'/> Uncommon Hours: 2010
Blogging on culture, politics, and the environment since 2008.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A new documentary film about New York's Colony Records!

This sounds cool! A new documentary film is being made about New York City's fabled Colony Records in Times Square. Located in the historic Brill Building, the family-owned store has been a mecca for stars from every corner of the music business since 1948. One of the last remaining independent music stores in the country, Colony is battling to stay alive. The film celebrates both the rich tradition and present day story of this landmark of New York's cultural identity. Check out a trailer, read more about the film, and donate to the production at:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Obama's tax deal is a 'moral outrage'

Washington - Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued a statement in response to President Obama's deal to continue deficit funding the Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthiest of the wealthy:

"In my view, it is a moral outrage that at a time when this country has a $13.8 trillion national debt, a collapsing middle class and a growing gap between the very rich and everybody else that the Republicans would deny extended unemployment benefits to 2 million workers who are desperately struggling to pay their bills and maintain their dignity. It is also beyond comprehension that the Republicans would hold hostage the entire middle class of this country so that millionaires and billionaires would receive huge tax breaks. In my view, that is not what this country is about and it is not what the American people want to see. Our job is to save the disappearing middle class, not lower taxes for people who are already extraordinarily wealthy and increase the national debt that our children and grandchildren would have to pay.

"The immediate political task in front of us is to rally the American people so that in the next several weeks we can find at least a few Republicans who will join us in saying no to increasing the deficit by giving tax breaks to the wealthy and no to holding the unemployed and the middle class hostage.

"I believe that we have the American people on our side on this issue. My office, and I come from a small state, has received more than 600 calls today, 99 percent of them in opposition to this so-called compromise that the president negotiated with the Republicans.

"I will do everything in my power to stand up for the American middle class and defeat this agreement."

Source: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/12/07-12

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Eric Weltman: 'A Wasted Crisis'

How the environmental movement missed the moment on climate change.

By Eric Weltman
In These Times
December 1, 2010
"The solution ... is building a movement that can play hardball."
When BP's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers, the ensuing environmental crisis could have been a transformative moment for our nation's energy policy. It was not.

In the midst of widespread public outrage against the oil industry, years of effort by environmental organizations culminated in the Senate's failure to vote on a bill to combat climate change and spark a transition to renewable energy. Nor did the Senate approve needed reforms to the Oil Pollution Act that would eliminate the liability cap on oil companies.

The lack of results revealed tensions within the movement--differences revealed in climate change legislation that many environmentalists were glad to see die.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

World Meteorological Organization: Greenhouse gases hit record levels in 2009

WMO Highlights Concerns about Global Warming and Methane

24 November 2010 (WMO), Greenhouse gases have reached their highest levels recorded since preindustrial times, according to the World Meteorological Organization’s 2009 Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

The report also highlights concerns that global warming may lead to even greater emissions of methane from Arctic areas. According to the Bulletin, total radiative forcing of all long-lived greenhouse gases increased by
27.5% from 1990 to 2009 and by 1.0% from 2008 to 2009, reflecting the rising atmospheric burdens of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

“Greenhouse gas concentrations have reached record levels despite the economic slowdown. They would have been even higher without the international action taken to reduce them,” said WMO Secretary General Michel Jarraud. “In addition, potential methane release from northern permafrost, and wetlands, under future climate change is of great concern and is becoming a focus of intensive research and observations.”

Read the complete report here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ray McGovern: In His Own Words: Bush a Warmonger

U.S. Intelligence Thwarted Attack on Iran
By Ray McGovern

Why should George W. Bush have been “angry” to learn in late 2007 of the “high-confidence” unanimous judgment of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon four years earlier? Seems to me he might have said “Hot Dog!” rather than curse under his breath.

Nowhere in his memoir, Decision Points, is Bush’s bizarre relationship with truth so manifest as when he describes his dismay at learning that the intelligence community had redeemed itself for its lies about Iraq by preparing an honest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. As the Bush-book makes abundantly clear, that NIE rammed an iron rod through the wheels of the juggernaut rolling toward war.

Nowhere is Bush’s abiding conviction clearer, now as then, that his role as “decider” include the option to create his own reality.

The Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) has missed that part of the book. And hundreds of Dallas “sheriffs,” assembled to ensure decorum at the Bush library groundbreaking last week, kept us hoi polloi well out of presidential earshot.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hundreds of Concerned Citizens Protest Poison Tar Sands Oil Pipeline

Sierra Club National Week of Action Reveals Public Outcry against Keystone XL Pipeline

On Thursday, November 18, the Sierra Club released a new report, "Toxic Tar Sands: Profiles from the Front Lines," exposing the risks Americans face from expanded imports of Canada’s dirty tar sands oil. The State Department is currently considering approval for the massive Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry toxic tar sands oil across the United States.

Coinciding with the report release, hundreds of concerned citizens attended town hall meetings and demonstrations calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to stop the pipeline.

"As our nation’s worst-ever economic recession drags on, creating jobs in the clean energy sector should be priority number one," said Kate Collarulli, Director of the Sierra Club Dirty Fuels campaign. "Building the poisonous Keystone XL pipeline would put the brakes on clean energy, and exacerbate the pollution and public health problems that come with America’s dependence on dirty, dangerous oil."

The Sierra Club report details how the Keystone XL pipeline project would damage America’s health and clean energy economy, from start to finish:

Extraction of tar sands oil the pipeline would carry requires clearcutting ancient forest and using huge amounts of water and energy, then leaving behind toxic lakes linked to cancer

An oil spill from the pipeline could devastate aquifers that supply water to 30 percent of America’s irrigated farmland. More than 2,554 oil pipeline spills occurred in the U.S. between the years 2000-2009.

The pipeline would exacerbate air pollution and cancer, respiratory illness, and other health problems in communities surrounding oil refineries in Houston, Detroit, and Chicago.

Sierra Club members and concerned citizens from Montana to Texas spoke out this week against the pipeline, calling and emailing the State Department to ask Secretary Clinton to fully examine the pipeline’s impacts on public health and the environment before issuing permits for the project to move forward.

