Friday, January 30, 2009

Will the Stimulus Package Work?

How effective will the stimulus package be? There are three basic questions to keep in mind in looking at H.R. 1, which passed the House earlier this week:
How quickly will the money hit the street? The sooner the money starts circulating, the better.
What assets will be created by the bill? If we’re going to take on billions in debt, it would be nice to have some assets to show for it.
And how permanent are the programs? When the economy gets going again, we will need to reduce the federal deficit.
Some programs in the bill will hit the street faster. In a presentation to Congress last November, economist Mark Zandi defined the
"bang for the buck" as the "one year $ change in GDP for a given $ reduction in federal tax revenue or increase in spending."
According to Zandi, chief economist at Moody's and a former adviser to John McCain, social programs like food stamps and unemployment benefits provide the biggest bang for the buck in terms of economic effect in one year. Those collecting unemployment benefits or food stamps usually spend it all by the end of the month.
Infrastructure spending is also effective at pumping money into the economy quickly, with the advantage of creating useful assets. Improved roads, bridges and rail systems provide long term economic benefits by helping speed goods to markets and workers to jobs. Implementing smart grid technology will make renewable energy sources more economical for end users.

By the way, Zandi calculates that permanent tax cuts (which create large permanent impacts on budget deficits) provide the least bang for the buck.
Finally, the stimulus package should be temporary. When the economy starts to recover, public spending will need to come down so as to not choke off private sector investment. The tax cuts are designed to be temporary as well.
The CBO cost estimate released on Monday is a little out of date, since a a couple of programs were taken out and mass transit funding was increased. But it still provides a useful guide to the budget impact over the next several years:
The net impact on the deficit peaks in fiscal year 2010, and declines sharply thereafter. The package pumps a lot of money into the economy in the next several years, but doesn't create a long range fiscal burden.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

TommyWonk, Purple States and the Washington Post

A friend noticed that I was included in this video compiled by Purple States TV posted on the Washington Post's website. You can find it here under the heading, "Purple States: Advice to Obama."
The full video of me talking about Delaware's economy can be found at Purple States, along with similar videos from bloggers in all fifty states. The footage, which was shot by LiberalGeek of Delaware Liberal, dates back to late October. Delaware's economy has gotten considerably worse since then, with the permanent closing of the Chrysler plant and the meltdown of the financial services sector. No other state has been as severely affected by the loss of financial service jobs as has Delaware.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

GOP Talking Points on Economic Stimulus

The House Republican Caucus released a series of talking points on the stimulus package, which Dave Burris dutifully posted over at Delaware Politics. The document is not convincing. It includes this priceless piece of sophistry:
Deficit spending will not expand the economy. If that were true, then the current $1.2 trillion deficit — the largest in history — would already be rescuing the economy. $800 billion more will not change that.
Left out of that argument is the question of how we got to the largest deficit in history. Hundreds of billions spent on a six year war in a foreign country have not provided much economic benefit here at home. The Republicans in Congress might want to think twice before starting out the new term by referring to the past eight years.
Here's another underwhelming argument:
Trade groups state that every $1 billion in highway “stimulus” can be spent creating 34,779 new construction jobs. But Congress must first borrow that $1 billion out of the private sector. The private sector then loses or forgoes roughly the same number of jobs.
What the GOP caucus may have failed to notice is that the private sector is not creating jobs just now. We are losing half a million jobs every month. The stimulus package is needed precisely because the private sector is in such deep trouble.
The talking points also compare the multi-year cost of new jobs created with one year's wages—a cheap trick that Paul Krugman rightly slammed in his column on Sunday.
There are three objectives to keep in mind in reviewing the stimulus package: how fast the money hits the street, what assets are created by the spending, and whether other public policy objectives are supported by the bill. I'll be taking a closer look at these shortly. In the meanwhile, you might want to look over the Congressional Budget Office report on the bill; it's a good deal more enlightening that the GOP talking points.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Even Republicans Like Obama

