Thursday, July 30, 2009

Be afraid. Be very afraid: The tundra is outgassing CO2/methane

It's a love/hate thing...Turns out, a witty license plate for a gasoline powered car isn't enough. We needed to act before nature's balance tipped. We didn't. Image by 37 °C via Flickr

Sub-Arctic timebomb: warming speeds CO2 release from soil

PARIS (AFP) – Climate change is speeding up the release of carbon dioxide from frigid peatlands in the sub-Arctic, fuelling a vicious circle of global warming, according to a study to be published Thursday.

An increase of just 1.0 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) over current average temperatures would more than double the CO2 escaping from the peatlands.

Northern peatlands contain one-third of the planet's soil-bound organic carbon, the equivalent of half of all the CO2 in the atmosphere.

Peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation found in wetlands or peatlands, which cover between two and three percent of the global land mass. While present in all climate zones, the vast majority of peatlands are found in sub-Arctic regions.

A team of European researchers led by Ellen Dorrepaal of the University of Amsterdam artificially warmed natural peatlands in Abisko, in northern Sweden, by 1.0 C over a period of eight years.

The experimental plots exhaled and extra 60 percent of CO2 in Spring and 52 percent in Summer over the entire period, reported the study, published in the British journal Nature.

"Climate warming therefore accelerates respiration of the extensive, subsurface carbon reservoir in peatlands to a much larger extent than previously thought," the authors conclude.

The findings highlight the extreme sensitivity of northern peatland carbon reservoirs to climate change, and the danger of a self-reinforcing "positive feedback" in which the CO2 released adds to global warming.

And unlike the boreal forests in Canada, Russia and Northern Europe, very little of the extra carbon was absorbed by additional vegetation spurred by the warmer temperatures.

The researchers warn that annual surplus CO2 released by peatlands with a 1.0 C increase -- between 38 and 100 million tonnes -- could cancel out the European Union objective of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 92 million tonnes per year.

In another study released last month, the Global Carbon Project based in Australia found that the amount of carbon stored in the Arctic and boreal regions of the world is some 1.5 trillion tonnes, more than double previous estimates.

This is it, folks -- the moment when the long, long, ricketyricketycreak ascent up one side of the roller coaster just eases and you stand poised--just for a moment--and see that first tremendous drop ahead of you and you realize that there's no getting off the ride now.

We've pumped enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to destabilize the climate to the point where now, we don't have to do anything at all --- we're just along for the ride, and it doesn't stop until a new equilibrium is reached, probably in a much, much hotter and less benign climate.

Congratulations to all the climate change deniers, you succeeded in your mission of preventing any meaningful action until it was too late.

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Same here: ODOT's edifice complex threatens to bankrupt us -- and for what?

Marion Street Bridge in Salem, OregonHomely but serviceable, and more than adequate for the traffic we are likely to see. Image via Wikipedia

There was an excellent analysis of the flaws in the Columbia River "Megabridge" proposal in the Oregonian the other day. So much of it applies directly to the "Salem River Crossing" third bridge boondoggle -- only a difference of degree ($600+ million is the pre-overrun figure down here, rather than $4.2 billion up there). But even if you think $0.6 billion looks small compared to $4.2B, when you compare the size of the Salem area vs. Portland/Vancouver and the number of trips anticipated, our boondoggle seems to be even more of a boondoggle than their record-setting boondoggle. Some key points:
We're all smarting from the economic recession that's hurt our incomes and job prospects, from the decline in housing values that's dented our wealth, and the collapse in financial markets that's dealt a big setback to our retirement plans. We're smarting, but, we tell ourselves, we're smarter, too.

We've learned key lessons. We won't be fooled by the Bernie Madoffs, or by claims that house prices can only go up, or that some form of complex mortgage-backed security can eliminate financial risk, or that stated-income "liar loans" were ever a good idea. At a high price, we've bought ourselves some very valuable lessons.

Next time, we tell ourselves, we'll be smarter. We'll ask the hard questions -- before we sign on the dotted line. We won't be conned by overly optimistic estimates or take some self-interested experts' assurances at face value.

But are we really smarter? . . . [L]ike frenzied homebuyers a few years back, many bridge advocates seem chiefly concerned with superficial questions, such as whether the bridge will be pretty. Before we sign on the dotted line, we ought to be asking the kind of questions that will keep us from repeating the worst mistakes of those caught up in the housing bubble.

First and foremost, who will pay for this bridge? Project proponents have vaguely promised that funding will come from a mix of federal and state sources, but there is little indication of any of this will materialize. . . .

In the height of the housing boom, lots of buyers rationalized mortgages they couldn't afford for houses bigger than they needed based on the belief that housing prices could only go up.

Highway advocates have a similar delusion -- that traffic levels can only increase. But that's not true. Driving has been going down in Portland, a trend that started even before the run-up in gas prices and the recession. Traffic counts have been going down on the Interstate bridges for the past three years. And according to Inrix, the nation's leading providing of real-time traffic information, afternoon peak-hour congestion on I-5 northbound has declined more than 10 percent in the past year. If traffic levels flat-line, or grow much more slowly than in the past -- as now seems certain to be the case, thanks to higher gas prices -- we simply don't need 12 lanes of capacity, plus light rail.

Projections of continually increasing traffic are not simply a justification for a bigger bridge, they are essential to paying for it. Because any new bridge will require tolls, the amount of toll revenue hinges directly on the number of people who cross the bridge. If fewer people use the bridge than predicted, then the bridge will need a bailout.

Not only are toll revenue forecasts notoriously over-optimistic -- like rating agency estimates of likely default rates on subprime loans--but across the country, toll revenues are declining in the face of the recession and changing driving habits. . . .

If we've learned any hard lessons from the past year about borrowing money, now is the time to put that learning to work. We need to demand a financial plan for the CRC that spells out who pays, and how much. We need independent accurate estimates -- based on a world of $3 or $4 per gallon gas, global warming, and declining vehicle travel --and of how much traffic will use the bridge, especially with a toll . . . .