Tar Sands Frontlines Events:

  • On Thursday in Detroit, MI, dozens of residents of an African American community in southeast Detroit gathered next to the Marathon Oil refinery which is currently being expanded to accept tar sands oil from the Keystone XL pipeline. Detroit demonstrators held signs saying: 'Secretary Clinton: our Bodies are not Toxic Waste Zones!' and 'Clean Energy Jobs, Not Poison Pipelines!' Dr. Dolores Leonard, a retired professor who lives a few blocks from the Marathon refinery and was featured in the Sierra Club report, spoke at the event, saying, "there are so many health and quality-of-life problems resulting from all the heavy industry – and now tar sands – in the neighborhood, and we live with it every day. This tar sands refinery brings illness for miles around, along with stress for residents who are watching it being built… [We feel] trapped and helpless."
  • On Thursday in Lincoln, NE, ranchers and farmers whose land would be traversed by the Keystone XL pipeline met for a Town Hall Meeting to educate themselves about risks of the pipeline and thank their U.S. Senators Ben Nelson and Mike Johanns for expressing concerns about the pipeline to Secretary Clinton.
  • On Friday in downtown Chicago, IL, protestors with Rainforest Action Network will demonstrate outside of a conference of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, of which TransCanada – owner of the Keystone XL pipeline – is a member.
  • On Friday in Houston, TX, the Sierra Club will hold a press conference on the steps of City Hall, calling on Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Secretary Clinton to protect them from the polluting pipeline. Juan Parras, a resident of the Ship Channel neighborhood, will be joined by public health experts in speaking about Houston air pollution and increased likelihood of childhood leukemia, asthma, lung disease, cancer, and other diseases that would come from refining toxic tar sands oil. "Houstonians need more time to weigh in on the harmful effects of the Keystone XL pipeline," said Parras. "We are asking Secretary Clinton and Mayor Parker to fully evaluate the impacts of toxic tar sands oil before they bring it into our backyard."
  • On Friday in Missoula, MT, activists with the Indigenous Environmental Network and Northern Rockies Rising Tide will convene for an 'International Tar Sands Resistance Summit' to strategize about aiding communities negatively impacted by the Alberta tar sands excavation, the Keystone XL pipeline, and massive equipment shipments connected to pipeline construction.
  • Anti-pipeline activities also stretch into next week. Concerned citizens in Sioux Falls, SD, plan to hold a press conference featuring Carolyn Harkness and Ed Cable, whose rural community would be destroyed by a proposed new tar sands oil refinery, Hyperion.
  • In Topeka, KS, public officials and Sierra Club members will meet to express concerns about economically-strained municipalities granting massive tax breaks for TransCanada’s 'Keystone Cushing extension' pipeline, which has already been completed through a wide swath of Kansas farmland. Kansans will hear from Harry Bennett, a grain marketer and family farmer whose well-water supply is threatened by the pipeline. "This [tar sands oil] pipeline is a ticking time bomb," Bennett says. "A leak would take seconds to poison the land I’ve lived off for thirty-two years." [Note to Kansans: details for the Topeka event have not yet been announced.]
In the coming weeks, citizens will continue to organize and speak out against the Keystone XL pipeline and urge Secretary Clinton to support moving America beyond oil, towards a clean energy economy that creates new jobs, increases efficiency and grows domestic clean energy sources like wind and solar.

"This pipeline is not in our national interest. Fortunately, Secretary Clinton can still stop this dangerous project from moving forward," said Collarulli. "The last thing we need is more contamination of American air, water, and land from toxic Canadian tar sands oil."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Naomi Oreskes: 'Merchants of Doubt'

False Equivalencies and Selling Doubt: Naomi Oreskes at the University of Kansas

Bob Sommer
Uncommon Hours

One of the principal rhetorical devices of the reactionary right is the false equivalency. Creationism deserves an equal hearing to the science of evolution. The hate speech and violence of Tea Partiers (both actual and threatened) are somehow comparable to criticism of W by progressives during the long national nightmare of his presidency.

False equivalencies simplify arguments – for the media, for elections, for cable talk shows. They create doubt. They appeal to our sense of fairness. They’re easy.

But what they’re usually not is accurate or truthful. They’re also not organic to the logic or facts of a given argument. Fox News, Limbaugh, Beck, et al are the greatest current purveyors of false equivalencies, but the ease with which they use them owes much to the long history of pseudo-science used to disrupt efforts to address the dangers of tobacco use, the ozone hole, acid rain, and DDT. Now there’s climate change to deny.

Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway have traced this history in a new book, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (Bloomsbury Press).

Oreskes spoke recently at the University of Kansas. She described the institutional and corporate roots of the sham science used to promote opposition to addressing the threat of climate change and the greenhouse gas effect. Dr. James Hansen raised concerns about the rate of global warming in 1988, which resulted in the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The initial source of doubts about Hansen’s findings came from the George C. Marshall Institute, one of the original conservative “think tanks.”

The Marshall Institute and others like it (e.g., the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute) succeed not so much by debunking the science of climate change as by creating enough doubt about its validity through innuendo, suggestion, faulty logic and data, and false equivalencies to obstruct any progress toward addressing the problem.

The Marshall Institute’s air of gravitas is no fluke. Its founders included scientists Frederick Seitz and Robert Jastrow, both internationally recognized physicists but neither of them climate scientists. Yet, as Oreskes pointed out, they were willing to risk their reputations in order to take a stand against scientific concerns about the effects of acid rain and DDT, the health risks of tobacco, and finally climate change.


Not money, Oreskes said. Rather, “free market fundamentalism.”

Seitz, Jastrow, and others had taken up the ideology of the free market as developed by Milton Friedman and the so-called Chicago School of Economics, based at the University of Chicago.* The threats posed by climate science, anti-smoking campaigns, or prohibiting the use of DDT are threats against business and economic expansion, and by implication, against freedom itself. Notably, climate change is a global challenge. Coal-burning is a problem for the planet, not just for one country or region. Thus governmental solutions are needed – and thus, it’s an easy leap for conservatives and libertarians to raise the spectors of socialism and communism, which are ready-made to instill fear in a largely uninformed electorate.

During the question period, Oreskes noted the complicity of journalists in spreading doubt by treating the Marshall Institute and similar organizations as sources of “scientific” information without questioning the validity of the data or the motives of the organization. Thus, a false equivalency is spread. “Both sides” get a hearing, and doubt takes root.

* Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism is a compelling and thorough study of Friedman’s impact on global politics. Klein demonstrates the fallacy of the so-called “free market,” which, in instances she describes all over the globe, is supported by government intervention and sanctioned violence.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Watchdog Faults FBI for ‘Factually Weak’ Basis for Investigating Activists

By Marian Wang

The FBI in recent years opened investigations into some U.S. activists with little basis, unjustifiably extended the duration of the probes, improperly retained information about activist groups in its files, and classified its investigations of “nonviolent civil disobedience” as investigations into “acts of terrorism,” according to a report released today [1] (PDF) by the Justice Department’s Inspector General.

The FBI activities reviewed by the Justice Department took place from 2001 to 2006, and involved groups including the Thomas Merton Center (a Pittsburgh social justice center), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Greenpeace, The Catholic Worker (communities of religious pacifists) and a Quaker peace activist.

