'/> Uncommon Hours: 2009
Blogging on culture, politics, and the environment since 2008.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss?

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
Bob Sommer
Uncommon Hours

“Democracies have fallen, they have always fallen, because humanity craves the outstanding personality.”
―Ezra Pound

In the weeks and months leading up to the 2008 election, I hit the streets and the phones – along with about 1.5 million other believers. At Obama HQ here in Kansas City I was given a cell phone and I made calls to get voters to the polls. I traipsed up and down neighborhood streets along with other volunteers and knocked on doors, and on more than a few occasions faced snarling dogs or snarly Republicans.

This was it! If we did this, the nightmare would end. Sanity would return. We’d get out of Iraq; Gitmo would close; rendition would end, as would secret prisons and the neglect of habeas corpus. Universal health care would finally arrive – fifty years after Harry S. Truman first dreamed of it. The lobbyists would get the boot. Corporate money would no longer make laws and policy. Science and reason would determine our energy policy so that rapid and dramatic action could be brought to bear on the looming catastrophe of climate change.

But here we are a little over a year later and none of this happened. Permanent war, now reinforced by a tripling of forces in Afghanistan and the outsourcing of some of our military commitments to Mercenaries Incorporated, is the official policy of the Obama administration. The president’s speech to declare this policy – whose live audience, notably, was the current and future military leadership at West Point – could well have been delivered verbatim by his predecessor.

Health insurance and pharmacy industry lobbyists have nearly worn out the front hall rugs at the White House as the debate raged nationally – and futilely, it appears – over whether America would finally have a health care system commensurate with its presumed status as a prosperous and civilized nation. Not so much. Remember the nitpicky debates among Obama and Edwards and Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primaries about whose plan was most effective and offered the best coverage? Healthcare industrialists and lobbyists must have snickered through it all – the wasted efforts of staffs to develop those plans and prep their candidates and then post all the fine points on the Web, the wasted breath of pundits and editorialists, and the empty hopes of people who thought that one of those plans might actually become the law of the land. But money wins and we lose in a country where citizenship requires an Inc. after your name to have a voice – and for your vote to matter.

And while healthcare lobbyists put on their galoshes and overcoats the White House front hall, banking and brokerage lobbyists and CEOs were taking theirs off. The question of whether bailouts were needed to save us all from financial Armageddon need not even be raised to ask why accountability was never part of the program when hundreds of billions of our dollars were handed out. To be clear, life is good (remember that catch phrase of the booming 90s?), if you’re employed in the upper strata of the companies that led us to the brink of disaster. As one of the best years of the entire decade comes to a close on Wall Street – just one year after Armageddon! ― here are a few recent headlines from the website of that oracle of free market optimism, CNBC:

Stocks Will Soar in Q1: 'Very Optimistic' Asset Strategist
Earnings Will Rise 16% Next Year: Citi’s Levkovich
Stay 'Fully Invested': Stock Picker
S&P Charts Full of Bull (Market)
Art Cashin: Class Warfare a Threat to US Recovery
Citi: The Can't Lose Trade of 2010?
Cramer: 10 Stocks to Buy Your Kids in 2010
Market to Rise 10% in First Half of 2010: Strategist
Market Tips: No Big Correction in 2010

“What, me worry?” seems as apt a slogan as “Life is good.” But why should they worry? An economy pumped up by money that still smells of printer’s ink from the Treasury Department is surely a more resilient economy than one in which people make things and then sell them to each other, isn’t it, at least, if your business is using money to make money? Who needs the middle man? Just keep printing and borrowing, just as we did for the past fifteen years or so since deregulation and the jettisoning of Glass-Steagall. It’s different this time. Tulip bulbs anyone? You only need to spend ten minutes listening to CNBC to recognize that the main theme of their economic outlook is consumption. The almighty consumer is the engine of the economy, and all they’re waiting for is all of us to get back to Wal-Mart and the mall with our credit cards.

Well, we can’t lay all this at Obama’s feet, can we? In fact, that’s the point, isn’t it? We expected too much and were too naïve. The systemic damage of a generation of consumption and squander and corruption in both government and business is no doubt irreparable. The change we need is more than a new face in the White House – and even in Congress. It’s a change in expectation, a change in the way we lead our lives, a change in the kind of country America has become.

Have I become too cynical to vote this year, as pundits like Ed Schultz fear many Obama supporters may be? No, I’ll vote – and I’ll work to elect candidates who don’t take corporate money and who don’t rely on superstition or incendiary tactics to rally their supporters. And I’ll work to expose those who do. I’ll volunteer for candidates who have proven records of environmental foresight and who vote against funding war and redundant and unnecessary weapons systems. I’ll support candidates who made the tough votes – candidates who don’t see more coal-burning utility plants, mountain-top removal, dirty rivers, and corporate farms & healthcare & warfare in our future. I don’t care if there’s a D or an I or even an R after their names. I don’t care if they’re electable. Maybe if enough of us began voting for the unelectable ones with spines and consciences they would get elected.

Time is short. The economic system is a thin veneer lacquered over an unthinkably massive amount of debt. The tipping point of global warming is perhaps only a decade away. Buying a Prius won’t matter much once the permafrost of the arctic regions thaws and massive quantities of methane gas are released into the atmosphere, or once the dead zones of our oceans have expanded to the point at which dozens of generations will have to pass before undersea life returns, or once our glaciers have melted and drought brings suffering on a scale such as we have never seen.

But I’ll need better reasons than I’ve had for the past year to face down a snarling dog in a potential voter’s front yard .

Monday, December 28, 2009

David Swanson: An Avatar Awakening

By David Swanson

Let's face it, if James Cameron had made a movie with the Iraqi resistance as the heroes and the U.S. military as the enemies, and had set it in Iraq or anywhere else on planet earth, the packed theaters viewing "Avatar" would have been replaced by a screening in a living room for eight people and a dog.

Nineteen years ago, Americans packed theaters for "Dances with Wolves" in which Native Americans became the heroes, but the story was set in a previous century and the message understated.

The Na'vi people of "Avatar" are very explicitly Iraqis facing "shock and awe," as well as Native Americans with bows and arrows on horseback. The "bad guys" in the battle scenes are U.S. mercenaries, essentially the U.S. military, and the movie allows us to see them, very much as they are right now in 177 real nations around the world, through the eyes of their victims.

People know this going into the movie, and do not care. For better, and certainly for worse, they do not care. Millions of people stand in lines, shell out big bucks, wear stupid-looking 3-D glasses, sit in the dark for three hours, identify with twelve-foot-high pointy-eared blue people, cheer as the credits roll, and simply do not care that actual human beings suffer the same fate as the computer-generated creations, albeit without miraculous happy endings.

Imagine if a tenth of the people who now sympathize with these bony blue beings were to take three hours to read a book or watch a movie about the people of Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen or Iran. Our real planet would then be a different world.

When I saw "Avatar" in a packed 3-D theater in Virginia, and the crowd cheered the closing shot, I shouted: "And get out of Iraq too!" No one cheered for that. But no one called me a traitor either.

But will anyone in that crowd lift a finger to pressure their representatives in Congress to stop funding the evil they'd just seen sanitized, animated, relocated, and ever so slightly disguised?

Rob Kall at OpEd News suggested that we make flyers to hand out at theaters following screenings of "Avatar." Having now seen the film, I think he's right. Here's the text: http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/sites/afterdowningstreet.org/files/avatar.pdfHere's


Did you know that the Na'vi people are real, their troubles are real, and you can be a hero who saves them? It's true!

The story of "Avatar" is the story of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries attacked and occupied by U.S. mercenaries and U.S. troops.

It's harder to think about that, than it is to sympathize with giant blue computer-animated creatures. But it's extremely important that you take the step to explicitly admit to yourself what you've just watched in this movie, and that you take the additional step of doing something about it.

You don't have to ride a dragon or shoot an arrow, but you do have to call this number 202-224-3121 and ask to speak with your representative in the U.S. House of Representatives and tell them that their career will be over if they vote another dime to pay for the evil depicted in "Avatar."

