Friday, May 18, 2007

Open Letter: Ending the War in Iraq

Dear Congressmen and Senators,

I am writing today to urge you to work even harder than you have so far to end the disastrous War in Iraq. The War in Iraq has killed thousands of Americans, wounded tens of thousands more, and killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. It has cost American taxpayers over $500 billion so far, and its ultimate costs will be well over $1 trillion. It was started under false pretenses for reasons that still remain unclear, and serves no discernible goal. The War in Iraq is wrong, pointless, bad for America, and must be ended as soon as possible.

I realize that any legislation which includes a clear withdrawal timeline will be vetoed by President Bush, and that at some point funding must be passed. Therefore I urge you to pass legislation which funds the War in Iraq for increments of not more than 3 months at a time. This will force the President to provide progress reports and justification for the war again and again. Hopefully after a time enough Republican legislators will defect and the war can be ended, or this process will continue until the 2008 election and the Republicans will be defeated.

If for some reason the President concedes defeat and agrees to end the troops, the withdrawal must be complete. All American troops should be removed from Iraq, including from Kurdistan, and construction on any long-term bases halted. There is no reason for an American presence in Iraq – the well has been too deeply poisoned, and as long as our troops are in the country the Iraqis will be distracted from rebuilding their country. Ideally, all troops would also be withdrawn from the larger Persian Gulf region, but that will take much more time and some significant political shifts here in America. Troops are also need for the War in Afghanistan – a war that was going well until the president foolishly diverted troops to Iraq.

I also urge you to properly fund the Veterans Administration. Our soldiers have served in Iraq honorably (with a very few exceptions) and deserve to receive proper medical treatment for injuries sustained during the war. The VA was doing quite well with the funding and patients it had until this war started, which broke a system not accustomed to treating new patients. I urge you to work hard to remedy yet another shameful failure of the Bush Administration.

But most of all I urge you to attempt to end the war in Iraq as soon as possible. Please do everything you can ,and make it your top priority. Lives are being wasted and families broken every day because of the War in Iraq, and it should not go on.

Thank you for your time.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Quote from Kunstler

Here's a great quote from an article by Kunstler:

Of course, the single worst impediment to clear thinking among most individuals and organizations in America today is the obsession with keeping the cars running at all costs. Even the environmental community is guilty of this. The esteemed Rocky Mountain Institute ran a project for a decade to design and develop a “hyper-car” capable of getting supernaturally fabulous mileage, in the belief that this would be an ecological benefit. The short-sightedness of this venture? It only promoted the idea that we could continue to be a car-dependent society; the project barely gave nodding recognition to the value of walkable communities and public transit.
That's about where I stand: barring a miracle such as nuclear fusion or $1/watt solar panels, we will have to fundamentally reshape the built environment around feet, bikes, and public transportation (and we should do so anyway for a host of other reasons). It will be incredibly painful and unpopular, and I have serious doubts about whether it can be done.

Open Letter: Immigration Reform

Dear Congressmen and Senators,

I am writing today to urge your support of comprehensive reform of United States immigration policy. A number of proposals are floating around Washington, the most famous of which is the ridiculous “wall” supported by many Republicans. I must emphasize that you should support reform that addresses all aspects of the issue, and not catchy white elephants.

Of course, when immigration is discussed the focus is primarily on illegal Mexicans. Let me be clear in stating that I do not harbor ill will towards Mexicans, Latinos in general, or any other group, and that any bigotry encountered during this policy debate should be thoroughly denounced. The focus on Mexicans actually distracts from the fact that illegal immigrants come from many countries and arrive in a variety of ways, including overstaying legal visas. However, I must also point out that the relative ease that Mexicans have in emigrating to America reduces pressure on the Mexican government to enact meaningful reforms, and an unreformed, highly unequal, and thus unstable Mexico is not in America's best interest.

Foremost in any bill should be enough funds to staff Immigration and Naturalization Service workplace inspectors at much higher levels. Current levels of INS inspection staffing are not sufficient to create a credible enforcement threat. Crucial to any enforcement process is the belief by lawbreakers that they are likely to be inspected. INS should be able to regularly inspect industries where illegal immigrants are concentrated – food service, janitorial, and construction. The INS should also have sufficient resources to be able to track down those who overstay legal visas because history has shown this class of people can be dangerous to America.

