12 August 2007

Why we Need a New Energy Policy

We are addicted to oil. Thomas Friedman has recently completed a series on Discovery Channel called “Addicted to Oil.” Mr. Friedman is perhaps one of the most thoughtful and knowledgeable people on the Middle East. His columns generally exude common sense. He has written several very good books I recommend you read.

Drive around and look at the SUVs and you will see why we are addicted to oil. Take a look at the cars around you as you commute to work. Our homes are built with very energy inefficient materials. There is no requirement for using the most energy efficient appliances, furnaces, and air conditioners. Our transportation system is largely energy inefficient. Using oil for transportation is a 20th century technology. Depending on what papers you read and believe we are fast approaching or already have surpassed peak oil.

While I do not think that global warming (also known as climate change) is a “problem of potentially catastrophic proportions”, the more immediate problem are despots like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and radical Islam and their hold on oil. Our addiction gives them money. They use that money to harm us. In my opinion that is far more reason to the kick the oil habit than some polar bear floating on a chunk of ice. From a purely geopolitical view it just makes sense to start phasing out oil. Aside from thumbing our noses at the religious zealots in the Middle East and whacked out despots in our backyard, there are other benefits to kicking the oil habit as well.

An important benefit would be for America to become a leader in renewable energy technology. Let us be the leader and we will reap the financial and political benefits. Kicking the oil habit will make our economy stronger and less vulnerable to the whims of extremists. It would also take the wind out the extremist’s sails. We can leave the Middle East to rot in its backwardness and narrow thinking.

Now for the hard part. How do we detoxify America and kick its addiction? First, let us recognize that this will not be accomplished overnight. It will take decades. But we need to start now. We need to have a Manhattan-esque project to develop the alternatives. Kicking our addiction to oil means diesel-hybrid cars and trucks, electric cars, nuclear energy, solar power, wind power, coal with carbon sequestering, hydro-power, etc. It will take a combination of all of these to slowly withdraw the gas pump out of the collective vein of the United States. We also need to rethink the distribution of goods within the United States. Grow and buy locally. Do we really need fresh strawberries in January?

One thing we cannot afford to do is think we can “grow” our way to energy independence. By that I mean using biofuels. Biofuels are no better than oil in my opinion. Why? Growing our fuel has all sorts of unintended consequences. It diverts food from the system to energy production and causes the price of food to rise. For example, using corn to produce ethanol increases the cost of milk, beef and tortillas. The processing of corn to make ethanol requires an incredible amount of water. Are we to dewater our aquifers and lakes to make fuel for our cars? Other unintended consequences will include farming marginal land that was set aside for conservation through government programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) because farmers can make more money. Farming marginal land will lead to more soil erosion, increase sedimentation in streams and lakes, worsen water quality, destroy wildlife habitat, and deteriorate forest and wetland resources.

It may require increasing taxes on gasoline to make more expensive alternatives more palpable to the pocketbook. It may require more incentives within the tax code to purchase and install energy efficient systems in your home and purchase and use fuel efficient cars and trucks. However, I think that if we harness our resourcefulness we can develop more efficient technologies that are also less expensive. That is what the Manhattan-esque project would be expected to accomplish. Now we just need someone with the leadership capabilities to pull it off. Someone that is not afraid to tell the American people the way it is and the way it ought to be; someone that can bridge the gap between environmentalism and security and economics. All three benefit from kicking the oil habit.

14 July 2007

Start Small, Do it Well, Move On

It seems everyone wants everything at once. The politicians want an omnibus immigration reform bill. They want universal health care. I am not sure that there ever has been one large government-sponsored program that has been successful. These programs are doomed to fail from the start because they are too large and over reaching to fund, implement, and maintain. Our government seems to think that more legislation is better even if it cannot be fully funded and implemented.

Immigration reform was recently proposed by President Bush and Congress. It failed (thankfully) because the reform did not fundamentally address the two issues that the majority of Americans wanted addressed: security and enforcement. The type of immigration reform the American people wanted was not about racism, it was about security. It was about a general feeling that the federal government was not doing a good enough job with its current laws, so what exactly would change by making new laws? Common sense immigration reform would consist of a multi-step legislation process. First, actually enforce the existing laws on the books and secure the border through a combination of fence, increasing the number of border agents, and electronic surveillance. Once benchmarks set under the first piece of legislation are achieved additional legislation could then be considered to create a guest worker program. And once the benchmarks for the guest worker program are achieved the status of the illegal immigrants would be decided. You may point out that we could setup the legislation to incorporate these benchmarks into an overall package, but I think that would be a mistake. I think it is better to set the benchmarks in each part of the plan then debate the next phase before adding new legislation. It is cleaner and prevents the corruption of the legislation.

The same approach can be used to address health care. Instead of debating universal health care for everyone in this country, let us first address those that need it the most. Again start small by providing a plan for those uninsured in the United States. Add benchmarks that track the progress. Start with providing health care to the most vulnerable portion of society – the children. Make sure that program is working. Adjust it if it is not. Once the benchmarks for insuring the uninsured children are achieved present legislation to address the next population. Through this process we learn what worked and did not work in previous legislation. We can adapt more easily when it comes to addressing the next uninsured segment of the population and expanding the program. Add benchmarks to each part of the process to make sure that we do not get ahead of ourselves and find ourselves in another Medicare and social security funding nightmare.

