Monthly Archives: June 2008

Drilling is Not the Solution

The public outcry over $4 a gallon gas (and rising) has spurned somewhat of a college industry among the press in the woes and perils of high energy costs. The latest news is that unsigned bands will have to cancel national tours due to the high fuel costs. Heartbreaking, I know.

Actually, despite my sarcasm my second dream job was rock star. I found out I couldn’t throw 90 mph, so that ended my first, and then I found out that most rock stars spend years living on cheap beer and sand, which ended my second. So I support small bands and wish them the best. (I still think of you, Julie!! Hope Portland’s better than BFE, IL.)

And raised energy prices are nothing to disregard so lightly. After all, Hillary Clinton “heard from some folks” that things are getting rough. So both candidates are starting to showcase their plans for relief. For example, they both support closing loopholes which allow oil company speculations to drive prices up. Some are saying Obama is merely following McCain’s lead on this (thanks, liber.rhetoricae), but it’s good that both candidates agree.

However, McCain has taken the extra step to try and end the 26-year moratorium on drilling off the U.S. coastlines, a plan that is even having a hard time convincing many coastline Republicans.

I think many people along the coastlines are having a “not in my backyard” type reaction. We get that a lot in central Illinois when companies want to start building wind turbines. But in this case I have to agree wholeheartedly with those who oppose it. It’s just not a smart, responsible way to deal with the fuel costs.

First, the Senate has already turned down such a measure, by a 56-42 vote. This is a plan championed by Bush, which means (fair or not) it’s not going to get a lot of air play in a Democrat-controlled Congress before January. So far from offering immediate help, it won’t even be approved for at least seven more months.

Further, though both Obama and McCain agree that at least part of the gas price problem is a lack of oil supply, even Bush admits that it will take years, as long as a full decade, for drilling to start pumping more oil into the U.S. economy, and hence years before any sort of relief at the pump.

When you couple this long time line with the increase in demand that will continue due to higher oil consumption from large countries such as China and Brazil, this is a plan that will bear no fruit for the average American consumer.

McCain has voted against such a measure before, and as little as three weeks ago stated that such actions “would take years to develop, [and] would only postpone or temporarily relieve our dependency on fossil fuels.” This change of heart seems to be little more than the same political posturing used to champion the ill-advised gas tax cut.

(To his credit, he continues to express opposition to drilling in ANWR.)

The truth is, the time and resources spent drilling for oil in our coastline could be much better spent developing ways to alleviate our dependency upon oil, which is going to be the only way we can ultimately provide permanent relief from high gas prices. Ten years is along time to wait for help at the gas pump, but it’s also a long time to incorporate solar power, or find new ways to reclaim all the lost energy involved in driving a car, or establish a hydrogen infrastructure to power fuel cell or liquid hydrogen vehicles, or increase electric engines which run on American made energy using coal, natural gas, solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, or nuclear energy, or even something really cool that we haven’t even thought up of yet.

Working to expand the energy matrix, and not just our oil supply, also has an added benefit – it provides relief not just from the gas station but the electric company. Focusing our solutions on providing more oil does us no favors when the price of energy required to power our homes is also increasing. I must admit, McCain seems legitimately interested in helping expand our nation’s ability to provide cheap, clean, renewable energy. But framing the energy debate on the price of gasoline only limits the nation’s sense of expediency in accomplishing this goal by suggesting the problem is not the status quo, but rather our capabilities in sustaining it.

Many people are complaining that Obama’s opposition to this drilling is merely representative of a larger “can’t do” ideology of the Democrat party, if not liberal thought as a whole. Obama has an extensive policy of things we can do to help provide cheaper energy – at the pump and at the home. In fact, focusing our attention on increasing the oil supply is actually much more of a “can’t do” policy – we can’t increase fuel efficiency to levels already demanded in much of the world, can’t increase it in a financially viable manner, can’t create automobiles or technologies which rid us of our dependency on oil to begin with.

We can, we must, and it’s time that we do. For Julie’s sake.

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The Two Ironies of Public Funding; How the Electoral Map Favors Obama

The big news over the last couple of days is Obama opting out of public funding for the Presidential Election. (Not Michelle Obama’s dress. I can’t believe this stuff gets on the air.) McCain has claimed this is evidence that Obama “is just another typical politician,” which is ironic because he’s the first to opt out of public funding since the system was established in 1972. By definition, that makes him atypical.

