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Will public anxiety on the oil spill be harnessed or allowed to dissipate?

by danps Sat Jun 12th, 2010 at 06:33:46 AM EST

Many people are looking for a way to pitch in and help in response to an emergency.  The last time it happened the opportunity slipped away; will it this time?

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.


No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

One of the striking features of contemporary Washington is the unwillingness to appeal to a sense of common purpose or shared sacrifice (except in the perennially favored Beltway project to shred what's left of the safety net).  Maybe that is a good thing; the largest example in the last century was probably World War II, and no one except for a handful of bloody minded wingnuts is eager to repeat it.  To an extent, not asking everyone to dig deep is a sign that we are not teetering on the precipice.

That said, the public has been eager to work in the service of a larger goal a couple of times recently, but nothing has come of it.  (Incidentally, both are rooted in our addiction to oil; think we will make the connection any time soon?)  Maybe our mindset of privatization, deregulation and fragmentation has put the idea of a great collective enterprise out of fashion, and anything that would bring it into the picture is literally unimaginable.

In the aftermath of 9/11 there was a tremendous willingness to do whatever we needed to wean ourselves off foreign oil.  Instead of launching such an initiative the president urged us to go to Disney World.  Perhaps that response was foreshadowed months before when Dick Cheney said "conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."

While appealing to personal virtue is necessary, it is destined to have a minor impact as long as public policy remains geared towards increased consumption.  One action that even some conservatives support - most vociferously Charles Krauthammer - is setting a floor on gasoline prices in order to change driving and purchasing habits.  Of course, the right also favors increased domestic production, and it remains to be seen if in light of the catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf Krauthammer maintains his derisive belief that liberals have an "exquisite sensitivity for the mating habits of Arctic caribou."

Which brings us to the second opportunity, this one in the process of being missed.  Many watching helplessly as the oil eruption gushes on day after day want to feel as though they can do something about it.  Increasing the gas tax and using a substantial portion (at least a quarter) of the revenue to fund research and development of federally owned clean power technologies would be an easy way to let people do just that.  Setting a minimum price - say $4 a gallon - deserves to be part of the discussion.  To the probable pants-wetting delight of deficit fetishists it would also help balance the budget, possibly (even better!) regressively, though maybe not.

Robert Reich has suggested an even more hands on idea: A modern version of the Civilian Conservation Corps dedicated to cleaning up the damage.  This, unlike the census, will (unfortunately) go on for years.  There is an urgent need for the work to be done, and in the midst of persistently high unemployment (hey Free Market: we're waiting for you!) would also provide the kind of job creation the stagnant private sector has been unable to generate.

Perform the due diligence on the environmental impact a large influx of people (presumably a depressed tourist season would mitigate this), then announce that any able bodied adult who wishes to work on the cleanup will be employed full time for that purpose.  Print up a million vouchers for bus tickets to the Gulf.  Get a million respirators and shovels down there.  Build lots of temporary housing.  Make this the biggest civil engineering project since the construction of the interstate highway system (and try not to think that this time it will be to mitigate the damage we have done instead of for a new, universal benefit).

Provide for emergency evacuation during hurricane season.  Draw up plans for the cleaning, restoration and long term growth of wetlands.  Do not tell us experts are working on a magic bullet solution, even if some of their unorthodox proposals look promising.  Or rather, do not tell us that is all we are doing about it.  Right now we are sitting on our hands, waiting for the next absurdly optimistic announcement from the government or BP.  The public is desperate to help.

I am not a psychologist but I suspect there is a certain amount of displaced self-loathing in all the anxiety and anger.  Whoever the villain of the moment is, this happened because we let it.  It's our fault that this is happening, and I suspect those of us who believe in collective responsibility would like some opportunity to at least partially atone.  To our leaders, a plea: This time, don't tell us to go shopping.

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by danps (dan at pruningshears (dot) us) on Sat Jun 12th, 2010 at 06:35:45 AM EST
danps- you've forgotten the fundamental dilemma of US politics, our elected officials have no concept of what genuine public service means. They have no clue regarding the "common good," or creating policies that support the true wealth of the nation and the people in it. Nor can they look beyond their money-oriented self-interest to recognize that the future will be radically different than the past. Our elected officials are fools, liars and thieves who represent the lowest common denominator of the American psyche.

