Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Th GOP coughs it up

The GOP platform presently calls for a total ban on stem cell research, public or private.

I'm not one to make dramatic claims about obscure events, but I think this sinks McCain on the spot. The majority of the country is for this, and it's a very concrete issue that everyone with living grandparents can be brought to understand. Behind the scenes, the GOP likely believes that Evangelicals will swallow the plank the way they swallowed the promise of a gay marriage ban, and that they (Republicans) don't have to actually take the more serious hit you'd associate with actually enacting the thing.

I think this cracks the 'Culture of Life' facade right in half. Gift-wrapped for the Democrats with all eyes on them.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Good thing!

Just this morning I was thinking "Boy, aren't we glad that back in 2005 we all ignored Peter Beinart's advice to kick out of the Democratic party?" I mean, check out this view from Beinart circa late 2004:
In sharp contrast to the first years of the cold war, post-September 11 liberalism has produced leaders and institutions - most notably Michael Moore and MoveOn - that do not put the struggle against America's new totalitarian foe at the center of their hopes for a better world. As a result, the Democratic Party boasts a fairly hawkish foreign policy establishment and a cadre of politicians and strategists eager to look tough. But, below this small elite sits a Wallacite grassroots that views America's new struggle as a distraction, if not a mirage.
Hilariously he went on to explain the way to fix the disconnect between the grassroots and "a cadre of politicians and strategists eager to look tough" was to get new grassroots:
The challenge for Democrats today is not to find a different kind of presidential candidate. It is to transform the party at its grassroots so that a different kind of presidential candidate can emerge. That means abandoning the unity-at-all-costs ethos that governed American liberalism in 2004. And it requires a sustained battle to wrest the Democratic Party from the heirs of Henry Wallace. In the party today, two such heirs loom largest: Michael Moore and MoveOn.
Well, let's not be too hard on the guy. A lot of pro-war liberals thought that the path to credibility on foreign policy was promising to do everything the Republicans wanted but more competently. Still, it's nice to stand back every once and a while and admire how thoroughly this kind of thinking has been discredited. The left of course has just nominated a candidate who became famous exactly because he disagreed with people like Beinart. MoveOn is part of the fabric of the party. And even the right is debating dropping the alarmist foreign policy positions with the insurgency of Ron Paul.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I suppose next you'll tell me the Governor does gay porn.

Sometimes you click on 'Random Article' and get a little surprise! I guess this must have been public knowledge, but it seems like just the sort of thing that would destroy a career, even today, even in California.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Energy Debate in SF

The Barack Obama and John McCain campaigns will have the opportunity to present their positions on future energy policy and the role of renewable energy in the United
States at a Renewable Energy Forum to take place Wednesday, August 13
@ 6:00 PM. Surrogates from both campaigns and a moderator will engage
in a collaborative discussion of their candidates' positions.

The presidential campaign surrogates are Tim Carmichael, Senior
Campaign Advisor for Obama '08, and Kurt E. Yeager, California Chair
of the McCain Energy Coalition.

I attended this debate, and am displeased to report that it was profoundly superficial. Both candidates' surrogates struggled mightily to support renewable energy energy energy energy, and to link the same to the traditional shibboleths of each party. Carmichael talked about creating green (union) jobs, Yeager talked about winning the cold war. Both candidates dodged tough questions, and by the end of the thing, the moderator was begging them to differentiate themselves.

Particular hilarity was had when Carmichael declared that Obama "opposed offshore drilling, but supported the compromise which sanctioned it." Not to be outdone, Yeager announced on the very next question that McCain "was all for States' Rights, but felt that California should not receive an EPA waiver allowing it to regulate its own carbon emissions."

I was miraculously afforded the opportunity to ask the first question:

"Where does your candidate sit on the spectrum of preferring high energy prices, in order to destroy demand and spur innovation, to preferring low prices, to broadly stimulate the economy?"

Yeager seized the opportunity to rather violently dismiss my question as "an insult to the public," and said that "the citizenry should not have to pay the price for decades of Washington's inaction." I thought this was pretty stiff populism from a Republican. I'd had no idea the Federal Government took its mandate to supply consumers with cheap energy so seriously! The citizenry, of course, pays the price for whatever energy source they choose. The question is simply what kind of price do they pay, and exactly when and to whom do they pay it.

Carmichael was a little more conciliatory. He said that while the results of high prices are a fortunate accident, high prices are not generally desirable. I think he pretty much tried to have it both ways with me there, but then, I already knew Obama's position on the question.

Probably the boldest statements of the night were made by Yeager. Wrongly, in my view, he confidently stated that wind power would not ever amount to much, and that photovoltaics are the magic bullet for our energy problems. We'll watch as that one develops.