And we should really ask whether, if we really have $4 billion to spend on the region's transportation infrastructure, we ought to spend so much of it in one place, to facilitate more peak-hour commuting and suburban sprawl. . . .

The work of the project's consultants is too reminiscent of the glossy real estate brochure providing only the most cursory examination of these risks, making implausibly optimistic assumptions, and doing nothing to quantify the consequences of error. The region's elected officials and citizens should insist on real due diligence on these risks -- preferably from parties completely independent of the project -- before mortgaging our region's future for a bridge we don't need and can't afford.
One of the key issues is highlighted above: the circular nature of the traffic projections. The planners presume that we're going to keep on driving more and more every year, in more and more cars, despite the fact that vehicle-miles-traveled has been falling for the past few years. Even more important, the state has made a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% in just 40 years -- that means that not only can vehicle emissions not increase, they must keep declining from here on out. That means that the existing bridges are more than adequate into the future.

Moreover, the restored Union Street RR bridge has been prepared for emergency vehicles, so even if something happens to block one of the bridges (Center St or Marion St), police, fire, and ambulances can all use the Union Street bridge. That eliminates the claim that we have to build a new bridge in case someone stops traffic for a few hours by threatening to jump off one of the bridges.

There is no problem with any bridge capacity that reversing the share of single-occupant vehicles and carpool vehicles in the commuting profile won't cure, for about a savings of $599 million.
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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In case you didn't grow up growing food

AgricultureExcept for the part about the plant being happy and the gardener looking competent, this is totally us. Image via Wikipedia

At LOVESalem HQ, we're barely even novice gardeners.

In fact, we're still at that embarrassing stage where it seems like our most common activity could be described as laying down the experiences for what we hope will become funny gardening stories about our early years.

We hope that, years from now, when our vegetables are lush and our fruit trees overwhelm us with their fecundity, we'll be telling those stories.

We found a cool cheat sheet though, one that should help bring those halcyon years about sooner: What to plant when, month by month, by region. All praise to Mother Earth News for this great service.

For instance, from there, you can go here, to a link to a great table showing, for virtually every place in Oregon, the dates for the 10%, 50%, and 90% chance of frosty, freezing, and hard frost weather (frosty = 36F; freezing = 32F, and hard frost = 28F) and the number of frost-free days per year and total number of days below the three threshold temperatures (again, all given in terms of 10, 50, and 90% probabilities). An invaluable chart to helping answer the question about "What should I be planting now?"

UPDATE: Rather than getting rid of farmland in the city, Salem should be following Milwaukee's lead.
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Another incident shows why we need cop-cam

Police officers making videos during a demonst...Police all over the world are videotaping citizens. We should approve 100% - and require that police be equipped with audio/video devices in all their interactions with non-police. Image via Wikipedia

Another case where the presence of audio/video makes the difference.

Update: From Washington, DC, supposedly the heart of American democracy, the place where the principle that government derives its just powers from the people -- another clear example of why police should be fitted with cop cams that record their interactions with civilians:

DC Examiner - A federal judge has called for an investigation into the D.C. police department after officials there destroyed key evidence related to a controversial mass arrest of anti-globalization protesters in 2002.

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said he wanted to get to the bottom of the disappearance of police records of the orders and movements of police officers in a massive crackdown of protesters rallying against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Hundreds of innocent bystanders in Pershing Park were swept up by the police dragnet. Some 400 people have filed a class-action civil rights lawsuit. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, then a deputy, ordered those arrested to be "hog tied" -- bound hand to foot.

In federal court Wednesday, Sullivan ordered D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles to file an affidavit on the disappearance of the records within the next two weeks. He also suggested that he might appoint an independent investigator to look into the matter.

"When, if ever, can anyone trust their government?" Sullivan asked.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard said the District has shown "reckless disregard" for legal ethics.

"This case has now developed from a case solely about a massive constitutional rights violation to being about a massive cover-up," she said.

Nickles denied there was anything untoward in the destruction of the evidence and blamed the D.C. Council for not funding a better document-management system.

Police union Chairman Kris Baumann, who has often litigated against the department, said the incident wasn't isolated.

"The destruction of e-mails, the destruction of documents -- anything to cover up government misconduct is the norm," Baumann said.

Washington Post - Some evidence, including a key report and portions of radio transmissions, has vanished. In recent days, the D.C. government has also turned over thousands of pages of records and videotapes to protesters' lawyers, some of which should have been produced years ago.

Sullivan ordered D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles to submit a sworn declaration detailing his office's shoddy work and the steps he was taking to fix the problems.

Sullivan said he would impose "severe" monetary sanctions on the D.C. government and urged Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to "settle this case soon."

"This kind of conduct is not acceptable," Sullivan said, calling the actions of D.C. government lawyers "abysmal" and urging the D.C. Council to investigate the attorney general's office.

After the judge's harangue, the District's attorney, Thomas Koger, had tears in his eyes. He declined to comment.

Sullivan's criticism came during a hearing in two lawsuits that accuse D.C. police of violating the rights of demonstrators and bystanders when officers arrested 386 people in Pershing Park without a warning on Sept. 27, 2002. Former D.C. police chief Charles H. Ramsey eventually issued a public apology for the arrests. Protesting at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, the demonstrators were charged with parading without a permit.

Jonathan Turley, an attorney for the protesters, called for an independent investigation of the attorney general's office. Another lawyer for the protesters, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, said she had never seen such "a breathtaking destruction of evidence before."

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Dangerous curves

In August 2003, we were living in the Midwest, and we sweltered through a terrible heatwave -- which led to the most recent great blackout in the US, which sent us back to pre-electric days.

This made me even more attuned to the stress that climate change is placing on our electrical grid (a failure of which was the proximate cause of that blackout, the real cause of which is our blockheaded habit of thinking that we don't have to live within any natural limits and that we can use as much energy as we want to bail us out of our poor decisions, such as to build millions of houses and commercial office buildings so that they must draw immense amounts of energy at all times).

So I've been following this curve quite closely this week.

Got antibiotic-resistant superbugs?

None - This image is in the public domain and ...Image via Wikipedia

Yup, and our industrial phactory phood "pharmers" are making more all the time. That's why we need this bill, NOW.