Tell them that investing your money in education, transportation, energy, or infrastructure produces many more jobs than investing it in killing. Tell them that diplomacy and aid work better than bombs, and that we do not need unobtainium, which is called that for a reason, although we know it as "oil".

Call every day until you get the right answer, and report your daily progress at http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/whipwars

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sierra Club Reacts to Clinton Climate Finance Bombshell in Copenhagen

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 17, 2009
CONTACT: Josh Dorner, +1 202.679.7570, +45 52 71 98 87

Sierra Club Reacts to Clinton Climate Finance Bombshell in Copenhagen

Copenhagen, Denmark--Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this morning made a major announcement on international climate finance here at the 15th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, ongoing in Copenhagen. Secretary Clinton announced a proposal for $100 billion in climate financing by 2020, should a global climate deal be reached.

Statement of Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director

"Secretary of State Clinton's announcement of $100 billion in international climate financing by 2020 is truly a bombshell. It mirrors the scale of the proposal by Ethiopia and France and is a very important step toward resolving both the impasse on the finance issue, as well as concluding a final political agreement here in Copenhagen. This funding will help the least developed and most vulnerable countries move toward a clean energy future and adapt to the effects of global warming that are already occurring. This money will help also protect tropical rain forests as well as deal with natural disasters produced by unstable climate.

"While it is a major initiative, Secretary Clinton made clear that it can be funded from a wide variety of public and private sources. As one example, just by eliminating subsidies to the oil and coal companies in the industrial world we can pay for more than half of what is needed to help the poorest and most vulnerable nations cope, and minimize, climate disruption. The world wastes some $300 billion a year in fossil fuel subsidies--$60 billion of which is spent in OECD countries. Between today's important announcement and the earlier G20 commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, the U.S. is helping to lead the world in the right direction on these crucial issues.

"The US has also made clear that all nations must honestly and transparently do their part to solve the problem of global warming and reduce their greenhouse pollution -- this funding only flows as part of a global plan agreed to by all to solve this problem."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Kabuki Dancing in Oslo

Kabuki Dancing in Oslo
Bob Sommer
Uncommon Hours

President Obama’s discomfort with the Nobel Peace Prize was evident from the moment he stepped to the podium. He appeared somber, even hesitant, as he began speaking. The Nobel Committee had put him in a tough spot. Decline, and you publicly insult them. Accept, and you … what?

Well, maybe not use the speech to justify escalating a war.

Not to pick on too easy a target, but W would have shown up convinced that he deserved the award. Both the text and delivery of his acceptance speech would have been filled with smugness. He’d have punctuated his sentences with quick flips of the page without looking down. Calling him out for hypocrisy would have been a lay-up.

Obama, however, was uncomfortable. Citing Gandhi and King to justify not only the escalation of the war in Afghanistan but American exceptionalism in general requires distilling and serving a murky brew of revisionist history and muddled language. We’re in Orwellian territory now. Peace is War. Or something like that. For someone with an excellent mind and superior language skills this can’t have come easily – and the speech and its delivery betrayed that discomfort.

Oslo is only 300 miles from Copenhagen, but the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference might as well have been taking place on one of the melting polar ice caps. Civilization itself is threatened by the emission of 28 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually into the atmosphere, but Obama only found room in his speech for a quick nod at the issue, when he might have used the occasion of this unearned – and undeserved - award to rally the world’s polluters to sanity. But the free market won. War is Peace.

Obama skipped out on the awards dinners, perhaps a gesture of humility. Or maybe the possible slight to King Harald and the Nobel Committee was outweighed by the potential PR gain of appearing humble. Or maybe he genuinely believes he did the right thing by accepting the award and using the occasion to justify war – but the parties were just too unseemly. What a kabuki dance.

If he’s stuck with some ambivalence about how he should have managed the occasion, maybe he should take the hint: Trying to be all things to all people means you’ll end up being nothing to anyone, and the greatest opportunity in history will have been squandered – literally the chance to lead mankind back from the eve of destruction.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Merry Recessionary Christmas!

One resourceful Overland Park, Kansas citizen's answer
to both the energy crisis and the recession.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


by Bob Sommer
Uncommon Hours

You couldn’t miss the déjà-Bush-all-over-again elements of Obama’s speech last night – the military setting, the audience of uniformed cadets all sitting stiffly and attentively as their Commander-in-Chief addressed them on a matter of war. Officers, generals, the Secretary of Defense, the Military Academy at West Point: Who was the real audience?

Unlike Bush, who turned soldiers into props and military bases into stage settings, Obama seemed to have a different purpose in going to West Point, one that may be even more troubling than Bush’s play-soldiering.

“As cadets,” Obama told his live audience, “you volunteered for service during this time of danger. Some of you have fought in Afghanistan. Many will deploy there. As your Commander-in-Chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined, and worthy of your service.” [my emphasis]

If the right wing was worried about Obama bowing to a foreign leader (which didn’t trouble me at all), I worry about him bowing to the military. Ever since McCrystal returned from Afghanistan and demanded 40,000 troops, it seemed that the military was the decision-maker in this process. What was McCrystal doing on TV a few weeks back stoking up the public? Michael Moore was right: he should have been fired then.

Maybe eight years of Bush incessantly declaring that “the generals on the ground” would tell him what to do has finally evolved into a kind of unwritten law – a paradigm for military decision-making in the state of endless war that Bush & Co. bequeathed us. And precisely what the Founders wanted to avoid when they made a civilian leader the commander-in-chief of the military.

The JFK analogies that seemed so apt (and hopeful) last year during the campaign dissolved last evening. During the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy not only stared down Khrushchev, but also his own generals, who were more than eager to punch the nuke button. And he had to distance himself from the military mystique which the Cold War had inherited from the living memory of World War II, in which he’d also played a significant role. Like then, the military has gained an extraordinary mystique in the post-9/11 period. How do you stare these generals down after eight years of war?

MacArthur may have succeeded in getting Truman to cross the Pacific to meet him – and even in making Truman wait for him once he arrived – but Truman had his own mind about what should happen next, and he wasn’t about to let MacArthur decide for him.

What a shame it was, then, not only to see Obama cave on escalating this war, but believe he needed to go to West Point because he owed them a mission.

Monday, November 30, 2009

An Open Letter to President Obama from Michael Moore

An Open Letter to President Obama from Michael Moore

by Michael Moore

Dear President Obama,

Do you really want to be the new "war president"? If you go to West Point tomorrow night (Tuesday, 8pm) and announce that you are increasing, rather than withdrawing, the troops in Afghanistan, you are the new war president. Pure and simple. And with that you will do the worst possible thing you could do -- destroy the hopes and dreams so many millions have placed in you. With just one speech tomorrow night you will turn a multitude of young people who were the backbone of your campaign into disillusioned cynics. You will teach them what they've always heard is true -- that all politicians are alike. I simply can't believe you're about to do what they say you are going to do. Please say it isn't so.

It is not your job to do what the generals tell you to do. We are a civilian-run government. WE tell the Joint Chiefs what to do, not the other way around. That's the way General Washington insisted it must be. That's what President Truman told General MacArthur when MacArthur wanted to invade China. "You're fired!," said Truman, and that was that. And you should have fired Gen. McChrystal when he went to the press to preempt you, telling the press what YOU had to do. Let me be blunt: We love our kids in the armed services, but we f*#&in' hate these generals, from Westmoreland in Vietnam to, yes, even Colin Powell for lying to the UN with his made-up drawings of WMD (he has since sought redemption).

So now you feel backed into a corner. 30 years ago this past Thursday (Thanksgiving) the Soviet generals had a cool idea -- "Let's invade Afghanistan!" Well, that turned out to be the final nail in the USSR coffin.