It seems that the Republicans in Congress are doubling down on a losing hand. Gallup's first poll of the new president found that 68 percent approve of his performance, while only 12 percent disapprove. It's the highest favorable rating for a newly elected president since John Kennedy in 1961. According to Gallup, Obama even polls well among Republicans: 43 percent of whom approve of Obama, while only 30 percent disapprove.
With such strong numbers, one has to show some grudging admiration to congressional Republicans who are preparing to vote against Obama's fiscal stimulus plan. Give them style points for
playing the bipartisan card:
Republicans plan to test President Barack Obama’s commitment to bipartisanship as his $825 billion stimulus package heads to the floor of the House of Representatives this week, with the House Republican leader saying Sunday morning that many in his party will vote no unless there are significant changes to the plan.
In the meanwhile, Paul Krugman offers some useful rebuttal to some of the GOP's cheap shots on the stimulus plan.
But Obama himself offered the most succinct appraisal of the political situation in a meeting with congressional leaders last week,
saying "I won." Despite the new president's advice not to listen to Rush Limbaugh, the GOP seems determined to start the year by playing to the 12 percent. It's not much of a base, but its a start.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Citizens for Clean Power's Annual Meeting

Citizens for Clean Power will be gathering for its annual meeting tomorrow, Saturday, January 24 at 1:00 p.m. at St. Peter’s Parish Hall at Front & Mulberry Streets in Lewes.
CCP has been at the forefront of efforts to rein in emissions from NRG's Indian River power plant and promote clean energy. No group did more to bring offshore wind power to Delaware. I'm honored to have worked with these folks.
The meeting will cover hot topics for 2009, including the menacing pile of coal ash at the Indian River power plant, preventing further degradation of the inland bays, monitoring air emissions and Delaware's cancer clusters.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The DelawareLiberal Inaugural Ball

It has been a long week of citizenship, including the inaugurations and a variety of opportunities for service. Instead of hosting an inaugural ball, Jack Markell is sponsoring a week of service. You can find out how you can take part this weekend at
And when you've put in a solid day's worth of good deeds, you can come party with some really cool people. DelawareLiberal, Progressive Democrats and Drinking Liberally are hosting a party Saturday night the 24th. I understand that tickets for this classy event are still available, with the proceeds going to Autism Delaware.
So come out and celebrate with all of your favorite progressive liberal types. Tell 'em TommyWonk sent you.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's Inaugural Address

With the economy sliding deeper into recession and U.S. troops in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan, two million citizens waited in the cold to hear encouraging from their new president.
When you're rightly known as the best orator of your generation, expectations run high. Obama wasn't afraid to evoke memories of the greatest inaugural addresses, though he was smart enough to not try to compete.
In his address, Obama recalled Franklin Roosevelt's first inaugural when he spoke of our economic distress:
Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished.
FDR made the same point in 1933:
Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it.
Obama further evoked FDR's pragmatic approach to governing:
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.
Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.
Conservatives revile Roosevelt as the father of big government, though he usually placed results above ideology. Obama, impatient with the big government/small government argument of the last seventy years, is thinking in terms of what will get the economy back in gear, mindful that the enormous stimulus, and the resulting trillion dollar deficit, will necessitate budget tightening down the road.
He also wasn't afraid to invoke Abraham Lincoln's "better angels of our nature" (from his second inaugural) when he declared:
The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history…
While Obama used the perseverance of the American people through past crises, he also sought to put past divisions and arguments behind us:
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.
Even though he called America a young country, Obama was mindful of our history in telling us we are up to the challenges ahead:
Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
President Obama did add a phrase that sounds like it comes right out of Joe Biden's old neighborhood:
Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
He evoked John Kennedy in a few sentences delivered to banish any thoughts that Democrats are the party of the blame America first crowd:
We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense.
And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
In closing, Obama reminded us of another cold winter in our history, when General George Washington, hunkered down with his troops in Valley Forge, chose to attack rather than wait out the storm:
America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words; with hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come; let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Jack Markell and Matt Denn Take Office

We slipped into two of the last seats in Mitchell Hall a few minutes before midnight. I found myself in the very last row in the balcony with Brian Selander and Andrew Roos. Brian starts this morning as a member of Jack Markell's staff. His first task this morning: find a desk.
Andrew drove up from Virginia, where he is running Brian Moran's campaign for governor. Moran is the underdog candidate against the preternaturally annoying Terry McAuliffe.
Andrew and Brian sat in the back trading wisecracks, at least until the ceremony started.
Matt Denn was the first to take the oath of office. In his brief remarks, he promised to leave the "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" routine for Wednesday. Matt started by mentioning his family, including his twin boys, Adam and Zach, and went on to speak of his desire to make life easier for all children in Delaware.
Jack Markell spoke of his roots in the Newark area, saying he used to tag along with his father, who taught at the University of Delaware. He mentioned the hour, and the state's dire circumstances, saying that midnight is the darkest hour. I don't think he is underestimating the fiscal and economic problems we face.
Afterwards, we found ourselves chatting with Markell's staff. At one point, mindful of his new station, Brian offered a non-committal response when I raised a point about energy policy. Brian is a fast learner.
I spoke with my state representative, Gerald Brady, in the lobby, who told me he had met with a national labor executive who was familiar with him, and me, because of this blog. And for the first time in my experience, Gerald used the name of this blog as a verb: "I've been TommyWonked," he told me.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Joe Biden and the Arc of the Moral Universe