With their feedlots and confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs), phactory pharmers create conditions that approximate hell on earth as well as anything this side of a battlefield. Then, because of the conditions in which they keep these animals, the pharmers have to keep them all hopped up on continuous dosages of antibiotics, giving the bugs all the time needed to undergo a mutation that neutralizes the antibiotics. This is exactly what you'd do if you were a terrorist and wanted to destroy the usefulness of an antibiotic and render the country vulnerable to a pandemic infection.

The phactory pharmers have already succeeded in wiping out scores of useful medicines and turning our waterways into chemical and excrement-filled sewers. We need to act now. The war on drugs we should be waging is to keep farm animals off drugs.

You can send a letter to your representatives in Congress by visiting and signing up with Progressive Secretary here. It's free, fast, and confidential.

Also, more info here and here.
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The question of the day

Salem River SunsetApparently all that food growing around Salem is not appropriate for a "natural place." Image by Renee_W via Flickr

A regular, local LOVESalem reader writes:
The announcement of compounding problems (algae bloom, very high temperatures and stuck dam gates) facing the City's water supply shows our failing ecosystems, climate and infrastructure are catching up with us. What will it be like in the near future, let along a couple of decades from now?
Almost simultaneously, a friend in Bellingham, Washington, was writing:
The local water treatment plant, which takes water from the huge Lake Whatcom (which in turn stays full by diverting part of a branch of the Nooksack river into the lake), recently had to reduce capacity because of algae buildup (!). Nobody seems to want to inquire about the algae source - the lake is largely surrounded by homes with septic systems and grassy lawns owned by the wealthier folks (at least some of whom must put all kinds of chemicals on their lawn to maintain that perfect look). Duh! Then pile on a bit warmer weather (due to hit around 100 over the next few days - we've not seen that since we moved here in 1995), and payback begins in the form of algae. We won't necessarily be hauling water for miles, but we will be drinking algae.

Bottom line: in one of the wettest civilized places in the u.s. plus a ~~20 square mile deep glacial-dug lake, there is now a water shortage with pleas to limit lawn watering and car washing.
As this was going on, the City Council was apparently embracing a proposal to permanently bar agriculture from 200 acres of Minto-Brown Island Park -- with absolutely no thought to what our future food needs will be, no thought about alternatives to "restoration," only thought on the federal dollars.

The worst part is that one citizen who testified said that "I always thought of the park as a natural space," and the mayor agreed with her.

What volumes those few words speak: Apparently agriculture -- the means by which humans feed themselves -- is unnatural and detracts from "natural space." That's like saying that breast feeding detracts from the natural bottle feeding that God intended. There's clearly a belief among some that agriculture -- the activity that preserved the park in the first place so that its land could be deeded to the city -- is out of place in a "natural space." This mindset doesn't mind tract homes and acre after acre of McMansions, but suggest that we grow some of the food that we depend on nearby or -- gasp! -- keep a few hens in the yards of those homes and suddenly you're detracting from the natural beauty.

Just like US policy has been to encourage all grain farming to be done in the square states and all fruit and vegetable farming in California's Central Valley, we just lopped hundreds of good farmland out of a park in the name of keeping it natural. Because there's nothing more natural than factory-farmed food delivered by jet airplane or diesel tractor-trailer, an average of 1500 miles to Salem.

UPDATE: People don't seem to get that Salem is already suffering from a food security crisis, with the Marion Polk Food Share dealing with an overwhelming surge in demand. Here's a look at a food bank in California. How will Salem residents in the future regard our thoughtlessness about acres where we successfully grew local food for decades?

UPDATE 2: Statesman-Journal notices that we've got a water problem.
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Monday, July 27, 2009

We've got that same blindspot in Oregon too

The inimitable Tom Toles, America's best editorialist.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Monday night, 7/27, 6:30 p.m.: The future of Minto Brown Park

Minto Brown Park Salem OregonImage by OregonDOT via Flickr

The future of Minto Brown Island as a public park is on the table at a public hearing at City Hall at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, July 27.

The paper calls this a proposal for "federal park funds" but, in truth, the proposal is all about spending "stimulus" money as fast as possible, which is why the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in the US Dept. of Agriculture rejected the small plot at Battle Creek and instead asked the City to offer some much bigger chunks of land. (The fact that Battle Creek is privately owned is not controlling; the grants are from a fund that is used to get easements on private lands all the time -- in fact, the standard easement sale contract that NRCS gave the city presumes it's a private landowner ... the city is the odd duck for trying to give control of city park land to the feds.)

In other words, the federal folks are simply looking to get deals signed as fast as possible in order to be able to report that they've "created jobs" as part of the federal activity around the "stimulus" package. Essentially they grabbed a floodplain easement program intended for use along the banks of the big rivers (Missouri, Mississippi, etc.) to reduce federal flood damage payments and are trying to use it to shovel money out.

SOP so far -- except that the (a) there are never any damage claims for flooding on Minto;

(b) the flooding benefits Minto by refreshing and remineralizing the soil;

(c) the feds are terrible landlords and partners because their funding is so inconsistent (see Mt. St. Helens, where the same US Dept. of Ag has closed one of two observation stations). Partnering with the feds is like subleasing your apartment to the football team -- they do whatever they want and don't necessarily listen real well.

(d) the feds would only pay for upkeep of the "conserved" land for three years -- after that, all costs to maintain this land (maintenance we now get for free from a farmer who tends the land) will fall to us -- and you can see how strapped Salem is for funds.

(e) the easements would prohibit even fully organic farming or community gardens -- including on some of the best, highest, driest ground in the whole park! Some use of "emergency flood relief" funds.

Read why the Salem Parks and Recreation Advisory Board unanimously resolved that the City should reject the staff proposal and learn what the SPRAB thinks the city should do instead. Links to prior posts on this topic there as well.

Please come and speak up for your park. Tell the City Council to adopt the recommendations of the SPRAB:

* reject the staff proposal to take 200 acres out of productive local agricultural use
* put the farming on the island out for competitive bidding
* revise the park master plan.

