Category Archives: Politics

Gas Tank Gimmicks

Woman reading on a warm sunny day

A young woman relaxing, reading on the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Fall, MA

 

With all the talk and battling policies in the presidential campaign, nobody is willing to tell the American people the one thing they can do to lower the cost of gasoline.  Drive less.

Nobody wants to say it because they don’t really want you to do it. Well, ok, maybe some of the conservationists do. They’re the ones telling us the government should raise the gas tax. Of course, they’re not trying to get elected. Who would vote for them?

The truth is, many of the of people running government today are themselves enriched by our dependency on oil. Once the big oil supplying nations around the world saw that the American people were willing to pay anything for gas, they just lifted the lid on prices and they’ve been soaring every since. Don’t you think it’s strange that the prices never went up so high before? That’s because the conventional wisdom was we wouldn’t pay high prices. Member nations of OPEC used to be very worried if the price of crude went up above $30 a gallon. They thought the American people would stop buying, find other ways to get around. Maybe years ago people had such choices to make but not anymore. And that’s the point. So many more people live in suburban communities now, not to mention rural areas where I live where there is hardly any mass transit and driving is the only means of transportation. While conservationists think rising prices are great, that all these high gas prices are going to make people find other means to get around, “invest in alternative energy”, the reality is people are going broke – and losing their homes in some cases – because the cost of going to work is more than they can afford.

But still, I see a game in this. President Bush came out and said he is upset that we haven’t done what he’s asked to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. His solution? Drill in Anwar, Alaska. OK. I couldn’t help but wonder – if we let him drill for oil in Alaska, will he talk to the Sheiks and get them to pump more oil onto the market to lower prices? Is he just holding out for what he wants before he talks to them and says, ok, you can open the spigot now?

The other thing he wanted was an easing of the impediments to building more oil refineries. I have to admit I don’t understand this one. It seems logical to have more refineries. Perhaps someone can help me out here. What is the problem?

Still, when it comes right down to it, we the people have so much power. We just don’t know it. If we would drive less, spend less money on stuff we don’t need, fill savings accounts in our local banks with the excess money saved from all that junk we didn’t buy and gas money we saved from car-pooling and saying no to our kids once in a while (no it won’t traumatize them for life) maybe our economy wouldn’t be built on match-sticks.

I went to a meeting in Greenfield, Mass. this week on Sustainable Living with a focus on transportation and the one good idea I heard that everyone could do right now is car-pooling. Not just with fellow workers although that’s what a lot of people do and is very good for everyone. But this could start at home. Families with three cars could consider leaving one (or even two) at home and driving each other to work or school. Imagine the benefit of not getting that 16 year old his or her own car until they graduate from high school. It could be a graduation gift! The greatest benefit would be that they would all actually get to graduate, as so many of our youngest drivers die in auto accidents every year. Why not let kids drive the family car (is there such a thing anymore?) for a while to get the experience of driving before giving them ownership and a level of freedom they’re not mature enough to handle. Perhaps they could drive their parents’ car on date night. Conversely, maybe it would be better to have a parent drive them when they’re going to a party, for safety and to avoid those hazards of intoxication young people sometimes get into unexpectedly, out of a lack of experience. Wouldn’t it be so much better to just have an understanding in advance that Mom or Dad would be picking them up from the party at a particular time instead of having them “call” (who does that?) if they’re feeling like they need a ride.

There are so many ways in which our dependence on the automobile has skewed our society in a dangerous direction. We are fighting a war not so much over oil as because of it. This war started with a terrorist attack by a group who claimed to be angry over our presence in Saudi Arabia. We’d been there since our war against Iraq in 1991. Our entire involvement in this part of the world is because of oil. If this was just a bunch of people living in the desert fighting with each other over water rights we wouldn’t care about them at all. Yes, there is the issue of Israel, but the Arabs would have no clout with the U.S. if it weren’t for oil, and the argument over Israel would be a lot simpler.