In fact, the biggest reason why Obama has opted out of the public funding is due to his unique ability to raise large sums of money from small donors. Truth is, there is absolutely nothing “typical” about this decision.

Of course, that is merely a point of irony, and not what McCain was referring to at all when he stated this is just an example of political expediency. Obama had famously stated that he would accept public funding if the Republican candidate and he could work out a reasonable system for doing so. But since he no longer needs to do so, McCain argues, he is going against his word and taking the path which will allow him the most money to spend come September and October.

Still, the decision to opt out of funding has few objective detractors in and of itself. And if the system is as broken as Obama believes it is, this decision may provide him with the perfect opportunity to scrap it and begin anew. Former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough presents the perfect illustration of the real issue the press has with Obama: opting out was the right decision, but he’s using the wrong explanation to justify it. Earlier this morning, he said the appropriate explanation would be to just say that due to the millions of small donors online, things have changed to a degree he just couldn’t have imagined a year ago. Dan Rather agreed, saying the reason why he did not do so is because politics at the top is like “dancing like you’re barefoot on August asphalt.”

You have to love Dan Rather.

Finally, Wednesday Quinnipiac University released an interesting poll which showed Obama ahead of McCain in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. The margin was all below ten points so, while they were all above the margin of error, the data’s not entirely useful this far from the election. However, it has to be comforting for Obama.

But the interesting data was not the leads in these three states, but the impact that Clinton has, or more to the point has not had, on the general election. In these three points, Obama leads McCain among women . . . by ten to twenty-three points. What’s more, when asked if Obama should put Hillary Clinton on the ticket, Democrats in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania say yes by margins of 57-33, 58-31, and 60-31 percent, respectively. However, independents in these two states oppose the idea by wide margins: 46-37, 47-31, and 49-36 percent, respectively. And the biggest Republican support she gets for the Veep nod in any state is 20%, in Pennsylvania.

So it would be safe to say the fact that Obama is not Hillary Clinton is not going to cause McCain to carry those states. But perhaps more importantly, it would actually be a detriment to him to put Hillary on the ticket.

If Obama carries all three states, it’s going to be virtually impossible for McCain to win. Quinnipiac seems to be generous to Obama in Florida. Realclearpolitics.com has an average polling line of +5% for McCain. And I’ll be honest; I don’t see Obama winning Florida. I didn’t think Kerry could win it, and I don’t think Clinton could have won it. It would certainly make things easier if Obama can grab it somehow, but I’m more than willing to concede it to McCain. However, the average line for Obama in Ohio is +5.3%, while in Pennsylvania it’s 7.3%. Ohio has 20 electoral votes, and Bush won that in 2004. If Kerry had carried Ohio he would have won. So hanging on to these two states means he doesn’t have to win Florida.

But looking deeper into realclearpolitics.com’s website reveals something even more interesting, and exciting for the Obama fan. It may not come down to Ohio after all. They list the battleground states for 2008 as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Virginia, Missouri, Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. Of these states, the only ones McCain currently have a polling lead in are Michigan and Florida. Obama and McCain are tied in New Mexico and Nevada, though several others are virtual ties (leads of less than 2%). This includes Michigan, New Hampshire, Virginia, Missouri, and Colorado.

So let’s say that the map stays the same from 2004 to 2008 with the exception of these states and Iowa, which very narrowly went to Bush but Obama is currently leading. And let’s give Florida, New Mexico, and Nevada to McCain, let him keep Michigan, and throw Colorado and Virginia to him for good measure. Under this scenario, Obama would win the election by accruing 273 electoral votes.

And if the leads all hold up and McCain takes New Mexico and Nevada? Then Obama

wins easily, 295 – 243. With ten electoral votes up for grabs in those two states, Obama could win over 300 electoral votes.

In fact, if he wins any two out of the seven “tied” states he would win the election. More interesting, though, is if he wins only Michigan he could lose all the others and still get to 270. Of course, this is all predicated upon him winning Ohio and Pennsylvania. So the big trifecta for Obama is Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Win those three, and it’s in the bag. Win two of those, and it would be virtually impossible for McCain to win. McCain has to win two of those three in order to have a legitimate chance of winning the election (though at that point it’s unlikely he would lose).

