Archive for the ‘freedom’ Category

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What a difference six months makes.

During the run-up to the election, then-Senator Obama argued repeatedly against the Bush Administration’s illegal and unethical warrantless wiretapping program and lamented the same administration’s repeated use of the so-called “state’s secrets” privelege.  From barackobama.com:

Secrecy Dominates Government Actions: The Bush administration has ignored public disclosure rules and has invoked a legal tool known as the “state secrets” privilege more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court.

But that was then, and this, as they say, is now.  President Obama apparently now thinks the same “state’s secrets” privelege invoked by the Bush crowd actually is kind of useful after all.  President Obama’s own Department of Justice recently issued a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the NSA by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, claiming that allowing the case to continue would “cause exceptionally grave harm to national security”.

This is exactly the position that the Bush crowd took regarding wiretapping.  Unfortunately, the Obama administration takes it a step further, alleging that the government can be held immune from lawsuits relating to warrantless wiretapping.  It’s something called “sovereign immunity”; in other words, you can’t sue the king for violations of his own laws.

This is shocking and saddening to see.  I expected better from President Obama than this mindless continuation of Bush’s worst mistakes.

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Like we didn’t see this coming…

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N: Quote, Profile, Research) said on Friday it has warned U.S. store managers in recent weeks about the possible consequences of a labor-friendly bill backed by Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama that would make it easier for workers to form unions.

But the retailer, which has kept its U.S. stores free of unions, stressed it was not telling employees how to vote.

The Wall Street Journal reported that about a dozen employees who attended meetings in seven states said executives had told them that unionization could force Wal-Mart to cut jobs as labor costs rise, and that employees would have to pay hefty union dues and get nothing in return.

The Journal said Wal-Mart human-resources managers who run the meetings do not specifically tell attendees how to vote in November’s presidential election, but they make it clear that voting for Obama would be tantamount to inviting unions in.

“If anyone representing Wal-Mart gave the impression we were telling associates how to vote, they were wrong and acting without approval,” Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar said.  (Reuters, 1 Aug 08)

Wal-Mart, of course, is well known both for its anti-union activities and its lack of support for workers’ rights, so this comes as no surprise to anyone.  It’s also one of the nation’s largest employers, so for them to raise the specter of layoffs and personnel cuts during a time of economic uncertainty is tantamount to extortion.

The fact is, with or without unionization, Wal-Mart will continue to rake it in.  They just won’t be able to do it by exploiting their employees the way they have in recent years.

Always low morals, always Wal-Mart.

These days everyone seems to be talking about “energy independence”. The ever-rising price of oil is dragging the costs of everything upward with it, as anyone who’s been to the grocery store lately knows. I predict as well that the costs of toys, computers and nearly everything else made from petroleum plastics will begin rising as well, sooner rather than later. So the cost of oil affects nearly every aspect of daily life. And keeping your personal cost of living down is not a simple matter of driving less or turning the thermostat down a couple of notches. It takes, on average, over 900 gallons of petroleum to feed each and every American, every year. That includes the oil used in farm implements, fertilizers and transportation of food to market. When you factor in the amount of oil and petroleum the average family uses each year – about 1,500 gallons – you begin to understand the scope of our problem.

So we need, as a nation, to come up with a comprehensive solution to the problem, and fast. As I stated in an earlier post, we’ve had 30 years to do something about this. Experts (geologists, not Republican propagandists) have been predicting this for nearly 80 years. The scientific data are clear – we will run out of exploitable oil. The signs are already there. Production reached a peak in 2004-2005 and has been dropping since. It’s not happening because of “profiteering” or “greed”, either. It’s happening because of one simple, incontrovertible fact – that to pump oil from a well, you need pressure within that well. The more you pump, the lower the pressure becomes. Eventually the well reaches a point of no return, where it becomes economically unfeasible and physically impossible to extract any more oil from the hole. You can use other substances to re-create that back pressure (water, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen are common methods) but It turns out that even with advanced drilling and pumping techniques, only about half of the total oil in any given well can be extracted (Deffeys, 2005). The rest will remain underground, tantalizingly out of reach.

