Dear SCOTUS: Thanks For Nothing

Thursday, 21 January 2010, 17:49 | Category : Politics
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It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the corporation, by the corporation, for the corporation, shall not perish from the earth.

Massachusetts Isn’t The End Of The World

Wednesday, 20 January 2010, 10:01 | Category : Healthcare, Politics
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We awoke this morning to discover that Massachusetts had elected Republican Scott Brown to the Senate seat held since 1953 by a Democrat, primarily either John or Edward Kennedy (Benjamin Smith held the seat by appointment from 1960 until 1962, pending Teddy’s election). The right wing is trumpeting the news as a resounding victory for conservatives, which it is, while some on the left would have you think civilization is beginning to collapse. What it is, is political hubris. The Democrats confused winning the party nomination with winning the general election, and apparently thought they could run a cardboard cutout and still hold the seat easily. Scott Brown realized he could run, not as a Republican, but simply as someone who would vote against the Democratic health care plan, which has become a boondoggle of enormous proportions, and who would claim to be fed up with runaway spending. He tapped into a growing discomfort about, not the deficit, for we saw under the Bush administration that deficits don’t really bother people that much, but rather overly visible and seemingly under-considered spending. I don’t think the huge dollars thrown at the various stimulus programs irked people as much as the discovery that financial companies were still handing out huge bonuses to people who most of us thought were lucky to still have a job. And when the banks paid back some money early, the Obama administration turned around and handed it back out. Many of us down here in the middle thought maybe that should have been used to reduce the deficit, even if only slightly. Appearances matter.

So now, the Democrats are faced with having only 59 seats in the Senate. Health care reform as envisaged only a few weeks ago is probably dead. And that is most likely a good thing. I’m certainly not opposed to health care reform (clicking on the Healthcare category to the right will tell you that), but what came out of the Senate isn’t reform. Starting over, as painful as that sounds, and as politically damaging to Obama as it might be, is in the long run the better thing. And seriously, folks, if the Democrats can’t accomplish something good with 59 Senate seats, then they don’t deserve to be in charge anyway. We on the left have complained about all the things Republicans rammed through during their time in charge the past decade, and they had at most 55 seats. It has looked to me over the past year that at times the Democrats have been almost afraid the be Democrats now that they had the controls. Maybe we’ll have to make some deals to break threatened filibusters. Maybe we’ll have to – gasp – compromise. Just do it. Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.

Mountaintop Removal Mining Permits. Seriously.

Monday, 11 January 2010, 22:38 | Category : Environment
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Many years ago, I saw a cartoon that had two Native Americans looking out at a mountain in the distance. In the second pane, the mountain explodes. In the third pane, one turns to the other and says “I see the Corps of Engineers is at it again”. And so they are. Last week the Environmental Protection Agency gave a compliance letter to the Corps of Engineers for a mountaintop removal mining project in West Virginia. The Corps promptly issued a permit to Hobet Mining allowing the project to proceed. Mountaintop removal is just that – dynamiting a mountain to remove the top several hundred feet of the mountain, exposing the coal seams. It makes it really, really easy to get at the coal, and requires many fewer mine workers. The company is then allowed to dump the dynamited material in valleys below the mountain. Lots of dirt, along with mining waste, is deposited into the valleys, waste that includes all sorts of toxic materials – arsenic, selenium, mercury, heavy metals, which have this annoying habit of finding their way into streams and aquifers, the Clean Water Act notwithstanding. The Bush Administration’s version of the EPA allowed this waste to be classified as “fill”, a technical classification which carried far fewer environmental regulations. I’m guessing their criteria was something along the lines of “Does it glow in the dark? No? Well, OK!”. Seriously, the idea of regulating mountaintop removal from an environmental perspective strikes me as something not far short of absurd. I’m not going to argue that we shouldn’t be using mountaintop removal as a mining method, even though it’s horrible for the environment. But if we’re going to allow it, we should stop this pretense that it can be done in an environmentally friendly or sensitive manner. The EPA estimates that mountaintop removal has removed about 500 mountaintops and buried about 2,000 miles of streams in the US. That didn’t adversely affect the environment of those streams – it obliterated it. Issuing environmental permits for this activity makes as much sense as putting smoke detectors in a blast furnace.

Mountaintop mining

Lovely sight, isn’t it? And it’s not enough to ruin the mountain. We also ruin the valley below. Two for one. Not to mention that chorus of blasts that salute local residents constantly. So, let’s stop this farce of environmental regulations. Let’s just say “we want the coal, and we don’t give a damn about the land or the people”. After all, God forbid we should try to find a way to make do with a little less electricity. Not while there’s still mountains out there, anyway.

Thinking Warmer Thoughts

Sunday, 10 January 2010, 19:26 | Category : Birds
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I was looking back through some pictures I took last October, and found this one, of a grumpy-looking hummingbird at one of my feeders:

Hummingbird at rest

I suspect he’s in a warmer place right now.

Ice On The Pond

Sunday, 10 January 2010, 14:53 | Category : Gardening, Weather
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Driving to church this morning, I realized that I was seeing something you hardly ever see here – ice on the surface of streams and ponds. Granted, it was a thin layer, but it just never happens. You’ll sometimes see some icing along the stream bank, or at the edge of a pond, but this ice was stretching almost all across the stream. A pond I often walk by in the mornings had small chunks of ice floating in it. In past years, even when we would get below freezing, we wouldn’t go low enough, or stay at that temperature long enough, for icing to occur. It’s been cold, but it’s been interesting – or maybe just different. But I look forward to seeing what plants in my yard come back from this. And the great thing about living in the Deep South is that, unlike my more northern friends, I know that even this cold snap won’t last long. By mid-week we’ll be back in the upper 50s. So even with temperatures just peeking above 32F for the first time in three days, I can look forward to doing some gardening-related things later in the week, even if it’s just cleaning up pots and beds. And the big-box stores are already stocking up their garden centers, so at the very least I can walk around and look at gardening stuff. I guess stores do that everywhere, but in Mississippi, you can look at seed racks and think that within a month or so you can start some seeds if you feel so led. In fact, since the ground doesn’t freeze here, there are some things I could plant this week – sweet peas, for instance. And with leaves gone and foliage having died on many perennials, the bones of the garden are much easier to see. It’s a great time to plan, or correct what you did wrong last year. Or just walk around in the sun.