Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Million Solar Roofs proposal coming unplugged

The sunThe proposal to subsidize solar energy in California has mostly been praised by environmentalists, although of course it is not perfect. Now it's future is in doubt, another victim of the Governor's antipathy to labor unions.
Governor backs off solar energy plan
By Kevin Yamamura -- Bee Capitol Bureau

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is prepared to veto his top legislative priority - the "million solar roofs" proposal - after Assembly Democrats last week added labor-friendly amendments...

SB 1 could provide more than $2 billion toward solar-panel installations in California on a million residential, commercial and industrial buildings by 2019. Schwarzenegger made the bill a cornerstone of his legislative package in an attempt to appeal to environmentalists, and it has been one of the few high-profile proposals in a lackluster legislative session.

...Assembly Democrats added amendments to Schwarzenegger's solar plan that would require workers to receive a union-based wage on commercial and industrial solar installations. The bill also requires future solar installers to have an electrician's license and imposes penalties on uncertified electrical workers.

Republicans, including Sen. John Campbell, R-Irvine, an original co-author who had his name removed last week, contend that the change will drive up installation costs as much as 30 percent...

...But Democrats defend the change as minor because they say most workers on large installation projects already receive a "prevailing wage."
In other California environmental news, an SF Chronicle editorial says the state Senate should vote down the Governor's appointment of an energy industry lobbyist to the state air resources board. And the NY Times reviews the natural gas Honda Civic GX, available now in limited quantity in California. ("The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, an environmental advocacy group, calls it the greenest car in America.")

Monday, August 29, 2005

Fuel-efficient death traps

The deadly VespaI found this amusing. The Los Angeles Times ran this AP article about the rising popularities of scooters on Friday:
Scooter Popularity Increases as Gas Prices Rise

...As gasoline prices soar, the popularity of peppy, fuel-sipping motor scooters--most easily get 50 miles per gallon and some of the smaller ones get as many as 80 mpg--is soaring. Sales, estimated at 86,000 last year in the U.S., have doubled from 2000, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

... Although scooters are economical, the fun factor cannot be overlooked, Christopher said.

"There's just something about a scooter that invites you to jump on it and go," he said.

Dwight Turner, owner of GS MotorWorks in Frisco, Texas, a large seller of imported motor scooters from China, attributed the popularity in part to rising gasoline prices and the coming of age of youngsters who have graduated from foot-propelled sidewalk scooters.

...Small scooters, especially those made in China, South Korea and Taiwan, sell for as little as $800 to $900. Larger scooters, capable of legal highway speeds and more, can cost $4,000 to $6,000.

Scooters, although fun to drive, can be dangerous. Other motorists often don't notice the small two-wheelers, and that can land scooter drivers in the hospital — or the morgue.
Of course, this is the way they end all articles about cars too...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Health care for all: cheaper than what we've got now

Malcolm Gladwell has a really smart article in this past week's New Yorker on why universal health care has never caught on in the United States, and why the situation is getting worse. Luckily, the article is available to read online:

The Moral-Hazard Myth:
...One of the great mysteries of political life in the United States is why Americans are so devoted to their health-care system. Six times in the past century—-during the First World War, during the Depression, during the Truman and Johnson Administrations, in the Senate in the nineteen-seventies, and during the Clinton years—-efforts have been made to introduce some kind of universal health insurance, and each time the efforts have been rejected. Instead, the United States has opted for a makeshift system of increasing complexity and dysfunction. Americans spend $5,267 per capita on health care every year, almost two and half times the industrialized world’s median of $2,193; the extra spending comes to hundreds of billions of dollars a year. What does that extra spending buy us? Americans have fewer doctors per capita than most Western countries. We go to the doctor less than people in other Western countries. We get admitted to the hospital less frequently than people in other Western countries. We are less satisfied with our health care than our counterparts in other countries. American life expectancy is lower than the Western average. Childhood-immunization rates in the United States are lower than average. Infant-mortality rates are in the nineteenth percentile of industrialized nations. Doctors here perform more high-end medical procedures, such as coronary angioplasties, than in other countries, but most of the wealthier Western countries have more CT scanners than the United States does, and Switzerland, Japan, Austria, and Finland all have more MRI machines per capita. Nor is our system more efficient. The United States spends more than a thousand dollars per capita per year—or close to four hundred billion dollars—on health-care-related paperwork and administration, whereas Canada, for example, spends only about three hundred dollars per capita. And, of course, every other country in the industrialized world insures all its citizens; despite those extra hundreds of billions of dollars we spend each year, we leave forty-five million people without any insurance...
A lot of people automatically assume health care in the United States is better than anywhere else, because, well, God Bless America, I guess. But the facts above clearly show that we could be getting a lot more for the money we already spend.

