“I’m Not a Member of Any Organized Party — I’m a Democrat”

NC_Democratic_PicnicWe set off yesterday afternoon to find out if there was any truth to Will Rogers’ old quip. We attended our first Nevada County Democrats’ Annual Picnic at Condon Park. We made a couple of new friends, which was — truth be known — our real motive for going.

The lunch was excellent (barbecued TriTip, barbecued chicken, potato salad, etc, and terrific desserts … thus making the weekend complete for us, since we’d had TriTip and chicken the night before at the Sierra Star Vineyard).

But, like they say, there’s no free lunch, and so part of the price of admission (more than compensated for by the several new friends we made) was the polite attention we gave to several speeches, two of which I have embedded below. Sorry for the jerky quality (I forgot my tripod … thus proving, I suppose, Will Rogers’ point).

Chris Parker, a tax attorney, is a candidate for State Board of Equalization, and Dave Jones is a candidate for State Insurance Commissioner, good men both.

What Do Global Warming and a Dysfunctional Health Care System Have in Common?

money_influenceDavid Fahrenthold, writing in the Washington Post today (“Environmentalists Slow to Adjust in Climate Debate“) takes environmentalists to task for — essentially — the poor production values of their rallies and public demonstrations:

ATHENS, Ohio — The oil lobby was sponsoring rallies with free lunches, free concerts and speeches warning that a climate-change bill could ravage the U.S. economy.

Professional “campaigners” hired by the coal industry were giving away T-shirts praising coal-fired power.

But when environmentalists showed up in this college town — closer than ever to congressional passage of a climate-change bill, in the middle of the green movement’s biggest political test in a generation — they provided . . . a sedate panel discussion.

And they gave away stickers.

Taken as a whole, Fahrenthold’s article is schizophrenic. Later in the article he speaks of the disparity in money resources between the two camps:

Oil and natural gas groups have always had deeper pockets. In the first six months of 2009, the Center for Responsive Politics found they spent $82.1 million lobbying Washington on various issues, including climate policy. In the same time, environmental and health groups concerned with climate change spent about $6.6 million on lobbying and clean-energy firms $12.1 million, according to two other analyst groups, the Center for Public Integrity and New Energy Finance.

It’s almost as if Fahrenthold has been subconsciously moved by admiration for the noise and commotion (the “production values”) of the townhall screamers opposed to health care reform, and has let that feeling drive this article emphasizing the lackluster demeanor of the environmental movement.

Efforts to change policy responses both to anthropogenic global climate change and to the unsustainable and dysfunctional health care system are short-circuited by the power of money, from the oil and coal industries on the one hand, and from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries on the other.

Astroturf  protesters (fake grass roots, funded by corporations) seem to be a factor to some extent in both issues.

These are just  two of the most conspicuous examples of a broader pattern of the influence of money over policy.

To chide environmentalists for — in effect — lack of imagination, is churlish and irrelevant.

What’s relevant is money and its corrupting influence in Washington.

Vivid Video Gallery of Auburn Fire

auburn_fireFollow this link to a striking YouTube video of many closeup scenes from the Auburn fire, compiled by “On Scene Action Media.”

The video is not legally “embedable” here, but can be seen in full on YouTube.

Notice at about 6 minutes into the video are some closeups of the helicopter bucket brigade dipping into a local pond.


Nevada County Scanner

NC_ScannerA Yubanet reader posted this link to the Nevada County Scanner, which — at the moment — is picking up a lot of the chatter from first responders to the Auburn fire, now in progress:

Free video streaming by Ustream

Note Jeff Pelline’s good report on the Auburn fire here.

A Beautiful Summer Evening at Sierra Starr Vineyard

sierrastar_bbqWe joined some dear new friends — along with a hundred or so other Bacchic revelers — for “BBQ and the Blues” at Sierra Starr Vineyard last evening. Good wine, good conversation (until the good music got loud), and good food.

Very casual, with most people bringing their own lawn and beach chairs, picnicing in front of the bandstand, sipping and eating and lolling on the grass as the sun went down on a beautiful summer evening, the blues getting hot finally as the almost full moon rose above the stage.

There were a few minor glitches — disorganized and overcrowded parking, failure to provide food and wine tickets when we checked in (we had to go back for them), the standard flies on the corn (but not while I was eating it), overcooked chicken (but great Tri-Tip) — all of which added up to the pleasant and comfortable feeling of dropping in on a barbecue at the house of neighbors screwed-up in pretty much the same happy way that we are.

And if you should happen to go next year, here’s a tip: When you check-in and they offer you the upgrade from the plastic wine cup to an actual wineglass, stick with the plastic. It’s much easier on the butt when you later return to your chair with your full dinner plate and sit on the cup, as I did (after only one glass of champagne!).

All-in-all, a great gig, and well worth the $20/per person.

Nice people too, those Sierra Starr folks.

Journalists and Freedom of Information

foiThere has been much written lately about the death of newspapers, and even the death of journalism as we’ve known it. But tucked in the depths of this interesting article by Scott Shane in the New York Times — about the work of a couple of young A.C.L.U. lawyers in their surprisingly successful use of the Freedom of Information Act —  is this hopeful comment:

The A.C.L.U.’s success has led some news organizations to take a new look at the potential of the Freedom of Information Act to expose government secrets. But the A.C.L.U. lawyers note that their effort has repeatedly fed off the work of investigative reporters who have identified cases of abuse, legal opinions and other documents that the organization then pursued in court.