Last week, Joe Biden said farewell to the United States Senate, 36 years after he became its youngest member. It was an unusually personal speech, even for a man who wears his heart on his sleeve.
Biden recounted how the civil rights movement prompted him to seek elected office, and evoked the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who declared on the steps of the state capitol in Birmingham, Alabama, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Biden told the story of an enormous desk that John Stennis of Mississippi called “the flagship of the Confederacy,” where the leading segregationists met to plot the demise of the civil rights movement:
I came here to fight for civil rights. In my office now sits that grand conference table that once was used to fight against civil rights, and I leave here today to begin my service to our nation's first African-American president.
The enduring surprise of Biden’s long Senate career is that he would become the friend, and not just the colleague, of the enemies of civil rights:
I never thought I'd develop deep personal relationships with men whose position played an extremely large part in my desire to come to the Senate in the first place to change what they believed in -- Eastland, Stennis, Thurmond. All these men became my friends.
Indeed, Biden was asked to deliver the eulogy for Strom Thurmond, and was greeted by puzzlement and even criticism for the gesture.
Biden used his experience with his older colleagues to give witness to the truth that even the most determined foes of racial justice did eventually give way in the face of righteous change:
The arc of the universe is long, but it does indeed bend toward justice.
And the United States Senate has been an incredible instrument in ensuring that justice.
In that one phrase, we can catch a glimpse of a deeper connection between our new president and his vice president. Biden showed us an almost mystical belief in the power of justice to transform powerful men. And he spoke of the Senate itself, and the friendships forged there, as instruments of that change.
Here we see the connection with Obama, who has puzzled, and even infuriated, supporters by choosing a conservative pastor, Rick Warren, to deliver an invocation at his inauguration.
Perhaps Obama imagines that eventually he can change Warren’s mind. Talk about audacity.
As for the famous phrase itself, a correspondent wrote to tell me that it originated with the 19th century Unitarian minister and abolitionist, Theodore Parker:
I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one… And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Delaware Environmental Summit in Dover

Most of Delaware's environmental advocacy organizations were represented yesterday at the environmental summit in Dover.
The Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club, Delaware Audubon, the Delaware Nature Society, Citizens for Clean Power, the Christina Conservancy, Inc., the League of Women Voters, Greenwatch Institute, the Delaware Environmental Network, the Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper, Surfrider Foundation, Center for the Inland Bays, Climate Prosperity Strategies, Global Urban Development, the Widener Environmental Law Center and more came together, along with a number of interested businesses, to discuss policy priorities for the coming year and explore ways to work together.

The idea for this gathering grew out of the alliance forged in the effort to bring offshore wind power to Delaware. On December 18, 2007, the Public Service Commission and other regulatory agencies were effectively blocked from approving the power purchase agreement. After a few short minutes, wind power advocates emptied into the hall, wondering what to do next.
After meeting in a lounge on the Wesley College campus, we secured a classroom upstairs where we discussed what to do next. We listened as everyone offered suggestions as to how to proceed.
The strategy for winning legislative approval for wind power was hatched in that room. We put every idea up on the board. The ideas we implemented from that session led us to eventual success. Within a month, 29 legislators signed on to a resolution to approve the project, and within six months the General Assembly unanimously passed a bill to make Delaware the first state to approve offshore wind power in the U.S.
We hope to duplicate that success and use the ideas raised to help build closer working relationships among Delaware's environmental activists. We plan to issue a report from the summit in two weeks.
Photo: Lore Ritscher

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Week Ahead

We've got a big week ahead of us, with plenty of opportunity to reflect on, celebrate and exercise our citizenship by attending inauguration ceremonies, performing public service, and even having some fun.
Barack Obama and Jack Markell are both promoting service as part of the week's celebration of citizenship. Much of the week's activities involves direct service, like DelawareLiberal's stint of service at the Food Bank on Saturday the 24th.
The environmental summit I'm working on
is listed on as part of the run up to the National Day of Service on Monday. Obama was a community organizer, and organizing is what the environmental summit is all about.
Of course citizenship also involves celebrating together, and since Jack Markell isn't hosting a ball, our friends at DelawareLiberal, Progressive Democrats and Drinking Liberally have stepped into the breach by hosting their own ball on the 24th.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