There's a reason they don't call Afghanistan the "Garden State" (though they probably should, seeing how the corrupt President Karzai, whom we back, has his brother in the heroin trade raising poppies). Afghanistan's nickname is the "Graveyard of Empires." If you don't believe it, give the British a call. I'd have you call Genghis Khan but I lost his number. I do have Gorbachev's number though. It's + 41 22 789 1662. I'm sure he could give you an earful about the historic blunder you're about to commit.

With our economic collapse still in full swing and our precious young men and women being sacrificed on the altar of arrogance and greed, the breakdown of this great civilization we call America will head, full throttle, into oblivion if you become the "war president." Empires never think the end is near, until the end is here. Empires think that more evil will force the heathens to toe the line -- and yet it never works. The heathens usually tear them to shreds.

Choose carefully, President Obama. You of all people know that it doesn't have to be this way. You still have a few hours to listen to your heart, and your own clear thinking. You know that nothing good can come from sending more troops halfway around the world to a place neither you nor they understand, to achieve an objective that neither you nor they understand, in a country that does not want us there. You can feel it in your bones.

I know you know that there are LESS than a hundred al-Qaeda left in Afghanistan! A hundred thousand troops trying to crush a hundred guys living in caves? Are you serious? Have you drunk Bush's Kool-Aid? I refuse to believe it.

Your potential decision to expand the war (while saying that you're doing it so you can "end the war") will do more to set your legacy in stone than any of the great things you've said and done in your first year. One more throwing a bone from you to the Republicans and the coalition of the hopeful and the hopeless may be gone -- and this nation will be back in the hands of the haters quicker than you can shout "tea bag!"

Choose carefully, Mr. President. Your corporate backers are going to abandon you as soon as it is clear you are a one-term president and that the nation will be safely back in the hands of the usual idiots who do their bidding. That could be Wednesday morning.

We the people still love you. We the people still have a sliver of hope. But we the people can't take it anymore. We can't take your caving in, over and over, when we elected you by a big, wide margin of millions to get in there and get the job done. What part of "landslide victory" don't you understand?

Don't be deceived into thinking that sending a few more troops into Afghanistan will make a difference, or earn you the respect of the haters. They will not stop until this country is torn asunder and every last dollar is extracted from the poor and soon-to-be poor. You could send a million troops over there and the crazy Right still wouldn't be happy. You would still be the victim of their incessant venom on hate radio and television because no matter what you do, you can't change the one thing about yourself that sends them over the edge.

The haters were not the ones who elected you, and they can't be won over by abandoning the rest of us.

President Obama, it's time to come home. Ask your neighbors in Chicago and the parents of the young men and women doing the fighting and dying if they want more billions and more troops sent to Afghanistan. Do you think they will say, "No, we don't need health care, we don't need jobs, we don't need homes. You go on ahead, Mr. President, and send our wealth and our sons and daughters overseas, 'cause we don't need them, either."

What would Martin Luther King, Jr. do? What would your grandmother do? Not send more poor people to kill other poor people who pose no threat to them, that's what they'd do. Not spend billions and trillions to wage war while American children are sleeping on the streets and standing in bread lines.

All of us that voted and prayed for you and cried the night of your victory have endured an Orwellian hell of eight years of crimes committed in our name: torture, rendition, suspension of the bill of rights, invading nations who had not attacked us, blowing up neighborhoods that Saddam "might" be in (but never was), slaughtering wedding parties in Afghanistan. We watched as hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians were slaughtered and tens of thousands of our brave young men and women were killed, maimed, or endured mental anguish -- the full terror of which we scarcely know.

When we elected you we didn't expect miracles. We didn't even expect much change. But we expected some. We thought you would stop the madness. Stop the killing. Stop the insane idea that men with guns can reorganize a nation that doesn't even function as a nation and never, ever has.

Stop, stop, stop! For the sake of the lives of young Americans and Afghan civilians, stop. For the sake of your presidency, hope, and the future of our nation, stop. For God's sake, stop.

Tonight we still have hope.

Tomorrow, we shall see. The ball is in your court. You DON'T have to do this. You can be a profile in courage. You can be your mother's son.

We're counting on you.

Yours, Michael Moore MMFlint@aol.com  http://www.michaelmoore.com/

P.S. There's still time to have your voice heard. Call the White House at 202-456-1111.

Michael Moore is an activist, author, and filmmaker. See more of his work at his website http://www.michaelmoore.com/

Saturday, November 28, 2009

US Was 'Hell Bent' on Iraq War

This just shouldn't be allowed to fade away. The on-going British inquiry into the Iraq War continues to uncover details about the determination of Bush and the neo-cons to start this senseless war:

US Was 'Hell Bent' on Iraq War, UK Envoy Says
Bush administration didn't care about getting U.N. support, he tells inquiry

by David Stringer
Published on Saturday, November 28, 2009 by the Associated Press

LONDON - The United States was "hell bent" on a 2003 military invasion of Iraq and actively undermined efforts by Britain to win international authorization for the war, a former British diplomat told an inquiry Friday.

Jeremy Greenstock, British ambassador to the United Nations from 1998 to 2003, said that President George W. Bush had no real interest in attempts to agree on a U.N. resolution to provide explicit backing for the conflict.

The ex-diplomat, who served as Britain's envoy in Iraq after the invasion, said serious preparations for the war had begun in early 2002 and took on an unstoppable momentum.

As diplomats frantically attempted in early 2003 to agree upon a U.N. resolution approving a military offensive, Bush's key aides grew impatient - criticizing the process as an unnecessary distraction, he said.

Read more.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Call President Obama today and tell him not to escalate the war in Afghanistan: 202-456-1111.

This e-mail recently came in from Ira Harritt, the Kansas City Program Director for the American Friends Service Committee:

Now is a crucial time!

Taking a few minutes today to call the President and tell him that more troops in Afghanistan will make us less secure and not bring more stability to Afghanistan can have a lasting impact!

In a recent interview Obama has said “we're not signing up for a permanent occupation.” But he has also expressed concern that, while Al Qaeda is not currently in Afghanistan, “an Afghanistan that has completely fallen apart that can further destabilize Pakistan…, a government that has nuclear weapons - so we've got some significant interest in the region.”

Obama is being pressured to send more troops to Afghanistan by military contractor lobbyists. He needs to hear from concerned citizens who are not profiting from U.S. war making.

Help us send a message to President Obama that we don't want more troops sent to Afghanistan.

We call for:

1. No additional troops to be sent to Afghanistan.

2. A timeline for the withdrawal of US troops and for diplomacy and dialogue with all parties to the conflict without preconditions.

3. The provision of badly needed development aid by civilian-led organizations not the military.

4. Redirect the more than $44 billion spent yearly on war funding to human needs in Afghanistan and at home.

Call the Whitehouse comment line: 202-456-1111 (takes calls from 9am to 5pm Eastern) or email the President at http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact or use Peace Action’s Toll free number: 1-888-310-8637.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The irony speaks for itself

So boasted Humble Oil in Life magazine in 1962.
(Humble is granddaddy, via its offspring Standard Oil, to our very own Exxon!)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Kansas has a new Teacher of the Year!

At a banquet in Wichita last evening, Karen Tritt, a Spanish teacher at Shawnee Mission West High School, was named the 2010 Kansas Teacher of the Year. This announcement culminated months of preparation and competition in school districts throughout Kansas. Tritt won out over ninety candidates statewide.

I heard her speak at the Region 3 awards dinner in September, at which she was named a finalist for the competition, and believe she’ll be an exceptional advocate for education in the state of Kansas.

I have to disclose a more than passing interest in this event, for my wife Heather was also in the running.

Here are Heather (holding the plaque on the left) and Karen Tritt (on the right), with members of the Shawnee Mission School District Board of Education.

Congratulations, Karen!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The paradox of climate change: John Bellamy Foster's The Ecological Revolution reviewed

John Bellamy Foster, The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace with the Planet (Monthly Review Press, 2009). Paperback, $17.95.

Reviewed by Bob Sommer
Uncommon Hours

 A simple contradiction at the core of our economic system accounts for the dire ecological situation in which we find ourselves.

