Thursday, November 26, 2009

International conservation NGOs

So like a good liberal I was brousing The Huffington Post the other day. I came along this article: Ashley Judd: Please, Population Control is Not the Answer for Congo.

I posted a comment, this time with my credentials, and the author Georgianne asked to chat with me about international development NGOs working in the region. She sent me two interesting reports:

A Challenge to Conservationists


It brought me back to grad school. One of my professors, Dianne Rocheleau, used to tell us about this kind of conservation. She dubbed it “guns and fences conservation.” Erect fences, and guard the reserve with guns so none of those destructive peasants can get in. Besides being unethical, it just doesn’t work. I’d ask you all to boycott donating to these agencies, but unfortunately, these NGOs derive extremely little of their funding from private donations, so there’s little we can do as normal citizens.

I found the critiques of TNC interesting, as TNC is one of the conservation organizations in the US I respect the most. As opposed to some other big national and regional NGOs, they do work directly with local communities in the west. They pay attention to all science, not only the stuff that suits their cause, and they hardly every exaggerate or lie, which is the MO of many other organizations. They put their money where their mouth is, spending it on buying land and putting conservation easements in place instead of lobbying above the communities’ heads and suing agencies. This is how the conservation movement game is played in America. While The Wilderness Society and Colorado Environmental Coalition is hated by locals in rural Colorado (some for good reasons, some not), TNC is not viewed as a “radical environmental organization” and is (relatively) well respected by the rednecks. I definitely consider myself an environmentalist, but after working years with some of these big conservation NGOs, I’ve become quite jaded. Like international aid, it’s all about the money.

As the author Chapin infers, we must work with communities not only because building the capacity of these communities to prosper, but because no matter how many fences you put up, no matter how many men with guns guard your sanctuaries, the disenfranchised people will use their traditional resources and you won’t meet your conservation goals. I also liked the fact that Chapin mentions that the true goal of an NGO is to work yourself out of a job. This NEVER happens. That’s not the way The Aid Machine works.

It’s all about keeping The Aid Machine running. People have jobs that they want to justify. NGOs have to keep spending money, regardless of the effectiveness, or the money dries up. They take the money and hire more people. They flail around for several years because doing true community-driven conservation is hard. But they will never refuse the money and say “sorry, this project just isn’t working.” That would mean no more funding stream. This is why I call it The Aid Machine. It is self-perpetuating, always feeding itself. It hardly every shrinks, only grows. Chapin had some startling insights on where these NGOs get their money and how that relates to their mission. These groups HAVE to keep getting money to survive, and soon they don’t care where it comes from, or what projects it goes towards. They just need to spend it, or next year they don’t get any. This is the problem of international aid. It’s not about helping, it’s about spending.

As far as the assessment of the CARPE program, it seems to me working with local communities was never really a goal of this program in the first place. Sure enough, this is called out several times in the report.

“Progress in working with forest concessions and in establishing community based natural resource management (CBNRM) reserves is limited.”

“Capacity Building: The mix of NGOs and federal agency service providers has not effectively addressed the capacity building objective. NGOs have strengthened park management and surveillance capacity, but impact on Community Based Organizations (CBOs) and local NGOs has been much less effective.”

By focusing more on enforcement and less on communities, it becomes clear that these agencies are doing “guns and fences conservation.” It seems that inviting the local communities to participate in conservation isn’t even a goal of this program. Look at the second strategic design element:

“2. A set of mostly US-based organizations that work across landscapes in common thematic areas such as multiple-use planning, forest monitoring, policy and governance and uncontrolled hunting;”

More enforcement. No where in the strategic goals is anything about working with local communities; no where is there anything about poverty reduction. The people of Congo are largely ignored and forgotten.

I found the constraints that were identified quite interesting:

“The main constraints to progress at the landscape scale include: remoteness, difficult access to the sites, lack of an information base for planning/management, lack of infrastructure, lack of agreements in place to work with government agencies mandated to manage lands outside of PAs, low tourism potential, and low local partner capacity. In several landscapes, insecurity makes access impossible or dangerous in parts of the landscape.”

First, we are told it’s hard to get white people into these places, and it’s dangerous. Um, why not leverage the support of the local communities then? It is inferred that the natives are difficult. “If those damn Africans would just get with the program and build roads, quit fighting, and partner with us, we would be fine.” No sign that the program itself is the problem. To them, Africans are passive recipients of aid, not active agents in change.

It's really too bad international conservation NGOs play the game this way. No wonder aid to Africa isn't working.

Monday, October 26, 2009

H.R.2807 - America's Wildlife Heritage Act: Changing our public lands laws

CSU professor Barry R. Noon wrote The greatest good for the greatest number in Saturday's Denver Post. In this piece Noon advocates revising the laws that govern public land managent to emphasize resource protection over use. While I agree with his thesis that land management should shift from use towards conservation, I don’t believe rewriting our public lands laws is the way to accomplish that goal.

The laws and policies which currently guide our land management agencies already allow agencies to do the things you’re advocating. The two overarching laws governing use on Forest Service and BLM land (National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA)) direct agencies to manage lands sustainably and to protect natural resources. There is a lot of decision space to work with within the existing regulatory framework. How do you want “advance environmental stewardship on our public lands?” Stringent stipulations on uses? Closed to logging and oil and gas development? All these things and more can be done within existing laws.

Congress and the Obama administration already “have the opportunity to advance environmental stewardship on our public lands” through our existing laws. Congress can do almost anything they want. Want more wilderness? Updated oil and gas On Shore Orders? Congress can do this with the stroke of a pen; they don’t need an overhaul of land management laws. We can “develop land-use policies that emphasize science-based management of our public lands—that is, policies that promote science based tools to sustain fish and wildlife populations and the resources and ecosystems on which they depend” through existing laws. In fact, land management agencies are already doing these things. Recent studies on greater sage-grouse are leading to more stringent restrictions on oil and gas development. Agencies rely heavily on scientific data to make decisions. When they don’t, they lose lawsuits. Using science is necessary to show impacts of agency actions when complying with NEPA.

Let’s look specifically at the H.R.2807 - America's Wildlife Heritage Act. I’m looking at the summary here:

America's Wildlife Heritage Act - Sets forth requirements concerning the maintenance of viable populations of existing native and desired non-native species within each planning area in the National Forest System's or the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) public lands. Directs the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior to adopt and implement a strategically targeted monitoring program for determining the status and trends of native and desired non-native species populations on System and BLM lands. Defines: (1) native species to mean species of plants and animals indigenous to a planning area; and (2) desired non-native species to mean those wild species of plants and animals that are not indigenous to a planning area but are valued for their contribution to species diversity or their social, cultural, or economic value.

Agencies already have a body of guidance regarding native species. It looks almost exactly like the broad, squishy language above, telling agencies natives are preferred while leaving room for non-natives. (Our politicians wouldn’t want to mandate that all species are native or their friends in the agriculture business would not be happy). Direction like this in a law is ambiguous and meaningless.

Requires the Secretaries to coordinate the management of planning areas of the System and the BLM with the management of the National Wildlife Refuge System and National Park System, other federal agencies, state fish and wildlife agencies, other state agencies responsible for management of natural resources, tribes, local governments, and non-governmental organizations engaged in species conservation. Requires the Secretaries to issue regulations implementing this Act within one year of its enactment.

We need a law just to tell land management agencies to work together? Is that really a good use of our legislature’s time and energy? Agencies already work together. There are processes in place (such as Cooperating Agency Status) that deal with agency cooperation.

As for NEPA, it’s a very simple law (it’s only a few pages) and should not be tampered with. NEPA says nothing about what course of action an agency should take. It does not give guidance on whether to allow use of resources or to preserve them. NEPA merely tells the agencies that they must make the public aware of the impacts of their actions and affords the public the right to participate in these decisions. No one can argue those are not very important things for a public land agency to do. It doesn’t matter how old it is, these important principles will always stand. NEPA should not be “polluted” with opinions on how to address specific resource uses. Policy, guidance, and land use plans should address those tough issues.

Maybe some tweaks around the edges could be warranted. But I would caution totally revamping our laws that govern public land management. The laws aren’t broken, only some administrations which implement them. This problem of mismanagement will not go away regardless of how many laws are changed or added. This effort might make folks feel good, but it means nothing. We would be better off with Obama’s Secretaries of Ag and Interior issuing guidance to the agencies which emphasizes protection of natural resources and makes certain practices/approaches which do this a priority. Their ability to do this is well within existing law. We saw how much Bush did within existing law (and some outside law) to make use a priority. Obama can do the same to further his administration’s environmental goals the opposite side of the spectrum.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Problems with sports culture in the US: Who is responsible?

Denver Post printed a nice piece by a high school athlete today entitled "Why I can't stand youth sports anymore." It made me think about sports culture in America.

I hear a lot of blame going around when it comes to sports in 21st century American culture. Sports is HUGE business. Absolutely enormous. Never mind the billions the NFL makes every year, now make believe (fantasy) football is now a billion dollar business. The negative aspects are pretty apparent in all levels of sports culture: hyper-competitiveness in youth sports, devastating injuries to young athletes, parents assaulting referees, athletes making it through college not knowing how to read or write, poor sportsmanship, athletes who have learned that violence and aggression is the way to address life's problems, etc. Sports headlines crowd out “more important” news as the media fans the flames of every sports story. ESPN covers our 11 year-olds playing little league like there’s nothing more important in their lives than winning, and we talk about how there’s no child exploitation in America. The list goes on and on. I'm a huge sports fan, and I realize there are many positive aspects too. However, I think most Americans can agree with this well-written piece by Scott Martin that these negative aspects are getting worse.

