Monday, April 28, 2008

Global Ghost Town: Oil Crisis Requires New Vision

There is a crisis happening on a global scale, and we here in the United States of America have a moral responsibility to take action to help alleviate global food prices and ensure that millions of people do not suffer the ill effects of hunger and possibly even starvation. We are all complaining about the high cost of oil these days and how it is impinging on our budget, but in the developing world this is having extreme consequences. The stark reality is that three billion people on the planet earth live on less than $2 a day, and a good portion of that money goes specifically to the purchase of basic food grains to survive. As a result of the skyrocketing price of oil, the price of food grains has risen due to commercial production costs and transportation to as much as $800 a ton for rice which has led to food riots in the developing world.

The reasons for high oil prices are complex, and due to many factors, but we can take steps now to deal with the global oil crisis and help people in the developing world avoid a worsening food crisis. One of the principal factors in the current oil crisis is directly related to the US invasion of Iraq. The war in Iraq, which administration officials believed would lead to democracy and stability has instead resulted in civil war and prolonged military expenditures. The financial uncertainty in the marketplace regarding the instability in the middle east has driven oil prices even higher and the worsening Federal debt, greatly impacted by the hundreds of billions of unpaid dollars committed to the war effort has made the dollar less attractive to global investors, driving down the value of the dollar in relation to global currencies and discouraging investment.

With President Bush refusing to reduce troop commitments below 140,000 and Congress seemingly unable to limit the power of the executive branch to spend money we do not have on a war we do not need, the global markets are losing faith in the security of the dollar and the American economy generally. This situation has been further complicated by the credit crisis which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of foreclosures and displaced as many Americans who are having to scramble for someplace to live. The credit crisis, which was permitted to go on for far too long due to the lack of oversight and failure to enact basic regulatory responsibilities, is another factor contributing to the weakening American dollar globally and lack of faith in the American economy generally.

Then there is the lack of any long-term vision or reasonable central planning in regard to domestic infrastructure and planning for the utilization of limited resources. This is a long-term problem, which is fundamentally an aspect of free trade policies and decades of deregulation and faith in a free market policy to solve all problems. In order to get a grip on the reality of an entire domestic economy that has been oriented toward free market economics imagine the situation of a western gold mining town in the nineteenth century. Many of these boom and bust economies were based on the immediate availability of a limited resource which brought immediate corporate investment, short term economic gain and left long term environmental disasters. In addition, when the gold ran out, almost every gold mining town became a ghost town.

This is the reality of the current oil economy. Regardless of how you look at it is that we are investing in a short-term resource which took millions of years to develop and which we are now burning through in less than a century. If we would like to avoid looking like a global ghost town we must begin to take realistic steps now. The federal government is the only collective entity, which has the infrastructure and collective wisdom to deal with this looming crisis for which we have not to this date made any effective steps toward resolving.

As a candidate for federal office I support investment in the alternative energy infrastructure. We have invested hundreds of billions of dollars in a war we cannot win and in the meantime oil corporations are making record profits at the expense of the working people in this country. I say let's take away their profits by investing in something they cannot profit from. The sun is an unlimited source of energy and the wind is always blowing. Why are we letting the oil companies and their investors get rich while at the same time we are warming the earth with devastating consequences? It is because we have continued to let the powers that be make decisions in Washington which are always in the interest of free market profits without consequences. What we need is to reign in the free market ideology which has driven us to this precipice and begin to use the long term wisdom of a federal government that is looking out for the basic needs of working class people, the environment and the health and well being of everyone on this planet.

When we begin to treat the oil crisis like the problem that it really is and begin to take realistic steps to find ways to power our automobiles, heat our homes, produce our food and generate our electricity the people of the developing world will thank us. We have had one of the strongest economies in the world and we are resourceful and ingenious nation, always up for the challenges that face us. I have faith that we can make the right decisions, but we must take the right steps. We must move away from a free market ideology with respect to energy and specifically oil and look toward government investment in the alternative energy infrastructure. We need to end the war in Iraq and stop acting like there are no consequences for spending hundreds of billions of dollars that we don't actually have. We need to balance the federal budget and restore faith in the economy for the global investment class. We need to address the housing crisis in this country with stronger regulation and no corporate bailouts for Wall Street investment firms that have profited at the expense of the poor. We need to take a second look at how we do our cities and ask if unlimited sprawl is really the best idea for urban development. But most of all, we need to elect representatives to Washington DC and to all levels of government who are going to have a long-term vision and will vote for policies that are in the best interest of our country.