“Capitalism,” John Bellamy Foster points out in his new book, The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace with the Planet, “… embodies a logic that accepts no boundaries on its own expansion and its exploitation of the environment. The earth as a planet, in contrast, is by definition limited.”

Foster has written a compelling and informed synthesis of the current state of the global environmental crisis and the historical path that led to these extreme ecological and social imbalances. Particularly fascinating is his chapter on “The Jevons Paradox”―that is, the concept that increased efficiency in the use of resources actually creates a greater demand for those resources.

“What we call ‘the environmental problem,’” Foster writes, “is in the end primarily a problem of political economy. Even the boldest establishment economic attempts to address climate change fall far short of what is required to protect the earth―since the ‘bottom line’ that constrains all such plans under capitalism is the necessity of continued, rapid growth in production and profits.”

Assembled from articles and talks over a number of years, The Ecological Revolution provides an overview of the climate change crisis and a refreshing look at the work of Karl Marx in an environmental context.

Foster edits The Monthly Review, where several of the chapters originally appeared. If the book has any flaw, it is that some of the chapters have overlapping information that was not edited out for purposes of a book-length work. That said, this is an important book that goes to the core of the climate change crisis. Until we re-evaluate our economic philosophy in the context of its root causes and the planet’s limitations, we’re not likely find an answerable, long-term solution.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A New Day Rising: An Interview with David Swanson

David Swanson recently visited Kansas City to promote his new book, Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union.

I interviewed David for Rain Taxi Review of Books in a wide-ranging discussion of politics, history, and writing.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the interview:

Bob Sommer: While many would consider you politically on the far left, Daybreak, especially the first half of the book, espouses relatively conservative attitudes toward the Constitution and the Republic. You describe how far we have “strayed from adherence to the Constitution” and rather ominously state that “we are in unprecedented territory, far closer than ever before to losing our republic, and losing it in much the way that Rome lost hers.” Conservatives, in particular George W. Bush, have campaigned on the principle of strictly interpreting the Constitution. How do you reconcile that?

David Swanson: Well, I would need to see the evidence that many would consider me on the far left—I think what that would probably mean is that people have seen on television that advocacy for peace and justice and workers’ rights and healthcare constitute far left positions. It would mean that people have not looked at the opinion polls done by those same media outlets, which show that most positions I advocate for are strong majority positions in the United States. Most of us falsely believe we are in a fringe left minority because our televisions tell us that over and over again. But I think we have to constantly keep correcting that wrong understanding. Single-payer healthcare is seen as a crazy, commie, lefty, pinko position, except that a strong majority of Americans has favored it for decades—and down the line through most of the issues I talk about and care about.

Read the entire interview here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

350 Day in Kansas City

by Bob Sommer

350 parts per million! That’s the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere – safe for sustainable life.

Exceed 350 ppm and greenhouse gases accumulate, warming the planet, melting the ice caps, decreasing the reflective capacity of the Earth and so beginning a positive feedback loop that further accelerates the warming tendency. Floods, drought, species extinctions, extreme weather, and crop failures are some of the consequences of rising CO² levels, which have already reached 390 ppm and are increasing!

(all photos by Bob Sommer)
Activists gathered at Mill Creek Park in Kansas City as part of an International Day of Climate Action. Over 5,200 similar gatherings took place in 181 countries worldwide, serving as a virtual march on the world’s capitals to raise awareness and demand action.

John Kurmann addresses the gathering at Mill Creek Park in Kansas City.
“People in the industrialized countries throughout the world are primarily responsible for creating the climate crisis and we need to take the primary responsibility for solving it.”

Rep. Beth Low of the Missouri State House.
“These issues are pressing, critical, and must be addressed immediately.”

Kristin Riott
Bridging the Gap

Tom Bailey
Repower America

Following the rally, activitists marched peacefully through Kansas City's Country Club Plaza.

“We are going to send our message to the shoppers here in the Plaza, the symbolic heart of consumerism in Kansas City,” said John Kurmann.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Dear Friends & Visitors,

I'll be taking a leave from blogging for a few months to work on a book. Please browse freely, check out the links, and send an email, if you have some thoughts to share.



Friday, July 31, 2009

Forged Letters, Mexican Drug Cartels, and Waterboarding

By Heather Moyer

Sierra Club RAW
Uncooked truth, beyond belief

Issue #291: July 31, 2009

The opponents of clean energy and climate legislation are getting desperate, to say the least.

These last two days have been very telling. The big news right now comes from some shameful lobbyists possibly at the behest of the energy and coal industries. The Daily Progress newspaper in Charlottesville, Virginia, reported today that lobbying firm Bonner and Associates sent forged letters from the NAACP-Charlottesville chapter and a local Hispanic community group to Congressman Tom Perriello (D-VA 5th) asking him to oppose the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). Both groups actually support ACES.

Could an industry that's spent $77.8 million on lobbying so far in 2009 now be forging letters? Well, having looked at copies of the letters, the text sure does look straight out of the coal industry talking points, citing that Virginia "gets 56% of its energy from coal."

Fortunately, Rep. Ed Markey, Chair of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, is launching an investigation to get to the bottom of this, so hopefully we’ll know who was really behind these dirty tricks soon.

How low can these folks get?

The rest of this week's desperation comes from Thursday's Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the national security implications of global warming.

One of the witnesses for the hearing was David B. Rivkin. If his name isn't familiar to you, let's take a walk through his past.

Rivkin is a lawyer from the dredges of Reagan's and both Bush Administrations (senior and junior), having served in various Department of Energy and Department of Justice roles. He was quite a defender of a do-nothing environmental policy, "Wait for more research before taking any bold steps".

Oh, and he's a hypocrite, having said last December that he opposed waterboarding, but then later saying the opposite in a Wall Street Journal OpEd.

Add to Rivkin's string of terrible ideas his testimony at yesterday’s hearing, where trotted out the tired old position (pdf) of, "India and China aren't doing it, so why should we?" while also claiming that any action we take on global warming could, in fact, make us more vulnerable in terms of national security.

So we get a waterboarding supporter testifying, and then we have committee member Senator John Barasso (R-WY) use his newest excuse to oppose legislation: It will lead to black market carbon credit trading where Mexican drug cartels and other bad guys will use it to fund terrorism.

Hear him say it -- the video is highlighted on none other than climate denier Sen. James Inhofe’s website.

We can just picture shady people meeting in dark clubs to arrange black market deals. "Hey man, got an elephant tusk and two carbon credits?"

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

China Ups Renewable Energy Target

From Energy Business Daily:

As the United States Congress fights over the prices, benefits, and especially, definitions of its own national renewable energy standard, coal-giant China announced a plan to get 15 percent of its energy capacity from wind, solar and other renewable energy sources by 2020. Maybe sent as a signal to the United States and the remaining world that China is taking seriously the threat of climate variation, the news of China’s new renewable energy targets should also be taken with a grain of salt: the nation is also expected to release a revised power supply capacity target that is as much as fifty percent higher than goals pursued in 2007.

According to reports, Chinese officials plan on releasing a revised power supply capacity target for 2020 — a target that might increase to as much as 1,500 gigawatts.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Revealed: The Secret Evidence of Global Warming Bush Tried to Hide

From the UK Guardian:

"Graphic images that reveal the devastating impact of global warming in the Arctic have been released by the US military. The photographs, taken by spy satellites over the past decade, confirm that in recent years vast areas in high latitudes have lost their ice cover in summer months.

"The pictures, kept secret by Washington during the presidency of George W Bush, were declassified by the White House last week. President Barack Obama is currently trying to galvanize Congress and the American public to take action to halt catastrophic climate change caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Jimmy Carter's energy speech matters now more than ever

Revisit Carter's Energy Speech

By Kevin Mattson

Published on Wednesday, July 15, 2009 by The Albany Times-Union

Thirty years ago, on July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter went on national television to give a jolting speech. Billed as an address about the "energy crisis" -- the recent cutoff of Iranian fuel that generated long and angry gas lines at home -- it wound up lashing out at the American way of life. Carter decried Americans' "self-indulgence and consumption" as well as their "fragmentation and self-interest." This was a "crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will," he asserted.

