May 15, 2007

It’s Easy Going Green

Words really can’t express my frustration with the persistence of the head-in-the-sand, anti-environmental crowd who spout nonsense like “water vapor is the REAL greenhouse gas, not carbon dioxide!” and “well, we can’t do anything about it!” where “it” is climate change or the wanton destruction of species and entire ecosystems around the world. The excuses go on, to “it’s all hype,” and the more recent fresh-out-of-the-mud whines, “environmentally friendly stuff is all about marketing,” and “carbon offsets/neutrality/awareness is an industry just trying to milk your cash” as well as the age-old, proven-wrong-a-million-times “global warming doesn’t exist/isn’t human caused/the earth is flat/insert disproven theory here.” It’s incredibly frustrating watching people who try to speak up and give people practical, sensible advice about being environmentally conscious and embrace behaviors that can do simple things like clean the air and water and very possibly work towards collectively leaving the planet in better condition than we received it, and it’s incredibly discouraging that the same arguments, the same lies, and the same misnformation simply because it allows them to close their eyes, shove their heads in the sand, and go on through their lives without caring about anything or anyone around them. We’ve seen this kind of mentality in the White House, in Congress, in political groups and lobbyists, in people like the recently deceased Jerry Falwell, all the way down to the average person filling up their tank at the gas station. “If it’s not in my backyard it doesn’t concern me.” “I’ll only care about the environment when gas is more than $3.00/gallon, not less.” The list goes on.

It’s distressing that intelligent, concious, or even empathetic people say something, anything, that might encourage someone to do something environmentally positive, from clean up the trash on the side of the road to recycle their bottles, the “THERES NOTHING WE CAN DO WHO GIVES A CRAP ITS ALL A HOAX ANYWAY” crowd comes out to bash it. Why are people so resistant to doing things they CAN do instead of waving problems off on things they CAN’T do anything about?

Seriously. Some of us actually care about clean air and water, some of us like to swim in our rivers, and some of us appreciate a healthy environment, a healthy planet, and want to do our part to make it a reality, regardless of some ill-informed others. Let’s get started.

There are a lot of myths running around about hybrid vehicles still, amusedly from the whole “where do you plug it in” that some folks still believe to the “hybrids are expensive” and “people only buy hybrids to save money on gas, and they don’t, so why bother” myth. Here’s a list of hybrid myths, and the scoop on the truth.

[ Hybrid Myths ]
Source: Yahoo! Autos

A lot of attention has gone towards carbon offsets, and things that individuals can do to decrease their dependence on energy and to reduce their energy consumption overall. Many of these little tricks are things that we can and should do anyway to lower our energy costs, buy more efficient and in the long-run cheaper appliances, and yes, in the end, make an impact on the environment. Some people like to claim that those things we can’t directly impact, like deforestation, for example, are much bigger, so things like these have no purpose, but I’d disagree strongly: there’s a little thing called incremental progress – doing the things you can do to make small changes because you can’t do the large things, and never doubt that if everyone did something small, it would add up to very very large things.

For example, if everyone stopped buying items made with cheap imported wood and bought from local craftsmen and sustainable or fallen lumber (which, by the way, is usually the same price), then deforestation wouldn’t be an issue because there’d be no market for the wholesale slash and burn of old growth forests. But see, thinking isn’t exactly the strong suit of the head-in-the-sand crowd.

Find out what you can do by determining how large your carbon footprint is:

[ Zerofootprint Carbon Calculator ]

And make a plan of your own to cut back on your energy dependence at Yahoo! Green:

[ Yahoo! Green ]
Source: Yahoo!

Click on “Count Me In” to make your own pollutant-reducing, earth-helping plan, and make a difference, however small.

