Make Cars Great Again

By weakening fuel efficiency rules. Thank you Trump Administration for correcting the errors of the Obama Administration and helping keep cars affordable. And safer. All while continuing to protect the environment. And thank you for soliciting “all interested parties to weigh in with their views”. Very cool. Very democratic.

My view is totally sympatico with yours. Put me down for a “yes” vote on the weaker rules. Goals should be achievable, and you’re right, electric vehicles are for losers. In particular, this really resonated with me:

“Some data conclude that nearly half of consumers who purchase an electric car do not buy another because of challenges with range and recharge times.”

When it comes to things like your Environmental Protection Agency’s track record and your courageous questioning of climate change science, your administration has earned my trust so the phrase “some data” is good enough for me!

And I also agree that subsidies for electric vehicles are for losers best left to European and Chinese businesses who will never truly grasp capitalism’s allure. Please know my free-market invisible hands are clapping for your commitment to Big Oil having a more level economic playing field.

“. . . keeping in place the standards finalized in 2012 would add $2,340 to the cost of owning a new car and impose more than $500 billion in societal costs on the U.S. economy over the next 50 years.”

Again, thank you, $2,340, is not chump or even trump change. About $200 a year over 12 years of car ownership is a hell of a lot to ask for things as boring as markedly improved gas mileage and slowing climate change. Wouldn’t the typical electric car owner save more than $200 in gas costs? Sorry, strike that from the record. I’m sure there’s some more sophisticated math you have used that I probably would not understand. If you say it doesn’t “pencil out”, then it doesn’t pencil out. And “$500 billion in societal costs over the next 50 years?! No way can I do that math, but again I trust you that the “societal costs” are super scary things like more liberals feeling emboldened about spotted owls, more illegal immigrants invading our country, and more Democrats invading Congress.

“Due to these increased costs, Americans are holding on to their older, less-safe vehicles longer and buying older-model vehicles. The average vehicle on the road today is 12 years old, and data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows passengers are likelier to be killed in older vehicles than newer ones. In each of the past two years, more than 37,000 lives were lost on our roads. A key goal of this rulemaking is to reduce the barriers to enabling Americans to purchase newer, safer, cleaner cars.”

Initially, upon hearing that your Administration wanted to weaken fuel efficiency standards, I wondered why. I thought if America’s engineers were even a little great, the Obama goals were appropriately aspirational. I apologize that a part of me even wondered if you might be currying favor with Big Oil and Big Automakers, but upon just a little additional thought, that struck me as entirely too swampy a thing for your team.

I’m embarrassed that I pre-judged you. Of course, your first and foremost concern is our safety. All of your improvements to our infrastructure point to that. My cynicism got the best of me. I will do better going forward in my more affordable, safer, cleaner car.

Lastly, your editorial didn’t really touch on the “continuing to protect the environment” from the intro, but that’s okay. I understand word limits and trust you to be good for that. Again, to be clear, I am down with your downgrading of our fuel efficiency standards. And I look forward to your administration’s additional bar lowering pronouncements in the near future.

Make Like Steve Jobs and Narrow Your Focus

Washington State’s Faith Action Network “advocates for social justice in the halls of power”. Here’s their current agenda:

2015 Legislative Agenda

Reducing Wealth Inequality (Our Lead Issue): We will advocate for policies that address the disproportionate accumulation of wealth by a small percentage of individuals and families while others struggle to survive, with particular attention to the negative impacts on women and communities of color.

  • Wage Theft bills (Payroll Fraud/Employee Misclassification, Wage Recovery, Treble Damages, and Anti-Retaliation)
  • State Minimum Wage increase
  • Equal Pay Opportunity Act
  • Increased jobs & contracts for the African American community/businesses

Forging a Sustainable Biennial Budget: We will advocate for a sustainable budget with sufficient revenue to meet the needs of our state while protecting the safety net for those who are low-income and vulnerable.

