Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Is Softness a Vice?
I got into a pointless and unwinnable argument with H about whether Democrats are "soft." We finally agreed (that is, he proposed and I accepted) on a definition of "soft." "Soft" means simply "intending to spend less" or "placing a somewhat lower priority" on whatever terror, crime, defense, communism, etc. With that definition I lost the argument. Actually, I hope the Democratic Party is "softer" on defense than the party currently in power. I would like to see some of the money diverted from unnecessary high-tech weapons systems and spent instead on improving transportation facilities, schools, and health care for all Americans. I particularly like the idea of Democrats as "soft" on relieving the very rich of their tax burden.
Without speaking for the Democratic Party as a whole, I list here some policies on which I am personally "soft:"
- Crime: Probation is a less expensive penalty than prison. We should impose probation on many crimes rather than prison sentences. It would depend on the crime and the criminal, of course. Many people are now serving long prison sentences for mere possession of illegal drugs. They could be just as well be on probation.
- Protecting the profits of health insurance companies: I favor a single, national, non-profit, single-payer health insorance entity to the "choice" provided under our present expensive system of health care.
- Protecting the profits of oil companies: I favor a research and development program aimed at developing practical alternative sources of energy for our economy, such as geothermal power, solar power, wind power, and tidal power. Some European countries are way ahead of us in using wind power. Power from solar energy can be extracted not only with solar cells, which are less than ten percent efficient, but also with mirrors to direct and focus the sunlight on a liquid which can be vaporized and can operate a turbine. A turbine can achieve an efficiency of forty percent.
- Protecting the power of incumbents to get reelected: This power is achieved by the spending of money to influence voters and by setting district boundaries to achieve safe districts for members of Congress and State legislatures.
- The War on Drugs: The national campaign against drugs (heroin, cocaine, hemp, etc.) is wasteful, misguided, and ineffective. Hemp should be taken off the list of banned drugs. Money spent on drug enforcement should be directed toward treatment of addicts rather than reducing the supply (and thereby raising the price and encouraging criminal activity).
This is a partial list of my soft spots. I'll write in more detail later.
I favor a research and development program aimed at developing practical alternative sources of energy for our economy, such as geothermal power, solar power, wind power, and tidal power. Some European countries are way ahead of us in using wind power.
A minor quibble. R&D definitely has value for wind energy, but at least equally important is continuing the existing government incentive that makes wind competitive with fossil fuels. The federal wind energy production tax credit (PTC) reduces a wind farm owner's tax payments by 1.9 cents for each kilowatt-hour of electricity the wind farm generates during the first 10 years of its operation. The PTC is currently scheduled to expire at the end of 2007. If the credit is extended for several years, we will see much greater use of this clean energy resource. For smaller turbines, the key incentive is a Small Turbine Investment Credit, something that doesn't yet exist. Readers can help support these and other pro-wind laws here.
Also, plug-in hybrid autos can be manufactured with technology available today. They'll get 80 or more mpg, and they will allow wind energy (for example) to take a bite out of our oil imports. Readers can support this concept through Plug-In Partners.
Thomas O. Gray
American Wind Energy Association