I keep hearing that people have to be responsible for their own actions. I think that we as Americans are more than willing to do our part. We just need to know what that is, and in this election year, we are just going to get silly solutions that don’t work. Is anybody really going to pas a gas-tax holiday in this year of huge deficits and national debt? If anything, the politicians will give us just enough flim-flam to keep us from guessing that if we all stayed home every Sunday and watched tv and played with the kids (or the dog) and didn’t drive one day a week, we could lower the cost of gas at the pump in a month.

So, you heard it here first. Don’t shop, don’t drive one day a week, and put the money you save in a savings account so the banks won’t have to borrow from China to keep themselves afloat. That’s what you can do for America.

Thinking Out Loud

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Twin Tulips, Spring 2005 

I find myself quite excited about the voting taking place today in Ohio and Texas.  In a New York Times article posted on their website today, I read a quote from Hillary Clinton.  In defense, ahead of time, of going on beyond today’s elections (in case she doesn’t win) she said, “We’re just beginning to draw those contrasts and those differences and that’s when voters start to zero in.” 

I’m not sure what she means.  The voters certainly have paid good attention to this process.  The Times reports that she is ahead in early polling in Pennsylvania, which holds it’s primary on April 22nd.  She was also supposedly ahead by some 20 points a few weeks ago in Texas.  She seemed assured of a victory in Ohio as well.  Somehow she keeps slipping backward as the primary day gets closer.  The differences between her and Obama are not so great on substance or policy.  The difference to me seems more in style and his is clearly more appealing as time goes on.  You can see her struggling to find something that will stick but the problem is, the more she reaches, the harsher she seems to get and that inclination to fight dirty is what I think is turning people off.  We are all so sick of the dirty tricks, the deliberate misstatements of fact, the implied slurs.

So far, Obama has tried to be above it all while Hillary has been taking a harsher tone of late.  The high point of her campaign was the “moment” as the Clinton campaign called it, when she turned to Obama and said what an honor it had been to debate him.  Then she undid all the good that moment gave her when she started complaining in her best mean-school-teacher style about some statements made in his campaign flyers that she felt were unfair.  She said he mischaracterized her health care plan.  Is there anyone left who doesn’t know what her health care plan is?  And to be so angry, so indignant.  Then there’s that “shame on you” line.  Boy, did that make me cringe.  

If anything has been a source of contrast between these two candidates it is this matter of style.  He is calm and cool and appears sincere (although some may think it’s just a show) while she has been gradually losing it.  The quick changes of nice to nasty, soft to harsh, policy wonk to sarcastic cynic have left me feeling a bit dizzy.  Call me crazy but that call to super delegates to follow their hearts may just backfire.  Or it may be unnecessary as the vote becomes obvious.  Still, it could end up after all these votes today that nothing changes, and they get to do it all again in Pennsylvania.  Like the reporters say, it doesn’t get any better than this.   

Do We Care? I think we do.

Turners Falls HS Marching Band 

Turners Falls Marching Band in Memorial Day parade 2007  

This has been bugging me for a long time so I thought today was as good a day as any to get into it. According to Bob Schieffer, reporting on Face the Nation this morning, there have been almost 4000 American soldiers killed and over 90 thousand wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Many of the wounded have severe injuries that will affect the rest of their lives in a profound way.  

War Dead Memorial 2007

Turners Falls memorial to those lost in the war.  

As this war has dragged on and debates rage, the suggestion that Americans are not really personally engaged  the way they’ve been in the past has been put forth by some politicians.  They compare it to Vietnam with all those people in the streets.  They suggest that it’s because there is no draft and so most people who are not connected to the military simply don’t care.  The criticism has abated a bit lately.  Perhaps that’s because it might be unseemly for a politician to suggest, during a presidential election, that the people don’t really care.  Still the thought lingers, and is implied whenever people note that life here goes on as usual and the war seems not to affect the lives of everyday Americans.  Which is probably true.  I imagine, especially to a soldier coming home after a tour in Iraq, that the degree to which life here is unchanged must feel a bit of a slap in the face.