So who’s to blame? The parents? The kids? The agents? The athletes? The owners? The media? To some extent, all of the above. However, in my humble opinion, none of those parties are more to blame than the American sports consumer. That’s me, you, and millions of Americans who park our butts on the sofa or in a stadium seat every weekend. We feed the gargantuan monster that has become sports in America. Make no mistake about it WE drive this bus. The negative aspects are reflections of American’s obsession with sports. These negative elements are manifestations of the market reacting to millions of consumers and their dollars.

So what will it take to change? What can we do to try to reverse some of these trends? To some extent, we can change things on the ground in the neighborhoods in which we live. Grassroots action can make your child’s soccer program better. However, to make large systemic changes to US sports culture, I fear that only a large shift in sports consumption will do the trick. People need to stop watching and stop attending. I, for one, don’t see that happening. I, for one, am not about to stop watching sports. As long as the US consumer continues to demand sports, parents will continue to drive their kids too hard and the media will continue to have a heyday every time Brandon Marshall has something to say.

It’s easy to point the fingers at others. But I feel that I’m a hypocrite if I attack sports culture when I’m sitting happily on the sofa soaking it up for 6 hours every Sunday. Anyway, just something to think about.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Professional Rant of the Week: Garrison Keillor

Petulance and the Peace Prize
By Garrison Keillor

Evidently some people were disappointed that Dick Cheney didn't receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and believe me, I sympathize. I thought Philip Roth should've gotten the literature prize instead of that grumpy Romanian lady with the severe hair. But it was Mr. Obama whom the Norwegians wanted to come visit Oslo in December and stand on the balcony of the Grand Hotel and wave to the crowd along Karl Johans Gate. Face it, Mr. Obama is going to draw a bigger crowd than Mr. Cheney would have.

When a man has shot somebody in the face with a shotgun, people are going to be reluctant to line up en masse in his presence lest he get excited again. As for Mr. Cheney's boss, he was an unlikely pick for the Peace Prize after it was revealed by a White House speechwriter in a recent memoir that Mr. Bush once said, "I whupped Gary Bauer's ass." Boasting about ass-whupping is not the mark of a Nobel Peace Prize winner. The correct word is "whipping."

Going to Oslo in December and sitting through a black-tie banquet with a bunch of wooden-faced Norwegians and eating herring and delivering a speech larded with bromides about international cooperation and no jokes is not what I'd consider a whee of a good time, frankly. Oslo is rather dark and murky in December. The sun rises during the first coffee break and sets right after lunch and this does not make for a festive mood.

Some conservative pundit suggested that the president should've declined the prize, but it is not gracious to reject a compliment. One should accept it with becoming modesty, as Mr. Obama did, that's what your mother brought you up to do. The prize isn't about you, it's about Peace, or Literature, or Homecoming, or Champion Hog, or Male Vocalist of the Year, so walk up there and smile for the cameras, say thank you and sit down.

The wailing and gnashing of teeth that you hear among Republicans is 68 percent envy and 32 percent sour grapes. Here is an idealistic, articulate young president who is enormously popular everywhere in the world except in the states of the Confederacy, and here sit the 28 percent of the American people who still thought Mr. Bush was doing a heckuva job at the end, gnashing their teeth, hoping and praying for something horrible to happen such as an infestation of locusts or the disappearance of the sun, something to make the president look bad, which is not a good place for a political party to be, hoping for the country to slide into chaos. When you bet against America, you are choosing long odds.

A person can run down the list of all that's wrong with this country, including the lobbyists who cross back and forth from public service to influence-peddling like alligators on the golf course, or the bankers who lost their minds in the great mortgage mania, but the country has a history of rising to challenges and turning away from demagogues and doing what needs to be done. Because we are a passionately patriotic people, infused with a love of our history and our land, and so we have limited patience for fools, such as the ones who now dominate the right.

Conservatism is a powerful strain in American life that ordinarily passes as common sense. Save for a rainy day. Don't foul the nest. Don't burn your bridges. Don't sacrifice the future for short-term profit. But when it contradicts itself and becomes weighted down with bigotry and cynicism, then it doesn't hold water any more.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." And conservatives tried to keep functioning through the Bush administration but the contradictions wore them down, and last fall, when the federal government wrote a blank check to stave off collapse of the financial sector, conservative principles came crashing to the ground, and now all they have in common is that they don't like President Obama. OK, but resentment of an American president being honored by the Norwegians is not a good point from which to build a Republican revival. Petulant fury isn't a winning hand in politics. Get over it.

Raiders’ shitty attitude direct result of Al Davis’ actions

So, my Oakland Raiders are the worst team in the NFL. Never mind that a few other teams are winless—they’ve played much better than Oakland. At least they still try. The Raiders have already given up, illustrated by that horrible performance against the Giants. One would think the lack of effort lies with the players, right? Not necessarily. Remember in Raiderland everything goes back to Al. Some players might give 100% at first, but they soon get extremely discouraged by Al’s actions. Here’s my thoughts on how low morale and zero effort goes directly back to Al Davis:

1) Davis drafts players based purely on their physical skills. He doesn’t care one iota about leadership skills, locker-room dynamics, drive, effort, love of the game, studying the game, etc. How can we build a franchise that wants to win when the players Al brings in don’t care?

2) Al pays underperforming players HUGE contracts. The fact that JaMarcus, Javon Walker, Tommy Kelly, etc. are making more than players who deserve it is obviously a blow to morale.

3) The coaching staff is inept and/or hamstrung. Preparation is bad. The game plan is bad. The play calling is suspect. The coaches also don’t care. Al doesn’t pay coaches well, and no coaches want to be puppets. So the players are stuck with leaders that can’t help them pull out of a shitty season. However, if we happened to find a diamond in the rough, or if a coach makes the right decision, Al vetoes it. Coaches must implement the game plan Al Davis wants. I’m sure players get frustrated with Al’s obsession with the long ball game of the 1970s. D lines and D secondaries are too good to make this the foundation of a football team in the 21 century. But coaches are not allowed to stray from Al’s MO. Coaches are puppets that can’t fix the problems, so why should the players play hard for them?

4) We all know Al plays favorites and has his “pets.” There is no punishment for bad play and there’s no little reward for good play. JaMarcus would be sitting on the bench if he were on any other team in the NFL. But Al won’t have that. He was mad when Kiffin didn’t play him earlier. This is clearly discouraging for players. Players are saying “well, if they put up more than 14 points on us, this game is over, so why try after we get down?” Once Chaz gets back, do you think Al would let Cable sit Darrius Heyward-Bey like he should? Maybe, but somehow I doubt it. How do you think that makes Higgins, Walker and especially Murphy feel? Why play hard when you’ll get benched for Al’s new speedy toy that clearly isn’t ready to start in the NFL? You have to have an incentive to play hard, and that incentive is missing in Oakland.

5) They know their owner and sole decision maker won’t correct the problem. The last 7 years tell a clear story. Things in most losing franchises eventually get better if you stay patient. No one lets their team wallow in horridness forever. History has shown that’s not the case in Oakland. No other team in recent memory has been this bad for this long. There’s NO HOPE because people know Al is an incompetent leader and they know nothing will get fixed.

I’m not excusing players for quitting. It is partly their fault. However, when looking at this issue deeper, it becomes apparent that Al Davis is a major factor in poor morale and no effort.

The Rams, Chiefs and Bucs clearly give more effort and show more spirit than the Raids. Embarrassingly enough, I’m really jealous of the Detroit Lions right now. They’ve got a promising young coach who is committed to changing the losing culture of the franchise. They’ve got a young QB who wants to play there and who gives 100% during and between games. You can tell they scrap and fight in every game, even against teams that are supposed to blow them out. How freaking wrong is it that any team should envy the Lions?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Are Obama haters racist?

Since Joe Wilson’s idiotic outburst during President Obama’s heath care speech, there has been renewed interest in the issue of Obama’s critics being racist. The charge was leveled by Maurine Dowd and Jimmy Carter. Like many race issues, it’s set off a firestorm.

There’s no excuse for some liberals leveling the charge of racism against Obama critics. It bothers me when anyone cries “RACIST!” without any evidence. It bothers me when this comes from Al Sharpton and it bothers me when it comes from Glenn Beck. They are exactly the same in my book. Everyone needs to relax a bit and not throw around the racist work lightly.

However, the level of hatred we’re seeing towards Obama is unparalleled. Clinton did not receive this level of scorn, not even close. My most objective accounts, Obama’s policies are quite in line with Clinton’s moderate policies. Progressives are actually quite peeved at Obama for taking the middle road on too many issues. Obama is backing off from the public option in health care reform, kept Bush’s Sec of Defense, we still have troops overseas in two wars, there are still detainees in Gitmo, and we still don’t have any financial reform. Any fool arguing the Obama is an off-the-deep-end radical liberal simply ignores all facts and reality. If people were sick of “socialism” and government spending, where were all the protests when Bush pasted TARP? Where were the Hillary is a Nazi signs when she was pushing for health care reform?

The majority of Americans opposing Obama are not racist. They have some legitimate concerns. But I look at the extreme hatred coming from some on the right and I clearly see some element of irrationality. When you ask some of these nuts why they hate Obama so much, spittle flies from their mouths and they rant about how he’s a Muslim racist Marxist. This simply does not jive with any factual information at all, there’s obviously some strong bias there that affects the way they perceive Obama. I see this often, idiot lemmings carrying around Obama is Nazi signs. You can’t tell me there isn’t something in these people’s heads that prevents them from thinking rationally. I think in many cases that bias is racism.

