Friday, July 28, 2006

How to get the U.S. out of Iraq

Discussing the challenges of our future involvement in Iraq, it seems apparent that we can't really improve on an impossible situation, yet at the same time, shouldn't totally abandon this fractured country in the tortured position we helped create. The United States, through our current administration, has managed to convert the sympathy of the world after 9-11 into considerable disrespect with our arrogance and incompetence in Iraq. So here's how we might get out and take care of an outstanding obligation as well.

We have owed the United Nations a substantial sum of money for many years. The amount ranges from $500 million to $2.o billion. Congress had said they would make a substantial downpayment a few years ago, but attached untenable stipulations. What we should do is make the full payment, plus interest immediately. We should send them a card apologizing for our arrogance and incompetence in nation building and in not working with them more - showing some sincere humility and let them know that we really do need them to take over with peacekeeping in Iraq.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

AAA Fuel for Thought

I can't believe it. My regional AAA president is asking for member suggestions on how to deal with high gas prices. For years, I have tried to engage with AAA political directors and memberhip magazine columnists to get them to support increasing the CAFE standards on behalf of the membership, but to no avail with their dogged hostility to the idea.

In this month's Via magazine (July-August 2006), Wes Choc, president of Mountain West AAA asks how AAA should focus their resources and clout on the long term supply-and-demand issues that affect the price of gasoline. Here's my response:

Dear President Choc,

Thank you for the invitation to members for advice on how AAA should address transportation needs in light of high gas prices. I have tried to engage AAA political directors and magazine columnists in the past and found them most unresponsive, in fact hostile, to progressive ideas. I am encouraged by your willingness to hear from members.

In that spirit, I will suggest that you open your receptivity to considering a broader question than just that of the long term supply and demand issues affecting the price of gasoline. Few wants gas or fuel oil just for the intrinsic value. Mostly it is a means toward doing some work, being it transportation, making something, heating one's living space. The issue is much broader - how can we responsibly and most efficiently obtain the benefits of energy to meet our needs and desires?

If AAA had taken the tack a couple of decades ago to keep CAFE standards increasing for new vehicles, effective demand for motor fuel could have been down and transportation costs reduced. AAA's tenacious refusal to get behind increased CAFE standards has encouraged our profligate use of non-renewable fuels that the oil lobby and auto manufacturers short-sightedly insisted upon since the end of the Arab Oil Embargo.

If we consider the possible implications of climate change, it can be demonstrated that continuing failure to act has done nothing but hurt our long and now medium term well-being. Every day, there are new reports of the impacts from climate change. Today's news reinforces several years of warning about the increased acidity of the oceans, which until now, had been stable for tens of thousands of years. Increased acidity upsets the balance of life in the ocean, threatens coral reefs and all forms of crustaceans. Say good-bye to that lobster dinner.

Increased drilling for more non-renewables doesn't address the need for efficient consumption. Shifting to coal just exacerbates the CO2 problem and oil shale technologies require substantive amounts of water, already being depleted in many states. Natural gas would be a fine bridging fuel, but the long and short is we need to be efficient in whatever fuel we use and the Japanese auto industry continues to demonstrate that the U.S. auto industry could and should have done much better.

Ethanol might be part of the mix, but we don't have enough water to make it our sole source. And let's not talk nuclear until we figure out how to render inert the radioactive material that remains when we are done using the fuel. Trusting that we can bury something for 10,000 years safely requires a substantial amount of hubris.

Use of solar and wind renewables pretty much expect electric powered cars, not as feasible for mass marketing with the limited range, given the current crop of batteries. Those marketed 10 years ago in response to California's Zero Emissions haven't been supported. More efficient batteries would thus be a logical area of encouragement. Fuel cells have some promise.

First, if AAA does nothing else, getting behind an ambitious effort to increase CAFE, particularly with SUVs now exempt from current auto requirements, is the logical first step.

Secondly, to suggest what might appear to add insult to already high gas prices, I would opine that gas taxes could be increased, with the increase going to fund industry efforts to improve efficiency of transportation technology and to continue to fund taxpayers who choose the most efficient cars. I suggested this when gas prices were low and continue to do so. I'd also suggest a windfall profits tax be levied on those who profit most from high oil prices, i.e. the oil companies. The income from that tax should be used to help those most hurt by high oil prices (heating fuel in particular) and to help those communities who will increase their investment in alternate (bicycles, etc.) and mass transportation.

Finally, having AAA join with many cities and states in this country that are now joining many of the world's nations in support of the Kyoto Protocol would be an important step. The Bush Administration and Congress, representing a nation that consumes much more resources per capita than any other nation, insult the world in not agreeing to the relatively minor commitment to protect our planet's habitat. The irony of this is that we have so much more to lose from not doing so.

People tend to not pay much attention until something hits them smack in the face. Yet if given alternatives to balance out lifestyle choices with intelligent ones on behalf of society and one's longer term interest, a little incentive can go a long way toward improving receptivity to change.

When I was in my early 20's, I was told by those much older than I that "You youngsters have got a big job. We've done messed it all up." Ours was the generation that had so much hope of righting many of the wrongs, but I regret to say now to my kids the very same thing. I'd like to think that mankind can act as we did to reduce our use of chlorofluorcarbons to save the ozone in the upper atmosphere, yet substantively reducing our CO2 in a short time frame will require a broader and more intense effort on our part. And failing to do so will only increase the negative impacts. Katrina? We've seen nothing yet.

It's all in front of us, if we choose to see it. AAA can play a part. I encourage substantive action from an organization of which I have been a member for nearly 40 years. Let's do more than just publish ideas - join with the other regional AAA presidents and advocate for national action
to intelligently reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and thus preserve our society.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

An Incontinent Truth

I said before we ought to take Gore seriously regarding his non-presidential ambitions, though others feel he should run. My view is that he may be able to do more good outside of office, able to shape and deliver his own message rather than be diluted by the myriad things that the president has to deal with. Others feel differently and I can understand. But it is a matter of success over wielding power for me. I did see his movie in the theatre with about 25 others, even if it broke no records for attendance. The content was much what I expected, the delivery pretty good, and marveled most that such a movie could be in the theatre.

James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University's Earth Institute (whew), wrote an article "The Threat to the Planet", including a short review of Gore's movie, in the New York Review of Books. I've followed Hansen's work for decades. He's got real street creed in my view, so much so that when the Bush Administration tried to muzzle him speaking his mind, THEY got slapped, not him. He says some pretty intelligent things from my perspective. I guess we must keep repeating ourselves until enough people really get it.

Now the "incontinent truth" subject of this blog relates to a joke my wife made when entering the theatre and when I went to buy tickets, all I could mutter to the disembodied voice behind the glass was "incontinent". And in fairness, if a blog isn't just verbal incontinence, then we are taking ourselves far too seriously.

Retire the Penny

There has been more interest in retiring the U.S. penny, with copper prices costing the mint 1.2 cents to make it. There is a website Citizens for Retiring the Penny, which links to Jim Kolbe's bill that seeks to phase out the penny. I think we could find a way to honor Abe Lincoln's face on a coin and the sentimentality of penny candy that seems to be important to folks I respect, but am personally ready to move on. I've been in favor of retiring the penny for years, but am now considering hoarding them and all my scrap copper wire for recycling at a profit.