With that in mind, I would not be willing to say at this time that any single state is going to determine the election. However, if it’s close, and certainly if McCain wins, I predict it will all come down to Michigan.

You heard it here first.

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A Requiem

I tried to resist the temptation, but I feel as though I must say a few words about the immortal Tim Russert. I know there are thousands, if not millions, of tributes to this wonderful man, so I won’t try to offer some deep insight into who he was or what he meant to America. That should be obvious by now, if it wasn’t before (and I can’t understand why it wouldn’t have been.) To be honest, I’m not sure I can offer anything at all. But three days later I’m still in shock. I tried to write about baseball, but all that came out was Russert. So here’s what he meant to me.

Like many twenty-somethings who closely follow the Beltway, I first became intimately familiar with him on November 7, 2000. The first time I was able to vote.

I had no idea I was watching history. Someday the bitterness of the election that still lives in much of the U.S. population will have long passed and 2000 will serve as little more than a curious end game to a complicated election process. But it will be studied, and Gore’s name will live with Tiden’s and Cleveland’s in the blank spaces of history exams for decades to come.

But to those who watched the events unfold live, the disputes and recounts and court battles will not have lived on that Tuesday night. Those all happened in the days and weeks following. And grouped in those following days and weeks will be the events that actually did occur that night – the press stating Gore was President before recanting, then later calling the Presidency for Bush before recanting yet again. Or waiting for a Gore concession speech that never arrived. Or Bush telling reporters that he will win Florida and “you can write that down,” immediately followed by speculation on what Thanksgiving night at the Bush’s would be like if his prediction ended up hollow.

Because looking back on November 7, the big event wasn’t the election. It was Tim Russert.

If this story is to be told to our children, Russert will probably play the supporting actor to the dry erase board. But to me it wasn’t Russert’s board. At eighteen, I had thought that it was a decidedly low-tech and amateurish way to get information across. But combined with that smile Russert always accompanied with his fanatic doodlings, it seemed like we were watching a nerdy school boy playing news with a home camera. He would get so excited every time he’d come up with a new electoral count scenario, grinning from ear to ear and showing Brokaw look at what I’ve done!! It was bizarre, but it was also enduring.

If you look at how cable news shows handle the election-night results now, it’s all about who has the fanciest and flashiest dry erase board. But at the end of the day, that’s all they really are. Just different versions of Russert’s board. He seems to have really changed the way TV handles elections in a fundamental way that night. One of his many contributions – probably not the most important, but potentially the most memorable.

At the time, however, I was put off by this child-like figure, invading what I felt was the most important event of my lifetime with such a naïve narrative. But that was really what people loved about Russert, wasn’t it? His childish naivety. Of course, he was probably the least naïve person in all of television. From everybody’s accounts, he certainly seemed to be the smartest. But he never seemed like he was a professional newsman. He always seemed like a little kid standing on the courthouse steps, begging his heroes to “Say it ain’t so.” He was innocence exposing the culpable. And he always won, so he always made us feel as though innocence had won, too. And because of that, he gave me hope.

And now what is the news going to do? Outside of Chuck Todd, I can’t think of a single person who is even remotely capable of matching his unique mix of insight, intelligence, and boyish charm. So I hope Todd can do a good interview.

It was touching that MSNBC spent all weekend devoted to him, but I doubt it was much of a good tribute to Russert. With the exception of a block of Sunday afternoon, it was a loop of about three or four hours of Russert tribute material all weekend. Tim Russert was always about “hard news.” He resisted the temptations to blur entertainment with news, as most of our modern television press has done. He didn’t like the horse race aspect of politics and was always trying to sway the conversation to ideas and policies. And though it was fitting for MSNBC to devote the whole weekend to him, I thought it was a little disrespectful to him to just loop through the same material over and over and over again. I don’t think that’s what he would have wanted. He would have wanted there to be real news going all weekend. The best tribute (I can think of) to Tim Russert would have been to replay a wide swath of interviews and Meet the Press shows relevant to today’s topics all weekend. This tribute would have simultaneously showcased his abilities and his work while also providing real news and commentary. Most importantly, it would have escaped the “infotainment” which modern news organizations try to pass off as public import – the very trap Russert was so successful in avoiding (if not downright ignoring), but which ended up being the vein of his tribute.