In the end, the debate was remarkably true to the popular mass media narrative of the campaigns: Carmichael wasted much time emphasizing the need for "inspirational leadership" and "vision", while Yeager strove to connect energy issues to McCain's "experience", while constantly tripping over facts, and contradicting himself.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Cat and the Pendulum

On the radio yesterday a House Republican explained that though he didn't expect his party to do well in the next election he expected that sooner or later "the pendulum would swing back the other way" allowing his party to come back to power. This metaphor is a common one but I think it's the hides more than it reveals. A pendulum implies that the various political parties/philosophies stand still while the voting public swings about. The reality is that the political parties and their ideologies are the changing too.

Of course they're changing! We're learning more and more everyday. From how to best administer health care to how regulatory capture can warp well-intentioned plans; voters are going to form different opinions based on new information and experiences. Moreover, the actual problems facing society are changing all the time. Many of them won't require government intervention but some of them will. Any political party that puts ideological fealty over pragmatically grappling with relevant issues is going to be toast electorally.

An Example: When facts on the ground show that "preemptive" war and unilateralism don't work, that creates an opportunity for either party. On the left that meant passing over those who supported the war to nominate a candidate who opposed it from the beginning. On the right it's lead to a renewed interest in isolationists (or "non-interventionists") like Ron Paul. One can only imagine this interest increasing if the right meets more electoral defeats. Either way the parties are changing every bit as much as the populace is.

At first glance the history of American politics might look like a fickle populace swing back and forth between two parties. But the party labels disguise the constantly changing ideologies underneath.

So in conclusion let me offer a new metaphor for democratic politics. Voters are like a laser-pointer spot moving randomly around the room and the parties are like two cats trying to catch it.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Fair and Balanced

Now Texas is getting its EPA Waiver requests denied too, even though they wanted a waiver allowing them to use more gasoline, not less. Is there any justice in the world? It just makes you want to give up.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Conservation Psychology, or, "What's it gonna take?"

A useful roundup of twenty years of research into what makes people want to conserve natural resources can be found here.

As someone who tends to believe that a free-market based solution to our worst environmental problems is highly desirable, I found this article very interesting. The article leaves a pretty big question in its wake however: People either have to get emotionally excited about conservation, or someone has to assign a monetary value to the externalities of pollution (nothing gets heads to turn faster than a nickel dropping on a concrete floor). We all love the carbon tax here, so let me go the other way for a second. How could we create a system that would make people visceral about conservation?

One of the worst systems of financial robbery the average worker experiences is income tax collection. The money gets taken out of your check every month, and if the government takes too much, well, you get it back an average of six months later, sans interest. Sorry, our bad!

People grumble about this, but it has an interesting side effect: you sure do race to fill out that form in January, don't you? Because you're going to get a big fat check once you're done. That's your money, and it always has been, but that fact gets lost in the psychology of collecting free money that you'd long ago written off as lost.

Why don't we treat energy the same way? What if, instead of a monthly per kw/h bill, we paid a per-year fee for energy, like rent, due in advance. And what if that fee were clearly exorbitant? Bear with me.

Instead of motorized meters that nobody ever sees or is able to read, you'd get a very colorful, pleasant digital display that went -inside- your front door; you'd see it every day as you left the house. That meter wouldn't display your energy use. It would calculate and display the amount you were presently on course to get sent back to you, at the end of the year.

I bet people would perk up in a hurry.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Gang of Ten 'Compromise'

The details are starting to creep in about the proposed Gang of Ten Energy Bill, and it looks pretty bad. A removed moratorium on drilling off the Florida coast, in exchange for a bag of magic beans, and a player to be named later:

- A "Sense of the Bill" opining that cars should be 85% non-petrol within 20 years
- Actually renewing the renewable energy subsidy that has been in place approximately forever, expires on January 1st, and amounts to $18b annually
- A $7b handout to the auto industry
- A promise that the drilling will be done "carefully"

Which is of course, what we were all concerned about.

And some Republican somewhere, knowing nothing about what EROEI means, still wants shale oil to be part of the deal.

None of this amounts to an admission that our energy policy is broken, that consumption has outrun production, and that increasing production is a rear-guard action at its very, very best. Even a domestic oil bonanza like the North Sea did nothing for long-run energy prices in the UK. As I've documented in earlier posts, the Red States are over a barrel in this energy crisis, and their representatives continue to lie to them about who got them into this mess. The Democrats' best plans of action, in order, are to

1) Stall, take the White House, then pass a serious energy policy designed to emphasize energy independence, and carbon neutrality.
2) Explain to Americans that Imported, and/or Non-renewable Energy is the new Fascism, and beat the Republicans on the Sunday morning talk shows
3) Force the Republicans to the actual bargaining table, by flexing their actual majorities in our actual National Legislature
4) Juggle bowling pins on C-Span
5) Go on national television and say this:

"I want to be absolutely clear to everybody about this. If I thought that I could provide you some immediate relief on gas prices by drilling off the shores of California and New Jersey . . . if I thought that by drilling offshore, we could solve our problem, I'd do it." - Barack Obama [from Washpost above]

Once again, the threat of somebody, somewhere, having to pay what something is actually worth, has brought another great populist to his knees. When will someone at the Federal level get serious about energy? Hopefully, there are plot twists yet to unfold during the five week recess.