February 27, 2009

Coen Coal, Capitol Power and syngas

The Coen Brothers directed ad about clean coal is making its way around the net but I want to post it here too.

While you're over at the Compass blog you'll see that Congressional leaders announced that the coal plant powering Capitol Hill will be converted to natural gas. They're asking people to send a thank you note.

Closer to home, the Illinois EPA is holding a public hearing about a coal syngas plant proposed in Jefferson County. It's Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 7:00 pm, Knights of Columbus, 130 South Eighth Street, DuBois, IL.

Coal syngas is the latest answer from the coal industry about how to burn an inherently dirty energy source cleanly. But carbon emissions are not addressed in their proposed air permit. That could be a problem...

Ted Rall at UIS

There was a good turn out for Ted Rall at UIS last night but it's a little disappointing that he didn't fill a bigger room. The David Brooks event sponsored by the Lincoln Presidential Library in '06 was more widely promoted and moved to the larger Sangamon auditorium. Rall should have ten times the crowd considering that he was vindicated in his views over the last eight years while Brooks has been wrong about pretty much everything.

Anyway, Rall spent most of his time talking about his non-syndicated projects, which are very interesting. He pointed out that since it's difficult to make a living doing newspaper editorial cartoons, it's necessary for cartoonists to find other outlets for their work.

He showed this hilarious animation as an example.

I didn't know that a lot of papers dropped Rall after 9/11. I can't believe anyone takes the idea of "liberal media bias" seriously after the last eight years. It wasn't pro-war conservatives getting fired for their views after 9/11, and it only takes a few reporters getting silenced for everyone else to get the message. Playing the liberal media bias card is nothing but a tactic to silence all liberal viewpoints in the media and dismiss inconvenient facts as bias. Anyone who keeps harping that line should be laughed off the public stage.

He said something at the beginning about responding more if people asked hostile questions. So, after a lot of softballs, I got the last question of the evening and decided to challenge him a little.

I agreed with him that liberals need to criticize and push Obama, but wondered if he was trying to make Obama sound more moderate or conservative than he really is. I gave a couple examples from his comments that I think were inaccurate (no prosecution of Bush crimes and no liberals in the cabinet) and suggested that some liberals were so impacted by Bill Clinton's betrayal of the left that they expect the same from Obama.

Is Rall transposing Bill Clinton onto Barack Obama?

There are many liberals on cynicism auto-pilot after decades of being in the opposition. Some of Rall's cartoons about Obama, in my opinion, read like they're about Bill Clinton and I think he's jumping the gun. Now that we have a President who responds to liberal viewpoints, the left needs to create new approaches other than all cynical, negative attacks all the time.

Rall gave a long, thoughtful response, and while he made some very good points, I remain suspicious that he's reliving the Clinton years regardless of what Obama does in office. Some liberals want Obama to scream and shout about how progressive he is like Dennis Kucinich or John Edwards, but that's not how someone with a background in left wing movement activism gets elected President.

Rall said that positive cartoons in support of politicians make bad comics. Even if he agrees with Obama on something, he isn't going to write a cartoon about it. I respect that from a cartoonist's perspective even though I don't think it's a good strategy for the progressive movement.

A few people in the audience reacted when he accused Obama of being a master of weasel words. He showed a cartoon earlier in the evening about Obama not supporting prosecution of Bush administration officials and I pointed out that he did plainly say during his first press conference that they would be prosecuted like any ordinary citizen if criminal activity is found.

After acknowledging that Obama said he favors prosecution, Rall argued that Obama's other statements (looking forward and not backward) were signals that he isn't serious about investigating crimes. That's a fair argument similar to what some liberals have been saying about many of Obama's statements since the primary. He often acknowledges two sides of an issue, which leaves things open to interpretation.

In this example you could also interpret Obama's comments as a signal that the Senate investigation he was speaking about won't be a wasted effort because crimes will be prosecuted once revealed. He also chose to bring up torture and due process, even though it wasn't part of the reporter's question. Is that a signal that he believes there likely was criminal activity in those areas that should be looked into further?

Rall tends to look for negative signals in Obama's statements that suggest he'll betray the left, while I tend to look at the positive ones. Time will tell which one of us is right and I think we'll both have our turns at being wrong.

