Who is the least bad of the US presidential candidates?

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As the race narrows it becomes more a question of who people dislike the most. I think this is a side-effect of the US having an institutionally-enforced 2-party system because all major candidates tend towards the middle. Candidates in the middle will not offer real change, they need to be saying the least offensive things to the largest number of people.

A few thoughts:

  • I’m glad to see Rudy go (or, almost go). While he may have been the closest to the left on social issues he definitely was trying to take advantage of 9/11, which didn’t sit well with a lot of people, including myself.
  • On the Republican side, assuming there’s no chance Ron Paul can win, I still don’t have an overwhelming negative opinion of McCain, not that I’d vote for him though. His stance on the Iraq war doesn’t bother me much. I’ve always had the opinion that since the US “broke” Iraq they have to make every effort to fix it. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean a large military presence for a long time, but it probably does in the short term. His hints about wanting to attack Iran are obviously not good but I’m not sure how much credibility to put in those. Overall he seems like a relatively honest, straightforward guy, which is immediately better than 99% of other politicians.
  • Of the Democrats I hope Obama gets the nomination. While Hillary would be 100x better than Bush, I still don’t really like her. Every single thing she does comes off as politically calculating. Perhaps it was with Bill as well, but he had so much charisma that it didn’t come across that way. Plus, she’s the ‘status-quo’ candidate. Obama talks about change, and while he may not get there in reality, there’s a better chance than Hillary.

FEMA’s Greatest Hits

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In the wake of the recent news that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the US government agency responsible for handling large scale emergencies, was strong-arming other agencies into hushing up the fact that their temporary housing for Katrina victims were contaminated with formaldehyde, going so far as to forbid the CDC from using words like ‘cancer’ in their report. Some of you may not know much about FEMA, so I’ve compiled a brief timeline of the agency.

  • 1979: FEMA is founded as an independent agency reporting directly to the President.
  • 2002: Reacting quickly to 9/11, Bush combines the FBI, CIA, NSA and FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security to allow the agencies to share information and react quickly to domestic terrorism.
  • 2003-04: FEMA responds to a string of major hurricanes in Florida by setting up booths where they distributed checks to anyone who claimed to be affected. Later analysis showed most of the checks were handed out in areas hundreds of miles from where the hurricanes hit. Miami received the majority of FEMA’s cash, despite being unaffected.
  • 2005, 3 days before Katrina makes landfall in New Orleans: Everyone with a TV watches as Hurricane Katrina approaches. Experts warn that the levees can not withstand a category 5 hurricane and if they break the city will be flooded.
  • 2 days before: Residents are urged to flee the city. FEMA, believing that everyone will evacuate New Orleans in time, does nothing to prepare.
  • 1 day after Hurricane Katrina floods the city: Camera crews from every station arrive in the city by boat or helicopter. People are living in filth in the Superdome, without food or running water. Violence breaks out.
  • 3 days after: FEMA head Michael Brown is interviewed by CNN. When asked what FEMA intends to do about the situation in the Superdome, he admits he didn’t know about the Superdome refugees until the reporter asked him. Bush addresses the nation: “no one could have foreseen that the levees would break.”
  • 5 days after: National Guard arrives at the Superdome. The Mayor and Governor complain that FEMA’s red tape is making it impossible to get any money or assistance in a timely manor. Bush assures the nation that New Orleans will be rebuilt, praises Michael Brown for doing a heckuvajob.
  • 10 days after: FEMA leaps into action, purchasing 10,000 mobile home trailers to temporarily house families left homeless by Katrina. Unfortunately, the trailers are delivered to the wrong state, one not even hit by Katrina, where they are left to rot in an open field for six months after which inspectors rule them unusable due to mold and rot.
  • 12 days after: Michael Brown is sent back to Washington and resigns a few days later. He later writes a book and tours the country blaming Bush, Homeland Security Director Chertoff, the media, the public and everyone who didn’t evacuate. Still claims he did a heckuvajob.
  • 6 months later: After months of waiting in line or on hold to apply for FEMA assistance, those who navigated the sea of red tape successfully finally recieved their FEMA checks. Strip clubs in Texas report record profit as displaced Louisianans celebrate the arrival.
  • 2006: Clean up in New Orleans continues. FEMA now houses almost 150,000 families. FEMA announces that it has been more than enough time for them to rebuild their homes and begins evicting families from their trailers.
  • 2007: FEMA, knowing that the trailers where 40,000 families stilled lived were unsafe, forces the Centers for Disease Control to suppress a report that living in a trailer filled with poisonous formaldehyde fumes for months could result in illness, even cancer. Centers for Statement of the Obvious refused to comment.
  • 2008: Families living in those trailers find out about the formaldehyde from this blog, are angry but not at all surprised.