I cannot help but feel that his passing is an omen for the four and a half months to come. We need Tim Russert more than ever. We need calm candor, but television news cannot seem to provide that. We need reason, but we are marketed fear. We need honest questions and long answers, but will be given partisan bullet points and thirty second responses.

We’ll have walls of TVs and touch screens and flying pie charts. And all I’ll really want is one damn dry erase board.

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Washington’s New Eco-Agenda

Yahoo reports that “EcoGeeks get all the girls.” And from Clinton to Kennedy, Condit to Livingston, Tobias to Foley, (and who can forget Larry Craig?) there’s no doubt that nobody does sex quite like Washington. Which is probably why they are finally starting to take environmental issues seriously, with three major pieces of eco-legislation on the agenda.

The first two bills approaching Congress deal with the issuance of tax credits and federal subsidies designed to encourage production and distribution of renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal. These two bills are H.R. 6049: Energy and Tax Extenders Act of 2008; and H.R. 5351: Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008. H.R. 6049 would extend current tax breaks on companies producing renewable energy sources through 2009, while H.R. 5351 evidently creates them. Both of these have passed the House of Representatives. H.R. 5351 was added to the new housing bill, H.R. 3221, as an amendment by the Senate, and this bill was passed by both the House and the Senate. The two chambers’ differences have yet to be resolved, but the primary difference between the bill passed by the House and the amendment added to the housing bill in the Senate is whether $18 billion in tax breaks aimed at oil companies would be eliminated to pay for the tax relief for renewable energy.

The Energy and Tax Extenders Act of 2008 is a $54 billion package which extends current tax breaks for wind energy until the end of 2009, solar energy through the end of 2014, and biomass, geothermal, landfill gas, and other technologies through the end of 2011. These tax breaks are essential to secure our energy independence and ensure a sustainable ecology for the long-term health of humanity. It also has a significant economic impact; elimination of these tax breaks could cause a $20 billion cut in energy research and development, costing over 116,000 American jobs. These jobs are not only important now, but are a precursor for permanent infrastructure employment opportunities, improving the standard of living within the United States by simultaneously strengthening our economy and lowering the cost of living.

As with most pro-environment policies, this bill will not only increase the “green” on the land, but also the green in your pocket.

This is an extremely important bill to pass Congress for a variety of reasons. As time is allowed to drag before we take alternative forms of energy seriously, we will only weaken our power and influence in the world while raising energy costs at home. I urge you to contact your Senator to ask him to pass this legislation. You may find your Senator’s contact information here. There are many people in Congress who may be tempted to vote against this bill for strictly political reasons. It is important to remember that this time of the political calendar is one which a constituent has the most power. Congressmen do not want to upset the people who they are asking to vote them back into office, and many feel it is too close to Election Day for people to forget it.

If you wish, you may also sign the We Campaign’s online petition. Normally I do not sign such petitions, as they are usually about meaningless. However, the We Campaign is made up of a wide range of political activists – they are responsible for the commercials with Pat Robertson and Jesse Jackson – so it does hold more weight then most other websites with similar petitions. However, I feel obligated to warn you that signing the petition will put you on the We Campaign’s mailing list. This is not like being on a typical campaign’s mailing list where you get three emails every day with “important” information you don’t care about. I am a member and I can assure you that the emails are few. It is a good way to stay abreast with current environmental issues, if that sort of thing sounds appeasing. So I do recommend signing the petition and receiving their emails and don’t want to scare anybody away from it, but I also want to be upfront and let you know there’s no way of signing it without signing up for the list. (Of course, you could always sign it and then send them an email requesting to be removed from the list . . . )

The third bill approaching Congress is the long-awaited debate on providing federal standards to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. This is in the form of S. 2191: America’s Climate Security Act of 2007, announced by Senators Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and John Warner (R-Virginia). This bill is getting a lot of heat (no pun intended) from both sides of the issue because one side thinks it’s too expensive and the other thinks it doesn’t go far enough.