Second in any bill should be much stronger penalties for companies that hire illegal immigrants. Current penalties are so low that a simple cost/benefit analysis makes hiring illegal immigrants a rational move for many companies. Penalties need to be raised to a much more punitive level, and any conspiracies to hire illegal immigrants should be subject to additional levels of punishment.

What should not be included in any immigration reform bill is an amnesty program for illegal immigrants already residing in America. America is a nation of laws and that should apply to everyone who wishes to live in America. Many thousands of people are waiting around the world for the chance to enter America legally, and to allow those who entered illegally to jump ahead of those who respect the legal process is unfair, inappropriate, and a bad moral lesson. However, I am not in favor of mass deportations or anything draconian. Once illegal immigrants realize that their prospects for employment are much poorer than for legal immigrants they will leave on their own, or they will be caught in normal INS sweeps.

In conclusion I hope you support a bill that addresses root causes via law enforcement, while ignoring calls to flag-wave at the border. I am confident you will support good policy.

Thank you for your time.

Monday, May 7, 2007

What is Peak Oil?

(Note: this is a rather terse and disjointed first take on my outlook. I hope to expand it in the future.)

The phrase 'Peak Oil' is term that means many things to many people, like its close cousin Global Warming, though far fewer people have heard of Peak Oil. It can be many things because it is not a discrete entity like clouds, or humpback whales, or lunch. In the minds of the various people who know the term it is a varying composite of engineering, science, and culture - whether it should be or not.

Peak Oil is first and foremost a physical phenomenon that can be observed, and has been repeatedly by oil industry engineers. The rate of oil production in field after field has followed what to the casual observer would appear to be 'bell curve' when plotted out visually. The flow of oil starts off slowly, then enters a period where it rises quickly to a rounded peak, followed by rapid decline, and a final period of minimal extraction. The curves of individual fields vary slightly for a variety of reasons: political turmoil, accidents, poor management, and more. Technological developments also tends to make the decline side of the curve less steep due to better recovery. However, all fields eventually decline, usually sooner than later.

Science enters the Peak Oil concept through explanations of the phenomenon. Oil and other fossil fuels are formed by geological process that scientists have explained fairly well. Science also explains why fossil fuels are relatively rare and are not forming at rates anything close to the rates at which they are being depleted. Science also explains why various fields produce at different rates, have different mixtures of oil and gas, and so on.

Finally culture rears its head when the implications of Peak Oil are contemplated. To some it seems like the end of the world, and say so. Others, overwhelmed by the implications for the lives that they currently live, discount it entirely, preferring to listen to those who attack it for baser, more selfish motives. To yet others it is some kind of nefarious plot dreamed up by unknown people aimed at destroying this or that. In other words, Peak Oil generally either slots easily into a persons existing mental framework, or gets rejected because it does not. For a few (but hopefully growing number of people) coming to understand Peak Oil as a observable phenomenon changes their mental outlook, as well it should.

I am definitely a person whose outlook has been changed by coming to understand past patterns of oil discovery and production, likely future discovery and production, and the implications of a serious decline in oil production, along with production of other fossil fuels. These amazingly concentrated sources of energy have enabled modern human civilization. Without these precious strokes of geological luck development would have slowed significantly in the late 18th or early 19th century as biomass-based energy resources became depleted. With fossil fuels humans have been able to radically reshape their lives and the whole earth, for better or worse. And now our frenzied development has reached a point where it could harm ourselves, unless changes are made.

The sciences, in addition to explaining the how sources of energy arise, give us an important rule: energy can be used only once. (This is actually an implication of the second law of thermodynamics, not a formal law in itself.) If energy is readily available, it can be used with abandon. But if concentrated sources of energy are rare, then great care should be taken when using energy to make sure as much as possible is going into useful work. Peak Oil implies that concentrated energy sources are rare and likely to decline at current usage rates. Unfortunately, modern patterns of living developed when the amount of energy available appeared or were reported to be nearly limitless.

Unless a major new source of energy is discovered, a significant new energy technology is developed, or significant mitigation efforts are undertaken, the implications of Peak Oil for human civilization are profound and not all that appealing. At this point in time the chance of finding major new fossil energy deposits is low, and even if they were discovered utilizing them would just add to the other major threat man-made facing the world - Global Warming. The chance a major new energy technology coming on-line in the near future, such as nuclear fusion, is also low. That leaves mitigation, both in the form of reducing energy use, and making major coordinated investments in existing energy technologies such as solar, wind, and nuclear fusion. Investments should be both in new plant as well as incrementally improving these existing technologies.