The report by the Justice Department watchdog didn’t find that the FBI  targeted these groups on the basis of their free speech activities — which would be a serious violation [2] of FBI guidelines — but did fault the agency for other reasons, most notably a “factually weak” basis for opening investigations.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rand Paul: In His Own Words

Rand Paul in His Own Extreme Words: "I don't think anybody's gonna be missing a hill or two here and there."

First Video Shows Senate Candidate Rand Paul’s Over-the Top Views

WASHINGTON, DC- Today the Sierra Club released a video it will be sending to members highlighting one of 2010’s most extreme political candidates, Rand Paul and urging Americans who voted for change in 2008 to vote again this November.

The video can be viewed at http://www.sierraclub.org/randpaul

"Tea Party Candidates like Rand Paul, Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Ken Buck, and Pat Toomey are trying to make Americans scared of even what little progress our country has made on clean energy, and global warming," said Cathy Duvall, Sierra Club's Political Director. "We are working to get the word out that we can't let these extremists run our government."

The campaign’s first video features clips from Senate candidate Rand Paul from Kentucky in which he supports destructive coal mining, mocks environment protection, dismisses global warming, and more. The video highlights some of his most outrageous quips, including his classic, "I don’t think anybody will be missing a hill or two here and there" dismissal of the destructive and controversial practice of exploding mountaintops for coal mining.

"We are telling our members and the public about the stark choices this election," said Duvall. "Do candidates support rebuilding America through a clean energy economy, or are they knee-jerk global warming deniers? Do they believe in responsible energy choices or the drill, baby, drill chant that led to the BP Disaster? Do they support giving Big Oil and corporations another bailout, or do they want to hold corporations accountable for the pollution they create?"

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Michael Moore: Liberals & the 'New York Times' are to blame for the Iraq War

Never Forget: Bad Wars Aren't Possible Unless Good People Back Them

By Michael Moore

I know we've been "free" of the Iraq War for two weeks now and our minds have turned to the new football season and Fashion Week in New York. And how exciting that the new fall TV season is just days away!

But before we get too far away from something we would all just like to forget, will you please allow me to just say something plain and blunt and necessary:

We invaded Iraq because most Americans -- including good liberals like Al Franken, Nicholas Kristof & Bill Keller of the New York Times, David Remnick of the New Yorker, the editors of the Atlantic and the New Republic, Harvey Weinstein, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer and John Kerry -- wanted to.

Of course the actual blame for the war goes to Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz because they ordered the "precision" bombing, the invasion, the occupation, and the theft of our national treasury. I have no doubt that history will record that they committed the undisputed Crime of the (young) Century.

But how did they get away with it, considering they'd lost the presidential election by 543,895 votes? They also knew that the majority of the country probably wouldn't back them in such a war (a Newsweek poll in October 2002 showed 61% thought it was "very important" for Bush to get formal approval from the United Nations for war -- but that never happened). So how did they pull it off?

Dave Eggers tells the story of one man's ordeal in Hurricane Katrina

Zeitoun, by novelist Dave Eggers, is the story of one man’s ordeal in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

By Leela Yellesetty

DAVE EGGERS' Zeitoun has been accumulating readers and awards for over a year now, but if you haven't picked it up yet, there could be no better time.

As we mark five years since the government's horrendous mishandling of Hurricane Katrina, and witness the disturbing Islamophobia accompanying the ninth anniversary of the "war on terror," Zeitoun offers an illuminating microcosm of both.
Zeitoun is the true story of how one immigrant's "American Dream" turned into a living nightmare. In 2005, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, known to most by his last name, ran a successful painting and contracting business with his wife Kathy in New Orleans, where they lived with their four children.

In the first part of the book we get to know and love the Zeitoun family. As Eggers said in an interview:

I was seeking to just tell a story about an all-American family that happens to be a Muslim. I wanted to sort of "de-exoticize" the idea of the Muslim-American family--to allow readers to learn about Kathy's conversion [to Islam] and see the functioning of a family that is exactly like their own. So a Christian reader can say, "Pretty much everything about that family is exactly like mine except I go to church and they go to a mosque."
I think storytelling has the power to sort of walk you through it, and put yourself in the shoes of another person...I think it's kind of startling that even though after 9/11 there has been this constant examination of Islam in the American media--"Who are Muslims? What do they want?"--and yet I think there is still an incredible amount of ignorance and misunderstanding.

It is this intimate connection to the family the author so effortlessly establishes that makes what happens to them all the more unbearable.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tar Sands soon coming to the U.S.

From itsgettinghotinhere.org:

By Juliana Williams

Today, the Utah Governor’s Energy Initiative Task Force will hold a public hearing to gather input on Utah’s 10-year energy plan. This hearing comes one day after the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining (DOGM) gave final approval for a tar sands mine in Eastern Utah, the first tar sands mine in the country.

“Approving tar sands one day, then asking for public input on the state’s energy future the next is either dishonest or dysfunctional,” said Ashley Anderson, coordinator for Peaceful Uprising, a US climate action organization based in Utah.

The PR Springs mine, to be operated by Canadian-based Earth Energy Resources, would occupy 213 acres in Grand and Uintah Counties in Eastern Utah. The site is within the Colorado River watershed, which supports 30 million people across the region. Earth Energy Resources expects to produce 2,000 barrels of crude bitumen per day, 350 days per year for 7 years.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sen. Baucus Calls for Hasty Approval of Dangerous Oil Pipeline

Proposed Tar Sands Pipeline Threatens Water, Air, Farmland, Health

This week, Montana Senator Max Baucus asked the U.S. State Department to speed a decision on whether or not to approve a massive new pipeline designed to carry the world's dirtiest oil from Canada into the United States.

The Keystone XL pipeline would crisscross Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, putting drinking water at risk for thousands of Americans and threatening one of the most important sources of agricultural water in the United States. The U.S. State Department is currently considering whether or not to grant a permit for the pipeline, and has received tens of thousands of comments from Americans urging that it not be built.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tell the EPA to regulate Toxic Coal Ash Emissions

Sierra Club Launches New Facebook Tool, Ads, Video

Washington, DC: As the Environmental Protection Agency continues a series of hearings across the country on how to regulate toxic coal ash, the Sierra Club is launching new efforts to educate and engage citizens, many of whom are unaware that they may live near a toxic coal ash site.

The Sierra Club's new Facebook application, the Toxic Coal Ash Site Locator, seeks to remedy that problem, allowing you to find out how close you, your friends and family live to these toxic dumps.