We can't afford to trade control of our unique urban park with its long history of agricultural use for a quick hit of borrowed federal dollars.
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Saturday, July 25, 2009

The best possible outcome of the Gates fiasco

Several mobile phonesWe shouldn't have to depend on the luck of having a kid with a cellphone around to catch police misconduct (or to document that there was no misconduct); it's time for all law enforcement to be monitored with "cop cams" that capture all their interactions with citizens. Image via Wikipedia

One simple suggestion, a generalization of the requirement that all police interrogations be videotaped that State Sen. Barack Obama managed to write into the Illinois statute books: build a cell-phone-type movie camera with sound into police headgear, and require that it be turned on at the beginning of every interaction with a civilian. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. And in the cases where it's the civilian who acts aggressively, the videotape will help defend the cop against a false accusation of misconduct.
I've been making this same argument for years: we should no longer accept the idea that we can't supervise police conduct in the field -- after all, the police have long since decided to turn America into the surveillance state where the conduct of perfectly innocent people is scrutinized in detail with hundreds of thousands of recording devices and cameras, to say nothing of telephonic/internet spying.

Now is the time to say that the conduct of all law enforcement agents -- anyone having the power to detain and arrest -- must be monitored when they interact with the rest of us, so that we the people can determine for ourselves whether our agents, who obtain their power from us, are using it properly.

As police and prosecutors so often say to us, you won't mind if you have nothing to hide.

Salem should implement this quickly. After all, in these tight budget times, we can't afford to have to pay big-money police abuse settlements.
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Maybe the best quick read ever on the industrial phood nightmare

CAFO Near La Gloria, Mexico - DetailA phactory pharm -- funny, it doesn't look like the image on the packages. They NEVER show the gigantic manure lagoons. Image by SkyTruth via Flickr

A sample:

It is in the 1970s that Smithfield Foods revolutionizes hog production. "What we did in the pork industry is what Perdue and Tyson did in the poultry business," Joseph W. Luter III, chairman and chief executive of Smithfield, told the New York Times in 2000.

According to a Rolling Stone exposé, Smithfield "controls every stage of production, from the moment a hog is born until the day it passes through the slaughterhouse. [It] imposed a new kind of contract on farmers: The company would own the living hogs; the contractors would raise the pigs and be responsible for managing the hog shit and disposing of dead hogs. The system made it impossible for small hog farmers to survive -- those who could not handle thousands and thousands of pigs were driven out of business."

In the 1950s, there were 2.1 million hog farmers, with an average of 31 hogs each. As of 2007, there were 79,000 hog farmers left, averaging over 1,000 hogs each. A single Smithfield subsidiary in Utah holds a half-million hogs and produces more shit every day than all the residents of Manhattan.

Rolling Stone's stunning report describes the lakes of shit that surround pig factories as the color of Pepto Bismol because of the "interactions between the bacteria and blood and afterbirths and stillborn piglets and urine and excrement and chemicals and drugs."

Vegetarians who think they are unaffected by this toxic fecal frappe should think again: The sludge is often used to "fertilize" crops that end up on your table.

Beef, poultry and hog CAFOs could not exist without large-scale environmental devastation. Governments at every level exempt these operations from the laws and regulations covering air pollution, water pollution and solid-waste disposal. They are also largely free from proper bio-surveillance, that is, public monitoring to detect, observe and report on the outbreak of diseases.

Mike Davis, author of The Monster at Our Door, writes that scrutiny of the interface between human and animal diseases is "primitive, often nonexistent" because Smithfield, IBP and Tyson would have to spend money on surveillance and upgrade conditions at their hellish animal factories.

Read it all here. Then start growing some food, even just a single tomato or zucchini -- and help get hens legalized here in Salem.
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Great idea: Farming in boulevards!

I have seen photos of similar things in N. Europe, particularly in the Low Countries where land is very dear. Also I have seen similar things in Japan -- lush crops growing in small spaces in very urbanized areas.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Yet another recall showing why we need to encourage MORE local food production

A plum treePlum tree laden with fruit. With some creative thinking, Salem could create a vast supply of healthy & inexpensive food for the Food Bank and for the Saturday Market just by putting fruit trees in parking strips and starting an "adopt-a-tree" program to ensure the fruit is tended and harvested. Image via Wikipedia

Another industrial phood nightmare, another reminder that what people in Salem need is more encouragement and support for growing or buying locally grown food that has never joined the industrial phood system.

That means encouraging backyard and frontyard gardening, replacing street trees with fruit trees, community gardens, support for small market gardeners just starting out, and, yes, allowing residents to keep some hens.

Don't know how to get started? Call Your Home Harvests.

UPDATE: Great article on how the industrial phood system has mastered the arts of using our evolved tastes against us.
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Federal money City of Salem staff should pursue

"I saw the dollar signs, man" at San...Image by Trig's via Flickr

One of the most frustrating things about the whole misguided effort to permanently (as in forever) lock up rare and productive agricultural acreage within the Salem urban growth boundary on Minto-Brown Island is that it was totally random, spur-of-the-moment lunge in an entirely new direction for the park, prompted only by the promise of some fast cash (borrowed money).

Salem originally went to the feds seeking money for an easement at Battle Creek, not Minto. It was the feds in Portland -- people with no knowledge of Salem or concern for its needs -- who came back with "No, but what about Minto?" (The feds want the biggest chunks of acreage because that's easier for them to administer.)

City staff, instead of consulting the Master Plan for Minto and saying "Well, gee, there's nothing in here about wanting to reduce agriculture in the park, I don't think we're interested," entered into discussions with the feds about just how much acreage to turn over to federal control. No notice to the public about this huge change in direction for the park, no discussion with the city council (the thing was hidden in the Council's consent agenda until a citizen happened to inquire about farming on the island and learned that there was this proposal being fast-tracked to chase these "stimulus" dollars).