Today, we should listen to his words again, especially as debates about climate change legislation turn tough and confrontational in the Senate.

Carter, who thought of himself as a moral leader and not just a politician, believed Americans couldn't solve the energy crisis if they didn't move beyond their own self-interest and embrace a common good. He called on Americans to unify themselves around a sense of shared purpose, as they did during a war. "Every act of energy conservation is more than just common sense -- I tell you it is an act of patriotism."

Since then, Carter's speech has been widely condemned for laying the blame for his own failures on the backs of ordinary citizens. Far from it. For a speech that sounded as if it castigated the American way of life, it won Carter huge amounts of support. Immediately after the speech, Carter's poll numbers shot up, something that rarely happened during his presidency. He got more letters than he ever had before, almost all of them positive. Citizens pledged they would ride a bike to work or cut down on unnecessary trips. The counterintuitive happened: The president criticized his fellow citizens but gained their support.

What better time than now to revisit Carter's speech? The Senate is just about to debate a climate change bill that barely squeaked through the House in late June. Many conservative politicians have complained the bill would wind up taxing citizens for the sake of decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels. President Barack Obama's retort has been that the bill would cost less than a postage stamp a day for the average American.

Now's the time for political leaders who support climate change legislation to return to the language Jimmy Carter used and that Obama himself used during his inaugural address. There, Obama warned about economic and environmental crises and then diagnosed "a sapping of confidence across our land." He went on to say: "The challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time."

The language rang with a challenge and with realism and toughness. Obama sounded like a leader who expected something from the American people more than the cost of a postage stamp.

Carter's speech teaches us that this sort of rhetoric can actually work to build political will. Americans are not afraid to hear the tough truths about the problems of unlimited consumerism. They have reservations about how, in Carter's words, "human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns." Good leadership requires tough talk like this; it requires and can succeed if it is honest and realistic.

Unfortunately for us, we understand Carter's speech as one about "malaise," a word that doesn't appear in the speech. Many historians argue that the president was looking for a way to blame citizens for his own problems. But Carter shared the blame in the speech, admitting to his own faults. "I realize that more than ever as president I need your help," he explained, with a sense of humility.

Remembering Jimmy Carter's "Crisis of Confidence" speech (its actual title) today reminds us of important lessons: Tough rhetoric can actually mobilize citizens to action, and leaders can demand and expect sacrifice from citizens.

Most important of all, though, it reminds us that to solve our energy crisis, we need to examine our way of life and confront a culture of consumerism and self-interest. That Carter spoke honestly and found praise for doing so should give Obama grounds for taking Americans into his confidence and arousing them to follow him on moral grounds. Jimmy Carter tried that. His successors can do so, too.

© 1996-2009, Capital Newspapers

Kevin Mattson teaches at Ohio University. He is the author of "'What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?' Jimmy Carter, America's 'Malaise,' and the Speech that Should Have Changed the Country." He is also a writer for the History News Service.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III distinguishes himself as Ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee

Sessions left little doubt about his priorities in yesterday's confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor, when he questioned Sotomayor about the New Haven firefighters case:

"You voted not to reconsider the prior case. You voted to stay with the decision of the circuit. And in fact, your vote was the key vote. Had you voted with Judge [Jose] Cabranes, himself of Puerto Rican ancestry, had you voted with him, you could've changed that case." [italics mine]

Sessions, himself a failed federal district court nominee, now serves on the same committee that once turned him down.

According to CQ.com:

"Sessions was serving as chief prosecutor for the Southern District of Alabama and making a name for himself through his prosecution of drug dealers when President Reagan nominated him to be a federal judge. But according to sworn statements by Justice Department lawyers, Sessions called the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union 'communist-inspired' and said they tried to 'force civil rights down the throats of people.'

Here's the kicker:

"Sessions reportedly said of the Ku Klux Klan that he 'used to think they’re OK' until he learned that some Klan members were 'pot smokers.'"

The question isn't whether Sotomayor is qualified to become a Supreme Court Justice but what Jeff Sessions is doing in a Senate chamber in any capacity at all.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Planet's Future: Climate Change 'Will Cause Civilization to Collapse'

Authoritative new study sets out a grim vision of shortages and violence – but amid all the gloom, there is some hope too

By Jonathan Owen

An effort on the scale of the Apollo mission that sent men to the Moon is needed if humanity is to have a fighting chance of surviving the ravages of climate change. The stakes are high, as, without sustainable growth, "billions of people will be condemned to poverty and much of civilisation will collapse."

This is the stark warning from the biggest single report to look at the future of the planet – obtained by The Independent on Sunday ahead of its official publication next month. Backed by a diverse range of leading organisations such as Unesco, the World Bank, the US Army and the Rockefeller Foundation, the 2009 State of the Future report runs to 6,700 pages and draws on contributions from 2,700 experts around the globe. Its findings are described by Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN, as providing "invaluable insights into the future for the United Nations, its member states, and civil society."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Greenpeace climbers have just hung a banner on Mt. Rushmore!

Three Greenpeace climbers have hung a banner on the face of Mount Rushmore issuing a challenge to President Obama:

"America honors leaders, not politicians: Stop Global Warming.”

Watch it live at the Greenpeace streaming video: www.greenpeace.org/rushmore

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Colorado utility’s token wind farm needs coal-fired energy from Kansas to make it look good

There’s no shortage of irony in Colorado’s Tri-State Generation and Transmission portraying itself as a friend of the environment as it unveiled plans at a Denver press conference for a new 50 MW wind farm in eastern Colorado.

But Tri-State neglected to mention that it plans to purchase 600 MW from the coal-fired plant that Sunflower Electric intends to build in southwestern Kansas, mostly for the purpose of selling energy to Colorado.

As one out-of-town observer recently commented, when I described the nettled politics of energy in this region, “Kansas is Colorado’s coal bitch.”

Read more:

“Utility unveils its plans for big wind project,” The Durango Herald, Jul. 7, 2009
“How a bill became a deal: Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson's 'compromise' with Sunflower Electric,” Uncommon Hours, June 25, 2009

Monday, July 6, 2009

Not so fast, Sunflower!

EPA: Sunflower must start coal plant permitting process over

From KC Star Primebuzz:

TOPEKA The utility behind a controversial coal plant project in Western Kansas must reapply for a new state permit, the Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday.

The decision means another lengthy delay for Sunflower Electric Power Corp.’s efforts to build an 895-megawatt coal-fired generator near Holcomb, Kan.

The state’s top regulator initially rejected the project in 2007, citing its carbon emissions.

Lawmakers supportive of the plant tried for two years to overrule the regulator before Gov. Mark Parkinson inked a deal this spring to allow a smaller project to move forward.

Sunflower expected the decision and plans to submit its new application this fall, according to company spokeswoman Cindy Hertel.

“We’ll continue to move forward,” she said.

The EPA determined that too much about the project had changed to allow Sunflower to move ahead based on its initial permit application to the state, according to David Bryan, a spokesman for EPA Region 7.

Sunflower applied for a state permit in 2006. Since then the project has been revised significantly, going from three generating units and 2100 total megawatts to one 895-megawatt generator.

“We believe the proposal by Sunflower is a new project,” Bryan said. “That means we expect a public comment period, a technical analysis, all the things that need to be done.”

The initial review of the project lasted 19 months. A second permitting process means another round of public hearings and staff evaluations of the project’s technical details.

Submitted by David Klepper on July 1, 2009 - 4:43pm.

(For more background on this deal see my article, "How a bill became a deal: Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson's 'compromise' with Sunflower Electric.")

