Monday, October 15, 2012

A very interesting talk at the ESB meeting Thursday

There’s a really interesting talk at the Environmental Sustainability Board meeting this Thursday. All are welcome!

I should add that I’ve read Tom’s book and thought it was extremely good.

(I’m a board member, but speaking for myself of course.)

21st Century Science Powered by 19th Century Power Plants
Speaker: Tom Ribe

Thursday, Oct. 18th 6 pm UNM-LA Building 2 Room 230

Sponsored by: Los Alamos County Environmental Sustainability Board and Los Alamos Sustainable Energy Network

Join us for a discussion that will overview Los Alamos's power sources, and urge an update of the electricity supply over the next decade to address climate change. Los Alamos' power supply is vulnerable and unreliable and should be produced in Los Alamos, using a combination of energy conservation, green power, and cutting edge nuclear power. Los Alamos has a moral and technological responsibility to lead by example in this area given that it is a taxpayer funded facility of the US Department of Energy.

Our speaker is Tom Ribe, a native of Los Alamos and an expert on natural resource issues relating to the Four Corners area. He worked for LANL between 1992 and 1997 in the Environmental Restoration program. He has his MS in Environmental Policy from the University of Oregon and has written extensively on energy, public lands and wildfire. He is author of "Inferno by Committee, A History of the Cerro Grande Fire". He lives in Santa Fe where he works in venture capital, the tourism industry, and as Executive Director of Caldera Action, a group focused on the preservation of the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

This presentation will take place as part of the October meeting of the Los Alamos County Environmental Sustainability Board.  The Board meeting will begin at 5:30, with the talk starting at 6 pm sharp.  Attendees are encouraged to come by at 5:30 and partake in the Board meeting.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Los Alamos ballot endorsements, from bottom to top

Here’s how I’m going to vote, with some reasoning and griping sprinkled in. This is the Los Alamos ballot. I’ll start at the bottom, since that’s typically the most perplexing.

The League of Women Voters voter’s guide also seems pretty good (a paper copy went out in Thursday’s Monitor). Also, a group in favor of the county charter amendments has a (less good) website.

The county clerk’s office has PDF sample ballots for Los Alamos and White Rock.

Finally, I’m skipping the unopposed races, since there’s no real point in voting or not voting in those.

Bond questions

Yes on all three

The questions ask for bonding for senior centers (A), libraries (B), and education (C).

I wasn’t able to find any thoughtful explanation of what’s going on here (though there is a letter to the editor in the Post just now from the UNM-LA director in support of Question C). So, I fall back on a couple of principles: (a) the United States has among the lowest taxes of any industrialized nation, and (b) education is grotesquely underfunded. I’m voting Yes.

[Update: Sunday’s Monitor points out that these replace expiring bond authority, so there would be no tax increases.]

Constitutional Amendments

Amendment 1 — No

This amendment would expand the judicial standards commission from 11 members to 13, with the additional two members drawn from specific roles.

I’m voting no because 11 is already an unwieldy number for a committee, and there’s no need to make this change at the constitutional level. Constitutions are for principles, not details.

Amendment 2 — Yes

This amendment requires the legislature to set meaningful qualifications for members of the Public Regulation Commission (currently, there are essentially none).

This makes sense to me; a commission with technical and judicial responsibilities should have qualified members. I’m voting yes.

Amendment 3 — Yes

This amendment transfers responsibility for chartering corporations from the Public Regulatory Commission to the Secretary of State. Given that the SOS is responsible for this in almost all other states, and for the bulk of other corporate filings in this one, it seems like a sensible simplification. I’m voting yes.

Amendment 4 — Yes

Similarly, this amendment transfers insurance regulation from the PRC to a new insurance office. It seems like this amendment de-politicizes a technical oversight responsibility (e.g., the PRC recently earned an “F” on this responsibility from some body who issues such grades) and aligns with other states. I’m voting yes.

Amendment 5 — Yes

Another transfer. Under this one, an independent public defenders’ office would be established, and public defenders would no longer report to the governor. I think this is an excellent idea: any support for accused criminals, including offering poor folks a fair trial with decent representation (instead of, say, just throwing them in jail — after all, the government can’t be trusted to tax us, but they can be trusted to jail and kill us without error), is highly politically unpopular (sadly). Thus, public defenders who report to a political position are at continual risk of having their already embarrassingly meager support cut.

