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What began as a local backcountry struggle over San Diego Gas & Electric’s proposed Sunrise Powerlink is now a national issue, one that opponents of the project hope will challenge a key energy strategy of the Obama administration.

The national scope was underscored earlier this month when the Sunrise opponents applauded the U.S. Senate’s action to hold up the nomination of David J. Hayes as deputy secretary of the Interior Department, the agency’s second-highest post.

No matter that the Hayes appointment was blocked by senators seeking to punish Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has angered them by suspending 77 oil and gas drilling leases near national parks granted in the last days of the Bush administration. And no matter that last week, some of the same senators dropped their opposition and voted for Hayes to be confirmed, after Salazar agreed to review the lease suspensions. Sunrise opponents, for their part, wanted Hayes blocked because he is a former lobbyist for San Diego Gas & Electric and he lobbied for the utility during the period it was pressing hard on transmission projects.

The utility calls Sunrise a “poster child” for renewable-energy strategy, one that other utilities are embracing but that grassroots activists consider misguided.

The issue boils down to where the priorities will lie in developing clean renewable energy: Will the nation build a vast and expensive new network of transmission lines like Sunrise to reach remotely sited energy projects, with much of that infrastructure to be built on heretofore pristine federal lands?

Or will the United States emphasize the development of so-called distributed generation, which consists of rooftop solar and small wind farms close to cities, along with energy-efficiency programs to reach environmental targets and slow global warming?

The Obama administration is placing its bet on the former — long new power lines and big renewable projects on remote lands. The administration has also reportedly elevated Sunrise to key project status, according to a representative of San Diego Gas & Electric. And Obama is allocating billions from the stimulus package for “smart grid” development, which many fear involves building a larger transmission system that will reach into previously undeveloped areas.

“The secretaries of Energy, Interior, and Agriculture, which are three key agencies, together all told us that Sunrise is on the top of the agenda for each of those agencies and that the White House [wants the project],” Laura McDonald, a project director for San Diego Gas & Electric, said in a recent webcast.

Sunrise would stretch from the heart of San Diego County out to Imperial Valley, where San Diego Gas & Electric says the $2 billion transmission line will connect with renewable-energy projects that will be built in coming years. Once in place, the utility says the new line will improve electric reliability by providing a new path to import power to the city. After a three-year-long proceeding, the California Public Utilities Commission approved the project late last year, and now it awaits an approval from the U.S. Forest Service.

Opponents are asking the commission to reconsider its approval of the line but expect little from that process and are raising money for a court fight based on what they maintain was the commission’s disregard for facts developed in the lengthy proceeding. They argue that the line is too expensive, would significantly raise fire hazards, and would do other environmental damage. They also argue that running a lengthy power line through fire-prone backcountry would diminish rather than improve the region’s energy security.

Then there is the matter of who controls the generation of electricity, say Sunrise opponents.

“Everybody understands that if you can put solar panels on rooftops around the country, you would have independence from the likes of SDG&E,” said Diane Conklin, a spokesperson for the Mussey Grade Road, a member of the coalition opposing Sunrise, who has also opposed Hayes’s nomination. “It may not happen immediately, but it will happen over time. They want us tethered to their monopolies.”

In addition, many Sunrise opponents say SDG&E actually wants the new power line to complete an energy system based upon liquefied natural gas — which is not a renewable-energy source — that Sempra plans to import from abroad through a new terminal it constructed along the coast in Baja California, just north of Ensenada. The gas would be piped to generating plants along the border, where it would be burned to produce electricity. Sunrise would allow wider distribution of that electricity throughout California, opponents argue.

Because of the role federal lands could play in projects around the country similar to Sunrise, the nomination of Hayes to the Interior Department has become a flash point. The department manages 500 million acres, or about one-fifth of all land within the United States.

Hayes first caused local concern when he was named a member of the Obama transition team, charged with overseeing appointments to energy, interior, environmental, and agricultural posts. The transition appointment sparked a protest letter from Bill Powers, a local engineer who has played a prominent role in opposing Sunrise and who authored a report building the case for a vast rooftop solar program, instead of the transmission line.

