Richard Hansen

Past the point of survival?

earth_on_fire_1062515_63098996The International Energy Agency issued its annual World Energy Outlook on Nov. 12. The Paris-based agency has 28 member nations and is acclaimed worldwide by many government agencies. The World Energy Outlook stated that North America is leading a global energy shift that will make the United States almost energy self-sufficient by 2035!

Almost all of this projected energy growth in North America, and particularly in the United States, is based on increased use of hydraulic fracturing and more efficient use of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal). The report clearly states that although the renewable energy segment will continue to grow, the world will still rely heavily on fossil fuels to meet its ever-expanding energy needs into the foreseeable future.

This overriding projection by the IEA is supported by most of the developed nations and driven by purely economic reasons. The United States, China and India demand a cheap and reliable energy source to satisfy their insatiable appetite for energy. The undeniable fact is growth-based economies need a cheap energy supply to grow their economies and use job creation as a publicly accepted excuse. The hydrocarbon companies, which are truly worldwide in nature, are only too happy to support this data for profit motives.

Even the projected expansion of renewables is based on the continued and increased use of government subsidies to make them competitive with relatively cheap and available fossil fuels. The World Energy Outlook report doesn’t take into consideration many of the potentially devastating consequences of expanding fossil fuel usage.

The most important of these consequences is global warming, with all the environmental factors associated with increased usage of fossil fuels. Along with the contentious climate change issues, there are other related and overlapping issues that could affect this projected scenario: social discontent, general health issues, inadequate water supplies, lack of proactive government policies, etc.

Unfortunately, the human condition is to be reactive, not proactive. I am fairly certain that we will use every ounce of fossil fuels available unless the world condition forces us to put survival ahead of profit. Most of the world depends on growth to sustain economic viability. We are culturally and socially committed to an ever-expanding population, consumption of finite resources and a dependence on profit and material growth. If we continue on this shortsighted path we could very well see the end of growth as we know it. We are at a crossroads in our human development. The question is will we do the things necessary for our very survival and maybe of the survival of the earth itself? The human species is close to becoming a cancer upon the earth that could kill the host that we owe our very existence to!

I am not trying to take a purely environmentalist position or simply suggest a doomsday scenario. I am also certainly not speaking out of technical expertise. I am simply trying to express my opinion as an observer of reality and human nature. We live in a world society where cellphones and iPods have become more important than a sustainable ecosystem. I actually believe a compromise will be worked out that will pacify the public and allow the fossil fuel companies to extract their bounty. It would take a sea change in our collective attitude to wean us off fossil fuels and close to impossible from a pragmatic standpoint. The reality is our fate may already be sealed!

Opinion of one who’d know

Former Longmont City Manager, Gordon Pedrow

The recent opinion article by former city manager Gordon Pedrow was one of the finest and most objective opinion pieces I have seen. It showed candor about the system and he very articulately expresses his reasons for voting for ballot question 300.

He demonstrated honesty and integrity in expressing his opinion on this very contentious issue. I am particularly impressed with his frankness about the system and his willingness to share it with the public.

The public expects that our elected officials and their state commissions have our interest and safety as their primary concern. To me it is obvious the public has the right to protect their health and safety, but the state leadership doesn’t want local communities setting the rules. It is extremely refreshing to see someone intimately involved with the system speaking his mind.

Colorado is one of only 24 states that even have a citizen’s initiative process under the State Constitution. Without this constitutionally guaranteed process, we wouldn’t even be talking about this issue, because it wouldn’t be on the ballot.

Although the citizen’s initiative does have its flaws, without it there would be no way to hold elected officials accountable. Expecting elected officials to do the right thing voluntarily and serve the public interest is unrealistic. Elections are about money and patronage to the power brokers. There are exceptions to this depressing view, but they are rare.

Mr. Pedrow is right that we shouldn’t have to resort to an initiative, that our commissions and elected officials should be serving the interests of the public and not the interest of private industries. Thank God for retirement, you can finally take a controversial position.

Status Quo vs Change

I am constantly bewildered by our lack of interest in social change. It is clear to me that critical thinking or even common sense is of little importance. I am not talking about the natural kindness of most Americans, but the advertised model that everyone buys into and which is controlled by groups like the National Rifle Association, American Medical Association, NBA and other powerful lobbying organizations. As a progressive, I am constantly frustrated by the general public attitude of non-concern over being manipulated by the powerful few.