I very much realize there was a lot of hate towards Bush. There were also strong feelings against Clinton after the Monica scandal. However, this is not irrational hatred to me because it was linked to a specific event. This is an important distinction. Much of the hate I see for Obama is linked to no specific issue, action or policy. I could also argue that much of the hatred towards Bush was based in his policies, namely his foreign policies. But when some (not all) Obama haters are asked why they dislike Obama, they can’t put their finger on anything specific. “He’s a socialist” they might say, or any other number of popular sound bites. What makes him a socialist? What has he done that’s so radically left? No Wall Street reform yet. He’s shown quite a bit of good old politician loyalty to corporate interests. If folks could better explain their issues to me, it wouldn’t be irrational hatred. But unfortunately many cannot and in too many instances we're not having a constructive discussion. In fact, we even saw this strong hatred during the campaign before Obama had done anything as a president and admittedly little as a Senator. To me, this is the difference between hate towards Clinton and Bush and hate towards Obama. Not tying this hate to any specific event makes me think there’s something else at work in their heads, some bias they can’t get past.

Some of my liberal friends need to largely keep the word “racist” out of their vocabulary and use it only when truly warranted. Otherwise it hurts liberals and Obama more than it helps. Everyone can agree that SOME people who dislike Obama are racist and I hope everyone agrees that throwing around the word “racist” with reckless abandon doesn’t help a bit. We should celebrate our common ground on this issue and move on from a pretty much petty argument about how many people are racists.

Friday, August 21, 2009

My angry healthcare rant

Accoring to the latest polls, Americans are losing confidence in Obama. I wonder if a significant portion isn't progressives. Frankly, I’m getting a little pissed. He needs to stand up to the lying obstructionists and push through health care reform.

I’m really sick of these political fuck-tards, Nazi sign carriers and Fox News detractors. I can’t see how you could stand for the American people and deny healthcare reform. Insurance premiums double in four years. This is A-okay with the Republicans politicians and a ton of brainwashed Americans. We’re paying through the nose for the uninsured. This is just great with the Republicans. Heathcare will continue to eat up our budgets, and this if just fine with the Blue Dogs. I’ve never seen a more obvious sucking up to corporations. They’re laughing at you all while taking their record profits to the bank. They’ve successfully brainwashed you and bought you. Isn’t American about the people, not the companies?

Half of the dissenters say we don’t need healthcare reform at all. They got theirs already, so to hell with the rest (apparently they’re so rich they don’t care that their premiums go up 25% a year). The other half lies about how they want to see “responsible reform.” We see these commercials paid for by the insurance industry talking about “healthcare reform the right way.” Do they think we’re stupid? Co-ops are “the right way?” Co-ops are a freaking joke, another distraction. “Litigation is the only problem” they say. Yup, if we just stopped those pesky lawyers our healthcare system would be perfect! How can anyone defend the insurance industry? Listen folks, the free market doesn’t work in this case. The incentive is to screw hard working Americans out of healthcare they’re entitled to. They get raises and promotions for denying coverage. Apparently the Republicans think this is really cool! How in the world can you defend this? There’s no competition now. Companies collude with each other like small town gas stations, they don’t compete against each other. This is just great to the “no healthcare reform” crowd.

Don’t even get me started about idiots ranting about “gov’mnt control” or “socialism” while they pick up Social Security checks and get Medicare. I’d like to detach you completely from the “socialist” teat and see how loud you scream. Take your freaking kids out of our “socialist” schools and put your own house out when it catches on fire while you’re at it.

Some of the Dems are just as bad. These politicians are bought and paid for, straight up. I am interested in hearing what the insurance companies would like out of this bill. I’m interested because that should be exactly what we DON’T do. These guys are laughing to the bank while Americans die.

A few weeks ago I supported slowing down to listen to concerns and try to reach an acceptable compromise. Well I’m done with that. Time to punish the liars and thugs. I’m looking forward to the day when we pass serious much-needed healthcare reform in this country and all the nuts get so mad they can’t sleep.

I was hoping a good hate-filled rant would make me feel better, but it’s not. I can’t even read the Denver Post forums anymore or I get upset. Obama, get this done, chief.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The War in Afghanistan

To “win” in Afghanistan, we must win over the people.

To understand this conflict and why the Taliban is having success in Afghanistan we must walk in the shoes (or sandals) of an average Afghani. Before the Taliban, Afghanistan was run by multiple clans, which operated like gangs. They set up checkpoints and took what they wanted—whether money, your daughter or your life—from Afghani citizens by force. There was no law and no justice. As you can imagine, for your average Afghani, anything was better than this.

So then the Taliban rolled in town and cleaned thing up. They set up a justice system, and even if sharia is tough and often sick by our standards, it was at least consistent and relatively free of corruption. People had recourse against assailants, there was some semblance of order. Gone were checkpoints and many citizens of Afghanistan were finally free of the violent gangs. The Taliban opened schools, and although girls couldn’t go and the curriculum was very strict Islamic teachings, at least it was better than no schools at all.

So again, to understand, walk in their shoes. They don’t “follow” the Taliban because they hate America. The average poor Afghani doesn’t give a fart about America. They care about their herd of goats, their garden, and feeding and schooling their children. Taliban provided these things when no one else would.

We cannot win Afghanistan without providing these things for the Afghani people. Dissolving the Taliban is one goal, but the second goal has to be to create a working government in Afghanistan that can provide security and other basic needs for the people. If we don’t some other radical group will.

The people will define success our in Afghanistan. If America shows them we can help provide for their basic needs, they might just help us take their country back from the Taliban. This is not an easy task, as Afghanis have always distained outsiders. However, if we bomb them and do the Dick Cheney “just kill them” thing, they will side with the Taliban in droves. With only a relatively small number of troops in Afghanistan the last few years, we didn’t have the troops we needed to invade villages, kill the bad guys but spare the innocent women and children. Instead we bombed them, and although we surely had some success, the collateral damage was hurting our cause. When Americans are killing more civilians than the Taliban, it’s no wonder why the people were still siding with the bad guys.

Many experts that know Afghanistan much better than me or anyone else on this forum think we’re best off pulling out of the country altogether. While I don’t agree, I see their point that an armed outside presence in Afghanistan has a real danger of pushing more people over to the Taliban. I think our approach to Afghanistan now is a pretty decent balance of kicking bad guy butt while trying to win over the people. But the worst possible thing we could do now is to take the gloves off. They will remember and they will NEVER be on our side. Now, instead of being a bit cold to America, they’ll make it their mission to kill us for generations and generations.

It's never as simple as just killing bad guys, and we have to think through this enough to ensure long term success and the best outcome for America's interests.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Gates Gate

This whole Gates thing is making me mad. I'm raving pissed at Glenn Beck and other media prostitutes who are taking this chance to make ludicrous charges about Obama being racist. But I'm also pretty darn angry at Prof Gates.

At first I thought for sure this was profiling by the 911 caller, as well as the policeman. I thought this was the situation: An elderly, well dressed black man with a cane and a professional driver were fiddling with a key in their front door. Anyone who would call the police in that situation are racial profilers, little doubt of that.

Turns out that wasn’t the situation at all. Gates and his driver actually broke the screen door down to get inside. And when I heard the actual 911 call, I was downright embarrassed. Here’s a transcript of the call. and here’s the audio recording. (If this link doesn't work you can Google it. It's worth hearing). This lady is obviously calling out of concern. She acknowledges that the men might be residents, but says she thought she would call just in case. When asked by the 911 operator what the men’s races were, she didn’t even know. She thought one might have been Hispanic. How could she be profiling if she didn’t even know their races at all?

Of course, an critical point is that Crowley still made a mistake in arresting Gates. He had no grounds to do so, which is why the charges were dropped. He should have just walked away. However, I now see that it is extremely unlikely Crowley or the caller were racist. We later heard about how Crowley taught his coworkers about racial profiling. That doesn't exonerate him, but it does make it more unlikely that he would treat Gates differently. I find myself thinking the only one thinking about race in the whole issue was Gates. He acted very badly. I'm sure he was very tired from getting back from China and wasn't in the mood to be confronted, but that's no excuse. I think Crowley was offended at being called a racist and his ego was wounded and he made the wrong call by taking Gates in. But this was more of a cop power trip than racist. It's a "how dare you talk to ME like that" moment. Guess maybe there's a chance he wouldn't have taken him in if he were white, I just can't see a shred of evidence.

And I wish Obama would have kept his thoughts to himself on this one. In a press conference early this year on something I can’t remember, someone asked him why he hadn’t condemned some action earlier. He said “I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.” He should have taken his own advice on this one. Could be the first blunder Obama's made.

I'm angry at Gates because there's no doubt racial profiling is a significant problem in America. But now by "crying wolf" he's decreased the credibility of minorities that are profiled. Now these idiot rednecks in Colorado think every time someone shouts racial profiling, it's another Gates Gate. Plus he's given the right more fodder in their race bating antics. He owes the black community an apology for that. Anyway, I just hope this whole thing goes away now.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Top 10 hip-hop/rap albums of all time

Not necessarily the biggest, or the most influential or important, just my personal favorites. No particular order, but the first 5 are pretty clearly in the top tier

First teir

1. The Roots: Things Fall Apart (1999). Brilliant. The Roots are an amazing group, and although the earlier Illadelph Halflife and the later The Tipping Point are also must haves, Things Fall Apart is nothing short of a hip hop work of art. The beautiful You Got Me made me an Erykah Badu fan, I love the hard-hitting 100% Dundee, the dark Step Into the Realm, but the best tune on the album might be a little collaborative ditty with Mos Def called Double Trouble. So “either stand tall or sit the fuck down.”