“It is extremely disappointing that Sempra and SDG&E get the inside track in the new administration when so many involved in the Obama campaign have worked to get a new future for energy policy,” said Powers. “Meet the new boss — same as the old boss. This is not what I scraped the bottom to get from a new administration. The Hayes appointment means that SDG&E and Sempra have their [former] lobbyist as head of day-to-day operations at the Interior Department, and that is bad news for opponents of the Sunrise Powerlink.”

Powers and others note that Hayes, as a member of the Latham & Watkins law firm, lobbied for SDG&E during a period when the utility pressed hard for expanded federal powers to site power lines. These expanded powers allow the federal government to usurp the state regulators to make decisions about the approval or rejection of proposed transmission lines.

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Anon92107 May 27, 2009 @ 12:50 p.m.

The ultimate solution is nuclear power, fission today then fusion ASAP, built jointly with desalination plants along the coast for desperately needed clean water supplies to continue our quality of life in San Diego. We have had safe nuclear power submarines in San Diego continuously for decades so safety is not an issue at all.

All other solutions are obsolete and a waste of precious time, money and resources that we do not have the luxury of using up anymore, especially considering the urgency to eliminate fossil fuel burning plants now.

Human nature has proven throughout the history of civilization to be too short sighted, and we are now failing to do anything serious about saving a habitable planet for our future generations, while the greedy take advantage of that human fallibility and continue to pollute our atmosphere and waste increasingly limited resources to maximize short term profits regardless of how unacceptable the consequences shall be beyond their own lifetime.

Time is running out and unacceptable decisions continue to be perpetuated by avaricious special interests that control far too many politicians in Washington, California and San Diego. That’s why the world economy is in extremis today, and wars never end.

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surfponto May 27, 2009 @ 1 p.m.

The article hits the nail on the head. Do we want big corporate control over energy resources or do we truly want to achieve energy independence?

Sunrise Powerlink keeps us keeps us tethered to Sempra/SDG&E. Why do we need to destroy our backcountry under the guise of renewable energy?

We want local solutions that don't require a massive 123 mile transmission line.

Bob B. Leucadia http://www.anzaborrego.net/Travel/AnzaBorrego/category/Sunrise-Powerlink.aspx

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gardenparty May 27, 2009 @ 1:54 p.m.

1, A California law passed in 1976 prohibits the construction of any new nuclear power plants in California until the Energy Commission finds that the federal government has approved and there exists a demonstrated technology for the permanent disposal of spent fuel from these facilities.

How do you propose getting around it??? Secondly, at this point in time, where do propose to get the money to build these plants??? And finally, exactly where along the California coast would you have them built???

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iokuok2 May 28, 2009 @ 2:24 a.m.

