Tuesday, September 27, 2005

THE FUTURE IS NOW

If you believe the coal and oil industries, global warming isn't a genuine concern. Those industries have spent millions of dollars to keep the public skeptical about the issue.

That's because in order for the climate to stabilize, a 70 percent reduction in the use of coal and oil would be required. That would obviously threaten the very survival of a multi-billion dollar industry.

In 1995, during public utility hearings in Minnesota, it was revealed that the coal industry had paid more than $1 million to four scientists to speak out publicly against global warming. And ExxonMobil has spent more than $13 million since 1998 on an anti-global warming public relations and lobbying campaign.

In 2000, "big energy" got a tremendous boost when President George W. Bush was elected president and subsequently allowed the industry to shape climate and energy policies.

But experts say that the most direct solutions to the problem of global warming could come directly from the auto industry. There are alternatives and solutions to fossil fuels presently available, just not the will to execute them on a national scale.

A dozen known experimental hybrid cars have gotten up to 250 mpg. A California-based company, Energy CS, has converted two Toyota Priuses to get up to 230 mpg by using powerful lithium ion batteries.

University of California, Davis engineering professor Andy Frank built a plug-in hybrid from the ground up in 1972 and has since built seven others, one of which gets up to 250 mpg. They were converted from non-hybrids, including a Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Suburban. Extra batteries allow the vehicles to store extra power by plugging them into a wall outlet when not in use.

This wouldn't be ideal for a long-haul trip, but the average daily usage of a car in the U.S. is somewhere around 30 to 40 miles per day. These types of vehicles would be more than adequate to meet those demands. And plug-in hybrids are ideal for companies with fleets of vehicles that can be recharged at a central location at night. Federal and state governments would also be ideal candidates for such vehicles.

These private efforts have gotten the support of not only environmentalists but also from conservative foreign policy hawks as well. These security experts insist that Americans are fueling terrorism through their gas guzzling.

As a result, plug-in hybrids are getting the backing of prominent hawks like former CIA director James Woolsey and Frank Gaffney, President Reagan's undersecretary of defense. They have joined Set America Free, a group that wants the government to spend $12 billion over four years on plug-in hybrids, alternative fuels and other measures to reduce foreign oil dependence.

Gaffney, who heads the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Security Policy, said Americans would embrace plug-ins if they understood arguments from him and others who say gasoline contributes to oil-rich Middle Eastern governments that support terrorism.

"The more we are consuming oil that either comes from places that are bent on our destruction or helping those who are … the more we are enabling those who are trying to kill us," says Gaffney .

So it's not just tree-hugging environmentalists that are concerned, but domestic security experts as well. The technology is not as developed or as affordable as it could be if the government would only make a genuine commitment to the effort. Don't count on it with this administration, but it's nice to know that there are conservatives voices out there who back the movement.

Reducing our dependence on foreign oil would be good for all Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike. Big Energy might not yet have warmed to the idea, but there's a whole industry awaiting them which has enormous, and very lucrative, potential. With their deep resources, they are poised to exploit this burgeoning technology and profit from it generously. Our government should join with the oil and auto industries in a joint effort to make the technology commercially feasible by the end of the decade.

This is the future, and to those who are willing to make the commitment will go the spoils.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

A LACK OF EDUCATION IS THE PROBLEM

The images of abject poverty that we all witnessed in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina shocked the nation. Most Americans seemed unaware of just how poor people in the Crescent City really were. I use 'were' in the past tense, and of course those people are still poor, they're just no longer in New Orleans. They've moved on to other states and brought their poverty with them.

But perhaps America shouldn't have been surprised. The Census Bureau recently announced that the number of people living in poverty in the U.S. rose by 1.1 million people last year, the fourth consecutive year that the nation's poverty rate has risen. Overall, 12.7 percent of the population, or 37 million people, now lives in poverty.

