Monday, October 06, 2008

Water Water Everywhere?

I haven't had much to rant about lately. Not because I'm not infuriated by all things political: McCain’s lies, Palin's ineptitude, the government bailout of banks that the government helped get rich in the first place. Oh yeah, there’s been plenty to rail about.

The problem is, Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann have been beating me to the rants. Olbermann makes very good points, but at times his logic is clouded by his leanings. Rachel (may I call you “Rachel”), on the other hand, is pure logical progressive. Her wit and intellect are packaged well in a pleasant and unassuming demeanor. When she wants to, she can be angry, but most of the time she is able to laugh off the ridiculousness she sees around her. (I wish I could do that.)

Gushing about Rachel aside, I did find something rant-worthy in my inbox today. In an email from Birders United, I learned of a bill that has been proposed by George Radanovich (R-CA) that would allow California to ignore the Endangered Species Act in times of drought. This is clearly a move by an agro-friendly congressman to provide relief for corporate farms during times of drought. The bill does nothing to encourage farmers, or regular citizens, to conserve water in the first place.

The subject of water conservation really boils my blood. We do so little as a nation to try to conserve water. We seem to feel as a society that there is no limit to the amount of water we should be able to use.

Every summer day I see businesses watering their lush green lawns in the middle of the day. This makes me crazy. Not only is this a huge waste of water (up to 25% of the water evaporates before it soaks into the ground), but it is also a bad business decision (higher water bill because of the evaporation).

On the Caribbean islands, they collect the rain water from roofs to use in bathing and flushing. Rain water runoff from our residential roofs washes fertilizer from our over-treated lawns down the storm drains and right into our streams. We could collect this water, reduce our need to pump from the aquifer, and reduce our runoff all at the same time. I’m not saying we need to bathe in it, but a simple collection tank in our basements could provide water for lawns and landscaping for the whole year.

I’m no expert on water use, and I don’t know what measures are needed for saving water in the agricultural industry. But I do know that if every home and business in California were using currently available technologies and strategies to save water, there would be millions of gallons of water available for farmers without the need to ignore environmental concerns.

I just sent this email to my US Representative, Kenny Hulshof (R-MO), regarding the bill:

Rep. Hulshof,

I am writing to ask that you vote against the California Drought Alleviation Act of 2008 (HR6940).

This act would allow that state to declare that their needs supersede the regulations established in the Endangered Species Act.

I understand that in a time of crisis drastic measures sometimes need to be taken. And in fact, there is already a law on the books in California that allows that state to bypass the ESA when human need warrants it. I think that it is clear that this bill is intended to bail out the agri-businesses, rather than to avert some catastrophic human crisis.

Passing this bill would set a precedent that might affect us in Missouri as well. We can't afford to open the door to every farming state up-river from Missouri, allowing them to sacrifice our environmental concerns to meet their water needs.

As a society, we look for the easiest way possible to avert a crisis without making any changes to our own bad habits. This measure allows California to take the easy way out, when very few people are pushing for the more sensible solution -- developing strategies to conserve water in the first place. In not doing so, the message we are sending is that businesses (and citizens) can waste all the water they want -- when times get tough we’ll just ignore environmental concerns and pump more water.

The easy way out will not work forever. We have to decide to make conservation a priority before it is too late.

Please do your part to be a leader in this effort -- for Missouri’s future and for our nation’s.

Thank you for your time.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, March 28, 2008

Mississippi Goddam

Nina Simone -- a singer, songwriter and activist -- wrote a number of songs about her experiences as a black woman in America. Some of them are fairly subdued, possibly a result of her attempts to appease her American record label. Some are more direct.

Simone had plenty of personal experience to draw from, having grown up surrounded by the thinly veiled -- and sometimes blatant -- discrimination that was prevalent during the Jim Crow era. She chose to speak out through her music.

In 1963, in the heat of the civil rights movement, black activist Medgar Evers was shot in the back as he entered his home in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. He was murdered by a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Simone cited this among other incidents as inspiration for the song Mississippi Goddam.

