Dear Mayor Hancock and members of the Denver city council: no high rises in the Highlands

Citizens across the country are embroiled in battles to keep developers from destroying the character of their cities and towns, and now one such fight has made its way to my neighborhood, the Denver West Highlands. Here’s the note I just sent to the mayor and city council. I suspect a lot of our readers know exactly how I feel.


Dear ______________:

I know you’re aware of the issue so I’ll keep this brief. If the developers are allowed to blight the Highlands with high rises I will work aggressively for your opponent in the next election. Continue reading

Nota Bene #99: Heed the Peace Gnome

“You just pick up a chord, go twang, and you’ve got music.” Who said it? Continue reading

Privacy vs. technology, freedom vs. convenience: it’s only going to get worse

Item: Citizens are concerned about online privacy and security. According to a new report from USC’s Center for the Digital Future, “Sixty-one percent of adult Americans said they were very or extremely concerned about the privacy of personal information when buying online, an increase from 47 percent in 2006. Before last year, that figure had largely been dropping since 2001.” These fears are well-founded.

The study, to be released Thursday, comes as privacy and security groups report that an increasing number of personal records are being compromised because of data breaches at online retailers, banks, government agencies and corporations. Continue reading

ScrogueCast: China's expansion in Africa offers both risk and opportunities

China is rapidly becoming Africa's largest investor. They require little in the way of good governance and are aggressively creating new infrastructure in their drive to secure resources for their own industrial expansion. This offers both risks and opportunities for Africa. Once China becomes the most visible investor in Africa it also implies that their assets will be targeted by activists and opportunists.

Download the podcast: China in Africa.

Internet freedom means net neutrality, not "pay-as-you-go" broadband

By Martin Bosworth

Last week the news broke (via a leaked memo found by Broadband Reports) that Time Warner Cable was instituting a “tiered pricing” structure for broadband, where heavy bandwith users would have to pay more, rather than the customary “all you can eat” model of supposedly unlimited usage for a flat price. My article covers the issue in more detail, but the gist is that while tiered pricing structures are better than being kicked off your service for violating invisible bandwith caps, it’s still no substitute for building out new networks with more capacity.

This leads me to the excellent paper authored by Sascha Meinrath on how the concept of net neutrality needs to be incorporated and expanded into a larger vision of Internet freedom. Continue reading

Africa and the Delusion of the Big Men

Africa has a problem with causality.

Not that the rest of the world consistently gets the idea either, but there are no other regions that so consistently mess up the nature of cause and effect. The source of this confusion is the economic boom that results from the mere good fortune of having some valuable resources.

In both Russia and Venezuela the near vertiginous rise of oil prices has stimulated economic growth; which is a good thing. It has also led the Big Men in power to associate that boom with their own blunt political ministrations. Both Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin have perverted their constitutions to ensure their continued control. “After all,” they think, “if it weren’t for me the economy wouldn’t be doing so well.”

Sadly – for themselves – this is a woeful fantasy that the citizens of these oppressed lands are willing to go along with. They remember the poverty of previous leaderships and confuse democracy with economic neglect.

Lest you think this is mere speculation, consider the following: In 2003 Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, took control of his country’s oil production after declaring his lack of faith in private endeavour. It is difficult arguing that Chavez’ nationalisation was a bad thing when daily oil revenues have risen from $ 50 million in 2003, to $ 190 million in 2007. Yet it has been an appalling disaster. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the first wave power program in the United States. The program is for four 250 kW bouys anchored in Makah Bay off the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. Finavera Renewables, a renewable energy company out of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and Portland, Oregon, is the owner of this particular technology, bouys that use wave motion to force water through a turbine to generate electricity. While the project has only been granted a 5-year conditional approval from the FERC, Finavera hopes to generate enough power from wave motion to power 150 homes. And if this technology works out, then wave motion along the Pacific coast could generate up to 12% of the U.S.’s present power needs if 100% utilized. Continue reading

2007 in Review, pt. 2: When in the course of current events…

Welcome back to day 2 of the S&R Year in Review. Today we tackle some of 2007’s big moments in news and current events.

