Sunday, June 15, 2008

Getting Pumped at the Pump

On the way to work last Wednesday, I stopped to buy gas, at what I thought was an outrageous price of $3.98 a gallon. On the way home, the price here in Louisville had jumped to $4.15 a gallon! What on earth happened between 7:30 AM and 6:00 PM? Had some refinery been blown up? Had there been some cataclysmic rupture of a pipeline, spilling millions of gallons of crude on the frozen tundra of Alaska (again)? Had some oil tanker run aground (again)? Nope, it was none of those. As it turned out, according to the local news, the price of gas was simply “adjusting” to the new barrel price of $131. Whew, and I thought it was something serious like some greedy little oil sheik or profit grubbing oil execs. It was just some harmless “self adjusting”. Kind of like the type we’re all making in our buying habits, like paying for more for cans of peas, corn, bread, steaks, fish, and even butter (I just read where people are starting to give up their pets because they no longer can afford the pet food). It seems that the pump prices where just catching up to near current pricing of oil. The price I had paid that morning was the based on the price of oil from a couple of months ago. The price on the way home was based on the cost of the same barrel a few weeks ago. According to the oil industry analyst being interviewed, the price at the pump was still “adjusting” and should settle down at around $5.00 to $5.50 a gallon. Luckily that will just be in time for summer vacations. We sure don’t want a fluctuating pump price while visiting all those national parks, resorts, and beaches do we? Then again, who can afford to go on vacation?

I guess what got my goat (which I may have to start riding to work) was what had happened the day before. The Republicans already have some serious issues to contend with, like a “to-be-named-later” official recession, devastating natural disasters affecting homes, businesses, a housing market collapse brought on by speculative lending practices, and crop failures, as well as two wars, and ongoing terrorists threats (not to mention illegal immigration, China, North Korea, exporting of jobs, a health care crisis, a collapsing airline industry, and deteriorating national infrastructure). And to make matters worse, George W Bush is still president. So, what is the dumbest thing the National GOP could do? The Senate GOP blocked a bill that would have imposed a tax on the billions of windfall profits the oil companies are raking in.

According to GOP House leaders, the windfall tax would do little to reduce the price of gas at the pump. Well, maybe it wouldn’t, but it sure would make the public feel better to know somebody was at least trying to do something to stop economic rape of the public. The Democrat sponsored bill would have added a 25% tax on “unreasonable” profits made the oil companies, who, for the first three months of this year, racked up $36 billion dollars in pure profit. Republican leaders commented that they thought the tax would “do more harm than good”. Yeah, but to whom? The people they were elected to represent or the folks who pay for their junkets? The Democrats needed 60 votes to get the bill through. The received only 51, including from seven Republicans who voted for the people, while one Democrat and the remaining Republicans voted “no” in support of the oil companies. The bill would have also rescinded tax breaks to the oil companies, which is expected to save them $17 billion dollars over the next 10 years.

In a second act of stupidity the same day, the Senate Republicans voted to block extending tax credits, which were scheduled to expire, for wind, solar, and other alternative energy development, including energy conservation and efficiency research. I don’t care what your party affiliation is, but when the people you represent are suffering emotionally and financially and you are in a position to do something about it (even if only symbolically), then you do it. Failure to do so is arrogance at best, and borders on political suicide. The failure to help voters at the pump now will---not may--- result in the voter helping the GOP out of office in November. Frankly, I hate to see it, but perhaps a little comeuppance will do the GOP leadership some good.

The Future of the Right

I came across a recent article in which presidential historians are predicting that based on past trends, the John McCain led Republicans are headed for a serious thumping this November. Given what I cited in the previous article, I started thinking about the GOP and its future. Certainly, as a national player, the Republican Party won’t fade away, though many political pundits think it could, at least for awhile, devolve into little more than a regional player (mainly in the Bible-belt South). It is also certainly true that many of the traditional Republicans in the Northeast and Central Western States have already walked away.

Historically, the Republicans were a conglomeration of several third parties. Today, there appears to be three principal groups. The prevalent group most people are familiar with are the Christian Right Republicans (sometimes called Social Conservative Republicans). They are less interested in fiscal issues or government size than they are with social ones such as abortion, same sex marriage, prayer in school, posting of the Ten Commandments, etc. They are best illustrated by George W Bush, Jerry Farwell, and Pat Robertson.

The next group is the Goldwater or Libertarian Republicans. As the name implies, they are interested in getting government out of your life as much as possible. They believe in the old adage that “the government which governs the least governs the best”. Keen on small government, low (or no) taxes, they support private initiatives over public programs. Barry Goldwater, the “father” of the modern Conservative Movement, Ronald Reagan, and Ron Paul are the three best examples.

The last group is the Progressive Republicans (sometimes called the Teddy Roosevelt or Moderate Republicans). It is this group which has historically been the most successful. They are quite at home before a corporate Board of Directors as they are in a Union Hall (in fact, they’ve often been some of Labor’s biggest supporters). Progressives believe government should be kept to a minimal if possible, but should always be used to keep and maintain a level playing field. Unlike the Christian Right or Libertarian Republicans, they believe social issues are essentially private issues. Who you love and choose to marry is a personal issue (whether or not they personally agree with it). Abortion, while it should never be used as a form of birth control, is primarily a private issue and should at least remain an option when the life or health of either the mother or child is at risk. They believe in avoiding foreign wars unless national security is at risk. They supported breaking big business rackets or trusts. They support national programs (like the creation of national parks, the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, employee protection such as OSHA and various anti-discrimination legislation, etc.) when private action alone won’t work. However, they are firm believers that there is no room for hyphenated Americans. Once a citizen, you are an American first and last. Your loyalty is to this country alone, and that means not only learning the language, but also civic participation. The group is best represented by Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, and George H. Bush.