If you’re looking for more information on climate change, and how you can make a difference, and what new technologies can lead us and our world to a healthier future overall, I have high praise for Dr. Heidi Cullen at the Weather Channel, whose program Forecast Earth (previously known as The Climate Code) is a stellar addition to television programming:

[ Forecast Earth ]
Source: The Weather Channel

May 3, 2007

House Passes Expanded Hate Crimes Bill; Bush Promises Veto

My my, the President certainly seems willing to bring out the veto pen more often these days, now that he has to look out of his window at a Capitol Building that would rather see him in prison than strolling down its corridors. When President Bush had a docile, agreeable, and largely spineless Republican Congress at his beck and call, he knew that whatever he said would go when it came to legislation, and that’s not the case anymore. Something tells me that he’ll finally get some use out of his veto pen now that Congress is intent on repairing the damage he and his conservative cronies have done to the country and exercising their oversight responsibilities and rooting out the truth in the myriad of scandals, corruption, and potentially illegal activities under the White House’s direction. But unfortunately, the fact that the President has the ability to, with the flick of a pen, condemn millions of Americans to a lack of protection against hatred, injustice, and intolerance is nearly unforgivable.

The House passed hate crimes legislation that would add crimes against women and homosexuals to the list of federal crimes punishable by federal law. The Senate appears ready to pass the same legislation. Unfortunately, the frightened evangelical Christian right called on their intolerant army to get try and squash the bill. When they failed, they petitioned a President with nothing to lose, no legacy left to stand on, and a desire to appease the radical right that had started to worry about him in the first place. Passing hate crimes legislation like this would have protected individuals like Matthew Shepherd, who was beaten to death simply for being gay, and remove federal insulation from those who murdered him, under federal law. It would have protected individuals like Brandon Teena, a transgendered teen who was raped and murdered by two male friends after they discovered that Brandon was biologically female, and forced the Justice Department to get involved when local officials showed no interest in finding the killers or making any arrests. Brandon was the basis of the movie “Boys Don’t Cry,” and his killers are still on the loose.

Apparently, according to the pseudo-religious right and their ignorant conservative friends, these people aren’t worth protecting, and if you asked them to their faces, they would likely tell you so – the same way they and their forebears would likely have cheered and brought children to public lynchings of Black people – the same way those people’s forebears would have cheered at public beatings of women suspected of adultery years before. Somehow, this twisted, misappropriated, misconstrued version of Christianity that’s touted in the American conciousness got it into its head that the morality that matters is the morality that makes their pastors wealthy and draw in big congregations fearful of a world they don’t understand and don’t want to experience. And because of that, people are dying, people’s lives are being destroyed, and people are being actively discriminated against.

And to be honest, if the only thing that Congressional republicans can come up with are empty, baseless threats that somehow protecting homosexuals and women from being beaten at the hands of those who hate them for who they are would somehow be in turn hateful to the so-called “Christians” who find themselves threatened by anything resembling reality, then they’ll have to do better than that in the long run.

Some of those same republicans have claimed that somehow making killing a gay person because they’re gay a federal hate crime, somehow making beating a woman simply for speaking out against domestic violence, would make it illegal to speak out against homosexuality or feminism, and while personally I can think of worse things than all of those people being federally required to shut up, it would do no such thing. The KKK is an excellent parallel example here – just because vandalizing a black family’s home is a hate crime doesn’t mean the KKK doesn’t have the right to rally in cities where they can get permits, and doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to have shout their hate speech from a megaphone where they can find someone to listen. Similarly and very equally, this doesn’t mean that the so-called men of God who denounce homosexuality from their tainted pulpits won’t be able to do so, and it doesn’t mean the right-wing nutjobs can’t get on their talk radio shows and spout as much hate as they choose to anyone foolish enough to listen and believe them. Their rights are protected, and so are the rights of those they hate so much – and that’s what’s truly threatening to them.

Even though President Bush is sure to veto the legislation when it comes to his desk, this, if nothing else, is an excellent reminder of how important it is to vote for a change in the coming 2008 elections, to vote for progress, to vote for an America that loves its citizens and treats them all with justice and tolerance, and protects the rights of its minorities even in the face of irrational hatred by others. This is a teachable moment for America, and while I’m certainly preaching to the choir (no pun intended), I certainly hope that the rest of America will sit up and listen. Just because someone doesn’t like who they are, what they look like, or how they lead their own private lives, their rights could very well be next.