Friday, April 18, 2008

No Draft. No Way.

My father is a Vietnam Veteran. He was an officer in ROTC in 1968 while he was in college and went to Vietnam as a Lieutenant the year I was born. My father felt an obligation to his country and a duty to serve when called. I was born in a snowstorm in rural Minnesota while my father was halfway around the world in the jungles of Vietnam. I am proud of my father and his service to my country. When I was a teenager, going to private Catholic school, I was approached by military recruiters. I was encouraged to join the military and to enlist in the ROTC program, much like my father had been. For whatever reason, I declined. I was not yet a peace activist like I became after the first gulf war, but something in my instincts told me that I could not serve in the military the way my father had served.

In 1990, while I was enrolled at the University of Minnesota, George Bush Sr. began beating the drums of war. I was enrolled in the selective service program at that time in order to get student loans to go to college. I remember clearly the night the bombs began to drop in Iraq for the first time. I was living in the student district of Minneapolis and there had been anti-war activity on campus leading up to the invasion. Students were busy organizing against the campus military center, sometimes called the stockade, holding demonstrations and putting anti-war material in front of the recruiting and training center.

The night of the first bombing and initial invasion in 1991 I witnessed something I had never seen before, a spontaneous anti-war demonstration. Demonstrators began marching from the University district and marched, without a permit, into downtown Minneapolis and over to the uptown district, several thousand people marching a distance of five or six miles. Something about that demonstration vitalized me and helped me to commit to a path of peace. I knew at the time, based on my religious convictions, that I could not kill another human being in the name of my country, no matter what the reason. Although I am no longer a person of faith, I still retain the same conviction to this day and remain a pacifist and committed to the path of non-violence.

I joined the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors at that time and met with a Quaker counselor from the American Friends Service Committee. I decided at that point in my life to begin to serve the path of peace.

My story is only one story of many paths to adulthood. Besides having deep respect for my father and his choices in life, we have something in common, we both had the opportunity to choose how to serve our country. This choice, which has been a mainstay of American life since shortly after the Vietnam war, has never been under greater threat than it is right now. Our military forces are taxed to exhaustion, and a backdoor draft of sort already exists with our national guard reserve. President Bush has chosen to keep one hundred forty thousand troops in Iraq in addition to the thousands already serving in Afghanistan and the hundreds of thousands serving in over one hundred and twenty countries around the world.

Nearly every person in the military today is there because they were able to choose to serve. Regardless of how one feels about the process of military recruitment, the targeting of poor and minority communities, even recruiting persons who are not yet citizens of this country in order to serve, the alternative to this is far worse. I do believe that we need to scale down the size of our military. We cannot afford the extreme financial burden that this military is costing us, both in current expenditures and obligations we have on past expenditures such as debt from previous military expenses which is as yet unpaid and the financial obligations that we have to the health and welfare of our nation's veterans.

There has been talk in the military of reintroducing the draft. It is argued that we cannot afford to keep going the way we are. There has even been speculation that the very reason that our national reserve forces are being taxed to their limits is to reintroduce the draft as a socially acceptable resolution to the current crisis in Iraq. Our military forces are broken. They are being taxed to their limits, but the solution is not the reintroduction of a draft. This war in Iraq was based on lies and manipulation. There is nothing honorable about recruiting unwitting young men in order to support the lies and misdeeds of the current administration.

The solution to the crisis in Iraq is to bring the troops home now. Our national guard has served the country well. They have answered the call to serve, in spite of the betrayals of the current administration, and it is time to bring them home. Then it is time to let our military heal from the current round of conflict. We need a peacetime administration that is focused on using alternatives to violence and warfare in order to solve international conflicts. We need elected representatives who are committed to the path of peace and who are more concerned about the economic crisis at home.

I am still proud of my father and everything he has done. I am also proud of my friends who have chosen not to serve in the military. I am proud of the peace activists I know who have chosen to serve their country and the world to promote the cause of peace. I believe that there can be reconciliation and understanding between these two very different communities, each choosing to serve in the way they believe is best. The act of choosing is one of the most important rites of transitioning into adult life. Don't our children deserve the opportunity to explore all the alternatives that life has to offer them, in education, in job training, in community service? We don't need another draft. What we need is a new outlook on our government.