Meanwhile, there's a river of federal stimulus dollars flowing into Portland for energy conservation work, work that Salem desperately needs. Getting a lot more of this kind of stimulus money is what city staff should be focused on--improving the energy efficiency of all structures in the city, because money sent out of town for energy leaves forever. Whereas money spent on weatherization and solarizing buildings not only creates jobs here but permanently improves our economy. Salem's small energy efficiency award ($1.5M) is just a drop in the bucket of need down here.
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OSU prof to speak at Peak Oil Conference in Denver in October

Click on the graphic to go the conference page.

Not that people should incur the carbon emissions or use the energy needed to travel to a conference (Nearly all the organizations should reject the "conference" model, but ASPO should be a leader here, figuring out how to use our resources to provide a "distributed conference" in hundreds of cities at once, spreading the knowledge and reducing the energy use.)

However, what's most interesting is that peak oil awareness is ever-so-slowly making its way onto the agenda of Oregon institutions. But if you look at ODOT's plans, you'd see that those plans presume infinite cheap oil for the next century or more (see here and here for just two of the most expensive current examples).

System Reset: Global Energy and the New Economy

Sheraton Hotel, Denver, Colorado
October 11-13, 2009
New!! Optional Workshop October 10

Early registration ends Aug 7, 2009!
Register now and save $100!

ASPO-USA, in concert with ASPO-International, invites you to join energy experts, investors, utilities, representatives from federal, state, and local governments, and others in Denver, Colorado for ASPO-USA's 5th annual Peak Oil Conference.

Session Topics Include:

  • The Great Recession and Energy Markets
  • Natural Gas Game Changers
  • Charting a Sustainable Future
  • Analysis from "The Oil Drum" Writers
  • Climate Change, Carbon Capture and Sequestration
  • The Media: On the Watch or Asleep at the Wheel?
  • Navigating Competing Priorities In Energy, Food, and Water Policy
  • Well, Don't Just Sit There! Examples from the Forefronts of the Transition
  • Stalking the Wild Taboo: Population, Carbon Taxes, and Nuclear Energy
Saturday Pre-Conference Optional Workshop:
Survive & Thrive After Peak Oil: Creating Personal Plans for the Coming Decades
Learn More

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Matthew Simmons, leading peak oil analyst and author, "Twilight in the Desert"
  • Kevin Phillips, author, "American Theocracy: The Peril & Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, & Borrowed Money"
  • Tom Petrie, Founder, Petrie, Parkman, Inc. / Merrill Lynch
  • Susan Capalbo, Chair, Dept. of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Oregon State University
  • Marcio Rocha Mello, President, HRT Petroleum, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • David Shields, journalist, author "Pemex: The Oil Reform, Mexico City, Mexico
  • Chris Martenson, creator, "The Crash Course"
  • Ray Leonard, Vice President of Exploration, Kuwait Energy
  • Robert Hirsch, energy consultant, US DOE, author of the Hirsch Report
  • Lisa Margonelli, author, "Oil on the Brain"
  • Peter Maass, writer, The New York Times, author "Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil"

The world is at a major crossroads - the convergence of peak oil and climate change. Despite challenging economic times, our nation is moving forward with sweeping initiatives to deal with climate change but ignoring the need to mitigate and plan for the peaking of world oil production. Our conference speakers, which include leading financial analysts, international oil industry executives, and peak oil observers, will offer new data and forecasts of our changing resources.

ASPO's four days of information-packed events appeals to a broad spectrum of people in business, public policy, and members of the public concerned with resource supply challenges. Register now to ensure your space and save $100.

For more information and details please visit

Run, do not walk to Salem Cinema to see and hear "Sita Sings the Blues"

This is the best movie shown during the recently concluded Salem Film Festival. AMAZING. Totally worth the money to see on the big screen with the great sound in the beautiful Salem Cinema. Roger Ebert agrees.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fantastic! Parks Board unanimously urges Council to reject "stimulus" money to lock up 200 acres of cropland in Minto Brown Park!

minto brown 1.jpgMinto Brown Park -- a unique treasure providing wildlife habitat and farmland in an urban growth boundary. Image by JamesCohen via Flickr

Wonderful performance by some dedicated volunteers, the Salem Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. These volunteers met for a long meeting tonight to discuss the staff proposal to sell a permanent easement for nearly 200 acres of Minto Brown Park land to the feds in the name of "stimulus" and "emergency flood control."

The City Council will be holding a public hearing on the issue next Monday night (6:30, Council Chambers). Now the Council will be looking at a unanimous recommendation by the Parks Board to
  • Reject the easement proposal

  • Put the currently farmed land in the park out for competitive bidding

  • Revise the Park Master Plan.
This was a perfect motion. It should be a very strong encouragement to the Council to walk away from the hurried proposal to change the land use in the Park with virtually no public awareness or discussion, and locking up that land would be pretty much directly opposed to the current park master plan. (If the Council decides to pursue the sale of the easements, the deadline is August 17.)

The Parks Board not only rightly urges the Council to reject the hurried proposal but it also goes on to hit the nail on the head by calling for the Minto Brown Park Master Plan to be revised -- this plan, which was last revised in 1995 after a lot of hard work by citizens, is not even available on the City's website and there have been signs that some in the City weren't even aware of it, much less looking to implement it. That's the time and the right forum for everyone to deliberate carefully about the future of this unique and treasured resource.

GREAT JOB by the Parks Board members. Now the only thing needed is for citizens to show up Monday night, July 27, at City Hall to make sure the Council knows that the people of Salem don't want to lose control of their beautiful local park in return for a quick hit of borrowed money from the feds.

Special point: One of the parks board members made the excellent point that, while some might hope that the money would be put aside in a fund to pay for future upkeep of the park (which we currently get for free on the farmed acreage from the outfit farming those acres), the whole idea of stimulus money is to spend it, not bank it. So there's yet another way that this whole proposal is a bad fit for Salem.

