September 23, 2012

National Plug In Day, Sarasota

I landed at Five Points Park on my bicycle. Folks there were preparing to drive a parade of electric vehicles over to St. Armands Circle in celebration of National Plug In Day. I was the oddball without a power-assist. I left a few minutes before those gathered. As I passed onto the Ringling Bridge, police officers closed the road behind me and I led the silent posse of electric vehicles. For a fleeting five seconds. Then they zipped right past me. Just before they arrived at St. Armands, I caught up to the electric motorcycles that were bringing up the rear. As I passed, one of them good-naturedly yelled out that he gets almost as good mileage on his motorcycle as I get on my bicycle.

So what's the fuss about electric cars? They are more environmentally benign than internal combustion engine vehicles and they move us away from oil dependence. Evidently, running cars on gasoline pollutes more than producing the equivalent in electricity from coal power plants. If you use solar or wind energy to charge the battery, electric vehicles verge on environmentally friendly.

There is another, disturbing side to the electric car story. In the early 2000's, when corporate behemoths got their way, almost all electric vehicles were taken off the road and/or destroyed, even though they were in good working order. The same organizations prevented any improvements to fuel economy standards from 1985 until 2012! Corporate interests have diligently worked behind the scenes to spread misinformation, start bogus grassroots lobbying campaigns, redirect government funding to alternatives that don't stand a chance, and deregulate any regulations that manage to see the light of day. Check out the movie, Who Killed the Electric Car for details. Thankfully, we have recently approved rules that practically double mileage standards by 2025. Even with these new rules, there are a few loopholes that may result in an increase to total greenhouse emissions from 2017 to 2025. Reminder: we need to get big money out of politics.

Out of protests over the destruction of perfectly good electric vehicles in the early 2000's, arose a phoenix called Plug In America. Along with the Sierra Club, the City of Sarasota, and the Electric Vehicle Association, they organized today's well-attended event at St. Armands Circle. Upon my arrival, I felt like I was at an outdoor auto showroom. But, in addition to cars, one could learn about photovoltaics and solar power, charging stations, shade structures, electric-assisted bicycles, and more. Since I am not in the market for a new car or bicycle, I did not test drive any of the available models. Rather, I was on the hunt for someone who wasn't trying to sell me something. I found my man in Forrest Shaw, who had decided to convert a 1969 VW into an electric vehicle, without much of the know-how needed to accomplish the task. Along the way, he brought many community members into the process, who are now converting their own cars. Listen to his story.

How is it that Sarasota is involved with electric cars? For one thing, they've installed nine car-charging stations around the City. I think that puts Sarasota in the vanguard. On the other hand, the City recently voted to dissolve its Renewable Energy Fund. As for me, I'm sticking with my bicycle. At least when it's not raining and I don't have to transport others and I'm not in a wild game reserve and ...

September 21, 2012

Dispirited Impressions from Romney Rally, Sarasota

I return from Romney's Sarasota presidential campaign stop with my spirit temporarily flagging. One Romney protester held a sign that read "Nobody Likes Mitt", but I think she is wrong. By my estimates, four or five thousand people showed up to display their enthusiasm for the candidate, standing for several hours in the sweltering midday sun. A few picked fights - physically pushing and shoving - and a majority of them shamelessly slung insults at protesters. The police did their job well, keeping the two opposing groups separated and the road clear for traffic. Because of Electoral College math, Romney must win Florida to have a shot at the presidency. This means campaigning here during the summer heat. Later in the afternoon, the heat was severe enough that I saw two folks escorted away for treatment by medics standing by.

Waiting for the gates to open, thousands of Romney supporters settled on their favorite line of protester-directed hubris - "Get a Job!" Frankly, this was just bizarre beyond comprehension. These folks, who were standing in line and obviously NOT working, are yelling at a hundred people across the street. They are yelling at people they have never met, people they know nothing about. And they are telling them to get a job, at a moment when they, themselves, are obviously not working. Is this some sort of mass projection bias? Perhaps it's a media-induced stereotyping hysteria? It is tempting to blame it all on the media. It certainly made me feel worse about the human race. There's a young boy, perhaps six years old, chanting "Get a Job" over and over, even after the adults have abandoned the activity. Why isn't this child in school at 1:30 in the afternoon? Perhaps he is being home-schooled. Today's lesson is to make assumptions about people he has never met and demand that they do something that he, himself, is not prepared to do. How depressing. I actually know something of the protesters. One is a server at a local restaurant. Another is a substitute teacher. Another is an artist. Several are full-time college students, who fit this protest in around their class schedules. Yes, some are retired, but why demand that a retiree go get a job?

