Thursday, April 30, 2009

Local legislators try an end-run around voter-approved energy law

The TNT article published April 26th titled "Tacoma 'pirates' win this one; energy bill killed" is seriously misleading. Voters passed I-937 two years ago in order to spur production of NEW renewable energy sources, not to pat ourselves on the back for what we've already got.

The headline states, "energy bill killed," which implies nothing about watering down existing legislation -- in fact, quite the opposite. The article just says the measure would have "changed" I-937, but it doesn't specify the changes. The article goes on to say that the bill was supported by "most of the environmental community" (really? Who among environmentalists would have supported watering down a commitment to green energy?). Rep Brown alleged that SB 5840 would "spur green job creation," which no legislator is reported to have contested. Our Tacoma delegation's only objection was the inequity in tax breaks. So one is left with the overwhelming impression that a bill promoting clean energy was defeated. Who would have thought it was exactly the opposite?

When I first saw the headline and read the article, I was upset that our Tacoma delegation would so staunchly oppose green-energy solutions for the sake of the Almighty Dollar. But upon further research, I am now outraged that the bill, pushed by our governor and approved by the senate, would even be seriously considered and debated by the house. And that it may come up for another vote after the "money thing" has been "fixed"!

Kent Alcorn advances a different proposal in today's TNT. There must be ways we can respect the intent of I-937 without breaking anybody's bank.

Today's paper carries a story about another ice shelf breaking off in Antarctica. This is part of an accelerating trend, as reported yesterday. My current issue of Defenders of Wildlife's magazine features an article that describes the plight of lemmings and the carnivores that depend on them for survival; frogs and salamanders in Yellowstone National Park; yellow-legged frogs in the Sierra Nevada Mountains; and wood rats and deep-sea crustaceans. The lemuroid ringtail possum hasn't been seen in Australia in three years, and record high temps in 2005 are suspected of causing a massive die-off there. The NDRC estimates that all the glaciers may disappear from Glacier National Park by 2070. Droughts triggered by a warming climate are becoming more frequent, lengthier, and more severe, leading to great suffering and starvation for many peoples worldwide.

We cannot afford to ignore this situation any longer, if indeed it's not too late already. How could you face a starving African child or a drowning polar bear and say to them, "Sorry, but we had our ratepayers to take care of!"

I believe I-937 should stand as is, if not strengthened. Please reject out of hand any attempt to weaken efforts to shift to clean, renewable, sustainable energy. Our great state is rightfully known as a leader in environmental and conservation causes -- please do not waste this opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to a livable planet for all!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Gitmo detainees not persons, now??? Oh me oh my...

Imagine my consternation and moral outrage when I ran across an article this morning, reporting a DC Court of Appeals ruling that Guantanamo detainees are not "persons"! Since when does any court presume to arrogate to itself the right to decide which human beings are persons and which are not? Or to summarily strip that status from an entire group of human beings, simply because they happen to be in US detention? But wait, it gets worse, or so it seems -- the court handed down this ruling in response to a request from Obama's DOJ!

Suddenly I felt like I'd been transported to an alternate universe or something, one in which black was white, hot was cold, and left was right. Everything seemed backward, twisted, and incomprehensible. Had someone in the DOJ lost their mind? Had Holder forgotten who he was working for? Were heads gonna roll as soon as Obama heard about this? Because I was certain he could not have, or it never would have gone before the court. Declaring a whole group of people non-persons? How unlike everything Obama stands for!

I ranted, I sent out my virtual SOS hoping somebody somewhere would be able to come up with a sensible explanation, like they did for the "we won't prosecute" scandal. But when I got home today, all I had was commiseration from those who were equally as incensed and bewildered that we would even think to take such an action. It was time for more digging. There just HAD to be a rational explanation, I knew.

Well, sure enough, it appears there is, and once again I've gotten egg on my face, but I'll take egg on my face over criminal leaders any day! Bottom line is, it appears this ruling was in response to a suit brought by four British ex-inmates, who alleged, among other things, that their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act had been violated by being forced to shave their beards, no access to the Koran or prayer mats, things like that. Apparently -- and this is straight from the court's ruling -- the detainees "cannot bring a RFRA claim because they are not 'person[s]' within the meaning of that statute." This, I think I can live with. As someone who has worked with many detainees during my tour in Iraq, I can only imagine the chaos and confusion that would ensue if, for example, guards were not allowed to bother anybody who was praying. Or if detainees could grow their beards as long as they wanted (think of the lice infestations and general hygiene issues, if nothing else!). So this is what all the fuss was over.... Leave it to the media to feed us a sensational headline and not bother to dig any further!