Two years ago in his state of the union address, President Bush said that America is “addicted to oil”. It’s not just America – the entire world economy revolves around the black stuff. Today there is no developed or developing country on Earth that does not either import or export it. We are all dependent on oil.

Our response to this current crisis has been mixed. For almost his entire presidency, Bush has been pushing to open up the Alaskan Northern Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil exploration and drilling. Environmentalists have been just as consistently and fanatically opposed to it. It’s become such a hot topic it’s hard to have a rational discussion about it. Those on the exploration side of the fence seem to think opening up ANWR will be the Holy Grail that will save us from dependence on foreign oil; conservationists think pipelines and oil wells in Alaska will destroy a pristine and beautiful landscape. The reality is, even if we’d started drilling ANWR six years ago, the price of oil would still be where it is today. Production would just now be getting started at full capacity, and third world demand for oil would still be driving the prices upward. Exploiting yet another undeveloped landscape in our desperate search for our favorite drug will not save us from the inevitable crash; it will only delay it.

The same goes for offshore drilling. Even if we could “wave a magic wand” as the President likes to say, and conjure up hundreds of offshore rigs and refineries today, it would not save us from our dependence on oil imports. Our demand for oil is simply too great. Oil prices might dip slightly, but would basically stabilize over the longer term. The end result would be the same as ANWR drilling – delaying the inevitable.

So, to return to the original thesis, how are we going to achieve energy independence, and is such a thing even possible? I believe it is not only possible, it is necessary to our survival as a civilization. The fact is, oil as an energy source is on the down slope. It had a good run during its 150 year history, but it’s time to move on. But to what? Is there a “magic bullet” that will free us from dependence on foreign sources of energy?

And what is “energy independence”, anyway? The trouble with the term as employed by politicians and businessmen is that it can mean very different things to different people. McCain and Bush talk about it in terms of America being free from dependence on foreign oil. All well and good, but the scope of the problem is far greater than that. Besides, when most Americans hear “foreign oil” they almost reflexively think of Saudi Arabia. In fact, as shown on this chart from the Energy Information Agency the vast majority of our imported oil comes from non-Arab countries. We import nearly 2 million barrels per day from Canada. So getting “free from foreign oil” is not just a matter of opening up more wells here. The world economy depends on our oil imports.

Besides, drilling at home won’t create true energy independence, at least not for the average consumer. Switching from one drug dealer to another closer to home doesn’t solve your problem.

Nuclear power won’t solve it either. Politicians love to tout nuclear as “clean” energy, but nothing could be further from the truth. If you only consider the actual production phase, then yes, it is nearly emission-free. But before the uranium gets to the plant, it must be mined, refined, and processed, and each phase produces environmental damage of its own. And then there’s the inevitable and so far unanswered question of what to do with the waste. The end result of nuclear energy is so dangerously radioactive that effective long-term solutions have so far proved unobtainable. Besides, once again we’d just be trading one giant energy syndicate for another. Energy independence? I think not.

Senator McCain mentioned “clean coal” in a recent speech regarding his energy plan. “Clean coal” is one of those industry oxymorons that refers to coal that has been chemically cleansed of impurities, burned, and the gases treated with steam and reclaimed so as to reduce or hopefully eliminate carbon emissions. Don’t be fooled – there is nothing “clean” about coal. Mining it is a filty, dangerous proces that always produces toxic byproducts, and there is no way to burn it cleanly. It would be more accurate to call it “cleaner coal” or even “slightly less dirty coal” but then it wouldn’t be so easy to sell to the public. Coal in any form is a dead-end technology. There’s a reason we stopped using it at the end of the industrial revolution.

Ethanol isn’t any better than oil.  It takes about 30% more energy to produce a liter of ethanol than you get from using the resultant liter.  That means higher oil demands and increased greenhouse gases not less.  And then there’s the ethically questionable practice of transforming farmland into fuel production.  Food prices are already high enough and trending upward; ethanol production will only drive them higher.

