Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union

The President delivered his State of the Union Address last night and a few things jumped out at me.

Dear President Obama,

You mentioned in your speech "building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants" and continued investment in "clean coal".  I sincerely hope you know better and are just saying these things to throw a bone to the right wing. But I am troubled by the idea of government investment in these technologies. No insurance company will fully insure nuclear power plants so we need the government to provide that protection through the Price-Anderson Act and investors are unwilling to take the risk on them so the government also subsidizes them. Add to this the fact that nuclear power plants are terrorism targets, mining, transporting and enriching radioactive materials is hazardous and we still do not know how to dispose of this clean, plentiful, safe fuel. It also does not matter if you can burn coal in a "clean" way if we continue to blow up mountains and destroy communities and waterways to get the coal in the first place. Coal cannot be clean.

On health care, you said, " if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know." How about allowing all Americans to buy into Medicare? This wasn't even on the table?

Trade. No politician is ever specific enough to spell out what they mean by trade policy. Put "trade" and "jobs" together and it sounds OK. Sure, we should make more "goods" that people around the world want to buy. I wonder what you mean by " we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea, Panama, and Colombia." What is "key" about these partners, besides that they are super close to the US and right wing?

Not mentioned in the speech was the utter failure of the US to resolve the coup in Honduras. The former president there is being exiled to the Dominican Republic while the coup leaders are getting all charges dropped.

You mentioned the shocking decision by the Supreme Court, "Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests - including foreign corporations - to spend without limit in our elections." but instead of demanding a serious rebuttal to it like... a constitutional amendment, you call for earmark reform and urged "Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong." A bill can be overturned in the courts. We need an amendment and we need the President to lead on this.

Then there was the "spending freeze". I don't know what to make of this, except you are trying to curry favor with Republicans. Please understand this. They hate you.  Senator Jon Kyl told NPR's Steve Inskeep "I don't think the American people want a whiner who says, 'Woe is me.' It was a terrible situation, and more than a year after he was sworn in, he's still complaining about the Bush administration,"

Mr. President, you are very smart and a good speaker. Much of what you said was good. I do not agree with all of your policies, but I want to support you. It is time to lead and throw your weight around. If Republicans want to filibuster everything, Democrats are going to have to grow a spine. I thank you for saying, "To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills." Republicans were able to get almost everything they wanted with a very slim majority under Bush. Democrats were cowed by the "nuclear option" threat to end the filibuster and as a result we have Justices Roberts and Alito, whose activism threatens to end America as we know it with last week's supreme court ruling.

There is a lot of work to be done in this country. According to charts and graphs I have seen, it is not as bad as it might have been. I will accept that you have done what you think is the right thing and that it has largely helped. The "recovery" is far from complete. It is difficult to see the light when you are still near the bottom of a hole. I hope you can bring some of the opposition along, but so far, it has not worked. It is their way or no way. You have the will of the majority behind you. Don't be fooled by the Massachussets special election into thinking that Americans don't like health care reform or they want Democrats to be more like Republicans. People are disappointed because you are so "centrist" like another popular president named Clinton. People are disappointed because big business continues to write the rules. People are disappointed because banks still will not renegotiate mortgages. I think you know. I think you understand. Now come on and fight for the people. Stop disappointing.

Thank you,

Angelo Sacerdote
Concerned Citizen

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Floodgates

We've been getting all kinds of rain here, but the Supreme Court has just opened the floodgates of corporate cash with their radical ruling last week. In a series of leaps of logic, they have equated corporate rights with citizens rights and political spending with first amendment protected speech. If there are limits to free speech, such as shouting, "fire" in a crowded theater, there should be limits to "speech" that strangles and murders democracy. A single major corporation could easily outspend every national political campaign with just a fraction of their profits. Imagine 100 major corporations influencing elections. I don't know about you, but I don't have endless money to contribute to political campaigns to fight all this money. I also have trouble understanding why "free speech" should cost so much money.

I have long been a proponent of public financing of elections. Money in politics affects every issue you can think of from agricultural policy to energy policy, health care policy and foreign policy. I still believe we need this and there is a bill in the Senate called the Fair Elections Now Act. I think it has been kicking around for a couple of years not going anywhere, but now it is the very least we can do and apparently they have a bunch of CEOs who agree. Contact your Senators and tell them to get on the case and pass this bill.

