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‘All We Need is the Air That We Breathe’

3:43 pm in Uncategorized by Omnipotent Poobah

Here in Northern California we often look jealously at fuel prices in the rest of the nation. The rest of the nation looks at ours slack-jawed at the enormity of them. Even in a “normal” market, the Bay Area and Los Angeles usually trade places with the highest costs in all 50 states. When they don’t lead, they are almost always in the Top 3.

This week, the “normal” market disappeared. Monday a gallon of regular cost $3.89 at the local Fossil Fuelery and Fatty Snack Emporium. This morning I filled up for $4.09. It is surely higher in Oakland and The City.

A massive fire at a 110-year old Chevron refinery in the Bay Area earlier this week caused the spike. A 20-drop per hour leak turned into a gush while workers tried to figure out how to fix it while keeping the production line running. The fire sent thousands of nearby residents inside with orders to duct tape around windows and not come out to play until they got the all clear. The air was befouled by thick, black, acrid smoke blown inland and residents far beyond the immediate area rushed off to hospitals with breathing and skin irritations. Air quality authorities still don’t know exactly what was in the smoke.

Buying Mitt Romney’s LunchThe toasted refinery is in knot of refineries that catch fire or have other accidents with disturbing regularity. The area’s reverse 911 system that warns residents to cower inside gets a thorough workout. Each string of accident investigations – 5 so far in the latest case – show a continuous pattern of incompetence in running these massive chemical crap factories. Fines, if any, are generally low and for global outfits like Chevron, almost enough to buy Mitt Romney’s lunch.

The Chevron refinery produces about 15% of California’s gas – the burning kind, not the gassy assy kind. So why, one might ask, don’t they just bring some relatively cheap and currently abundant fuel from somewhere else to keep things going?

Because they can’t.

California has a closed gasoline market. Golden Staters use a specially-formulated gasoline, unavailable elsewhere, to cut down on the number of Spare the Air days – days, like today, when pollution and temperatures are high and the state strongly encourages public transportation or telecommuting, significantly reduced air conditioning and lighting, and sharply curtailed barbecuing, grass mowing, dish washing, or any other fuel burning activities.

Without the special gas, California’s urban areas would drown in a Beijing-like primordial soup of stale air. Worse, air in California’s sparsely populated Central Valley would be unbreathable on all but the clearest days. Luckily for urbanites – but not so much for Central Valleyans – dozens of micro-climates and the topography generally push the pollution out to Stockton, Fresno, and other more rural towns leaving the Bay Area with some of the cleanest big city air in the nation.

Chevron originally estimated $4.00 per gallon gas by month’s end. Not surprisingly, given Chevron’s math skills and that we are already 10-cents ahead of the curve; it looks more like $4.75. Shocking for some, not all that unusual for Californians. It is the price we pay to defeat global warming, but most of all; it is the price we pay to breathe (now if we could only figure out how to manufacture water so we could drink, we’d be golden).

The Drill Baby Drill CrowdThe drill baby drill crowd and global warming deniers who claim the globe is merely comfy would do away with the gas and safety regulations and offer oil companies bigger incentives and tax breaks than the entire German economy. They would giddily dismantle anything allowing breathing without a respirator. Of course, this isn’t surprising for a group of knot heads who believe Obamacare and socialists are causing global comforting, aided by birth certificates burning by the bale. BTW, the Feds already sued California because its gas and air pollution standards are too stringent.

Yes, $4.09 is eye-popping, but not so much as the rest of the world pays. Yes, high gas prices, especially in America’s primary vegetable and fruit-growing areas will make food more expensive. The pricey gas will drive up the cost of everything from PCs to Heinz ketchup to cheese (Wisconsin isn’t America’s premier dairy land anymore) – but it will still be worth – and not just because Californians need air to live.

Absent some seriousness work on our energy and environmental pickles, worse problems than $4.09 per gallon gas are ahead. Without some rationality and seriousness, California and much of America will be burning cow dung as fuel and lounging on their Wichita beachfront property.

America has already rounded Third World and is headed for broken home. It is time to get serious about the serious and step up to pay their $4.09 – or more.

