Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Breaking the Silence

I've been ducking the no fracking issue for too long. Today I went public, in a response to a friend who had asked me to sign a petition. I know that my stance will horrify most of my friends and family, but here goes.
Dear M—
I thought you deserved an explanation as to why I did not sign your DRAC petition last night. Since I remain somewhat soft on the issue, I’m copying some friends on the committee on the off chance that one of them might be able to change my mind.
Full disclosure: We leased mineral rights on a corner of our property several years ago, before the term “hydrofracking” entered the New York lexicon.

THE SCUM-OF-THE-EARTH ISSUE
Like many Democrats, I believe that oil and gas companies are the scum of the earth. For that reason, we tried very hard to get at least partly off the grid when we first built our house. We looked into solar and wind energy sources, talked at length with NYSERDA and others, and determined that, in NYS at least, the system is stacked against individual homeowners. Yes, some incentives exist (and I believe that such incentives are a good and proper use of government). However, since the US really has no coherent energy policy, and NYS is basically corrupt, the incentives are not great enough to make solar or wind affordable to middle-income families, partly because NYS requires that homeowners deal exclusively with certain manufacturers and installers (which I think is NOT a good and proper use of government). The initial outlay, back when we looked into it, was so great that it would have taken 20-25 years to break even. We ended up going with a dual system of wood and heating oil.

I wish that we had known about geothermal heating when we built. That would have been a good alternative for us. If some unknown rich relative leaves us a legacy, we’ll rip up our back yard and convert to geothermal. Right now, that’s not an option.

THE HYPOCRISY ISSUE
If we heated our home geothermally, I would feel far more comfortable opposing gas drilling. I think it’s much better to use a renewable source for our energy than to use fossil fuels, no matter how much “cleaner” natural gas might supposedly be than oil. But we use oil, as do over 40 percent of New Yorkers, and that’s a serious problem for me. First of all, there is no way for me to know the source of the oil I use. I shop around each year, but whether I buy it from Agway or Ehrhart or Hewitt, it’s an unknown resource from an unknown source. Almost certainly, some percentage of it comes from overseas. Almost certainly, most or all of it is refined in the US. That’s about all I know.

In keeping drilling rigs out of Dryden, which I would love to do, I am condemning small towns in Texas and Oklahoma and Louisiana to lives of unsightliness, disease, and misery, just to provide me with the fuel oil I need. I am contributing to the economic segregation that plagues our country, a segregation that allows communities with money to draw their resources from communities without money. I am increasing the footprint of my fuel choice by ensuring that it is shipped thousands of miles before it reaches me. My own NIMBY attitude, if it is not accompanied by a refusal to use fossil fuels, is harmful to others. As someone who once lived in West Virginia, I’m pretty sensitive to this issue.

It seems to me that to oppose gas drilling logically, I need to offer a better option. Yet I live in a town that regulates against windmills of a certain size and in a state that insists that I purchase my solar panels from the most expensive sources around.

THE UGLINESS ISSUE
Here’s what I think are ugly: Power lines. Phone lines. That’s why we spent the extra dollars to bury ours underground. I also think cell towers are ugly. However, we’ve agreed to let Chuck B build a tower on our property, to the dismay of friends and family. Why? Because we feel that the town’s need for high-speed Internet service trumps our need to keep our woods pristine. Someday we’ll figure out a way to reduce the ugliness factor, but we’re not there yet. Right now, if we want 21st century communication, we have to have towers. (We are hoping to mitigate the ugliness by working with Chuck to find a way to tie wind power to the placement of towers. It remains to be seen whether this will succeed.)

I think most of Dryden’s apartment complexes are pretty ugly, as are its trailer parks and its Dollar Stores. The farms that keep rusted-out dead equipment next to the road are ugly, too. Zoning is used in many places to reduce ugliness. My guess is that we would all come up with different suggestions if the town decided to use zoning primarily for this purpose.

To oppose gas drilling merely on aesthetic grounds seems petty, and as I suggested above, that simply pushes the ugliness onto someone who can’t afford to oppose it. To oppose gas drilling on safety grounds seems much more reasonable.

THE SAFETY ISSUE
I do not want unknown pollutants in my well water or groundwater. I support a moratorium and want to hear from the DEC and EPA on the safety issues. (Meanwhile, if we don’t trust the DEC, shouldn’t we disband it? If we don’t trust the EPA, ditto? What is the point of having regulatory agencies whose opinions we reject?) I’d like to know more about the form of fracking used in parts of Canada, a form which apparently uses no chemicals. I don’t want fracking to proceed until all safety questions are answered satisfactorily.

