Monday, May 31, 2010

As we move away from oil, let's return to land-based production as far as we still need any oil

The fifth or sixth (I've lost count) attempt to stop or control the oil gusher a mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico has officially been abandoned today.

With the trend towards renewable energy continuing (people may debate about the rate, but nobody is suggesting that we stop moving in that direction) it becomes a legitimate question to ask how much oil we will still need and where to get it from. The assumption that people were operating under even as recently as five years ago (before we had $4 a gallon oil and foreign policy setbacks made it clear that international oil consumption was enabling dictators like Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) that mankind would sooner or later drain all the oil on the planet before switching to something that was supposed to cost more is no longer even a remotely valid point of view.

Germany (hardly the land of sunshine) already derives as much as 20% of its electricity from solar power. And anyone who lives here in Navajo County can attest to the fact that wind energy would be a plentiful resource here (there is already a wind farm near Snowflake and more are being proposed.)

Certainly even if we plunged full bore into the development and replacement of the fleet of cars now clogging our fuel pumps with hybrid and electric vehicles we would still need oil in the short term. But a finite amount.

And if a finite amount then it becomes fair to ask what the best source is. And the answer is pretty plain:

Oil taken from dry land on the North American continent. While there are certainly issues around, for example, the development of oil sands in Alberta, the fact is that oil that is produced and can be pumped over dry land is far less hazardous to the environment than anything in the water (forget the current spill, just remember past episodes like the 1979 Mexican spill or the Exxon Valdez, where oil in the water just could not be cleaned up or contained until it slimed and smeared miles of beaches.)

Bet you didn't know that just last week there was a major oil spill from the Alaska pipeline, did you? But there was. And certainly it did cause some local damage to the environment. But that's the key-- local damage. It was contained and the pipeline will be restarted precisely because the damage is local. There is no current to carry it hundreds of miles away like there is in the sea. And British Petroleum-- which ironically also is the main owner of the pipeline right now, is waiting for the green light to reopen it.

Here is a key paragraph from the linked article:

The pipeline is technically ready to begin pumping oil again, but is awaiting a review of the repair process by the Department of Transportation, Alyeska spokeswoman Michelle Egan said. Alyeska had hoped to begin operations at noon local time (4 p.m. EDT). Egan said she didn't know how long it would take for regulators to finish their review.

Egan said the amount of time before Alyeska would have to ask producers to cut their pumping rate further below 8% is "measured in hours, not days," and that the company is hopeful it will get regulatory approval to restart operations before then.

In other words it's under far better control than the Gulf oil spill. Even if you have a worst-case scenario-- a blowout-- on land, you call Red Adair and he comes and caps it off quickly.

Oil shipped between continents may be drilled on land but there is always the possibility of a tanker spill like the Exxon Valdez. That is why I believe that we may need to build pipelines on land-- just keep it away from the water.

The first step is indeed to commit to moving away from oil. Once we do that, we have the luxury of deciding which oil we will continue to use during the transition, and it is clear that it should be land-based oil

Friday, May 21, 2010

Rand Paul calls criticism of BP "un-American."

Rand Paul, the new Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate seat from Kentucky is a hero of the Tea Party.

Some hero. For starters, he said that he believes businesses should have the right to refuse seating to minority customers. Welcome to the Kentucky of 1955.

And now he's out there saying that President Obama and his administration are anti-business and "un-American" for criticizing oil giant BP (officially British Petroleum) over their handling of the oil spill.

I guess "American values" now includes having no clue how to stop the gusher, and it's perfectly OK (pro-business) if you kill off miles of coastline for at least a generation. Hey, it's 'business,' right?

One almost has to feel for minority leader Mitch McConnell. He and Senate political architect John Cornyn (R-TX) pushed his state's other Republican Senator, the gaffe-prone Jim Bunning, into retirement so he could put his hand-picked candidate, Trey Grayson up against the Democrats in the general. But then Paul beat Grayson Tuesday, and by a large margin. And then the past reached out and grabbed him. Don't blame Democrats for that either. Paul's past statements are public record; if Grayson was too dumb to look them up, well maybe he should have. Paul said it, didn't he? And it was Paul, and Paul alone, who contended that not only is it wrong to criticize an oil company for an oil spill, but in fact that to do so is 'un-American.' Presumably that's his favorite adjective, one we can expect to hear pop out of Paul's mouth frequently if he ever gets to the U.S. Senate. Joe McCarthy, anyone?

