Wednesday, March 14, 2007

An Energy Plan from the Netroots

Without going too far out on a limb, I think it may be safe to say that the world's energy problems are finally starting to sink into the public consciousness. I hear that sales of gas-guzzling SUVs are actually on the decline (yet another triumph of Detroit's product planning) and if you subscribe to Deep Throat's "follow the money" principle, you have to be at least somewhat impressed by the amount of new investment going into energy technologies.

It seems the investment community has at last acquired the scent of future profits and is now beating the bushes trying to flush them out. At this early stage, no one knows who the big winners will be, but that's life in the venture capital game.

One major source of confusion is the plethora of "energy plans" being tossed about. Indeed, energy plans are a dime a dozen, and they cover the entire spectrum from (on the right) "Drill ANWR" to (on the left) "Higher CAFE standards." But the problem with virtually all of them is that they're actually agendas dressed up as plans. The oil industry's plan starts with the assumption that we have no realistic alternative to petroleum. The Corn Belt plan argues for higher subsidies for ethanol. Then there's the "Clean Coal" plan, the biodiesel plan, and myriad others—each with its own axe to grind. The stakes are huge, and no interest group wants to be outmaneuvered in claiming its share of the spoils. We have barely begun to see the heroic lobbying and vicious infighting in the stampede to own the future.

All of this is by way of introducing something completely different: an actual citizens' energy plan that has been under development for over a year by a group of netroots activists. Called "Energize America," the plan is unique in (a) being developed entirely out in the open, and (b) not being the property of any particular industry or interest group. As such, it has the most potential for leading to a comprehensive and rational package of energy solutions of anything I've seen.

But the big news is this: awareness of Energize America has been slowly percolating into the halls of Congress, and recently, members of the EA team met with a senior member of Congress and were specifically asked to provide draft wording for bills on 10 of the 20 acts proposed by Energize America.

While the name of the Congressperson hasn't been disclosed yet, it is someone senior, and able to push bills, and thus this current process means that the online community can have a direct influence on important legislation. Imagine: citizens drafting bills instead of lobbyists!

Everyone is invited to participate in this exciting project. It has the momentum of a big, fast-spinning carousel, which can make it a bit daunting to choose the point where you want to jump on, but if you care about these issues, I can't think of a better way to get involved.

To learn more about Energize America, start here.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Wanted: anti-corporate humor

If you're an active netizen, you've almost certainly found lots of "humorous" emails in your inbox, forwarded by well-meaning friends and relatives. Typically, they go something like this:

"All Joe Blow wanted to do was fix his fence. Trying to play by the rules, he dutifully applied for a permit to do the job. Then all hell broke loose. A bureaucrat in the county planning office discovered that his existing fence was two inches onto his neighbor's property, and would have to be torn down and rebuilt. Then the Department of Sensitivity and Political Correctness discovered the Indian burial mound across the street. Joe's property would have to be excavated by a team of pointy-headed archaeologists from the state university before he could install new fenceposts. The inept excavators broke his water line, flooding his basement and destroying his wife's collection of priceless Beanie Babies. Trying to save the Babies, Joe slipped on the wet stairs and fractured his sacroiliac. Now poor Joe has no fence and bills for $20,000. From his hospital bed, Joe said wanly 'All I wanted to do was fix my fence.'"

Though details vary, invariably the theme is: government is inherently meddlesome, capricious, incompetent and ridiculous, if not downright evil. Well, it's time to fight back…

But first: The story above is NOT TRUE! I totally made it up. So it had better not appear in an email from my redneck brother-in-law six months from now as something that really happened!

Here's the point: for all the "funny" anti-government stories like this I've seen, I can't remember getting a single one about a corporation being meddlesome, capricious, incompetent or ridiculous (not to mention greedy!) This can't be an accident, and I'll go so far as to speculate that the Right Wing Noise Machine employs people whose specific job it is to collect and disseminate these stories around the Net. Hell, I bet they even make up stories, like I just did.

It's all part of the campaign to discredit all government that was launched back in the 60's. Recall that long before he became President, Ronnie RayGun was travelling around giving speeches on the horrors of the Big Bad Government. Yesterday, WaPo columnist Marie Cocco reminded us that we are now reaping the fruits of Reagan's anti-government jihad in things like the gutting of FEMA, the Walter Reed mess, and of course the profiteering in Iraq.

What to do? Well, if I ran the Rockridge Institute or, I'd consider fighting fire with fire (I exclude Public Citizen because Mr. Nader is unfamiliar with the concept of humor).

Humor is the key word here. There are plenty of progressive, anti-corporate screeds around, but they're too often told in an outraged, accusing, shrill voice that's a guaranteed turnoff if you're not part of the Movement. The Right is smarter than that. They tell stories that make the point without shouting, and are droll enough that Joe Sixpack just might decide to forward them along to his beer buddies.

Make 'em chuckle and you'll eventually win them over. So how about it?