Sunday, March 11, 2012

Kelly's dog whistle column

Jack Kelly always uses coded language to whip up conservatives while still alarming independents. Today's column on energy prices is a bit more straightforward - gas prices are up, it is Obama's fault, and by the way, Obama is throwing away tax dollars on "renewable" energy that is more expensive anyway. Kelly is throwing a nod to "crony capitalism" with that last, which actually takes up most of his column.

But Kelly does start with the line that gas prices are up and it is Obama's fault. Interestingly, a video has shown up on the internet (I saw it on Facebook) from 2008 when Bush was in office and gas prices shot up to over $4.00 per gallon. The video shows Fox News' defense of Bush; that a President (any President) can't do much to affect gas prices. I see no reason to think the numbers cited on the video are any less true today, despite what Republican candidates are saying now. Yet, apparently Republicans/conservatives are willing to throw Bill O'Reilly and Fox News under the bus when their history becomes inconvenient.

Past that, I would make a couple of points. In Kelly's first paragraph he quotes Stephen Chu, who apparently in 2008 suggested US gas prices should actually be at European levels. Once again this is Republican/conservative slamming of Europe. Granted, Europe has a unique problem in adopting the Euro as the currency for so many countries, and they are finding that not being able to let a currency float downward during a recession makes improving exports and lowering imports really difficult. But on other fronts, Europe is far ahead of the US in terms of government services, including health care systems with lower costs per patient and to their GNP's while also having better aggregate health outcomes. International surveys consistently say that Europeans are among the happiest peoples on earth, far happier than Americans (and this was true during the Bush administration as well as now).

Yes, Europeans have higher gas prices largely as a result of higher taxes. But they are not unhappy in general, they have adapted to these higher prices. They get (and actually take) longer vacations than we do, but they frequently (mostly?) take them by really fast train. Europeans often live in apartment building groups, and tram stops and grocery and other shopping venues locate within walking distance of these groups. Europeans often travel by bicycle to work or walk to shop, helping making them healthier than us. Obviously a model like that won't work for farmers, but apparently 82% of us live in cities or suburbs, so there are a lot of us who have already chosen to live near urban centers. We just need to go back to a notion that it is cool to live in a Manhattan style metropolis (as opposed to the "Leave It To Beaver" car-focused suburb, although as I recall the kids in that show rode bikes all the time).

Europeans are far ahead of us in terms of wind and solar as well. Again, despite Republican/conservative attempts to paint Europe as a hellish landscape with a dystopian dictatorship, the Europeans themselves feel pretty good about their lives. Maybe part of that is a satisfaction that they are doing the most they can to ameliorate climate change.

Kelly grudging notes wind is pretty competitive but then talks about bat and bird kills and wind not working in extreme heat and cold. But Kelly is hardly convincing as an environmentalist (he slams "green" energy in his next paragraph), and the extreme weather in Texas and England he mentions could well be caused by the very climate change non-fossil fuel energy sources are supposed to address. This article provides a reasonable discussion of the issue.

Kelly trots out the tired canard about how green energy firms support the President and his administration's green energy policies in turn help them. Are we surprised green energy firms might have been started by liberals who might also be inclined to support Obama on general principle? Do I need to talk about Republican connections to oil, gas and coal companies (the Koch brothers, for example). Kelly' quoting of a retired Shell executive and the American Petroleum Institute kinda of prove the point.

But I do want to finish with a somewhat larger point. We know that fossil fuels are inherently limited. For the planet to keep supporting any human life, much less the roughly seven billion people we have now, we need to switch to renewable energy sources. I don't expect we will be totally or even mostly off petroleum-powered cars in my lifetime, or off coal powered electricity. But I think we need to make a credible start. Honestly, I can't imagine what fantasy future Jack Kelly sees. But it worries me that the Post-Gazette allows him to peddle it as truth to those who still read newspapers week after week.

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