2. The Beastie Boys: Check your Head (1992)
. This album would make my Top 10 Albums of All Time list. Creative, unique, and fun as hell, Check Your Head is a masterpiece. We could see a shift to the more creative side with Paul’s Boutique, but in this album, the Beasties jumped in with both feet and made a huge splash in the hip hop ocean.

3. Notorious B.I.G.: Ready to Die (1994). Hard, tight, and oozing with skill. Biggie Small’s first was his best. Or should I say techniques. Let Biggie say it himself: “I got techniques drippin’ out my butt cheeks/sleep on my stomach so I don’t fuck up my sheets.” And: “No spouse in the house so she rode for self/to the hospital, to see if she could get a little help/Umbilical cord's wrapped around my neck/I'm seein' my death and I ain't even took my first step/I made it out, I'm bringin' mad joy/The doctor looked and said, ‘He's gonna be a Bad Boy’.”

4. 2-Pac: Strictly 4 my N.I.G.G.A.Z. (1993). An early 2-Pac album, and his best by far. It’s his best writing, best beats, and instead of half the songs on the album being good, they all are. It contains some lighter fare such as Keep Ya Head Up, some of his hardest songs, like the title track, and the very personal personal Papa’z Son.

5. A Tribe Called Quest: Midnight Marauders (1993)
. I saw A Tribe Called Quest play at Lollapalooza ’94, right after this album came out. They caught my attention right away. I went out and bought this album, then everything they put out before and after this. Some Tribe fans might prefer Low End Theory (1991) but I think there are more stellar tracks on Marauders. This is quintessential east coast hip hop, and it’s the best New York City has to offer.

Second tier

6. Dr. Dre: The Chronic (1992). A hugely famous album that put gangster rap on the map. The beats are top-notch and the lyrics are scathing. I love Snoop’s work on this album.

7. Black Eyed Peas: Elephunk (2004). The earlier Bridging the Gap is also a great BEP album, and my first BEP album. And although Elephunk enjoyed much more success and is a bit more radio-friendly (which I usually don’t like), I still have to give it the edge as the best BEP album. Hip hop doesn’t get any more fun than this group. The emergence of Fergi on this album is great, and the back and forth between her and Will.I.Am on tracks like Shut Up really works. But what really make Elephunk a truly great the beats. Just play the title track and crank it up, cause “If it smells like funk it must be us.” My only top 10 album from the 21st century, it’s not hard to tell which decade was the best for hip hop.

8. Wu-Tang Clan: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993). A great collaborative effort from some brilliant vocalists, including Old Dirty Bastard and Method Man, Wu-Tang was a great contribution to east coast rap.

9. The Fugees: The Score (1996). You gutta love Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean in the same group. Lauryn had the voice, and Wyclef could write with the best. I love the reggae feel and the Sly and Robbie mix of Fu-Gee-La could be the sickest track on the album.

10. Ice-T: O.G. Original Gangster (1991)
. This probably won’t make most folks top 10, but it has a special meaning for me. When I went to college in 1992, I was a huge metal fan but didn’t get into rap. Then my black suite-mate turned me on to a band called Body Count, Ice-T’s hard core effort. I loved it, and went out and bought O.G. I then proceeded to blast the album to my entire hall at all ours. IT was all over--I was a hip hop fan for life. There are many great songs on this album, such as Bitches and New Jack Hustler, but my favorite track is one of the hardest rap songs every put out: Midnight.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Is conservation alone enough?

A few issues ago, High Country News printed an op-ed by Sarah Gilman called For the Love of Wastelands.

In this piece, Gilman argues that all land has value, and those values would be at risk to development of alternative energy resources, whether solar, wind, or other. She ends by advocating that we look for renewable opportunities in areas such as abandoned mines and alfalfa fields and ends with this paragraph:

Those are the kinds of alternatives we should exhaust before we move on to industrializing our "empty" spaces. But there's another approach we seldom even discuss: Why not simply use less energy?

Make no mistake about it: conservation alone is no silver bullet. Yes, conservation is often overlooked in favor of supply-side solutions. Yes, huge gains can be made through energy efficiency programs. I fully agree and support energy conservation efforts—in fact, some conservation should be made mandatory. However, we can’t fantasize away energy impacts by thinking all we need to do is conserve more. If we as a nation are really concerned about curbing our use of fossil fuels—a monumentally important direction for us to take—we need to have a serious discussion of where renewable energy projects and their associated infrastructure could be placed.

Let me be clear: conservation should be goal #1. We can instate some mileage/emission standards like Obama is asking. We beef up efficiency standards for new appliances and new houses. This won't be easy politically, but it is possible. Somewhat more problematic is a gas tax and carbon tax. Until we take money out of politics, lobbyists are going to make this politically difficult (not to mention the problem that politicians pushing these important laws will likely face tough times getting reelected). But for the sake of argument, let's assume we can do that too.

Even with the strongest efficiency standards in place, we won't be able to force everyone to conserve. There are still existing houses and buildings that won't meet standards and it's hard/impossible to force existing building owners to meet new standards. There are existing vehicles, and there will always be the freedom to drive to work if you want. I hope we drive prices of fossil fuel based energy through the roof, but there will always be gluttons who can pay those prices. Too much conservation is optional and always will be.

Fossil fuels currently supply 85 percent of the primary energy consumed in the United States. So how in the world can we conserve enough to not need more alternative energy than we have currently?

I agree we should look for places such as abandoned mine sites and alfalfa fields first, and although it’s a great goal, it’s naive to think we can “find ways to develop large-scale renewable energy plants and transmission without sacrificing landscapes.” A HCN issue or two ago there was an informative piece about resisting solar projects in the Mojave Desert. Of course, there are important ecological values there. Now we have a writer telling us there is even ecological value in “wastelands,” and of course Sarah’s right too. This is my point: nearly every single place has value and every single proposal will be in someone’s backyard and will be opposed and probably litigated by someone.

As environmentalists, we need to sit down at the table and play a CONSTRUCTIVE role in deciding where the best places are to build our new renewable energy system. Opposing every alternative energy project is obstruction, not constructive discussion. When environmental interests merely veto every renewable project, it has disastrous consequences for our world: We simply fall back on the same destructive fossil fuels we currently have in place. Resist solar development? More coal gets burnt. Resist a transmission line for wind energy from Wyoming to Vegas? More oil gets burnt.

I don’t like energy impacts any more than anyone else, but if we want to get serious about a clean energy future, we need to accept some impacts. It’s going to be fascinating, a little frustrating and a little encouraging watching America transform to green energy in the next decades.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Has Radical Islam Defeated Moderate Islam?

There’s little doubt that over the last 10 or more years, in the fight within Islam, the extremists are winning. There’s more anti-Christian and anti-Semitic rhetoric coming out of Muslim communities than ever before. Wahhabi Islam (the extreme, ulta-conservative Sunni brand of Islam radiating from Saudi Arabia) interests have spent a lot of money spreading violent Islam to many corners of the globe. They pay for insurgents to travel to Iraq and blow themselves up. They pay for teachers to set up brainwashing schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The more radical Hamas won popular elections in Gaza. Some of this is due to US policies, but I’m not na├»ve enough to maintain that if we went out of our way to appease the Islamic community that they would stop hating us. So, is the war within Islam over? Have the people and their leaders decided? I sure hope not. I think a good case can be made that the fight is not over and that the underdog moderate Islam has a chance to come back in coming decades.

As with many issues, I look first at the people on the ground that drive such a shift. In the case of people moving in the direction of Wahhabism, it’s not like the people in Islamic communities are actually selecting radical "desert Islam" over more tolerant "urban Islam." It goes back to an important point that Muslims are like everyone else—they want justice, stability, a way to make a living, and education for their children. In many instances they’re choosing between corruption or fairness, school for their boy or no school at all, some hospitals or none at all. Let me explain. Let’s look at Afghanistan. Afghanistan was chaos before the Taliban. No one could leave their houses in Kabul at night because of the brutal clans manning checkpoints all across the city. There were no decent schools, few opportunities to get your son an education of any kind. Officials were corrupt, and if your wealthy neighbor had a dispute with you, he could bribe the police and win the dispute. So it’s not extremely surprising that when the Taliban offered order, justice and schools, some people of Afghanistan moved under the Taliban’s umbrella. They weren’t choosing radical Islam per se, they were choosing between very tangible things that made a difference in their lives. We can see the same thing happening in other areas of the Muslim world, whether Gaza or Iraq. I believe once moderate Islam can offer these things to people in Islamic communities, they will rush under the moderate banner faster then they’re moving to Wahhabism.

Additionally, many times they cannot make a choice at all—there is no choice to make. The groups with power force the people to conform to their brand of Islam. The people might not becoming more radical, just their leaders. When the power shifts and Muslims are free to chose which variety of Islam they want to practice, the people will gladly abandon the Wahhabi ship. Of course, some of this power is gained by radical Islamic recruiters referrencing US policies such as unlawful occupation, indefinite detention and torture of young Mulims, etc. If the US could temper its tone and shift its policies to eliminate these recruiting tools, their power would decrease.