In short, because of a poorly-worded law (some provision should have been made to exclude "persons" who happened to be in detention awaiting trial), a court decision was required to place Gitmo inmates outside the category of "persons" protected by it. But all we hear is, "Court declares Gitmo detainees non-humans!"

But wait, there's more. Along with this, our DOJ has asked for immunity for any previous violations! You heard that one, right? Well, this is a simple answer, too. The DOJ simply requested that, should the court find that inmates were indeed entitled to all the rights given "persons" under the RFRA, that previous instances where those rights had not been granted would be immune to prosecution. And that's only right. None of us in the field are damned lawyers -- we rely on top-down guidance to let us know what's fair game and what isn't. I personally gave a prisoner his own personal Koran one time, after leafing through it to make sure it wasn't hiding anything. Many of my colleagues wouldn't, and I couldn't blame them. Indeed, I felt like maybe I was the one who was too soft, who might put us all in danger one of these times. Out there, all you have is your gut to go by. I, for one, was never in any position to research the intricacies of the RFRA, had I even known it existed. To prosecute any soldier acting in good faith, for the best interests of his unit and his country, would be unconscionable.

So I hope that helps to deflate any simmering outrage over the DOJ's recent actions. It does for me, and let me tell you, I am easily outraged!


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Psst, Tacoma -- we're in the 21st century now...!

How does a technophile like me wind up in a blue-collar, redneck burg like Tacoma? You'd probably have to go east of the mountains to find a town as backward as the place I call home. One glance at the article commentaries on the News Tribune's website reveals a staunch contingent of regressive-minded malcontents whose "God, guns, and gays" agenda is woefully out of step with the majority of the rest of Americans. I used to bravely wade into the fray regularly during the presidential campaign, knowing I would never sway those who posted there, but hoping that at least some of what I wrote would serve as an antidote to their racist venom.

What brings this to my mind at this particular moment? Fertilizer, of all things. The Tacoma sewer department produces several varieties of specially treated potting soil and mulch, and since people rave about it, I wanted some for the garden I'm planning. So the other day, I called them. Got a recording that went on for so long that my attention wandered, and I missed hearing which key I was supposed to press to place an order. No problem, I thought -- I'll email them instead. That way, somebody can go down my list of questions one by one and respond with answers. When I get their reply, I can review all the questions, save the answers, and make my decision.

They did answer my email. Asking for my phone number so they could call me! Now, this makes no sense whatsoever. They could have used those same keystrokes to actually answer my questions. But, trying to be a good sport, I sent them back my phone number.

And didn't get a return call. *sigh* So this morning I called them first thing, and somebody actually answered! I explained that I had been trying to get some information via email, and the guy apologized, saying they're so busy with the phones that sometimes they don't get to their email. But -- this is backward! Here I was, taking up the guy's time on the phone, after both of us had already wasted our time trading email back and forth. I wouldn't even BE on the phone with him had he simply answered my question! How many other people call in there after having had no luck with their email?

So I read him my list of questions, straight from my message on-screen, and we have this nice little discussion about the different soils, and what they're good for, and yadayadayada. I'm not taking dictation, so 75% of everything he said is already forgotten. All I really needed was to know that for containers, potting soil is the right choice. It didn't have to take all that back-and-forth.

Likewise for the price, payment method, and my various other questions. Then I had to repeat my address twice for him. By this time I'm getting antsy. I'm not a phone person to begin with, and besides, I had other stuff to do. When my appointment was finally set, he thanked me for my patience "with the whole email process." At that, I couldn't help myself, and tried to politely point out that if he had spent 3 minutes replying to my email, versus the good 10 minutes we had just spent on the phone (not counting whatever time we'd already invested in email), perhaps they wouldn't get so backlogged. Plus, the nice thing about email is that, for routine questions, you can have a canned response already prepared, so you don't even have to type it out every time! Payment method? "We accept personal checks made payable to the City Treasurer. We do not accept credit or debit cards." Save that somewhere, paste it wherever someone asks about payment -- your job just got a ton easier! How does this NOT make sense?

I know another city employee who is actually younger than my father, but mentally still stuck in the 60's when it comes to modern technology. He has a computer that someone gave him, and he refuses to even unbox it. He is scared to program any phone numbers into his cordless phone. He didn't even HAVE a cordless phone until his brother gave him one for Christmas (he was probably getting tired of being put on hold every time the guy needed to get up to go to the kitchen or bathroom or wherever). He refuses to set up voice mail on his work cell phone. And, predictably, he tells me he deletes most of his work emails without ever reading them.

How much time and money does this guy cost the city, in terms of people having to try over and over again to reach him on his phone if for whatever reason he doesn't answer? I'd hate to guess.