TommyWonk on WDEL with Allan Loudell

With the first-ever Delaware Environmental Summit coming up on Saturday, I've been doing more organizing than blogging. But I always can find time to chat with Allan Loudell.
I'll be talking about the summit, the new legislative session and more with Allan on WDEL, 1150 AM, today at 4:35.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Renewable Energy and Economic Stimulus

I have previously reported that renewable energy has been compared to the computer industry in the early 1980s. It is an inexact comparison.
At the time it wasn't clear that every household would eventually want or need a computer. As it turned out, businesses grew to fill the opportunity presented by the presence of growing computer power on every desk and every student's backpack. As for the Internet, in the early 1980s it linked a few government funded computer labs. But because of the inability to predict the growth of a new industry, it was hard to estimate its size within an order of magnitude.
Predicting the future size of the energy industry is a different matter. It is, in terms of scale, a mature business. We know the average energy use per household within a decimal place. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) puts out a survey that tells us the residential use per household, per resident and per square foot. The EIA does the same for commercial, manufacturing and transportation.
The predictability of demand is one reason why making renewable energy a component of the stimulus strategy makes sense. We know we're going to need energy, just as we know we're going to need roads, rail lines and potable water.
Another reason for inclusion in a stimulus strategy is that renewable energy is a growth industry. There is little reason to invest in declining businesses, as Bush and Cheney sought to do with fossil fuels. Consider the tax credit for renewable energy, which was given a one year extension last fall. The wind power industry is projected to grow 50 percent a year, if it can find the capital. Capital expenses make up most of the cost of renewable energy projects, which is why 100 megawatts of wind power cost more up front than 100 megawatts of a natural gas power plant. The difference is that you don't need to buy fuel for a wind power project, which makes it a valuable asset. If we're going into debt to stimulate the economy, it sure makes sense to have some productive assets to show for it. I should add that most of the work for building energy projects can't be outsourced, even if some components like wind turbine are imported.
Further, renewable energy facilities can be built for less than even a year ago. Commodity prices have dropped dramatically since last summer, which means that energy projects can be built more cheaply.
So the cost to build is lower than a year ago, but the long term demand is there. The industry is growing 50 percent a year, if it can finding the financing. It will put people to work here in the U.S. It sure looks like a sound investment to me.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Babcock & Brown Could Be Broken Up

The fate of Babcock & Brown (BNB on the Australian Stock Exchange) is in the hands of its creditors. Trading in BNB's shares has been halted as management talks with the firm's 25 banks about restructuring. Trading in the shares of BNB's separately listed subsidiaries continues. Babcock & Brown Infrastructure (BBI), which owns Bluewater Wind, closed at 13 cents (Australian), a bit higher than in December. Babcock & Brown Wind (BBW) is doing better, trading at 90 cents.
Earlier this week, BNB management announced that
the value of its assets had dropped sharply, and the firm’s balance sheet was now underwater.
MELBOURNE, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Australian investment firm Babcock and Brown Ltd (BNB.AX), which is in talks to refinance short-term debt, confirmed on Wednesday that its assets as of the end of last year were worth much less than its debt and equity.
Net assets would be negative because it was writing down the value of assets it had put up for sale.
Valuation of a distressed company is more art than science. The ratios and rules of thumb used to estimate the value of a firm become meaningless. The question of the value of BNB assets will be determined by the prices they can fetch in weak financial markets, by the willingness of its creditors to see their debt converted into equity, and by the difficult task of unwinding the complex network of BNB’s connections to its dozen subsidiaries.
The negative valuation may be a negotiating tactic to try to convince creditors that their best option will be to trade their nearly worthless loans for diluted shares that have slid from $33.84 to 13 cents in a year and a half.
At least the firm’s top managers still have jobs. Bloomberg News reports that
lenders favor keeping BNB’s management on the job for the purpose of unloading the company’s assets.
BNB did not collapse because its assets are no longer productive, though some like ports and aircraft leases have seen their revenues drop. (Its energy assets are still pumping out as much electricity as before the firm’s stock plunged.) The firm collapsed because of its over-leveraged business model. BNB is structured like a leveraged buyout, only without the buyout. The firm’s structure worked when capital was cheap and plentiful, but collapsed when the era of easy money came to an end.
It’s clear that BNB’s once formidable empire will be broken up, which means that Bluewater Wind may well have a new parent company sometime this year. The original plan was for BBI to own Bluewater during the construction of the offshore wind power project, which would be handed over to BBW after the wind farm became operational.
As I have said before, Babcock & Brown is in trouble because of its business model, and
not because of any trouble with the wind power project here in Delaware. The power purchase agreement with its guaranteed revenue stream is itself an asset, and will still be attractive to investors once it is separated from the BNB mess.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Delaware Environmental Summit