It’s a cheap price for the air we all breathe.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks! More than politics, more than pop culture & humor

Occupy Oakland: From Flowers in Your Hair to the Dark Side

6:51 pm in Uncategorized by Omnipotent Poobah

Oakland Protestors

TIME TO TAKE THE HIGH GROUNDThe Occupy Oakland movement is at the crossroads of peaceful demonstration and violence. It’s time for the ‘organic’ movement to learn how to better cultivate allies.

The San Francisco Bay area has a long history of protest – much of it gone violent. At 1960s UC Berkeley, Vietnam war opponents started as idealistic, flowers in your hair protesters who morphed into glass breakers, nascent fire bugs, and building grabbers with a few Molotov hurlers for good measure. Next door, the hard-scrabble neighborhoods of East Oakland are now the perfect breeding ground for discontent.  It would seem to be the right place for the Occupy movement to set up tents. Plenty of people with grievances and lots of rich people to snub.

But, Occupy Oakland has a dark side.

Peaceful Occupy marches have become a thing of the past in Oakland. Now, the occupiers fan out while windows break, dumpsters flare, and the very people most likely to support Occupy are left to sweep up. Understandably, 99 percent of the 99 Percenters are growing tired and that’s a hell of a way to build a movement. Just ask Sarah Palin.

No Weather Underground. Even the first Occupy march broke some windows and spawned some graffiti, but the mood was more youthful exuberance than Weather Underground sinister. The next day, some of the occupiers went out with cleaning equipment to get clean up the graffiti and help small business owners replace their broken glass – testament to the sane and peaceable idea of protesting in front of the little guys, not driving them off with boorish behavior.

Their relationships with community were basically good, even when they closed the Port of Oakland and cost the rough-hewn Teamsters a day’s pay. The second time around the Teamsters weren’t nearly so understanding and neither was the commuters stranded on some of the most overcrowded freeways in the nation.

Many people blame the Oakland PD for the violence. No doubt they aren’t a crackerjack force. The Feds have them under threat of Federal control because of the tepid pace of court ordered reforms. Incompetent police chiefs and even more incompetent mayors didn’t do much to help. Many people finger the current mayor, Jean Quan, with mismanaging the original outbreaks. And there is some justification; several recall drives are collecting signatures as you read this. She was so bad, she lost several top advisers who couldn’t take the addle-brained chaos.

I know several OPD cops. They’re like cops anywhere. Standing in front of a potentially dangerous mob throwing rocks and bottles at their head understandably makes them edgy. Some react with restraint, others fire tear gas canisters into the crowd or rely a little too heavily on truncheons to break things up. You can charge the PD with using too much force, but if someone was trying to whack me in the head, my adrenaline would be up too.

But most of the cops are doing a job in less than optimal conditions. They have orders. Some don’t agree. They feel the same as some of the cops in the Arab Spring uprisings. They don’t necessarily feel that clubbing their fellow citizens is exactly what they signed up for nor something they particularly feel good about doing.

Like a Sunni in TehranBut occupiers and cops alike suffer more for the actions of the few. The latest numbers indicate that a healthy majority of people arrested in the melees are true anarchists from out of the Bay Area fixated on no one coming to an agreement over anything…ever.

Occupy Oakland doesn’t need the distractions and fewer cops would be in the street. Oakland citizens might look more favorably on the occupiers if millions of dollars weren’t being spent to keep the peace and pay for damage. They just want to dodge the regular drive bys to go to Safeway. They’re already feeling like a Sunni in Tehran.

A lot has been made about Occupy being “organic” which a $10 word for leaderless uprising is. Occupiers may venerate the “organic” nature of things, but they could use a small leader committee to help keep eyes on the prize, ferret out the anarchists and other malcontents, and do some community outreach to a community that is getting a little battle worn. Have a heart for the cops, plumbers, and taco truck entrepreneurs who just want to make a living in an increasingly difficult place to do it. Turn the violence down a notch.

Focus the organics onto others and give fellow 99 Percenters a break from falling even farther behind.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!