Left over after coal is burned, coal ash contains a dangerous mix of arsenic, mercury, lead and other pollution, pollution known to cause cancer and other serious illnesses. Living near some coal ash sites can be more dangerous than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

Already hundreds of residents from 16 states have traveled to hearings held in Virginia, Colorado, and Texas to speak out against this toxic threat. College students, tribal members, faith leaders, physicians and moms have been among those to voice their support for strong protections from dangerous coal ash.

Buses and carpools of concerned citizens from other parts of the country are expected at the EPA's remaining hearings. The Sierra Club will be arranging flights over massive coal ash dumps, holding rallies and even a human reenactment of the tragic coal ash disaster in Tennessee that turned the nation's attention to the problem of coal ash.

Print ads highlighting the cost of inaction on our children's future will run in several of the hearing cities including the Denver, Dallas, Charlotte and Pittsburgh. The print ads are part of an ongoing advertising campaign which also includes online ads on sites like Facebook, Red, Green and Blue, and Science Daily, online videos and a radio tour of the affected states.

Remaining hearings include:
- Charlotte, NC on September 14
- Chicago, IL on September 16
- Pittsburgh, PA on September 21
- Louisville, KY on September 28
- Knoxville, TN, week of October 25

For details visit www.sierraclub.org/coalash
Virginia Cramer, 804-225-9113 x 102

Friday, September 10, 2010

Americans Call For Tighter Regulation of Hydraulic 'Fracking' in Oil and Gas Drilling

Overflow Crowds of Concerned Residents Attend EPA Public Meetings across the Country

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. – Thousands of Americans are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a comprehensive study of the environmental and health threats of natural gas fracturing. Pollution from this drilling technique – commonly known as fracking – has been the focus of three heavily attended public meetings in Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania this summer. The final meetings, next week in Binghamton, N.Y., drew so much interest that the EPA was initially forced to reschedule them.

"Natural gas companies should welcome additional scrutiny and embrace regulation that will protect public health and the environment," said Sierra Club Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton. "Indeed some of them have already called for greater disclosure. EPA’s proposed scope of study is a good first step but it can and should go much further. This hydraulic fracturing study must be fully funded to allow an in-depth analysis of the data. We also need changes in federal and state regulations requiring this industry to protect our air, water, and communities."

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sebastian Junger's 'War,' reviewed in Rain Taxi

Sebastian Junger
Twelve ($26.99)

by Bob Sommer

In April of this year, U.S. military forces abandoned the five-year effort to control Afghanistan’s notorious and remote Korengal Valley. It wasn’t necessarily surprising that few Americans noticed; a brief and unceremonious NATO press release euphemistically described the move as a “realignment.” But then, this war has gone on for years without much attention paid by many, though Dancing with the Stars got a ratings boost that same month as Kate Gosselin kicked up her heels in living rooms throughout the land.

My son spent fifteen months in the so-called “Valley of Death” with a company from the 10th Mountain Division—the predecessors of the soldiers depicted in Sebastian Junger’s new book, War—so this quiet retreat from the Korengal, following an exhaustive and costly effort, seemed to me emblematic of how inconspicuously the war in Afghanistan has been waged.

Read the complete review at Rain Taxi Review of Books

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

To see what 'clean coal' energy from Holcomb II is really all about, Kansans need only look to the 'costly nightmare' in Illinois

A Tale of Two Coal-Fired Utility Plants
Bob Sommer

As public hearings begin on the question of whether to allow construction of an 895 megawatt coal-fired utility plant in southwest Kansas, it’s worthwhile to consider the consequences for Illinois residents who agreed to a similar plan long ago. While most plans for coal plants have been shelved in recent years due to financial risks, one plant slipped by in Illinois, which is now causing many to second guess the decision to invest in such a risky energy source. Notably, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich played a significant role in promoting the project.

Promised cheap energy from so-called “clean coal,” communities throughout Illinois and the Midwest may find themselves with higher utility bills after costs for plant construction more than doubled from the original estimates, according to a report in The Chicago Tribune. Additionally, the 800 megawatt Prairie State Energy Campus plant will be anything but “clean.” Pumping millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, it will be the single largest contributor to greenhouse gases built in the U.S. in the last 25 years.

Further, most of the new jobs associated with the plant will not be at the utility, but rather at the nearby Peabody Energy coal mining operation. For Kansans this is important for a couple of reasons. There are no similar prospects for mining jobs in Kansas, and the estimated 200 new long-term jobs promised by Sunflower Electric pale before the possibility of thousands of jobs that a clear cut focus on wind and other renewable energy sources might bring to the state. But, if we fill the grid with coal-fired electrons, we impair our ability to develop fully clean energy resources by cutting into wind’s market share.

The close links between mining and energy production are hardly limited to Illinois. Big coal has a big interest in seeing a new Sunflower plant built in Kansas. Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a Colorado-based energy consortium that has promised to purchase electricity from Kansas and numbers Sunflower among its members, also belongs to the Western Fuels Association, which owns mines in Wyoming—where coal would be purchased for Holcomb II. And the last time Sunflower attempted to gain approval for this plant through lobbying efforts in the legislature, Peabody Energy, which operates coal mines in Wyoming, Colorado, and the Southwest, underwrote some of the advertising to promote the plant. The takeaways here are that the economic benefits will leave the state, along with most of the electricity, while the costs and environmental damage will remain, and the parties who most tout the plant’s benefits to Kansans have multiple interests in promoting coal over other energy options.

Which suggests another lesson from the Illinois morality tale—namely, that building vast coal-burning energy plants is an investment in the past, not the future. As awareness has grown of the imminent threat that carbon emissions on this scale pose to our environment and way of life, similar construction plans have been scrapped all over the country. A recent survey also revealed that a majority of Kansans favor developing clean energy sources.

The estimates for building new coal-burning utility plants usually fail to include the environmental costs. For example, with diminishing water resources in the Midwest, do we preserve water to grow food in Kansas, or do we use scarce water resources to produce power for Colorado, who will get most of the electricity produced and whom we have fought for years over water? Air quality may also be affected throughout central and eastern Kansas and beyond. And what effect will particulate matter, mercury, and other noxious elements have on soil and crops throughout the state? Finally, with all that we now know about the threat of greenhouse gases to the planet’s health, does it make sense to pursue this backward-looking course when so many alternatives are available, and when the project is not needed in Kansas?

The public comment period for Sunflower's Holcomb Station coal plant runs from July 1 through August 15.

Public comments can be submitted at the KDHE website at any time during that period.

