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Community Voices

24 Mar 2013
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Perhaps drilling rigs should be allowed in cities, towns and even into our own metaphorical backyards. It would be good for the environment. Maybe not your personal environment, but more broadly for our environment. Community planners for decades have urged mixed-use development, in which we combine work, play and shopping in closer physical proximity. Lately, we’ve expanded the idea to food. Some people have always supplemented their pantry with backyard gardens, and now we have the concept more formally called “urban agriculture,” a phrase that embraces in-town farms. Growing your own victuals feels good and connects you more directly with the weather and changing climate. Soil fertility becomes something personal, and creepy-crawly things become a delight or demons, depending upon their role in your personal ecosystem. Energy, however, remains an abstraction—and many people would like to keep it that way. Fort Collins, Colo., has banned fracking, which amounts to a…
19 Mar 2013
Years ago, when I was much younger and dumber, I sometimes drove after drinking too much, occasionally even with a beer in hand. A state policeman once stopped me leaving the small town of Joseph, Ore., and asked me to count backward, touch my toes and walk a line. Fortunately, he knew me, so he just suggested gently that I get in the passenger seat and let my wife drive home. There was also the time after a full and fabulous day at the ski run when, sipping that last beer as we headed for home on the back roads, I hit a patch of ice and slipped into the barrow pit. Again, fortunately, the only damage was to my ego, and all my law-breaking and stupid behavior took place at low speeds on quiet roads. Then along came Mothers Against Drunk Driving with its memorable acronym, MADD. Mothers across…
15 Mar 2013
Since 1872, mining interests have made billions of dollars by removing and selling valuable minerals from our public lands without having to pay a cent to the American taxpayer. This is one of the biggest budget loopholes of the modern economy, and it needs to change—especially now—as Congress tries to address the deficit and balance budgets. Blame this bizarre omission of royalties on the 1872 Mining Law, which encouraged Westward expansion by allowing prospectors to stake claims on public lands and freely remove “hardrock” minerals like gold, silver, copper and uranium. This saloon-era handout—established more than 140 years ago—continues unchanged to this day. Mining companies still receive these precious metals and minerals for free. Today, some of the world’s biggest companies make a mint by mining our metals, selling them to the highest bidder, keeping all the profits and often sticking taxpayers with a costly cleanup bill. We’re left with…
10 Mar 2013
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There are still only two important things in politics, as the 19th century’s own Karl Rove, a Republican fundraiser named Mark Hanna, once said: “The first is money, and I can’t remember the second.” For Americans who want to make sure that their government isn’t for sale to the highest bidder, that first item should be transparency. Through its Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, the Supreme Court made it easier than ever for politicians and their surrogates to raise huge donations from special interests. There were 31 donors who gave $1 million or more to Priorities USA Action, the super-PAC that supported President Barack Obama’s campaign. Majority PAC, which backed Senate Democratic campaigns, had a total of five donors in the million-plus range. The Congressional Leadership Fund, which had ties to House Speaker John Boehner, had four donors who gave $1 million or more, including Sheldon and Miriam…
28 Feb 2013
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I remember the first time I ever saw Tierra del Sol’s Desert Safari event. It was March 2008. It was dark, and I was driving through the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park on Highway S22, toward the Salton Sea. Just outside of the state park, one enters an amazing area called the Badlands. From up on high in the hills, one suddenly descends onto the desert floor. And there it was—as though a city had appeared, a sea of lights hugged the badlands and continued south in an area normally blanketed by darkness or lit solely by the moon. It was quite astounding to see this enormous temporary city. This coming weekend (Friday, March 1, through Sunday, March 3) is Tierra del Sol’s 51st annual Desert Safari event. Hosted by the “Four Wheel Drive Club of San Diego,” off-roaders meet each year just east of the Anza-Borrego State Park and at…
26 Feb 2013
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The eastern portion of the Coachella Valley struggles with poverty, bad air and water quality, high unemployment, high levels of asthma, a receding Salton Sea, high levels of arsenic in well water, pesticide-spraying—and the list goes on. It’s a far cry from the bright lights that shine over the golf courses to the west. However, residents are trying to do something about these problems, and an environmental justice movement is growing in the eastern Coachella Valley. As part of that movement, the inaugural Environmental Health Leadership Summit took place at Thermal’s Desert Mirage High School on Saturday, Feb. 23. The summit was organized by Promotores Comunitarios del Desierto and the Comite Civico del Valle, and had more than 30 sponsors. The focus of the summit was to promote health and environmental awareness, leadership, systems change and cultural and linguistic competency. Environmental health was the main topic—specifically air and water quality,…
19 Feb 2013
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My name is Eli Pagunsan, and I’m a 14-year-old aspiring writer. I’m a regular teenage kid. I go to school, and then I have chores to do at home. I love to read about history and current events. With everything that is going on in the world, sometimes I wonder how any of us manage not to have an overload. I started writing about eight months ago, when I created a story titled “Road to Allentown.” I think that after years of being exposed to news about war, somehow, I had to get it out of my system. I did not have anyone I could relate to about topics like that, so I began writing—a combination of pure imagination and facts. As the story evolved, I turned to the Internet for more inspiration. I used forums and met people who inspired me about certain characters. The Internet was an extremely…
12 Feb 2013
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President Obama’s nominee to head the Department of Interior, Sally Jewell, is historic––not for who she is, but for who she is not. She is a mountaineer; an ultra-marathon runner; the CEO of REI, the outdoor-gear giant; and a former bank executive and oil company engineer. She appears to be some kind of archetypal über-woman of the Pacific Northwest, jogging up Mount Rainier on coffee breaks. Jewell’s résumé is as richly complicated as the heady concept of “ecosystem management,” and it sounds like she has plenty of experience in both arenas. Those interested in “ecosystems” will look toward her years with REI and the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association; those leaning toward “management” will note her careers in the petroleum and banking industries. Another Seattleite (former Mayor Richard Ballinger) has been interior secretary before (albeit 100 years ago), and so has a woman, Gale Norton. But what sets Jewell apart…
09 Feb 2013
Amid all the talk, legislative proposals and presidential decrees inspired by the recent shootings in Connecticut and Colorado, perhaps the most significant was the announcement in early January that former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was starting a gun-control lobbying organization. Americans for Responsible Solutions seeks to raise $20 million by the next election cycle—about the same amount the National Rifle Association spent to influence the 2012 vote. More important, symbolically, is the fact that this ambitious effort was launched in the West, where guns are part of the culture. Giffords has long been a gun owner and gun-rights advocate. As a congresswoman, she was part of a cadre of Western Democrats—along with Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, Montana Sen. Jon Tester and others—who stayed in the NRA's relatively good graces because they supported firearms' traditional role. But then Giffords, along with 18 others, was shot down in a Tucson parking lot…
28 Jan 2013
Across maps of the arid West, expensive water pipelines are being plotted to meet the region's profound need for water. Among those under serious consideration are a 263-mile pipeline to bring water from eastern Nevada to Las Vegas; southwestern Utah's 139-mile Lake Powell pipeline; and the 500-mile Flaming Gorge pipeline from Wyoming to Colorado. Each would cost billions of dollars. But what if there’s not enough demand for water to pay for these projects? This might seem like an implausible question in a region defined by growth and expansion for over a century. But in fact, demand for water is falling in many parts of the country. Between the 1970s and the late 2000s, the amount of water used by American households fell everywhere—by tens of thousands of gallons per household each year in Phoenix and Seattle, to nearly 100,000 gallons a year in Las Vegas. The trend is due…

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