The South is the nation's poorest region, and it's been reported that 125,000 New Orleans residents subsisted on less than $8,000 per year. Just for a point of reference, the national poverty level for a family of four with two children is considered $19,157 or less. For a family of two with no children, it's $12,649, and for a people 65 and over living alone, it's $ 9,060. People in New Orleans are the poorest of the poor.

To get an idea of just how poor those people truly are, consider this; According to the same report, median household income in the U.S. stood at $44,389, unchanged from 2003. Among racial and ethnic groups blacks had the lowest median income and Asians the highest. Median income refers to the point at which half of households earn more and half earn less.

So to be considered as living in poverty, a family of four must make less than half the national median income. And people in New Orleans were making less than half as much as the poverty level. Now that's truly poor, and truly shocking.

The question is, why? Mostly it's education, or a lack of it. Many people are quick to point fingers and blame President Bush, or the government. Though I'm not generally a Bush supporter, responsibility for this inequity can not be laid squarely at his feet - or the government's for that matter. While it's absolutely true that poverty has been a continually worsening problem under Bush's reign and he's not sought a national dialogue on the matter, or convened the nation's best and brightest minds to tackle the issue, I'm not sure what exactly what the government can do.

Poverty is a class problem, and usually a generational problem as well. But poverty isn't the only generational problem here. Being uneducated and ignorant is another. The government can't force people in the underclass to value education. That's the job of parents. But sadly, too many parents are totally disconnected from their children's education. They don't attend parent-teacher conferences, and they don't assist their children with homework or test preparation. Heck, many don't even encourage their children to do better, or to be the best they can be. Ask any teacher in any big city school system.

For example, the graduation rates in the Los Angeles Unified School District's are alarming. Just 39% of Latinos and 47% of African Americans graduated in 2002. That's pathetic and has consequences for the entire city, not just poor blacks and Latinos.

Any reasonable person would agree that all public schools should be adequately funded and receive all of the basic necessities such as books, paper, chalk etc. Classrooms should not be in disrepair, but should be well-maintained, well-lit, and properly cooled or heated, according to the time of year and environment. But beyond that, more money won't get parents to care or get them involved. And if parents don't care, who can reasonably expect their kids to? Most kids simply don't like school. It's always been that way. But kids need to given a sense of consequences and understand the implications of not graduating. To not seek a higher education, or vocational training, after high school is an act of self-destruction that will only continue the cycle of poverty as well as the resentment of those who have. Their parents, grandparents and neighbors are often the finest examples, yet it doesn't seem to matter.

This is a class problem and, according to the Census Bureau, it's also a race problem. But this isn't something that white people are doing to black people. This is something that black people are doing to themselves.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A NO MAN'S LAND OF BARBARISM AND BUTCHERY

Hurricane Katrina has swept news of the war in Iraq from the headlines, but the insurgents haven't taken a break from their acts of slaughter and mayhem.

Wednesday marked one of the bloodiest days in the two and a half-year-old war, as insurgents killed at least 151 people in more than a dozen attacks. And once again today, at least 30 people - many of them police officers - were killed in a series of attacks.

This type of carnage in the U.S. would be historical and would occupy front pages for weeks. But atrocities like these have become typical in Iraq. Things have gotten so bad that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani asked the world for help in defeating terrorists in a speech Thursday at the United Nations in New York.

"Iraq's war on terror requires diverse international help, not only for the sake of Iraq, but also for the sake of the whole world," he said.

The U.S. military seems helpless to stop the insurgents, and the White House admitted last month that it cannot defeat the insurgency, but only hopes to quell it.

The atmosphere of lawlessness is so pervasive in Iraq, that the murder rate among ordinary citizens, not insurgents, has skyrocketed. Death squads ride around Baghdad killing indiscriminately in an effort top spark sectarian hatred. Bagdad, a city of 5 million people, saw 880 murders in July alone. Most victims were shot to death while others were beheaded. These killings do not include those that resulted from the numerous terrorist attacks, such as car bombs and suicide bombs, that occur on a daily basis. In comparison, New york City, a metropolis of more than 8 million people had a total of 571 homicides in all of last year.