The song describes the frustration of trying to fit in to American society as an equal, while still being treated as a second-class citizen. It also describes the anger that swells when the writer realizes that equality might never be reached.

"Oh but this whole country is full of lies
You’re all gonna die and die like flies"

That’s a pretty shocking line. I’m guessing that if Nina were still alive, she would be considered a terrorist. And whichever presidential candidate she supported would be a terrorist sympathizer. (You can read the rest of the lyrics here.)

Nina also wrote and performed love songs, blues songs, gospel music, and jazz. To characterize all of Simone’s music as radical black activist rhetoric would be very misleading.

That brings us to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Lots has already been said and written, so I’m not going to rant for too long. All I want to add to the blogosphere on this subject is this: If you don’t consider the entire person when judging a few of their words or actions, then you aren’t truly listening. Truly listening to somebody requires that one makes an attempt at understanding that person’s point of view.

Any person who is at all aware of the history of the black experience in America must conclude that hard feelings linger as a result of the continued disparity in the experience of black and white Americans. I think Barack Obama did an amazing job addressing this in his “race speech.”

Once again I am disappointed by the treatment this story received by the Media and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The Media is harping on this because it is raunchy, not because it is news-worthy. And the Clinton campaign is again choosing to make petty arguments in an attempt to sway voters. It says something that John McCain reacted with class while Hillary grabbed handfuls of mud.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Hillary's "Experience"

I was browsing through the blogosphere this morning and came upon this blog on I've got a few issues with the writer's assertions, but it's not unreadable. The most interesting thing I read was a little nugget nestled in the comments:

"Congrats to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton who on 1/20/09 we will be able to address as President Hillary Rodham Clinton. A woman's place is in the house...The White House, and certainly this woman, who is the most qualified person to seek this office in modern times, deserves to serve as President. What an inspiration she is to everyone, not just women."
Posted by: Sharon Ash on 03/05/08 at 6:26 AM

I like her little twist on the old ‘50s stereotype -- I am a feminist, after all. But I take issue with this insane notion that Hillary is the candidate of experience. I responded briefly on that blog (I couldn't resist), but I'll expand on that here.

First of all, it's debatable whether or not one can count Hillary Clinton’s time as first lady as "experience." It certainly depends on what role the first lady played. Hillary was a fairly active first lady, so I'm not opposed to her counting that as a bit of experience.

But if she wants to share in the credit for the positive things that happened in the White House for the 8 years she was there, than she also has to be prepared to answer for the mistakes. If she wants partial credit for the robust economy of that time period, is she also going to take partial credit for that administration's lack-luster response to al-Qaida's actions during that period? If she wants us to remember what she tried to do for health care 10 years ago, we are also going to remember what she (and Bill) tried to do for her brother, their friends and their business partners.

Clinton’s entire experience as an elected official is 7 years in the Senate. So in the primary race against Barack Obama, yes she can tout her experience. But to say that she is the most qualified to seek the office in modern times is a bit silly -- unless we only count the last 7 years as "modern times."

So here are my rankings for the most qualified candidates to win the presidency in modern times (since WWII):

#10 DDE -- 2-yr Supreme Cmdr of the Allied Forces in Europe, 2-yr Supreme Cmdr of NATO.
#9 GWBush -- 6-yr Gov
#8 Carter -- 4-yr St. Sen; 4-yr Gov
#7 Reagan -- 8-yr Gov
#6 Bill Clinton -- 2-yr St Attorney Gen; 12-yr Gov
#5 JFK -- 6-yr Rep; 8-yr Sen
#4 GHWBush -- 4-yr Rep; 2-yr Ambassador to UN; 1-yr CIA Dir; 8-yr VP
#3 Nixon -- 4-yr Rep; 2-yr Sen; 8-yr VP
#2 Ford -- 24-yr Rep (8-yr Minority Leader); 2-yr VP
#1 LBJ -- 4-yr Rep; 12-yr Sen (7-yr Majority Leader); 3-yr VP

Administrative Bullshit: I rank experience in this order from best to worst: Vice Pres, US Senator, Governor, US Rep, State legislator, other elected official, other appointed official. The most difficult former president to judge is Ike, who had no experience as an elected official, but had a ton of military experience (5-Star General) and was elected as a war-time president. The above list is my opinion, which explains why it only appears on my blog and not in Poli-Sci textbooks. Feel free to submit your own rankings.