Yes, starting small and slowly moving through the process takes time, but it sure beats the alternative of trying to do everything at once and poorly and it is generally more palpable to everyone in the end. Methodically making progress will be most frustrating in our society with the microwave mentality of the majority and those seeking a political or social legacy while in office, but it certainly makes more sense than what we get when too much is tried in too short a time with too few resources. In the end we cannot afford to waste time and money on policies that simply do not work. We cannot afford to implement half-measures. The starting small process will achieve better results.

15 June 2007

What would a Common Sense Party Look Like?

More than anything I think the following WashingtonPost.com editorial sums up the way most Americans really think.

Standing for The 'Common Sense Party'
By Tim Maloney
Sunday, October 17, 2004; Page B08

My friend Chuck Ecker has a common-sense idea. He says we need a new political party, the "Common Sense Party." It is fitting that this idea comes from Chuck, because he is the embodiment of common sense. Chuck has been a teacher, coach and school administrator in Carroll and Prince George's counties. He was a deputy school superintendent in Howard County before serving two terms as the county executive. At age 75, he's back in Carroll County as school superintendent, invited home three years ago to clean up a messy situation there.

Chuck is practical, capable and honest, the kind of guy you'd want to be guardian of your kids or trustee of your money. Chuck would have made a great governor. He was a politician without being too political, a Republican without being too partisan. Maybe that's why he didn't win. Just what would the Common Sense Party stand for? Chuck didn't exactly say, so here's my list:

• The Common Sense Party would reject the Democratic Party's addiction to spending money to satisfy every interest group under its umbrella. It would reject the Republican Party's fundamental dishonesty about the budget and raise taxes to support real unmet needs in transportation, education and health care.

• The Common Sense Party would abandon the Republican love affair with the National Rifle Association, which has resulted in assault weapons being legalized in this country for the first time in 10 years. It would abandon the Democratic love affair with Hollywood elites that have poisoned our culture with gratuitous violence and sex on film.

• The Common Sense Party would renounce the Democratic alliance with teachers unions, which have insisted on trapping poor children in failing schools without meaningful educational choices. It would reject Republican Party policies that boosted tuition at Maryland's public colleges by 30 percent in three years, closing the door of opportunity for many poor students.

• The Common Sense Party would do something the Democratic Party could never do: trumpet the words of Bill Cosby about the importance of personal responsibility in the black community. It would do something the Republican Party could never do: recognize that many poor, working families have strong values but still need the government's help to gain access to education and health care.

• Unlike the Democratic Party, the Common Sense Party would make room for leaders who don't subscribe to the Planned Parenthood agenda on abortion. At the same time, the Common Sense Party would abandon Republican reluctance to spend money on maternal health care, child care and abuse prevention, especially for children of single parents.

All of these ideas are anathema to interest groups in one party or the other. These groups organize like-minded people, raise money and organize political action committees. They endorse candidates. They volunteer in campaigns. Over time, the distinction between these groups and the party machineries has been blurred.

That's why the political leadership appears homogenized on both sides, with little tolerance for even slight departures from party orthodoxy. How many leading Democratic officials are against abortion or support school choice? How many leading Republican officials support reasonable gun control or necessary tax increases?

The interest groups have succeeded not just in pushing their agendas but in polarizing the process. Moderation is the first casualty. The ultimate victim is common sense, which lacks organized backing.

Lots of important things have no organized constituencies. Take fiscal responsibility, for example. When I served in the legislature we would get thousands of calls against budget cuts, all orchestrated by various groups. The phone never rang with someone begging us to cut the budget. No one organizes a group for that.

Common sense works pretty much the same way. As a concept, it lacks the polarizing attraction of, say, the abortion rights movement or the gun groups. It doesn't inspire the kind of passion, anger or fear that would drive a direct-mail campaign. Few would contribute to a Common Sense PAC.

So it turns out that common sense is not so common after all, at least in the political sphere. This is bad news for our fledgling political party. We'll just have to keep holding our noses while the political parties keep catering to their flanks.

But there's a vacuum in the center for political leaders who put the public interest ahead of the interest groups. Chuck Ecker probably wouldn't agree with everything on my list. But I think he would agree that there's a need to recapture the practical middle ground, where most Americans are. It's just a matter of common sense.

13 June 2007

Why is a Common Sense Party Needed?

I am fed up with politics as usual. Where is common sense? The democrats and republicans just do not care. They are the rot and stench of Washington, D.C. They have lost touch with what matters in America: honesty, integrity, hard work, family, and community.

I firmly believe that the majority of Americans lean left on some issues and right on other issues. The majority of Americans are not a bunch of brainless ideologues like those on the right and left. The majority of Americans are practical people that have become disenfranchised with politics. They feel they can't do anything.

We need a grassroots organization to take back our government. This blog will attempt to filter through the democratic and republican propaganda and present those candidates that are most closely aligned to the values of common sense and everyday Americans. Please join me in this fight. We need to take back our government for the sake of our children and grandchildren.