Another reason I have a more optimistic outlook on Wahhabism versus moderate Islam: petrol dollars are providing the resources for Wahhabi Muslims. Whether it’s insurgents in Iraq or brainwashing schools in Pakistan, these are paid for by oil dollars. Oil won’t be as big of a source of power for the extremists in the future. As oil production peaks in the Middle East and countries detach themselves from Saudi’s teat, extremists are going to have to deal with less resources. In a couple decades, their funding source could be substantially reduced. Americans can definitely help here, by instating policies and changing practices that reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

What we’re seeing is a temporary shift that, if we play our cards right and moderate forces within Islam are brave enough to step up, is reversible.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Closing Gitmo and coward politicians

The Senate on Wednesday resoundingly rejected an effort to spend $80 million to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and relocate the terrorism suspects, possibly to U.S. prisons:

This is utterly ridiculous. What a bunch of paranoid cowards we have in Congress. There is not ONE logical argument for not housing these guys in the US. All opposition is based on emotion and unjustified fear. What's the big deal? Some alarmists argue that:

They will escape. They will attract like-minded people to that location. They are security risk to communities. Every one of these arguments fails the smell test. These facilities are made specifically to house these kinds of criminals. There are no escapes. Radical people do not flock to these locations (First of all, most of them can’t even get into America in the first place. Second of all, wouldn’t it be stupid for terrorists to congregate? Isn’t their best defense to hide?) These arguments are made out of blind fear and no rational thought.

Our Congressionals need to get some guts and tell their paranoid constituents they're being irrational. Where was all the crazed hysteria when Timothy McVey was brought to Supermax, the high-security prison in Florence, Colorado? What’s the matter, are white terrorists not as dangerous as these brown terrorists? Let’s see, wouldn’t there be even more of chance that an indigenous terrorist would attract like-mined right wing radicals into Florence than Islamic extremists would? Didn't happen.

Supermax already holds some of the most notorious international and domestic terrorists, including would-be airline shoe-bomber Richard Reid, World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. Again, where was the squawking when this happened? Could it be that maybe Obama didn’t put these guys there, so the right had no issue with it? But even the Dems are whining now, so what gives?

Communities in Montana as well as Colorado are asking for the detainees. The residents of Florence, Colorado also say bring it on. They know much more about this issue than politicians and people from other communities. Let’s listen to them instead of coward politicians and unaffected interests.

Obama is proposing some changes to the Bush detention policy. Not enough change in my book, but changes nonetheless. Some changes include restrictions on hearsay evidence that can be used in court against the detainees, a ban on all evidence obtained through cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, giving detainees greater leeway in choosing their own military counsel and protecting detainees who refuse to testify from legal sanctions or other court prejudices. Closing Gitmo and moving these guys is part of that change in direction. It puts the old strategy behind us. It turns a page. It takes away an important symbol of dangerous Bush policy and moves more towards working within existing legal structures.

See, here’s another problem Obama and I have with holding these guys in a foreign country. If people support the Bush strategy of detention, then put your money where your mouth is. You want all the “benefits,” but none of the costs. If you support the Bush detention policies, then you should be willing to take on its consequences. People want to put these guys out of sight-out of mind; wash their hands clean and bear none of the responsibility. Maybe that makes them forget the injustice or deal with their guilt easier. I don’t know, but I do feel that we as a country should bear the effects of our decisions.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bashing Friedman

It seems environmentalists bashing Thomas Friedman is the new fad. If you don’t know Tom, he won Pulitzer Prizes for reporting he did in the Middle East in the 1980s. He now write for the New York Times and is most recently known for his book about globalization, The World is Flat, and his latest book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—And How It Can Renew America. I’ve read the later two and catch most his NYT’s op-eds.

I’m frankly a little amazed at how chic it has become for “progressives” to attack Friedman about his environmental writing. It’s no surprise that Tom would come under fire from the left in general, though. He’s not far left on most issues by any stretch of the imagination. He’s adamantly free trade and initially supported the Iraq war. In Hot, Flat, and Crowded, however, he advocates some policy measures that many moderates would view as radical. He calls for market signals, such as a carbon tax, gas tax, and commitments to have renewables make up a certain proportion of the US’ energy. This little op-ed sums up his main points pretty well: Mother Nature’s Dow.

So, let’s take a look at these criticisms of Friedman, shall we? Here’s the first one I saw:

Someone Take Away Thomas Friedman's Computer Before He Types Another Sentence. First of all, I have to concede this is well written and hilarious. Especially witty is his discussion of how Friedman draws a connection between the price of oil and the amount of freedom in oil-producing counties by plotting a couple points. The writer rightly pokes fun at his methods but doesn’t bother disputing the fact that Friedman is right. He starts his rant by complaining about how big Friedman’s house is and how rich his wife is. This argument smacks of idiot right wingers discounting what Al Gore has to say about climate change just because he owns a mansion.

Then there’s this piece by Brian Keane where he bashes Friedman for saying "My motto is change your leaders, not your light bulbs." Friedman is not advocating that people shouldn’t do some simple things to increase energy efficiency; he’s saying that’s not enough. A “revolution” is needed, he states, which entails hard work and pain. I thought environmentalists would agree, but instead they mock him.

Here’s a piece this week that attacks Friedman for originally accepting (then returning) a $75,000 speaker fee. Sure, Friedman didn’t need to take that fee even if wasn’t from a public agency. But then of course we get the commentors who pile on and contend he’s “a fraud” and “no expert on environmental matters.” Of course, when pressed for answers about which assertions in Hot, Flat and Crowded they disagree with, they can’t come up with anything.

Listen, I know Friedman isn’t a revolutionary or anything. He didn’t come up with all these grandiose ideas himself. And yes, he and his family could do a little better themselves as far as limiting environmental impacts go. I have no problem with calling out Friedman, but let’s discuss how his arguments fail, not about this writing style or house. I have no problem with leveling legitimate concerns about Friedman’s positions on other issues. But all that doesn’t invalidate the points he makes in Hot, Flat and Crowded.

Friedman has a large and diverse readership, folks which otherwise might not hear the message. It even helps that he’s not a traditional greenie. Right wing dolts can call Al Gore a "liberal socialist environmentalist," as if that discounts the truth of his message. Those labels just don’t stick to Friedman, which is why he’s a positive addition to our effort.

Time to spend more energy attacking the real problems/perpetrators and leave Friedman alone to spread an important message. It’s hard to argue Friedman isn’t a net benefit to the environmental movement.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Reacting to conservative reaction of EPA’s decision to regulate greenhouse gases

Two years ago, in Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Not surprisingly, the Bush administration ignored the ruling. The Obama administration has different thoughts.

Last Friday the EPA formally declared carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants that endanger public health and welfare, setting in motion a process that will lead to the regulation of the gases for the first time in the United States.

Conservative columnist Johan Goldberg wrote a piece on Earth Day called “EPA is Choking Democracy.” Check it out, it’s good for howling laugh. This is the same type of drivel pouring from conservative outlets throughout the US. Let’s take a closer look at Mr. Goldberg’s argument, shall we?

It takes no longer than the opening paragraph to encounter gross ignorance: “One of the most important events of our lifetimes may have just transpired. A federal agency has decided that it has the power to regulate everything, including the air you breathe.” Um, Jonah, that happened under the passing of the Clean Air Act and its extension in 1970, which gave the newly created EPA authority to regulate air quality. What do you think the EPA has been doing for the last 40 years? I know it gets your panties in a wad, but regulating the air we breathe is their job. Wow, how “important” it is that EPA has decided to do its job.

Maintaining that this action is an injustice to democracy is absurd. I thought Johan would know about how the judicial system in the United States works, but apparently he doesn’t. The Supreme Court makes rulings all the time, and they are not subject to a democratic process. Let’s see, were we allowed to vote whether black students should be allowed to go to school with whites? Choking democracy! Choking democracy!

Instead of getting mad at the EPA and Democrats, maybe Mr. Goldberg should rant about the Supreme Court, which just happens to be the most conservative court in our lifetimes. Maybe he should argue that the court made the wrong decision instead of getting mad at the government for following that ruling. Say, after the first black student was allowed in a white school in the south, was Jonah attacking the school that let him in?

Mr. Goldberg apparently thinks government agencies are also subject to a democratic process: “But there's still something troubling about an institution so immune to democratic control.” What?!? You mean agencies are supposed to ask us citizens what they want them to do? Hmm. I don’t remember being asked by the Bureau of Land Management whether to open the Roan Plateau to drilling. I didn’t remember the EPA asking Americans in 2008 what we thought about allowing California to establish stricter emission standards than the national standards. Again, Jonah, go back to Jr. High and study US government and tell me how agencies are not “immune to democratic control.”

Jonah mentions that Congress might take action, not the agency. This supposedly makes this an even worse violation of democracy. Um, if our elected legislative officials making laws isn’t democratic, what exactly is? Mr. Goldberg must think that not only do we get to vote on court cases, we get to vote on laws too! Wow. I don’t remember being asked about the war in Iraq. I must have missed that election.

This is exactly how our government was set up to work. There is no gross injustice here. You just don’t like the court’s opinion. I know with this Supreme Court you’re not used to that. Now you know what it feels like. I feel SOOOOO sorry for you, chief. I thought you conservatives were all about the constitution and rule of law and stuff. Guess that only applies when the law rules in your favor. Shocking.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Somali Piracy

As you must all know by now, a US vessel carrying food aid to Mombasa was high jacked by Somali pirates last week. The pirates have Captain Phillips hostage. The first thing most people are wondering is how in the hell there are pirates operating in 2009.

Well, half of the answer is that it’s just too expensive to have dozens of Navy vessels patrolling the Indian Ocean east of Somalia. It’s a vast area so protecting it all is not an option. We’re talking tens to hundreds of millions dollars a day to provide secure corridors for every US vessel. Ships are covered by insurance; a few million isn't much for them to pay. So, I don’t want to make light of this, but it’s not a big enough deal for shipping companies or the US government to pay what would be massive long-term costs. The other half of the answer is that Somalis are adept seamen and gunmen, and they have very few other options. Piracy is also common in Asian waters, as documented by National Geographic.