The Obama Administration does NOT support the SRPL. For SDG&E to claim that they do is reckless and irresponsible.
Who has the track record of integrity, Obama or SDG&E. Get real. Remember AIG? That was a turning point. Obama’s response was “I’m taking time to research what they are up to”. Obama has not indicated his energy policy. However you’ve seen little mercy for greed. Banks have been forced to pay back gazillions in compounded mortgage interest. Obama ran on focusing fairness to the individual not on perpetuating the power over the power over the people. He was not a day sworn in when Arnold Swarzenager bugged him about energy and then mouthed off like it was a done deal. That hardly constitutes support. Would his chief environmental consult be Arnold Schwarzeneger? Don't count on it. Remember the energy contracts that put Arnold into office? Associating this with Obama is absurd. Forcing businesses to rely and pay for obsolete technologically for the next 50 years is about as intelligent as forcing them to use Apple 2E’s to run them. If computing power is doubling every 18 months it stands to reason that energy technology is doing the same. Do we want to be forced to run on the energy equivalent of a 286 box for 50 years? And destroy our national forests forever? That’s fed to Arnold from the energy lobby, not Obama. Economic crisis is not an excuse to destroy national treasures. The number one goal of the Bush administration was to keep the centralized power over energy. Everything but everything but everything served this one goal. We should have seen it coming: SDG&E getting swallowed up by Sempra was only one small part of that scheme. Manipulated contracts, manipulated new requirements that were re-labeled "meeting the demand". Radical energy prices, housing prices, historic economic crisis. Remember the electric car? The Bush administration responded with hydrogen research. How convenient. The sterling solar dish is really a hydrogen tube little tested in the summer sweltering heat. The 1st new line was fabricated a decade ago with the contracts. The biggest source of energy is the liquefied natural gas coming in from Russia. Russia? That’s an old comforting word. Talk about reliable? And the part about going all over California, try again. Sempra’s site, said the famed pipe line “IS” going invisibly from “tha Rockies” to Ohio. “Rockies” is a loose concept consistent with their superb demonstration of local geography in their 10 volume EIS. -Not. The current proposal compromises nearly all of the substantial flowing water resources in the county, yet they call this "environmentally superior?". To assume that Obama would do this is nearly slanderous. To the contrary. If we want to put a stop to the reckless strong-arming by SDG&E for horrendous profits, once and for all then we need to replace them with a local company! A welcomed initiative is due.

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Anon92107 May 28, 2009 @ 12:02 p.m.

Climate changes have made transmission lines an increasing fire and safety threat that utility executives do not want to spend the money to provide power systems protection, maintenance and inspection to prevent.

They simply want to maximize their profits for Sempra at the expense of SDG&E customers’ business costs, life and property by shutting down systems and transferring financially unacceptable losses to their customers regardless of consequences.

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Anon92107 May 28, 2009 @ 1:10 p.m.

Response to Comment #3

gardenparty, all good questions.

The paramount fact is that we have no other power generator design that will even begin to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to levels that future human beings will find acceptable to live in, well before the end of this century.

Another key fact of life documented in historical geology and evolutionary biology texts is that temperature changes, like those occurring under present carbon dioxide levels will severely threaten the survival at least a major percentage of the human race before the end of this century if we do not start doing the best we can today.

The inescapable fact today is that the only existing power plant design that can even begin to generate enough power to significantly reduce the existing atmospheric carbon dioxide pollution level is nuclear fission. I would much prefer fusion energy but our scientific community has been sidetracked by fossil fuel special interests for over 50 years and we can no longer afford to wait for the required discovery that will allow us to build fusion generators instead of fission plants with the required urgency we face today.

“How do you propose getting around it???” and “where do propose to get the money to build these plants???”:

It really depends on how soon people realize the severely unacceptable consequences our present climate changes are producing to demand the right solutions for eliminating fossil fuel generation, and also begin providing enough water to maintain our quality of life in San Diego. We have no option but to act today.

“exactly where along the California coast would you have them built???”:

Begin by converting and upgrading existing coastal power plant sites in South Bay, Encina and San Onofre.

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gardenparty May 28, 2009 @ 8:35 p.m.

7, you'll have to forgive my ignorance in the area of nuclear physics, but when you say convert San Onofre, do you mean from fission to fusion?? Please correct me if I am mistaken, but isn't fusion power generation still just in the experimental phase? Isn't the use of controlled fusion as a power source years if not decades away??? As for South Bay and Encina,that's not very realistic. You just don't "convert" a conventional plant to a nuclear powered plant. And you still can't get past the issue of where is the money going to come from.

Then there's the legal issue. In order to event get a measure to repeal the law on the ballot, you need 500,000 VALID signatures. A group tried in 2007 and ended up withdrawing their measure because they drew very little financial support and collected less than 10% of the needed signatures. Put another way, as of a year and a half ago. apparently no one in Ca wants it.

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Anon92107 May 29, 2009 @ 3:16 a.m.

Response to Comment #7:

gardenparty, I must admit that your response represents the dominant conventional wisdom that will make eliminating fossil fuel generation plants impossible before ongoing climate changes continue to raise atmospheric carbon dioxide to earth changing levels, producing higher global temperatures that will result in reducing our quality of life to unacceptable levels.