No matter what the issue is (gun control, health care, election reform or monetary reform) there appears to be this roadblock promoted by money, power and greed. The public has been conditioned to accept the status quo, whether out of self-interest, fear or apathy. Questioning our image is not a popular endeavor. After all people like to hear positive statements even if they know they are only superficial. Americans want quick fixes and dislike delving into root causes or upsetting popular perceptions.

The recent mass murder in Aurora is only one example of America’s infatuation with pretense; obsessed with individuality and freedom of choice. It appears we can’t have discussions about substantive issues or look objectively at other developed countries solutions to social problems. Our rationale for not embracing change is totally illogical. Why would we let common sense interfere with our time honored American tradition of blowing something up or disturb our Wild West mentality?

Two of my favorite quotes by David Kennedy (Stanford historian) relate to this subject: “Before history can teach, it must challenge and even discomfit” and “While history is remembered backward, it is lived forward.” Perception is not reality. Hype and image may be good marketing, but lousy realism.

He’ll be back. Count on it.

On Tuesday, in the Ohio Democratic primary, Dennis Kucinich lost his seat in Congress. The circumstances behind his demise are why I totally dislike traditional politics.

Redistricting is just another tool used by both major parties in their constant quest for power. It is just one big chess game to see who can outmaneuver the other; there are no lines they will not cross in their pursuit for power and control.

In order to be allowed to play in the game you must demonstrate your patronage and willingness to conform to unwritten rules. Traditional virtues are of little importance as long as you can show the ability to win the vote and convince the leadership that you are on their team. Neither party cares much about principle. If you are charismatic, articulate and handsome, they will find the money to support your candidacy.

Dennis was courageous and outspoken, but irrelevant even in his own party. He couldn’t be counted on to follow the party line. He wasn’t taken seriously and was considered simply a somewhat entertaining sideshow by his colleagues. The real bottom line was he became an irritant to both parties. His biggest problem wasn’t his diminutive stature; it was that he wasn’t willing to play by the party rules. He was actually concerned with the plight of America and the average citizen!

But his political demise may be greatly exaggerated. Dennis has always been underestimated, and he may return with a vengeance. He is still one smart cookie!

Occupy Movement demands fundamental change

Skeptics of the Occupy movement ask what they’re really protesting about and what they’re trying to accomplish. Most of the Occupy movement grievances are a byproduct of a dysfunctional system. I understand that changing the political system is like moving a mountain with a shovel; there are just too many people who benefit from the system, including politicians.

Politicians are part of the 1 percent. Do we honestly expect them to fundamentally change the political structure that they so greatly benefit from? To replace the old guard with the new is just changing who the beneficiaries are and doesn’t correct the fundamental problem.

This is not to say that politicians at all levels are complicit, but most have no incentive to change the rules. They are playing the game with the cards that are dealt and they have become proficient at it. And it becomes more and more difficult to not conform to the prevailing ideology of the fraternity as politicians attempt to move up in the political hierarchy. They may have started out with high aspirations, but most eventually succumb to the system that rewards patronage over public service.

The Occupy participants have many grievances, all of which are important, but the big picture must remain the principle objective. That objective, to me, is to change the economic/political system so it reflects the needs of the majority. You can’t have social justice without economic justice, and groups like Citizens United control the politicians who make the economic rules that govern our lives. The political system is unwilling and unable to protect the economic and social rights of the majority. The Occupy movement is attempting to bring fairness and justice to a system that is corrupt and economically rigged to benefit the few.

This is not an indictment of business or the free market. It is not asking for equal outcomes, only equal opportunities. It is not asking for a redistribution of wealth, but a stop to the obscene growth of wealth by the 1 percent. The 99 percent actually includes businesses that can’t compete against the “Walmarts” of the world. The movement should be appealing to many segments of society: small business, labor, veterans, seniors and minorities. The Occupy movement is trying to convey an idea that we are all together, with different but important stakes. With few exceptions we are all threatened by present circumstances.

To expect the present system to deliver reform that will meet the needs of the 99 percent is ludicrous. It is up to the Occupy movement to insist on fundamental change, and not just cosmetic appeasement, first through raising awareness and then demanding that we conduct political business in a different way. Rhetoric will no longer do; significant changes are required. We must address the central problem, which is the political system itself. We should demand nothing less than a complete publicly funded system. This would level the playing field and let politicians concentrate on substantive issues and ideas rather than raising money. This would solve most of the Occupy movement’s concerns and stop the necessity to always vote for the lesser of two evils.