Prior posts on Minto or the easement here, here, here, here, and here.
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Synchronicity: If you really want to prepare your kid for the future

060128 globe in spaceImage by xjyxjy via Flickr

Then don't feel like you've got no alternatives to the factory schools that are busily preparing kids for the early-middle 20th Century and calling it "education." There are good alternatives. Both these linked articles appeared today, as if to reinforce the message.
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The Issue that Surrounds Everything

One of the things we're going to need in the future is a lot more entrepreneurial activity. The old economy, based on gigantic and ever-increasing flows of energy and materials (and wastes) is grinding to a halt, and won't be coming back. In the future, there will be a lot fewer massive institutions employing hundreds of thousands of people in big bureaucratic kingdoms, with benefits. People will have to make a lot more of their own livelihood, and they will have to do so much more locally.

One of the big barriers to the kind of innovation and entrepreneurial behavior we need is our weird system of health insurance that's tied to employment rather than citizenship. By tying access to health insurance to working for someone else -- and typically, that means a very big someone else -- we discourage people from creating precisely the kind of ventures that we will need the most of in the future: small, local services that are aimed at meeting each others' basic needs.

People in the health insurance industry are, no doubt, occasionally wonderful people -- just like some of the people who sell guns and drugs in the black market are sometimes wonderful people. But their industry is a parasite, consuming 30% of our sky-high health care costs and producing exactly no health benefit. In fact, our insurance system is one of the root causes of our insanely poor overall rankings on national health indices: we are far and away #1 in spending but about 35th in health results. A good deal of that is due to the fact that we treat health care like a non-essential, and we allow other people do without access to it (so long as we ourselves have access). Thus, people don't follow good health maintenance and illness-prevention strategies and the giant money-sucking leeches in the health insurance biz don't want to pay for prevention because there's no guarantee that the eventual savings will accrue to them instead of their competitor.

Truly an insane system, but one that is so fantastically profitable for a few that it will not die easily, despite the huge amount of suffering and needless waste that it inflicts on us.
Socialist Health Plan? In Norway, Obama's Plan Not Even Close

If Michael Steele and the Republicans really believe that President Obama is proposing a socialist health plan, they need to get out more.

I've just returned from a research trip to Norway, where their universal health system really is socialist. It's also much less expensive than the current U.S. system, so maybe the Republicans would like it if they checked it out. The non-socialists in Norway support it because it works so well, especially compared with "the bad old days" of private medicine, when even the doctors' association advocated for socialized medicine as the only affordable way to make quality care available to all Norwegians.

One reason Norwegians like their system is that it's pro- economic innovation because it's not tied to the employer. Norwegians are free to change jobs for more challenging opportunities, or try their wings as entrepreneurs, because they don't have to worry about insurance - it's with them wherever they go. Economist Jonathan Gruber of MIT is one of many economists who believe that U.S. employer-tied health insurance is a drag on progress. But Obama's plan accepts the status quo even though it might not be affordable.

Norwegians like their system because it cuts red tape. The patient-doctor relationship isn't complicated by multiple insurances; if you need care, you get it as a matter of right. No bills to pay, no plans to juggle, no worry about your dependents, and no worry about your becoming a burden to your children.

Because Norwegians are practical, they enjoy saving money for quality health care. On a per capita basis, Norwegians spend $4,763 per year, and cover everyone, while U.S.'ers spend $7,290. By various standards of health quality, like life expectancy or rate of preventable deaths, Norway does better than the U.S. One key measure is physicians per capita: the U.S. has 2.43 physicians compared with Norway's 4 doctors per 1,000 population, even though Norway spends a third less of its Gross Domestic Product on health care than the U.S. does. (These numbers are from Bruce Bartlett, Forbes magazine columnist who was a former U.S. Treasury Department economist.)

While in Norway I did hear complaints - Norwegians famously believe everything can work better than it does - but I didn't interview anyone, from left wing to right wing, who would change the basic system. Maybe it's time for U.S. politicians to learn from what other countries are doing right.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

TONIGHT: Future of Salem's unique treasure under discussion

Salem City Hall from across the pondThis isn't the unique treasure -- this is City Hall, where Minto Brown Park's future will be decided. Image by Jason McHuff via Flickr

If you are interested in learning more about the stimulus proposal for Minto-Brown Park, you may wish to attend the Parks Board meeting 5:30 tomorrow (Thursday, July 23) in Room 325 of City Hall.

The City Council is slated to hold a public hearing on this easement proposal on Monday, July 27 and final action by the City Council is scheduled for August 10th.

We will post more information when we know more so you will be prepared for the City Council meeting this Monday July 27.

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Serious D & G

World-wide electricity production for 1980 to ...For thermal, read "fossil fuels" -- coal and natural gas, the very things that are melting the poles. Image via Wikipedia

900,000 GW Hours

Jeff is using nice round numbers, and siding optimistically more often than not, but his goal is to see what it will take to simply offset the energy lost from the declining availability of oil as we slide down the far side of Hubbert's Peak by converting to renewables. Jeff puts that figure at about 5% attrition as a round number which has historical precedent, and then converts the current Oil use in the world into BTU's for lack of a better unit, and then finally converts that into electricity as that is what renewables are good at. The result of offsetting 5% of our current annual oil use with elecricity? 900,000 GW hours.

Lets put that into a measurement that we are used to seeing on our monthly bills: KWH. 900,000,000,000 KWH. Frankly that is a number too big to even comprehend. So I tried to convert it into how many gasifiers we would need to build to make that much electricity since we can make 40,000 KWH each. Yep LOTS better – we only need to build 2.25 billion gasifiers and cut down 3.5 milllion square miles of willow coppice annually to power them. And that is only to replace what we are losing each year, i.e. we have to build that many EACH YEAR just to maintain our energy status quo. That also means we will need to build 1000% more PV and Wind generators than we did in 2008 (the current record holder) and then do it EVERY year, for the next 40-50 years. Considering the best PV is only getting 15 watts per sq ft that is an amazing amount of area to cover.

Conservation and efficiency gains you ask? We can only pray that it offset the dual demographic pressures of rising population and the desire of the Third World to drive an F-150 to eat a Big Mac for lunch every day, and I didn't even get into EROEI, front loading the carbon emissions to retool our society, or the fact that there simply may not be enough copper left to wire the generators that we will need. Something to think about next time you see that cheery bumper sticker about "The Answer is blowing in the wind…" or "The Answer Comes up Every Morning". PV and especially wind generation will certainly have a huge role to play in our future, likely the same critical role as they did to electrify the farms of great grandparents; I am rapidly becoming convinced that Energy DESCENT is the reality – and that the Status Quo is already living History.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tour d'Organics

This is what Transition Salem's Community Garden Bike Tour could grow into over time ... 