The Moderate and Libertarian Republicans having either been leaving the GOP since the Newt Gringrich led “Republican Revolution” and the rise of the Social Conservatives, or forced to sit on the sidelines. The Social Conservatives under the Reagan and Gringrich leadership could do no wrong, and it seemed the Democrats could do no right. Nevertheless, their results were at first astonishing. Following on the heels of the “Revolution” however was Bill Clinton, and despite his inability to keep his pants zipped, lead the country to the best economic growth it had ever seen. Internally, the Socially Conservative Republicans (perhaps because of their stinging loss of the presidency) began “Rino” hunting. The term “Rino” is intended to be a derogatory word meaning “Republican in Name Only” and implied that, in a phrase, “if you ain’t with us, you’re against us” (the Democrats have a similar term for ultra conservatives in their party, whom they call a “Dino”). Their idea was to work against a fellow Republican, even if it meant supporting a Democrat if that Republican wasn’t conservative enough. Such was the widening fissures in the Right’s control of the GOP and weakening of the party.

Lastly was the election of George W. Bush. Starting off as the butt of every late night comedy routine, Bush emerged as the dynamic leader of a stricken nation following the cowardly 9/11 attacks. And for awhile, he was. However, Bush (and many would say Rove, Cheney, and Rumsfeld) led the nation into a military and economic quagmire that we may be decades in extricating ourselves from. Now we are faced with a so-called Republican moderate in Senator John McCain and a unproved Junior Senator from Illinois by the name of Barack Obama for President.

The Chinese philosopher and military strategist, Sun Tzu once said “know your enemy and know yourself and you will find victory”. To which I reply, know your enemy’s philosophy and know your own, and you will find victory. The Republicans want to take America back to a time of Ronald Reagan. The Democrats want to take America forward to a “time of Hope”. Americans have seen the past. We know the promises it held. But we know where those same promises have also led us. I think Americans will choose a future which holds out a promise of hope over a past which has led no where.

As for the Republicans, perhaps it’s time to return to the future and again embrace the values which made it so successful like personal responsibility, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a sense of social moderation.

I alluded earlier to the failure of government to maintain our infrastructure. Regular contributor “Moderate Man” has a few words on the subject himself. See what you think.

America’s Infrastructure Needs an Overhaul

America’s infrastructure needs an overhaul from top to bottom. It desperately needs leadership from the executive office. Someone with vision and determination. It also needs funding and tax reform to make it work for centuries to come. Our country started over two centuries ago with no infrastructure and a smaller population. My, look at what we have grown into! Not only has our land mass expanded, but so has our technology and population. We have 8,420,000 total road miles (2,308,602 are urban and 6,111,987 are rural), of which 87,944 miles are interstate and of those, only 46.5% are listed in good condition, according to the Department of Transportation. The county has 169,346 miles of oil pipelines and 1,437,500 miles of natural gas pipelines. America has 157,000 miles of high voltage transmission power lines with 10,000 power plants. Usually there are disruptions in service in the summer months. There are networks consisting of 120,000 miles of major railroads.

Meanwhile, the country’s publicly funded rail, Amtrak, has only 505 stations in 46 states on 22,000 route miles. It only owns 3% or 730 route miles. America has over 25,000 miles of commercially navigable waterways and over 19,900 airports. This vast system also includes over 500 major urban public transit operators and more than 300 ports on the coasts, Great Lakes, and inland waterways with 26,000 total miles of navigable channels. According to the Department of Transportation, 72,520 of America’s bridges (599,766 total bridges in America) are listed as structurally deficient and 79,804 are listed as functionally obsolete. That will make you feel safe the next time you cross a bridge. America has 79,000 total dams blocking 600,000 miles of rivers (about 17% of all rivers in America). Dams don’t last forever. Experts indicate there are one TRILLION dollars needed in water and sewer projects around the country. Think about that the next time you brush your teeth. Transportation contributes 11 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, amounting to approximately one trillion. Transportation accounts for 19 percent of spending by the average household in America-as much as food and health care combined-and second only to spending on housing. Although it might be more due to the recent fuel increase costs.

The U.S. transportation system carries over 4.7 trillion passenger miles of travel and 3.7 trillion ton miles of domestic freight generated by about 270 million people, 6.7 million business establishments, and 88,000 units of government. Rail and maritime transportation each account for over 11 percent of the tonnage carried. America’s transportation system each year carried 2.7 trillion miles of travel by cars and trucks, more than 9 billion trips on public transit, more than 640 million passengers boarding’s on airplanes, 21 million trips on Amtrak, and nearly 700 million rail freight train miles. Our country in short, uses the infrastructure very heavily. It needs maintenance and replacement in sections. We don’t need to be rebuilding other country’s infrastructure. Fix our own first! The solution is simple, but not easy. Infrastructure should be revenue dedicated and untouchable for other federal agency expenditures. The same for national defense and social security. There should be a tax at the point of profit for these 3 items and a fourth for the rest of the federal government expenses. This doesn’t include any state or city taxes that could be added. Take care of America first!

Moderate Man

Poll Results

With gas prices rising, I asked if oil companies should be nationalized. 40% of you said “no” and the free market should dictate prices. 35% of you thought oil companies needed stronger governmental regulation, while 15% thought oil companies should be nationalized.

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