I'm not sure if there's any correlation between technological and political progressiveness, but it wouldn't surprise me. A narrow mind is generally narrow in more than one way. People who are frightened by new technology are probably easily frightened by anything or anybody different from them. They cling to their comfort zones even when they know life could be so much easier with just a few changes in their routine, maybe learning something once in a while, opening their minds to new possibilities. Fortunately, that type of rigidity might be fading in the American experience. How exhilarating that our nation has finally resounded with a clear "Yes" to change -- now Tacoma, how about getting on the bandwagon?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Doing the right thing is a "serious mistake"?

So Senator John McCain, the President's opponent in our last election, has come out saying that Obama's decision to release the Bush torture memos is a "serious mistake." He said, "The release of these memos helps no one, doesn't help America's image, does not help us address the issue."

It appears, my good senator, that your main concern is with America's image here. But now, as I have so often in the past, I beg to differ. America's image, worldwide, can only be enhanced with this release. Did you not say yourself, just today, that "the image of the United States of America throughout the world is a recruiting tool for Islamic extremists"? That would be the torturer image, we presume, since the interview topic was the news that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been waterboarded almost 200 times.

We know you didn't say it, but let's just get this little objection out of the way right now. These memos didn't reveal anything new to the bad guys. Does anybody imagine that any prisoner goes home and doesn't talk about his detention to his friends, family, and neighbors? Oh, they knew about it allright -- how else could it have been used as a recruiting tool? The only people who didn't know about it were Joe Sixpack, Joe the Plumber, average Americans who love their country and think that means having to love whomever happens to be leading it, regardless of his actions (unless, of course, that leader happens to be named Barack Obama).

As American citizens, we have a right to know what our leaders are doing behind closed doors. You do, after all, work for us -- not the other way around. We elected you, and you answer to US. Granted, certain operational methods must be classified in the interest of national security, but the commission of war crimes can never, and must never, be concealed for the sake of "public interest." Whose interest does that really serve, anyway? As I postulated in the preceding paragraph, the only way to keep these techniques completely secret is to never let anybody out of detention, or to kill them. If we're going to let even one go free, then who are we really hiding the dirt from, if not our own people? And that puts us all at risk. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to actions that could potentially inflame an entire people to want to wage war on us.

With the release of these memos, we have shown the world -- our enemies included -- that America really has changed. We are no longer the country of the "Decider." We are now America the beautiful, the generous, the tolerant, the freedom-and-justice-loving, the humble, and the proud. It takes a strong person to admit a mistake. The country giggled and tittered and hung its collective head when a recent president tried to cover up, not a massive torture operation, but a moment of stolen pleasure. How weak and dishonorable that made him look! By contrast, here is Obama, revealing at last what our enemies have long known, and what our friends and ourselves should have been allowed to know, warts and all. Not proud of it? Nobody should be. But what we can be proud of is that today's America is not the America of last year, or even the last eight years.

We are moving on and leaving the past behind, Sen. McCain. And to leave it behind, we must know what it is we are leaving. So yes, this release most definitely does help address the issue. We now know some of the things that have been done in our name, and how it got to be that way, and maybe now we can find ways to keep it from ever happening again. Because our own safety, security, comfort, etc. can never justify the torture of innocent or even potentially innocent human beings.

In the meantime, dear senator, you guys don't scare us anymore. We voted for hope over fear last November, or did you not get that memo?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Susan Boyle, we love you!

It defies all logic, all knowledge of human nature. How does a frumpy, middle-aged woman from a backwater Scottish village (who can't even remember the word "village") become an Internet sensation overnight, with a fan club already over a million strong?

Yes, she sings like an angel. But that's not all of it. I guess it's the courage -- the courage to stand up onstage when the judges, the audience, and undoubtedly the show's viewers, were unabashedly mocking you. You saw it, and you didn't care. You even wiggled your hips, to the titters of many in attendance. You knew your moment was coming, and you patiently waited for it, answering the host's condescending questions. Finally, it was your turn to sing.

And when those golden notes rang forth, your critics were silenced. The judges had tears in their eyes. The audience gave you a standing ovation before the first verse was sung.

Why do we love you so much? Oh Susan, you have given us much more than a song today -- you have given us hope! You showed us that 47 years old is NOT too old to make one's debut on the world's stage. You showed us that physical beauty is a poor indicator of real talent. But most of all, and what made us cry, is that you showed us that even within the unlikeliest among us, some measure of greatness resides. Within each of us, as homely or as outcast as we may be, there exists some shining jewel just waiting to be polished off and revealed.

Thank you, Susan Boyle, for giving us... ourselves.