Here's something I've been working on:
Delaware Environmental Summit
You are invited to a gathering of Delaware's environmental advocates
Sponsored by the Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club

Saturday, January 17, 2008
8:30 a.m. to 12 noon
Wilmington University
Dover, Delaware

We are inviting leaders and activists from environmental organizations across the state to join us for a session to discuss the most important environmental issues coming up in 2009.
We are planning a format in which each organization will be given a chance to discuss their priorities for the coming year, either in a general session or in break-out groups organized around topic areas. We ask that attendees share their priorities in writing before the meeting, which will be compiled and distributed by e-mail to all participants just prior to the meeting.
From there we hope to develop and strengthen alliances on issues of common concern so that we can get a quick start as the new governor and legislature take office later this month. We will distribute notes from the Summit to all participants.
We are asking organizations to contribute $25 and unaffiliated individuals $5 to defray the cost of the Summit. The Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club is covering most of the expenses. Please bring your check or cash with you to the registration table at the Summit.
For questions, please contact Tom Noyes at politics[at]

8:30 Registration
9:00 Opening Session
Program and process
9:30 Breakout Session 1
Topics: Energy, Water quality, Air quality, Land use, Solid waste & recycling, Nature & wildlife, Health, Climate change, Emerging issues
10:20 Breakout Session 2
Topics: Energy, Water quality, Air quality, Land use, Solid waste & recycling, Nature & wildlife, Health, Climate change, Emerging issues
11:10 Closing Session
Reports from breakout sessions
Next Steps
Directions to Wilmington University in Dover:
The Dover campus is located on Route 13 North (at Scarborough Road), at the intersection of Exit 104 from Delaware Route 1, just north of the Dover Mall and Dover Downs.
All registrations are due by 5:00 pm January 9th
Please copy and paste the following into a new email message and email to politics[at]

Affiliation or organization:
City: State: Zip:
Issues of interest: Please rank from 1 (most important issue to you and your
group) to 9 (less important)

___Water quality
___Air quality
___Land use
___Health and the environment
___Solid waste & recycling
___Nature & wildlife protection
___Climate change
___Other (please describe)

Organizations are asked to offer a brief (two pages only please!) summary of their policy objectives for the year. Please send it to politics[at]
by January 9, 2009.
Please bring a mug with you, as coffee and tea will be available.

This is being planned as an organizing session. If you are interested in advocating for environmental change in Delaware, we want you there. If you aren't affiliated with any environmental organizations, please consider joining one and helping make Delaware a better place to live.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

TommyWonk on Delaware Talk Radio

My friend John Flaherty has invited me on the air today at 12:30 on Delaware Talk Radio. I will be discussing the upcoming Delaware Environmental Summit on January 17. Delaware's leading environmental advocates will gather to discuss their issue priorities for the coming year. I will have more information on this event soon. If you think you would like to take part, you can e-mail me at tomnoyes[at]gmail[dot]com.
Delaware Talk Radio, which features a number of well-known bloggers like Mike Matthews, Dave Burris and Maria Evans, is broadcast over the internet. With low overhead, the venture is running in the black after just a few months of operations.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Weaning Food from Fossil Fuels