County Charter Amendments

Question 1 (Initiative) — Yes

This simplifies and clarifies the charter rules for citizen petitions (ordinances created by popular vote rather than the County Council). OK, that’s fine.

But, a yes vote also reduces the time frame for circulating petitions from 180 days to 90 days. That I’m skeptical of. Los Alamos does not have a California-like problem of ballot questions clogging the political process. Why put both changes in the same question? I’m not sympathetic to the “logrolling” hysteria coming from some quarters, but the basic procedures for citizen initiative and the time limit seem like totally different issues to me. That is, I don’t have any sense that it’s illegal (as logrolling is), but it seems disrespectful to voters.

I’m annoyed by this, but 90 days does seem like plenty of time to circulate a petition, so I will hold my nose and vote yes.

Question 2 (Referendum) — No

More simplifying and clarifying the charter, this time for referendums (citizen veto of County Council decisions). Again, fine.

But again, this is mixed with increasing the number of signatures required. Since this process does not seem to be abused in Los Alamos County, there is no need to make it harder, and I resent being forced to consider two separate issues in one question. Therefore, I will vote no.

Question 3 (Recall) — No

This amendment makes it harder to recall elected county officials. Again, there seem to be two issues here: bringing the charter into compliance with the state constitution, and increasing the number of signatures required for a recall petition to force the issue onto the ballot.

I do believe the constitutional standards are too high. As far as I can tell, they essentially say that an elected official must engage in illegal or clearly unethical behavior in order to be recalled. I believe that doing a crappy job should be sufficient. Now, being noncompliant with the state constitution may be a source of trouble, and one that concerns me, but isn’t that an issue for the lawyers, not the voters? Why are the citizenry being asked to pass judgement on a legal question?

Second, 25% of the voters in the previous election (the current requirement) is already quite a large number of people in a high-turnout city. And again, I’m bothered that two unrelated issues are presented in the same question. So I’m voting no.

Question 4 (Charter amendments) — Yes

Seems to be purely clarification and simplification. I can support that.

Judges (Retention)

Retain all. All three judges up for retention seem sane in the LWV guide. Also, all complain about partisan election of judges, which is an issue that concerns me a great deal. Thus, I’m voting to retail all three.

An interlude before we get into the partisan races

I don’t vote for Republicans. Frankly, I think it’s a national embarrassment that the Republican Party is taken seriously by a nontrivial fraction of Americans.

Just a few reasons why, in no particular order: The party is anti-science (e.g., climate change is real, people). They’re backwards on social issues like marriage equality. They oppose abortion (a position which I can understand) but then turn around and oppose things which clearly reduce the abortion rate — comprehensive sex ed and easy access to birth control — in favor of things that clearly don’t, like abstinence-only sex ed. They demand lower taxes as the solution to any economic woe or success, regardless of circumstances, and their tax proposals favor the rich instead of the regular folks who helped the rich get there. The oppose Obama’s policies simply because he’s Obama, rather than for substantive reasons (e.g.: Obamacare is essentially identical to the Republican counter-proposal to Clinton’s healthcare efforts, as well as Romneycare, but now it’s a socialist plot). They are awful on public land issues, favoring short-term extractive gains rather than responsible, long-term, fact-based stewardship. They are too quick to pursue violent solutions to foreign policy issues. Finally, they promote voter ID efforts to solve fraud issues which don’t exist at the expense of disenfranchising a nontrivial number of (largely Democratic, surprise surprise) legitimate voters.

Another thing that really irritates me about the party is that they’re really good at playing the game of politics. That is: they win less on the merits of their proposals than obfuscating, sneaking, and spinning; complaining about perceived (i.e., not real) mistreatment by the press; and tricks like gerrymandering Congressional districts. Polling shows pretty clearly that when folks really understand Republican proposals, they’re very unpopular. Republicans know this, and they’ve been highly effective at finding “alternate” ways to sell their proposals.

I realize that at the local level, party affiliation often means less. However, I find the behavior of the national party to be so offensive that simple party association is a dealbreaker. (I could be persuaded otherwise if a local Republican candidate made a point of profusely and frequently apologizing for his or her party, but nobody seems to be doing that.)

