Meet the Bloggers with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion on a new online show called Meet the Bloggers. Here's the introduction post I did yesterday all about Meet the Bloggers.

Also on the show was Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV), someone who has been trying very hard to tackle inflated gas prices and get America on the right track when it comes to its 20 million barrel-a-day oil addiction.

While I admire Reid for what he's done I think he is incorrect in the assumption he made on the show that the Democrats are winning on the energy and gas price issue - and I would have elaborated on this point on Meet the Bloggers, but unfortunately there was some technical difficulties and I lost my connection.

The truth is, at least according to my sources close to the party, that the Democrats are very worried that they're getting beat on this issue.

The bottom line is that the Republicans have done a very good job at framing the expansion of offshore drilling rights as the answer to high gas prices and oil independence, as can be shown in this already-discredited (but effective) McCain campaign ad called “Pump.” For the most part the Democrats have been playing right into the Republican “drill-our-way-out” frame and instead of offering their own vision and solution to the energy crisis, they are spinning their wheels attacking McCain and the Republicans on offshore drilling.

The Democrats are also wasting a lot of time on Capitol Hill where any new energy policy is being delayed and shot down by Republicans. The Republicans want to go into the Fall election and say that the Democrats have done nothing in Washington on the energy issue - its twisted PR spin and political maneuvering, but its working.

The solution? I would propose that the Democrats get off Capitol Hill and articulate a simple, easily understood plan to reduce oil consumption that will in turn see some relief at the pump. Talk to the people directly, instead of through wonkish energy bills.

First, in the short term, offer a plan that sees a portion of oil company windfall profits going back into the pockets of American families in the form of incentives to reduce gas consumption - further tax breaks on hybrid vehicles and transit subsidies etc.

Second, demand auto manufacturers begin to build cars that use less gas.

And third, offer a long-term vision that starts with a redirection of the $14 billion in subsidies to oil companies to an investment in making the United States a leader in renewable energy technology development and deployment. Obama goes even further and proposes a $150 billion investment in renewables.

To be sure, the Democrats and their presumptive presidential candidate have committed to already doing much of what I have outlined above. But the key is to go out to the American people, articulate the plan in simple (read: not policy wonk) language and only once they've convinced voters bring the plan back to Capitol Hill and dare the Republicans to vote against it.

At least that what I think and I'm more than happy to being convinced otherwise.


What is visionary about your plan? I’m not seeing it. You are calling for vision.

When you say go to the people instead of playing around trying to build support by being shot down by Republicans in Congress, that sounds good and I’m sure the Democrats are going to do it as much as they can. But this “some relief at the pump” is not looking good.

Are you saying just campaign on a simple bullshit (excuse me, “easily understood”) plan that can’t succeed in reducing oil consumption because it lowers gas prices, but proclaims it will to make everyone feel you’ve got a plan, then forget whatever you’ve said in the campaign and start calling up the policy wonks to see what they’ve come up with, after you are elected?

The gas consumption is more than 9 million barrels a day and the reason consumption is going down a bit after all these years is price.

That’s what I see. Gas is crucial and if the cornerstone of your plan is to lower its price, go ahead find some study that shows reduced consumption after the price goes down on something. Also, incentives haven’t worked to lower consumption anywhere they’ve been tried. Carbon taxes or cap and trade have worked or show promise to the people who’ve studied what hasn’t worked. Its a relatively new policy area.

Vote me, I’ll reduce gas prices, and I’ll do a lot of things that won’t raise gas prices back up after I’m elected that will solve these incredible problems we have with energy, you can count on that, so go back to sleep and live your American dream. Isn’t that what “some relief at the pump” means?

If people vote Obama in because he was going to reduce gas prices, its going to come as a shock to people if he doesn’t do it. You are advocating that the greatest hope for renewal America has seen in decades sell out any possibility of retaining the faith of his supporters. Maybe that’s the way its done, but the world is looking to Obama to find another way. His supporters are demanding that he do it another way. So I don’t see where you are going to get openly advocating this.

On your other points:

Obama is not talking about taxing away “windfall profits”. He isn’t even talking about removing the what you say is a $14 billion subsidy. He’s the expert at figuring out how to win a campaign by pitching just enough to get people to support him, and he’s a proven winner having just won a campaign against an opponent very many experts thought he couldn’t beat not that long ago. So he didn’t think he could sell that one in a Democratic Party campaign. How is he going to use it to get elected now that he has to convince the entire country? I defer to Obama.

Or are you advocating it as good policy once he is elected? Is it? How much could you tax away before all corporations line up behind the oil giants? Don’t Americans admire success? How do you define windfall? I mean it must be a rather temporary thing unless you want to tax oil companies out of existence or limit them to some level. What would this policy do to advance a solution to global warming?

The car manufacturers are already responding to market signals: demand for their big vehicles is in free fall. GM and Ford are finding their very existence is threatened as their big bet that the dream world would go on forever exploded. So, it is probably great to slide in a ramp for lower emissions from new cars now as they can’t resist as much as a few years ago and they are going down that road anyway. Its still tinkering while Rome burns: the best science now says sea level rise of ten times what the IPCC signed off on is possible, there is no way to predict at the moment, and some say its time to be removing carbon from the atmosphere already. Where do carbon emitting cars fit on to a planet like that? When WWII broke out they say Roosevelt called in the auto manufacturers and gave them a list of what they were going to be building now, there were protests, how are we going to keep our car business going, and he told them they could just forget about making any more cars.