Fundamental change can feel uncomfortable, unfamiliar, scary, risky and painful, but the alternative is complete dominance by those who have little regard for the well-being of ordinary citizens. Our political system must be required to represent the general public and not just narrow special interest groups. We need a political system with transparency. When greed and money become the sole criteria for success; the public is in great peril. The path we are going down will only get worse and we are running out of time. For more information about the Occupy movement, visit OccupyLongmont.blogspot.com.

Foundations of freedom stolen

This could be the darkest day in American history. The Senate and the House of Representatives have agreed on the wording and passed the National Defense Authorization Act.

This $662 billion appropriation bill also includes the most draconian provision in U.S. legislative history. The president has agreed not to veto the bill and may sign it immediately. The provision allows the president to determine who is a potential terrorist (not defined), includes American citizens on U.S. soil, and they can be detained by the military indefinitely without trial or charge.

On so many levels this is outrageous, shocking and simply unbelievable. I am embarrassed to see the day that the Bill of Rights under the U.S. Constitution is discarded under the guise of fear and authoritarian rule. The very idea of allowing the military to be involved with domestic law enforcement and to detain citizens indefinitely is reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

One of the basic foundations of our democracy is the right to a trial by our peers. To do away with habeas corpus and institute what amounts to a bill of attainder is more than criminal; it is the end to democracy as we know it. I don’t believe I am overreacting, and it is only a matter of time before free speech is declared a threat to national security.

The road to destruction is paved with good intentions. Merry Christmas to all!

Don’t wait until you’re personally threatened

We are living in such an amazing time. Our trust in the conventional centers of power is at an all-time low. Whether it is local government, state government or national government, our belief that they or their regulatory agencies truly care about the interest of the public is highly questionable.

The hierarchical structure of government seems to benefit only those that are at the top or those that believe they are immune from the tentacles of power. Those that are at the top are committed to protect and increase their influence and make the rules that benefit this top-down structure. They believe that with charm and ruthlessness they can coerce the general public into accepting their decrees.

The public tends to not react until they are personally threatened by one issue or another: hydraulic fracking in their backyard, GMOs in their food supply, their inability to get a living wage job, healthcare that they can’t afford, foreclosure on their homes, etc.

But somehow the general public seems not the see the inter-consecutiveness between all of these issues. They are basically economic in nature; those who control the money, control the outcome. Changing who controls the hierarchy will make no difference! As long as power is controlled by money, the results will always be the same.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is horizontal in nature, designed to draw attention to the injustice and unfairness of our status quo, money-driven power structure! It’s not so much about specific demands as showing the frustration with our dysfunctional system. If you feel frustrated or marginalized, occupy your city, your town, your neighborhood. It’s your last best chance!

Dennis Kucinich @ Truman Dinner

At the Boulder County Democrats’ Truman Dinner on September 24th I heard from one of my two or three favorite politicians. One of the things that make Dennis Kucinich so special is his willingness to speak the truth regardless of the political consequences.

In this day and age when to be successful in politics you need to play along to get along, he is exceptionally different. He is considered too extreme by many in his own party. How he has been able to survive in this political world of money and patronage is somewhat of a mystery.

He is obviously a very polished and experienced politician, but the power brokers in Congress also realize he is just a side show that has no real chance of upsetting the apple cart. His truth telling makes the legislators feel good about their pretended moral compass, although they have no intention of actually supporting his unconventional ideas. Amen, but don’t forget to pass the hat.

He is someone who actually advocates for the rights of the people, who believes in the power of truth, who really believes that democracy is about the survival of an educated, engaged and informed citizenry.

He wants to change the structure of some of our basic institutions to benefit the public, move the central bank into the treasury, reform the fractional reserve system, install meaningful regulations on too big to fail banks. He understands that you can’t have social justice without economic justice. It is my opinion that neither major party wants to change the system, only continue their struggle for control of the system. It is this us against them attitude, this war between ideologues with no real regard for the welfare of the citizens that has gotten us to the point we are today!

Social justice goes under the bus!