No, I don’t want big trucks and bright lights damaging my roads and nighttime sky. I’d much rather those trucks and bright lights were somewhere else where I didn’t have to see them. (See the Hypocrisy Issue, above.)

THE JOBS ISSUE
I know that the GOP notion that gas drilling is a job creator is specious. I know that the scum-of-the-earth gas and oil companies bring in experts from Texas and Oklahoma and Louisiana, temporary workers who buy their goods at the company store and return home to spend their sizeable paychecks. I think a reasonable use of government might be to insist that a certain percentage of jobs (good jobs, not just part-time truck driving) in the gas industry go to local citizens. I have yet to hear that proposal made.

THE WORDING ISSUE
Unfortunately, this latest petition isn’t up on the DRAC website. However, my initial reading of it last night did not gibe with the suggestion that it was about zoning to prevent gas drilling. It seemed much more definitive than that—completely preventative under any circumstances. Pulling the rug out from under hopeful landowners (not us, despite our little, soon-to-expire lease—the elderly farmers in our community that stand to lose their land) seems drastic to me. I understand the desperation of the DRAC supporters who fear that Cuomo will open the gates to drilling, but I still don’t see an alternative energy plan—from anyone at the town, county, state, or national level—that would help me support a “no fracking ever” stance.

Thanks for letting me ramble on.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Corporatocracy

On a pleasant walk along Taughannock Creek this weekend, Mark and I talked politics and life, and he mentioned that if he were able to turn the clock back, the number one thing he'd eliminate is corporate law--the notion that corporations are living, breathing entities with their own wants and needs. It's a notion that "Citizens United" only extends, and Frank Rich touches on one aspect of its damage in his article this week on the financing of politicians. It's the problem I have with BOCES and New York's teachers' unions--the fact that even an association designed to support other organizations or individuals can take on a life of its own and make decisions designed to benefit itself at the expense of or despite the needs of its constituent members--or in conflict with its purported raison d'etre, which, in the case of NYSUT, is "advancing excellence."

From constitutional republic to corporatocracy in just over two centuries. Ike warned us about this 50 years ago:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Sadie's pose says it all.-->

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Representation

Since Mike Arcuri won't run again for Congress, it appears that my Congressional district is back to being solidly Republican for the foreseeable future. My State Senate district has been that way since I moved here (and we've had the same senator, Jim Seward, since 1986). My Assembly district has been helmed by a Democrat for as long as I've been here; Marty Luster took the seat in 1988, and his chief of staff took over in 2002. County representation has moved back and forth, as befits a section of town that is fairly equally divided. It was Mike Lane (D); then it was Mike Hattery (R); now it's Mike Lane again. I honestly don't remember who was representative when I moved here in 1991; perhaps someone can remind me.* As for the town, it was red when I got here, turned briefly bluish, back to red, and is now as blue as it's ever been (3 Dems, 1 Republican, 1 Independent). All of which goes to show that Dryden is an upstate NY town that is somewhat influenced by its proximity to a liberal small city. But a look at the maps also indicates that it's way past time for redistricting. Congressional District 24 above; State Senate District 51 here.
* Thanks to Simon, who claims it was Bob Watrous.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Another Budget, Another 5+%

Dryden's Mike Lane was one of four legislators, mostly downtown Democrats, who voted against the county budget last night. If it were up to me, I would have been content with County Administrator Joe Mareane's original budget, but squeaky wheels prevailed.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Interactive Fix

Here's a clever feature in the online Times--YOU fix the budget.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Required Reading

Of course, in reposting this, I'm feeding into the very problem that Andrew Sullivan dissects so neatly in the piece--it's all too easy, given the news cycle and the Internet, to rely on another, like-minded paraphraser rather than checking the source.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Overall Wellbeing

I'm getting over a nasty virus, but I'm happy to hear that I live next door to the city that ranked highest for overall wellbeing in Gallup's survey of 1 million households. Imagine that!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Required Reading

Zakaria on three "revolutions," the first two of which ended up being little more than wheel-spinning. The Republican Revolution: Real This Time?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Take That, Susan B. Anthony