Thursday, June 25, 2009

How a bill became a deal: Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson's 'compromise' with Sunflower Electric

By Bob Sommer

“Coal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet.” Dr. James Hansen

When Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson inked a deal with Sunflower Electric Power Corporation CEO Earl Watkins to allow an 895 megawatt (MW) coal-fired plant to be built in Holcomb, Kansas, the shock reverberated throughout the state and beyond.

Environmental activists were stunned. Even the Kansas legislature, on both sides of the aisle, was taken off guard.

How this deal came about has implications not only for its potential environmental impact, but for the question of how energy policy is formulated, in this instance by a politician and an energy executive behind closed doors.

“As a Progressive,” Scott Allegrucci told me at a coffee house in Lawrence, Kansas, “most of what you do in Kansas is you keep bad things from happening.”

For the past two years the bad thing that has been front and center for Allegrucci, the Director of the Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy (GPACE), was a proposal by Sunflower to build two coal-fired electric plants in Holcomb, in the southwest corner of the state, with a combined capacity of 1400 MW. These plants would spew 11 million tons of CO² into the atmosphere annually, making them one of the largest sources of pollution in the U.S.

Scott Allegrucci
Success for Allegrucci—that is, keeping this really bad thing from happening—was at hand on May 4th of this year, when newly-appointed Gov. Parkinson, who replaced now-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, announced at a surprise press conference, held jointly with Sunflower’s Watkins, that a compromise deal had been reached. The agreement would allow a single 895 MW plant to be built in exchange for a series of renewable energy concessions, which the majority Republican legislature would support. Most of these concessions turned out to be either unenforceable or unnecessary.(1)

Parkinson effectively gave away the farm. Two-thirds of the original proposal would go ahead.

Watkins’ glee was palpable.

“He’s the one who reached out to us,” Watkins said of Parkinson. “We have a hands-on governor, one that I’m proud of.”

Allegrucci called the compromise, “the epitome of a backroom deal.”

Perhaps now writ smaller, the Dick Cheney model of relying on energy executives to make energy policy had spawned. A decision that will affect generations of Kansans and beyond, for the millions of tons of carbon dioxide the plant will release into the atmosphere are hardly the provenance of one state, was made without any disinterested scientists or environmental experts in the room.

Throughout the region editorials both praised and excoriated Parkinson. The Sierra Club, which was party to a lawsuit against Sunflower and had campaigned to prevent these new coal plants from being built, issued several statements to the public and its members deploring the outcome.

“We are shocked and disgusted by this back room deal,” Kansas Sierra Club Chair Frank Drinkwine said in an open letter to members, “but are working around the clock to develop our next move, and to ensure that our voice is heard in the public debate.”

Allegrucci, whose organization is a broad coalition of environmental, labor, health, and other groups, called the announcement “a belly-blow.” After two years of raising funds, lobbying, and campaigning—some of this activity with direct encouragement from the new governor—he felt betrayed.

“A gut punch,” he repeated, gesturing a fist into his solar-plexus.

Parkinson’s deal was especially stunning because Sebelius had opposed the plants, even vetoing several Republican-sponsored bills that would have allowed them to go forward. The announcement came on the very day that Democrats and environmentalists expected the latest veto to be sustained against a Republican attempt to override it.

In short, victory was at hand. Why do this now?

Some history is needed.

In early 2006, Sunflower Electric applied to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) for a permit to build three 700 MW plants. While the baseload need for Kansas was roughly 200 MW, considerably less than the proposed 2100 MW, two of the new plants would provide energy to Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a Colorado-based energy cooperative. Energy would also be sold to Texas, with about 10% of the total-generated electricity staying in Kansas.

Tri-State needed a Kansas partner because restrictive environmental regulations in Colorado, as well as an increasingly Democratic state government, prevented Tri-State from expanding. As one observer wryly commented, “Kansas would be Colorado’s coal bitch.”

A fire-storm arose within the state as public hearings took place in 2006. I attempted to attend one hearing in Lawrence, but hundreds of people clogged the hallways outside a meeting room with a capacity for about fifty. Supporters of the proposed plants rallied to the prospect of thousands of new jobs and a boost for the sagging Kansas economy, while opponents pointed out that 90% of the energy would leave the state but 100% of the pollution would remain, much of it swept by southwesterly winds directly into the most populous areas in the east.

Then-Governor Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, courageously aligned herself with opponents of the new plants against the majority Republican legislature and some Democrats from conservative districts.

By mid 2007 Sunflower had taken one of the plants off the menu, but later that year the entire question took a new turn when KDHE Secretary Roderick L. Bremby, citing the Supreme Court’s ruling in Massachusetts v. the Environmental Protection Agency, which determined that carbon dioxide is a pollutant and must be regulated, denied permits for the two proposed plants.

“I believe it would be irresponsible,” Bremby said, “to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing.”

This action blew heavy and hot wind into the already-intense flames engulfing the issue.

Sunflower spokesman Steve Miller responded sharply, "We still believe fiercely that this is the right project, that this is the right thing to do for customers and that the secretary has made a horrible error.”

Promising a court fight, he even took umbrage at a statement by Sebelius suggesting that Sunflower was a less-than responsible environmental citizen.

"That implies,” he said, “that we're not moral stewards of the land, which we don't appreciate one bit."

Sunflower and the Republican legislature set the tone for the next two years, as the issue shifted, Allegrucci pointed out, from a policy matter to a political dogfight. A cottage industry of lobbyists arose in Topeka, with coal proponents outnumbering environmental groups by 6 to 1. Legislators were subjected to an onslaught of lobbying whenever they stepped into the hallways of the capital.

Sebelius was vilified by coal supporters. A series of ads ran in Wichita papers depicting the smiling faces of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“Why are these men smiling?” the ad asked, and then responded, “Because the recent decision by the Sebelius Administration means Kansas will import morenatural gas from countries like Russia, Venezuela and Iran.”

In addition to being offensive, the ad is wrong. Kansas is a producer of natural gas, not an importer. More importantly, Kansans for Affordable Energy, the ad’s sponsor, was supported by Sunflower and by the Peabody Coal Company.

With the governor’s office and a critical cabinet member aligned against it, Sunflower tried another tactic—portraying itself as a victim.

"We're like a wounded deer laying in the middle of the highway now," declared Sunflower’s Miller. "So you can imagine everyone who wants to finish us off is throwing money in the pot right now."

Randy Schofield of the Wichita Eagle responded dryly, “Somehow I never thought of a massive coal-fired power complex as a wounded deer. Or even an endangered species. If so, this wounded deer has a truckload of highly paid lawyers in its corner.”

Republican coal-supporters pulled out the Karl Rove playbook and made the issue “a patriotic litmus test,” Allegrucci said.

Ally Devine, a lobbyist for the Kansas Livestock Association, raised the dire specter of business having no safeguards from government interference. Could socialism be far behind?

According to notes taken by Maril Hazlett, who runs the Climate and Energy Project blog, at a Feb. 4, 2009, hearing Devine said, “And who knows who getsregulated anymore, anyone could get regulated. Individuals have rights, due process, rules of evidence apply, because we need to clarify who is in charge when.”

Mark Calcara, Sunflower Electric’s Chief Counsel, asked at the same hearing, “Is this state going to follow the rule of law? All our fundamental rights and freedoms depend on this.”

He continued, “Rule of law separates free and democratic nations. If we violate this law then all of our other freedoms are at risk. At what point do our freedoms end and tyranny begin? We will lose our freedoms inch by inch by well meaning Americans who think ends justify means.”

Allegrucci believes that tactically coal-supporters may have gone too far. The hyperbole hurt their cause with moderates and exposed the desperation of coal advocates.

Outnumbered and outspent, the anti-coal forces were within sight of preventing ground from ever breaking on these plants. Business as usual was done for good in Kansas.

By now, polling also revealed that pro-coal interests had reason to be worried.

An independent poll commissioned by GPACE in Feb. 2009 revealed that by a margin of more than 3 to 1 (64% to 18%) Kansans favored developing clean, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and biofuels over building new coal plants. Additionally, 88% of Kansans wanted to see the state become energy independent by exploring its indigenous resources, especially natural gas and wind.