The crux of the bill is to cap greenhouse emissions at 2005 levels, and then start reducing gasses by 2% annually begining in 2012, creating a 20% reduction by 2020 and 70% reduction by 2050. This sounds very good. I like this. Could do better and I would prefer faster cuts, but I understand that industry has a legitimate gripe about cutting things too fast and some compromise is necessary.

The bill would also provide “transition assistance” to help deal with raising costs as a result of the expenses necessary to accomplish these cuts. This assistance would come in two forms: $350 billion to aide lower- and middle-income consumers and $500 billion to help offset the costs for companies and industries of modernizing their facilities to comply with the legislation.

This bill would also, by definition, increase the use of renewable and emission-friendly energy sources such as solar, wind, and nuclear.

However, the brunt of these cuts would come in the form of a cap-and-trade policy designed to encourage industry and private power plants to decrease their emissions. I have written about the positives of cap-and-trade before, so I won’t dive into too much detail about their relative merits. Suffice to say, these policies can be enacted and enforced responsibly and be very effective, though they can just as easily be meaningless, particularly if not enforced. If operated according to plan, this cap-and-trade system could move $5 trillion into federal coffers to help accomplish the reduction goals. This will undoubtedly raise many eyebrows amongst the “small government” crowd; even the New York Times is calling it “one of the biggest programs of redistribution of American wealth in history.” There are people who will claim this is just another reason to take the power away from the individual and place it in the hands of “big brother,” and any corrective actions should and must be conducted solely by and within the marketplace.

The truth is that if the market place was inclined to act responsibly to fix the global warming issue then it would have been done a long, long time ago. Some might argue that the market would prefer to act in a way which would be more environmentally friendly, but are unable to do so due to the financial burdens. Fine. But then the government needs to act to allow the market to become more environmentally friendly.

Either way, the health of our environment, the conditions which we leave our only habitat to our children, and the long-term economic and military stability of our nation are far too important to sacrifice in some theoretical discussion with Adam Smith. Our country’s greatest environmental accomplishments happened in the 1970’s, when the Environmental Protection Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, Community Right-to-Know Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund) were all passed . . . and we had a Republican President in office. This is not and should not be a partisan issue. This is an issue which demands respect from all sides, as well as compromise. It’s far too important to be lost in the idealistic bickering of extremist thought; whether the arguments rendered be of market corrections or humanity’s ability to influence global climate change.

To that end, while it may appear difficult to impossible for this bill to pass, there are several indicators that such a bill will be passed in the near future. First, despite heavy complaints from some industry, many in the market actually want the federal government to pass greenhouse emission legislation. This is not so much a result of some moral prerogative as much as one of financial necessity. Many in industry fear that if the federal government does not pass emission standards quickly, state governments will become more likely to do so. This sets up several dilemmas. First, it is more efficient for a company to deal with a single standard then to adjust business practices for the differing standards in place in several states. Secondly, there is a fear that states will enact more stringent legislation than the federal government would be willing to, causing an increase cost burden on the industry. Third, states are not likely to provide such large relief plans to the industries affected by the legislation. And fourth (though probably not finally), many in industry are concerned that a state will place unduly high air quality standards and then penalize a company for operating a facility in a neighboring state for pollutants crossing state lines, setting up long and expensive legal battles.

I’m sure that many who control industry would prefer such a law for the law’s sake. However, absent that I really don’t care what the motivations for support of such a law are – the bill will have the same effect regardless of whether it’s approved for economic or altruistic purposes.

Another reason to be hopeful of such a bill forthcoming shortly is the policy of both Presidential candidates. Obama and McCain have both stated they will place an emphasis on creating some environmental controls to decrease global warming and increase energy independence in their next terms. Further, both have expressed an approval of cap-and-trade policy to accomplish reduction in greenhouse gasses. While neither seem as reliable on the subject as, say, Al Gore, they both seem much more sincere about their efforts than George Bush (or John Kerry for that matter). And as “green-living” becomes more and more popular and visible, and as more people understand the economic, as well as the environmental, benefits of more eco-conscious policies and lifestyles, the public push for such legislation will only increase.

It would be great if this bill passed Congress without amendments diluting its ability to positively affect the environment, as well as our economy. If not, hopefully Congress will use the debate to formulate a bill which will pass without rendering it useless in our fight against climate change.

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