Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Naming an SUV after a natural feature is a bit like calling a brand of cigarettes the Healthy Lung. According to the Sierra Club SUVs "spew out 43% more global-warming pollution and 47% more air pollution than an average car." http://sierraclub.org/globalwarming/SUVreport .
Buick's Rainier is helping trash the real Rainier.
Because cars are destroying the rugged and majestic places that their makers have named them for, some jurisdictions are trying to rein in the deceitful garbage that auto makers throw at the public. For example, Norway's advertising watchdog issued guidelines last year to discourage the use of the the following words in connection with cars: green, clean, natural, and environmentally friendly. The rationale was simple -- by definition, cars are none of those things.
In the U.K. the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned a Lexus ad that used this headline: "High Performance. Low Emissions. Zero Guilt." The ASA said that the ad misleadingly implied that the car caused little or no damage to the environment.
I'm all for freedom of expression. But I'm also in favor of holding accountable those lying, polluting, climate-wrecking corporations that stand between us and a healthy, sustainable, democratic society. The same goes for the bought-and-paid-for political hacks who do their bidding in state houses and executive mansions across the country.
So let's have a contest to see who can find the most misleading motor-vehicle ad. Keep your eyes open for TV commercials, online ads and print ads that use images of the environment to promote their environmentally-damaging products. Send me the image and, in a token nod toward democratic ideals, we'll have a vote right here on the Vickery Voice site.
This is quite a challenge. There are plenty of car companies that are plumbing the depths of deceit, so coming up with the worst of the worst will take some time and discernment. Good luck out there.
P.S. If you're hoping for a prize, please don't hold your breath.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
In case anyone is starting to wax nostalgic for the communists, let’s remember how they actually governed. They turned
Among the collaborators were the non-communist political parties that held seats in the old East German parliament, all of them under the control of the communist government. With no autonomy or independent voice their role was certainly not to oppose the regime, but merely to serve as window dressing. Presenting the illusion of multiparty democracy would provide (or so the politburo must have believed) a veneer of legitimacy to what was, in reality, a one-party state.
We know what token, tame, toothless opposition looks like in
Nowadays Republican legislators are currying favor with the corner office by promoting Deval Patrick's casino plan and attacking his rival, House Speaker Sal DiMasi, by filing ethics complaints against him. When the Republicans talk you can almost see the Governor's lips moving.
Obviously life in
But when it comes to the Democrats' skill in co-opting the opposition, Eric Honecker would be impressed.
Friday, May 9, 2008
If you live in the Greater Boston Area you can now ask your electricity company, NSTAR, to provide you with exclusively wind-generated electricity.
In one sense, NSTAR's decision to offer its customers 50-100% wind power is welcome news. Several organizations that are engaged in valuable environmental work in Massachusetts cooperated with the company in developing the option, namely the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Conservation Law Foundation, and Environment Massachusetts (a project of Mass PIRG).
Massachusetts law requires companies like NSTAR to get 4% of their energy from renewable sources by 2009 and the new wind-power option will, says the press release, "make it less expensive" for NSTAR to meet this standard. How? It's simple: Choosing wind power will cost you more money.
The company says that customers opting for wind power will "pay premiums above the basic plan to reduce global warming." The average increase will be about $4 to $7, according to NSTAR. To reduce global warming, you see.
At this point, it is worth noting two facts; first, NSTAR has a captive market and, secondly, its shareholders are smiling. NSTAR's 2008 annual report filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) explains:
As a rate regulated distribution and transmission utility company, NSTAR is not subject to a significantly competitive business environment. Through its franchise charters, NSTAR Electric and NSTAR Gas have the exclusive right and privilege to engage in the business of delivering energy services within their granted territory. UnderThe report adds that in 2007 NSTAR's common share dividend increased "by 7.7%, outperforming the industry average of 5.4%." Among the three reason for this boon to shareholders were "increased sales of 1.8% ($30.5 million)." The company's website boasts that "NSTAR is the largest Massachusetts-based, investor-owned electric and gas utility, with revenues of approximately $3.3 billion and assets totaling approximately $7.8 billion."
law, no other entity may provide electric or natural gas delivery service to retail customers within NSTAR’s service territory without the written consent of NSTAR Electric and/or NSTAR Gas. Massachusetts
It is just conceivable, then, that NSTAR could absorb the cost itself without its investors going shoeless and hungry. So why is NSTAR shifting the cost of clean energy onto Massachusetts citizens, penalizing the people who are helping the company meet its legal duty by choosing wind power over fossil-fuel power? Because NSTAR is a private enterprise, albeit a regulated one, with a duty to its shareholders. In short, because it can.
