Real Energy Reform

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were supposed to be energy pros, so when Laurence Lindsey &endash; Bush's senior economic advisor at the time -- claimed in 2002 that the Iraq war would increase oil supplies and lower prices, people tended to believe it, even as pundits derided the idea that the invasion had anything to do with oil.

Now Bush's energy plan has resulted in $3 gas, which is generating record profits for the oil companies and further riches for the Arab sheiks who bankrolled Osama bin Laden.

The Iraq war, which cut oil production in that nation to a trickle and unsettled other Mideastern producers, has contributed in no small part to the 68% increase in US gas prices since January 2005. As economic expansion in Asia increases the demand for gasoline, prices will continue to rise. No amount of drilling in arctic wilderness will change that. But even with oil prices at record highs, the Energy Department predicts that US motorists will consume 1.5% more gasoline than they did last summer.

Democrats are accusing oil companies of profiteering. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., have called for congressional investigations into possible price gouging by oil companies, but Republicans lack any credibility in holding oil companies to account. Similar oversight hearings were supposed to be held last November after gas prices shot up in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Senate Energy and Commerce Committee heard executives from Exxon and Chevron defend their companies' record profits. But Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, refused to even swear in the execs.

During Bush's first term, Republicans discouraged and ridiculed attempts to conserve energy as they rebuffed attempts to improve fuel efficiency in cars. While Cheney hunkered down in secret talks with fellow oil executives, the White House cut budgets for renewable energy research. Bush has given lip service to development of hydrogen-powered cars, which are at least 20 years in the future and no immediate threat to his friends in the oil bidness, rather than push US carmakers to embrace the hybrid technology that Toyota and Honda have proven can double gas mileage and dramatically reduce emissions.

Bush has finally admitted the US addiction to oil is a problem, but Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, noted that the president's budget fails to live up to promises made in the energy bill to boost development of biofuels from traditional sources such as corn and soybeans as well as from corn stalks, wood chips, switchgrass and other sources. Bush's budget calls for a 14% cut to spending for biomass research and development established in the 2002 farm bill. Funds for renewable fuels included in the farm bill have been dramatically reduced or zeroed out by the Bush administration and congressional budget cuts.

In a letter to renewable fuel advocates, Harkin said ethanol and biodiesel have grown from "boutique products" to a potential "All-American" solution to the gasoline price crisis. "Truth is, we desperately need biofuels. We are, as the president said, addicted to oil, and biofuels are our best bet for weaning America from this dangerous addiction," Harkin said. "The more ethanol and biodiesel we produce, the less fossil fuels we use thereby lowering greenhouse gas emissions." Add wind and solar power to replace natural gas in the electrical utility mix and we can start making a dent in our energy crisis.

Democrats should promote biofuels and embrace the Apollo Alliance's plan to make America independent from foreign energy in 10 years. The Alliance, (apolloalliance.org) a broad-based progressive coalition that estimates that a crash program for clean energy will create three million new jobs and rid America's dependence on Middle-Eastern oil. It would make American industry competitive, rebuild our cities, create good jobs for working families and enable good stewardship of the economy and our natural environment.

Fencing the Electronic Frontier

Citizens should be alarmed at a bill moving through Congress that would give telecom corporations more control over the Internet. The Internet and World Wide Web was developed under a doctrine of "network neutrality," which prevented telecoms such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner from granting preference for Web sites or email services based on kickbacks or other financial considerations. Last fall, however, the Federal Communications Commission, backed by the US Supreme Court, decided that high-speed Internet services offered by cable and telephone companies didn't fall under the Communications Act of 1934.

Telecoms saw their opportunity to transform the Information Superhighway into a toll road. They pumped more than $45 million into lobbying efforts from 1998 through 2004, including $14 million in 2004, according to the Center for Public Integrity (publicintegrity.org). That kind of money attracts D's as well as R's, so when Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas and Commerce Committee chairman, rolled out his major overhaul of the Telecommunications Act with watered-down net neutrality provisions that are essentially meaningless, he picked up six Dems to vote with 17 Republicans on the House Telecom Subcommittee April 15 to reject a good amendment by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) that would write real net neutrality into law. Democratic sellouts include Eliot Engel (N.Y.), Bart Stupak (Mich.), Ed Towns (N.Y.); Al Wynn (Md.), Charlie Gonzales (Texas) and Bobby Rush (Ill.).

Voting for an open Internet were Dems Markey, Rick Boucher (Va.), Anna Eshoo (Cal.), Jay Inslee (Wash.), John Dingell (Mich.), Mike Doyle (Pa.) and Frank Pallone (N.J.) as well as Heather Wilson (R-N.M.). Since Barton's bill is expected to rush through the House, the best chance is to stop it is in the Senate, where "freedom fighters" who have lined up to preserve net neutrality include Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

"If the public doesn't speak up now, Congress will cave to a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign by telephone and cable companies that want to decide what you do, where you go, and what you watch online," stated SaveTheInternet.com, a coalition of grassroots groups, bloggers and concerned citizens who are seeking to protect a free and open Internet.

This isn't just a matter of interest to giant corporations and Web geeks. Small businesses, including independent news operations such as The Progressive Populist, and individuals benefit from an Internet that allows our modest Web site to get the same service as the big boys.

SaveTheInternet.com added, "This isn't speculation -- we've already seen what happens elsewhere when the Internet's gatekeepers get too much control." Last year, Telus, a Canadian telecom, blocked its Internet customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to workers with whom Telus was negotiating. In April, Time Warner's AOL blocked all emails that mentioned www.dearaol.com -- an advocacy campaign opposing the company's pay-to-send email scheme.

While the telecoms talk about letting the market decide, in many cases there's nowhere else for consumers to turn. Cable and telephone companies already dominate 98% of the broadband market. Only 53% of Americans have a choice between cable and DSL at home and the phone and cable companies are working overtime to protect their monopolies.

If you like what deregulation has done to your "fair and balanced" broadcast news, then perhaps Internet "dereg" is your cup of tea. Otherwise, call your senators and House rep via the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121. -- JMC

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2006

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