An article from Johann Hari called “You Are Being Lied to About Pirates” and “Toxic scandal in Somalia gave birth to new piracy” from describe some of the root causes at work here. European ships have been dumping toxic waste and fishing in Somali waters since 2005. As a result, Somalis formed an informal coast guard to patrol their waters and exact a “tax” on foreign vessels. I’m not trying to excuse this behaviour, just understand it.

The keyboard pundits are hammering on Obama for having a “weak” response. These chest thumpers think we should just blow every Somali boat out of the water. I have nothing wrong with enforcement, but more Somalis are surely ready to take their place. I see the point about deterring pirates, but in Somalia, most the other options for making a few bucks could result in death also. Killing these pirates is well and good, but the problem won’t go away until Somalia has a stable government and its people have other means of making a buck. (Unfortunately, how in the hell we facilitate a stable government in Somalia is a problem we haven’t come close to figuring out yet).

Friday the French Navy attacked the pirates and tried to rescue their hostage. The result was two dead pirates and one dead hostage. So, all these John Wayne types who think negotiating is a “joke” and killing a few pirates is the only solution: if the US Navy were to take your approach to this situation and (God forbid) have the same end result, do you have the balls to tell Captain Phillips’ family that in your vast expertise, you thought this was the right thing to do?

Let’s trust the Navy and FBI on this one. The pirates are surrounded, out of gas, and in over their heads. The vessel safely made it to Mombasa. No Americans have died yet. Seems things are going reasonably well for the situation. The best solution here is to give the pirates a jerry can of petrol, some food, and safe passage for the captain. Hang in there Captain Phillips, you’re in our thoughts.

It seems literally as I was writing this rant, Captain Phillips was freed. Details are still scetchy, but it seems three Navy SEAL snipers put three bullets in the heads of three pirates. Phillips was rescued. The patient approach prevailed.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Update: Tim DeChristopher charged

Update: Back in January, I ranted about environmentalist Tim DeChristopher sabotaging a BLM oil and gas lease sale:

Well, the feds have charged him two federal felonies. Check out the NYTs article here. Although I stated that I admired Tim for his act of civil disobedience, I can’t see how his actions were legal. Unless they want to see future lease sales chalked full of impostors, I don’t see any other option the feds have here except to change him. Get a good lawyer and good luck Tim.

There are a few interesting things to think about here. Tim met his obligation to provide a $45,000 down payment on the leases he bought. However, I’m fairly certain he did not come up with the whole $1.7 million. I guess that’s where the fraud charge comes in. I would argue that Tim’s actions were legal all the way up to the point where he didn’t come up with the money.

I argued back in January that anyone, not just oil and gas companies, can bid on leases. Here’s what the BLM web site says about lessee qualifications:

Federal oil and gas leases may be obtained and held by any adult citizen of the United States. No lease may be acquired by a minor, but a lease may be issued to a legal guardian or trustee on behalf of a minor. Associations of citizens and corporations organized under the laws of the United States or of any State also qualify.

Aliens may hold interests in leases only by stock ownership in U.S. corporations holding leases and only if the laws of their country do not deny similar privileges to citizens of the United States. They may not hold a lease interest through units in a publicly traded limited partnership.

Tim meets those requirements. Now, someone could say, “yes, but Tim didn’t have the capital at the time of the lease sale; that’s fraud.” Well, oil and gas companies don’t have the capital that early either. That’s why they ask for a small down payment, to allow the companies time to come up with the millions.

So, why don’t conservation groups try to raise money to actually pay for leases? Let’s test the system and see if that’s legal.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A win for westerners

On March 25, Congress passed the Omnibus Public Lands Bill. The bill failed by two votes the first time a round a few weeks ago. The bill designated over 2 million acres of wilderness in the following western states:

California -- 750,000 acres of wilderness (deserts, mountains, redwoods)
Colorado -- 450,000 acres of wilderness (canyons and mountains)
Idaho -- 500,000 acres of wilderness (deserts and canyons)
New Mexico -- 16,000 acres of wilderness plus protections for dinosaur tracks and a cave formation
Oregon -- 200,000 acres of wilderness (deserts, forests, wildflower meadows)
Utah -- 235,000 acres of wilderness (canyon country)
Wyoming -- 1.2 million acres of national forest would be off limits to future oil and gas drilling
Check out a map of the designations here.

The bill doesn’t mean much for Colorado. It designates parts of Rocky Mountain National Park and Dominguez Canyon, both of which are currently have wilderness-like protections already. The designation of the Owyhee-Bruneau Wilderness in my home state of Idaho, however, was quite significant. For the last 8 years, the collaborative Owyhee Initiative worked out a wilderness designation that got the support of a wide range of interests. The Owyhee Initiative website states:

At the invitation of the Owyhee County Commissioners, groups began meeting to see if a collaborative solution was possible for some of the contentious natural resource issues particular to this area. The groups participating in the initiative which include ranchers, conservationists, county officials, recreationists, and others have used the following goal as their starting point:

To develop and implement a landscape-scale program in Owyhee County that preserves the natural processes that create and maintain a functioning, unfragmented landscape supporting and sustaining a flourishing community of human, plant and animal life, that provides for economic stability by preserving livestock grazing as an economically viable use, and that provides for protection of cultural resources.

If you guys don’t know Idaho and rural Idahoans, it’s hard to explain how amazing it was that these folks lined up behind environmentalists in a wilderness designation. I’m sure this approach was a breath of fresh air for locals. Many times wilderness designations in places where locals are typically anti-wilderness are conducted by outside environmentalists that go above the local communities straight to congress or the President (in the case of the Clinton/Babbitt last-minute National Monuments). But this time, wilderness interests sat at the table with the local communities and banged out a plan everyone could live with. Both Idaho Senators and one Representative voted for the bill. I can’t believe it, but for the first time in my life I’m proud of Mike Crapo and my Idaho Congressionals.

Although you might think all of the environmental community would cheer about Idaho politicians voting for a wilderness designation, there are a several detractors. Wilderness Watch, a group out of Missoula opposed the bill. On their web page they say:

The 1,246-page (Omni) contains … 15 separate wilderness bills. Many of the wilderness bills are relatively clean, meaning they don’t contain special provisions that will diminish the integrity of wilderness. However, at least two of the bills -- the Owyhee in Idaho, and the Washington County, Utah bills -- contain numerous harmful provisions that would open these areas to inappropriate activities such as the routine use of ATVs for herding livestock, motor vehicle use (including aircraft) and habitat manipulation by state fish and game agencies, and other damaging activities.

My favorite High Country News blogger Ray Ring lamented about the bill not passing the first time. His piece was met with ire by some environmentalists. A poster by the name of George maintained that the Dems should have taken more time to weed these issues out of the bill. He states:

If not, if Congress has tied itself up so tightly it can’t pass simple bills that have broad support, or has become so distracted with junkets and fundraising that there isn’t time to do the people’s business in a deliberative way, then it needs to fix the process, not resort to hasty, and destructive omnibus bills that trade away for political expediency deeply held American values, like Wilderness, wildlife protection, and democracy.

There are some good points are raised here, especially about the watering down of wilderness, which is everyone’s business. However, George’s idea of democracy is pretty different from mine. In the development of the Owyhee-Bruneau Wilderness, many folks of many different interests sat down at the table and came to an agreement. There is no better example of grassroots democracy. I guess George thinks democracy is outside groups coming in after the collaborative process and pulling out pieces of the agreement that were important in getting everyone to come to consensus. Never mind that small sacrifices local environmental interests made resulted in the support of local communities and local politicians. Unfortunately there are some enviros who still prefer forcing their agenda on local communities in a top-down matter. That’s not democracy to me.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Putting child labor in developing countries into perspective

Allow me try to put child labor in Africa or other developing regions into context. This is not meant to excuse child labor, merely to explain what I’ve seen while living in Kenya. I guess the most important thing to remember is that many families are extremely poor. They probably only eat one meal a day, and that they are grateful for. Forcing your children to contribute to your daily meal is more a necessity than cruel, greedy oppression.

To me, the cruellest part of child labor is denying that child a chance at an education, and thereby a hope at a future better than their parents. Now, remember that school in many developing countries is not free. Even in Kenya, where the government does have an official free primary school (grades 1-8) system, parents are responsible for buying school supplies, such as a uniform, books, pens, etc. This is a minor cost, but it can be very significant for the poorest of the poor. Many families simply cannot afford to send their children to primary school.

So if the child is not going to go to school anyway, what’s wrong with asking them to work in the farm with his/her parents? That doesn’t make it any less horrible for the child, but come on, in many situations all family members need to contribute in order for the family to live. Most child labor in Africa is children working on small family subsistence farms. For some reason, I view working on a farm less tragic than sending your 10 year old to work in a coal mine, for example. What if the child is forced to work on the farm after school or on weekends? American children are “forced” to do chores, right? Again, the important point to me is that a child gets an education.

A common form of child labor for girls in Africa and other developing countries is working as a made or housegirl. A family does not even need to be wealthy to be able to hire a housegirl, at least part-time--middle class will do. These are viewed as good opportunities for young girls, and in some cases the girls are happy to have it. They have no chance at going to school (secondary school is not free so only the middle-class and above can afford it, so working in a house is really the next best option. They can work from age 12-18 and accrue quite a savings, as they spend very little money while they work. This money can make them more independent and less likely to marry the first man that comes along. They can send money to their families, providing food for younger siblings.