In California there is a bill (SB 840), sponsored by Democrat state Senator Sheila Kuehl, that would actually save the state money while insuring everyone:
The purpose of Health Care for All—California is to promote comprehensive universal health care using a single payer public finance mechanism. Changing to a universal health care system would save enough money to provide comprehensive coverage and greater benefits by covering everyone under one insurance plan. Health care services would still be delivered through both public and private providers.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The allure of abstraction to an armchair general

Jonathan Chait makes an tortured argument in yesterday's LA Times about Cindy Sheehan and moral authority in debating war. Obviously, Chait, as a columnist, feels he needs to defend the merits of research and calm rationality over lived experience. Unfortunately, he just shows how many war supporters, both in the administration and the right wing of the Democratic Party, have turned the arguments about the war into abstractions.
...Liberal blogs are filled with attacks on "chicken hawk" conservatives who support the war but never served in the military. A recent story in the antiwar magazine Nation attacked my New Republic editor, Peter Beinart, a supporter of the Iraq war, for having "no national security experience," as if Nation editors routinely served in the Marine Corps.

The silliness of this argument is obvious. There are parents of dead soldiers on both sides. Conservatives have begun trotting out their own this week. What does this tell us about the virtues or flaws of the war? Nothing.
The silliness of Chait's argument is obvious to me. If you don't see dead soldiers and their families' grief as a valid flaw of the war, then you have hopelessly distanced yourself from what you are debating. This seems to be what has happened to the President and his administration, and it is why the chickenhawk argument is perfectly valid.

As the president has said, a major goal of the war in Iraq was to turn that country into the central front of the war on terror (To move the violence farther away from Washington, D.C.; to keep the ball on "their" end of the field--to use the kind of sports metaphor the administration is so fond of).

To have this as a stated reason for war undermines the administration's purported goal of "liberating" the Iraqi people. At the very least, it shows a callous indifference to their suffering, as well as an indifference to the suffering of U.S. soldiers and their families.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Utopia via gas tax

From the SF Chronicle:
Facing Our Energy Dependency
Rising gasoline prices? Terrific! Let's raise them some more
Dave Richards
...What if we, as Californians, put a huge tax on gasoline, and the federal government followed suit, and so did all the other states? I mean a significant tax, say $6 or $7 a gallon. Make gasoline cost $10 a gallon at the pump...

...The effect on our neighborhoods? Think about it. We won't drive to Costco or WalMart when we can walk down to the corner store for some milk and eggs and cookies. That neighborhood movie theater, run down or showing vintage films, suddenly sounds like a fun date, much more attractive than the multiplex in some faraway mall. Suddenly, we walk places we never would have, our health improves, we lose weight and we meet our neighbors and get to know them, because they are out walking to the neighborhood grocery as well. Instead of driving miles for dinner, inviting your neighbors over suddenly sounds way more affordable, and everyone walks home.
The benefits of higher gas taxes would certainly outweigh the negative effects, but this is a bit much. Richards makes the best part of his argument at the end of the article: rising gas prices and their effects on gas-dependent habits are inevitable; if we raise taxes ahead of them, we could smooth the transition while funding government programs rather than oil companies.
But we will be paying 8 or 10 bucks a gallon soon enough, much sooner than you might want to believe. The question is whether we want to pay ourselves or Exxon / Unocal / Shell / OPEC / fill-in-the-blank. The plan to become less dependent on gasoline, to remove the rope around our neck held by the oil- rich companies and countries, must be authored by ourselves, and waiting until the price of gas is $10 a gallon makes less sense than collecting that money now, and building a society where we know our neighbors and walk to the store, just as we did way back when.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Byron De Lear for Congress

Byron De LearAt the Los Angeles Greens meeting this evening, Byron De Lear announced that he is running for Congress in CD 28 against incumbent Howard Berman (D) and whomever the Republicans nominate. Byron, a founder of Global Peace Solution, says he will campaign on a platform of peace and independence from corporate interests.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

48th CD special election set for Oct. 4

Bea TiritilliFrom the valuable daily Roundup of California political news, I learned this morning that the governor has set October 4 as the date of the congressional special election in Orange County. Technically, Schwarzenegger set December 6 as the election date, but the first round, an open primary, is Oct. 4.

