Scuttlebutt: 1. Prison Terms. 2. Renewable Energy.

Scuttlebutt: 1. Prison Terms. 2. Renewable Energy.

     There was a lot of gnashing of teeth when Paul Manafort was given a 47 month sentence for his financial crimes.  Many thought it was an extremely light sentence given the much harsher sentences that have been given to others for similar or less serious crimes.

     Perhaps the problem is not with the sentence given Manafort, but with the sentences received by the other examples sighted.

     I should presage my comments by saying that Paul Manafort is a complete scumbag.  The crimes he has been convicted of are not the most serious violations he has committed.  He has done irreparable harm to our democracy by fully integrating campaigning with lobbying.  By bringing these two things into the same office, he has corrupted our politics to an extent that I doubt will ever be completely healed.

     But he was convicted of  lying to banks and the government (how many of us have ever done that?).  Anyone who thinks that four years in prison is a walk in the park has never been to jail.  And don't forget the $43 million he has had seized.  Or the additional sentence from a separate court which means he will spend his 70's in prison.

     Of course, we all know what a punitive and revenge-hungry country we live in.  Revenge movies are extremely popular.  We throw people in jail like it was a free ticket to a Scientology movie.  We lead the world in both number of incarcerated people and rate at which we jail our fellow citizens.  Well over 2 million Americans are in jail while those horribly oppressive Chinese, with four times our population has barely 1.6 million.  Those corrupt and ruthless Russians have barely half a million.  We are number one out of 223 countries in rate of incarceration.  Russia is up there at 195, China is only 89, and those strict Iranians #94.  The repressive Myanmar (formerly Burma) is 139, despite the UN  General Assembly adopting a resolution "strongly condemning the ongoing systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms".

     But, you may say, we have always been that way.  Think of our history of frontier justice and all those western movies that depict how tough things were back then.  One should expect no mercy in those days.  Or should they?

     I recently visited the infamous Yuma Territorial Prison, renowned in American western lore as the place you don't want to go.  I certainly agree that it is not somewhere you would wish live, but the myth of harsh frontier justice just doesn't stand up.  It turns out that pardons were quite frequent and sentences were often not carried out. 

     Take the case of Manuela Fimbrez who was convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 years.  Though that is not a lot by today's standards, she was pardoned after only 2 years.  William Stiren served less than 8 years of a 25 year sentence before being pardoned.  George Williams 20-yr murder conviction was pardoned in 10.  Fannie King did only 2 years for manslaughter before being pardoned.  Same for Lizzie Gallagher who served only 15 months for manslaughter before her pardon arrived.  Finally we have Bertha Trimble who was sentenced to life in prison for rape and was pardoned in one year.

     Of course, some of these pardons may have been due to evidence of unfair trials, but even so, someone cared enough to look at those cases.  Some folks are serious about reviewing the harshness of our sentencing laws, but  “lock 'em up and throw away the key” remains a powerful sentiment.  Is the lobbying power of the prison industrial system greater than our national sense of justice?  Have we ever had a national conversation about what justice actually is?

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     I like leaving my readers with a sense of the positive, so here is a story out of Florida that you may find encouraging.

     In 2015 Florida only added 45 megawatts of solar power.  While being 9th among states in solar potential, the Sunshine State generated just one-tenth of a percent of the state’s power from the sun.  In 2016 the state's largest utility, Florida Light and Power spent $20 million fighting an initiative that would have required them to buy power from home solar instillations.  Unlike many other states Florida had no state mandate to produce carbon-free energy.

     Boy, how things have changed in a short period of time.  On Jan. 31 Florida Power & Light, fired up more than a million solar panels totaling nearly 300 megawatts of capacity across four new solar fields.  FPL brought eight such power plants online in 2018, bringing the company’s total solar power capacity to more than 1,200 megawatts. And in January, FPL pledged to install an additional 30 million panels by 2030, which could multiply the utility’s solar-generated electricity by almost 10-fold. The state’s next largest power provider, Duke Energy Florida, also has plans to have more than 700 megawatts worth of solar power by 2023.  Florida currently boasts more than 2,000 megawatts of solar electric capacity.

     Why the change of heart?  Well, there was no change of heart.  FPL's focus has always been on protecting investor profits.  FPL spokeswoman Alys Daly says, “the price point was just becoming right for us to be able to have it make economic sense for our customers for us to go and begin building large solar energy centers.”  she continues, “we’re in the midst of one of the largest solar expansions in the country.”

     Just in the past five years, the cost of solar panels has fallen by 43 percent.  Ethan Zindler, the head of US research at Bloomberg New Energy Finance states, “ It is simply undeniable now that this is often the lowest cost source of generation. So you can pat yourself on the back for doing something environmentally conscious, but at the same time, you’re also actually doing something to procure power at the lowest cost for your customers.”

     The US currently derives 1.3 percent of all electricity from solar power, enough to power 11.3 million American homes. Analysts expect that, within the next few years, solar growth will continue apace and surpass wind power, which currently contributes 6 percent of US electricity. Combined, the two renewables could soon represent a 10 percent share of the national pie, as early as this year.


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