  • Creating revenue to meet the needs of all of our state (repeal tax exemptions, enact capital gains tax, and enact carbon pollution accountability act)
  • Protect hunger, poverty, and mental health programs (WIC/Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), State Food Assistance (SFA), Emergency Feeding Assistance Program (EFAP), Breakfast After the Bell Bill, Housing & Essential Needs/Aged, Blind, & Disabled (HEN/ABD), and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) grant)
  • Fully fund K-12 education (McCleary decision) while not putting at risk our state’s safety net

Dismantling the Culture of Violence: FAN will promote policies to reduce multiple forms of violence across our state that disproportionately affect communities of color and to provide opportunities for economic stability.

  • Human trafficking prevention bills
  • Criminal justice reforms (Inmate Post-Secondary Education, Legal Financial Obligations (LFO) reforms, replace the death penalty statute with life without the possibility of parole, enact “Ban the Box” legislation)
  • Reduce deportations by enacting the Family Unity bill
  • Gun violence reduction bills

Protect Housing and Prevent Homelessness: Supporting the basic human right to have safe and secure shelter by working with partners to secure more funding for and equitable access to affordable housing, helping reduce the rising numbers of those who are homeless in our state.

  • Expand Housing Trust Fund
  • Medicaid benefit for Tenancy Support Services in Permanent Supportive Housing
  • Enact Fair Tenant Screening bill

Sustaining Washington’s Environment: Addressing this vital and critical part of who we are as the Evergreen State, FAN will work with our faith partner Earth Ministry to continue the important work of restoring and preserving Washington’s fragile ecosystem.

  • Support Governor’s climate change package
  • Enact Toxic-Free Kids bill
  • Support more stringent regulations for oil and coal train

These are pressing, inter-related issues, but for FAN to create a more socially just Washington State it needs a Steve Jobs, meaning someone to help them narrow their focus. FAN should seek to answer this question: Progress on which one of these issues would in all likelihood make the others easier to resolve?

Most of us are FAN-like, accomplishing less than we might because we’re trying to do too much. We’re unclear about our purpose in life. At work, our collective purpose is murky. Consequently, we casually commit to random activities, the sum of which rarely equals more than the individual parts.

Erring on the Side of Student Smarts

When asked what was most memorable about high school, my first year university students talk about play performances; athletic competitions; service club activites; and jazz band, choir, or orchestra concerts and trips. Their coursework is forgettable, too often even mind numbing. Why?

In part, because they’re rarely asked difficult open-ended questions upon which reasonable people in the “real world” disagree. Too few adults respect students’ intelligence. Also, we lazily and artificially carve up the subject matter into smaller pieces called math, science, language arts, social studies, foreign language, and art—and thereby fail to frame lessons, units, and courses around especially challenging questions.

I’m in the earliest stages of a new project—curriculum writing for a team of explorers who hope to engage large numbers of students in different parts of the world through their expedition to the South Pole in eleven months.

My plan is to err on the side of student smarts and engage middle and high school students through a series of challenging case studies that rest on open-ended questions upon which reasonable people disagree. If successful, the cases will help teachers help students not just learn factual information about fresh water flashpoints around the world, but also to listen, read, and write with greater purpose; think conceptually; and develop perspective taking, teamwork, and conflict resolution skills.

I’m just getting started. Last week I finished an excellent book about the Columbia River that I highly recommend, A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia (second edition). The author, Blaine Harden, is an excellent story teller. It’s required reading if you live in the Pacific Northwest. The primary question raised by Harden is what’s the best way to operate the world’s largest hydroelectric system? Harden’s story centers on a confounding mix of economic interests, biological imperatives, and environmental values.

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Most of the players in the drama defend the numerous dams that have turned the Columbia into a “machine river”—electric utility providers; irrigators and farmers; tow barge operators; boaters, windsurfers, and waterskiers; Google, Amazon, and Microsoft with their newish server farms; and elected officials and lobbyists who look out for the interests of utilities, irrigators, the internet goliaths, and other river users. The “other side” consists of Indians whose economic, nutritional, and spiritual lives were built around salmon, and fish biologists and Western Washington environmentalists who advocate for environmental restitution.