This has all backfired so exquisitely on McConnell, that Bunning, who was known to resent McConnell for pushing him out of the Senate, can hardly be blamed if he is having a secret but hearty laugh about this somewhere.

Kentucky Republicans have made their choice. Now they have to live with him, at least until November.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jan Gump

In the movie, Forrest Gump, Forrest, as a man of limited mental capacity but strong convictions and played ably by Tom Hanks, always was just in the right place at the right time to gain fame and fortune and to be there during important moments in history.

It seems that in real life, we have something of a parallel here in Arizona. Good things keep happening to Jan Brewer, but in fact many of them come to her despite her own actions in the past.

Fifteen years ago, as the majority whip of the Arizona Senate, Jan Brewer was instrumental in pushing through the massive Symington-Brewer tax cuts. When combined with a 1992 referendum which made it virtually impossible for the legislature to raise taxes, these cuts undermined the fiscal stability of our state by plunging recklessly down a road which assumed that growth would continue forever and provide an increasing stream of revenue to fund state services. Accordingly, under the legislature that Brewer was one of the leaders of spending levels were cut to the point where many schools and state agencies were on a shoestring budget in good times, with no thought apparently given to what this would mean for bad times.

Common sense dictates that if you can't back up, then you would proceed forward with caution. But I guess not according to then State Senator Jan Brewer.

In 2001 and 2002 we got a taste of what bad times meant. Due to the incompetence of former Governor Jane Hull and the outright deception of former House Speaker Jeff Groscost, the legislature passed the 'alt-fuels' bill that essentially bought cars for a lot of Groscost's neighbors in Mesa at state expense and when combined with the recession of that year meant that incoming Governor Janet Napolitano entered staring down a $1 billion hole. She went to work and fixed the hole, but because of when Napolitano took office (at the beginning of 2003) Jan Brewer was given a ready made 'excuse' that she could use to claim years later that Napolitano had 'overspent'-- conveniently overlooking the fact that much of the spending 'increase' under Napolitano was simply climbing back up out of the hole the budget was in when she took office.

But the excuse was there for Brewer and she has been taking it liberally, blaming her predecessor for the problems that in fact Jan Brewer helped create years earlier by weakening the state's tax structure! Nobody remembers her role now. Wow, talk about catching a lucky break!

She caught another one in 2002. Because of the very tight gubernatorial race between Napolitano and Matt Salmon, nobody paid much attention to the race for Secretary of State, despite the fact that (now counting Brewer) the past six Governors of Arizona have all either left office without completing their terms or been the Secretaries of State who succeeded them. It would be like not bothering to ask who the Vice President is. But that's what happen so she escaped scrutiny of her far right record.

In January of 2009 Brewer acceded to become an unelected Governor the day after Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States in, demanding an expensive and exhorbitant ceremony much more like the swearing in of an elected Governor, rather than the very plain and unremarkable swearing in that the previous two Secretaries of State to become Governor (Rose Mofford and Jane Hull) had done. This despite the fact that the state was in fairly good fiscal shape for those two but already gripped by the collapse of the housing market for Jan 'Money is no object' Brewer.

But luck shined her way again. The legislature became ensnared in a months long fight between very conservative Republicans and extremely conservative Republicans. The unecessary expenses of Brewer's elaborate swearing in ceremony were soon forgotten. So, she was free to propose a 1 cent sales tax increase to help balance the budget without anyone asking why she had spent so much tax money on her own vanity, and as such she did propose the tax.

And she got even luckier. The House and Senate agreed to pass a budget with only Republican votes. But that put them at the mercy of the most extreme members of their own caucus, so that Jack Harper, Ron Gould and Pamela Gorman blocked all progress towards a budget that included Brewer's proposed tax. Things got so bad between Brewer and the legislative leadership from her own party that she even took them to court to make them try and send her the semblance of a budget they did pass just so she could veto it and throw it back to them. Because the GOP budget they finally did pass was so extreme, Brewer got to look like the more responsible party.

Of course vetoing a Republican budget made Brewer unpopular in her own party ranks. As a weak Governor who was never elected, if she faced a single challenger she would probably be a goner. But she has drawn at least three credible challengers, which means she could easily win nomination with 30% of the GOP primary vote. Yet another stroke of luck.

She was still in the midst of a heated primary with today's vote on the sales tax-- unpopular with key elements of the Republican base looming-- when she caught, yes, another stroke of luck. The legislature sent her SB 1070. This was a tough decision: sign a bill that will repel Hispanics-- now 30% of the population of Arizona but 40% of the under 20 population of Arizona and growing rapidly, or veto it to further alienate the GOP base. She cast her lot with the nativists. As the bill became national news, Republican activists both in Arizona and around the nation praised Brewer. So, today the sales tax vote is an afterthought.