True energy independence requires radical change in both thought and method. This must be both evolutionary and revolutionary in nature. The way we produce and use power must change simultaneously with the way we think about energy. This goes beyond any discussion of “green collar jobs” or “renewable energy”, though both will be essential to our future. To me, energy independence means each family, community, or city has the ability to produce its own energy, as dictated by its individual needs. The answer will not be found in the sort of large-scale national-level projects of the sort we’ve become accustomed to, but in a new emphasis on small-scale power production. I believe wind turbines, solar power, fuel cells and other emergent technologies will be critical to this effort.

Instead of offering tax incentives to corporations for developing green technologies, the government should be in the business of offering tax breaks to individuals and communities that choose to use them. I was always shocked at the relative lack of solar power use in the Southwest, where such a thing should be an obvious choice. Perhaps all people need is an incentive to do it, and less propaganda. In more rural settings where communities have more land available, and especially in farm country, similar incentives could be offered to encourage the use of wind turbines for power production. This would be true “power to the people” – allowing individuals and communities to choose where they get their electricity and by what means. Some states already offer rebates to homeowners and investors that choose to go solar. We need to expand this and make it nationwide.

What I’m proposing here is nothing more and nothing less than an energy revolution. In any true revolution, power is taken from one group with a history of abusing it (in this case, the oil industry) and redistributing or decentralizing it to a new power base (in this case, the American people). We will probably still need large-scale projects to power large-scale communities, at least for the shorter term. But if we can make the radical shift away from everyone relying on the same enormous power grid and enable true energy independence – i.e., independence from the energy cartels and monopolies that currently rule our lives – then we, the people, will all be much better off in the end.

Eventually – within the next 20 to 50 years – we will run out of exploitable oil. The ball has already started rolling. We’re already behind the power curve; as I stated before, we’ve had 30 years to work on solving the problem, and done nothing in that time but continue to waste oil at ever-increasing rates. We now have half the time left in order to solve twice the problem. If we’re going to remain the world’s main superpower and regain our economic strength, we’d better get started now.

Sources:

Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert’s Peak by Kenneth Deffeyes
Peak Oil: Life After the Oil Crash
Energy Information Administration
Wikipedia: Clean Coal Technology
Sunpowercorp

And this time, the Supreme Court got it right. They must be on some kind of courageous streak or something, now that they’ve followed up several headshots to the Bush Administration’s anti-habeas corpus policies with their latest decision. In case you’ve not been paying attention, in a recent 5-4 decision, the Supremes ruled that the Second Amendment does, in fact, protect the rights of individuals to own weapons. Gun-control advocates have long argued that the language of the Amendment refers only to a “collective” right and not to an individual right, and thus the states have the right to restrict or allow gun ownership as they see fit.

Gun ownership advocates see it the other way, that the same language does indeed allow individuals to own firearms for self-defense in all forms. Some take this interpretation to extremes on both sides, often to the point of ridiculousness. But the fact remains that the language of the Second Amendment, while not exactly clear to modern ears, provides protection and security for both sides of the coin – in other words, as written,

“A well-regulated militia being essential to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”

Means that in order to preserve the freedom and security of the republic, the Founding Fathers intended for every citizen to have the right to bear arms, and unlike in a Monarchy or Feudal state, this right can neither be granted nor removed by the state. In a democratic republic, which is what we are, rights reside in individuals, not in institutions.

In order for rights to have value, they must have value to every individual in society, not just to groups. Yet the proponents of the “group” theory of the Second Amendment would have us believe that alone among the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment refers to organized state-run (“regulated”) institutions and not to each and every citizen of society. Taking it a step further, this is like saying the right to freedom of the press belongs only to large printing houses or other state-approved media outlets. Imagine if the current government tried to limit access to the broadcast airwaves and cable channels only to those networks it likes (i.e. Fox News). What a nightmare that would be!

No, the fact is each and every one of us has the right to bear arms. And the purpose is not for hunting, or “sport” or other such trivial uses. It’s for self-defense, and to make sure power continues to reside in the people of this nation and not just in the state.