But the root cause is that we keep electing republican and democratic politicians at federal, state and local levels who keep proving they are totally incapable of making the right things happen to protect quality of life for future generations because special interests like fossil fuel industries and the military-industrial complex still control too much of the campaign funding for far too many incompetent politicians in both parties who enabled our current economic, environmental, education and social problems to be as unacceptably bad as they are today.

The reality is that our only hope is that President Obama can change American politics in time to produce and protect an acceptable quality of life for future generations, including the generation that currently reads The Reader.

Good Luck to Us.

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gardenparty May 29, 2009 @ 9:55 a.m.

9 Don't mistake my "responses" for my opinions. At this point I am neither an opponent of nor a proponent for nuclear power.

About 2 yrs ago my girlfriend and I moved out of Southern California. We live north of Santa Barbara on an absolutely beatiful piece of land I bought quite awhile ago. Last summer we completed intallation of pv panels and 2 wind turbines( we have the same kind Leno has on his garage). Except for the "neccesities" of phone and data lines, we have the ablility to be self sustaining; we are " off the grid" as the pop culture phrase goes. We did it for 2 simple reasons. For the 2nd half of our lives we don't need the trappings and the "hustle and " bustle of living a metropolitan life. and most importantly, i guess, we can afford to do it. However, for more than 25 yrs before we moved, I lived within a few minutes of San O. I went to the beach there, I surfed there, I benefited from it's existance, with no problems. But when you talk about the future that is one issue I have with nuclear: where does the waste go? We are leaving that problem for the generations that follow, which is exactly what you say you don't want to do. Put simply, my feeling is that fossil fuel burning power plants are an environmental issue but so is not having a way of disposing of spent fuel from nuclear powered generating stations. It does no good to trade one for the other, the end result is the same. I don't think my response "represents the dominant conventional wisdom ". I have friends of both pro nuclear and anti nuclear persuasion. Those are the questions they ask on both sides. Where are they going to be built, who's going to pay for it and how is they waste going to be disposed of.

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gardenparty May 29, 2009 @ 9:55 a.m.

Pt. 2 Face the facts. In Ca, no one wants one in their back yard and geologically speaking there are limited the areas where they could even be built. Absolutely no one wants to pay for it and with state of the economy, absolutely no one is going to lend for one anyway. And whether it's apathy, lack of knowledge or people just opposing it, you still can't get around the law without the votes to change the law. You can say the root cause is the politicians we elect at federal, state and local levels or that military-industrial complex still controls the campaign funding for incompetent politicians, but the fact of the matter is before it even gets to the politicians for them to deceide where it goes and who pays for it, no one can even get 500,000 voters to sign petitions. California has close to 25 million eligible voters, but only about 60% of those even bother to register and no one can get even 3 1/2 pecent of those to sign a petition. I'm not naive enough to think politics aren't involved at some level, but if people in this state wanted it enough there would be a grass roots movement to get people to sign up and money would be raised. Whether you agree with it or not aside, prop 8 was a perfect example. Both sides got people to sign up and they raised close to 100 million in funding between them. Nuclear energy apparently is just not that big of an issue to most people and you can't lay blame for that on the politicians or military industrial complex; it fall squarely on the shoulders of the citizens of California.

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Anon92107 May 29, 2009 @ 1:14 p.m.

Response to Comment #10 & 11:

Very well stated position statement gardenparty, and I thank you for your excellent efforts on behalf of the planet. I know your area well and you are truly living in a paradise that is well worth saving, while providing you with the ultimate refuge if society falls apart completely.

The fact is that we can argue thoughtful, dedicated and expert positions until we turn blue but the reality is that all of our politicians have failed us completely with just the current wars and economic meltdowns, whereas saving the planet is not yet a high enough priority in this time of great uncertainty when increasing numbers of people are just trying to survive what is happening today.

