More Socialism, Less War


With gasoline prices edging towards $4 per gallon and a new military excursion underway in Libya, President Obama took time last week to outline his administration's goal to radically reduce U.S. dependence on oil and fossil fuels.

In a speech at Georgetown University in Washington, March 30th, President Obama said, "I’m setting a new goal: one that is reasonable, achievable, and necessary. When I was elected to this office, America imported 11 million barrels of oil a day. By a little more than a decade from now, we will have cut that by one-third."

In a move that will likely irk environmentalist sections of his coalition, the president called for increased production of oil, including offshore exploration "as long as it's safe and responsible." The president's plan emphasizes the need to implement safety features to prevent recurrence of the BP oil spill.

He pointed out, however, that the U.S. can neither depend on foreign sources of oil nor will it ever produce enough on its own to cover its needs. Therefore, renewable alternatives are an absolute necessity.

He urged rapid development of sources of natural gas, renewable biofuels (including cellulosic ethanol), as well as the infrastructure to ensure that consumers can access these fuel alternatives.

He urged higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks and buses, investments in high-speed rail and mass transit, making breakthroughs in the production of electric vehicles.

In addition to transportation needs, the president called for incentives for building upgrades to reduce home-heating costs.

The president wants to increase the development of clean energy sources such as wind and solar energy. He said that within 25 years he wants to see 80 percent of U.S. electricity come from clean energy sources, including wind, solar, "clean coal," and nuclear power.

This latter point will likely be least convincing for most Americans since earthquakes in Japan exposed that country and the world to radiation, but the resident emphasized the need to ensure that nuclear energy is safe and secure, promising a comprehensive review of the country's nuclear energy facilities which create some 20 percent of the electricity used here.

In short, the president called basically for extending the unprecedented new investments implemented under the recovery act.

In support of President Obama's speech, senior administration officials joined with several mayors from across the country on a press conference call Wednesday, March 30, to express support for his stated goals.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters that the administration understands how high gas prices are hurting working families. The solution to high gas prices lies in the U.S. becoming less dependent on oil, which seems to be tied to fluctuations in foreign policy concerns in the parts of the world where most of the oil is produced, he said.

But LaHood sugar-coated the issue. "The President wanted to talk about the future rather than the past," he said, preferring to ignore the the U.S. role in destabilizing the Middle East in the past decade (at least) which result in the present upward pressure on gas prices. Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the national average for a gallon of gasoline stood at about $1.30 per gallon.

Ironically, the Bush administration had erroneously justified the invasion by claiming it would reduce gasoline prices by expanding the supply of petroleum products.

LaHood emphasized the unprecedented efforts on the part of the administration to invest in, research, promote, and develop alternatives to oil. "We're not just going to talk about the problems," he said. "The administration has a plan; it's all hands on deck."

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa optimistically added, "For forty years, presidents have talked about moving away from a reliance on foreign oil. President Obama actually put a plan forward to get us away from an addiction to that foreign oil."

A Public Option in Energy?

One feature of President Obama's plan, depending on joint action by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, calls for increased subsidies to oil companies for exploration, drilling, and production.

The problem, however, is that oil companies are among the most profitable, least taxed industries in our country. They have a special interest in keeping a tight lid on the oil supply in order to drive up prices and maximize profits, the essential logic of private corporate-think.

Indeed, they thrive on the carefully managed political instability promoted by U.S. interventions (both official and corporate) in oil-rich Middle Eastern and Latin American countries. If in fact the airstrikes on Libya are not about acquiring control over that country's oil reserves (foreign companies control huge concessions already), then record oil and gas prices in the push for record profits certainly are a boon to Big Oil.

On the whole, however, the president's multifaceted plan makes logical sense. Energy needs are growing, and, because of that, gasoline and other fossil fuels won't be going away soon. A complete transition to clean energy alternatives is still years in the making – though political and corporate roadblocks to that transition put in place by oil companies and the right-wing politicians they control helped ensure it would be delayed both to the detriment of the environment and to economic diversity and job creation in the U.S.

(This reality is part of "the past" Sec. LaHood says the administration is unwilling to continue to litigate.)

