Hail to the Comedian-in-Chief: Dithering about Oil

As most of us know, it’s easier to make jokes about problems than it is to solve them. It’s a lot easier to make jokes about your rivals’ ideas about problems than it is to solve them, too. So yesterday, when President Obama got behind a podium at Prince George’s Community College in Maryland to discuss energy, I was curious to see what he would have to say. The text is here, and the all-important talking point is here:

Apparently, there is no quick fix that will bring down gas prices immediately. There was a lot of talk about biofuels, alternative sources, and conservation. If this sounds familiar to you, and you’re old enough to remember the gas crisis in the late 1970’s, when there were shortages at many gas stations, and President Carter put on Mr. Rogers’ cardigan sweater and asked us all to turn down the thermostat, then you know that We the People have a hard time with conservation.

Back in the 1970’s, though, the Chinese and Indian economies weren’t booming, thirsty for oil themselves. So, demand for oil is going to shoot up globally. And we’re not the only ones who have a hard time switching from gas guzzlers to alternative-energy vehicles: even the Chinese are having a difficult time convincing consumers to purchase electric cars.

But guess who is pushing electric cars in China? The electric utilities — in addition to the government. Why don’t TXU or Reliant Energy jump on this issue and start putting in those special outlets everywhere? Wouldn’t their profits just go up? Why doesn’t Green Mountain Energy start running some ads with Nissan Leafs plugged into outlets next to a wind turbine? Why isn’t President Obama pushing the utilities to market this?

We need to start considering electric vehicles seriously — and we need to start today, not “someday.”

Two more questions — while it’s great that we finally stopped subsidizing corn ethanol, why is there still a tariff on sugarcane ethanol from Brazil will burn more cleanly and more efficiently? The Brazilians import our corn ethanol without a tariff, and we should do the same. I didn’t hear anything about that from President Obama, who was busy making jokes about Newt Gingrich and President Hayes to tell us what he’s actually doing.

And finally, if unrest in the Middle East is really causing prices to spike, who’s setting the prices? Speculators — and according to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who has sponsored the End Excessive Oil Speculation Now Act. This law doesn’t actually create any new regulations (which may be why President Obama opposes it). Instead, it asks Congress to make the Commodity Futures Trading Commission enforce existing law putting limits on speculative oil positions that match those in place for the past 11 years on the New York Mercantile Exchange and force speculators to follow margin requirements of 12 percent on their oil trading speculation — that way, if prices don’t follow the speculators’ projections, the speculators lose money. As Senator Sanders put it: “I can tell you, in every district — whether it’s a red or blue state — members of Congress are getting calls from constituents who are getting sick and tired of being ripped off at the pump,” he says. “They want action. I hope occasionally, maybe we can do something for the people rather than for speculators and Wall Street.”

This didn’t get any attention from President Obama, either.  He did have time to reference the Flat Earth Society, though. At least his speechwriters can use Wikipedia.

Would either step drive down the prices of gas? It’s hard to say what the immediate effects would be. They would have been more effective, though, than making jokes about drilling for oil on the National Mall.

If these questions have made you want to contact your congressional representative, as thousands are already doing about high gas prices, you can find out how to do it by entering your ZIP code into this link.

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One Response to “Hail to the Comedian-in-Chief: Dithering about Oil”

  1. Correction — the Brazilian sugar cane tariff ended on December 30, as did the corn ethanol subsidy. That said, the solutions should still have represented more of President Obama's speech than the comedy.

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