Also well said: “--- blame --- falls squarely on the shoulders of the citizens of California” and America for failing the tests of Democracy is correct; as Pogo said: “We Have Met The Enemy and He Is Us.” And it doesn’t help that politicians that the minority of those eligible to vote keep electing to represent us in Sacramento, San Diego, etc. are deconstructing our education and social protection systems as we trade words between us.

Democracy and Rule of Law have damned near returned full circle back to conditions in 6th century BC Athens when Solon tried to come up with the first Democracy to save us from ourselves and political, economic and moral decline. Our founding fathers, and millions of military heroes and patriots who sacrificed everything to protect us ever since, would most certainly barf all over us if they saw what we did to the Democracy they risked everything to protect.

Pray that Obama, our great black and white hope, is able to at least bottom out the current decline and fall of yet another Democracy due to failures by We The People.

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gardenparty May 29, 2009 @ 5:21 p.m.

response to # 12: again you say "reality is that all of our politicians have failed us completely ". And again I say it's not the politicians who have failed us as much as we have failed ourselves because we are the ones who put them there. Let me ask you this; did you vote in the most recent election? I did and if you did that puts us in the vast minority. Voter turnout was about 22% statewide, meaning only about 3.5 million of those registered and only about 14% of those who could be eligable voted. Put in other terms, less than 10% of the population is deciding the fate of the other 90+ percent. That is absolutely ridiculous but unfortunately normal in this state. Further consider this thought: Voters typically seem to re-elect the politicians who are in office, even while expressing disgust with elected officials. Jerry Sanders is a perfect example. It probably comes down to the simple fact that most people don't have the time or inclination to study up on all the issues, so they go with the person whose name you recognizeor hear the most. But at the same time they also don't trust career politicians. So to protect themselves from re-electing the same people over and over again, in 1990 voters passed prop 140, limiting Assembly members to six years in office and Senators and Governnor to eight years in office; after which time they are banned from that chamber for life. For sure term limits lead to to plenty of turnover at the Capitol, but that means you get rid of the good along with the bad and that leads to another problem: the lack of continuity and dwindling institutional memory among lawmakers. What ends up happening is that lobbyists and staff members—who remember why decisions got made and the deals that were struck in the first place—gain ever increasing increasing power while the few talented lawmakers are put out to pasture to make room for a new crop of amateurs who have little, if any understanding of the system. BTW more than twice as many people voted on that election almost 19 years ago as voted in the recent election. As I said earlier, whether it's apathy or lack of knowledge of the issue, the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the people, especially,those who don't vote. And to lay blame otherwise is simply folly.

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gardenparty May 29, 2009 @ 5:29 p.m.

One last thought: I believe it was Albert Einstein who once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. It seems to me that sometimes, if not most of the time, he was describing the mindset of many of the people living in California.

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photog May 29, 2009 @ 8:20 p.m.

Sad day when huge, ugly power lines have to mar our beautiful California landscape.It is happening everywhere but the story in the San Diego County back country is particularly troublesome. It has taken a lot of effort by regular people to fight this monster project. Let's find more local renewable energy and avoid sending it out of our region to parts north.

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Anon92107 May 30, 2009 @ 1:39 p.m.

Response to Comment #13 & 14:

gardenparty, Yes I always vote, registered as a nonpartisan because I have no faith in either party doing the right things anymore. Both parties are responsible for allowing the betrayals of the U.S. military, attacks against the U.S. Constitution and the out of control corrupt practices by Wall Street, the banks and special interest corporations that occurred during the Bush administration. Either they participated directly or watched and did nothing to protect We The People and both parties enabled the current failures of our political, economic and social systems.

One fact of political life throughout America today that is frequently overlooked is that the RNC and DNC have much greater control over how our representatives vote than the We The People. That's a key reason most politicians are failing us in Washington, Sacramento, San Diego, and throughout the United States.

The RNC and DNC, and the special interests that control the RNC and DNC have control over who runs for office, funding of their annointed candidates, and how their politicians vote in congress, in the legislature, and in local offices. We The People have damned near allowed the parties to disenfranchise us.