TOUR D'ORGANICS | August 30 - Portland
OrganicAthlete invites you on a delicious healthy foodie ride to celebrate the rich, thriving natural agriculture that can be found within a bike ride of Portland. The 2009 Tour dĂ•Organics route starts in SE Portland and leads riders through several organic farms and the Out To Pasture Animal Sanctuary. There are four different ride lengths to choose from: 35, 65, and 100 mile routes, and new this year is an 18 mile family ride. 

Riders of every ability will enjoy rest stops at each of the organic farms where they'll be serving up organic, whole foods and an organic vegan lunch for the 65 and 100 mile riders. The finish line features a fresh, healthy vegan meal. A well-marked route and vehicle support will allow you to focus on enjoying the beauty of bicycling the countryside. This very special one-of-a-kind ride is great for families and friends.
( Register ) ( More info )

For your long-range planning: Misty River Band @ Grand Theatre, Nov. 21

Wonderful voices and original music. Great venue for them.
Saturday, November 21, 2009, 7:30PM
191 High Street NE, Salem, OR 97301
Tickets: TBA Info: (503) 362-9185

Monday, July 20, 2009

For all the chicken littles scared of a few hens

Jackknifed TruckImage by Rev. Voodoo via Flickr

For anyone who thinks that food is something that just magically appears in the stores, consider this story below (h/t Sharon Astyk's Casaubon's Book blog).

Now recall the warning that any country is just three missed meals away from revolution, and then consider how precarious our food situation is in the US, with the average forkful having traveled 1500 miles to you, all propelled by fossil fuels and with no reserve capacity or local stores of food squirreled away.

Now consider how frighteningly awful it would be if a lot of homes in Salem had some hens in the yard, turning food scraps and weeds into a few eggs every week.

Paulson reveals US concerns of breakdown in law and order

The Bush administration and Congress discussed the possibility of a breakdown in law and order and the logistics of feeding US citizens if commerce and banking collapsed as a result of last autumn's financial panic, it was disclosed yesterday.

Making his first appearance on Capitol Hill since leaving office, the former Treasury secretary Hank Paulson said it was important at the time not to reveal the extent of officials' concerns, for fear it would "terrify the American people and lead to an even bigger problem".

Mr Paulson testified to the House Oversight Committee on the Bush administration's unpopular $700bn (£426bn) bailout of Wall Street, which was triggered by the failure of Lehman Brothers last September. In the days that followed, a run on some of the safest investment vehicles in the financial markets threatened to make it impossible for people to access their savings.

Paul Kanjorski, a Pennsylvania Democrat, asked Mr Paulson to reveal details of officials' concerns, which were relayed to Congress in hasty conference calls last year. The calls included discussion of law and order and whether it would be possible to feed the American people, and for how long, according to Mr Kanjorski. . . .

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

Conserving Farmland -- Peak Moment TV on Salem's CCTV

OPEC Crude Oil Production 2002-2006.Given that the price of oil quadrupled in Summer of 2008, what does it mean that OPEC output did not increase even as prices were skyrocketing? Image via Wikipedia

Did you miss the showing of "Conserving Farmland on Trabucco Ranch" on Salem's cable-access Channel 21 today at 5? You have another chance to see the show on Channel 21 tomorrow (Saturday, July 18 at 4 p.m.) or again on Monday (July 20, 9 a.m.). Or, if you miss all of them, you can watch the show on your computer here.

Sponsored by Transition Salem, this will be the first in a long series of three-times-a-week broadcasts of excellent programs produced by the Peak Moment TV team, dedicated to helping people prepare for the transitions ahead of us.

A new program will premier each Friday at 5 pm and be repeated the following Saturday at 4 pm and then on the following Monday at 9 am.
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Thursday, July 16, 2009

A question for those who think man isn't causing climate chaos

Why, in the six-thousand years since God created the Earth, did he wait until man started driving up CO2 levels up, up, up to start erasing the poles and all the species therein? (Click on image to view fully.)

Extrapolating into the future

SisyphusIt's going to feel like Sisyphus around here so long as we think we can push that rock over the top if we'll just use more energy. Image by litmuse via Flickr

A look at what our future holds. In the meantime, shouldn't we be doing everything possible to reduce our dependence on distant supplies of everything?

Steiner's book agrees on the basic premise, that the end of oil is bound to come sooner rather than later (we can disagree on the exact date oil extraction peaked, but its arrival at some point is indisputable) and that we had better prepare for the day of reckoning.

Reading $20 Per Gallon makes us realize how contingent our way of life is, and how uncertain its future prospects are. Connecting each phase of the price increase with a particular form of reliance, Steiner tries to move us from denial to acceptance. We will not be able to live the way we have been for the last century, driven by the stored excess energy of oil, built up over millennia. No new form of energy currently on the horizon competes with oil for its cheapness, efficiency, ease of use, and broadness of applicability. At the same time, cheap oil has engendered a variety of grotesque behaviors, from the way we eat our food to how we move products around the world, that make no sense in the absence of underpriced oil.

Steiner wishes to posit a rational transition, driven by market signals, as consumers, businesses, and governments make appropriate choices. For Kunstler, social and political unrest of the highest magnitude is bound to come with the end of oil. The reader can decide, based on the following arenas of choice, which is more likely.

  • At $4, we will begin to accept that there remains little easy-to-get oil.

  • At $6, the SUV will be dead, America's motoring habits will change, and we will become healthier as we get around more on foot.

  • At $8, the "skies will empty," as airline travel will again become a luxury, and the major American "dinosaur" airlines will go out of business: "Southwest and JetBlue will become the dominant domestic airlines in an age of $8 gasoline," thriving on their flexibility. Families will concentrate closer together, and Las Vegas as we know it will "go bust."

