Monday, September 08, 2008

A surprise to some, I'm sure

First off, the Triathlon had to be postponed for several and various reasons I don’t care to get into right now.  It will happen, and it will happen soon, lest I fall out of “ready” shape.  More later.


Meanwhile, over the weekend, rather than doing the homework that I should have been doing I spent some time reading the campaign policies for the Senior and Junior Senators.  I didn’t read all of it, only the part on energy and the environment (and a little regarding taxes, because they intersect a bit), because I figure those are the most important topics that will be coming in the next 4 years or so.  Yes, the wars we’re fighting are important, but in Iraq it seems the die is already cast and the timeline for return has largely been set thanks to the fantastic success of the surge (which we all know was supported by one Senator and not the other) and change of strategy and leadership on that front; and in Afghanistan success will be largely dependent on success in Iraq.


First off, with regards to the taxes, one of my personal concerns is that the engines of prosperity (i.e., corporations) are not necessarily accruing the benefits of prosperity to everyone involved with said prosperity.  Which is to say, earnings and capital are increasingly being retained by a few while the legions of employees who drive those engines are increasingly being left behind, unless a tremendous amount of effort is expended in order to leap from one, normal, track to another, faster, track.  And even if through prudence, patience, and a little luck, the average member of the legions who drive that prosperity manages to store up a comfortable nest egg, that entire egg and nest can be wiped clean by a short series of catastrophic events.  A multimillionaire can afford a catastrophic loss of income for several months due to an injury or illness costing a few hundred thousand, but a multi-thousandaire cannot afford a similar catastrophe.  Someone can be well on their way to a comfortable retirement, and then some freak illness can wipe them completely out.


Nobody should be forced to live in poverty because of a heart condition.


That said, though I’m generally opposed to increased taxes, I’m not necessarily opposed to a tax structure that invites corporations to share the wealth a little bit (even though I aspire to be one of those who must share the wealth).  Because of that, if taxes were the only issue on the table I might be leaning a bit toward the Junior Senator.  Although, John McCain’s idea of making the tax cuts permanent has about as much a chance of actually happening as the likelihood of me growing a tail and wings while Nancy and Harry have their hands on the tiller in Congress.  So when it comes to taxes, it’s pretty much a wash because most of the Bush tax cuts are likely going to expire whether Obama wins or not.


So, though it may come as a surprise to some, I actually SUPPORT Obama’s tax plan (as long as Nancy and Harry don’t get ahold of it).


But taxes are not the only issue.  Energy and the Environment are big issues on my ledger board, too.  Probably bigger issues since these policies actually have a shot at happening.  Both plans are largely the same (cap and trade, credits for green/sustainable energy, etc) but there are a couple of significant differences.  Obama wants to impose a “windfall profits tax” and redistribute some of that money back to us to offset higher energy costs.


That’s pretty much a non-starter for me.  There are few more ignorant things that I’ve ever even heard suggested.  Idiotic, populist clap is all that is.  And with a friendly Congress, there’s just about no way this isn’t going to happen.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of getting a check for $1000, and I’m not going to send it back if it comes, but as long as my 401(k) holds any oil company stock (and any mutual fund that holds large-cap stocks does, likely, own oil company stocks) I’m perfectly fine with the government not sidling its big fat ass up to the buffet to gobble up future exploration funds.  I’d much rather policies be in place to reduce our reliance on oil, thus bringing down both the price and significance of that price in the broader economic picture.


I do like the idea of some kind of cap and trade plan, which is proposed by both Senators.  McCain’s is modeled on the successful acid-rain cap and trade program from the 80s that has reduced the release of acid-rain causing elements into the atmosphere to the point where we hardly ever hear about acid rain anymore at all (I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard a story about it, and the Houston Ship Channel is within smelling distance when the wind is just right).  That’s not to say it’s not still an issue, just that it’s not as big an issue as it used to be.  And that’s partly because remediation efforts were put in place to help scrub the emissions from big refineries and power plants to not only “cap and trade” acid rain emissions, but also reduce them so that the “cap and trade” program would become, eventually, obsolete.  Because, after all, the goal should be to eliminate the emissions, not profit from them.


Nonetheless, I like the idea of a carbon cap and trade system, as long as it’s combined with some kind of carbon remediation program so that the whole system would eventually become obsolete in a carbon neutral economy.  To that end, only John McCain’s plan appears to present such a thing by including nuclear power as a potential replacement to gas, oil, and coal fired power plants.  Obama supports continued investment into developing clean coal technologies and pumping $15b into green/sustainable energy development, but that $15b comes from proceeds generated by the cap and trade system, which means the idea is to have a perpetual cap and trade system rather than a declining market.


The ideal would be to eventually become carbon neutral, thus having no need for capping or trading anything, and consequently no ongoing proceeds to fuel development.


Both candidates support electric cars.  Both candidates support renewable energy sources.  McCain supports domestic drilling, which I hope will one day be as obsolete as whale hunting (yes, even in Texas I don’t have a problem with oil being a secondary energy source), but I also realize there will always be a place for petroleum products and why not source the stuff here rather than anywhere else?  But only McCain supports more nuclear facilities NOW.  Obama prefers to solve the problem of securing nuclear waste first and then, eventually, at some point, maybe tackling the issue of the need for a greater supply of electricity to power all those electric cars on the roads.


The economics of the thing makes sense.  While we HAVE to buy electricity every month, the power companies HAVE to produce it, but they don’t HAVE to produce it cheaper than it costs to buy the inputs, so they don’t HAVE to build newer, more efficient, cleaner power plants.  Gas or oil goes up 300% in 6 months?  They don’t care, they just increase their price 325%.  But if they’re told that any new carbon power plant or carbon emission will be more and more expensive, but they can build newer, cleaner, more efficient nuclear power plants, (and, by the way, a cap in the allowable increase in rates might be a good thing to throw in as well to prevent the power companies from just tossing the expense on to us) then the financial incentive is there to change the method of production and delivery.


Electricity shouldn’t be a luxury.  For the most part, it’s still ridiculously cheap for just about everyone.  But if the idea is to decrease the carbon footprint of the overall economy without simultaneously replacing power currently being generated AND putting in an infrastructure to EXPAND power generation in the future, then you’re taking a step backwards into untenable territory.  You can’t just scrub the air by planting trees, you have to also DECREASE the amount of shit you’re flushing into the atmosphere.


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