Green Party member Béa Tiritilli has already started campaigning in the district, which is considered a Republican stronghold. Tiritilli has a thoughtful platform that includes a call for a six-month withdrawl of the American troops in Iraq and a nuanced position on abortion (Tiritilli is Catholic and has two adopted children).

Monday, August 15, 2005

Why I don't always (heart) Metro

Metro busesWarning: this is going to be more of a rant than usual.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Greens meeting will feature a presentation from a Green who has lived in Los Angeles for 20 years without a car. Coincidentally, I've been trying to become more independent of my automobile. As a Green, I feel guilty driving no matter what, but since we are a one-car household, I feel especially guilty about monopolizing the car. Unfortunately, I have a longer commute that does not lend itself to public transit, and my efforts to car pool to work have been rebuffed. Nevertheless, in honor of record gas prices, I decided to experiment with taking the bus to work.

Today clarified for me why most Angelinos will not abandon their cars no matter how expensive gas becomes. The route to my work is relatively simple: I took the 714 Rapid down Beverly to Santa Monica Blvd, and transferred to the 304*, taking that into Santa Monica. On the way to work it was simple and ran on schedule, taking an hour.

But it took me two hours to get home! I got to the bus stop at around 5:15 and had to wait half an hour for the bus, meaning it was two buses behind schedule. This meant of course that when the bus did come, it was totally packed, so I had to stand the whole way to Beverly Hills. Also, the delay meant that the Rapid wasn't running anymore, since according to Metro, rush hour is from 3 to 6. So I had to wait for the 14 and take that. At least it didn't rain.

During my two hour sojourn I had plenty of time to reflect on the bad experiences I had taking the horrible buses when I lived in D.C. Once there was something wrong with the subway, so they used buses to transport all the metro people downtown. That meant that as I waited at my bus stop on Wisconsin, bus after bus came by completely packed without even stopping. That showed that the Metro system couldn't care less about the bus riders, and would always prioritize the subway people. Somehow I guess they expected me to telepathically understand that a subway line was blocked and therefore bus traffic on my route was canceled for the morning. After more than an hour of this I gave up and took the day off.

Maybe one day someone will solve the bunching up buses problem, in which no bus comes for an hour and then three come at once. That will be a glorious day.

Also, since when have buses had tvs with news and advertising (w/ sound) and horoscopes?!? Isn't there supposed to be separation of church and state? Why are captive bus riders forced to learn about astrology while they travel in discomfort to and from their jobs? This seems even worse than the in-elevator news/advertising they had at another place I worked, which was silent at least.

*UPDATE 8/16: Today it took me 20 minutes longer to get home on the bus than it did yesterday! Admittedly it would be even worse if the bus had made me late to work instead. (Also, I corrected a typo above where I put the wrong bus line.)

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The off-again, on-again redistricting proposal

My district: gerrymandering at work
California's Prop. 77, the constitutional amendment to put redistricting in the hands of three retired judges picked by the legislature, is back on the special election ballot. While I don't understand the hurry to put these initiatives before the voters--or in the case of Prop 77, to rush a redistricting plan into effect by next summer--I don't think these are very good reasons to oppose this bill. I think Greens should support it, even though it was proposed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

Yes, I can see why Republicans would like this plan--it gives them a chance to gain a bit of ground in Congress and the legislature without much risk. Reapportionment may help Republicans in the short term, but it might also lead to more democratic elections and better government longterm. And it isn't going to suddenly make California more conservative.

We know that gerrymandering is a problem in this state and this country, and that the current redistricting process is broken. This might be our only chance to fix it. The Democrats' proposal doesn't seem any better.