Massachusetts deregulated electricity in 1998. Or, to be precise, the Democratic-controlled Legislature deregulated it, much to the detriment of the public. Since deregulation, prices have risen by approximately 50%. States that did not give in to the lobbyists and kept the provision of electricity under public control have not had to endure comparable rate hikes.
On the bright side, there is a law that allows Massachusetts communities to take back the ability to provide their own electricity (municipalization). But NSTAR's annual report notes that municipalization "is not a trend." Any community brave enough to try would face "numerous legal and regulatory consents and approvals" and would have to pay the company compensation.
So for NSTAR's customers, fossil-fuel power is cheaper and wind power is more costly. Why would any cash-strapped family choose the more expensive option? Ordinary families are already having a hard time making ends meet, so an additional $84-a-year for electricity means cutbacks somewhere else in the household budget. This sends an unequivocal and damaging message: If you want to reduce global warming, you (not the NSTAR shareholders) are going to have to pay. You can either go out for dinner one night, or you can help ensure that the planet your kids inherit is fit for human habitation. You can't do both.
Mike Tidwell, in the current edition of the magazine Orion, urges a wartime level of mobilization for clean-energy solutions:
"[T]o achieve these changes fast enough, the American people need a grassroots political movement that goes from zero to sixty in a matter of months, a movement that demands the sort of clean-energy policies and government mandates needed to transform our economy and our lives."We have a choice. We can, as Mike Tidwell suggests, mobilize politically to bring about the transformation that the crisis requires. Or we can engage in the equivalent of the Phony War -- telling the for-profit energy companies to provide a mere 4% of their electricity from renewable sources and letting them meet that legal obligation by offering us wind-power as an optional extra while charging us a few dollars extra for the privilege.
("Snap! The terrifying new speed of global warming and our last chance to stop it," Orion, May/June 2008, www.orionmagazine.org)
Reducing the survival of the species to a luxury commodity, a matter of lifestyle choice, may strike you as outlandish, and hardly the we're-all-in-this-together attitude that is essential in a crisis of this magnitude. But it is the logical consequence of the Massachusetts Democrats' deregulation policies of the 1990s, and it makes complete sense from the consumerist perspective.
The choice we confront comes down to how we see ourselves. Companies like NSTAR depend on us perceiving ourselves first and foremost as consumers. Democracy, on the other hand, requires that we see ourselves as citizens. And democracy, unlike NSTAR's wind-power, it is not an optional extra.
Monday, May 5, 2008
London's voters have spoken (the 45% of them who voted, anyway). Last week Londoners ditched two-term mayor Ken Livingstone and elected the Conservative Party's candidate, Boris Johnson. There were 10 candidates running for mayor but, as a result of the electoral system, voters did not have to worry about the "spoiler" effect. London uses the Supplementary Vote, which is similar to Instant Runoff Voting, so a candidate can only win by getting the support of a majority as opposed to a bare plurality.
Victory for Boris was a real boon to the already reinvigorated Conservatives. Ken Livingstone is an unorthodox radical, often out of step with the Labour leadership, but he had the misfortune of being the Labour candidate at a time when the party's popularity was at rock bottom. Ditching Tony Blair last year in favor of Gordon Brown did Labour no good. And ditching Livingstone out of frustration with the Blair-Brown Labour Party is not likely to make ordinary Londoners any better off.
One encouraging outcome from the London mayoral election was Sian Berry's performance as the Green candidate. Berry, who won the endorsement of one of Britain's leading daily newspapers, The Independent, and the Sunday Observer, came in fourth with a combined first-and-second preference vote total of 140,000. Berry's campaign helped push Green policies further up the agenda. Ironically it's the Conservative Party (whose trademark color is blue) that has been doing an impressive job of promoting green issues under the slogan "Go Green, Vote Blue."
The Green Party's policy proposals for London included interest-free loans to homeowners for installing solar panels. This policy is eminently sensible, and compares favorably with the pay-now, get-the-rebate-later (maybe) option that we have in Massachusetts. It is already up-and-running on this side of the Atlantic in Berkeley, California, according to E Magazine. Berkeley residents who install solar panels can borrow the necessary money from the city and repay the loan over 20 years via their electricity bills. That is much more affordable than having to front the $20,000.00 for a solar system in Massachusetts in the hope that you qualify for a rebate.
Well, that's all food for thought: A fair voting system, a vibrant multi-party democracy, and sensible public policy proposals to boost energy efficiency and combat global warming. Could it happen here?