We need a government that is dedicated to the idea that serving the people is the highest priority. A draft will only reinforce the idea that Americans are cannon fodder for greedy warmongers who can't make good foreign policy decisions and then need to sacrifice American lives in order to cover for their terrible decisions. Instead of investing more money in war let's invest it in peace. Let's make sure that every American graduates from high school. Let's take the money that we would spend on guns and spend that money on health care. Let's take the money that we would spend on military bases halfway around the world and spend that money on our own domestic infrastructure. Let's take the money that we would spend on bombs and spend that money on social security. Finally, let's take the money that we would spend on training our young men and women to be soldiers and instead spend that money on training them to be teachers, doctors and engineers.

We can lift this nation out of poverty. We can find alternatives to warfare and violence. We can solve our international problems without invading foreign countries and occupying them. We can have peace and security at home without resorting to a draft. It is time for us to take the steps towards peace that we have been waiting to take. It is time to look at real solutions to the economic crisis facing this country. It is time to restore the honor and dignity that is the soul of this nation. I believe we can do this. All we need is the leadership and the representation to make the right decisions in Washington DC. Let's take the first steps toward becoming the people that we deserve to be by resisting talk of a draft and instead let’s bring the troops home now.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Decorate, Water

I really wanted to write about this first episode a week ago, before it first aired on The Sundance Channel, but it was just impossible to get to. Still, you can view it online at - the episode is entitled "Decorate."  (Next Television Showing: Sun day, April 13, 3:00PM on the Sundance Channel)

Decorate follows the base format of the "Big Ideas For A Small Planet" series, using three examples of people following the principles it teaches. First, we see an interior designer who utilizes low-VOC paints, post-consumer re-manufactured tiles, recycled wood, appliances, furniture, and even knick-knacks to remodel three vacation "cottages" for a couple wanting to do a green re-do before opening for business. The results are a stunning showcase of what is possible using these methods.

Next, we turn to a world of natural cork - literally, if these designers had their way. From soft, comfortable lounge chairs to large salad bowls, the depths of this wonderfully renewable and recyclable material are explored and will amaze you.

Finally, one designer turns to nature for inspiration, with exotic results that are organic, graceful, durable, and recyclable.

In "Water," the Sundance Channel brings home the issues with water that are starting to loom larger and larger in this world. From severe droughts in California and the lower Mississippi Basin states to epochal drought in Australia and China's remote provinces, clean, fresh water is fast becoming one of the most precious resources on the planet. The situation is only made harder as human populations climb ever-higher.

Water takes a look at solutions, from an ingenious mobile desalination plant that can turn sea water into fresh where ever in the world it is needed, (Remember Katrina?) to rainwater systems that could potentially catch billions of gallons of fresh water that are now just running off our roof tops. Additionally, there is a young entrepreneur who is cleaning up the water we do have, in our streams and rivers across the USA.  The film airs this Tuesday evening on the Sundance Channel at 9pm Eastern & Pacific, and also can be seen online at .

What really felt good to me about these short documentaries (30 minutes each) was the upbeat, can-do attitude you get right away, and are left with. There are solutions to these problems, and we can tackle them together. It can also be financially and emotionally rewarding and soul-satisfying to do so. That is the message of these early Green-Age films, and definitely, watch these films!

Watch this space for further reviews of films in this series.

Dan Stafford
Publisher - The Great Lakes Zephyr - Wind Energy & Hydrogen Journal

Initial Thoughts On "The Great warming"

I honestly think that we can change the world together, for the better, and get a lot of enjoyment, satisfaction, and fulfillment out of the effort.  Additionally, I think that the effort can form the basis for a lot of common ground between people who currently feel divided, and restore our sense of community and connectedness in the process. It can give us a common focus, a common problem, instead of a common "enemy."

I just finished watching "The Great Warming," a film on the scale of "An Inconvenient Truth," but with as much solution presentation as problem presentation. It's narrated by Keaneau Reeves and Alannis Morrisette. It will be one of the films I am reviewing for the Sundance Channel, and airs in late spring of this year.

What I found inspiring about the film at first glance was how it presented the growing evangelical movement toward environmental stewardship based on both religious reasoning and science. This gave me a great sense of hope. All over the world, the "grass roots" are waking up to the problem in a big way, across all walks of life. The "green age" is coming. The only question is if we will move collectively fast enough.

I firmly believe that we must work to educate and break down barriers to common ground and effort being established. We need to work together to push public policy and private action in a sustainable direction, and I believe we can.

