Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Read the Pickens Plan

If you haven’t seen the new television ads being run by longtime oilman T. Boone Pickens, I encourage you to take 60 seconds to check it out.

In a single brief ad, Pickens lays out an intelligent and easy to understand plan to break America’s dependence on oil. You can read the whole plan here (and I encourage you to do so – it’s an easy read), but here it is in a nutshell:

1. Establish wind power as a mainstream source and producer of a substantial fraction of America’s electricity

2. Leverage these new wind resources to free American natural gas (currently used to generate 22% of our electricity) to rapidly phase out oil as our primary transportation fuel.

Pickens supports the eventual transition to renewable fuels for our vehicles but claims that the technology is not yet ready.

Here’s my two cents on the plan – I’ll keep it short and sweet:

We should embrace and expand wind power as rapidly as possible. It should be a national project on par with Eisenhower’s initiative to build our highways, the Manhattan Project or the Apollo Program.

And while natural gas would be a better fuel for our cars than oil in pretty much every respect (read his plan – very compelling), I’m not convinced we couldn’t do better (see sugar-cane ethanol in Brazil).

However, my summary opinion is that this plan represents a dramatic improvement over the status quo.

Thoughts, anyone?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Peek at Obama's Political Worldview

I certainly don’t agree with Barack Obama on everything. That being said, when Obama speaks about his overarching political worldview, I often feel like my mind is being read. This is one of the reasons that I have become such a strong supporter of his campaign.

Today, Andrew Sullivan’s blog posted a quote from Obama that appears in the latest issue of Time.

I was always suspicious of dogma, and the excesses of the left and the right. One of my greatest criticisms of the Republican Party over the last 20 years is that it's not particularly conservative. I can read conservatives from an earlier era—a George Will or a Peggy Noonan—and recognize wisdom, because it has much more to do with respect for tradition and the past and I think skepticism about being able to just take apart a society and put it back together. Because I do think that communities and nations and families aren't subject to that kind of mechanical approach to change. But when I look at Tom DeLay or some of the commentators on Fox these days, there's nothing particularly conservative about them.

In my opinion, this simple quote neatly captures several aspects of Obama’s intelligence and political philosophy that have given me the confidence not only to vote for him, but also to openly promote him to people that I know will be skeptical.

Let me be more specific.

These words reveal a mind that is not ideological in nature. Obama not only cites his aversion to dogma, but explicitly acknowledges that both the right and the left often go too far in pursuing their values. It is this mindset that allows me to support him despite the criticism of his very liberal Senate voting record.

Obama also recognizes the value of the conservative political philosophy. He does this explicitly when he acknowledges the “wisdom” of conservative thinkers such as George Will and Peggy Noonan (two of my personal favorites) and implicitly when he cites his biggest problem with modern Republicans – that they “are not particularly conservative”.

As someone who voted Republican in 1996 and even 2000, I could not agree more. (For example, cutting taxes while dramatically raising spending (e.g. two wars, the Medicare Prescription Drug act) is not conservative. Subsidizing Exxon in times of record profits is not conservative.).

Beyond acknowledging the value of conservative political thought, Obama also reveals a belief that is directly at odds with extreme ideological liberalism: that the power of government intervention is clearly limited. Perhaps I am reading too much into his words, but I think that when Obama says that “nations and families aren’t subject to that kind of mechanical change” he is acknowledging what few ideological liberals will - that there major limits to what government can achieve and, therefore, we should be skeptical and incremental when we expand its purpose and power.

Am I reading too much into these words? I would be happy to hear alternative and/or skeptical opinions.

If you buy this argument, I encourage you to forward it to skeptics.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Purging Some Apathy

My posts have obviously been few and far between lately. There are several reasons for this, but I must admit that my absence has been partially due to a sense of disgust at the current state of the Presidential campaign and the dominating effect it has had on the media's coverage of the various policy debates. It's made me want to take an extended break from it all - and I think that is a bad thing.

I blame both campaigns for this.

David Brooks wrote an insightful piece this week that attempts (successfully in my opinion) to diagnose why the McCain campaign has taken the low-road in this campaign. In short, Brooks argues, the nature of the media's coverage is forcing him to attack Obama. Though I am uncomfortable with this conclusion, his argument is pretty persuasive. It is certainly not the whole story, nor does it even come close to absolving McCain for some of the absurd and/or oversimplifed arguments he is advancing (e.g. claiming we can even come close to lowering the deficit by only cutting pork barrel spending). Nevertheless, Brooks argument provokes a useful debate on why we see what we do from our politicians.

