US Energy Policy – A Time for Change

Time for a Change?

For the past few months the debate on health care has consumed all of the physical, intellectual and emotional energy in Congress. But, there is another kind of energy that will be the focus of debate on October 27 when the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee begins hearings on climate change legislation. Senator Barbara Boxer, the committee’s chair, pledged to pass a strong energy and jobs bill “as soon as possible.”

Like health care, this is easier said than done. Powerful forces with deep pockets and a multitude of lobbyists are mobilized to water down or defeat any initiative that brings substantive change. But also like health care, strong energy legislation is crucial for the health of our planet, the security of our nation and the future of our children.

I wrote about this during my time in Cambridge when the bill was being debated in the House of Representatives, and that argument bears repeating as the effort gets kicked off in the Senate.

Start by thinking about the US utility business.  The industry’s primary stakeholders are shareholders who expect a return on investment; and, the commercial and residential customers who need reliable electricity, and whose monthly bill payments provide revenue. But there are many others who have a stake in how the business is managed, ranging from environmentalists to economic developers.

The issue is not limited to the utility industry, but includes all businesses and individuals that use energy-producing fuels.  This raises an overriding national security concern about the extent of our reliance on fossil fuels, much of which comes from countries that are not fond of our values or our way of life.

In looking at federal energy legislation, how do we balance the immediate business priorities of shareholder return and customer price, with the long-term issues of national security, healthy air and water, economic development and environmental sustainability?

At present, we don’t. We can’t seem to think beyond the immediate interests of our various constituencies. Politicians in power want to stay there and those out of power want to return, common good be damned; the primary concern of business is shareholder return and customer price; consumers seek to maintain and improve their existing standard of living. The first is subjected to powerful lobbying from the second, and the third targeted with partisan campaigns of fear, obfuscation and manipulation by the other two.

It seems clear to me that the United States is becoming more and more vulnerable as we increase our dependency on energy imports, thus becoming less able to deal effectively with threats from the Middle East. We are in danger of falling into energy insecurity, and of being mired in constant conflict with unstable and badly governed states.

We have an urgent need to begin a conversation about new political and economic strategies, conversations that must recognize the true cost of our energy consumption. This true cost (according to Energy Security: Toward a New Foreign Policy Status by Jan Kalicki and David Goldwyn) includes the cost of maintaining a military presence in the Gulf states, the health costs caused by carbon emissions and other pollutants, the cost of maintaining our transportation infrastructure, and the economic costs “that volatile energy prices impose on the competitiveness of US manufacturing.”

Kalicki and Goldwyn argue that “the disconnect between what Americans pay for energy and what it really costs them has lead to political deadlock… The failure to achieve basic changes has plagued Democrats and Republicans alike, both of which have feared antagonizing domestic producers and manufacturers or risking consumer retaliation at even the mention of increasing taxes. They argue, therefore, that the legislative consequence is weak, and is limited to “shortsighted discussions of industry subsidies, or continuation of the war between producers and environmentalists.”

Even though their book was written in 2005, it paints an accurate picture of the current legislative process in Washington. At least the Democrats in the House had the courage to pass out a bill, but Democratic Senators have been unwilling to confront the naysayers and tackle the issue. I am hopeful that Senator Boxer is about to change that dire situation.

Somewhere, somehow there must be a coming together of leaders who will engage the conversation as statespersons rather than partisans, seeking a balance that preserves the interest of the nation, ensures long-term environmental sustainability, protects national security and stimulates economic prosperity… and earns the US a mantle of world leadership on an issue that affects every corner of the globe.

It can be said that this is just a pipe dream, that it can never happen. But if we don’t seriously engage our energy policy we are endangering the health, economic opportunities, freedom and security of our grandchildren’s children.

It will take courage and leadership from the Democratic senators to get a substantive energy bill passed. But that is what we elected them to do, and it is time for them to focus more on serving the needs of the American people than on appeasing their colleagues on the right and rewarding the big-buck lobbyists. Please offer your comments and the bottom of the page.

Bill Jamieson

The Nobel Peace Prize: The Right is in a Lather

Most of us— those who support President Obama and those who oppose him— were caught by surprise when we awoke on Friday morning to the news that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. One question was repeated over and over again in conversations, on the airwaves and over the internet: What has he done in less than a year in office to deserve this award?