More importantly, however, we need a Constitutional amendment to finally declare that corporations are not persons and are not entitled to the rights of persons. Apparently Arlen Specter tweeted the suggestion, but he says all kinds of things. Public Citizen is proposing a more specific amendment. has a proposed amendment, which is a little more to the point and they have also made a video to explain it.

I say, corporations are not citizens and elections ought to be publicly financed. Given the stranglehold corporate money has over the House and Senate already, it will be a long hard fight to get this through.  If we can't, maybe we should start applying other laws to corporations, such as the death penalty for murder or even just jail time and take away some of their tax benefits.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Arroyo Community Garden 1st Workday

After a few months of meetings, we had the first workday for the Arroyo Community Garden at the Living Word Church this Saturday. I shot some time lapse of the work. You should probably watch it full screen. No dramatic digging or building happened, but if you look closely, you can see the stakes and strings which signify where the water lines and walkways will go. Next step is trenching.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mulch Basin

Jeez, it's been almost a month since I posted anything. It's not that nothing is going on, I just didn't blog. Now all two of my readers will have forgotten by now. I started this post a while back, before the rain, which is pooling on the clay in the back:

 but draining where the mulch basin is:

We have a break from rain so we are taking the opportunity to dig great big holes in the clay soil of the backyard.  Last winter, just after we bought this place, I noticed that the drainage out back was pretty slow.  After heavy rain, water would sit there on the surface for a while before it would percolate into the ground.  I had been reading books like Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond by Brad Lancaster and Create an Oasis with Greywater by Art Ludwig and they both stress the importance of mulch basins.

When I first started thinking about rainwater collection, I imagined having a storage tank holding the water from my roof.  While I do plan on doing that (I have already started collecting containers) there is no way I can store the 6000 plus gallons that might run off my roof this year.  In fact, I figure if I put a roof over a little more of the chicken coop I could get about 600 gallons from that alone.  What these books promote, especially Brad Lancaster's, is harvesting rainwater in the landscape.

A mulch basin is a big hole dug out of the earth that is filled with something like wood chips. If you have a greywater system, you can safely discharge your bath or laundry or sink water into a mulch basin.  I heard that the California Plumbing Code was changed, due to emergency water conditions, to allow domestic greywater.  In fact, it looks like the city of Petaluma is even promoting it. At any rate, even if you just want to harvest rainwater, a mulch basin seems to be a terrific idea.

We needed to get a couple of stumps removed so I called various tree people.  It would be cool and manly to have a chainsaw, but we live in the suburbs and don't need to cut that much wood.  For pruning, we have pruning saws and even a reciprocating saw with a pruning blade. A tree service guy came by and gave me an estimate. I also asked about wood chips and he said, no problem.  He showed up 2 days later and dumped a few yards of wood chips by the driveway for free. Well that was great, but we never could get him to show up and remove the stumps. I guess it is back to the phone book.

Our yard is fairly flat.  There is a very gentle slope, in that is seems like they made the street lower than the houses when they developed this walnut orchard.  Due to the poor drainage they put all the houses on little hills, but this must have been a river bed in ancient times. As you may have seen in a recent episode of Chicken Theater, the poor chickens get clay all over their feet when it rains. We have been digging out the basins and creating berms on the sloped areas, to slow the water and encourage percolating rather than runoff.  So many people try to get the water to run into the street, but we have been planting a mini orchard and want the water to stay (just away from the house, please).  I am hoping that filling the basins with wood chips will help the water to drain deep into the ground.  I am also hoping that covering the ground in the chicken area with wood chips will help condition the clay soil and mitigate the clay shoes effect while providing a habitat for worms and other creatures the chickens like to eat.  It may take many truckloads of chips.  I will keep you posted on whether it makes a difference.

Another side effect of this project is a total body workout.  Digging heavy wet clay trenches and basins really works out your abs, upper body and even your legs.  I think this will be my workout regimen from now on.  Digging holes and moving dirt.