No situation, political, cultural, or economic is static. Change is coming, and each of us must lend shoulders to the oars and tiller of this great ship to turn our course. I see many positive signs, and all one has to do is look and learn to see the course.

The little things add up - it took a huge collection of individual decisions and actions to get where we are, and it will take the same to get where we will go. The difference is knowledge, and in  this early part of the green age, every one of us that can show a way forward to even one other makes a difference that adds to the overall result.

Seeds of change are sprouting - and we need to nourish them.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Imagining a World Without Nuclear Weapons

It has been almost forty years since the United States signed on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty and now is the time to begin to live up to the spirit of that treaty. The NPT has been signed by 189 nations and was intended as a framework to move the world toward both the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the eventual dismantlement of weapons of mass destruction. In our time, these instruments of genocide and apocalypse have hung over our heads like an angel of death, haunting the vast majority of our foreign policy decisions and at times pushing the planet to the edge of nuclear war.

It has been a long time since anyone felt the conscious threat of global thermonuclear war like the kind of visions of destruction that seemed to capture popular consciousness in the 1980's, but the reality of those weapons and their threat still looms large over foreign policy decisions, and now is the time to begin to take concrete steps toward dismantlement and destruction, before it is too late. Right now, while our world is at relative peace regarding global threats to security, right now, while the United States has the will and the leadership, right now, while the generation which dedicated itself to peace and social justice has the vision and the determination, right now is the time to dismantle our own weapons of mass destruction.

This may seem like a dangerous idea to some. Many Americans cannot imagine a world without nuclear weapons. I myself know that many people feel that our only real security lies in this superior construction of Armageddon, but the fact is that we are the greatest threat to world security right now. In spite of our ideals, in spite of the spirit of our democratic tradition, there is nothing democratic, there is no message of freedom in our collection of weapons of mass destruction. Just like a drug addict who needs his fix, we still crave the power that comes from the threat and fear that these weapons generate.

There are no words to honestly describe our condition. We stand at a moment in history that is generally unique. We have never before faced a time when our cleverness and our own skills as a society can lead to our complete undoing. This is the reality that these weapons generate. They are instruments not of democracy, but of tyranny. They are not agents of peace, but rather agents of total destruction and we have a moral obligation to dismantle these weapons of destruction and live up to the spirit of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that we signed almost forty years ago.

We can live in a world of peace, if we take concrete steps now to live up to our better selves. It is possible to resolve international conflicts without threatening to completely destroy other cultures, other peoples. We have the collective intelligence to create a more meaningful future for ourselves and our future generations. By investing in our domestic infrastructure, by supporting fair trade policies, by creating universal health care, by offering meaningful access to education at all levels in our society, by investing in alternative energy and moving away from our addiction to oil, by supporting the international community, by investing in programs to support the global south, by divesting in war and violence as the only solution to international conflict and by dismantling our weapons of mass destruction we can move toward the kind of world that Martin Luther King Jr. imagined nearly forty years ago.

Forty years after the NPT is only two generations. Let's not wait even one more before we rid ourselves of these instruments of global genocide. If you care about peace and want to make a statement that will be heard by people around the world then I would like to encourage you to come to Oak Ridge, Tennessee this Sunday, April 13th for the twentieth anniversary of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance public demonstration for peace. Oak Ridge is the home of the only atomic bombs ever used on a human population. Constructed between 1942-45, the bombs manufactured in Eastern Tennessee were used to killed tens of thousands of civilians in 1945. Since that time Oak Ridge has continued to play an instrumental role in the production and maintenance of America's nuclear weapons complex.

On April 13th hundreds of people will gather in Oak Ridge to march to the gates of the Y-12 facility and call for an end to the manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction. They will also call for a plan to clean up the oak ridge environment, which has been polluted by decades of abuse and a plan for dismantling our nuclear weapons infrastructure. Some people may feel so strongly about this event that they will engage in non-violent civil disobedience to express their concern for humanity and our children's future. Others will protest in a law abiding fashion but with no less intent and concern for the future generations of this planet. I hope you can join us. For more information please visit the website

Friday, April 04, 2008

Veterans Deserve Quality Health Care

Our military veterans have served the nation honorably, and deserve the best treatment we can give them. Regardless of how one feels about the current policy of the Bush administration regarding the war in Iraq, our veterans deserve our respect and gratitude for their service to the country. They chose to serve out of a sense of obligation, duty and often times a desire to improve their circumstances in life. The current war in Iraq has produced a high rate of disabled veterans who have been injured and wounded in the line of duty. This is in large part due to the advancement in treating combat related injuries in the field and the speed at whcih the wounded are moved out of the field of service to hospitals and critical care units.