I guess my point is that after understanding child labor in Africa, I view it as “less horrible,” because it’s a matter of life and death for the child and his/her family, and they might not be losing out on an opportunity to go to school by working. It's also largely a matter of degree: the age of the child, the work being done, etc.

I’ve always preferred not to shove western cultural norms on other communities. We’re not the most kind society either in some respects, so it can come of as being hypocritical and patronizing. Some Americans view others as “barbarians,” but they’re the ones who take care of their elders instead of hiding them away in nursing homes. We have no problem exploiting our 5 year old girls for beauty pageants and our 10 year old boys for Little League world series on ESPN.

However, this doesn’t mean we can’t support the cause of children in developing countries. There are child labor organizations you can donate too, but I’d be careful of unintended consequences--again, a working child could make the difference between life and death for some of the poorest families. We can also lobby to change some of the root causes of poverty in developing countries, like insisting on improving governance if developing countries want aid money, or pushing for fair trade so African agricultural exports are on a level playing field. Africans want the same things for their children than we do: an education and the best chance to succeed in life. These things can be realized only if poverty is reduced.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rant of the Week: Emergency Solar Power Permit Act

On February 11, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) introduced H.R. 6527, the “Emergency Solar Power Permit Act,” in response to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) effective freeze on approving solar project applications.A backlog of 130 pending applications currently exists dating back to 2005 without a single application being approved because BLM is waiting on Environmental Impact Statements from the applicants. The Emergency Solar Power Permit Act would waive the requirement to produce an Environmental Impact Statement in order to expedite the process and allow clean, environmentally friendly, renewable energy to begin development.

“Regulatory and political obstructionism has created this energy shortage that has lead to such high prices,” said Rohrabacher. “These bureaucratic impediments are now even damaging the possibility of fully utilizing solar energy which is the supposed darling of the environmental movement. This bill helps remove some of those regulatory roadblocks for solar energy and we need to be moving forward on all fronts to address the current energy crisis.”

According to a recent New York Times article, the BLM had “placed a moratorium on new solar projects on public land until it studies their environmental impact.” The moratorium on accepting applications has since been lifted, however, applications are still not being approved in a timely manner.

I believe part of reason the BLM was not (and is not) processing solar energy projects because they are in the process of preparing a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on solar development across all BLM lands: This was likely what the BLM talking about when they said they “placed a moratorium on new solar projects on public land until it studies their environmental impact.” However, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if this was also used by the Bush administration to clog up the works.

BLM prepared a Programmatic EIS on wind development in 2005 and Geothermal leasing in 2008. However, once this PEIS is finalized, I’m not sure if that would allow the BLM to perform less extensive Environmental Assessments (EAs) instead of the long and lengthy EISs. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) dictates when an EIS versus an EA should be performed and this is the crux of it: When environmental impacts are not “significant” (which is defined in NEPA and has been refined by the courts), a federal agency can prepare an EA and sign a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). However, when environmental impacts are significant, an EIS must be prepared. I didn’t know NEPA, the cornerstone of environmental laws, was “obstructionism” or a “bureaucratic impediment.”

While I support eliminating any impediments to solar development, I think we should level the playing field, not give solar projects a break compared to other projects of similar impact. For example, agencies have to prepare EISs for coal mines and natural gas/oil field development proposals, because these projects can have significant impacts. Couldn’t the same be said for a huge wind farm or several square miles of solar panels? Just one example of a significant impact from a large-scale solar project is the habitat is rendered completely unusable to wildlife, just as much as a strip mine and moreso than a gas field.

For this reason, this bill might not pass muster. We would need to change NEPA to say, “Agencies must prepare an EIS when environmental impacts are significant, unless the impacts are from solar projects.” This should be interesting to watch, especially the response from the environmental community, which advocate both for requiring extensive environmental analysis and pushing for renewable energy development.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rant of the Week: The Stimulus (aka "Republicans Stimulating my Funny Bone")

I suppose I should rant about Obama’s stimulus package. After all, this Tuesday, homeboy is coming to the CO to sign it. I like some of this spending. It’s insane that we’re behind countries like Ghana and South Korea in our infrastructure, whether it be roads and bridges, schools, or broadband and cell phone coverage. I like every penny spent on grants and incentives for energy technology. How are we supposed to compete in a world economy when half the nations in Asia and most the nations in Europe are kicking our rears in science and technology?

The assistance to the growing unemployed and poor is a must. If they’re increasing in numbers, how are we supposed to provide the same level of support as we currently do? Our county budgets are shrinking too, thus the aid money for state and local governments. How are states, counties and municipalities supposed to continue to provide basic services to their communities? How are they supposed to keep their clerks and accountants in jobs? How are they supposed to issue titles and drivers licenses? This is all called “pork” by sound bite conservatives.

I wish more money would have gone to the above items instead of the tax cuts. I wasn’t a gigantic fan of Obama’s tax cuts for the middle class anyway, and to be honest, this reeks of GOP concessions. I like the attempt at bipartisanship, but now that we see that the Republicans are going to do nothing more than obstruct, screw any more of that. Next time ram it down their throats. Call their bluff and let them filibuster. Hasn’t the last 8 years (not to mention the Reagan years) taught us trickle down is a bunch of horseshit? The rich cut benefits and let workers go while they spend money at retreats. The funniest part of this stimulus package is watching all the retarded Republicans throwing temper tantrums about "spending" and "pork" (look up the definition idiots, then tell me how much of this is pork) and ludicrous statements about how government has "never created one job." All Republicans crying about spending are 8 years too late. Are we supposed to believe that these very same politicians that turned a budget surplus into trillions of dollars in debt, you and your sorry party suddenly have the moral high ground on government spending? We haven’t forgotten that quickly.

I guess this is how the typical Republican brain works:

Bush tax cuts, proposed McCain tax cuts: GOOD
Obama/Dems pass billions in tax cuts: BAD

Billions of dollars spent on roads, bridges and schools in Iraq: GOOD
Billions of dollars spent on roads, bridges and schools in America: BAD

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Professional Rant of the Week: Open-door Bailout

Thomas Friedman argues that the centerpiece of our stimulus should be to stimulate everything that makes us smarter and attracts smart people to our shores in The Open-Door Bailout.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Rant of the Week: De-listing the Gray Wolf

A short bit of background: Gray wolves were reintroduced into central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park back in the early 90s. They were given “experimental non-essential” designation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the recovery states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Well, the wolves have been doing relatively well, and in 2008, the Bush administration took the critter of the Threatened and Endangered list. The state wildlife agencies of ID, WY and MT wrote management plans for the wolf. Most conservation groups think they are inadequate and allow for hunting of wolves. I’m not necessarily against very limited hunting, but I also agree these plans need some work. This issue has recently come to light because Obama’s Department of the Interior is currently looking into the possibility of reversing this and put the wolf back on the endangered species list. My position is that once adequate state management plans are in place, the wolf should be de-listed, or we risk weakening the ESA.

I've always been a big advocate of wolf reintroduction in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. As most you know, was born and raised in Salmon, Idaho, 20 miles as the crow flies from where the first gray wolves were released in the Frank Church Wilderness. When the wolf was reintroduced, recovery goals were agreed upon by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The recovery goal is 300 wolves and 30 breading pairs. This has been surpassed for a long time, and now we sit at over 1,500 wolves. Follow the law and delist the animal. I understand some people think the original recovery goals are insufficient. Certainly some science went into the development of the original recovery goals, but this is a valid debate. Additionally, this was under Bruce Babbitt’s Dept of the Interior, which had a pretty good reputation with environmental interests. However, I have little doubt that even if the recover goals were 10 times that number (3,000 wolves), environmentalists would be making the same argument that "3,000 is not enough."

Why do you think extremists like ex-representative Richard Pombo and these anti-environment politician whackos hate the Endangered Species Act and try to water it down and tear it apart? It's because of situations like this where environmental interests fight de-listing, even when species have well surpassed their recovery goals. The ESA is being used as a permanent protection measure, not a temporary measure to get species back on track, like it was intended to be. Quit moving the target. The more you abuse and take advantage of this great and important law, the more people want to eliminate it. Play by the rules and don't give them reasons to contend that we're abusing the act.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Rant of the week: One okay, one good, and one excellent album

Guns N’ Roses: Chinese Democracy
3 stars out of 5

Bet you’ve heard, GnR is back with a new album! Before you go off on me about “It’s not Guns N’ Roses!,” um, I know that quite well. But it is Axl Rose, and last I heard, the dude could still wail and write. So I figured at least I should give the album a try.

Democracy starts strong with the title song, then two of the better and harder songs on the CD, “Shackler's Revenge” and “Better.” Buckethead plays the guitar on these tunes and much of the rest of the album, so props to Axl for getting someone with mad guitar skills to replace Slash. However, while Buckethead can play a mean solo, he just can’t contribute to the whole song like Slash could. He can’t contribute to the writing or sweeping riffs that haunt GnR’s best old stuff. You can’t replace a huge piece of the original GnR like Slash just by getting a guitar player that might be able to rip off a solo that Slash might have trouble countering technically.

Unfortunately the album goes downhill after the first few tracks. One problem is that Democracy is chalked full of boring ballads. GnR had what, 6 ballads on all their albums? Democracy has 5 all to itself, and not one is very good. I don’t count the slow but interesting “If the World” as a ballad, one of the album’s best songs. Axl weaves a beautiful and a slightly heavy melody which sounds a lot like other Axl classics.