[ House Passes Expanded Hate Crimes Bill ]
Source: The Houston Chronicle

Making Dirty Air Permanent

See, the problem with rooting out political appointees with political agendas when they manage to infiltrate public agencies is that they generally have the authority or the strings to pull that will let them stay in cushy positions in their organizations, making bad decisions that affect the rest of us, even if they don’t get the political appointment that requires some measure of oversight. In this case, folks like William Ludwig Wehrum, Jr., who was tapped for the EPA’s top seat until Congress discovered that he apparently had no problem with large industry polluting our water to the point where Mercury levels were so high they could be detected in pregnant womens’ unborn children (and subsequently had no desire to make the EPA force those industries to clean up their acts: I can hear him now, “Ah, a little mercury is good for ’em! Put’s hair on their chests!”), and Susan Dudley, the anti-regulatory, “free market” nutcase like the kind we mentioned yesterday that’s been cooking fiscal books to make it seem like cleaning up toxic waste and pollution have no fiscal benefit when in actuality they’ve been proven to, have managed to burrow their way into government positions where accountability is between them and their political handlers and they can inflict as much damage as possible on the nation’s environmental agencies.

In the former case, after Wehrum was kicked down a few notches for his apparent love of public consumption of mercury (or was it the dollars of his business friends), he simply moved offices down the hall at the EPA and claims to have no intention of leaving. Dudley has been using her red pen rather liberally these days, to make sure that any estimation of lives saved and dollars reclaimed by cleaner air and water, enforced by the EPA, is significantly diminished to the point where no one would pay attention to the numbers. In those regards, both of them are doing the jobs that the Bush Administration and its conservative, big-business, “free” market friends put them in to do. But specifically in Wehrum’s case, this is the problem with so many political appointees at the top of the government – political elements are free to appoint people to those positions who know next to nothing about the role they’re planning to fill and have no plan for the success of their organization. Instead, loyalty to the rank and file, political alignment, and above all, obedience, are valued over skill, intelligence, or competency. The Bush Administration’s track record of this is not only instructive of this, but jars the confidence of the American people in the competency of its government. From “great job” Brownie at FEMA to Alberto “the torturer” and now “the firer of anyone who disagrees with me” Gonzalez at the Justice Department, the trend is looking grim.

Even more distressing is that should a Democratic President be elected in 2008, cleaning house will be difficult, because these same people can simply turn their own behavior around and cry political foul if they’re ushered out of their organizations. Should an intelligent official take the reins at the EPA and try to press Wehrum out of his office, he’ll likely cry that he’s being forced out for political reasons, for example. Such is the nature of political appointments to high ranking positions, but that’s the nature of our system. It’s odd that while the American people value experience, intelligence, and rising up through the chain of command through responsibility and good work, the same is rarely reflected in political appointees – at least not by the Bush Administration.

[ Making Dirty Air Permanent ]

May 2, 2007

The “Free” Market: A Fable

Once again, one of my favorite reads, Uppity Liberal, has come through with an incredibly succinct, intelligent, and well put together explanation of why the so-called “free market” doesn’t mean that corporate profiteers are “free” to do as they like without consequences or checks against unethical and socially destructive behavior. I can’t possibly rephrase any of her post, so with her permission, let me share here:

Once upon a time…

Jim, a young, entreprenurial sort, got stars in his eyes about making a fortune in business. He decided to get a loan from an investor to build a factory to make digital widgets.

After he finished building the factory, he needed supplies with which to build the widgets. Joe’s DooDads around the corner made a component Jim needed. Jim went to Joe and asked him for a crate of the components. Joe began to write up a bill of sale–$1 for each component.

“What?” Cried Jim. “How dare you charge me that much for these supplies! If I have to pay more than a few pennies for these supplies, I won’t be able to make a 20% profit from the sale of my widgets! Unfair!”

“Sorry,” said Joe. “I have a right to make a living, too. If you don’t pay me this much for my components, I can’t pay my bills or feed my kids–and I won’t have enough money to buy your widgets, either. Pay up.”