In the United States, of our nation's 25 million veterans, about ten percent are currently considered disabled. That is about 2.5 million people who have served the country, been wounded either in combat or in the the line of duty and are currently dependent on the care of the TRICARE system for their health care benefits. In addition there are almost ten million retired veterans in this country receiving retirement benefits. We are currently spending about sixty billion dollars a year on veteran's benefits for all of our nation's veterans and twenty billion for our nation's wounded and disabled veterans.

When our servicemembers are recruited to join the military, they are made the promise of health care for life, and benefits for themselves and their families in exchange for answering the call to serve our country. These health care benefits are earned not only through the promise that we have made them as a nation, but also through the suppression in their pay and the intangibles represented by "total military compensation" which is the pormise of retirement benefits being available to the military and their families.

Last year, a task force on the future of military health care began looking at the situation of military retirees, who are increasingly being called upon to pay for more of their benefits. These benefits have been earned through their tours of duty and their service to our country, and it is up to us, as taxpayers, to honor that promise that has been made to our service members. This trust has been broken and veterans are concerned. Perhaps the most outrageous request coming from the Pentagon has been the call for increasing the enrollment fees in both TRICARE and TRICARE FOR LIFE, which is the primary system by which veteran's receive their military health benefits.

This situation needs to be addressed. We cannot leave our nation's veterans hanging on the edge. Many of our veterans are homeless and living in the streets. Others are living on marginal incomes and in poverty. This is not the promise we made our young men and women made when they answered the call to serve our country. These increases in the cost of health care are a burden that many cannot afford to pay, and we cannot afford to betray the trust of those who have served. It is time to bring the troops home from Iraq and stop funnelling hundreds of billions of dollars into an illegal war that is draining our nation's treasury. It is time to remember the promises that were made to those who came to the defense of our country and to give the military health system the funding priority that it needs.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

No More Secret Governments

I am proud to be an American, but I am ashamed of what the government is doing in my name. We are living in a country that openly discusses torture as acceptable government policy, which debates whether or not to grant immunity to corporations that spy on Americans, that invades foreign countries in violation of international law and that grants huge profits to private corporations which hire mercenaries to kill innocent women and children with immunity in foreign countries. How did we end up on this path of secrecy, torture, foreign invasion and war profiteering?

I believe that we took the first steps towards a secret government in 2001 with the passage of Executive Order 13233 which allows current and previous presidents to withhold documents and records without explanation indefinitely. This unprecedented expansion of power stands in direct opposition to the Freedom of Information Act and the US Constitution. Presidential records should be the property of the public and our right to know should be fundamental right of the people and not the president.

Executive Order 13233 states that presidential records may be withheld from the general public, including Freedom of Infomation Act requests, for decisions that are related to war, diplomacy, national security, legal advice, presidential communications, and the deliberative process of a president and his advisors. These types of communications are considered to be "presidential privileges" and not subject to open public scrutiny or public disclosure. This means that unless Congress acts, we may never know exactly how this administration decided to torture innocent civilians, how they decided it was acceptable to spy on Americans, or how they decided to give billions of dollars to war profiteering corporations.

This means we cannot decide if the President violated the law or if members of his administration knowingly violated the law. It is important, if we are to be a dignified nation, an honorable nation, to know how our elected representatives and their advisors came to make decisions which reflect the body politic. We live in an open society, and the decisions that our representatives make reflect upon us all. This is why it is vital to know what our representatives are thinking and what they are doing. If we don't, then we might as well admit that there is a secret government, unaccountable, acting without our consent.

In America, the government belongs to the people. Inherent in our system of self-government is the idea that the People have the right to know what our government and government officials are doing and to hold them accountable for their actions. Americans want to know why the Bush administration thinks it is acceptable to spy on her own citizens. We want to know who fabricated the weapons of mass destruction myth that was the agency of war in Iraq. These decisions have cost Americans hundreds of billions of dollars, and more tragically, thousands of American lives. Thomas Jefferson once said that information is the currency of democracy. That is why it is time to overturn Executive Order 13233 and restore dignity and trust to the American people.