It has been pointed out that a better way to increase fair representation would be multi-district elections using proportional representation. Unfortunately, that is not close to happening. To paraphrase wisdom, we shouldn't allow the perfect to get in the way of the good.

If you have a convincing reason to oppose this, I'd like to hear it, so please put it in the comments.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Let them eat cake

Insensitive comment of the week
Niger's president, Mamadou Tandja, fueled perceptions that his government had misjudged the crisis with recent comments that "the people of Niger look well-fed." He said food shortages were normal in the nation and complained that opposition politicians and humanitarian agencies were exploiting the crisis.

"It is by deception that such agencies receive funding," he said.

His remarks puzzled agencies that have been working closely with the government on the crisis.
What is the saying about there never having been a famine in a democratic country?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

GP of LA County bylaws changes

I just got back from the Green Party of LA County's council meeting, where the council passed some bylaws revisions, including a big change from a 17-seat council with 5 large supervisorial districts to a 44-seat council with state senate districts. This change takes effect with the next County Council elections almost a year from now.

Another change is moving to the use of proportional representation in electing delegates to state meetings.

These changes were brought after the state meeting in Sylmar, in which the county council faced a lot of criticism for not being representative enough of the geographical and ideological diversity of the county.

In a recent email sent to Green Party activists nationwide, former (and likely future) Green Party of California gubernatorial candidate Peter Camejo singled out LA County and one of its council members as a target in his campaign to influence county councils through next year's elections. I hope he follows through with that plan without resorting to personal attacks against people he disagrees with. Then we should have a diverse, well-represented county. (And I may run for a seat.)

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Judges oppose Republicans' speedy execution bill

LA Times: Top Jurists Pan Faster Death Penalty Appeals
By Henry Weinstein, Times Staff Writer
Chief justices of state courts from around the country have urged the U.S. Senate not to pass a bill aimed at speeding death penalty appeals.

The resolution passed overwhelmingly by the Conference of Chief Justices this week was the latest opposition to the Streamlined Procedures Act, introduced in the Senate by Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and in the House by Dan Lungren (R-Gold River). Only the chief justice of Texas' Supreme Court voted against the resolution, according to several justices who were present.

This year, Kyl and Lungren introduced virtually identical bills in the Senate and House to remedy what they called "endless delays" between convictions in capital cases and executions.

...Critics said the legislation would sharply restrict federal courts' ability to consider petitions from state prisoners who claimed that their constitutional rights had been violated or that they had evidence that they were innocent.

In addition to the chief justices, the measure has drawn criticism from some conservative legal organizations, including the Rutherford Institute, whose president said the measure could lead to the execution of innocent people. About 50 former prosecutors and a dozen former federal judges have also weighed in against the bill.
This should put the kibosh on this bill. The best way to stop endless death-penalty appeals remains -- end the death penalty. According to the article, California has 630 people on death row--the most in the nation.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The end of the use of "hybrid" as a synonym for "fuel efficient"

NY Times: 2006 Lexus RX 400h: The Hybrid Emperor's New Clothes
ONE question lingers after driving the 2006 Lexus RX 400h: How did it come to this, that Toyota is now selling a hybrid gas-electric vehicle with no tangible fuel economy benefits?

...The hybrid version of the Lexus sport utility wagon follows in the tracks of the 2005 Honda Accord Hybrid by offering more horsepower than the conventional version of the same vehicle, a markedly different approach than that of economy-focused hybrids like Toyota's own Prius or Honda's Civic Hybrid. In this case we're talking 268 horsepower for the RX 400h, versus 230 for the gasoline-only RX 330.
That's right, an SUV is still an SUV. According to the review, this one gets only 23 miles a gallon.

I am kind of obsessed with hybrids, so it is unfortunate to read that Toyota is using the Lexus's energy efficiency for more power. But that's the way the auto industry has been for the past 20 years. Nearly every gain in efficiency has been turned into additional horsepower. I still want a Prius. Or an Insight.

UPDATE 8/8: Did you know that you can buy a $5,000 minivan in China that gets 43 miles per gallon? It's not a hybrid, just a low-power (top speed is only 81 mph) no-frills automobile. And guess who makes it....G.M! Just think how cheap it would be with the employee discount...