Students will research, debate, and decide among three possible outcomes:

  1. In the interest of maximum economic growth and inexpensive electricity, maintain the status quo of the “machine river”.
  2. In the interest of compromise and moderate economic growth, allow more water to flow over the dams thereby slightly reducing the total electricity available while simultaneously increasing the number of salmon in the river.
  3. In the interest of environmental restitution, the return of historic salmon runs, and revitalized Indian life, remove the dams and allow the river to return to it’s natural state.

Teachers will assess the relative thoroughness and thoughtfulness of each team’s proposed outcome. More specifically, they’ll be deciding which is most persuasive and why. Interestingly, this “Machine River” case study has real urgency because a federal court in Portland has given the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration until January 1, 2014 to submit a plan on how best to proceed. Many people whose livelihood’s will be dramatically effected by the outcome are anxiously awaiting the Court’s plan.

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Even more challenging than evaluating the costs and benefits of the different possible outcomes, is extrapolating “lessons learned” from the Columbia to other river systems in other parts of the world. For example, Vietnam is upset that Laos is planning to dam the Mekong River. Here’s a question upon which I’ll base an “extension” or “enrichment” activity: Based on Columbia River “lessons learned”, how would you advise Laotians and Vietnamese officials to proceed on the Mekong River? Why?

Even more challenging than applying Columbia lessons to the Mekong is developing a set of principles for 21st Century development more generally. How can local communities, sovereign nations, and international groups maintain healthy economies without compromising natural environments? Or more simply, how do we build vibrant, sustainable communities?

I have more questions than answers. Which is the single best formula for revitalizing schooling.

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21st Century Commerce

[I have a dream as a blogger. That someday my sissy will comment. Today’s post is written with that in mind.]

In the 20th century, when someone said, “I’m going shopping,” it usually meant they were driving to a nearby store. As a pipsqueak, I’d routinely shout to my mom as she hurried out the door, “Bring me something.”

Increasingly, we log onto to our lap or desktop computers to make purchases. I do a google search and then press “shopping” to see where it’s available and for what price.

Recently, I read a Wall Street Journal story about a young professional’s finances. He buys lots of things on Ebay that I wouldn’t have ever thought of buying on-line. Razor blades for example. So I ran the razor blade numbers and found they’re 50 cents cheaper per blade on Ebay than at Costco. Google shopping doesn’t seem to link to Ebay, so now I’m going to try to remember to search Ebay separately.

Last week I was shopping for mountain bike pedals. I decided I wanted these*. I had at least four choices on where to buy them: 1) in person at the local LBS. . . local bike shop; 2) in person or on-line at a chain/cooperative/club store like Performance Bicycle or REI; 3) on-line at the behemoth, Amazon.com; or 4) on-line at an independent bike store anywhere in the world.

I didn’t even check the local bike store because I was doubtful they’d have them in stock and they just can’t compete on price. In fact, now I stock up on chains, cassettes, and cables on-line, which cost considerably less than at the local LBS, and just pay the LBSers for labor.

They were listed as $269.99 at Performance, but on sale for $199.99 (before tax and shipping). REI, $269.00. Too expensive even factoring in the 10% or so I get back as credit as a “member”. (Of course “cooperative or club credit” is of no value if it prompts me to later purchase things I don’t need).

They were available at some independent associated with Amazon for $159.99, or $173.91 with tax. For some reason, the shipping date was late July, early August.

Finally, they were 87.17 euros or $126.39 at a Barcelona sporting goods store. No tax, but the only shipping option was DHL for $20.58, for a grand total of $146.97.

So they went from Barcelona, Spain; to Leipzig, Germany; to Cincinnati; to Seattle; to my door a few hours ago.

* yes weight weenies, 100g heavier than the normal, smaller 985s, but with these is I can more easily do short, tennis shoe-based rides around town