Fast forward through the lawsuits and protests, the bills and vetoes (3 in 2008), the vitriolic editorials and hard feelings among lawmakers (even within parties) from 2006 to 2009.

When Sebelius departed for Washington in April 2009, she left behind her veto signature on a Republican-sponsored bill that would have allowed the two coal-burning plants, with their 11 million tons of CO², to go forward.

The anticipated effort by House and Senate Republicans in Topeka to override the Sebelius veto catalyzed GPACE and the Sierra Club into a feverish and expensive last-ditch, throw-everything-you-got-at-it effort to block the override attempt. Mailers went out. Phone-bankers and door-to-door canvassers went to work. GPACE spent over $50,000. A margin of just two or three votes would end Sunflower’s effort if not for good, at least for years; or it would allow the plants to be built, ensuring that conservative, climate-change-doubting Republicans would have no incentive to engage in any meaningful renewable energy legislation.

By Monday, May 4th, the scheduled date for the override vote, environmentalists smelled victory. The override attempt would fail. The three-year battle would be over.

Late in the afternoon, however, before the vote, word went out on very short notice that the new governor, sworn in just six days earlier, planned a press conference.

Allegrucci, who communicated regularly with the governor’s office and knew most of the players in Topeka, got five minutes’ notice.

Rep. Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat and the House Minority Leader, got only slightly more. About ten minutes before the press conference, he was called into a meeting with the governor and three other key Democrats (Rep. Annie Kuether, House Ranking Member, Energy and Utilities; Sen. Anthony Hensley, Senate Minority Leader; and Sen. Janis Lee, Ranking Member, Energy and Utilities), where Parkinson advised them of his deal with Sunflower.

Kansas Rep. Paul Davis

I spoke with Davis at his law office in Lawrence and asked if he thought Republicans would obstruct renewable energy legislation without this deal.

“Yes, absolutely,” he responded. “There were a number of statements coming from various Republican legislators that until we get Holcomb [the proposed power plants] resolved we’re not going to allow any type of renewable energy legislation.”

He also pointed out that Parkinson was effectively acting as a lawyer, which he is, in negotiating directly with Watkins. This settlement agreement would resolve the lawsuit filed by Sunflower following the Bremby decision.

Even so, I asked, doesn’t this process still smack of backroom politics and energy policy formulated by non-experts?

Conceding that he was seeing this as a lawyer might, Davis said, “The governor is essentially negotiating on behalf of the state, and the office of the governor is a party to that lawsuit, so I think he had that authority to negotiate this outside of the public spectrum because of the nature of that. Now would it have been better to have had some light shed on this while that negotiation was going through? Certainly, but I can understand why it was done the way that it was.”

Davis also pointed out that, with the governor’s term only lasting a year and a half (he’s not seeking re-election), he was no doubt eager to see renewable energy policy formulated before he left office.

Davis described Parkinson’s frustration at seeing jobs in wind technology lost to other states, citing two such conversations.

“I think that he really sees that that may be his legacy as governor,” Davis added, “and if this Holcomb issue was still on the table that was just all for nothing. So I think that’s really the driving force behind taking this action.”

Scott Allegrucci agrees that Parkinson has a keen interest in developing wind energy in Kansas, along with the jobs it would create, but he believes that while the legislation that resulted from the agreement with Sunflower offers some limited benefits, like net metering, it falls well short of ensuring that alternative energy sources will be developed in Kansas in any meaningful way. If anything, there are numerous opportunities for Sunflower to opt out of using renewable energy sources, like biofuels.

Also troubling, the new legislation strips the Secretary of KDHE of the very powers that allowed him to block the original permit application by Sunflower, an issue that led Rep. Davis to vote against it.

And there’s still the 7 million tons of CO² that Kansas will contribute to warming the globe, largely offsetting efforts in other states to curb carbon pollution.

Is it possible, as some speculate, that Parkinson made a brilliant political maneuver by getting this agreement? Was he looking ahead to the prospect of restrictive EPA air standards and a potential lawsuit over the KDHE secretary’s powers ultimately standing in the way of new construction?

Davis gives no credence to that theory.

Allegrucci allows for it, but says it was “a risk that we didn’t really need to take.” After all, the votes were there to block both plants.

He further points out that it still means that energy policy (even if it turns out to be good policy) was formulated behind closed doors and without experts to provide guidance.

Tom Thompson, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, thinks that Parkinson may not believe the plant will ever be built, but by compromising with western Kansans, where advocacy for the coal plant was fiercest, he may have shored up support for a possible U.S. Senate run.

“This was probably a stroke of political genius for him,” Thompson said over coffee in Mission, Kansas. “He is now somewhat of a hero in western Kansas for saving Sunflower. Even if it doesn’t happen, they’re going to remember that he was able to pull this out of the jaws of defeat.”

In October 2008, Parkinson was still lieutenant governor (and a recent convert to the Democratic Party) when he addressed a group of environmentalists at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas.

He challenged the audience to take a “new” approach to environmental issues.

“It’s entirely possible,” he said, “that everything we’re doing in the environmental community is wrong.”

He continued, “The problem that we have is not going to be solved by politicians like me or by people in Washington. This problem is going to be solved by scientists.”

His audience, it’s fair to say, was ahead of him on this. But when it finally came time for him to tackle the most significant environmental problem Kansas has ever faced, backroom politics trumped science.

(1) Craig Volland, “Fact Sheet on the Governor’s Coal Plant Agreement with Sunflower Electric,” Planet Kansas, June 2009, 8-11, 15, 23. This is the most comprehensive fact sheet available on the problems with this agreement and the legislation that emerged from it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kucinich: Will Increased CO2 Emissions be our Gift to the Next Generation?

Press Release

Washington D.C. (June 24, 2009) – Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today made the following statement against The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 on the House floor:

“Science tells us that we must begin to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in the next five to ten years. But according to an analysis by offsets expert and Stanford law professor Michael Wara, it is possible that we could see no net reduction of CO2 emissions until the year 2040 because of offsets and unlimited banking of allowances in the new climate change bill.

“The bill allows 2 billion tons of carbon offsets a year, roughly equivalent to 30% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Supporters of the bill point out that coal use will continue to increase until at least 2020 because electric utilities will continue to use dirty coal, the prime source of pollution.

“With 2 billion tons of offsets per year, we are told that electric utilities will reduce carbon emissions at places other than their generating plants. So they really don’t have to actually decrease their emissions at all when it counts the most and coal fired CO2 emissions will increase. No wonder there are 26 active coal plant applications. Will increased CO2 emissions be our gift to the next generation? Apparently, the planet is not melting; it is just getting better for polluters.”

Contact: Nathan White (202)225-5871

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Activists Risk Arrest to Stop Mountaintop Removal

14 Activists Arrested in Peaceful Protest to Stop Mountaintop Removal scaled 20-story tall machinery to call attention to nation’s worst form of coal mining in first ever ascent of a mountaintop removal site’s dragline.

COAL RIVER VALLEY, W. VA – At 5:00AM this morning 14 concerned citizens entered onto Massey Energy’s mountaintop removal mine site near Twilight WV. Four of them scaled a 150-foot dragline and unfurled a 15×150 foot banner that said, “Stop Mountaintop Removal Mining."

The climbers were on the enormous dragline, a massive piece of equipment that removes house-sized chunks of blasted rock and earth to expose coal, and remained there for over three hours. Meanwhile nine others deployed a 20×40 foot banner on the ground at the site which read, “Stop Mountaintop Removal: Clean Energy Now."

Police arrested David Hollister, Melissa O’Neil, Chelsea Ritter Soronen, Lynn Stone, Charles Suggs, Rodney Webb, Jeanne Kirshon, John Johnson Greg Yost, Jessica Sue Eley, Lisa Ramsden, David Pike, Paul Brown, and Kurt Delano Mann. The group is expected to be arraigned early this afternoon at Boone County Jail in Madison, West VA.