I don't believe Obama will be another Bill Clinton who betrays his progressive platform and gives us eight years of status quo with little lasting change to show for it. That's not what people voted for.

Obama said during the primary that he wants to be a more politically transformational President than Clinton. So far that's happening. He's already doing more to stop climate change during his first month in office than Clinton did for eight years.

I thought Rall was engaging, likable and had a lot of interesting things to say. The UIS visual arts gallery has his work on display until March 23.

I wrote most of this post last night and this morning I see that half of the SJ-R article about the event is based on Rall's response to my question. Cool.

February 23, 2009

How about a tree-hugger film fest?

An environmental mini-film fest is in the works for the week of Earth Day in Springfield. If you're interested in putting together the final details and helping to promote the event you can come to the planning meeting this Tuesday, 2/24, 6:00pm in the Carnegie Room of Lincoln Library.

It's before the regular Sierra Club program meeting at 7:00pm in Lincoln Library. This month Jennifer Sublett will present her experience as a Sierra Club volunteer at the LeConte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite National Park.

Environmental Lobby Day March 18

A coalition of environmental groups are holding a state lobby day in Springfield. Even if you're not an expert on policy issues this is a good opportunity to let state Representatives and Senators know that you want them to support environmental stewardship. You can register online here.

One of the top priorities for Illinois environmental groups this year is the Illinois Clean Car Act. The bill number is the date for earth day, HB 422. It already has 33 co-sponsors from both parties but it will need a push on lobby day to pass.

February 21, 2009

The coolest license plate ever

They came in the mail today. My Barack Obama temporary license plates!


I covered my number with a sticker for the picture in case I feel the need to flip one of my readers the bird in traffic.

Jealous? You can still get one if you're an Illinois resident, and better yet, it benefits the Illinois Library Association.

February 20, 2009

Blow up your TV

I've been going back and forth about whether I should bother getting a converter box for my TV. I use a cheap antenna because I can't bring myself to pay for cable to get the four or five shows I'd actually watch in between hour after hour of crap.

I had no TV when I lived in Little Rock and I knew far fewer friends there. I survived that so maybe I can go without a TV again.

February 17 came around and all but one fuzzy station went off air. The others could have stayed on longer because the deadline for switching to digital is extended. The fact that they ignored the extension annoys me. It makes it obvious that the switch is something broadcast companies are pushing the government to force on people but I haven't read enough about it to know why, nor do I care.

Consequently, I'm not buying a converter box primarily out of spite. I still have DVD's and hulu. My quality of life has already improved by not having to hear that annoying Safe Auto jingle anymore. I'll get a converter box eventually when I get around to it. Yes, I've been called ornery before.

Anyway, the whole thing reminds me of a John Prine song. It has one of my favorite lines ever written,"Who knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve?"

February 18, 2009

Radio volunteers for help!

I went on WMAY this morning for the Community Volunteer Center to promote the "Community Connections: Volunteer Opportunities Fair."

Everyone should go.

Radio makes me more nervous than any other type of interview or public speaking. I think it's because I have no idea how the audience is reacting. Seeing people react let's me know I'm doing well or that I need to move on to another topic. I can feed off the energy of the audience. Even when I do TV interviews, for some reason, it's easier to imagine the viewer staring back through the camera.

I feel adrift at sea without a compass when I do radio. For all I know, every listener is sitting on a bean bag in their underwear barely listening and ready to change the channel.

Jim Leach made the interview easy and suggested that I think of it as a two person conversation that people are listening in on. This is the second time I've done his show and I think both went pretty well. Maybe radio will get easier. I consider any radio interview a success at this point if it doesn't involve a Ron Burgundy-esque sign-off to Springfield.

February 13, 2009

Air Force One in Springfield

I didn't have tickets to the Lincoln Association Banquet so I decided to watch Air Force One fly in. It's an impressive plane to see landing.

I took the above photo from the second floor of the airport. You can click to enlarge it.

A friend and I negotiated our way onto the tarmac after Obama left. It's funny how many places you can get into if you wear a suit and act like you're supposed to be there. One guy must have been trying to figure me out when he asked what the weather was like in Washington. Here are two smaller photos with me posing.



February 12, 2009

A new birth of freedom

I know I'm biased. There's no American political leader I identify with more closely than Obama. There's no historical figure I've studied more than Lincoln. But, I believe Obama's speech on Lincoln's 200th birthday is one of the great speeches in American political history.