One final thought: Touting Clinton’s experience in this primary is setting her up for a fall if she wins the nomination. Her edge in experience over Obama disappears if she faces John McCain (4-yr Rep, 20-yr Sen, war hero) in the general election. After spending months on the “experience” push, Clinton and her supporters would have to do everything posible to keep experience out of the discussion. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

Labels: , ,

Friday, February 29, 2008

Why the Media Pisses Me Off

Misleading Headlines
(Part 1 of an ongoing series.)

“Clinton raises $35 million in 1 month” was the headline of an AP story that appeared on my local paper’s website this morning. That is so not the story.

I see this type of careless headline writing on a daily basis, and I’m taking a stand.

I remember a few things from my journalism classes at the University of Delaware. One is that the “lead” of the story (generally the first sentence) should be a microcosm of the entire story. It should accurately describe the main theme of the story. The rest of the story fills in details in order of importance (or chronologically when appropriate).

The lead of this story describes Hillary Clinton’s “remarkable financial recovery” and goes on to point out that despite her efforts, Barack Obama was still outspending her. This is an interesting point, but does this lead convey the most newsworthy aspect of the story? I think not. In the fifth paragraph we discover that Obama has likely raised over $50 million in the same time period. This will shatter the record for fundraising in a primary election. But I’m not saying that should have been the lead.

Here’s the deal: When there are multiple angles to a story, it’s the reporter’s and editor’s jobs to decide which angle is the most important. The lead and headline of the story should follow suit.

If the story is about the Democratic candidates’ fundraising, than the news might be that both candidates saw huge increases in donations. Possible headline -- “Candidates see huge boost in fundraising.”

If the story is about comparing the two candidates’ campaign financing in general, than the news is that Obama continues to crush Clinton in dollars brought in and dollars spent. (This was introduced in the second paragraph, and reported in more detail later in the story.) Possible headline -- “Obama outpaces Clinton in fundraising, spending.”

If the story had been only about Clinton’s fundraising, which some might infer from the headline, the headline still doesn’t convey the most important point. Raising $35 million in a month is not news in and of itself. It is only newsworthy when compared to other stats. So the story might be that Clinton’s fundraising more than doubled from January to February. Possible headline -- “Clinton donations more than double.”

So, I know you’ve been waiting patiently to hear my humble opinion on how this story should have gone, so here it is:

“Despite boost, Clinton fundraising still lags”
The lead is pretty close, but I think it should include the fact that Obama’s campaign is outspending and out-fundraising Clinton’s.

So what happened at the AP? Was this just a mistake? Just a bad day for the headline writer? Did he or she just skim through this story before typing up the headline? Did the editor really feel that the headline reflects the biggest news in this story? Or is this an indication of the writer or editor leaning toward Clinton? I don’t like any of the above possibilities. I expect better from the Associated Press.

Disclaimer: Please don’t add a comment pointing out a typo or misplaced comma. I know I was not a great copy editor (or headline writer, for that matter). That’s why I’m ranting on a free blog site instead of writing or editing for the AP, the Times or the AJC.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, February 25, 2008

Thank you Ralph Nader

Thank you for “Unsafe at Any Speed.” Thank you for the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Thank you for the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Freedom of Information Act, the EPA and OSHA.

I can think of no other single person who has been looking out for the well-being of his fellow citizens as fervently as you. For 40 years you have been battling for consumer rights, government transparency and environmental prudence. You have been monomaniacal about exposing corporate power and influence in our government. You are a true American hero.

