Friday, July 21, 2006

The Gross Domestic Product of Washington--Hot Air...

All hail the king, oops, the President, who finally deemed the NAACP convention worthy of his presence, although desperation on the part of the Republican Party was the most likely reason that propelled him there (to a venue only a few blocks from the White House, but, for him, the longest mile). He finally acknowledged that racism still exists (in an accidental nod to reality), in what frankly was his most dignified moment this week, in lending his support to extending the Voting Rights Act another 25 years.

The venue for the convention, the Washington Convention Center, is a beautiful behemoth befitting the Nation's Capital. Several employees there saw me wandering around and took pity, asking me if I was lost, because, as one of them put it, "you had that look," of total bewilderment, when I entered. My only gripe with the place/palace is the relative lack of seating in the outer/entrance areas. You can meander around quite a bit, and not see a place to settle down until you reach an exhibit area or the convention hall proper (unless you are near the Starbucks concession).

One hopeful development was the fact that the booth to sign up for NAACP memberships had long lines through much of the day that I was there (Sunday). I hope that translates into increased civic participation in the NAACP, and in myriad ways.

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Of course, that Sunday being one of the hotter days of the year, naturally the subject of air conditioning, or the lack thereof, gets one's attention. This summer, I've noticed something of a reversal of trends--while plenty, perhaps even most, people on the steamy East Coast have been driving around with the a/c blasting (yours truly included), many of the cars that are deciding to go sans artificial coolness include many luxury vehicles and SUVs (which are basically luxury vehicles gone slumming). In fact, the other day, I saw a minivan in which not only were all the windows open, but the DOOR was open, while the vehicle was moving, which made quite the spectacle...

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PEPCO's website is urging Washington-area residents and businesses to conserve energy, to avoid brownouts and blackouts, such as one that occurred today in part of New York City. I wonder what it's doing to help Maryland residents pay for energy efficiency measures? Hmm...

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The Tom Brokaw special, Global Warming: What You Need to Know, is an informative program that's best at demonstrating exactly how and why scientists believe that the scale of global warming that's occurring is partly caused by human activities. (Duh!)

However, it was disconcerting to see, throughout the program, all the ads for Suzuki, seemingly during every commercial break. I mean, I'm sure that the car is fairly fuel efficient, but still, it was jarring overkill.

You might know that increased use of public transportation as an option to mitigate the deleterious effects of global warming got short shrift. Unfortunately, that was part of a trend, because the part of the program that dealt with practical methods of fending off some of the more odious effects of global warming was the weakest part of the show.

This means that, unfortunately, an intelligent program dealing with the important topic of climate change itself became a source of hot air.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Green, and red all over...

I finally decided to call the county and order a recycling bin, so that I could have the satisfaction of not contributing so much to the landfill, etc. Thankfully, the container didn't take long to arrive, about a week. However, I was in for a nasty surprise; when I called to find out where the paper that residents recycle goes, not only did the county employee not know, she told me that the only paper that could be recycled were newspapers, glossy magazines, and telephone books. What?!? Of course, I let her know how ridiculous that situation was, as I purchase recycled office paper, and much of the paper that needs to be recycled is office paper. She countered that the county does not have the capacity to process office paper! (One good thing, the county does also recycle plastic, glass, and metal containers, so I suppose I shouldn't grouse too much.)

However, that incapacity leads me to a greater frustration. A number of my colleagues are as disgusted as I am with the waste generated by our office, and similar offices, so I decided to look into recycling options. Now, why did I do that? Every jurisdiction makes recycling difficult for businesses and nonprofits, which would seem to make it impossible for them to reach their recycling goals. For instance, if Prince George's County is unable to recycle office paper from residences because it lacks the capacity, then the county is not equipped to process this material from businesses and nonprofits, which, if anything, generate as much or more of this type of material than residences!

Prince George's County, MD is far from the only jurisdiction that makes it impractical for businesses and nonprofits to recycle. Even progressive Montgomery County, MD requires that interested establishments contact a waste hauler to pick up their recyclables (making recycling an additional expense, on top of fees for having regular trash hauled), and submit an annual report. (More bureaucracy!) Confusingly, all jurisdictions in the Washington area have similar requirements for businesses and nonprofits that wish to recycle, while making it practically effortless for residents to recycle (e.g., supplying free recycling bins, free pickup of recyclables, etc.).

One might think that Washington, DC itself would be keen to motivate busineses and nonprofits to recycle, considering that it's in even more dire landfill straits than its neighbors (and, according to a city employee, may soon be losing a site, as one is in the process of being sold), but you'd be wrong. A business or nonprofit can either go through the dog and pony show of contacting a hauler, or become a "self-hauler" and obtain a sticker so that your business/institution can haul its own recyclables to the recycler. (You also get to pay $24 annually for this privilege!) Argggggghhhh!

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On a brighter green note, the recent gorgeous weather prompted me to take a nice long stroll to the Washington Deli for pizza. This eatery boasts of having "Long Island" style pizza. Well, whether the pizza is authentic New York-style or not, it's some mighty tasty pie! I had the soy cheese variety one day, which came with various toppings and had a nicely charred, smoky crust. Yum! The next day, I tried the white pizza, which was a tad salty, but was a flavorful combination, nonetheless. The crusts are nice and thin, and the sauce well seasoned; apparently, many people agree, judging by the crowds there! When the weather becomes pleasant on a regular basis, I may try one of its various vegetarian sandwiches, that is, if I can tear myself away from the pizza (which may be a challenge, for when you find a place in DC that serves good pizza, you keep going back for more).

This place seems to put green principles into practice, if only to save dough, so to speak. (Perhaps the fact that the headquarters for the Humane Society of the United States is nearby is also influential in this regard.) For instance, the deli seems to eschew excessive packaging and containers, as everyone's pizza is served in thin pizza boxes, even customers who eat at the tables outside. Also absent are those ridiculous napkin holders; in fact, napkins and other accoutrements are kept in flat containers, which may not please the germ-phobic. However, I didn't notice any tiny beasties anywhere in the vicinity of the place--perhaps the natural spiciness of the food kept insects away. (This notion is not as wild as it sounds, as many natural insect repellant formulas contain garlic and chili pepper, or some combination thereof, as people seem to be the only creatures that consume hot peppers, pickled or otherwise.)

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One productive way of re-framing a divisive issue--Thom Hartmann says that America's immigration dilemma is really an "illegal employer problem." To wit:

"Encouraging a rapid increase in the workforce by encouraging companies to hire non-citizens is one of the three most potent tools conservatives since Ronald Reagan have used to convert the American middle class into the American working poor. (The other two are destroying the governmental protections that keep labor unions viable, and ending tariffs while promoting trade deals like NAFTA/WTO/GATT that export manufacturing jobs.)

As David Ricardo pointed out with his "Iron Law of Labor" (published in his 1814 treatise "On Labor") when labor markets are tight, wages go up. When labor markets are awash in workers willing to work at the bottom of the pay scale, unskilled and semi-skilled wages overall will decrease to what Ricardo referred to as "subsistence" levels.

Two years later, in 1816, Ricardo pointed out in his "On Profits" that when the cost of labor goes down, the result usually isn't a decrease in product prices, but, instead, an increase in corporate and CEO profits..

Republicans understand this very, very well, although they never talk about it. Democrats seem not to have read Ricardo, although the average American gets it at a gut level."

'Nuff said.