Energy Policy

Good energy policy doesn't need to be about using less energy, provided we can produce it in renewable ways. That may mean that energy needs to cost more, but it doesn't mean we need to cut back.

Energy companies right now don't want to produce energy in renewable ways. They don't like wind, they don't like solar, and they don't like any kind of hydroelectric other than dams. Current suggestions range from the feel-good idea of purchasing voluntary certificates to supposedly offset an individual's carbon footprint, to capping carbon emissions and creating a market for carbon credits. Both have issues.

There is one simple thing we could do. Deregulate, with a twist.

Right now, in most markets, residents have only two choices: purchase their power from a single approved utility company, or live off the grid. Deregulation doesn't provide the competition needed to create a more friendly market situation. Utility companies just don't seem to compete (I'd like to see any examples to the contrary).

Instead of simply stepping back from regulation, the state needs to change the way it regulates. We need to exercise eminent domain over the power lines, the grid, and take over that intermediary role: the bridge between the consumer and the producer. The state has a decent track record of simply maintaining infrastructure, and we don't need to put it into any actual business role.

So what does the state do with this newly public grid? Simple: it dictates at what price it will purchase power, and at what price it will sell power.

For real progress on our energy production, that production needs to be distributed. Small producers need to be included, and producers need to be free to innovate. Right now, the producers, a small number of them, have proven they can make money from dirty technology, and they are reluctant to abandon their proven method for one that, while it will undoubtedly be better for the world, may not be better for their investors. We need to cut the ties that keep those companies the only ones producing power. If the government owns the power lines, it can say that it will buy solar energy at one rate, wind at another, hydroelectric at two more rates depending on the ecological impact of the specific facility, clean coal at another, dirty coal at yet another, and nuclear, if at all, at a final rate. All of this power can be sold to the consumer at one rate. The government can, if it has to, take a loss and fund the difference out of taxes.

Yes, these differential rates constitute subsidies, tinkering with purely market forces. That's okay. We're allowed to say that things that don't end up in an accountant's report still have value. That is not, however, a decision we can expect a company to make. This plan would open up the system to all the small and experimental and less profitable producers that we need. Some things just shouldn't be left to purely business forces.


Children's Health Insurance

Headlines like this miss the point.

Health insurance for poor kids: a good thing.

Taxing tobacco products to pay for it: not a bad idea.

Taxing cigars at $10 per cigar: excessive.

They ought to be proposing to tax cigarettes at a higher rate than cigars, or both at the same rate. The way the suggestion is, it looks like they're just looking to beat up on the less popular product.


A Law to be Proposed

We cherish our freedoms, and generally believe that the world would be a better place if more people had similar freedoms. We harbor fears that terrorists target us because they somehow hate our freedoms, rather than the more natural assumption that they might in fact hate us, or the more logical assumption that they would wish to use our fear of violent death to push us towards some specific action.

Yet we also tend to be unwilling to wage war to force some other group to adopt our freedoms. This is sensible; it seems that it would be difficult to force freedom upon someone. However, we do have a very good tool at our disposal.

That tool is money. All we need do is threaten to restrict trade with any country that does not protect basic freedoms by law, and actually enforces those laws, and countries will, after a bit of consideration, start doing so.

Not all, of course, and not immediately, and that's the first problem. Given much of a time lag in compliance where we have to stop trading with any country, and given any refusal to comply by a major trading partner, we would have people from both of our major political parties objecting. Democrats would claim that we were punishing people living under repressive regimes for the actions of their governments, and both Democrats and Republicans would claim that this was bad for the American economy.

There's only one response to that, and it wouldn't sit well with either group: We do what we have to do. We can't force anyone to accept our values, but should we facilitate their rejection of our values? Should we actually seek to benefit from their lack of those freedoms we hold dear?

The second problem is more basic: which rights do we require? We can't, shouldn't, and won't require that anyone adopt all of American law, so what do we demand? What freedoms do we really hold dear? Freedom of Speech is obviously basic, as is Freedom of Religion. Freedom of the Press is a basic extension of Freedom of Speech, as are both Freedom of Assembly and the Right to Petition. That takes care of the 1st Amendment. I would argue that most of the rest of all possible rights should be left to the other countries to work out for themselves, once they have the basic tools to actually discuss such things openly. Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech are absolutely required.

Since we're using trade as our leverage, it seems logical to include requirements that trade actually be fair. That is, we should require that the Freedom of Assembly include the right to unionize, and we should require that at the very least workers not be forced to work for poverty wages in dangerous conditions.

Democracy is not a requirement, but it is a likely result.

China and Saudi Arabia stand in our way.

China's government has no respect for the Freedom of Speech, and uses the governmental power that creates to keep its status as a source of cheap labor. Other countries are similar in this, but China can be emblematic of this issue. We can ignore it, and continue to talk about "Free Trade" in a context that is distinctly un-free, or we can do something about it, and short of war, trade is our only tool that can be relied on.

Saudi Arabia is emblematic of our problem with oil. Many of the countries that supply us with oil have little or no meaningful Freedom of Religion, and sometimes lack other important freedoms as well, yet we fund these repressive governments. We cannot continue to do that and claim that we support freedom.

We need to stand up to these two countries, and all the others like them. We need to stop betraying our ideals for cheaper pants and cheaper gas. Economic freedom, that thing that seems to be at the center of Republican policy, is not the foundation of all other freedoms; other freedoms support economic freedom.

This law is needed to clarify to goals of our foreign policy, but I doubt anyone has even thought of proposing it, and if someone did, it wouldn't pass. And, of course, President Bush would veto it.