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thoughtful1 June 1, 2009 @ 3:46 p.m.

Re: Nuclear as the long term solution – Anon92107 has it right. If we want to reduce GHG emissions and seek energy independence, nuclear is the solution. Pres. Obama has done a disservice to stop funding Yucca Mountain, which is the best solution for long term spent fuel storage. We need to rescind the CA law restricting nuclear plants. To “gardenparty’s” comment, we won’t allow coastal siting of nuclear plants, due to the concern about once through cooling. These new nuclear plants will be in the desert and will be air cooled, with long transmission lines to our cities. The question now is how bad do GHG impacts need to get before we seek out a solution that uses nuclear power plants?

Re: iokuok2: You state: “Who has the track record of integrity, Obama or SDG&E”. I was optimistic that our new president would instill a sense of responsibility in individuals. Yet I see that he actually does the opposite of what he says. I am quite disappointed. Now we borrow 50 cents for every $1 that we spend, in a budget with “responsibility” in the title! He bashes AIG bonuses when in fact he approved them. Sorry; no integrity here.

Re: iokuok2: You state: “The number one goal of the Bush administration was to keep the centralized power over energy.” This is inaccurate. In fact, under Pat Wood at FERC, an effort to decentralize the energy market made great strides forward, and we have seen new independent markets develop in the MISO, NYISO, ISO-NE, ERCOT and CAISO, which have resulted in lower cost energy than in investor owned utility or public power controlled service areas. Sorry again. You can dislike Bush, but Bush did advocate for decentralized energy.

It is remarkable that “environmentalists”, those that advocate the reduction of GHG emissions, would argue against a power line that would increase renewable energy generation, increase the number of geothermal, solar and wind plants in the Imperial County. You can argue for solar PV, but please, please, take some time to understand how the electrical grid operates, understand how energy generation needs to align with energy consumption, and factor in firming services that are needed from many power plants on the grid.

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gardenparty June 3, 2009 @ 2:07 a.m.

Correction thoughtfull1. California doesn't allow new nuclear plants anywhere and won't in the forseable future

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DavidPatrone June 3, 2009 @ 6:09 a.m.

It's disturbing how the same people who believe that we should allow dangerous countries the right to nuclear power (despite the risk of fuel conversion into weapons which they have announced that they will develop and use) will eschew nuclear energy in our own country.

Here in the US, development of "new" Nuclear Power is either verboten or taboo...

How is it so essential to the development of nations like Iran while here in the US we're stuck trying to eek out micro volts on developing solar power and windmills (reverse engineered and cheaply manufactured in china) which have miserable efficiency ratings in comparison to nuclear power?

This is just another example of radical environmental lobbyists who only see in black and "green" inhibiting success and progress in the US.

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Anon92107 June 3, 2009 @ 1 p.m.

Response to Comment #18 & 20 Thanks for the support thoughtful1 & DavidPatrone, but as you can read, see and hear, saving the planet from the totally unacceptable consequences of out of control climate changes we are already experiencing with the required sense of urgency today is almost an impossible dream due to too many failed political, economic, religious, scientific, ideological etc. countervailing forces that are more willing to place humanity in grave jeopardy of extinction, battling to the death regardless of consequences.

The paramount fact against humanity today is that we are already severely threatened by never-ending wars, and uncontrolled capitalist greed that is allowing humanity to self-destruct because of the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about half a century ago together with Wall Street corporations that control our congress to the point where Democracy has almost ceased to function in Washington, Sacramento and San Diego proves we are helpless to reason with those who refuse to listen to reason and act in time to even save the future for Generation Y.

Most sadly, the scientific community has failed humanity the most by failing to come up with acceptable nuclear solutions over the last 50 years because they chose academic welfare over the needs of humanity.

Generation Y is going to have to save itself as long as we have at least some Democracy left, but GenY will have to find a way to force republicans and democrats to join together to save humanity on a very fast track. At least GenY has Obama in the White House when we needed someone like him the most, but he is going to need all the help he can get from GenY to make the right things happen quickly.

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