The Gettysburg address defined the meaning and purpose of the Civil War. Kennedy's inaugural defined the spirit of service and change in his era. More than his inaugural address, and more than any other speech, this one defines Obama's philosophy and the struggles before us in our time.

I was offended by George Bush's 2005 speech at the dedication of the Lincoln Presidential Library. He used the occasion to justify the invasion of Iraq by distorting Lincoln's legacy. It directly contradicted Lincoln's speeches in opposition to the Mexican-American war of aggression, and his determination that the North should not fire the first shot in the Civil War. Bush's speech showed a complete lack of understanding and disrespect for Lincoln's ideals.

Obama also used this speech to make a political statement. But he did it by honoring Lincoln's ideals rather than perverting them. He gave specific examples of action Lincoln took that relate to the role government can play today. He defined the struggles of today through the prism of yesterday.

Obama reiterated his philosophy that collective action through government is essential, but we must also avoid autocratic overreaches of power that stifle individual freedom and initiative. It's the kind of anti-authoritarian liberalism one would expect from a former community organizer. He recognizes that people from divergent philosophies and backgrounds have all added something meaningful to the American debate at different times in our history.

Read the speech if you haven't already. I believe it will define the Obama Presidency and this new era in American politics.

Lincoln supported progressive tax policies

Modern Republicans sometimes sound like a single issue anti-tax party but their actions don't reflect an anti-tax agenda. They have an anti-taxes-for-the-wealthy agenda.

Reagan had no trouble raising payroll taxes on the middle class and working poor while cutting income taxes disproportionately for the wealthy. Bush made estate and capital gains tax cuts a top priority even though neither cut directly benefited anyone struggling to get by. At the state level, conservative Republicans frequently advocate revenue sources that unfairly punish the middle class, such as a sales taxes and the flat income tax.

The modern Republican tax agenda is to push the burden unfairly onto the backs of the middle class and not asking the wealthiest in society to pay their fair share. The first Republican President had a different view.

Once again, I'll reference one of my favorite works on Lincoln, Lincoln's Preparation for Greatness by Paul Simon. It quotes a letter Lincoln wrote defending his support for a tax increase.
...I believe it can be sustained, because it does not increase the tax upon the "many poor" but upon the "wealthy few" by taxing the land that is worth $50 or $100 per acre, in proportion to its value, instead of, as heretofore, no more than that which was worth $5 per acre. This valuable land, as is well known, belongs, not to the poor, but to the wealthy citizen.

On the other hand, the wealthy can not justly complain, because the change is equitable within itself, and also a sine qua non to a compliance with the Constitution. If, however, the wealthy should, regardless of the justness of the complaint, complain of the change, it is still to be remembered, that they are not sufficiently numerous to carry the elections.

Very Respectfully,
A. Lincoln
Republicans successfully reduced the amount of payroll tax cuts in Obama's stimulus plan that would have helped the "many poor" and middle class. Simultaneously, John McCain and other Republicans argued for more corporate and capital gains tax cuts targeted to benefit the wealthy. Clearly, if Lincoln were here today, he would side with liberal Democrats.

It's also interesting to note Lincoln's lack of concern about the voting power of the wealthy. In his day, newspapers were run by party organizations that presented opposing sides. Today, we have a media owned and funded by corporate special interests. News coverage universally reflects the financial interests of the owners and that includes GE-MSNBC.

Why else do we see constant stories about how Wall Street will react to the stimulus package instead of how the average person will react? The wealthy few are able to amplify their voice in politics more easily than they did in Lincoln's time.

February 10, 2009

Pay your bills Lincoln!

I've heard one of the radio stations in Springfield (probably Alice) feature quotes from Lincoln during commercial breaks. It's a good idea. I appreciate them making the effort over the last few weeks. But, I'm not so sure about their choice of quotes.

One time I heard the voice portraying Lincoln give directions about where a supporter should travel to work for a Presidential campaign. This week it was a mundane letter about releasing someone from the army. huh...

Lincoln gave several of our nation's most studied speeches and participated in the most famous series of debates in American history. And any day now I expect to hear a quote on the radio about Lincoln ordering a new stovepipe hat. I don't get it.