In a culture that wants clear, tangible results there is disbelief that a person who inspires us toward new visions of peace, and restores our hope for the future, is worthy of honor. And the most vocal and disparaging criticism comes from those who are doing everything in their power to keep his vision from becoming tangible reality.

Remember the world that President Obama stepped into as a leader. The United States was not respected, and in many places was despised… and not, as President Bush declared, because of our wealth and our freedom. We were despised because of our bellicose arrogance, our insistence that we (and only we) had all the right answers to everyone else’s problems. Discussions about global issues and relationships began and ended with “do it our way, or get out of our way”.

A pervasive, xenophobic fear seemed to be gripping the USA. We saw and heard the people of other cultures solely through the filters of our own experiences, and we made policy decisions from the belief that what is good for us is good for the world.  President Obama has challenged America to wake up and grow up, to understand that our leadership role in this ever-shrinking world must be focused more on collaboration than coercion.

Discussions about global relationships usually focus on political ideology, sovereignty, competition, trade, environmental concerns and technology. These discussions, however, often become fierce debates that exacerbate the red flags of parochial politics, terrorism and xenophobia. The President has challenged us to restart at a radically different point: with the attitudes, hopes and desires of people in our nation and across the globe.

It is the attitude of the people that determines political outcomes, and hopefulness is an antidote to terrorism. Understanding and appreciating the value of diverse cultures, and how much we can improve our own lot through relationships with those cultures, will dissolve xenophobia.

Policies created to govern competition, trade, the environment and technology need to be formed around serving the hopes and desires of people, rather than forcing people into corporate-serving economic boxes that create wealth for the few while leaving too many behind.  But first, the attitudes, hopes, and desires of people from different cultures must be heard, understood and responded to… and President Obama has done and is doing this.

This transformation in the attitude and the practice of the world’s most powerful nation in its relationship with the international community… and the replacing of fear with hope within the USA… is, in my opinion, the reason that President Obama was voted the Nobel Peace Prize. It is, as he proclaimed, a “call to action.” But a transforming vision always calls us away from the status quo, and those who hold positions of power within that old order will fight to the death to hold their privileges and perks.  And the reaction from the political right to the President’s award makes this case:

Bill Kristol thinks that the wrong American won the prize: It should have gone “to Senator John McCain for having the guts to push through the surge in Iraq…”

Rush Limbaugh said that awarding the Peace Prize to President Obama was a greater embarrassment for the USA than losing the Olympics. “This fully exposes the illusion that is Barack Obama” Limbaugh told Politico (www.politico.com) , and with this award the elites of the world are urging Obama, the man of peace, to not do the surge in Afghanistan, not take action against Iran and its nuclear program and to basically continue his intentions to emasculate the United States… They love a weakened, neutered US, and this is their way of promoting that concept…”

Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee Chairman asked “What has President Obama actually accomplished? It is unfortunate that the president’s star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights. One thing is certain— President Obama won’t be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation, fiscal responsibility, or backing up rhetoric with concrete action.”

Craig Shirley wrote on Politico “Utterly ridiculous. The credibility of the Nobel Peace Prize… has hit rock bottom.”

And from www.talkingpointsmemo.com, South Carolina Republican Congressman Gresham Barrett said “Congratulations to President Obama on his prize. I am not sure what the international community loved best: his waffling on Afghanistan, pulling defense missiles out of Eastern Europe, turning his back on freedom fighters in Honduras, coddling Castro, siding with Palestinians against Israel, or almost getting tough on Iran.”

The editor of RedState suggested that the Nobel Committee must have adopted an affirmative action quota. And Republican Senator James Inhofe from Oklahoma said that Obama received the prize as a reward for making the USA weaker. Former Bush war monger and unconfirmed UN ambassador John Bolton suggested that he, not President Obama, should have won the Peace Prize.

The Democratic National Committee’s Communications Director  responded to the deluge of rightwing hysteria on Huffingtonpost.com  with the following words: “The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists— the Taliban and Hamas (the only foreign leaders to criticize Obama’s honor)— Republicans cheered when America failed to land the Olympics and now they are criticizing the President of the United States for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize— an award he did not seek but that is nonetheless an honor in which every American can take great pride— unless of course you are the Republican Party. The 2009 version of the Republican Party has no boundaries, has no shame and has proved that they will put politics above patriotism at every turn. It is no wonder only 20 percent of Americans admit to being Republicans— it’s an embarrassing label to claim.”