Obama is not blameless either.

Although I have been much more impressed with the idea-centered nature of his television ads and his publicized speeches, he has declined McCain's invitation to appear in a series of one on one town hall style debates. There is no good excuse for this refusal. We would all be better off to hear these two men go head to head on the issues instead of continuing to be subjected to the ludicrous filters and priorities of the mainstream media - both the liberal and the conservative players.


I didn't think about the content of this post before I wrote it - which is somewhat unusual for me on this blog. But I felt it was necessary to write something as I find myself being consumed by the affliction that I have railed against so many times on here before... apathy.

It is tough to even feel minimal value - much less anything near contentment - at reaching so few people with this blog in the face of the spectacle of the trivial, misleading and often harmful presentation of our political process that I see on the news most days.

But I remind myself that this spectacle is precisely the reason it is important to stay engaged and sounding off. We should all remember our responsibility to do what we can with what we have where we are (hat tip: Teddy Roosevelt).

So...I'm going to redouble my efforts! I hope each of you will do the same in your own way.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Perspective on the Conflict in Georgia

The Olympics have distracted much of the world from the war that has erupted in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. I've been trying to study the issue, but the divided news coverage and my lack of background knowledge on the factors driving the conflict make me uncomfortable making any statements of my own.

That being said, it seems like a far too important event to not comment on. Needless to say, wars - especially involving powers the size of Russia - are always a big deal, but this one really captures my attention for what it seems to suggest about the role Russia will play in shaping world events in the coming years or decades. In short, it's pretty troubling if not downright scary.

Robert Kagan, writing today in the Washington Post, discussed his take on Moscow's intentions in this conflict and speculates on the role they will play in the coming years. If you are interested in international relations, I recommend the whole essay but I've copied his core conclusion below:

Historians will come to view Aug. 8, 2008, as a turning point no less significant than Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. Russia's attack on sovereign Georgian territory marked the official return of history, indeed to an almost 19th-century style of great-power competition, complete with virulent nationalisms, battles for resources, struggles over spheres of influence and territory, and even -- though it shocks our 21st-century sensibilities -- the use of military power to obtain geopolitical objectives. Yes, we will continue to have globalization, economic interdependence, the European Union and other efforts to build a more perfect international order. But these will compete with and at times be overwhelmed by the harsh realities of international life that have endured since time immemorial.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Important Facts About Energy Policy...and Your Tires

Energy policy is getting the attention it deserves in the current Presidential campaign. Unfortunately, most of the rhetoric is not sufficiently serious. That being said, some good ideas are being floated, even if they are being dismissed for political reasons.

Barack Obama, like John McCain, has supported specific energy policy ideas that I object to including subsidizing corn-based ethanol and, more recently, the windfall profits tax on oil companies. The McCain camp opposes both ideas and has rightly challenged these positions. Unfortunately, they have criticized some of his better ideas as well.

The most recent is Obama's suggestion that Americans prioritize keeping their cars' tires inflated and engines tuned. The RNC has actually begun handing out tire-gauges in an effort to mock Obama's energy plan and score political points.

But a recent article in Time magazine has made it easy to evaluate the merits of this proposal. You can read the entire article here, but the most important points are in the first two paragraphs which I will quote directly:

How out of touch is Barack Obama? He's so out of touch that he suggested that if all Americans inflated their tires properly and took their cars for regular tune-ups, they could save as much oil as new offshore drilling would produce. Gleeful Republicans have made this their daily talking point, Rush Limbaugh is having a field day, and the Republican National Committee is sending tire gauges labeled "Barack Obama's Energy Plan" to Washington reporters.

But who's really out of touch? The Bush administration estimates that expanded offshore drilling could increase oil production by 200,000 barrels per day by 2030. We use about 20 million barrels per day, so that would meet about 1% of our demand two decades from now. Meanwhile, efficiency experts say that keeping tires inflated can improve gas mileage by 3%, and regular maintenance can add another 4%. Many drivers already follow their advice, but if everyone else did, we could reduce demand several percentage points immediately. In other words: Obama is right.

I encourage you to forward this article (or the blog post) to your friends. This is an easy way to elevate the debate (and also to help your friends save a bit of money!).