I absolutely agree with you that the two major political parties are becoming more and more alike -- the Democratic Party has been shifting toward the right to try to compete with the strong conservative base of the Republican Party. We independents have grown tired of the complacent attitude of both parties. I also agree with your Constitutional right to run for office.

But Ralph, I implore you, please don’t do this. Not again!

Barack Obama is not a perfect candidate. I know this. But he is the best Democrat I’ve seen in a long time. He has seen wide-spread support from the middle and the left. He is a viable mainstream candidate with some progressive appeal. He has opposed the war in Iraq since the beginning. He has chosen not to take money from lobbyists. He talks of being independent from the power-brokers in Washington. (I know we’ve heard that before, but it might actually be true this time.) I know you hate the “lesser of two evils” theory, but this is the least evil option we’ve had for a long, long time.

If you stay in this race to the end, many progressives who would have voted for Obama will support you instead. I can’t bear to see a repeat of 2000. (I know there are a hundred other factors that cost Al Gore the 2000 election, but your presence in the race certainly didn’t help.)

You’ve said that this race is the Democrats’ to lose. I agree. Recent polls show Obama beating John McCain by a narrow margin. I’m hoping Obama’s support will swell as the campaign season progresses. But if it stays close than your candidacy could help McCain win.

Democrats, Greens and independents from the left and the middle have to find a way to come together to turn things around for this nation. You could make the Green Party a powerful force in this country. Grab hold of the Greens and progressive independents and then make a deal with the Democrats. You withdraw from the race and throw your support behind Obama, he agrees to appoint you to a position where you can spend the next 4 to 8 years helping to make policy in the Cabinet -- Secretary of Commerce, Energy, or Transportation. Or how about running the EPA -- wouldn’t that be poetic? The Dems win the White House, the Greens gain a voice in the direction our nation should be heading.

Please Ralph, just think about it. I’ve got my cell if you want to talk about it.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


This might be the worst thing for democratic elections since the electoral college. (Don't even get me started on the electoral college!)

There is the distinct possibility that the next Democrat to run for the office of the President of the United States will be chosen not by the voters, but by a group of elected officials (senators and ex-presidents) and appointed officials (DNC big-wigs).

We have a representative government -- I'm down with that. But I elect people to make policy decisions for me, not to choose a president for me.

Now I can understand giving a vote to retired politicians. And since they no longer represent anybody directly, I have no problem with them voting their conscience. And I'm not thrilled about it, but I guess it's not the worst thing in the world to give a vote to a few of the highest ranking members in the DNC.

But giving a sitting senator the chance to vote against tens of thousands of the people he or she represents is rediculous.

I say eliminate all the unpledged superdelegates. If Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy or Howard Dean want to help decide who will be the next Democratic nominee, they can go down to their local polling place and cast a vote in their state's primary (or caucus) -- just like every other citizen.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, February 16, 2008

It's OK to hope

A high school friend saw that I had Obama on my myspace friends list and posted this comment:

"yes we can" is a nice motto but unfortunately i think it's just full of false hope and just to get votes. politicians are liars and have a deep seeded motive. but maybe i am just too cynical. was this too "crab like" of me to write? anyway, Hi Walter :)

Here was my response:

Call me idealistic, but I do believe that our country can be better. There's nothing false about hoping that the people we elect will actually be able to affect positive change. Have our expectations dropped so low that we no longer believe that our elected officials can do anything to fight the influence of lobbyists? Have we given up on the idea that they are supposed to be serving the best interests of all the people -- not only the rich people?

The establishment wants you to believe that there is no hope, that way you won't feel any need to vote for a change. The "Yes we can" message is a direct reply to this overwhelming feeling of apathy among the people.

Well, after 8 years of soaring deficits, misguided wars, human rights (and Geneva Convention) violations, record profits for big oil companies, huge subsidies for big oil, complete ignorance of any environmental issues, and stubborn isolationism; I absolutely hope we can do better.

But hoping for change is not enough. It is up to us citizens to fire the politicians who have been doing nothing for us. That’s why I’m voting for people who I believe will lead us in a new direction.