  • At $10, after a period of experimentation with hybrid cars, the electric car, 100 years after it first came on the scene, will rule our thinning traffic. Electric cars still face a lot of technical problems, and Steiner discusses Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi's company Better Place, in the forefront of thinking about the infrastructure necessary to make electric cars a reality. At the $10 price signal, plastics made from organic sources--of the kind MIT's Dr. Oliver Peoples is pioneering--will start making sense.

  • At $12, the suburbs will lose their charm, and cities will become magnets for fleeing householders. Urban density, such as New York's, will become the model for less dense cities around the country. South Korea's New Songdo City is an example of a sustainable dense urban conglomeration, likely to become a model around the world.

  • At $14, Wal-Mart will end, Main Street in small towns will revive, and American manufacturing (defeated for so long by the ease of container trade) will return to prominence. We will use materials more sensibly; lacking asphalt, a byproduct of oil, which we use for rooftops and to pave our highways, we will turn to metal and concrete.

  • At $16, the way we eat will fundamentally change. Farms will go local. Steiner points out that having long ago exhausted the natural fertility of our soil, what we essentially eat is oil, since fertilizer consists partly of the hydrogen molecule stripped from hydrocarbons.

  • At $18, high-speed rail will connect America's cities, and the pernicious effects of policies biased in favor of the heavily subsidized auto industry will finally cease.

  • At $20, the alternative energy choices will be stark and irrefutable--nuclear power will stand out as the most viable option. [Magical thinking warning here: the cost of nuclear power, like all technologies, sits atop the cost of the fossil fuels that make the other technologies possible. Uranium doesn't mine itself or enrich itself and nuclear plants take a tremendous amount of energy up front. Good analysts suggest that an all-out nuclear building binge is an elaborate way to run in place, with virtually all the energy from the first plants going to support construction of the later ones . . . no net energy increase made available to society at all, in fact, with almost the entire carbon emissions from the nuclear lifecycle crowded up near the beginning of the construction boom -- just when we can afford it least (i.e., before massive emissions reductions have occurred).]

In essence, Steiner is talking about piece-by-piece rebuilding of existing infrastructure in every realm of activity, to smoothly incorporate new non-fossil-fuel-based technologies. It perhaps stretches faith in our capabilities to allow for such a rational transition. The shift Steiner is discussing is akin to Kunstler's small-scale, local, manual economy, even if Steiner doesn't want to let go of the idea of cars and planes and international trade and differentiated cuisine.

It is revealing that Steiner stops at $20. If the end of oil becomes discernible to everyone, most likely the shift up in prices will not be incremental, but abrupt and exponential. And it doesn't have to stop at $20. Oil is the most precious commodity we possess, if we are bent on maintaining our current form of life. Even at $20 it would be close to free, based on its actual value. What happens when oil is at $50 or $100 or $1,000 a gallon? Obviously, rationality is out the door then, and a more gruesome survivalism sets in, the kind Steiner stops short of discussing.

We can't lose our oil and yet benefit from its applications, in a more beautiful version of what we have now, only somewhat modified. Kunstler went at the problem bluntly, presenting a scenario so horrific (and so inevitable-seeming) that the mind still has difficulty grappling with it. It takes fossil fuels to power newer technologies; Kunstler addresses this problem head-on, and finds no solution within our existing scientific capabilities. Most of the alternatives bandied about, as both Kunstler and Steiner agree, are not realistic, or can only meet a small proportion of our energy needs, even at a drastically reduced level of consumption. For Steiner, nuclear energy will be the savior; it's a huge bet to place, on a technology with its own well-known problems.

Steiner hopes that policy choices will mitigate the inevitable crash. His timely warning is all the more poignant for the degree of human wisdom it seems to call upon.

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Yo, it's not about the price of eggs

Chickens in industrial coopJust one of the phactory pharms where disease-ridden birds are loaded up with antibiotics and hormones in the name of better profits. Image via Wikipedia

The Wall St Journal piece on the chicken flap here in Salem requires a response:
  • You don't have to keep hens if you don't want to. The hen police won't be coming around to inspect your birds to make sure you haven't gone below the minimum number. You can continue to pretend that food just magically appears in stores as long as you like. Other people want to be able to make a different choice.

  • If you think that people should just buy the cheap industrial concentration-camp eggs in the stores, then aren't you kind of crossing a boundary there having to do with "different strokes for different folks?"

    Again -- don't keep hens if you don't want to. Those of us who might prefer some eggs produced without the horrific cruelty and disease habits characteristic of the industrial phood empire will not require you to eat anything you don't want to.

  • Anyone who argues that the economics of raising hens don't pencil out because it can cost a lot of money for coops, feed, etc. has totally missed some key points, such as

    (a) if you don't think it pencils out for you, don't do it (bears repeating);

    (b) if one wants to be prepared for the future, it requires preparing before the future arrives. The time to learn how to keep hens properly is when it's not vital. If we wait until food prices are soaring and hunger is even more prevalent then we're going to be just that much further behind and less able to cope. You don't suddenly know how to keep hens; it's not hard, but there's some learning to be done and some habits to build up.

    (c) People who spend astounding sums of money for nonsense like cable TV and industrial phood are in no position to make spending decisions for their neighbors; and

    (d) There is a large number of people around ready, willing, able, and eager to help other people build a proper coop and learn to keep hens successfully.

  • Finally, for the "if you want to keep hens, move to the country" set, let's recall that Salem permitted hens for 70% of the 20th Century without a problem. The more appropriate thought is that, if you want to live in a place where hens aren't permitted, you need to move to a place with restrictive covenants that forbid hens. That way, you can all be together happily.
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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A prescient warning ignored

SSN-JIMMY-CARTER-SeaWolf-Class_020305USS Jimmy Carter. Image by MATEUS_27:24&25 via Flickr

Today is the 30-year anniversary of the speech where a US president did what so many claim to want politicians to do: Tell the honest truth without sugarcoating and spin.

Would that we listened. Instead America chose to replace that president with a clown of many promises at the next opportunity, warning politicians for generations that honesty, while perhaps a the best policy, is one best left to your opponents.
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