For the time and location of public hearings, click the following links:
August 2, 2010 in Overland Park, Kansas
August 4, 2010 in Salina, Kansas
August 5, 2010 in Garden City, Kansas

Helpful information on the potential impact of the proposed Sunflower plant can be found at these sites:

Bob Sommer is the Political Chair of the Kansas Sierra Club.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Pfc. Bradley Manning could go to prison for half a century for the 'crime' of revealing the truth

Charged for revealing the truth
Alan Maass

First posted at socialistworker.org
July 9, 2010

THE U.S. military is pressing criminal charges against a whistleblower for allegedly leaking information to the watchdog Web site WikiLeaks.org, including the video of an Apache helicopter strike in Baghdad that killed at least 12 civilians and caused a scandal for the Pentagon.

Pfc. Bradley Manning faces eight charges, including espionage, and could go to jail for more than half a century if found guilty.

All for the "crime" of exposing the unacknowledged crimes of the American military.

Manning has also been accused of turning over at least 150,000 diplomatic cables from the State Department to WikiLeaks--as well as encrypted video of another air strike, this one in Granai, Afghanistan, which killed 140 civilians. WikiLeaks has so far published only one such embarrassing cable, and it has not released the Granai video.

The 22-year-old Manning, who was stationed at a U.S. base east of Baghdad, was arrested by military authorities in May and has been in detention in Kuwait since. He was fingered to the military by a computer hacker named Adrian Lamo. Lamo claims that Manning started communicating with him online, and admitted to being the source of the WikiLeaks exposé.

But there's reason to doubt Lamo's story--not least because he was convicted of hacking into news and corporate Web sites and served a sentence of house arrest and probation that could leave him vulnerable to pressure by authorities.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

'Fugitive Days,' by Bill Ayers

Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Antiwar Activist, by Bill Ayers

Reviewed by Bob Sommer
(Originally published in the Spring 2009 print issue of Rain Taxi Review of Booksthis review appears here on-line for the first time.)

The first edition of Bill Ayers’ Fugitive Days had about as untimely a release as a book by someone who participated in planting a bomb inside the Pentagon could have: September 10, 2001. The following morning, a feature article about Ayers appeared in the New York Times under the stark headline, “No Regrets for a Love of Explosives.” Ayers would soon refute the article, but few New Yorkers spent much time with the papers that morning. Whatever benefit of the doubt readers might have given this compelling memoir vaporized in the day’s events. The Times book review of Sept. 30, 2001, typified much of the commentary that followed: “In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that killed thousands of people in Lower Manhattan and the Pentagon, readers will find this playacting with violence very difficult to forgive.”

From the wingnuts on the right, to left-leaning publications like Slate and The Nation, to the scores of comments at Amazon.com, the single question that most readers ask is whether Ayers expressed remorse for his role in the Weather Underground, which is the political and literary equivalent of judging a gymnast solely on whether she “sticks” the landing. Many assume that everything he did was morally wrong. During last year’s election, Ayers was downright radioactive; few in either party doubted his guilt, only the extent of Barack Obama’s connection to him. But any marketing wizard will tell you that bad publicity is better than no publicity, so the publisher took advantage of the unwanted attention, releasing Fugitive Days in paperback the day after the election, with a new subtitle, a new afterword by Ayers, and perhaps new hope for a fresh hearing.

This is an extraordinary story told by a writer of exceptional skill, a tour through a world that few people know, rendered sensitively, candidly, and often with a self-deprecating wit that Ayers turns on himself and his group with surgical skill. The book’s effectiveness, too, resides in an easy narrative flow that draws on the traditions of picaresque and bildungsroman novels. It is a story of Ayers’s kinship with many activists of that time. It is also a love story, rooted in Ayers’s grief for the loss of Diana Oughton (who died in the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion in 1970) and for Bernadine Dohrn, with whom he lived underground and eventually married.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

'Hands Across the Sand': Kansas City

Opponents of offshore drilling line the International Bridge
in Kansas City as part of Hands Across the Sand.

On Saturday, June 26th, activists, environmentalists, and people who’d never attended a public protest rally of any kind formed symbolic human chains at 750 locations worldwide to demonstrate their opposition to offshore drilling for oil and their support for clean energy policies.

Hands Across the Sand began in Florida as a statewide effort to oppose lifting the ban on drilling in Florida waters months before the Deepwater Horizon sank in the Gulf of Mexico .

In Kansas City, about sixty people participated in Hands Across the Sand, lining Ward Parkway and later marching across the International Bridge in a show of solidarity with opponents of offshore drilling.

I asked a number of participants two questions: Why are you here today? And do you have any message for Judge Martin L.C. Feldman of the United States District Court in New Orleans, who lifted the moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Here are some responses:

“The point of being out here today is to say that we have to change the way we live. We have to stop using so much oil if we’re going to stop future gushers. The only solution to a disaster like this is phasing out oil and getting on to clean energy as quickly as we can.”

"We fool ourselves if think judges are above politics and above self interest. I think [Judge Feldman] was acting on his own self interest, however subconsciously, with this ruling. The government should have the power to put a moratorium on this deep water drilling because they’re proving every day that they don’t know how to stop a gusher this deep.”
―John Kurmann, 350KC

“That’s a good question: Why is Kansas out protesting offshore oil drilling since we don’t have any shores in Kansas? We’re standing here in solidarity with those on the coast who are protesting, and we want them to stand up with us when we talk about clean energy in Kansas, and together we’ll all have a safe green energy and economy.”
―Steve Baru, Chair of the Sierra Club’s Kanza Group
“Because I realize that there’s power in numbers and because we want to relay a message to people who may not think about this even though it’s in the news every day, and just make a statement, a peaceful statement.”

―Robbie Meyer, first-time protester
“I’m here because the nation needs to understand the seriousness of this problem and needs to act for stronger and better regulations for this kind of drilling, if it’s going to continue at all.”
―Elaine Giessel, marine biologist and Sierra Club member

“It’s gone too far. If we don’t stop it now we’re doomed.”
―Barbara Wallin

“I’m here because I’m concerned about what’s happening in the Gulf and about the environment in general and America’s lack of action to help resolve global climate change.”
―Susan Pavlakis, Sierra Club member

Emily Hatcher, Eric Page, Felicia Drury, and Mike Drury

"I'm here because we need to quit our dependence on oil and move to greener and cleaner energies. There’s no reason we should be dependent on oil in this day and age and we just need to stop.”
―Felicia Drury
“We can’t keep going like we are now and keep this planet as it is.”
―Mike Drury

“Stop offshore drilling! We have many cleaner energy options that we’re choosing not to use. We’re putting profit over our environment, and that needs to end.”
―Emily Hatcher

“Accountability. We’re killing the earth and the future. It’s the most important issue we face.”
―Brent Almasi

“The thing is that we are responsible. It’s not just BP. It’s us. When you use a plastic bag, when you go to the store and buy something plastic made in China, you are just as responsible for what’s happened in the Gulf as BP, and we have to take responsibility, and to do that, we’ve got to stop consuming crap.”
―Vicki Walker

“Clean energy now! Right now!” ―Lori Wohlschlaeger
“I’m here because it’s obvious that we need to get off oil and other fossil fuels. We should have done that decades ago, and now we’ve got a big accident that just shows the true cost of using oil. Gasoline should cost ten dollars a gallon, but we subsidize it so heavily.”