Yes, President Obama, you have much to worry about. Much more than you realize.

We are witnessing real political theater in Washington. The so-called debt crisis is actually entitlement destruction. It is a high-stakes chess game in which any miscalculation could have disastrous economic consequences. Even if the administration doesn’t cave in and they don’t raise the debt ceiling, you can bet the bondholders will get paid; that aspect of government payments will be deemed essential.

Unfortunately, they are going to throw the wrong people under the bus, but that is what happens when you have the money and control the dialogue. Much of the public believes the deficit is the problem; they have been conditioned to believe that treating the symptoms and not the disease will solve the problem.

The dilemma is a win-win situation for the wealthy; don’t raise the debt ceiling and the government must prioritize spending or raise the debt ceiling and sacrifice entitlement spending. The only way the U.S. can lose its credit rating is if it defaults on its public debt (bonds) and that isn’t going to happen. The real answer is monetary reform, which could eliminate the national debt.

Instead of implementing solutions to the financial problems surrounding entitlements that would guarantee they are there for future generations, they have decided to throw us (elderly) under the bus by using the guise of “austerity.” The real villains in this tragic drama are the power brokers, and they always seem to come out ahead.

Apparently there are two ways to solve a “debt crisis”: Force the administration to accept major entitlement spending cuts or force the government to prioritize spending, which means entitlement cuts! With either of these solutions, social justice goes under the bus!

Budgeting or Political Posturing

Everything has a price - but should it?There are now at least three budgets that are being offered for public consumption. There is the Paul Ryan budget which claims to save trillions of dollars by 2021, President Obama’s budget proposal which claims to save trillions of dollars by 2022 and finally the People’s Budget which claims to save trillions by 2021.

It would be considerably easier to predict the winner of the super bowl in 2021 or 2022 than predicting the exact saving under any of these budget proposals. Congress and the administration can’t even decide on the budget for the next six months, let alone the next decade or so! We will go through three Presidential election cycles and six House of Representative cycles by 2022. We are talking about political theatre here folks!

Any time frame for budgeting that is over one year is highly suspect. Most budgets in either government or private business are an exercise of futility. There are just so many possible contingencies that you have a better chance of getting accurate information from a weatherman.

A budget proposal over one year is simply a vision statement; it suggests who is going to carry the baggage for the foreseeable future. It is possible to enact laws now that will have profound effects down the road. There is also a huge difference between eliminating the National debt and balancing the yearly budget.

I am not a trained economist, but the only common sense way to reduce or eliminate the National debt is to stop borrowing money from the privately held Federal Reserve. I understand that is a simplistic statement to a very complex issue, but it doesn’t distract from the basic truth.
To balance the budget is also a highly charged political issue. We often hear about “shared sacrifice”; the question is who is going to do the sacrificing. It is my personal belief that we actually have a revenue problem and not a deficit problem. Between the legal loopholes and outright tax avoidance we lose billions of dollars in revenue yearly. A myopic one sided view that only looks at deficit spending is certainly not egalitarian.

I am certainly conservative in regard to spending, I like my tax dollar spent as well as anyone, but I am also determined to see that we truly have “shared sacrifice” and not just picking on the low hanging fruit and forcing them to carry the baggage into the next decade.

Why should the vision for our future be limited to ideologues who argue over more or less government? That fact is we are already highly controlled; the question is who is going to have the control: government by the people or a group of private entities. I’ll take my chances with a regulated and transparent government whose interest should be the public good and not maximizing profit.

As a vision and not a budget, we should consider a combination of factors in mapping our future, sound money management and protecting programs that have been proven to be beneficial and cost effective. We also need to look at the revenue side; which should include true “shared sacrifice”.

(1) Individual income tax policies that truly ask all income levels to pay their fair share of the tax burden and taxing capital gains and dividends as ordinary income.

(2) Corporate tax reforms that tax income as it is earned, disallowing offshore profit centers and stop government incentives for shipping jobs overseas.

(3) Demand a true public healthcare bill that is not just an insurance bill or a political bill. A Medicare for all that brings true benefits to the public. We need a medical system that negotiates Rx payment with pharmaceutical companies and addresses the other healthcare provider factors that drive up healthcare cost.

(4) Raise the taxable limitation on Social security and even increase the benefits based on contributions by the employees. If all Americans are part of Social Security its future is secure.