Eleven women stepped up to challenge anti-choice incumbents in the State Senate this year. All eleven lost. This year, the ratio of women to men in the State Senate is about 1 to 6. It may be worse when the dust clears. Happy 90th anniversary of women's suffrage.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Prediction

I'm not putting money on any results, although it seems likely that Cuomo will sleepwalk in with ease. I will predict the following, however: The next two years will be a battle royale between the Tea Partiers and the Neocons, and the result will change the Grand Old Party one way or the other for a long time to come. Populists or corporate hacks? Slash defense to kill the national debt, or start new wars in some new locale to increase spending in the private sector? It seems pretty obvious that the center cannot hold--this supposed alliance is nothing of the kind, and it will result in an ugly implosion. It's enough to make me look forward to the occasional Tea Party win today.

Global Economics 101

Krugman on how if everyone stops spending, the economy spirals downward--yet our Puritan notions of economics keep us from serving our own interests.
The irony is that in their determination to punish the undeserving, voters are punishing themselves: by rejecting fiscal stimulus and debt relief, they’re perpetuating high unemployment. They are, in effect, cutting off their own jobs to spite their neighbors.

But they don’t know that. And because they don’t, the slump will go on.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Jobs

Vote November 2

Figures from the CBO

A CU physicist sent around this message to interested voters, and I present it here in its entirety.
It troubles me greatly that the Republican and Tea Party leaders, with the help of the unlimited advertising on their behalf by corporate lobbyists, have totally misled the public about causes of the nation's economic problems. They have managed to convince many people that Obama and the Democrats are responsible for the budget deficit and other economic woes. The facts are quite the opposite. The source for all the numbers I provide below is the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and anyone can go to the web site http://www.cbo.gov/ to check the numbers I provide below.

Here is how the total Federal Debt (as a percentage of Gross Domestic product changed from 1980 to 2009):
Federal debt in 1981 when Reagan took over from Carter 26.2%
Federal debt in 1989 when Bush-1 took over from Reagan 41.1% (increase of 14.9%)
Federal debt in 1993 when Clinton took over from Bush-1 50.1% (increase of 9.0%)
Federal debt in 2001 when Bush-2 took over from Clinton 33.4% (DECREASE of 16.7%)
Federal debt in 2009 when Obama took over from Bush-2 42.0% (increase of 8.6%)
In total the Federal Debt increased by 32.5% during Republican presidents and DECREASED by 16.7% during the Democratic president.
Reference: http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=11945

Although bailing out Wall Street is unpopular, letting the banks collapse would have been devastating for the economy. The bailout was one of the few actions done with bipartisan support. Similarly, letting the auto industry in the US collapse would have severely hurt the economy as well as national security. Moreover, it is projected now that the eventual cost to the taxpayer will in the worst case be a tiny fraction of the original estimate and in the best case may in fact save the taxpayer money.

The war in Iraq and the mortgage fiasco both occurred under the watch of the Republicans, the former because of lies promulgated by the Bush administration and the latter because of antipathy to any reasonable regulation. The economy has slowly started to turn around under Obama, but it takes more than 2 years to fix a mess created over a long period of time. When Obama took office the Dow was around 7,500 and headed down to 6,500, and now it is over 11,000.

The Obama stimulus bill according to http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=11706 has:
a) Raised real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) by between 1.7 percent and 4.5 percent, b) Lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.7 percentage points and 1.8 percentage points, c) Increased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million, and d) Increased the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by 2.0 million to 4.8 million.

Every credible analysis of the health care bill indicates it will save money. According to http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=11945 by 2019 it will provide insurance to 32 million Americans who would otherwise have been uninsured while at the same time saving money by reducing administrative costs and having increased competition among insurers in the nongroup market.

When Obama came to office, he made every effort to reach out to the Republicans and even included two Republicans in his cabinet. The Republican response was to try to block every positive initiative by the president, repeatedly using filibusters to allow the 41 senator minority to prevail over the 59-member majority. A large number of government positions are still unfilled because Republicans in the Senate have not approved Obama appointees. For example, MIT economist Peter Diamond's appointment to the Federal Reserve has been blocked by the Republicans, supposedly because he is unqualified. Peter Diamond won the Nobel Prize for Economics a month ago!

Vote for the candidates that have some respect for the truth, speak to the issues and are willing to reach across the aisle to work together. That is what made our country great and that is how we can keep it that way.

R.I.P.

Ted Sorenson, speechwriter extraordinaire, age 82, and Pontiac, age 84.