Iraq has become a no man's land of barbarism and butchery. It is now an apocalyptic landscape of atrocities and organized chaos. People in a civilized society likely can't conceive of an environment with such a staggering level of murder and mayhem. But harrowing days of epic violence have become commonplace in Iraq. And for its citizens, sadly, such is life these days.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.
THE GLOBAL WARMING THREAT

Despite the best attempts by 'big energy' interests, there is no longer a reasonable ideological debate on the subject of global warming. In fact, there isn't even a valid scientific debate anymore. Those who argue otherwise are just plain wrong.

The jury is in on this matter. I'm not a scientist, but I'm inclined to defer to them. To ignore the evidence is pure ignorance. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- more than 2,000 scientists from 100 countries reporting to the United Nations - have weighed in. Humans are the primary reason for global warming and the subsequent climate change. Natural disasters always have, and always will occur. But the pace and the magnitude of storms, and the melting of the polar ice caps, are occurring at an alarming rate. According to US scientists, there has been an "overall increase in Atlantic basin major hurricane activity of the past ten years (1995-2004)." We can ignore it at out own peril, or we can ban together and seek solutions for the sake of humanity.

The Kyoto Protocol is a bad agreement because it doesn't hold China and India to the same standards at the U.S. I understand Bush's reasons for not signing. But that doesn't mean that more can't be done, or that the problem can be ignored. In 2002 the Bush administration's own EPA reported on the human contributions to global warming.

I'm not a tree hugger, and I don't belong to any environmental group. But there is reason for concern. Four U.S. Senators (Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Susan Collins and Lindsay Graham - the last three all Republicans) recently returned from a trip to Alaska and all of them said they were shocked by the devastation to the region. Polar ice is retreating and glaciers are receding. Entire forests are being eroded by bugs that weren't present in the past due to the previously uninhabitable environment. The sea is encroaching upon and inundating villages that have existed for hundreds of years. The permafrost is melting - so much so that whereas the dead could formerly be buried only two months out of the year, they can now be buried year round. McCain called what he saw "a little scary", Clinton said "We saw devastation as far as the eye can see," and Collins warned that the Arctic "is crying out to us to pay attention to the impact." They saw the evidence with their own eyes, and just as with the scientists, I'm inclined to believe them.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

BUSH TAKES RESPONSIBILITY

It's better late than never, though some would say too little, too late.

On Tuesday, President Bush made a very rare admission of guilt, actually claiming "responsibility" for failures in dealing with Hurricane Katrina. Bush also warned that the disaster raised broader questions about the government's ability to respond to natural disasters as well as terror attacks.

At joint White House news conference with the president of Iraq, Bush said, "Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government."

"To the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility."

When the President was asked whether people should be worried about the government's ability to handle another terrorist attack given failures in responding to Katrina, Bush responded, "Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack? That's a very important question and it's in the national interest that we find out what went on so we can better respond."

One would have figured that those issues would have been settled following the 9/11 attacks. It's quite unsettling for the President to admit otherwise, even after a massive reshuffling of government agencies and the creation of the new Homeland Security Department.

Proclaiming that he wanted to know both what went wrong and what went right, Bush stopped trying to justify the federal reaction to the disaster. "I'm not going to defend the process going in. I am going to defend the people saving lives."

Bush had previously avoided any publicly admitting any federal failure in the hurricane response, an effort which has been widely criticized as slow and uncoordinated. Some federal officials have tried to shift blame to those at the state and local levels for their lack of preparedness in coping with the disaster.

Those protestations are clearly warranted. But having Michael Brown in place as the head of FEMA is criminal. Assigning a political appointee to a department in which he has no experience might be acceptable if we were talking about the Transportation or Agricultural Departments. But FEMA is charged with responding to emergencies, disasters, and saving lives. Brown had no place being there. His appointment was inexcusable and outrageous.