The timing couldn't be better. But remember this: Forrest Gump was a movie. Jan Brewer's string of good luck is bound to end sooner or later, and when it does Arizona will likely be on the receiving end.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

GOP Claims that Kagan is Inexperienced are Absolutely Dripping with Irony.

On June 17, 1999, Bill Clinton nominated Elena Kagan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Then Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch never put her nomination on the agenda for his committee, and it expired when Clinton left office a year and a half later.

It is true that as the majority party Republicans had the right under the rules of the Senate to bottle up Kagan and dozens of other Clinton nominees in committee (though they may have been short sighted in not realizing that by poisoning the water on judicial nominations they were giving Democrats the incentive to similarly thwart Bush so that by now it is almost impossible to find any level of Federal court that doesn't have at least a couple of vacancies on it and some federal bodies like the Federal Elections Commission and National Labor Relations Board have actually been rendered unable to function for extended periods of time as the numbers of people on those boards have fallen below the numbers needed for a quorum.)

The irony though is that now all of a sudden Republicans are upset that she has no judicial record. Well, DUH!

It's almost like the kid who kills his parents and then pleads to the court for mercy because he's an orphan.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Iraqi girls sold into sexual slavery, then subject to being stoned to death for having been raped

Imagine you are a young adolescent girl, 11, 12, 13 or 14 years old. Your father, whether out of desperate hunger of simply out of greed (does it really matter which?) sells you to a human sex trafficker to be turned into a sex slave.

Whether by eventually escaping, or by being caught by the police, or simply by using up your body and no longer commanding a profitable price and being dumped onto the street, you find yourself away from the trafficker and all alone in the middle of the big city.

And that's when the nightmare grows more intense: the authorities try you and throw you into prison for prostitution, or for other 'crimes' associated with your escape such as falsifying documents needed to escape the clutches of the traffickers.

That is the reality in present-day Iraq.

Fifteen-year-old Zeina's sad journey to prison began two years ago when she says was sold into sex slavery. "My father came and took me to go visit my grandfather in Syria," says Zeina, "and I went with him."

The family trip turned out to be a cover story, and Zeina found herself faced with the most horrific possible reality. She says she was then forcefully taken from Syria to the United Arab Emirates and sold into sexual slavery.

But Zeina refused to surrender to such a horrendous fate. And when the opportunity presented itself, she ran away. "I'm proud of myself," explains Zeina. "I turned myself into the police and decided not to stay in that situation."

Authorities in Dubai helped her return to Iraq, but more cruelty awaited her in Baghdad. The only way Zeina could make it home was to travel on a forged passport -- a very serious crime in Iraq.

After escaping her ordeal, Zeina found herself being prosecuted, rather than being comforted. As punishment, she's now serving two years in jail. A prison official confirmed her story.

Iraqi women's rights activists are outraged. "She refused to accept that her body had been sold. So this is how they reward her?" said Dalal Rubaie with the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq, "To put her in jail for two years? Where's the justice?"

I guess they figure she should have stayed put in the bordello in the U.A.E.

Things get worse if she does make it all the way home:

"In some ways, their fate is worse than death," explained Samer Muscati from Human Rights Watch. "Once they've been trafficked, there's a stigma even though they're the victims in this horrific situation. They've been exploited and they've been trafficked to another country with no real recourse."

According to Muscati, even if the girls do manage to escape the cruelty of their circumstances, it will be very difficult for them to escape the judgment of their families.

"When they do come back to Iraq, if the family does accept them it's very difficult because they've brought great shame to the family, they're subjected to honor crimes. And we've come across cases where young women have preferred to stay in prison or custody than to be released and to face tribal justice," Muscati said....

"I'm sure the girl's family won't take care of her," said Rubaie. "I'm sure that neighbors and relatives and society will judge her, they'll know that the girl had been a prisoner and the family will be ashamed of her.

"I'm sure they won't let her travel. I'm sure she won't be able to complete her education, if she had been studying. Or they will force her to marry a cousin so they can exert control over her. Any cousin. They'll end her life."

In case you don't know what 'honor killing' means, recall this post on a young Iraqi Kurdish girl who was stoned to death after spending a night with a young man of another faith.