In other words: The Republican Party is really quite extreme. Yet, they’ve convinced about half the country that they’re not. Which is kind of scary.

So, the only real alternative is the Democrats; supporting third parties almost always leads to poorer results (I’m looking at you, Ralph Nader). I generally support the Democratic point of view, even though they frequently annoy me with their disorganization and continual ineptitude at playing the political game.

Anyway, the point being that many of the partisan races have pretty simple reasoning because there are only Republican and non-Republican alternatives.

County races

County Clerk — Nathan Hjelm

I especially don’t trust Republicans on election issues. So, it’s Mr. Hjelm (who I actually went to high school with), despite his weird ideas about how to respond to the LWV questions. E.g., from the voter’s guide: “it’s essential that any system involved in tallying votes should never be connected to an insecure network”. Which is true. But there are ways to express that other than nerdspeak, and there are higher-level principles which would be better to lead with.

I think he would do a good job, address important issues that Ms. Stover would not think of, and be too nerdy about it.

County Council — Sheehey, Redondo, Henderson

I’ll vote for the three Democrats, but I’m not terribly impressed by the options.

Pete Sheehey I don’t know much about, though his LWV answers seem fine (e.g. he named transferring the Valles Caldera to Bandelier, which is IMO an important move).

Michael Redondo is also a nice guy — I’ve met him — and I’m sure he’d make a fine councilor. He is also young (my age, roughly), which I think would be a major asset on the council. My beef is that he is not accepting any campaign contributions at all. Now, I certainly think money is a big problem in politics. But this is excessive. I would much rather he get elected and apply his principles on the council than make a statement during the campaign.

Kristin Henderson is a major booster of the Trinity Site redevelopment, which I’m highly skeptical of. My key concern is the monopoly aspect of it — Smith’s will control a huge chunk of downtown real estate. We had a conversation on this blog about it, which went something like this. Me: “there are a lot of monopoly issues here, and I worry about them”. Her: “don’t worry, we worked hard, everything is taken care of”. “what about issue X?” “Smith’s assures us they won’t do that”. “Fine, put it in the contract”. (Silence.)

The Republicans are Republicans. Vincent Chiravelle, who currently serves, bothers me in particular. He is very frequently at the losing end of 6-1 votes, often on fiscal issues. Basically, he strikes me as excessively ideological and unwilling to invest the necessary resources in our town’s future.

State races

New Mexico House, 43rd District — Stephanie Garcia Richard

I’ve met Stephanie and was impressed enough to give money to her campaign and put a sign in my yard. She’s a young, ambitious, and passionate woman who really cares about Los Alamos.

Court of appeals — Monica Zamora

N.M. Supreme Court — Barbara Vigil

National races

U.S. House, 3rd District — Ben Ray Lujan

Mr. Lujan seems like a decent guy and is a reliable Democratic vote. Republican opponent Byrd is a climate change denier who then tries to tell us what science is. Enough said.

U.S. Senate — Martin Heinrich

Mr. Heinrich is actually a scientist, which we need way more of in Congress. He is interested in sustainability and ending tax breaks that favor the rich at the expense of everyone else. Wilson hits all the standard Republican talking points including climate change denial.

President — Barack Obama

President Obama is a good man who’s accomplished a great deal despite uniform opposition by a Republican Congress. He’s thoughtful and works hard to make the right decision in complex situations. He’s interested in getting things done, not politics.

Mitt Romney is a chameleon who will say whatever his audience wants to hear. His proposals are either unworkable, too vague to score, or extremely conservative, and it’s clear that if elected, he will be beholden to an increasingly extreme, non-reality-based party. I’m very worried that he’s fooled enough of the people enough of the time to get elected.

In particular, I worry about the canyon country that I love. The state of Utah is suing the federal government for motorized access to thousands of miles of “highways”, most of which are nothing but washes and paths in pristine wilderness. Also, the state of Utah has demanded that millions of acres of federal land be transferred to the state — and it’s abundantly obvious that Utah has zero interest in preserving them, but lots of interest in extractive industry and motorized recreation. Romney has stated that he “doesn’t know the purpose” of Western federal land. So, I think it’s a significant risk that he would fail to oppose or actively support these destructive efforts.