The Invasion and Occupation of Iraq Surpasses the American Civil War in Duration: The United States’ involvement in World War I lasted only 19 months and World War II lasted 44 months for the United States, even though the war itself was nearly six years long. The occupation of Iraq (aka the Iraq War) outlasted World War II in November of 2006, making the duration of U.S. involvement in Iraq the third longest foreign occupation in U.S. history. The American Civil War lasted 48 months, and the Iraq occupation surpassed that duration on March 20, 2007. This makes the Iraq occupation the third longest running period of continuous conflict in U.S. history, behind only the Vietnam War and its sister conflict in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Continue reading

Investing for Life: If you believe Oxfam it means making slaves of the best amongst us

Some products are so critical to life and living that their absence would cause tremendous harm to society. One such line of products are pharmaceutical medications aimed at combating the diseases that fall predominantly on the poor.

Oxfam – a non-governmental organisation dedicated to “finding lasting solutions to poverty and injustice” – has released a report, “Investing for Life” in which they claim to have identified the source of injustice and illness amongst the world’s poor. It is the world’s large pharmaceutical firms.

Oxfam claims that, by enforcing their intellectual property rights and charging high prices for their products, Big Pharma is undermining everyone’s universal “right” to health. Continue reading

Flirting with Dictatorship – On the road to South Africa's next president

Ronald Suresh Roberts, sycophantic biographer of Thabo Mbeki

Jacob Zuma, some-time rapist, multi-million dollar arms-deal fraudster, populist, and permanently in search of his machine gun, declares that he is ready to “rule” South Africa.

This man is likely to be South Africa’s next president.

This is quite a departure for the African National Congress, the ANC, the party of Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela; both Nobel Peace Prize winners.

The noble ideal of setting aside the politics of race in search of a new, unified, representative nation has given way to the politics of race, nepotism, corruption and dictatorship.

As Kent Durr, South Africa’s one-time ambassador to the UK put it, “The ANC appears to have gone from struggle to corruption without an intervening period of service to the nation.” Continue reading

Fire in the western United States

For anyone concerned about the fires burning in San Diego county (by far the most serious of the southern California fires), here are two more links: the Union-Tribune’s breaking news site at Blogspot and the official San Diego County emergency site.

In the western United States, fire is a major threat to life and property, as we’re seeing today in southern California. the climate is pretty much optimized to create massive fires. The winter rains provide the moisture that the plants need to grow, and as with most arid climate plants, they grow and mature fast when there’s water around – if they didn’t, the plants might not reproduce before the next season’s rains. Once they’ve matured, the hot and water-less summer dries out the large, mature plants and creates perfect kindling for massive fires. Finally, right before the winter rains come again, a massive high pressure system forms over the high desert, a low pressure system forms over the nearby Pacific, and the combination of the two drives the Santa Ana winds. The Santa Anas bring down blistering hot and near hurricane force winds that will (not “may”) stoke any spark (like a discarded cigarette or a blown-down power line) into a fire. (Other fire links: San Diego Union-Tribune, KPBS, NBC-San Diego) Continue reading

Electric transmission lines, eminent domain, and the consequences of vague and broadly worded laws – Part 4

The past three parts of this series discussed national interest electric transmission corridors, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC’s) authority to issue federal construction permits over the objections of state and local regulators, and the use of easements, rights of way, and eminent domain by the utilities to get access to the land needed for the transmission lines themselves. In the final part of this series, I discuss a means by which states may be able to avoid being overruled by the FERC and close with some concluding remarks. Continue reading

Electric transmission lines, eminent domain, and the consequences of vague and broadly worded laws – Part 3

The last two parts of this series have discussed how and why the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) may declare a “geographic area” as a national interest electric transmission corridor and how that designation enables the FERC to overrule local regulators and issue construction permits under a very broad set of circumstances. Today’s discussion goes into the law of rights-of-way, easements, and the exercising of eminent domain by utilities who have been granted federal transmission line construction permits. Continue reading