I suspect that the reaction of foreign leaders stoked even more fury in the hearts and minds of America’s conservative leaders (gleaned from Politico, Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo):

French President Nicholas Sarkozy stated that the President was recognized because of his “determined commitment to human rights, justice and the promotion of peace in the world… the prize does justice to (Obama’s) vision of tolerance and dialogue between states, cultures and civilizations.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said that “What Obama did during his presidency is a big signal, he gave hope. In these hard times people who are capable of taking responsibility, who have a vision, commitment and political will should be supported.”

Mohamed ElBaradei, the outgoing head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said that he “cannot think of anyone today more deserving of this honor. In less than a year in office he has transformed the way we look at ourselves and the world we live in, and rekindled hope for a world at peace with itself. President Obama has provided outstanding leadership on moving towards a world free of nuclear weapons. He has shown an unshakeable commitment to diplomacy, mutual respect and dialogue as the best means of resolving conflicts. He has reached out across divides and made clear that he sees the world as one human family, regardless of religion, race or ethnicity.”

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel told the President “You have already inspired so many people around the world, and I know that this award also expresses hope that your Presidency will usher in a new era of peace and reconciliation…”

Massimo Teodori, an Italian scholar of US history, suggested that the Peace Prize award to Obama was a clear rejection of George Bush’s “unilateral, antagonistic politics… The prize is well deserved after the Bush years, which had antagonized the rest of the world. President Obama’s policy of extending his hand has reconciled the United States with the international community.”

David Ignatius of the Washington Post wrote that President Obama won the award for “reconnecting America to the world and making us popular again… Obama’s achievements are in the ‘good intentions’ category, but that doesn’t mean they are insignificant.

I agree, and I am delighted that my President has been recognized by the world as a man of peace, and that by extension my country is becoming an agent of peace. Congratulations, Mr. President.

Please add your thoughts and comments below, or send me an e-mail at peoplesvisionusa@gmail.com.

Is the USA a Christian Nation?

Is the USA a Christian nation? Ponder some teachings of Jesus and then you decide. Please share your conclusion by clicking on “comments” at the bottom of the page. These teachings have been gleaned and paraphrased from the four Gospel lessons as recorded in the New International Version of the Bible.

 Blessed are the meek, the poor in spirit, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peace makers…
You have heard it said, eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your shirt, let him have your coat as well.
 
Love your enemies…pray for those who persecute you…. When you forgive others who hurt you, God forgives you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, God will not forgive you your sins. Do not judge or you will be judged. Do not condemn…. I pass judgment on no one.
 
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you… Do to others as you would have them do to you… Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? I desire mercy, not sacrifice… Take my yoke upon you and learn for me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.

When you pray, do not be like hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corner to be seen by men…but when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray in secret… and when you pray do not keep babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words…

 Do not store up treasures on earth, for where your treasure is your heart will be also. I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or wear… who by worrying can add a single hour to life?… The worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, the desires for other things, come in a choke the word of God, making it unfruitful. If you desire a perfect relationship with God, go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor.

Be on guard against greed. A man’s life does not consist of an abundance of his possessions. When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, brothers or relatives, or rich neighbors. When you give a banquet invite the poor… Feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the prisoners… because what you do for one of the least of my brothers and sisters is what you do for me.

When the disciples came to Jesus and asked ‘who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ he called a little child and had him stand among them, and he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’

The rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. But not so with you. Instead, who ever wants to become great among you must be your servant. I did not come to be served, but to serve… I am among you as one who serves.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments… You have a fine way of setting aside the commandments of God in order to observe your own traditions.

Woe to you who are rich for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will weep. Woe to you when people speak well of you for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

A new commandment I give you: Love one another, and by your love others will know that you are my disciples.

My conclusion is that the United States is a richly diverse nation that is home to people who follow diverse spiritual paths. While we are not a “Christian Nation”, there are tens of millions of us who sincerely seek to follow the teachings of Jesus, but as fallable human beings we too often fall short. What do you think? Add your comments at the bottom of the page.

A Sad State of Affairs

A Sad State of Affairs

The President of the United States decides to address the country’s students, urging them to study hard and stay in school. The raw-meat eaters on the Republican side then accuse the President of trying to indoctrinate our children with “socialist ideology”. Their spokespersons on talk radio and cable television suggest that the President is Hugo Chavez, Saddam Hussein and a banana dictator all wrapped into one.