But Brown wasn't the only appointee at FEMA who was in way over his head. Including Brown, five of eight top FEMA officials came to the agency with virtually no experience in handling disasters and are leading an agency that has been dramatically depleted of seasoned crisis managers during the past couple of years. Many experienced professionals started leaving in 2003, when FEMA was stripped of its independent Cabinet-level status and folded into the Department of Homeland Security. Some agency veterans took jobs as consultants or state emergency managers. This exodus, along with the appointment of inexperienced officials, has clearly weakened the agency's ability to respond to natural disasters. This is shameful and needs to be addressed immediately.

Job satisfaction and morale at FEMA are said to be low and it's little wonder. How could a career professional be satisfied with an inexperienced political appointee leapfrogging him or her for a top position? That's Bush's fault, and he should be ashamed and should be held accountable.

It's just one more in a string of failures that he needs to take responsibility for. After the repeated denials of responsibility for the deluded invasion of Iraq, the failure to link Saddam and al-Qaeda, the failure to find the alleged WMD in Iraq, and the failure to establish security in the country after the government's fall, who would have expected the President to take responsibility for anything? Not me. I'm still shocked.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A NATIONAL DISASTER, A NATIONAL DISGRACE; BROWN MUST GO

Hurricane Katrina isn't just a national disaster, it's a national disgrace. The way that relief and recovery efforts have been mismanaged thus far is shameful. For the government of a developed, first world nation to have handled this crisis in this manner is inexcusable and unforgivable. And all citizens should be concerned that in the first test of our Homeland Security Department since the 9/11 attacks, the system failed horribly.

Much of the blame has to laid squarely at the feet of FEMA chief, Michael Brown. Brown is unqualified, unfit, and unprepared for his role as the head of the nation's Emergency Preparedness and Response system.

Prior to joining FEMA in 2001, Brown served as the judges and stewards commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association. His job was to ensure that horse-show judges followed the rules and to investigate allegations against those suspected of cheating. Confused? Don't see the link between that job title and his present one? Well you're not alone. Much of the nation is asking that very question right now.

Just how did Brown get such an important government position? Call it political patronage. It's a classic example of nepotism, plain and simple. Call it cronyism, the good ole' boy network, or whatever else you want to. It's all the same.

Brown's old friend and college roommate Joe Allbaugh ran George W Bush's election campaign in 2000 and was rewarded with the position of FEMA director for his efforts. Allbaugh, in turn, hired Brown as FEMA General Counsel. Within a year, Allbaugh made Brown his deputy director, and Brown eventually succeeded his old friend when Allbaugh left to join a private company in January 2003.

Brown's inexperience should have been self evident, but his incompetence was soon revealed. Under his direction, FEMA disbursed $30 million in disaster relief funds for Hurricane Frances to residents of Miami, Florida - a city which was not affected by the hurricane. Brown admitted to $12 million in overpayments, but denied any serious mistakes, blaming a computer glitch. Due to this gross oversight, U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler publicly urged President Bush to fire Brown in January of this year. In April, Wexler repeated that call to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, citing new reports that FEMA sent inspectors with criminal records of robbery and embezzlement to do damage assessments.

The President mustn't delay. Brown needs to be dismissed immediately. Perhaps there are Arabian horses to be saved somewhere, but Brown couldn't save a city or its citizens when they were in crisis. He couldn't even marshall the necessary resources to help. Instead he turned down offers of help from other cities, such as Chicago.

