Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

Home · Articles · News · Other Opinions · The Biomistake
. . . .

The Biomistake

Stephen Tuttle - April 26th, 2010
The Biomistake: slanted survey & bad research are behind a bad idea

And so it has come to pass that Traverse City Light & Power (TCLP) has
decided to build a biomass plant and burn our forests to produce
We’ve been assured their tree harvesting will focus on just the crummy
trees and these efforts will thin the forests and make them healthier than
ever. This process is sustainable because, well, there are trees all over
the place up here. It’s renewable because crummy trees keep springing up
that deserve to be harvested; their crumminess a blight on the more
upstanding trees. We weren’t even aware our woodlands were unhealthy.
It’s a pretty good bet they aren’t suffering from a lack of human
intervention but maybe they needed a date with chainsaws and
wood-chippers, a kind of botanical species cleansing. They’ll use some of
the detritus from the forest floor, too.
Many of us thought nature was the best steward of its own forests. We
learned in junior high that all those less desirable trees and that forest
floor “trash” served a purpose. The trees are home to birds and bugs.
The stuff on the forest floor that crunches beneath our feet decays,
microbes go to work, the trash becomes compost which becomes home to any
number of little crawly multi-legged critters which become food for
slightly bigger critters and that compost also grows all kinds of
interesting little plants and wildflowers and baby trees. What do we
This new biomass plant, so we’re told, will burn at such high temperatures
there will be hardly an pollutants fouling the neighbors‘ cars and homes
and our air. The big trucks off-loading the chips will be kind of
annoying, but nothing we should fret about. The neighbors in the area are
somewhat less sanguine about the prospects of a big furnace nearby, but
sacrifices must be made.
Since this is a project that will take years to plan and build, why not
dedicate the time to solar or wind power? Too expensive, we’re told, and
the technology just isn’t there, yet. Plus, it’s hard for a utility
company to monopolize wind or the sun. Oil is out of the question as is
natural gas though this country has it in great abundance. “Clean” coal?
Hey, I like a good oxymoron as much as the next person but that’s just
silly. We’re still afraid of nuclear power and those pesky spent fuel
rods that are deadly for 200,000 years.
So, according to TCLP, the only real alternative to reach their goal is
biomass. It isn’t the only alternative, but more about that later.
TCLP even says this project has significant public support. They have
“research” to back them up, claiming their customers favor this biomass
option by a 2 to 1 margin. Why, it’s democracy in action and they’re just
here to do the will of the people they serve.
The survey, in its entirety, is located on their website
(http://www.tclp.org/”www.tclp.org) and it’s worth a look. It’s a pretty
good example of how to conduct a survey and get exactly the response you
want. There are a series of questions about cost, reliability, local
jobs, purchasing local products and environmental sensitivity.
Shockingly, TCLP customers like cheap, reliable electricity, support local
jobs, want to buy locally and favor environmental sensitivity. Those
questions are the set-up. Then comes the pay-off, and pay close attention
to the wording here:
“Traverse City Light & Power is currently investing in wind, solar, and
landfill gas electric power generation. To further diversify, Light &
Power is considering building a local renewable power plant that uses wood
chips, commonly known as biomass, for fuel. This plant would be
relatively small in size, fully enclosed, and located in an industrial
area. The plant’s emissions would be less than coal, would meet Federal
and State standards and would likely increase truck traffic in the
immediate vicinity. An independent evaluation of the impact on Traverse
City Light & Power customers determined that biomass is lower cost than
other energy sources, including wind, solar, coal and natural gas.
How would you rate your level of support for this initiative?”
Oh, my. Not a word about cutting down trees or sustainability or air
quality. Even the final question presumes a level of support rather than
asking if there is any support. This is a very close cousin to what, in
politics, is known as a ‘push‘ question. The respondent has been pushed
to answer in a certain way.
Even then, TCLP couldn’t generate more than 53% support, frighteningly low
given the nature of the question. They’ve even incorrectly weighted the
results in order to push their meager support up a couple of additional
points. If there was going to be an election on this issue and their
opponents had a chance to tell their side, TCLP would be headed for a
serious thumping.
Meanwhile, there is an alternative TCLP gave up on, can no longer control
and, therefore, ignores. The Boardman River has already existing
hydroelectric dams. They need updating and retrofitting but the
infrastructure is already in place. There are people who claim they can
make these things produce electricity again. It would be completely clean
absent any pollutants at all. The Boardman’s fisheries and riparian
habitats would remain unchanged.
Yes, it will be nice when we can remove the dams (except the one that
serves as a lamprey eel barricade) and let the river run free. But, in
the meantime, why are we ignoring an obvious resource and, instead,
hacking away at our forests and burning them to provide electricity?
Because TCLP gave away the dams but has access to our trees. And the
whine of a chainsaw is more attractive to them than the rush of water as
long as it generates the jangle of money in their cash registers.

The Trouble with Bad Research:
Traverse City Light & Power is justifying their decision to move forward
with a biomass program, at least to some extent, on the basis of research
conducted by the Research Services Department at Northwestern Michigan
In 30 years of working in politics and on political campaigns, I’ve had
the opportunity to be involved in a dozens and dozens of research
instruments. I’ve helped write some that were intended to give us a true,
unbiased sense of where voters stood on issues or candidates. And I
helped write some that were intended to push voters to a certain position
on candidates or issues. It is clear the TCLP research was closer to the
latter effort than the former.
Unbiased research requires incredible care in the order of the questions
and the language used to avoid any bias. The language used in the TCLP
research, especially on the key question of support, is obviously biased.
It’s hard to imagine this being done accidentally given the overwhelming
nature of the bias. There is a reference to “wood chips” but no reference
to the fact that trees will have to be harvested to acquire those wood
chips. Respondents are told the plant will be small, enclosed, located in
an industrial area, meet pollution standards and be cheaper than other
sources of energy. Some of those assertions are matters of opinion and
open to debate but absent any contrary language they stand as factual and
naturally move the respondent to a position of support. Unbiased research
would include arguments made by opponents including sustainability,
deforestation, pollution, noise and neighborhood intrusion. That language
can be used in the same statement or in a following statement after which
the support/unsupport question can be asked.
According to the researchers with whom I spoke, there are also serious
flaws in the way the numbers are weighted. According to TCLP’s own data,
residential customers make up 83% of their combined customer universe,
commercial customers make up 17% and primary customers .003%. But in the
research document, residential customers make up only 58% of the
respondents, commercial customers are up to 41% and primary customers 3%.
Since residential customers are the least supportive and commercial and
primary customers the most, the reduction of residential customers and
inflation of commercial and primary user numbers skew support upward. It
distorts the results sufficiently to cast doubt on the efficacy and
scientific rigor used.
Finally, only TCLP customers were surveyed. They have a vested interest
in cost issues. But any potential negative impacts of the plant, like
pollution or deforestation, affect all local residents, whether they are
TCLP customers or not. It is impossible to know if surveying the broader
universe would have significantly changed the results.
With the combination of biased language, inaccurate weighting and
respondents with a predisposition to favor cost issues, the research
becomes more of a public relations instrument than a useful research tool.
That is further evidenced by the fact that the contact people listed are
from marketing departments and not the actual researchers.
TCLP and NMC are certainly entitled to conduct research as they see fit.
But since one is publicly owned and the other publicly financed, it is
troubling that they use flawed research in an effort to convince us a
highly controversial biomass plant has widespread public support when that
may not be the case at all.

Stephen Tuttle is a political consultant who formerly wrote for the
Arizona Republic.

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