Isn’t it vision to have a viable carbon policy? I think we should keep fossil fuels and carbon emissions separate in our minds. Don’t beat around the bush. Windfall profits tax just controls windfall profits, not carbon.

Oil companies sell a product that could be used in ways that don’t emit carbon dioxide, so the engineers say, it remains to be proven and made widespread but let’s say its true. Say they could eliminate 100% of emissions from fossil fuel if they had to. A visionary policy is what would force them to do that. Or maybe restate it, what would force us all to do that? A visionary policy would be something that would act to cause the transformation from where we are, one of the biggest per capita emitters of carbon in the world, to where we want to be, carbon free, living on a planet still able to support us. You don’t have to target cars, just the emissions of the entire country. Obama has a policy that could be made to work if properly done. Why not critique that? Help him sell that. Maybe if he could be convinced it could be sold, it would not become just another empty promise that had to be abandoned supposedly because the Democratic majorities in both houses and a Democratic President couldn’t implement it. Its ultimately the American people that have to be convinced on something huge like this.

Now I hear taxing carbon is not politically palatable because you have to expect politicians to just be in real trouble being seen to be the ones raising the carbon tax every year, or putting it in in the first place, and they just shy away from it. People seem to believe these cap and trade plans can be imposed like the NAFTA agreement say, then all the politicians can pretend they are going to rip up that agreement when they have to, but it just sits there having its effect, and everyone can drop the idea quietly as it dawns what renegotiating it means. So policy wizards I believe say it doesn’t matter – you can tax carbon, or cap and trade, if properly implemented both could work. What don’t work are these incentive programs you advocate. They are hard to argue against, but they have been tried in many countries and emissions keep going up.

Obama says cap and trade. That’s his big policy. Its a policy that could reduce emissions, and the debate could be over how drastic the cuts could be. Obama’s present plan is, according to the best science, “a recipe for global disaster”. But putting in a cap and trade and a target for 80% CO2 emissions reductions by 2050 would be unbelievably visionary, and even harder to do, even though it would lead to catastrophe unless beefed up. So, in the bizarre world we live in, I’d still like to see him elected, and I’d like him to implement his written plan.

That’s the trouble I have is trying to figure out what all this means once a man actually gets into the White House.

I guess it makes a difference what the candidates say on the campaign. I still can’t figure out what Obama wants to do.

(re: what is appealing in the NAFTA, for the US from a Canadian point of view which is applicable to any discussion on US energy policy: Canadians pledged to be in the same boat as the US on energy in that agreement, in other words, they can’t keep their oil at home in an emergency, it gets shared out. Basically, North America is sitting on a Saudi sized reserve of oil, and it is North America you can talk about as long as there is the NAFTA agreement. If Americans think they need oil, there it is. The reserve is 35 times smaller than the resource, there is 50,000 square miles of tar sand 200 feet thick up there and after the Saudi sized reserve is gone new technology or higher prices could well open up something 35 times the size of Saudi.

Canada negotiated originally without really realizing its importance. I say that as a Canadian who witnessed the NAFTA debate years ago. The reserve wasn’t officially recognized until well after NAFTA was signed, and when it was announced, suddenly Canada has all this oil, it was widely disbelieved. Canada has it. Open up the agreement to save some US jobs and that energy deal is put back on the table. The Canadian dollar is now at parity with the US dollar, which removes the competitive advantage NAFTA allowed them to exploit, the oil and other commodities Canada produces are pushing the dollar up, and that dollar will do something along the lines of reopening NAFTA by leveling the playing field between US and Canada in manufacturing, anyway, my tiny point. This is why, it seemed to me, that Obama told Democratic party people he was reopening NAFTA while reassuring the Canadian government that he wasn’t serious. Now if you advocate policy that would leave that oil in the ground, there’s some vision, but there are a lot of countries investing and I wonder how it can be done)

Senator Reid is MINDLESSLY missing the point, as Democrats continue to do over the years!

Republicans will repeat the same lies over and over and over until they stick as ‘truths’ in the minds of substandard educated American voters!

What Reid needs to do is to repeat over and over and over that the UNPATRIOTIC oil companies ALREADY have millions of acres off shore on which they haven’t been drilling for years, and should be drilling NOW!

And Reid and the Democrats need to ask ad nauseam why the Republicans and the oil companies have not been drilling in the millions of acres offshore, which they ALREADY have at their disposal.

The Democrats continue to lose on many issues to the detriment of the country; because the Republicans are not shy about capitalizing on the substandard educational level of Americans, and feed ‘dumb’ American minds repetitious information they want Americans to digest and support.

What the cunning Republicans have succeeded in doing (by lying and obscuring the energy issue) is in making the Democrats seem as if they are not eager to help Americans on the energy issue, that Democrats are holding up progress and relief on the energy issue.

Average Americans ARE NOT that bright! That is why a dumb bush has been elected and re-elected.
Democrats need to come to grips with this unfortunate fact about American voters, and approach the American voters accordingly!

It is shameful for Democrats to continue to lose to the dumb and divisive Republicans only because the Republicans are more cunning!