When it comes to agriculture policy, there are a few voices I pay attention to. Michael Pollan is one. Poet Wendell Berry is another. He and plant geneticist Wes Jackson describe the unsustainable trajectory of modern farming in today's New York Times:
Agriculture has too often involved an insupportable abuse and waste of soil, ever since the first farmers took away the soil-saving cover and roots of perennial plants. Civilizations have destroyed themselves by destroying their farmland. This irremediable loss, never enough noticed, has been made worse by the huge monocultures and continuous soil-exposure of the agriculture we now practice.
To the problem of soil loss, the industrialization of agriculture has added pollution by toxic chemicals, now universally present in our farmlands and streams. Some of this toxicity is associated with the widely acclaimed method of minimum tillage. We should not poison our soils to save them.
Industrial agricultural has made our food supply entirely dependent on fossil fuels and, by substituting technological “solutions” for human work and care, has virtually destroyed the cultures of husbandry (imperfect as they may have been) once indigenous to family farms and farming neighborhoods.
Pollan's open letter to the next president, written in October, is sobering:
After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent. And while the experts disagree about the exact amount, the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than anything else we do — as much as 37 percent, according to one study.
Unsustainable means we can't keep it up indefinitely. Something's got to give.
This, in brief, is the bad news: the food and agriculture policies you’ve inherited — designed to maximize production at all costs and relying on cheap energy to do so — are in shambles, and the need to address the problems they have caused is acute. The good news is that the twinned crises in food and energy are creating a political environment in which real reform of the food system may actually be possible for the first time in a
Pollan's prescription:
There are many moving parts to the new food agenda I’m urging you to adopt, but the core idea could not be simpler: we need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine. True, this is easier said than done — fossil fuel is deeply implicated in everything about the way we currently grow food and feed ourselves. To put the food system back on sunlight will require policies to change how things work at every link in the food chain: in the farm field, in the way food is processed and sold and even in the American kitchen and at the American dinner table. Yet the sun still shines down on our land every day, and photosynthesis can still work its wonders wherever it does. If any part of the modern economy can be freed from its dependence on oil and successfully resolarized, surely it is food.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

TommyWonk on the Great Green Home Show

I'll be on the air on the Great Green Home Show with hosts Paul Hughes and Doug Hunt have this Sunday morning at 11:00 on WILM, 1450 AM on your dial. We take a look back at the last year, including wind power in Delaware, and look ahead at environmental issues coming up in 2009, including the economic value of investing in green infrastructure.
If you miss the show Sunday morning, you can catch it online.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Year in Review: Politics

If 2008 didn't leave you exhausted, you either weren't paying attention or you suffer from neuro-chemical imbalance (which may help explain Rob Blagojevich). 2008 seemed like a long political year, perhaps because it started in earnest in early 2007. I first took note of Barack Obama's potential in February, 2007—eleven months before voting began—when he attracted 15,000 supporters to a rally in Austin, Texas.
Jack Markell followed a similar path to the governor's office. As the challenger to the party favorite, he too built up a parallel organization. Back in 2007, when others were talking up a deal for him to back out of challenging John Carney, I took note of a simple but overlooked fact:
Jack Markell had never closed his 2006 campaign office.
Last February, I told Beth Miller of the News Journal
we were in for a terrific election season:
"It's sort of like having a front-row seat to the Super Bowl, the Tour de France at Alpe D'Huez, and Tiger Woods winning the Masters."
This was after Michelle and Barack Obama had visited Wilmington in the course of a week. Michelle Obama showed herself to be a speaker of considerable power and skill. Her husband attracted the biggest crowd anyone had ever seen to Rodney Square.
I refused to believe that a primary would harm the Democratic nominees for governor and president, as many predicted. The belief that disunity would doom the presidential nominee was strangely persistent. During the Democratic National Convention, Allan Loudell of WDEL repeatedly asked about reports that the Clintons were somehow less than enthusiastic about Obama. All I could do was to report what I saw: Bill and Hillary Clinton standing before the crowd and the country saying vote for this guy, while the PUMA (Party Unity My Ass) crowd was relegated to demonstrations of a dozen or so non-delegates on a Denver street corner. I never talked to a delegate who was less than enthusiastic about Obama.
Never did I have a better seat for a political contest than at the convention. Joe Biden’s selection as Obama’s running mate got the Delaware delegation moved to the front of the hall, giving me a seat on the floor. By Wednesday night, that would mean literally not just figuratively, as I was relegated to sitting on the floor in the aisle,
where I found Moe Rocca sitting next to me.
We all know how the story turned out. Jack Markell narrowly bested John Carney in the primary. Carney showed his class by immediately lining up behind in rival and showing not a shred of remorse.
John McCain pulled ahead of Obama after picking Sarah Palin as his running mate. But the excitement of the culture warriors who cheered her selection was quickly eclipsed by the collapse of the world’s financial system, and with it, John McCain’s campaign. In the end, the election turned on who looked ready to handle the crisis; McCain flailed about while Obama kept his head.
The election season brought with it a new opportunity for me—
that of writing opinion pieces for a real live, big-time news organization, the Guardian. I started writing about politics, but events have led me to write more and more about the economic mess, and how to dig our way out. It should keep us all busy for the coming year.
Photo: Lore Ritscher for TommyWonk