(5) Bring our troops home and refuse to believe it is unpatriotic to say so. Reduce our military footprint around the world and insist that military spending be based on sound well throughout principles and not pork barrel favors handed out to specific politicians.

(6) Invest in job creation, education and human rights now so that we will have the resources to be competitive in the future and finally for earth’s sake start to recognize our environmental challenges. I am suggesting that we not only be color blind, but culturally sensitive.

None of the above will be seriously considered without publicly funded elections. “Budgets are more than a collection of numbers; they are a statement of our values”.

Social justice requires economic justice

It became evident to me through my work on the health care issue, that social justice and economic justice are sides of the same coin. I came to realize that you couldn’t obtain social justice without first confronting the economic factors that control the complex workings of our society. Money and its creation are without doubt the most significant ingredients in our everyday lives and what determine the kind of world we live in.

We all want the same things, economic security, meaningful employment, a reasonable standard of living and a belief in the American Dream. Common sense tells us that we can’t expect the pie to be divided equally, but everyone should have the opportunity to get their fair share of that pie.

I personally don’t believe that government should have excessive control of our lives, but there are essential services that are more egalitarian and efficient when paid by government. Making better widgets should be left to free enterprise, although without effective regulation you will end up with the mess we have today. There is no question that an informed public is vital to the success of representative democracy and that even a rudimentary understanding of economics will help that process.

I would like to suggest websites that could expand the economic understanding of the public:

http://publicbankinginstitute.org, http://www.truth-out.org. As for reading material I would suggest: Web of Debt by Ellen Brown, Rebooting the American Dream by Thom Hartmann and The Great American Stickup by Robert Scheer.

Baum Squad seeks to silence opposing views

Letter to the Editor, Times-Call, 6/11/2010

Mayor Baum mocks Longmont voters

Sara Levison had to publicly apologize for hurting Councilman Sammoury’s feelings at the last Council Meeting. According to Mr. Sammoury it was the lack of facts in a Times-Call opinion article that got his shorts in a knot and forced him to want to revisit the resolution of support.

The real issue is control, and which group has the power to promote and enforce their agenda. Mr. Sammoury used the Levison article in the Times-Call to justify his personal opposition to the views of Sara Levison. He simply needed an excuse to punish Sara Levison for her candor in the Times –Call article. Facts are only necessary if they support your agenda and speaking honestly to the public isn’t always a virtue in politics.

This whole issue escalated because of another of Mr. Rodriquez’s (The Rush Limbaugh of Longmont) inflammatory guest opinion articles. Rodriquez has probably done more to polarize politics in Longmont than any other single person.

Mr. Santos and Mayor Baum didn’t even bother giving reasons for their opposition of support for Sara Levison. To anyone who follows local politics at all, it is no secret that they resent opposing views. But it doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to read between the lines.

Some credit should be given to Katie Witt for actually doing the right thing and voting for support, but as she stated; this resolution of support isn’t that big a deal anyway. It has been blown way out of proportion. The positions of Santos and Baum are rather petty and mean-spirited, but their intent is to limit and undermine the influence of someone with opposing views.

Ultimately this isn’t about Sara Levison, it is about an attempt to control discourse by a powerful and arrogant few. And it should be the duty of the public to remember this incident come election time.

Arrogance to spare

I sat in total amazement last night at the City Council Meeting and heard Mayor Baum give us his unsolicited insight into his campaign financing. He stated that he “didn’t trust the Election Committee” and “didn’t want to face the scrutiny”.  He seemed to be saying that avoiding the rules is OK if you don’t agree as a whole with the City Council appointed Election Committee.

It appeared to me that he was proclaiming that transparency in election financing is an undemocratic process, and that his approach is some kind of badge of honor. Apparently Mayor Baum believes that his election financing is his business and has nothing to do with the public.

He also seems very proud of the fact he spent over $4000 of his own money to get elected. I would assume he feels if you are wealthy enough to buy your election, then it is perfectly acceptable. Either Mayor Baum is politically naïve or extremely arrogant, neither of which instills confidence in his image as a public servant.

I believe he is a great poster-boy for exactly why we need publicly financed elections at the City, State, and Federal level. It will be interesting to see what other statements he makes in his pompous and overbearing pursuit to destroy democratic rule.

Richard Hansen
1716 Gifford Dr.
Longmont
303-678-8635