It must be frustrating for these self-proclaimed paragons of the right to go through their political lives unable to seriously reflect on difficult issues without declaring that the apocalypse is upon us. Theirs’ is politics through mugging, hate and fear; policy making through lies, distortions, and innuendos. It is a destructive brand of politics that should be beneath our contempt. The future of our country is in danger when many of the nation’s leaders refuse to seriously discuss solutions to difficult problems, preferring instead to follow the lead of hate mongers who stir the base passions of scared and angry people.

Back in my day of working in state-government politics, those of us on the left and those on the right would argue opposite sides of tough issues… and, we would keep at it until we found a consensus. We didn’t demagogue or vilify each other, we didn’t launch personal attacks, but we did present our often-differing views with passion.

As a case in point, I remember a time when the State of Arizona was facing a crisis that threatened to shut down the state’s Medicaid program. I was the point man for the Democratic Governor, and was engaged in a day-long negotiation with the Republican Majority Leader of the House. We went at it vigorously, but at 5p.m. we rode together to the softball field where I coached our two daughters in the final game of the season. We later reached an agreement while sitting at a Burger King during an after-game party. The two of us genuinely liked and respected one another, and we shared the same goal: find a solution that worked for the state and the people we were called to serve. We were not looking for a political win for our party, but a win for Arizona.

Contrast that to the rhetoric of today around the issue of health care: The President is called a socialist, a communist and a traitor because he believes that health care is a moral right and should be accessible to all citizens of this country.  A cable television hate-monger states that the President is leading us to “Nazi-style” socialism” because he seeks to have a public option to compete with the insurance companies.

Others distort the proposals, suggesting that Democrats want to form death panels to decide who lives and who dies; or that the plans being considered will permit federal funds for abortions; or that Obama wants the government to choose providers and ration the care a person receives; or that the Democrats are secretly plotting to eliminate Medicare. It is too polite to label these and other outrageous claims coming from the right as “distortions”. They are flat out lies.

Any attempt at rational, reasoned discussion is feared by the right, so they have adopted a strategy of disruption. People show up at “town hall meetings” with posters of the President doctored to look like Adolph Hitler, and they shout down those who disagree with them, refusing to permit any civil substantive conversation. Folks come to meetings where the President is speaking bearing guns. A man in Phoenix Arizona hears a sermon where the pastor suggests that God should strike down President Obama and send him to hell, then after church the man attends an Obama rally with an assault riffle.

Is this a thoughtful way to find a solution to our nation’s health care crisis? I wonder what the 900,000 U.S. families that face medical bankruptcy each year think about this right-wing anti-Obama show put on by people who have yet to offer a constructive idea to the debate. I wonder what they think when they read that the same people who supported tax cuts that took trillions out of our economy, now argue that a $900 billion price tag is too much for the nation to pay to ensure comprehensive, reliable and quality health care for all Americans.

Tell that to the father who lost his family’s medical insurance when he was laid off from his job and can’t afford the premium for the COBRA policy. Tell that to the mother who is battling cancer and cannot afford her co-pay for drugs, or to the parents who can’t get insurance because they have a child with a “preexisting condition”. Tell that to the family whose soaring medical insurance premiums are destroying their standard of living.

I agree with the words of Bob Herbert in his September 8 op-ed piece in the New York Times: “The entire Republican Party has decided that it is in favor of absolutely nothing…There is nothing that you can come up with that the G.O.P. is for…The serious wackos, the obsessive compulsive abusrdists, may be beyond therapy. But the rest of us could use some serious adult counseling. We’ve forgotten many of the fundamentals: how to live within our means, the benefits of shared sacrifice, the responsibilities that go with citizenship, and the importance of a well-rounded education, and tolerance.” Amen!

A Learning Experience III

Our professor last week was Amelia Hadfield, a brilliant young scholar and teacher extraordinaire from the University of Kent. She began each of her 12 sessions with a scene-setting lecture, and then put us into teams to discuss, argue and debate. For instance, on the day we examined the Israel-Palestine issue we role-played a summit meeting, with three-person delegations representing Palestine, Israel, the United States, the European Union and Jordan.  I served as moderator for the summit, and another geriatric American was the arbitration judge.