Even some of the harder stuff is missing an edge, both the music and the lyrics. In “Scraped,” Axl repeats over and over: “Don’t you try to stop us now/I just refuse/Don’t you try to stop us now/Cause I just won’t let you.” Wow, Axl, what mind-blowingly creative lyrics. Unfortunately, a lot of the originality of GnR has been lost, either because Axl is burnt out or, more likely, because he’s missing the creative input of Izzy, Slash and Duff.

I was about to give up on the last half of the album until this little diddy called “I.R.S” came up. Whoa. The volume started at a normal level but had to be increased more and more as the jam ran on, culminating in the hardest 60 seconds of the album. No one, and I mean no one, can scream like Axl. The vocals on this song are downright sick, and the lyrics are good ole broken hearted, pissed-off misogynous Axl Rose rantings. He belts:

Gonna call the president
Gonna need myself a private eye
Ooh, gonna need the IRS
Gonna get the FBI
Gonna make it a federal case
Gonna wave it right down in your face
Read it baby with your morning news
With a sweet hangover and the headlines too

This song would fit right in place on Use Your Illusion, and if the whole album kicked as much as ass as “I.R.S,” it would warrant at least 4 stars. They still miss Slash in a song like this, but it’s almost good enough to forget for a few minutes. Steering away form the obvious that this isn’t as good as the original GnR, Chinese Democracy lacks the creativity and punch to be a great album. Axl can definitely still sing, and although his songwriting isn’t quite on par with when he was with GnR, he’s still good for a few kick ass tunes. I’d recommend downloading the 5 or so good songs on this album and save yourself the $15.

The Gourds: Haymaker
4 stars out of 5

First of all, I’m glad this album is a significant step up from the disappointing Noble Creatures. Nearly every song is solid. I’ve always been more of a fan of Kev’s songs, and every one of his contributions is strong. Jimmy’s “New Dues” and “Bridget” are great, and might be his best contributions since “Decline-O-Meter,” “Illegal Oyster,” and “Spanky.” The rest of his songs are par for the last few albums, which is to say they're not very good.

I’ll take back my wish for Max to write more songs. “Valentine,” with maybe the exception of “Wired Ole Gal,” is the worst Gourds song to ever make an album. I gave it three tries, but it got worse the more I listened to it. Unfortunately, “Tighter” isn’t much better; neither song is even as good as “On Time” and nothing is even close to “Blankets” or “Omaha.”

The problem I have with this album is, although there are many good songs, there aren’t any stand-out excellent songs. No “Burn the Honeysuckle,” “Pill Bug Blues,” or “Cracklins.” I’d have to say “Country Love” is the best song on the album, with “Shreveport” and “Tex-Mex Mile” coming in second and third.

Unfortunately, this album reinforces my theory that The Gourds hit their peak at “Cow, Fish, Fowl or Pig,” and they just haven't been able to muster another truly great album since. I’d rate all 10 Gourds albums as follows:

5 Star Albums:
Dems Good Beeble
Stadium Blitzer
Cow, Fish, Fowl or Pig
Ghosts of Hallelujah

4 Star Albums:
Blood of the Ram
Heavy Ornamentals
Bolsa de Agua

3 Star Album:
Noble Creatures

Metallica: Death Magnetic
5 Stars out of 5

I don’t even keep track of when Metallica puts out an album anymore. I’d given up on them completely after Black Album. I’m one of those Metallica fans that think the Black Album was still a great effort, regardless of what anyone seethes about “selling out.” It bothers me that a band can’t evolve or put out something different without someone labeling them as sellouts. As for “St. Anger” and “Load” and “Reload” and all their other CDs they’ve put out since 1991, I think a better adjective would be “shitty.” There was no edge, no effort, and nothing that I wanted to listen to more than once.

So I heard about “Death Magnetic” from a friend who said something to the effect of “Holy shit, listen to the first song, it sounds like it’s straight off of ‘And Justice for All.’” Well, that’s definitely worth a listen. Turns out he was right. “That Was Just Your Life” is fast and good. Fortunately, it’s not even one of the best tracks on this treat. The CD only has 10 tracks, but nearly every one is quality. The hard-hitting jam “Broken, Beat And Scarred” is better than anything Metallica has put out in the last decade. The gold medal track goes to “All Nightmare Long,” a crushing 8 minute ensemble of ear bleeding metal. This tune has Metallica signature killer overlying guitar riffs and Kirk’s at his best in several solos on this tune.

The album is not all fast, but it is all hard. The slower tempo but killer bass grooved “Cyanide” is every bit as good as the faster tracks. Often going sober leads to a bad getting more boring and less edgy, but death, destruction and mayhem are back on James Hetfield’s mind, so I’ll call Death Magnetic an exception to that rule. On “Cyanide” he sings:

Empty they say
Death, won’t you let me stay
Empty they say
Death, hear me call your name
Suicide, I’ve already died
You’re just the funeral I’ve been waiting for
Cyanide, living dead inside
Break this empty shell forever more.

The slow but fascinating “Unforgiven III” is also an amazing track, possibly as good as the original Unforgiven. Gritty, dark and solemn, it also reminds us that James can actually sing okay for an old metal dude. These guys can still write, so what the hell have you been doing the last 15 years trying to pass off shit as Metallica?

I still listen to this album almost daily. I literally can’t get enough of it. If there’s a better album in 2008, I haven’t heard it. Ah, Metallica, how I did miss thee. Where in the hell were you? Keep up the good work and I might actually buy one of your albums instead of pirating it (just kidding, Lars. Don’t send the cops after me. LOL).

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Rant of the Week: Shell Oil Applies for Massive Water Right in Moffat County

So last week my boss at the BLM gets a call from Shell, saying the want to meet with him. My boss asked what it was concerning, and they wouldn’t tell him. Apparently, they felt comfortable telling enough other people that it leaked to the press and this front page article appeared in the Denver Post. Water news is big news in the west, and this was no exception. This story got national coverage in USA Today, as well as articles in Craig Daily Press and the Steamboat Pilot. Shell had tried to keep this news on the DL until they met with all the interested parties. Nothing pisses off locals like hearing about how their land or water would be affected from the media before hearing it from the project proponents.

To sum it up, Shell needs a whole lot of water for their oil shale operations in Rio Blanco County. Some of the highest quality oil shale in the world is there in the Piceance Basin near Meeker and Rifle Colorado. Some sources say that for every one barrel of oil produced, Shell will need 3 barrels of water for operations. (Water needs are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to resource requirements for oil shale. They also need a ton of power and upwards of 30,000 employees, probably 3 times the population of Meeker and Rifle now.) So they are proposing to 375 cfs of water from the Yampa River into a reservoir just south of the Yampa. The reservoir would hold 45,000 acre feet of water, more than any other reservoir in the area. The water would then be piped from Moffat County down to the oil shale operations to the south. The pumping stations and reservoir will lie on both private and BLM land.

I joined my boss with a few other employees in an informal meeting with Shell. The rep from Houston (dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt) first talked about their prospects for oil shale. He said that some days, he just thinks they should give up. Huge production costs and questionable profits might lead the companies to abandon oil shale altogether. They’re working on a new way to get the oil out of the shale. Unlike the old method where oil shale is mined in an open pit, then processed, this is an in situ method, where oil and natural gas is pumped out as a liquid out with wells, just like conventional oil. First, they seal off an area under ground by freezing it. This creates an impermeable barrier, so water is not contaminated and won’t interfere in the process. After a zone is frozen off, Shell places huge electric heaters in the ground to melt the oil shale. A well is then drilled and a liquid is extracted. It is then processed into oil and natural gas. The majority of the water is used to dump down in the hole to cool the rock that was heated. So much of the viability of oil shale depends on how well this technology is perfected. Optimistically, Shell says they could produce 3 parts energy for every 1 part energy invested in the process.

Shell already bought up most of the water rights on the White River, closer to the oil shale operations. However, this wasn’t enough, and didn’t allow enough flexibility if one basin were to have abnormally low flows any certain year. Nothing will be happening any time soon on this project. Shell estimates it will take around 5 years to get the water rights, and including other permitting, no dirt would move until at least 2018.

The Yampa River is one of the only unallocated rivers in the west. That would change if Shell’s conditional water right is granted. However, I can’t see how the Yampa is not going to lose some water one way or another. There have been several “proposals” (too early to be called concrete proposals) to pipe Yampa River water the Front Range to build new homes and resorts from Aspen to Denver. I’m on the fence as to which use is worse. Given the fact that even the industry leaders aren’t ready to develop oil shale, the BLM has been much too hasty to develop oil shale. In the past few years. I believe oil shale development poses great risks to local communities and natural resources, and is counter to the important goal of helping our nation transition from fossil fuels. However, in 10 years when the technology has improved, I might support development if these risks and high resource needs are reduced. I’m not sure what all the impacts to the Yampa would be from this reservoir, but I tend to think that we should do all we can to leave the Yampa alone.

Wild and Scenic Rivers might rear its head as a real issue here. Our BLM office in Moffat County is currently revising its Resource Management Plan (RMP), and look at which river segments are suitable for Wild and Scenic River. In the Draft RMP we determined that three segments of the Yampa are suitable for Wild and Scenic River. Of course, this is a very controversial issue in the region. The county government and other local industry interests (the biggest coal mines and power plant in the state) strongly oppose anything to do with Wild and Scenic Rivers, as a suitability determination or a Congressional Designation could affect future water rights, conditional water rights, and future water projects on the Yampa. Shell’s new conditional water right could bring this issue to the forefront. This one should be very interesting to watch. I’m attending another public meeting about this issue tomorrow night. I will be interesting to see what the locals think about this proposal. My guess would be that they favor water going to develop oil shale than to support all those yuppies on the Front Range. I’ll keep you all in the loop.