Archive | 2007

Outsourcing Our Political Will

A hat tip to the reader who forwarded this article in Mother Jones about toll roads. The article focuses on the privatization of the Indiana Tollway:

The deal to privatize the Toll Road had been almost a year in the making. Proponents celebrated it as a no-pain, all-gain way to off-load maintenance expenses and mobilize new highway-building funds without raising taxes. Opponents lambasted it as a major turn toward handing the nation’s common property over to private firms, and at fire-sale prices to boot.

It turns out that Goldman Sachs was both an advisor to the State and leads an investment group raising funds for privatization of roads. Maybe that explains some of those record bonuses.

Goldman Sachs’ role has not been lost on skeptics, who accuse the firm of playing both sides of the fence. “In essence, they’re double-dipping,” says Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a truckers’ group that opposes toll road privatization. “They’re basically in the middle, playing one side against the other, and it’s really, really lucrative.”

So perhaps that’s how we’re ultimately going to deal with our trade deficit: we’ll sell off all our freeways to the nations that hold our debt, then they can charge us rent to use our own roads?

But, enter Oregon’s own Peter DeFazio, the incoming chair of the Surface Transportation Sub-committee:

The hearing was a fairly docile affair—that is, until Oregon’s Peter DeFazio, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, got his turn questioning Daniels. “So you’re saying that there’s no political will to raise the tolls,” he began, “but if you enter into a binding contract which gives a private entity the right to infinitely raise tolls, then that’ll happen—but politically you couldn’t say we’re going to go out and raise the tolls.”

“Well, you’re a busy man, Congressman,” Daniels responded dryly. “I don’t expect you to understand our state.”

“No, sir. I’m just asking a question,” DeFazio shot back, his voice rising. “Are we outsourcing political will to a private entity here?”

Can we find the political will to have a rational investment strategy that keeps our public infrastructure public?

America Leads

This month’s issue of the Sierra Club magazine has an article on our energy future. It looks at 3 scenarios for energy usage in the U.S.: Business as Usual, Best Current Practices and “America Leads”, an intensive effort on conservation and renewable sources:

AMERICA LEADS In the third scenario, our country embraces not only today’s best practices but also tomorrow’s opportunities. We approach global warming as if our survival were at stake, constructing a “war effort” like the Army’s Manhattan Project. The entire country embraces policies that go further than any state’s have yet. For a transition period, we continue to drill existing oil leases and burn coal. At the same time, we use energy more efficiently than ever–significantly reducing our need for fossil fuel. We steer clear of new nuclear power plants and invest in safer alternatives: wind, solar, oceans, and biomass. We proactively slant subsidies to favor renewables. We get prices right: The high cost of pollution is reflected in how much consumers pay for their energy. Suddenly getting your power from a coal-fired plant costs a lot more than using wind or even solar power. As renewable energy becomes cheaper than fossil fuels, change happens fast. We dramatically reduce our carbon dioxide emissions, bringing them down to the levels scientists say are necessary to prevent the worst effects of global warming: 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Only this scenario offers future generations a road map to a brighter future. It requires major changes, but many of them provide multiple social, economic, and environmental benefits. Americans have gotten ourselves out of tough jams and overcome big obstacles before. We cured polio, put a man on the moon, and ended segregation. If we set our minds to it, we could also meet the enormous challenge of global warming. We already have the know-how. Unleashed, American ingenuity could build cars that get 100 miles per gallon. It could produce energy from wind, the sun, and green plants to power millions of homes. It could make machines and buildings that run on a fraction of the energy they use now. As stewards of the planet, caretakers of creation, and responsible parents, how can we do otherwise?

Why shouldn’t we lead?