This act of peaceful protest comes just days after the Obama Administration announced a plan to reform, but not abolish, the aggressive strip mining practice.

“I’ve written letters, attended hearings and called my congressman, so far they have done nothing to stop the disastrous and unnecessary practice of mountaintop removal,” said Charles Suggs, a 25-year old of Rock Creek, WV who was one of those climbing today. “It has come to the point when we must take direct action to abolish this practice that is immorally robbing Appalachian communities of their culture, their health and their future.”

This is the first time a dragline has been scaled on a mountaintop removal site, and marks the latest in a string of protests in West Virginia by residents and allies from across the country. Another protest is set for June 23rd in the Coal River Valley area with local coalfield residents, NASA climate scientist James Hansen, actress Daryl Hannah, and 94-year-old former US Representative Ken Hechler, and Rainforest Action Network Executive Director Michael Brune, among many others.

“It’s way past time for civil disobedience to stop mountaintop removal and move quickly toward clean, renewable energy sources,” said Judy Bonds, Goldman Environmental Prize winner and co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch of West Virginia. “For over a century, Appalachian communities have been crushed, flooded, and poisoned as a result of the country’s dangerous and outdated reliance on coal. How could the country care so little about our American mountains, our culture and our lives?”

An increasing number of concerned Appalachians and environmentalists are calling for the end to mountaintop removal, a practice that harms the people and places of Appalachia, destroys the economic potential of the Appalachian Mountains for long term clean energy opportunities and jobs, and furthers the burning of climate-killing coal.

Every day, mountaintop removal mines use more explosive power than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Mining companies are clear-cutting thousands of acres of some of the world’s most biologically diverse forests. They’re burying biologically crucial headwaters streams with blasting debris, releasing toxic levels of heavy metals into the remaining streams and groundwater and poisoning essential drinking water. According to the EPA, this destructive practice has damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams and threatens to destroy 1.4 million acres of forest by 2020.

Just days before this action, the Obama Administration announced steps to end the fast-tracking of certain mountaintop removal coal mine permits and to add tougher enforcement in Appalachia. However, it remains unclear what, if any, improvements this will have on-the-ground in Appalachia or elsewhere. Without a significant change in policy, mining companies will continue to destroy historic mountain ranges and bury community’s drinking water in toxic waste.
For more information, please visit http://www.mountainaction.org/

Friday, June 12, 2009

The House GOP's Dick Cheney Energy Plan

uncooked truth, beyond belief
from The Sierra Club

Issue #287
June 12, 2009

The ABCs of the House GOP's Dick Cheney Energy Plan

By Josh Dorner

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. It also appears that you can't teach a bunch of old-line conservatives about New Energy for America.

The leadership of the increasingly embattled GOP minority in Congress continues to circle the wagons around the failed policies of the past. As the Waxman-Markey clean energy jobs plan moves toward a House floor vote as soon as 10 days from now, the House GOP leadership unveiled their "alternative."

Unfortunately, their so-called alternative was a not-even-thinly-veiled redux of the failed Bush-Cheney energy policies of yesteryear. You know, the ones that ruined the economy, made global warming worse, and left us even more dependent on tin-pot dictators to meet our growing addiction to oil. Yeah, those.

Our friends at Media Matters for America took a little looksee at the plans put forward by Bush and Cheney and the House GOP's latest plan, the American Energy Act. The two plans looked suspiciously similar, shall we say. Almost as if a group of powerful special interests in the energy industry essentially dictated the plans behind closed doors. Not that that would ever happen

The Bush-Cheney plan was based on increased oil drilling on the outer continental shelf, expedited construction of more oil refineries, building more nuclear power plants, opening the Arctic Refuge to drilling, increasing the production of dirty and destructive oil shale.

And what's the House GOP's plan based on, you say? Why, on increased oil drilling on the outer continental shelf, expedited construction of more oil refineries, building more nuclear power plants, opening the Arctic Refuge to drilling, increasing the production of dirty and destructive oil shale.

To be fair, their plan isn't all recycled from the Cheney era. It also incorporates John McCain's disastrous $1 trillion (yes, trillion with a T) campaign pledge to build 100 new nuclear power plants.

And, just in case you wondering -- no, the House GOP still does not believe in global warming.

Thank. You. Very. Much.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Thank you, Town Crier Bookstore!

Many thanks to Becky and Marla at the Town Crier Bookstore for hosting the 3rd Annual Author Extravaganza this past Saturday!

I had a great afternoon in Emporia, Kansas (home of the Kansas Teachers Hall of Fame) meeting readers and authors and talking all things writing and reading.

Friday, June 5, 2009

June 5, 1851: Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly began serialization in The National Era

"Well," said Eliza, mournfully, "I always thought that I must obey my master and mistress, or I couldn't be a Christian."

"So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War!" President Abraham Lincoln said, when he met Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862, according to an apocryphal story.

The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 inspired Stowe to write Uncle Tom's Cabin, which sold over 300,000 copies within a year after it appeared in book form in 1852. It was later translated into 60 languages.

Stowe's characterizations of American slaves arguably gave way to the stereotypes that became tragically ubiquitous in movies like Gone with the Wind, and persisted well beyond it.

Yet the novel did succeed in raising the awareness of a wide audience about the horrors of slavery and thus helped to strengthen the Abolitionist movement.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan hit 5,000

Military Families Speak Out urges President Obama to bring the troops home:

As the nation awaits confirmation from the Pentagon of the 5,000th death of a U.S. service member in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, members of Military Families Speak Out are mourning the dead and calling on President Obama to honor the sacrifices of these service members and their families and honor all of those who serve by acting swiftly to end both wars.

Warren Henthorn of Choctaw, OK, the father of Army Spc. Jeffrey Henthorn who died in Iraq on Feb 8, 2005, says:

“Way too many have died on all sides of these wars. If I remember correctly, President Obama won the Democratic nomination based on the promise to end the war in Iraq. But, between Iraq and Afghanistan, at the end of this year we will actually have more troops in harm’s way then we did at the height of the ‘surge.’ That’s just as bad as we had it under President Bush. These wars now belong to President Obama. The blood is on his hands.”

Henthorn is a member of Gold Star Families Speak Out, a national chapter of Military Families Speak Out whose members’ loved ones died a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jane Bright of West Hills, CA, the mother of Sgt. Evan Aschraft who was killed at the perimeter of an oil refinery in Iraq on July 24, 2003, is also a member of Gold Star Families Speak Out. She says:

"My son was the 249th U.S. service member killed in Iraq – it’s hard to believe that 5,000 of our troops have already died in Iraq and Afghanistan. How many more? We need to bring all our troops home from these wars and we need to take care of our veterans when theyreturn home, giving them the medical and psychological care and treatment they need and deserve.”

Maggie Pondolfino, a member of Military Families Speak Out from Portland, OR has been nervously watching the death toll in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rise as her son awaits a deployment to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army:

“It’s been over a year since my only son returned from a 14 month deployment to Iraq. Over a year since I was immobilized with dread at every unexpected knock on my door and every unfamiliar van parked in front of my house. Daily, I obsessively checked the Department of Defense casualty list. Too many times the names were close to home…someone from our state, or even someone from his platoon,” says Pondolfino. “I imagined the other mothers’ grief and wondered would I be able to endure it? Then I had a year of relative calm. I even celebrated a new administration and momentarily experienced the hope that seemed to engulf the country.

“Now as the nation braces for the news of the confirmation of the 5,000th death of a U.S. service member in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that the administration that briefly gave me new hope prepares to send my son to another war with no clear mission and no exit strategy. And how do I prepare? How do I prepare for another year of going through the motions of living, all the while wondering if he will come home and, if he does, will he have to fight a war within him? As hurtful as it is to say this, if he does not come home, my darling boy with his loving heart and keen intellect will have died for nothing. I know that no good will come from continuing the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, just more heartbreak, sorrow, and tragedy. When will we ever learn?”

Also see Antiwar.com