An essential element left undiscussed by the president in his speech or by his supporters is how to pay for new oil company subsidies and new investments in clean energy alternatives, mass transit, and energy efficient infrastructure.

In a joint response to the president's speech, the Sierra Club, the Center for American Progress, and the League of Conservation Voters offered their solutions to the financial problem. They urged elimination of tax loopholes and handouts to oil companies in order to pay for needed investments in clean energy alternatives and mass transit.

For its part, when the Obama administration entered the White House with a significant majority of congressional allies, it favored a plan to pay for investments in clean energy alternatives by creating an EPA-administered marketplace for carbon emissions. Essentially, the goal was to create a kind of public option in the energy sector. Remember that?

According to various estimates, the plan would have generated tens of billions of dollars annually both for new technology to control and eventually eliminate carbon emissions and to shift the balance of economic forces away from oil and dirty coal.

While similar plans had held bipartisan support that included Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., right-wing, racially motivated bitterness at Obama's victory saw the Republican's unanimous decision to oppose any and every legislative initiative offered by the president. Consequently, the plan failed to achieve the 60-vote majority in the Senate needed to satisfy that body's undemocratic and arcane rules.

Today, due to this balance of forces, we can expect little if any action on this agenda.

Conservative-inspired political gridlock – aimed at protecting oil company profits and hegemony in the energy sector – isn't going away any time soon and will require an extra effort by the labor and people's upsurge begun in Wisconsin to end Republican control of the House and rebuild the Democratic majority in the Senate. The focus in the next two years will have to be on strengthening the coalition that supported Obama in 2008. This includes electing Democrats whose loyalties are more closely tied to the labor and environmental movements – the "blue-green" coalition. Indeed, pressure from this core of voters and activists will be important to transform U.S. foreign policy from one that spends U.S. treasury and lives to prop up major oil companies to one that focuses primarily on the needs of working families.

Unfortunately, the president's decision to escalate U.S. intervention in Libya, while conducting a war in Afghanistan and an ongoing military operation in Iraq, will likely dampen enthusiasm among his most ardent supporters.

It is apparent that the administration is under the sway of the usually mistaken notion that U.S. military power is so great that intervention will be swift, easy and cheap – not to mention just. In reality, military intervention is a slippery slope – recall Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. It will be so as long as major multinational oil companies are more loyal to profits and dollars than to the American people. Already U.S. involvement appears to have no end in sight.

A public option in energy, like in the health insurance market, is needed to control spiraling costs of gas and oil, to rein in the disastrous logic of profit maximization, and to de-link military intervention from the strictly private concerns of major oil companies. The intensified broad unity of the peace majority and the labor movement in action to stop Republican Party's antics domestically, its control of the House of Representatives, and its disastrous influence in the media will turn this tide.

Photo by brownpau/cc by 2.0/Flickr

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  • Well covered document/information piece.
    My hope is that democracy comes to the USA. And comes before the ravages of climate change and endless war makes it impossible.
    Who will read this article? Not many, the task before us is enormous. Sadly, Steve Allen (i believe he coined the phrase) said in the early seventies; it's the dumbing down of America.... the mainstream media has a death grip on what the average American hears..

    Never stop struggling.... it's our only hope.

    wage peace

    Posted by Gabriel Falsetta, 04/05/2011 10:17pm (13 years ago)

  • there are both positives and negatives in Obama's energy proposals. The biggest negative to many progressive people, besides the increased subsidies to the transnational oil companies, is the continued support for nuclear power. But more socialism should mean more TVAs, which was the closest thing to socialism(publically owned productive energy) and perhaps public ownership of crucial natural resources(like oil).
    capital's only loyalty is to profit. The transnational oil companies in what they have and are doing in the world are perhaps the clearest example of that.

    Posted by norman markowitz, 04/05/2011 4:57pm (13 years ago)

  • @gary hicks Seems obvious that the socialism part is in greater public control of and planning for energy development and consumption as mentioned in the article...

    Posted by Jerrie M., 04/05/2011 10:29am (13 years ago)

  • The socialism headlining this article is.......where?

    Posted by gary hicks, 04/05/2011 3:31am (13 years ago)

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