Only what we are looking at now is rape victims who may have been sold into sexual slavery by their own family members, who if they return home will be stoned to death by those very same family members.

I guess this is the 'civilization' we have brought to Iraq.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Sponsor and Enforcer of AZ SB 1070 both have ties to neo-Nazis.

The first image is of neo-Nazis J.T. Ready (left) and Thomas Coletto giving Hitler salutes while confronting marchers opposed to SB 1070 last week. The second is a photo that Coletto had taken posing next to Sheriff Joe Arpaio and posted on the white supremecist website after he, Ready and other neo-nazis had had a brief and friendly conversation with the Sheriff (beginning at the 4:53 mark of this You tube video shot by a nativist if you can stomach the racist commentary, beginning with the line, "too bad we can't just start shooting.")

The above photos are taken from this article on last week's demonstrations from the Phoenix New Times.

We've all heard the news here about neo-nazis in Arizona even as people on the national scene can't imagine that in 2010 they could ever be out in the sunlight and get people to take them seriously.

But let's take them seriously, because these dogs bite. We can make the case that some of the loudest voices behind immigration reform are actually neo-nazis because in fact some of them are. And more disturbingly our politicians like the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Sheriff of Maricopa County actually have no problem smoozing up to them.

And let's document. Start with FAIR, the group that wrote the law that Russell Pearce sponsored. The Southern Poverty Law center has declared that they are a hate group for virulent anti-Semitism and racism. Russell Pearce, though he sponsored SB 1070, was not the actual author. It was written by lawyer Chris Koback of FAIR and then handed off to Pearce.

So what about Russell Pearce anyway? Well, start with the fact that he was always close to former Republican precinct committeeman J.T. Ready (a proud member of the American Nazi Party, which he kept quiet about until he was 'outed' in 2007.) Ready was forced to resign his position as a precinct committeeman, but being freed of the need to keep his status as a neo-nazi secret he's been on a roll, showing up at various political events with his friends doing Hitler salutes and yelling 'Sieg Heil' to his heart's content. From the New Times article linked above, it is evident that Ready is willing to speak to all comers about his favorite topics:

"Obama's not my president," Ready told New Times as he flitted from topic to topic, waiting with Vandal (the 'name' of another neo nazi) for the arrival of the marchers. "He's ZOG's president."

ZOG is neo-Nazi shorthand for Zionist Occupation Government, the fictitious Jewish conspiracy that some neo-Nazis believe controls the United States. Ready continued his wide-ranging diatribe, segueing not very subtly into why he believes pogroms against Jews in Europe's past were a good thing.

"They [had] to expel an alien that's preying upon them. [They were] parasites," said Ready, a former Marine who was twice court-martialed and expelled from the military with a bad-conduct discharge. "C'mon, that's healthy. It's only when you're unhealthy that you've got parasites on you."

When New Times asked Ready whether he hated all Mexicans, he offered another dehumanizing metaphor: "I don't hate all of anything. I don't hate all scorpions, but I wouldn't want them crawling around in my house."

Not that the connection between Ready and Pearce is news, of course, consider the following Republican primary mailer that was sent out during the 2008 campaign and featuring a photo of Pearce and Ready at a campaign event:



Apparently the answer is that among Pearce's Mesa constituents what would be a disqualifier for office anyplace else is met with a yawn of indifference, or perhaps even tacit support. He won his primary election that year with almost 2/3 of the vote and in Pearce's heavily Republican east Mesa district winning the primary means winning the seat.

The article then goes on:

Ready then bragged about how Sheriff Arpaio had stopped by earlier in the day, said hello, and even called him by name. Another neo-Nazi, using the handle "Vito Lombardi," (in fact, Coletto) excitedly related how a photo was taken of him and his hero, Arpaio.

If you remember a couple of years ago about a plot by a small group of students to bomb Desert Mountain High School in what was described as a 'Columbine type attack,' Coletto (then 17) was one of the five students implicated in the plot. He was allowed to plead guilty to a single count of criminal damage (in connection with his burglarly of bomb-making supplies and chemicals) and the rest of the charges were dropped. Just in case you've ever taken a moment to ponder what eventually becomes of those Columbine wannabees that get caught somewhere in the country every spring before they can blow up their high school, here's your answer.

It was also clear, based on the article why they were stomping on Mexican flags and trying to provoke a confrontation. Making extensive use of Arizona's open carry laws, many of the demonstrators were armed. Presumably so they could 'defend' themselves.

