Posts Tagged ‘ Obama ’

The upside of a gasoline crisis

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, today said that the Obama administration favors higher gas prices: “This administration’s policies have been designed to drive up the cost of energy in the name of reducing pollution, in the name of making very expensive alternative fuels more economically competitive.”

First, I have to admit that Barbour is cynically correct, but only if you read the above sentence like this: Haley Barbour … today said that the Obama administration favors higher gas prices … in the name of reducing pollution, in the name of making very expensive alternative fuels more economically competitive. It is true, Obama himself has stated that he is not opposed to higher prices on gasoline (maybe because a sustained gas crisis would actually generate the political willpower to detox our foreign oil addiction). However, administration policies have NOTHING to do with the current rise in gas prices. Let me repeat that: ADMINISTRATION POLICIES HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE CURRENT RISE IN GAS PRICES!!! The federal tax on a gallon of gasoline has not changed since 1993; it is currently 18.4 cents. There is an excess supply of oil in world markets, so the lack of new drilling permits in Gulf is not restricting production. In short, the sharp increases in gas prices around the country over the last couple of weeks are purely the result of market volatility and uncertainty about political developments in the oil rich Middle East and North Africa.

Even if the U.S. were suddenly able to tap all of its possible reserves (note, there is still debate about what amount of this is ‘proven’), it is only enough to last about 31 years at current consumption levels. And given that we presently produce 6 million barrels a day while consuming 20 million, it is beyond even my wildest dreams to think that our production could ever completely supplant foreign sources. In short, an energy policy that is based on oil and other fossil fuels will never allow us to be self-sufficient and will not support future generations of Americans that Republicans love to crow about protecting (i.e., me and my future children).

So what good can come from a gasoline crisis that would hit working-class Americans the hardest? It would force us to confront the fact that domestic politicos have very little long-term control over the price of oil and, subsequently, gas prices. And that if we truly want energy security, we’re actually going to have to invest in sources that won’t dry up unless the earth stops spinning or the sun explodes (wind- and solar-power, for those keeping score). So while the Obama administration is not actively raising gas prices, it is not afraid to confront the realities that underlie those rising prices because, as Energy Secretary Steven Chu points out, “When the price of oil goes up in the short-term, everybody gets very worried. But when it subsides, people forget that this is a long-term problem.”

While Democrats and Republicans agree that our energy sector should not be held hostage to foreign policy crises, Republicans’ (and some Democrats) belief that we can simply use domestic fossil fuels to solve our supply problem is simply ludicrous. Well, I guess it’s not ludicrous to Baby Boomers who will be dead before the oil is gone; but to someone like me who actually will have to deal with a post-oil society, I would prefer not to have to start developing that new infrastructure when the oil runs out. Instead, we need to recognize that there is still a place for oil in this world, but that it should be as a bridge to maintain supplies as we transition to renewable sources which can power our nation for generations to come. If politicians (like former energy lobbyist Haley Barbour) who oppose alternative energy development in favor of increasing oil production want to be taken seriously by working-class and younger Americans about protecting them from energy price fluctuations, they should cut the bullshit and get off the oil industry’s dick.

And maybe it’s just because I’ve had Gary Jules in my head all day and want to talk about it, but I think this really sums up the conservative solution to energy security: “And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad/The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had”

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Obama’s a pragmatist? Finally, some good news.

(Inspiration thanks to the Daily Dish)

David Kurtz describes the compromise President Obama reached with Senate Republicans to extend all the Bush-era tax-cuts for two years in exchange for a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits and a number of other economic stimulants as a “turning point … in how we understand and perceive him.” He goes on to say that no longer will Obama be seen as a “progressive savior,” but rather as a plain ‘ole pragmatist. To that I say: “Thank goodness!” It’s why I voted for the guy. And I hope Kurtz is right.

Many reactions on the left fall somewhere between outrage at Obama’s “capitulation” and a dispirited cynicism because they don’t like the deal, but “it could be worse.” Yes, it is an imperfect deal (I, for one, despise the estate tax reduction), but it accomplishes what Obama felt was the most urgent issue before Congress: extending unemployment benefits. And that is what a pragmatist does. A pragmatist understands the broader decision-making context and seeks to achieve what is possible, not what is ideal. Sure, he could’ve used the bully pulpit over the next two years to castigate the GOP for its unforgivable legislative intransigence, and that might’ve had a discernible impact on his chances for re-election in 2012. But that wouldn’t have passed a measure which will have the greatest impact on getting money back into our economy.

And those who argue that widespread public agreement with Obama and the Democrats over the tax-cuts for the wealthy justifies a showdown with the GOP have a fundamental misunderstanding of how policy is made in this country. If the fate of the Bush tax-cuts were decided by popular referendum, the public opinion argument would mean something. But since it is elected officials who actually vote for (or against) a policy, and since Senate Republicans had vowed to kill any legislation which did not extend all the Bush tax-cuts (and would succeed because of the Senate’s broken filibuster procedure), such public support was essentially meaningless. To put it another way, Obama and the Democrats can scream at the top of their lungs, “THE PEOPLE SUPPORT THIS!!!” and Jim DeMint can – and will – simply say, “But I don’t care.” And that is where any chance of actually governing ends.

All of which makes it clear that we are lucky Obama is a pragmatist rather than some kind of progressive ideologue. He surveyed the political landscape, saw that it was unfavorable, and made the best decision he could based on the resources available to achieve what he thought was most important. It wasn’t a shrewd political calculation about getting re-elected in 2012, nor was it a sign of weakness in the face of staunch Republican opposition. It was a realistic appraisal of what was needed to get what he truly believed was most necessary for the country as a whole. Pragmatism isn’t glorious, but it is effective, and that’s what we need most urgently in a leader.

Having said all of that, I still think there’s all-too-often an erroneous impulse to lay all the blame or the glory at Obama’s feet. He’s one man. Let’s think big picture here, unless the House Dems scribble all over it next week and leave us with no meaningful economic bill at the end of the lame-duck session.

Stretching Out Some New Executive Muscle

“If any good can come from this, it could be the push for more balanced regulation that doesn’t tip so blindingly for production — but one that considers the real environmental risks and plans for worst-case scenarios,”

Well, it’s looking increasingly likely that Pres. Obama will make good on plans to lay down some heavier executive muscle in dealing with the recent oil spill.

A perusal of several articles from CNN, MSNBC and USA Today points toward an increasing willingness by the Administration to make full of use of the bully pulpit while also expanding federal clean-up activities. With evidence mounting that BP is guilty  of negligence in the lead-up to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and with public outrage continuing to seethe, CEO Tony Hayward has appeared increasingly contrite in discussing how to deal with the disaster.

This has allowed the Administration to be more tough in its condemnation, with Pres. Obama declaring that BP will ultimately be held responsible for the spill. And with legal liability against BP looking increasingly sound, corporate naysayers may well be left with nothing to complain about and justice served. Indeed, the initial $69 million in charges related to the clean-up announced by the government against BP is a very encouraging sign of what we may expect over the coming months and years in dealing with this disaster.

Executive power and capability are increasing. Pres. Obama needs to make use of these.