Despite my agitation and incredulity, I decide to go inside the grounds to get a more in-depth look. For this, I must stand in line for about an hour as the thousands of people before me go through security. I am surrounded by folks who watch Fox News. They seem nice enough, until they start yelling at the protesters to "Take a Bath." They call them "Scum of the Nation" and "Losers". They assure themselves that every last protester has been paid to come out and protest. Where do they get this nonsense? Oh yeah, Fox News. And every tenth sentence, I hear someone complaining about socialism. I am surrounded by retirees on Medicare, who by definition are benefitting from our country's socialized payment for medical services for the elderly. When I finally arrive at the rally area, there is an enormous sign saying "Protect and Strengthen Medicare." So, evidently some forms of socialism are okay. I, myself, am against socializing corporate losses when we privatize corporate gains. That's how many describe the 2009 bank bailouts. Especially the protesters across the street. I'm thinking this is something we could all agree on. But nobody here is looking for agreement. They want to paint the world in black and white. And it's contagious. We are all left ripe for misunderstanding. And hurt. And my spirit is flagging.

Prior to joining this public rally at the Ringling Museum, a few folks had paid $2500 and more to have lunch with Romney at the Ritz Carlton. A plane flies overhead dragging a banner that reads, "Romney: See any 47% victims at the Ritz?" A flyover form of protest. It refers to a recently released video taken at a Boca Raton fundraiser where, in the words of Stephen Colbert, Romney calls 47% of all Americans mindless moochers. Part of me was hoping that Romney would apologize for his seeming indifference to so many citizens of this fair country. But, alas, that did not come to pass. As to dining at the Ritz, evidently many people are aggrieved by the wealth of the participants and the elitism inherent in such a private lunch. I find it far more alarming that a political campaign needs to raise such large sums just to get by. Public Citizen is foretelling that $8 billion will be spent on local and national elections this fall. And a good chunk of those funds will be dark money from anonymous corporations and super-rich citizens not concerned one iota with the public interest. Now that sets me off the deep end. To add insult to injury, it also pays for a lot of deceptive television ads that will continue to set me off the deep end, if I find the courage to turn on the television.

Perhaps there are a few thoughtful members of Romney's audience with whom I can dialog. I find a woman who came down from Clearwater. She was contemplating leaving early, in part, because Romney was already half an hour late and, in part, due to the unrelenting sweatiness of the afternoon. Instead, she struck up a conversation about all the hate coming out of the Middle East. How the Muslims were out to destroy our freedom of speech. She was referring to recent actions of Libyan protesters, who were so angered over a film that ridiculed Muhammad that they burned down the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and killed the U.S. Ambassador. To be honest, I found the motivation for this story hard to believe from day one, but I had to agree that there is hate coming out of the Middle East. After all, the United States has set up tyrannical dictatorships in the area. And our planes have dropped bombs for years on countries in the region. There's a lot to hate. I made no mention of this, but we continued to talk. We talked about how the media is drawn to portray the point of view of extremists. That's all we hear about them and, most probably, that's all they hear about us. And she spoke of how fearful this has made her. As the discussion wound down, she told me how happy she was that Glenn Beck was back on the air without the constraints of Fox News. Even with the limited exposure I have had to Glenn Beck, I never got the impression that Fox News constrained him much; he seemed to glory in distorting the news. Later that evening, when I opened Facebook, there was a Glenn Beck clip in my newsfeed. So, I clicked on it. Coincidentally, he was ranting about how unlikely it was that an amateur youtube video, which had attracted a relatively small viewership could have generated such a successful and well-planned response in Libya, months after its release. I had to agree.

Mitt Romney finally graced us with his presence. Within five minutes, I could just barely listen to the manipulative statements and sloganeering bombarding us. He spent his speaking time talking about all the things he would NOT do, if elected President. I will sum it up in a one sentence exaggeration. Whatever President Obama has done, Mitt Romney was not going to do that. That seemed to fire up the crowd. I left early.

I emerged to a new group of protesters. They were New College students, some of whom had infiltrated the event. After Romney started speaking, they started chanting "People over Profits" and unfurled a Palestinian flag. How had I missed this? They were quickly shooed out by security. And they were thoroughly energized by their actions. A Romney supporter walking out of the event, came toward the group and said that he was willing to talk to them, but only if they believed in God. Negative and inaccurate stereotypes of atheists must be alive and well. I was sinking into despondency. Time to go home.

September 17, 2012

September 9, 2012

Common Wealth Time Bank Has Arrived!

Sarasota/Manatee now has an alternative currency, administered by the Common Wealth Time Bank. Thanks to Don Hall of Transition Sarasota and Steve McAllister, we can share time, talent, skills, hobbies, activism, music, and community without any cash changing hands. A time bank brings a breath of fresh air when contrasted with the banking and Wall Street debacles of the last few years. In this era of scarce jobs, underemployed and unemployed people can offer skills and get the things they need. But it has the potential to be so much more.