“I think President Obama was correct in trying to get a ban on deepwater drilling because obviously this accident shows that they don’t know what they’re doing. This thing is almost as dangerous as a nuclear plant and yet it’s regulated much more weakly.”
―Craig Volland, Sierra Club member
“We have solutions. There are really good solutions to get us off oil. If we all work together we can get it done and move to a clean energy society.”

“[Judge Feldman and supporters of offshore drilling] have to understand that they don’t realize the damage this has done to us, and not just to the people in Louisiana but to people all across the country. The people of the United States get it, and we can’t allow them to continue this very damaging process. It’s going to destroy our environment forever. The ecosystems and the ocean are all connected, and we have to tell that judge, ‘No, sit down, shut up!’ We can solve the problem if can stop people like him from allowing the damage to continue.”
―Joe Spease, Sierra Club member
“I’m a labor person. I’m for strong unions and better wages, but I’m also for good jobs, clean jobs good green jobs.”

―Molly Madden, labor organizer

“We need to finally take steps to get away from gas and oil.”
―Diane Ranum

"What she said!" ―Rick Ranum

Bob Sommer
Uncommon Hours

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sea Shepherd Capt. Paul Watson: '...what is the alternative? To do nothing, to be another docile, submissive, unquestioning slave to a paradigm of blind greed?'

An Amusing Shade of Blue
Commentary by Captain Paul Watson

It seems my reputation as an international eco-desperado has been notched up this week with my name posted by Japan on the Interpol “Blue List.”

It’s surprisingly exciting. I feel so Jason Bourne!

It’s kind of amusing really. Japan is becoming increasingly more desperate to stop our interventions against their illegal whaling activities. Earlier this week, they held a special session at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to illustrate and condemn the actions of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The presentation was complete with edited video images and glossy color pictures with circles and arrows on each one, explaining every “eco-terroristic” detail in numerous languages, of my merry band of eco-nauts against the poor, little, misunderstood, and pathetically whining rants of the whale killers.

Hell, you can’t buy this kind of recognition.

Worldwide gathering against offshore drilling: 'Hands across the Sand'



WHO: Thousands of citizens from every state in the U.S., Puerto Rico and D.C., and 20 countries
WHAT: Citizens will gather on beaches and inland communities and join hands to recognize the tragedy in the Gulf and call for clean energy, no more offshore drilling
WHEN: Saturday, June 26
WHERE: 700 events nationwide and worldwide. NOTE: A complete list of events, all of which begin at 11 a.m. local time this Saturday, can be found here: http://www.handsacrossthesand.org/.

A list of key events the media may wish to cover follows at the end of this advisory.

VISUALS: Citizens will gather with signs and props and will join hands along scenic stretches of beach and inland cities and communities

Background: Hands Across the Sand was founded by Florida restaurant owner and surfer Dave Rauschkolb. The Sierra Club has organized hundreds of Hands Across the Sand events as part of its Beyond Oil campaign, aimed at ending America's oil dependence over the next 20 years. http://action.sierraclub.org/Hands

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sierra Club to join Obama Administration in appealing Gulf offshore drilling decision

On June 7, 2010, Hornbeck Offshore Services, a company that provides vessel support to offshore oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, filed a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration's moratorium on deepwater drilling.

Bollinger Shipyard Companies, Bee Mar Deepwater Vessels Companies and Chouest Shore Side, Vessel, and Shipyard Companies joined the lawsuit against the Obama administration.
The Sierra Club, along with other groups, including the Florida Wildlife Federation, intervened on behalf of the government. The groups are represented by Earthjustice.

The Sierra Club will join the Obama administration in appealing the judge's decision.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Don't call it a ‘spill’

Don't call it a ‘spill’
By Bob Sommer
Uncommon Hours

The media likes to call the catastrophe in the Gulf a spill. A Google search on oil spill brings up 681,000,000 results in 0.19 seconds! Famously, BP’s link appears before all of them with the promising subtitle, “GulfOfMexicoResponse.” No doubt they’re on it.

A couple of entries down from BP, Wikipedia offers a definition for oil spill: “… a release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment due to human activity … a form of pollution.”

Yes, but is it a spill?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Protesters Arrested at Nuke-Parts Plant in Kansas City

Protesters Arrested at Nuke-Parts Plant in Kansas City
By Jane Stoever and Ann Suellentrop

The National Nuclear Security Administration's Kansas City Plant, managed by Honeywell to help make nuclear weapons, became the scene of civil disobedience for the first time June 18. Four people were arrested when they blocked the employees' entrance to the plant, while about 35 supporters blocked the plant's front driveway.

Crosses were planted along the highway and chalk bodies colored the sidewalks. A huge sheet-turned-banner told the story of death and destruction related to the plant. More than a dozen vehicles from NNSA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Kansas City Police came to the scene, and a police helicopter hovered overhead.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

David Bates: The Katrina Paintings

David Bates: The Katrina Paintings
Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
(showing through August 22, 2010)

Bob Sommer
Uncommon Hours

The Storm Triptych (panel 1), 2006-2007

If a distinction exists between art and social and political commentary, it vanishes in the current exhibit at the Kemper Museum, David Bates: The Katrina Paintings.

Like most Americans, Bates watched and was moved by the catastrophe on the Gulf Coast five years ago as it unfolded on TV. He began sketching as he watched. His early drawings – some on plain, lined writing paper – became the seeds of the extensive series of paintings he created over the next three years, and which can now be viewed at the Kemper.

Dozens upon dozens of faces confront viewers – filled with sorrow, loss, tragedy, and above all a sense of betrayal. Many cover their faces with hands that are worn and calloused from lifetimes of work.

The paintings are large, imposing. In the gallery you find yourself surrounded by people who have been victimized not only by nature’s force, but by the country’s failure to respond with timely assistance – and for some, a failure even to empathize with the victims. Most of the paintings depict African-Americans. The multitude of faces crowded into The Storm Triptych remind us also of how eager some were to blame the victims, how in fact, the events even became an excuse to terrorize them.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Pax tecum, Kris!

Kris Cheatum
(1937 - 2010)

Lynn and Kris Cheatum at an antiwar rally in 2008.
(Photo by Bob Sommer)

If you’ve driven past Mill Creek Park in Kansas City on almost any Sunday afternoon since the Iraq War began, you’ve probably seen Kris Cheatum.