Fuming, Jim stormed off, heading down the street to Bob’s Whizzbangs, hoping to get a better deal on his components. There, he found that Bob, too, is charging $1 per component. “We have an agreement, Joe and I,” Bob said. “We’ve banded together to make sure we get a fair price for our components so we can ensure that everyone in the neighborhood has enough money to pay for our schools and our fire and police protection. We’re only making about 2% in profit now. We won’t sell for less.”

Jim, now in a full tizzy, headed for the office of his local congresscritter. “It’s not fair!” He complained. “Why can’t I get the components I need for dirt cheap so I can make a ton of profit? After all, my investor put money into my business, and he expects a return on that investment. If I can’t make all this profit, he’ll be angered at me and won’t give me more money to expand my business!”

The congresscritter looked up from staring at his intern’s cleavage. “Well, Jim, you’ve sold me. You’re right! How unfair of Joe and Bob to band together to ask for so much money for their components! Tell you what: I know a guy who runs a factory in Outer BoogaBanga who can get you those components for next to nothing. Of course, they’re made from endangered species and their creation spits out tons of greenhouse gases, but who cares, right? We gotta protect you–the little guy–from getting screwed over by Joe and Bob.”

Two weeks later, the congresscritter came back to Jim. “Sorry, bud. I can’t help you. Those rotten Democrats in Congress just passed a law saying we can’t buy from countries that grind up endangered species.”

“I don’t get it!” Jim screamed in rage. “I thought this was a free country! I thought I was entitled to make a fortune! Why can’t we pass a law requiring people to give me the supplies I need for free? It’s my right! It’s my RIG—!”

Jim’s eyes grew wide, and he froze. “Widgets!” He managed to squeak before collapsing in a heap on the floor, deader than a sad, dead thing.

Ah Jim, we knew him well. His widgets were the end of him.

See, herein lies the problem. The so-called free-market capitalists and libertarians, who believe that the power of the profiteer is enough to make any social ill better and weed out anyone who can’t keep up with the pace of a rapidly growing society, (read: the poor, the disinfranchised, countries without power or powerful allies, etc) only crow about it being a free country and about the limitations of their “freedom” when they can’t have their way. The same folks whine and cry about personal responsibility only when they feel that someone else needs to own up to a hidden responsibility to them and subsequently shy away from any discussion of societal privilege. As the Uppity Liberal herself says, and rightfully so:

The typical Republican and libertarian mantra of “individual responsibility” has nothing to do with actual responsibility; it’s only about ignoring one’s OWN responsibility to create a civilized culture and instead blaming all social ills on the people who experience them.

She’s absolutely right. But I’m getting away from the point and should return to the original post. The Uppity Liberal sums up the moral of the story:

Silly, isn’t it? Jim is clearly a loon who cares only about his immediate–huge–profits and doesn’t care at all about how his drive for those is killing the overall economy and even the planet.

Put this way, Jim’s demands sound ridiculous–and they are. Yet when we’re talking about workers charging a fair price for their labor, suddenly, people’s brains shut off, and they act as if asking for a living wage, benefits, safe working conditions, time off, etc. is an outrageous demand.

Businesses owners know better than to demand loss pricing from their suppliers. They know enough to keep their equipment in working order so they don’t lose money when it breaks down or they have to repair it or buy and calibrate new equipment. How is it that common sense can prevail when it comes to investing in inanimate objects, yet it flies out the window when we talk about investing in the working class? Why is it that we accept the notion that business owners are somehow entitled to make enormous profits by cutting wages, laying off workers or overworking–and burning out–the ones they have? Why does Wall St. reward management that makes business decisions that destroy the quality of the labor pool (and, by extension, the purchasing power of consumers)?

The moral of this story is that unchecked greed can kill entire communities–and entire countries. Demanding that people provide goods or labor for free merely so you can make a ton of profit? Stupid. Especially stupid in the long term.

So the next time you hear some greedy silver spoon type whining about the cost of labor, think about Jim, and remind him that he would never consider paying less than fair price for supplies, so he should never consider it for labor, either.

Hear, hear.

[ The “Free” Market: A Fable ]
Source: Stark Raving Liberal