Our government has asked nothing of the average American while asking a great deal of those in the military.  The policy of the Bush administration of demanding that no pictures of coffins returning from the war be shown has contributed to the sense of isolation of military families.  Keeping these images out of the major media coverage of this war insulates the public from the consequences of war.  For reporters, covering the war in Iraq is difficult.  A significant number of  journalists have lost their lives in this war.  Their bravery is noted by the media, as well it should be, and I don’t think the media fails to cover the brave soldiers fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan but still, the thought persists that Americans don’t feel the losses as personally as they should.   

Senator Stanley Rosen addresses the crowd.

State Senator Stanley Rosenberg addressed the crowd.

I do hope that the 2006 election where those opposing the Bush war policy won a lot of races in Congress did something to show that Americans are engaged and do care.  I find here in my small town in Western Massachusetts that many people are strongly connected to the war and do care deeply about the soldiers and their families.  It was clearly on display this past Memorial Day when the people of Turners Falls showed up to honor those who fought bravely for their country.  

I thought it might be interesting to show what the town has done to honor those lost in the Iraq war.  It started with a Vietnam vet putting flags on a hill behind the town’s war memorial, one flag for each American soldier killed.  As the war went on and the deaths added up, townspeople donated time and money to help with a task that had grown beyond anything this veteran had imagined.  By the time we got to Memorial Day 2007, there were 3, 845 flags planted in the grass behind the stone memorials honoring the dead of earlier wars. 

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Even the kids got into the act. 

I find people here care and also support those families who have loved ones fighting in this war.  That does not mean they are unified in their support of the war.  A WWII veteran of 85 years told me he had serious doubts about the war.  He had been on the shores of Normandy during the invasion.  He was a true patriot.  You don’t have to be for the war to be a patriot, and you don’t have to march to make your voice heard.  In fact, what is truly different between then and now is that in 1968 we had to go out into the streets to get our voices heard.  Young men were being drafted to fight in a war they couldn’t even vote against because while they could be drafted at 18 they couldn’t vote until they were 21.  That simple change in the law, made after the war ended, made all the difference in the world.  It’s not just that we have no draft, it’s also that we don’t need to march against the war because we can vote for the people who represent our views, and thankfully, there are a great many of those willing to run for election and stand up against the powerful groups that support this war.  What we have to do is make sure we tell them what we want and let them know when we like what we do.  It’s not enough to complain when we object, we must also let those who stand for what we believe in that we are behind them.  That will empower our representative to be ever more bold in what they do.  And that will be good for us all. 

Ellen Blanchette, Sunday, March 2, 2008

 

Looking through the fog

Foggy Sundown

 

The air was warm yesterday, looking strange and  mysterious as mist coming off the snow created a kind of fog that wouldn’t clear even in midday.  It stayed through the rain in late afternoon and remained to day’s end as seen in the photograph above.

The fog also drifted into the corners of the mind as we listened to the latest challenge from the Hillary Clinton camp against Barack Obama that he somehow plagiarized the words of Deval Patrick, the new governor of my state, Massachusetts.  I’m not sure what part of Obama’s words could be considered plagiarism since his statement was mostly well know quotes of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and others.  The part that Hillary is calling plagiarism is when he says, “Just words?”  I’m not sure where anyone could call this plagiarism but the attempt to impugn Obama’s character is in itself both desperate and counter-productive.  In highlighting the similarity between these two black leaders whose words inspired their followers, Hillary Clinton in fact suggests to me that she stole this strategy from Deval Patrick’s challenger.  

If Patrick was using this defense, “just words?” during his run for the governorship, then obviously his critics were saying the same thing about him that Hillary has been saying about Obama, that he is all talk, that his words are hollow meaningless things because there is nothing behind them.  The challenge suggests he lacks the experience to back up those words with action.  

There may be something to Hillary’s position, it’s hard to tell really.  The charge of plagiarism on this truly silly point, however, suggests to me that she has nothing to show to support this position. 

Obama says words do matter and clearly, his supporters agree.