She was the petite, grandmotherly woman out along 47th Street protesting the war.

I met Kris and her husband Lynn in 2008, when I did an article for The Kansas City Star on the local peace movement. Her energy, enthusiasm, and good cheer were not only infectious but amazing. She was 71 at the time and had come out on that blustery afternoon to join the other activists, even though she was still recovering from a recent leg injury!

Kris passed away on Sunday, June 6th, at Research Medical Center.

Her activism began with the civil rights movement during the 1960s, when she marched for fair housing in Kansas City, sometimes carrying her infant son to rallies and protest events. She advocated for social justice throughout her life. She was a board member of PeaceWorks Kansas City and edited the newsletter that reliably appears in my mailbox every month.

Kansas City lost one of its great citizens this week, and the country lost one of its most energetic and inspirational peace activists.

Click here for Kris's obituary in The Kansas City Star.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Paint it black

I came across this passage recently in Italo Calvino’s compelling (and prescient) 1983 novel, Mr. Palomar:

“In greasy, multicolored glints the skin of oil spreads out, rippling on the water; a material consistency can be doubted in the glint of the sun, but not in this trace of the physical presence of man, who scatters excess fuel in his wake, detritus of combustion, residues that cannot be assimilated, mixing and multiplying the life and death around him.”

Just seemed to resonate, for some reason.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Robert Reich: The President Must Take Charge

'When Everything Seems Out of Control, the President Must Take Charge'
By Robert Reich
Originally posted at robertreich.org

As voters head to the polls today for primaries in 12 states, their anger is showing.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll released today shows that fewer than three in 10 voters say they will support their representative in the House in the mid-term election four months from now. That’s a lower percentage than in 1994 — when Republicans recaptured the House and Senate.

Their anger is rooted in the continuing awfulness of the economy. Fed Chair Ben Bernanke said today the economy appeared to have enough momentum to avoid a double-dip recession. That’s hardly reassuring to 15 million jobless Americans. Nor to all those with jobs who are earning less than they did three years ago because they’re temps or part-timers or have had to settle for lower wages.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Worse Than Vietnam?

Rep. Alan Grayson: 'The Longest War'

The Longest War
By Rep. Alan Grayson (FL-8)

Posted at Huffington Post: June 6, 2010 10:28 AM

Today, the war in Afghanistan becomes America's longest war. Longer than the war in Vietnam. Longer than the Korean War.

It took America two years to end World War I, and bring peace to the world. World War II was a little harder; that took us 3½ years to finish off.

The war in Afghanistan is over eight years old. And we're sending in more troops. We're not getting out. We getting deeper in.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

But does Obama have an inner TR?

In his column today, Frank Rich says the BP oil spill could be for the Obama presidency what Standard Oil was for Teddy Roosevelt's and kick off a new Progressive Era of trustbusting.

"This all adds up to a Teddy Roosevelt pivot-point for Obama," Rich writes, "who shares many of that president’s moral and intellectual convictions. But Obama can’t embrace his inner T.R. as long as he’s too in thrall to the supposed wisdom of the nation’s meritocracy, too willing to settle for incremental pragmatism as a goal, and too inhibited by the fine points of Washington policy debates to embrace bold words and bold action. If he is to wield the big stick of reform against BP and the other powerful interests that have ripped us off, he will have to tell the big story with no holds barred."

The question, however, is whether Obama really has an inner TR to channel. There's been no evidence in his presidency of a true progressive spirit. Just the opposite. He escalated the failed war in Afghanistan and then used the Nobel Peace Prize speech (of all things!) to rationalize that escalation, which perhaps revealed more about his convictions than a controlled and clearly staged hissy-fit about BP's new ad campaign. His announcement at West Point that more troops were going to Afghanistan might have been delivered by W himself.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Raw Video: Dozens of Heavily Oiled Birds Off La.

Have you noticed this?

BP has purchased search terms to make sure you find your way to their website, where they can control the message. When you punch in "oil spill" at Google or Yahoo, BP's home page is highlighted at the top of the page.

Apparently share value is the only value, in case anyone still doubted that.

Read more here.

As BP Disaster Spreads, Sierra Club Launches 'Beyond Oil' Campaign

June 4, 2010
Contact: Kristina Johnson
(415) 977-5619

Venice, La.- Today, the Sierra Club launched a new campaign urging President Obama to respond the BP oil disaster in the Gulf with a bold plan to end America's dependence on oil in the next twenty years. The Sierra Club's "Beyond Oil" campaign will include rallies and events around the nation, paid ads, a new website, a short documentary and videos. The organization will be mobilizing its 1.3 million members and supporters, and conducting robust outreach to concerned Americans everywhere.

Sierra Club's Executive Director Michael Brune was in the Gulf this week touring the disaster site for the second time. After seeing oiled birds and struggling dolphins, Brune issued a call to action for all Americans who feel helpless in the face of the disaster and want to make sure it never happens again.

You can watch a video of Brune in the Gulf here: http://www.beyondoil.org/

Friday, June 4, 2010

To whom was Tony Hayward really playing?

BP CEO Tony Hayward kept it short at his Thursday press conference, promising to “restore the shoreline to its original state.”

“We will be here for a very long time,” he added. “We realize this is just the beginning.”

But he wasn’t in front of the cameras for a very long time. He took just a few questions, and then he was gone.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Hey, CNBC, how're we doing?

Ever wonder how smart the talking heads on CNBC are?

Here are a couple of random headlines I saved from earlier this year, just to see how they’d do:

Feb 24, 2010:

'Market to Rise 10%—Buy Techs & Banks: Stock Picker'

David Katz, chief investment officer of Matrix Asset Advisors, said, “We think the year ends about 10 to 12 percent higher on the year, probably 13 to 15 percent higher from here.”

March 1, 2010:

' 'Powerful' 17% S&P Growth in 2010: Equity Strategist Phil Dow'

Phil Dow, director of equity strategy at RBC Wealth Management, called for the S&P 500 to reach 1300 by year’s end, "roughly 17 percent [growth] for the year."

Well, to make his target, Dow’s prediction will have to earn 19% from today’s level, and he now has just seven months to get there.

As to Katz, all of the market’s rollicking gains since his Feb. 24 prediction are gone and the S&P is sitting below its level on that date.

Note the eye-catching headlines, too. CNBC gets the credit for them.

Chart courtesy of StockCharts.com

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Did Bob Herbert visit Uncommon Hours?

I’d like to flatter myself that Bob Herbert checked out my Memorial Day post before he wrote his column for today’s NYT:

"The first thing we can do," wrote Herbert, "is conserve more. That’s the low-hanging fruit in any clean-energy strategy."

Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day, BP, and us

Memorial Day, BP, and us

Bob Sommer
Uncommon Hours

Today, Memorial Day, is also day 42 of the BP oil leak. Tens of thousands of barrels of oil have washed up onto the Gulf shores and infiltrated the fragile wetlands. The much anticipated (and over-hyped) “Top Kill” effort to stanch the flow has failed. Massive underwater plumes, comparable in size to the combined states of Delaware and Maryland, threaten to destroy undersea life and the seabed for generations to come, and may soon enter the tidal loop that will carry oil into the Keys, around the Florida peninsula, and up the East Coast.

We’re choking on our addiction to this stuff.

And the tragedy in the Gulf bears a direct connection to the most recent of the military deaths that we commemorate today.

Over 5,500 American service men and women have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since the inception of these wars. Memorial Day honors them, but not the uncounted lives of Iraqis and Afghans who’ve also died as a result of our presence in these countries, perhaps as many as a million, most certainly in the hundreds of thousands.

Monday, May 17, 2010

'Coal, Coral, and Climate Change: The Kansas Connection': The Sierra Club's Kanza Group holds its annual fundraiser

“Coral, Coal, and Climate Change: The Kansas Connection” was the theme for the Sierra Club's Kanza Group fundraiser.

Marine biologist Dr. Judy Lang described the devastation to Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico coral reefs and waters as a result of herbicides and pesticides that have travelled down the Mississippi from the Heartland.

Dr. Judy Lang (right) discusses climate change with Sierra Club member Chet McLaughlin.

Congressman Dennis Moore (D-Kan. 3rd), on the right, was recognized for his career-long commitment to the environment with the Sierra Club's "Teddy Roosevelt People's Conservation Award." Moore will retire at the end of this term. His wife, Stephene Moore (center), has announced her candidacy to fill his seat. Steve Baru, the Kanza Group Chair, is on the left.

Sierra Club member Marty Kraft (left) received a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his lifelong commitment to environmental causes. A teacher and writer, Kraft was described by the editor of Earth Times as "one of the best examples on how to [think globally and act locally], and his ideas can work anywhere a person decides to make those connections." Dr. Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (right), the Kansas Poet Laureate, began the evening's program with a poetic invocation.

Stephanie Cole (left) coordinates the Coal Campaign for the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club. Lynate Pettengill (right) is the Chapter's fundraiser.

Executive Committee member Joe Spease and Sierra Club volunteers Carol and Joe Wagner (left to right) were ready to check in guests at the Lenexa Conference Center.

Becky and Jim Graham baked some outrageously rich brownies and helped coordinate food for the event. Jim is on the Kanza Group's Executive Committee.

Johnson County Commissioner Annabeth Surbaugh and Mr. Doug Airey.

Auction Chair Craig Wolfe rounded everyone up for the program. Wolfe serves on the Executive Committees of the Kanza Group and the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Linda Meisinger (right) was recognized for her work in attempting to stop construction of a major railyard in Gardner, Kan. Linda's daughter Gretchen (left) was there to represent her sister, Lisa, who was also recognized. Emcee Steve Baru made the awards.

Sharyl Kennedy and Bob Fritsch. Bob is on the Kanza Group Executive Committee.

Sierra Club member Doug Stecklein (left) received the "Bright Idea Award." Doug has shown dozens of businesses in the Kansas City area how to save thousand of dollars by switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs. Auction Chair Craig Wolfe made the award.

Joe Spease (right) was recognized for his exhaustive work chairing the Legislative Committee.

All photos by Bob Sommer. Share freely, but please credit.
Thank you.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Why Our Planet Needs the Humanities

It’s not a big leap from, say, the decline of humanities education in the U.S. and the surge of anti-intellectualism best personified by (though not restricted to) the Tea Party movement to the seemingly unstoppable collective suicide we’re committing by ravaging this planet.

In Kansas, the same legislators who defend coal-fired utility plants and annual prairie burning just voted to slash education budgets statewide, while nationwide, we’re looking at 150,000 to 300,000 teacher layoffs.

President Obama, who is holding firm on offshore drilling even as a massive disaster in the Gulf tragically illustrates the many ways this approach to energy independence is wrong-headed, has also taken the side of those who see education as predominantly serving to enhance corporate competitiveness in a global world rather than as a vital component in the preservation and enrichment of our democracy. His stated opposition (at once both politically shrewd and toothless) to the recent Supreme Court ruling on corporate citizenship and to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision to hack that much farther into the civil liberties of Americans notwithstanding, Obama’s intensified standards for No Child Left Behind continue to denude our classrooms of any function beyond test preparation, which in turn deprives students of the humanistic knowledge and thinking skills needed to challenge the militant anti-intellectualism of the Palins, Becks, Limbaughs, and Bushes, who are waging a successful campaign against civility, learning, imaginative & critical thinking, and ultimately our democracy.

I found this piece by Troy Jollimore stimulating, as it addresses first causes and leads one to ask whether environmental sanity isn't directly connected to students having the opportunity to read widely in literature, philosophy, and history, and whether they will have teachers with the preparation, dedication, and resources needed to guide that reading and raise meaningful questions about it.

"Why Democracy Needs the Humanities"

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Poet Ted Kooser appears at the University of Kansas

Ted Kooser, the nation’s 13th Poet Laureate, is as understated as his poems. He appeared last evening at the University of Kansas, in conjunction with National Poetry Month, where he read from his poetry and responded to questions from an audience of about 150.

He is a slender man with receding gray hair and wire-rimmed glasses, who finds humor and poetry in the objects and people that surround us but seem to have little or no dramatic interest – an elderly couple sharing a sandwich in a restaurant, a woman tossing dishwater from the back porch, the sound of a plane overhead in the middle of the night.

Kooser described his preference to be “outside the poem, like the spy in the hotel lobby.” Most of his poems are short lyrics of observation, but he brings to them refreshing and precise metaphors that remind us of why poetry matters, why we need poets to aid us in seeing the world clearly.

In “The Rainy Morning,” for instance, we watch as “the wind turns the pages of rain.” The old man in “Two Men on an Errand” has “white hair fine as a cirrus cloud.” And the skater in Kooser’s poem by the same name lands her jump on a frozen Nebraska pond, “smiling back at the woman she’d been just an instant before” – a metaphor that suggests not only her movement through time, but her success at landing the jump, previously anticipated, yet to be accomplished, with failure a prospect, and all of that immanent in the image.

During the questions, he was asked what advice he had for aspiring poets, and his response was simple: read.

“Read one hundred poems for every one try to write,” he said, adding, “Reading is the most important thing you can do.”