Electric transmission lines, eminent domain, and the consequences of vague and broadly worded laws – Part 2

Yesterday I discussed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and how it permits the Department of Energy to declare large swaths of the country as national interest electric transmission corridors (NIETCs) with little or no justification. Today I’ll discuss how the process of granting transmission line construction permits works in the aforementioned NIETCs. Continue reading

Electric transmission lines, eminent domain, and the consequences of vague and broadly worded laws – Part 1

In 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (referred to as the EPAct from here on), the first attempt in recent history by the federal government to address the generation, transmission, refining, etc. of all types of energy on a national scale. At 551 pages, the EPAct is packed full of good ideas, bad ideas, and ideas that furrow your brow and make you go “hmmmm….”

Title XII, Subtitle B (starting deep in the EPAct, on page 354) contains a significant number of ideas of the third variety. In essence, this subtitle addresses the ability of the federal government to overrule local and state authorities and permit the use of eminent domain for the construction of new electrical power distribution lines as well as incentives to develop and deploy advanced transmission technologies and the methods by which all of this is funded. What follows below is a detailed look at the roughly nine pages that make up the “Transmission Infrastructure Modernization” section of the EPAct. Continue reading

Decarbonizing the Carbon Economy

Until the development of water and wind power, humanity burned carbon-based fuels like wood and coal to power our civilization. These very same fuels are now polluting the air and water with heavy metals, ozone pollution, and acid rain. In addition, carbon-based fuels are almost entirely responsible for the global heating that has occurred since the 1970s.

Not only is the carbon economy directly causing global heating, it is also responsible for the oil dependency that has led to the decay of the United States’ national authority. The carbon economy has distorted national and international markets with unwise subsidies and has led to the collapse of fair markets. And the carbon economy has also driven public investment away from our public health system and vital national infrastructure and into the hands of a carbon economy aristocracy.

The only way forward out of our political, economic, and climatic morass is through a very difficult, expensive, and time consuming process of decarbonizing the carbon economy via a massive number of parallel changes to human industry, transportation, agriculture, commerce, and even our national culture. There is no other solution, no Plan B that we can fall back on. But this is a challenge that the United States is up to meeting, and that must be met. Our nation’s future, indeed all of humanity’s future, is at stake. Continue reading

Ending poverty means abandoning charity and accepting reality

Benin Mwangi, who blogs about doing business in Africa, asked me recently: “should the discussion be about how to get the informal sector to become part of the formal sector or should it be how to cater to the informal sector?” This in an excursion into the morass of African poverty and development.

The short answer is: neither; ending poverty has nothing to do with the informal sector.

This is not to dismiss the question, which is an important one. With the failure of most centralised economic policies and governments in Africa the informal sector is the largest employer and service provider in most of the continent.

However the question conflates symptoms with causes. For starters, how do informal markets even come to be? Continue reading

The tragedy of innovation: how brilliant ideas are criminalised

The Increment of Man

“This push for a so-called “green revolution” or “gene revolution” is being done once again under the guise of solving hunger in Africa. Chemical-intensive agriculture is, however, already known to be outmoded. We have seen how fertilisers have killed the soil, creating erosion, vulnerable plants and loss of water from the soil. We have seen how pesticides and herbicides have harmed our environment and made us sick.”

African civil society organisations at the World Social Forum in Nairobi, 2007

Read Farming Solutions, a joint initiative of Oxfam and Greenpeace, and we discover who is behind this savage and deliberate policy of poisoning life on earth and destroying the environment. It is global organisations like the World Bank, and large corporations like Monsanto, McDonalds and Walmart.

Human beings are pathetic, ignorant and helpless creatures lying on our spindly backs, our limbs flailing in the air as the corporations lined against us tread our ambitions into dust.

How did it go so wrong? When did hindsight become an excoriation of past genius and a call to denigrate all that we invented?

Continue reading