A time bank rests on several principles. First, everyone is an asset. We all have something to offer. This sounds trite, but it's quite revolutionary. Second, some work does not have a monetary value, but should be rewarded anyway. Consider raising children, cleaning up our environment, and promoting social justice, amongst others. Third, helping works better as a two-way street. Charity is nice, but isn't it even nicer for all concerned to let the recipient give back in some form? Consider some of the anger inherent in the phrase "nanny-state" that small-government advocates throw around. In fact, most adults don't want to be treated and taken care of like children. They want to provide for themselves and others. Throw in respect for all individuals and a desire for community and it becomes apparent that there is more at play than just an alternative currency. Rather, time banks seek to strengthen community and make us all healthier. No wonder there are 275 working time banks in the United States.

It's all rather lofty, but boils down to this: each hour of work is equal to every other hour of work, regardless of the activity. Members earn credits by performing a service for another member. Driving someone to the doctor has the same time bank value as providing violin lessons. One service I offer on the Common Wealth Time Bank is a guided kayak tour near my home during sunset or the full moon. Thus far I have received an acupuncture treatment offered by another member. At the Common Wealth Time Bank launch last Monday, I spoke with one very happy member who had taken advantage of four hours of yard work offered by another member.

Time will tell what downsides there are to time banking. But, as we head out of the launch phase, here's what some local folks are saying.

More Info:
Sign up for the Sarasota/Manatee Common Wealth Time Bank,
Wikipedia description of Time Banking,
Transition Sarasota,

September 2, 2012

Voter Suppression at the RNC

I have very little interest in the political swaggering and enthusiastic parroting of emotion-laden slogans that I had thought formed the backbone of national political conventions. But since I've never really watched one or even watched part of one, I decided the time was ripe to find out if my uninformed views held water. The Republican National Convention came to Tampa and I was going to pay attention or nod off trying. On opening day, I got side-swiped by the story about the bus driver(s) who couldn't find the Convention Center, effectively hijacking the bus taking the delegate-riders on an unscheduled tour around Tampa. Meanwhile back at the Convention, the Rules Committee voted to let the (100) RNC committee men/women change the rules on the fly between conventions. There was an attempt to radically change the delegate selection process, but some sort of compromise passed. I should say that it sort-of passed. The no-votes sounded louder than the aye-votes, but no roll-call was taken. No matter. Now that the RNC can change the rules between conventions, they will have plenty of time to rewrite the rules to their liking. I don't know how to verify the juiciest part of this story, which is that the buses carrying the Florida and Virginia delegations, including Morton Blackwell, the most ardent foe of the Rules Committee change who had organized in opposition, was on one of the "lost" buses circling the Convention Center, being held "against his will", during the Rules Committee vote.

It is an improbable world we inhabit, that at times, seems more like spoof fiction than reality. Shortly after the rules-change power-play played out, a Rally Against Voter Suppression was scheduled at nearby Centennial Park. The Florida Consumer Action Network (FCAN) and Rainbow Push Coalition put together a march to push back against Republican efforts to disenfranchise communities of color. Delegate voter suppression was going on inside the RNC. But outside the RNC, folks were coming together to protest voter suppression. The contrast between what the people want and what our major political parties deliver was juxtaposed quite starkly.

Rachel Maddow put together a great chart showing how Florida's version of voter suppression laws had all but quashed new voter registrations for Democrats.

Thankfully, the courts are rolling back the more egregious voter suppression laws. But I'm especially appreciative of those who continue to speak out on this issue. Here's Reverend Charles McKenzie giving a rousing speech.

Quite frankly, the kinds of rule changes embraced during this RNC are what dissuade me from participating more in politics. RNC rules changes and delegate shifting continued after the "lost" bus incident. Ron Paul delegates from several states were unseated in favor of Romney delegates, despite objections from the floor. Ron Paul won the plurality of delegates in six states. By the incoming rules, he should have earned a spot on the nominating ballot, but the RNC decided to change the rules at the last minute to require an eight state plurality in order to be added to the ballot. These Ron Paul delegates were victims of voter suppression within their own party. I suppose this shouldn't surprise me. I continue to prefer an unsolvable issue to chew on or a boring policy wonk to political shenanigans. Unfortunately, my idealistic take on this does nothing to deter the undermining of democracy that is underway. So, in the name of pragmatism, I will go a little deeper. The larger and more powerful an organization, the more likely that survival instincts and power grabs will rule the day. The powerful RNC is a poster child for this tendency.