There is one thing that will distract a Nazi from trying to provoke a confrontation with pro-immigration marchers. That is when someone who they believe to be Jewish shows up, as in the case of this musician:

Luckily the man did not allow himself to be provoked. After all, given that the counter-demonstrators were bristling with weapons that was probably a good idea.

You'd think that with that kind of behavior Ready and Coletto would have marginalized themselves and nobody with any kind of political ambition (or even a grain of common sense) would want to get within a couple of furlongs of them, and in 49 states you'd be correct. But in Arizona apparently a Nazi is considered less of a threat than a Mexican gardener.

Pearce at least had the good sense to stay away from Saturday's rallies and marches. Not so the good Sheriff of Nottingham, Joe Arpaio.

Arpaio of course is no stranger to controversy on the subject, having said in a Lou Dobbs interview in 2007 that he was 'honored' to be compared to the KKK. Sort of speaks for itself.

From the linked article there is also this:

This May 2 dalliance with Coletto and J.T. Ready wasn't the first time Arpaio has associated with the neo-Nazis. In March 2008, the sheriff spoke before a United for a Sovereign America meeting at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Sunnyslope, where U.S.A. affiliate Elton Hall was in attendance. Hall, 75, is a legend in Arizona neo-Nazi circles, venerated by racist skinheads for his work as an organizer for George Lincoln Rockwell's American Nazi Party in the 1960s.

And in fact, there is the matter that the U.S.A. not only is willing to welcome Arpaio, but in fact that their links go much deeper:

Yet the sheriff's involvement with extreme hate groups is not incidental. The relationship has been prolonged and intentional, arguably helping him get re-elected last year in a county where much of the electorate is hostile toward Mexican immigrants.

Since 2007, Arpaio has appeared at nativist events, accepted awards from groups such as the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, welcomed U.S.A. leader Rusty Childress into his immigration sweep headquarters, spoken at nativist meetings frequented by neo-Nazis, and used petitions circulated by extremists to justify his immigration dragnets.

Also troubling are indications that the MCSO, in some cases, instructs U.S.A. through member Barb Heller, who has bragged about her contacts with the Sheriff's Office to anyone who will listen, and who apparently receives instruction and advice on how U.S.A. should handle itself.

In other words, they will behave themselves as long as Joe Arpaio tells them to.

So under the circumstances it's hardly surprising that Arpaio knows Ready by name and is happy to talk to Coletto and the rest of the neo-nazis among the counter-demonstrators. I guess if the sheriff's department ever is prevented by a court order or some other means of conducting raids on day labor sites, churches and other places looking for people with a brown skin and no papers, it's convenient for him that he has some blackshirts ready to carry out his orders whenever he unleashes them.

A hat tip to a recently added facebook friend, Robert Czaplicki.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Won't listen to me about immigration? Listen to Ronald Reagan then.

Supporters of the new Arizona immigration law (which gives state sanction to what the Sheriff of Nottingham has already been doing with no legal justification at all) have been jumping all over the shooting of a Sheriff's deputy in Pinal County as 'proof' that we need the law.

This of course is absurd. The shooting was carried out by suspected drug smugglers and smuggling drugs is a felony and local law enforcement already have the full authority to take action against suspected drug smugglers. So the people in more danger from the new law (and the past six years or so of increasing anti-immigrant and anti-Latino legislation and ballot initiatives pushed by Russell Pearce) are 1) migrants who are NOT otherwise committing a felony that the police already have license to go after them for-- in other words those who are here working at a job and not committing any crimes, and 2) people (like one of my close personal friends) who are Hispanic American citizens who have been detained, questioned and humiliated by police for apparently no other reasons than their skin color or surname.

In fact, if they really want to catch the drug smugglers, human traffickers and others who are causing violence along the border, then destroying any remaining trust that members of the Latino community might have towards local law enforcement seems a curious way to do it. As unscrupulous employers, drug kingpins, prostitution ringleaders and others who often exploit migrants know well, someone who is afraid to go to the police is someone who can very easily be intimidated into doing anything. Any law that makes them even more afraid of the police strengthens the hand of the real criminals, not weakens it.

Maybe GOP members might want to consider and contrast the view of migrants that this law puts forward with that espoused by their biggest icon:

I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still. -- Ronald Reagan, Farewell Address, 1989

Because in this law and others I don't see the optimistic and forward looking spirit of conservatism of the type embraced by Reagan, but instead a reactionary, angry and misguided spirit that is as far as possible from anything that Reagan ever stood for.

Hat tip: To Pres Winslow, who first pointed this out.
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