and the poor remain without voice or representation in government. Edwards would be that voice if he were president. Sadly, I don’t think enough Americans are ready to face up to one of the great stains on our character as a country and elect a president who wants to end poverty in the US in the next 30 years. Instead, the poor remain out of sight, out of mind, simply chalked up as the unfortunate have-nots in a free-market economic system most candidates and voters would not think to question.

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007
Posted in Politics | No Comments »