Soon the time will come when people will search for genuine change, and I don't mean Sarah Palin, and only then will those serving as elected officials begin to represent the people again.

by US Blues on Sat Jun 12th, 2010 at 08:41:52 AM EST
Our elected officials are fools, liars and thieves ...

Fools?  I don't think so.  I think every criminal, either free or in jail, is envious of the crimes that our politicians pull off, usually without negative consequences.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sat Jun 12th, 2010 at 09:30:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So much of taxes goes to military and corporate welfare. On some level, I think that the people in the US know that taxes do not help them out - so why should they pay them?

Putting money to pay down the deficit is wasted money, just like taxes in the US. Instead it will be used for more military, more corporate welfare... and not be used for energy solutions.

It will serve to make people even more cynical.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Sat Jun 12th, 2010 at 09:35:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yup.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sat Jun 12th, 2010 at 04:31:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Perform the due diligence on the environmental impact [of] a large influx of people (presumably a depressed tourist season would mitigate this), then announce that any able bodied adult who wishes to work on the cleanup will be employed full time for that purpose.  Print up a million vouchers for bus tickets to the Gulf.  Get a million respirators and shovels down there.  Build lots of temporary housing.  Make this the biggest civil engineering project since the construction of the interstate highway system (and try not to think that this time it will be to mitigate the damage we have done instead of for a new, universal benefit).
Fantastic. Is this idea being circulated more widely?

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 12th, 2010 at 06:05:20 PM EST
Aside from the Reich article, this is all I've seen.  The one the administration is allegedly mulling would be more wide ranging and not directed at the oil disaster.
by danps (dan at pruningshears (dot) us) on Sun Jun 13th, 2010 at 07:02:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
However, just sayin' . . .

One of the striking features of contemporary Washington is the unwillingness to appeal to a sense of common purpose or shared sacrifice . . . Maybe that is a good thing; the largest example in the last century was probably World War II, and no one except for a handful of bloody minded wingnuts is eager to repeat it. . . .

If a real new Hitler came along I hope more than just right-wing wingnuts will call for all out resistance to such a monster.

One of the striking features of contemporary Washington is the unwillingness to appeal to a sense of common purpose or shared sacrifice . . . . Maybe our mindset of privatization, deregulation and fragmentation has put the idea of a great collective enterprise out of fashion, and anything that would bring it into the picture is literally unimaginable.

Yeah, that's what happened, and there are few, Reich is one I guess, who even know a mass public purpose can at times be a good if not necessary thing.

In the aftermath of 9/11 there was a tremendous willingness to do whatever we needed to wean ourselves off foreign oil. . . .

Unfortunately, I think by far the main 'tremendous willingness', due mainly (after the initial shock) to the President and his willing media megaphone, was to attack and devastate the 9/11 criminals or a sufficiently propagandized stand in. I didn't hear of a large percentage of Americans making the connection between Bin Laden and dependence on Middle Eastern oil

fairleft

by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Sun Jun 13th, 2010 at 09:39:42 AM EST
Hm, I suspect regulating a floor to the gas price would create strange incentives. I am however waiting for those with more knowledge of the oil markets to fill in what exactly.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Sun Jun 13th, 2010 at 04:14:49 PM EST
I think it would be a great policy. It would radically reduce the uncertainty faced by companies and citizens when they look at the profitablility of energy investments. As in, this not only makes it likely that this efficieny improvement will pay itself back, but it is 100 % sure, a slam-dunk. That's very important not only to people who make decisions on investments in the companies, but also to the creditors of said companies.

It could also be used to raise the gas tax in a stealthy way. Gasoline tazes are at the same time on of the best way to provide government revenue and one of the most irrationally impopular taxes.

One could have a progressively rising gas tax floor, for example, the new minimum gas price could be the weighted average price of the most pricy quarter, going forward. That's easy enough to understand but complex enough to fool Joe Public/Svenne Banan.

To make it more acceptable all increased gas tax earnings could be earmarked towards a reduction in the payroll tax/increased tax free discount.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 11:13:49 AM EST
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