I may post some of my favorite Lincoln quotes this week, but first I'm going to quote Paul Simon's book, Lincoln's Preparation for Greatness. Simon writes about Lincoln starting his first term in the state legislature:
Despite the increased work Lincoln had as surveyor, just nine days before he left for Vandalia and the legislative halls, the sheriff took his horse, saddle, bridle, and surveying instruments because of an unpaid bill totaling $211.
I bet he wasn't feeling like The Great Emancipator that day.

February 6, 2009

Popular new IDNR Director

I don't know Pat Quinn's newly named Department of Natural Resources Director very well, but many Illinois environmental leaders do. He has a long background in conservation advocacy and a close relationship with the new Governor.

Jack Darin's blog gives glowing praise.
By making the IDNR Director his first Agency appointment, in his first week as Governor, Quinn is sending a powerful signal that the mission of the DNR to protect our natural resources is critical to our well-being and our economy. Especially in the state's current fiscal crisis, we know that rebuilding the IDNR will take time, but today Pat Quinn made clear it is a priority.
I guess that means he'll do something more exciting than promote a golf trail.

February 5, 2009

Green capital plan for Springfield.

The Progress Illinois blog has a short interview with Illinois Sierra Club Director Jack Darin about making any proposed Illinois capital spending plan greener. He suggests that local governments be ready with green ideas like efficiency projects for both state and federal spending plans.

Environmental groups pushed for the state capital budget to include funding for open lands acquisition last year and they're sure to do the same this year. If the city is willing, this could be Springfield's chance to sell the Hunter Lake property to create a nature preserve and get a boost to city finances.

Keep Rod's portrait

People are talking about whether Rod Blagojevich should get his portrait in the State Capitol Building along with other former Governors.

I say we keep him. People need to remember this in every election. We shouldn't forget what can happen when elections are based on who raises the most money and the public fails to pay close attention to our elected officials. It should be there the next time someone argues that patronage hiring and pay-to-play politics are a normal and relatively harmless part of the system.

Serious challengers were scared off in 2006 because Blagojevich raised $10 million for his campaign, mostly from state contractors. Weak campaign finance laws are a primary reason for this fiasco. Optimistically, the portrait should be a reminder in years to come of what Illinois politics used to be like before we embraced reform and a new style of politics.

The good news is that we can save money by using one of the artistic courtroom sketches made the day he was arrested. Any of them would be perfect to represent Blagojevich to posterity.


February 4, 2009

Clean cars letter

I thought the SJR decided not to publish my letter to the editor but it showed up today.
Last year, George Bush blocked 14 states from enacting tougher auto emissions standards that would improve fuel economy and reduce pollutants. It was a political delaying tactic done in defiance of recommendations made by Environmental Protection Agency experts. I was happy to see President Obama direct the EPA to reconsider that decision on Monday. It’s good to see science and the public interest being taken seriously by our president again.

Also last year, the Illinois General Assembly failed to take action on the Clean Car Act, which would have our state join the 14 others adopting improved standards. Now that the road is clear at the federal level, it’s time for Illinois lawmakers to reconsider the importance of reducing oil consumption and pollutants from vehicles.

The price of gas is lower for the time being, but our long-term energy and transportation problems have not gone away. There’s no shortage of alternative solutions. The technology to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions already exists. Many cars on the road today meet the higher standards of the Clean Car Act, including some with conventional engines, hybrids, and E85 vehicles. We only lack more political leaders who are willing to take bold action to stop Detroit automakers from repeating the same mistakes all over again.

February 3, 2009

Worlds Collide: Tom Dart in Moline

It's not often that you see a Cook Countywide elected official making an announcement in downstate. Sheriff Tom Dart is offering a training program to help downstate counties stop gangs.

The Quad-City Times tells us:
He invited area law officers to travel to Chicago to see the Cook County Jail, the largest jail in the nation with 10,000 inmates. Dart said a tremendous amount of gang intelligence is culled at the jail. “It provides us with so much information that it’s unbelievable,” he said.

Police at the jail learn about the gangs’ strategies, where they’re going, their hierarchy and more. Quad-City officers who participate in the free training in Chicago will be partnered with Dart’s gang officers, shadowing them on assignments and investigations.
Of course, Dart is no stranger to downstate since his 2002 run for Treasurer. It's nice to see that he's thinking about the rest of Illinois even though he's elected in Chicago.