I also represented the US in a discussion about how foreign policy affects business. By the time she left us on Thursday we had role-played such issues as hard vs. soft power, seeking international partnerships vs. unilateralism, and the international politics of energy and the political economy. This has been an invigorating week of learning and challenge. It helped me understand that the process and the results of domestic US politics is intertwined with our interests internationally, both in terms of how we are perceived by others and the credibility we have to shape the conversation on crucial interests.

All of this was juxtaposed in my mind with the debates in Congress about health care and energy, which I follow each morning on the Internet. Both issues involve powerful forces with vested interests, including politicians, providers and consumers. What has become clear to me during my time at Cambridge is the extent to which we in the United States view solutions to crucial socioeconomic issues through lenses of vested interest rather than considering a perspective that includes all stakeholders.

For instance, think about the US utility business and the energy bill before Congress. The industry’s primary stakeholders are shareholders who expect a return on investment; and, the commercial and residential customers who need reliable electricity, and whose monthly bill payments provide revenue. But there are many others who have a stake in how the business is managed, ranging from environmentalists to economic developers.  And, the issue is not limited to the utility industry, but includes all businesses that use energy-producing fuels.  This raises an overriding national security concern about the extent of our reliance on fossil fuels, much of which comes from countries that are not fond of our values or our way of life.

 In looking at federal energy legislation, how do we balance the immediate business priorities of shareholder return and customer price, with the long-term issues of national security, economic development and environmental sustainability?

At present, we don’t. We can’t seem to think beyond the immediate interest of our various constituencies. Politicians in power want to stay there and those out of power want to return, common good be damned; the primary concern of business is shareholder return and customer price; consumers seek to maintain and improve their existing standard of living. The first is subjected to powerful lobbying from the second, and the third targeted with partisan campaigns of fear, obfuscation and manipulation by the other two.

The long-term interest in energy policy should include but go beyond all of the above. This interest also includes national security, economic issues that stretch across national boundaries, balancing energy resources between developing and developed nations, and the world-threatening issue of environmental sustainability.

It seems clear to me that the United States is becoming more and more vulnerable as we increase our dependency on energy imports, thus becoming less able to deal effectively with threats from the Middle East. We are in danger of falling into energy insecurity, and of being mired in constant conflict with unstable and badly governed states.  

This is where my current studies in international relations and my passion for domestic politics come together. We have an urgent need to begin a conversation about new political and economic strategies, conversations that must recognize the true cost of our energy consumption. This true cost (according to Energy Security: Toward a New Foreign Policy Status by Jan Kalicki and David Goldwyn) includes the cost of maintaining a military presence in the Gulf states, the healthcare costs caused by carbon emissions and other pollutants, the cost of maintaining our transportation infrastructure, and the economic costs “that volatile energy prices impose on the competitiveness of US manufacturing.”

Kalicki and Goldwyn argue that “the disconnect between what Americans pay for energy and what it really costs them has lead to political deadlock… The failure to achieve basic changes has plagued Democratic and Republicans alike, both of which have feared antagonizing domestic producers and manufacturers or risking consumer retaliation at even the mention of” increasing taxes. They argue, therefore, that the legislative consequence is weak, and is limited to “shortsighted discussions of industry subsidies, or continuation of the war between producers and environmentalists.”

Even though their book was written in 2005, this is a very accurate description of the current legislative process in Washington. At least the Democrats in the House had the courage to pass out a bill, but Democratic Senators are so mired in self-interest that they can’t see beyond the next election.

Somewhere, somehow there must be a coming together of leaders who will engage the conversation as statespersons rather than partisans, seeking a balance that preserves the interest of the nation, ensures long-term environmental sustainability, national security and economic prosperity… and earns the US a mantle of world leadership on an issue that affects every corner of the globe.

It can be said that this is just a pipe dream that it can never happen. But if we don’t seriously engage our energy policy we are endangering the freedom and security of our grandchildren’s children. A similar argument can be made about the health proposals currently before Congress, but I shan’t burden you with more words. Suffice it to say that I am disgusted with my party’s lack of leadership and courage in Congress, and it all makes me wonder why we fought so hard to get a huge Democratic majority. They seem to be more concerned about appeasing their colleagues on the right than serving the needs of the American people.

This next week we move on to the re-emergence of Russia as a power in international relations, the nature and significance of terrorism in global politics, and the function and purposes of diplomacy in international relations. Our closing seminar is “The United States and International Organizations: An Obstruction or a Facilitator.” I’ll see you all soon, Bill