Occasional comments about business and politics in Portland, Oregon, mixed in with stories from our city's colorful if not always compliant past.
"May God save the country, for it is evident that the people will not." -- Millard Fillmore
I hadn't known until this week that the White House website invites citizens to start petitions and gather signatures on line. The United States has no initiative or referendum process, so the petitions are symbolic, but they perhaps give the President some idea of what Americans are thinking.
One fresh petition has gathered some public attention. It's a petition to allow Texas to secede from the Union. It's received 114,000 signatures so far, many more than any of the other state secession petitions. (People from other states have copied the Texas petition, including its grammatical and syntactical errors, to make petitions for their own states.)
Ostensibly prepared by conservatives unhappy with the election results, a little thought shows that the Texas secession petition must in fact be a plot of the Democratic Party. Consider these facts:
1. The Defense Department spends more in Texas -- $40 billion in 2009 -- than in all but two other states.
2. The "fiscal cliff" will require automatic cuts in defense spending of $55 billion if Congress doesn't get its act together by December 31.
3. Texas has 38 of the 538 electoral votes that elect our president.
4. Texas last gave its electoral votes to a Democrat in 1976, when Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford. Since then Texas has voted for the Republican candidate in nine straight elections.
5. Without Texas in the Union, there would be 500 electoral votes, and 251 votes would be needed to win.
6. In that case, a Democratic candidate could lose Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, and Florida (the four states that Barack Obama won last week by the closest margins), but still be elected if he or she won the states that President Obama won by wider margins, which together have 263 electoral votes.
From the Democratic Party's point of view, allowing Texas to go its own way covers most of the automatic cuts in the defense budget and locks up the party's control of the White House for years to come. It would also have the delightful side effect of perhaps giving Texans a different view of the immigration question when they're looking at the wall that the United States would build along Oklahoma's south boundary to keep them out. It may not be a coincidence that at least half the signatures on the petition are from people in other states who are willing to see Texas leave.
Yet another encounter with the ubiquitous phrase "carbon footprint" (hopelessly vieux jeu) and a chance remark by Mrs. Laquedem spurred me to consider the effects of humankind on the other ninety-plus naturally occurring chemical elements. Two years ago I wrote about China using its near-monopoly over the element neodymium as an instrument of foreign policy, so let's start there.
Neodymium is one of the lanthanide series of metallic elements, commonly called "rare earths" although they are neither rare nor earthy. Neodymium's main use is as an ingredient in powerful magnets, including those in earphones. If you're listening to your iPod while you read this, you have some neodymium in your ears right now.
China has been the only supplier of neodymium from 1998 when a rare-earth mine in Mountain Pass, California closed for environmental reasons (here's some talk about that); the California mine reopened a few months ago.
Mining and refining the rare earth metals is a messy business: Bloomberg reports that China's rare earth mines produce five times more waste gas a year than all of the mines and oil refiners in the United States, and that waste gas is part of our neodymium footprint.
What else is in our neodymium footprint? Electric cars, for one thing; a Toyota Prius contains about 2 pounds of neodymium. Wind power, for another; Vestas uses 180 pounds of neodymium in its 3 megawatt wind turbine. Vestas may be efficient: The USGS, relying on an outside source from 2008, said that a wind turbine uses about 1 tonne of neodymium for each megawatt of generating capacity.
One metric ton ('tonne") of neodymium is enough for 1100 Priuses -- but then Toyota sells 500,000 Priuses a year, so it uses about 450 tonnes of neodymium a year, about 1/40 of the world's annual production. Neodymium is also in the Chevrolet Volt engine as well as in its Bose speaker system.
So who knew? When we drive our electric cars through the gorge and look at the wind farms, somewhere in China a hillside is crying because we stepped on it with our neodymium footprint.
The Lake Oswego mayor's race is unusually a bellwether race for the pulse of the metropolitan area this year. The Clackamas County voters are giving a slight edge to Kent Studebaker over establishment pillar Greg MacPherson, 6424 to 6385 at latest count. However, Lake Oswego extends into Multnomah and Washington Counties. Mr. Studebaker leads in Washington County, 2 to 0, but Mr. MacPherson leads in Multnomah County, 478 to 387, for a net lead by Mr. MacPherson of 50 votes out of nearly 14,000 counted. It may be a few days before they know which of them should shop for some mayoral robes.
The hottest local election action this year was not in the City of Portland, but in Clackamas County, where opposing slates of candidates ran for the County Commission and for the Lake Oswego City Council. At the county, anti-Metro candidates John Ludlow and Tootie Smith hold three-point leads over Charlotte Lehan and Jamie Damon, and will likely win their races.
In Lake Oswego anti-Metro candidate Kent Studebaker holds a slight lead in the mayor's race over Greg McPherson, and two of the three anti-Metro candidates (Karen Bowerman and Skip O'Neill) will be elected to the city council, dramatically tilting the council to the right. Look for Lake Oswego to back out of the Willamette Streetcar project completely.
[I'm likely being a little unfair to the victors in describing them as anti-Metro candidates; they aren't opposed to the organization itself, but it's a convenient shorthand.]
Early Multnomah County returns with about half the vote counted indicate that Amanda Fritz has defeated Mary Nolan for the city council. Charlie Hales, as expected, has defeated Jefferson Smith by a wide margin.
Based on the county-by-county results so far from the Buckeye State, President Obama will carry Ohio by about 180,000 votes. On the reasonable assumption that he will also win California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii, he will have 269 electoral votes, and then needs to win any one of Iowa, Colorado, and Florida to have the 270 electoral votes needed to win.
With nearly 3.9 million Florida votes counted, President Obama leads Governor Romney by 1,885 votes, about 1/20 of 1% of the total. For scale, the third-party candidates have received 58,026 Florida votes so far. Even without hanging chads and a strong third-party candidate, the Florida winner may not be known for several days or weeks.
Nate Silver's last forecast gave 313 electoral votes to President Obama and 224 to Governor Romney. Virginia (13 electoral votes), which he had called for Mr. Obama, is coming in toward Mr. Romney by about 4 points. That changes the result to 300 for Mr. Obama and 237 for Mr. Romney. Florida, which Mr. Silver had also called for Mr. Obama, albeit by a narrower margin of probability (50.3%) than any other state, has 29 electoral votes. If Mr. Romney wins Florida, then the electoral college vote becomes 271for the President and 267 for Governor Romney: close enough to make the wills and whims of the individual electors something of great interest: a defection of two Democratic electors throws the election into the House of Representatives.