In his place, the President should appoint someone with true disaster management expertise. Names like Rudy Giuliani have been mentioned, and Colin Powell, a man accustomed to running massive military operations, might also be a suitable choice. But Brown has been a PR disaster for the White House, and a human disaster on the ground. He needs to go, and now.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

IN KATRINA'S WAKE

The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina is sure to bring change. For starters, FEMA head Michael Brown should be summarily fired for shear incompetence. It's likely that FEMA will once again be elevated to cabinet level status, where it rightly belongs and should have remained. But there will be many questions other than who's to blame. The storm's impact on oil drilling, refining and shipping will be studied and hopefully improved upon. Most importantly, money will raised and donated for hurricane victims and Federal money will arrive for rebuilding, which will stir debate itself.

This week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will meet with the Energy Department and private energy analysts to examine the nation's refining capacity. They will discuss what the government can do to spur construction of new refineries and whether refining capacity is too heavily concentrated in the Gulf region. Most of the nation's refineries are aging and new refineries haven't built and brought online in years. That is a critical aspect of the nation's infrastructure that needs to be addressed.

Hurricane Katrina knocked out nine refineries and two major gasoline pipelines, temporarily shutting down or greatly reducing the flow of gasoline to markets in the East and Midwest.

Spreading refineries throughout various regions of the country seems wise since having them so heavily concentrated in one area leaves them quite vulnerable to another natural disaster or a terrorist attack. As a result, that leaves the entire nation vulnerable to fuel shortages and sharp price spikes, as we've recently seen.

The House and Senate convened from their August recess to approve a $10.5 billion aid package for hurricane victims, but it should be noted that the U.S. is spending nearly $5 billion per month in Iraq. That will be heavily reported and debated in the coming days and weeks, and is sure to infuriate many Americans. The recovery and eventual rebuilding efforts will place tremendous burdens on the US economy, and there are estimates that the total cost could run as high $150 billion. That alone will inspire more debate about the need to bring US troops home soon.

A reasoned debate also needs to begin about the wisdom of rebuilding New Orleans in its current location. The entire city will always remain below sea level, and will thus continue to be vulnerable to this type of devastation. It's difficult, and perhaps even unreasonable, to ask U.S. tax payers to foot the reconstruction bill with that in mind.

The repercussions from this historic storm will play themselves out in the months, and even years, ahead. At this point, the various outcomes can only be imagined. But hopefully some positive changes will result, and perhaps some good can actually come of this tragic event. As a nation, we can only hope so.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

SCIENTISTS REPORT GOOD NEWS ON OZONE LAYER

Notwithstanding the recent news and signs of global warming, as well as the human contributions to that menace, there is some good news to report on the environmental front.

This week, U.S. scientists reported that the ozone layer has stopped shrinking but will take decades to begin recovering.

The announcement is a hopeful example of the positive results that can be achieved when the nations of the world ban together in a united effort to stop, or curb, environmental damage and degradation.

The scientists said that the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which was ratified by more than 180 nations and set legally binding controls for on the production and consumption of ozone-depleting gases containing chlorine and bromine, is apparently working and should be credited.

"These early signs indicate one of the strongest success stories of international cooperation in the face of an environmental threat," said Conrad Lautenbacher of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Though the evidence indicates that the ozone layer is still well below normal levels, it has grown a bit thicker in some parts of the world.

Unfortunately, the report didn't just contain good news. The scientists also noted that it's unlikely that our ozone will stabilize at previous levels and that because the ozone layer remains so thin, cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation is still getting through. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the the U.S. and the incidence of melanoma has doubled in the last 30 years.

"Chemicals pumped into Earth's atmosphere decades ago still are affecting ozone levels today," said Sherwood Roland of the University of California Irvine. "This problem was a long time in the making, and because of the persistence of these chlorine compounds, there is no short-term fix."

While that may be true, it's certainly best to look at the bright side of this issue and see the cup as half full. This is proof that international agreements and coordinated efforts can thwart, and perhaps even fix, environmental damage caused by humans. This should provide inspiration and even impetus toward the goal of lowering, and eventually eliminating, manmade greenhouse gas emissions. Although mankind can clearly be part of the problem, it is encouraging to see that we can also be part of the solution.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.