Ontario is trying to lift the clothesline bans

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How a ban on clotheslines ever made it into law in Ontario is beyond me. It smells of the absolute worst of the over-consumption era. But, thankfully, Ontario is about to lift the ban: Ontario to end clothesline bans this year.

“Outdoor clotheslines are currently banned under some municipal bylaws and contracts with home builders. But Phillips said Ontario is looking at allowing clotheslines for anyone who lives in a freehold detached, semi-detached or row house.

Clothes dryers use about 900 kilowatt hours of electricity a year on average, or about six per cent of residential electricity consumption. By hanging one-quarter of their laundry loads out to dry, Phillips said consumers could save about $30 a year on their electricity bills while helping to reduce greenhouse gases.

The Liberals passed an energy conservation leadership law shortly after their election in 2003 that included a clause, which allows the province to abolish local bans on clotheslines imposed by developers through sale agreements and residential associations. But the Liberals have never taken advantage of the clause, so it remains against the law in some communities to hang clothes out to dry.”

I don’t think most serious advocates ever really feared these bans, at least for the last several years. I’ve even heard of some people fighting a ban and winning, so they were definitely on the way out. But, this final step is absolutely required and very important.

Reducing household energy use

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I started a new sustainability challenge over at YouSustain: Reduce household electricity use by 5 percent

This challenge may be my favourite one yet. It’s a great motivator to examine the way we all use energy. Once we take a look, the biggest and most wasteful ones become fairly obvious, and it’s easy to come up with ways to reduce them.

In the challenge I tried to give tips on some of the easiest and biggest ones. Please send me any suggestions for other good ways to reduce.

After this challenge gets started I plan to create another for reducing by 10%, and then …

When not to leave your fortune to your kids

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A look at the (possibly) growing trend of rich people not leaving a massive fortune to their kids: Family fortunes

The most recent example I had heard of was Paris Hiltons grandfather deciding to not leave anything to her. Personally, I don’t like the idea of leaving millions, or billions, to the younger generation. More often than not those people become the spoiled brats who provide nothing of value to society. I don’t think this is something that should be enforced but I think it would be ideal if most millionaires did.

On the other hand, and somewhat related, I am in favour of large inheritance taxes for very large estates. I’d set the definition of “large” at over 5 or 10 million, whatever ensures we eliminate the case where the inheritance of a family farm costs the child a lot of money. I don’t believe for a second the typical Republican position that high inheritance taxes are a disincentive to building wealth. In every country of the world people want to be rich – it’s universal.

When ad targeting fails

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I recently brought up the Rapture Index in a conversation as a joke and I thought I’d go check out their site again to see the state of things. Sure enough, it sounds like we’re still on the brink.

But, I noticed the Google ads showing up on the left of the screen were a little odd and funny. Click on the thumbnail below to see the full size.

Funny Ads on the Rapture Index

Doesn’t it seem odd to show ads for fighting Climate Change and encouraging Sustainability on a site predicting the world is about to end? Why would you care about climate change at all if you’re so confident the world is about to be destroyed?

Maybe Google figures people ultimately want to hedge their bets :)

The rise of sub-nationalism


Some interesting thoughts on why the world is seeing many cases of increased sub-nationalism (parts of a nation wanting to secede or at a minimum more autonomy): What People Will Die For.

He brings up the point that with increased communication today smaller communities can gel together more easily. Also, in a globalized world it’s more feasible for small countries to function.

There are 2 current examples in Europe: Scotland electing a separatist government and Kosovo pushing to secede from Serbia. Other examples would be Quebec, parts of Pakistan wanting more autonomy, a possible split of Iraq, etc.

These arguments work only to a point. Small countries can still function, but larger, more powerful, countries have more prestige and sway in the world so something else is being lost. Looking at Canada as an example, if Quebec separated neither would retain it’s current level of power or prestige.