From A.C.L.U. Lawyers Mine Documents for Truth

Krugman: “It’s the Politics, Stupid!”

grandma2Paul Krugman, in his most recent column, claims that, while new budget projections show a cumulative deficit of $9 trillion over the next decade, such deficits are manageable by historical standards, and the real danger going forward is political.

But what about all that debt we’re incurring? That’s a bad thing, but it’s important to have some perspective. Economists normally assess the sustainability of debt by looking at the ratio of debt to G.D.P. And while $9 trillion is a huge sum, we also have a huge economy, which means that things aren’t as scary as you might think.

Here’s one way to look at it: We’re looking at a rise in the debt/G.D.P. ratio of about 40 percentage points. The real interest on that additional debt (you want to subtract off inflation) will probably be around 1 percent of G.D.P., or 5 percent of federal revenue. That doesn’t sound like an overwhelming burden.

Krugman does acknowledge that Medicare and Medicaid have financing problems in the long term, but suggests that spending for those programs should not be too hard to solve in the context of health reform. He cautions, however:

But that won’t happen, of course, if even the most modest attempts to improve the system are successfully demagogued — by conservatives! — as efforts to “pull the plug on grandma.”

Fallon, Nevada

By Don Pelton

Sand_Mountain_Fallon_thumbI felt some melancholy when I read the recent article in the Tahoe Daily about the death of an air tanker pilot fighting a wildland fire northeast of Fallon, Nevada.  Of course, I felt sorrow for the pilot, but my melancholy had to do with the fact that Fallon — and also the town of Lovelock, mentioned in the article —  were stomping grounds for me as a child and as a young man.

My uncle Phil Pelton had a dairy farm, including 100 acres of alfalfa, near Fallon, during most of my young life. My parents left me there all summer for many years. My most vivid memories are of the summer lightning storms, falling asleep each night outside under the stars, watching for “falling stars,” as we called meteorites then, helping with the haying when I got older, and ice skating on the canal during the one or two winters when we were there at Christmastime.

I was walking out of the barn one summer afternoon with my cousin, Gayle — we were about ten years old at the time — when a bolt of lightning struck one of the two large cottonwoods next to the farm house — about a hunded feet from us — and seared and split the tree from about thirty feet up all the way to the ground. I have no doubt that scar is still there, if the tree is.

What I know for certain, though, is that I’m still here, and so is the memory of that bolt, which knocked both Gayle and me on our butts. Our legs just buckled instantly. It was quicker than fright. It was physical. The bolt slammed us to the ground, and as we got up I noticed that all the hair follicles on my body were tingling from the static charge.

Most remarkable, when the bolt struck, my cousin Garth and one of his friends were swinging on the two swings constructed between that cottonwood and its neighbor. They immediately stopped “pedaling,” and so their motion gradually wound down like a pendulum. The only visible sign of their experience was the loose tooth Garth’s friend suffered  when the lightning bolt clamped his jaw shut.

That’s as close as I’ve ever come, or want to come, to lightning.

The first time I ever went ice skating , it was on the frozen canal by the bridge. I watched my cousins strap on their skates and take off like a bunch of crazy happy otters. I couldn’t wait. I was so excited. I finally got my skates tightened, stood up, then realized immediately that I had no idea how to get in motion. So I did what felt natural at the time: I leaned forward, hoping that gesture would set me in motion.

Unfortunately, it sent my legs in motion out behind me and my head straight down onto the ice. The impact knocked me “out cold” — as they used to say in the old noir movies — for a few seconds. When I came to, I had the worst headache of my life. Here’s how the story ended: I went back to the farmhouse and rested for about an hour, then I came back to the ice and tried it again, this time much more gingerly and carefully.

If only I could recapture that casual and uncalculating determination we all took for granted as children. It didn’t feel like courage, even though it looks like courage in retrospect. It just felt like … the decision to finish what I’d so joyously started.

After sleeping outdoors all summer, I’d return to my home in San Leandro (in the San Francisco Bay Area) in the fall, and discover that I had to sleep outside for another week or so before I could tolerate sleeping in the house at night.

What a mystery! … that memories so full of lightning bolts and possible concusions can feel so sweet, even after more than fifty years.

Perhaps they’re sweeter especially after fifty years.

By the way, why didn’t the adults take me to the doctor to check for a concusion? Maybe nobody did that in those days, as we did years later when our son went flying over the handlebars of his tricycle onto his head. Or maybe, as my dear wife just suggested to me, they were keeping their eye on me for the rest of the day and I wasn’t aware of it.

We rarely notice — as children or as adults — the angels watching over us.

IMM changes dewatering plans

According to The Union today, “Representatives of the Idaho-Maryland Mining Corp. are preparing to revise a draft environmental impact report to better reflect their plans for de-watering mine shafts and cleaning up environmentally sensitive areas around the pro­posed mine.”

Ignorance is a National Resource

ElephantA case can be made that ignorance is a national resource. That sounds like an absurd proposition on the face of it, doesn’t it? But all you have to do is update that old adage from the fifties: “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”

Change it to “What’s good for United Health Care is good for the country.” Then, consider whose interests are best served by ignorance such as the following, documented in a new national survey done by the Indiana University Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research (CHPPR) and the Indiana University Center for Bioethics. (See news release).

With regard to the following particular survey question, Republicans are the most ignorant, believing by a majority of 53% that “the government will require the elderly to make decisions about how and when they will die.” (Is this a Fox News effect?).

CHPPR Survey Question

CHPPR Survey Question

Chomsky and Herman could well have used this example in their book, “Manufacturing Consent,” which describes how — in a system like ours, based on the consent of the governed — corporations are able to manipulate the media in order to “manufacture” consent compatible with their profit-based interests.

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