Rural-Urban New Bargain

April 10, 2007

Re: A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Come?

[Re: A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Come? 4/10/277]]

I'm not sure the Oregon bill is as blindly bad as you imply. 

To start, the incentive is a tax credit, so the producer needs to make a profit, that is produce more than it costs. 

Second, for the most part, the kind of issue you address is only one of many biofuels (as taken from the bill text (search for HB 2110 here):

“(A) Forest or rangeland woody debris from harvesting or thinning conducted to improve
forest ecological health and reduce uncharacteristic stand replacing wildfire risk;
”(B) Agricultural residues;
“(C) Offal and tallow from animal rendering;
”(D) Food wastes collected as provided under ORS chapter 459 or 459A;
“(E) Yard or wood debris collected as provided under ORS chapter 459 or 459A;
”(F) Wastewater solids; or
“(G) Crops grown solely to be used for energy.

Third, of course we are subsidizing a ”more costly“ energy mechanism because there isn't the infrastructure, economies of scale and design effciencies because we haven't generated energy this way to scale before.  (I am not defending the use of excess energy input, but rather things like forest biomass for which we don't have conversion plants and for which we don't have convenient hook-ups to the grid located where the biomass is, etc.).  Those are reasons to subsidize the process in order to help get it to scale.

Fourth, Oregon isn't a big corn or other producer of ethanol feed stock, so I'm not as concerned that suddenly this will turn around and the other 6 renewable fuels will diminsh in importance here.

While I like the ”net renewable“ concept, it would penalize new technologies if it wasn't a penalty also applied to fossil fuels as well, which use fossil fuels to refine them, transport them, etc.  Normally this is accounted for in the cost of production, and I'm unsure of why this wouldn't be the case here too for renewables as well for the most part.  A net renewable would also be very difficult to calculate for each separate producer. 

An easier approach, and to level the playing field, would be to increase the tax on fossil fuels -- this would build in the incentive to find alternatives and to cut mileage.

All in all, I would much rather have this bill in place even as it stands and modify it to improve it in the future than to throw out the baby with the bathwater and have no support for other fuel types today.

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April 09, 2006

Book: Crashing the Gate

Armstrong & Moulitsas: Crashing the Gate Armstrong & Moulitsas: Crashing the Gate

An energizing book that puts the cultural and strategic shift of progressives and the Democratic party into nice perspective: as a group that is moving in the right directions to act like an out-of-power group hungry to recapture its voice and political power by renewing itself.

One key to this is the transition (well underway) from a political-majority party consisting of a coalition of single-issue groups to a more coherent multi-issue philosophy.  As they point out, almost all new progressive organizations in the last decade were multi-issue organizations, not special-interest -- Center for American Progress, Progressive Majority, Democracy for America, American’s Coming Together, MoveOn, etc.

The give good coverage to the changing landscape:

  • things that have changed: new donors, new organizations, the building of a (multi-issue) progressive movement outside the Democratic Party
  • things that need more change: accountability from the Washington-based consultancy culture, beltway demos, renewed thinking about reaching all America not just segments, of understanding and reaching people at their belief level not just their demographics

They also did a good job encapsulting some of the big transitions for the right, which one could summarize as:

  • 1964 - Goldwater, fueling the right-wing anger at Republicans that were “Democrat-lite” and motivating action to build thinktanks, leadership institutes, etc.
  • 1980 - Reagan, an appealing message vehicle for core principles, leading to a right-wing hunger for and hope to also capture the congress and courts
  • 1994 - Gingrich, the first “affirmative vision” of what could be done, by selecting from a huge menu of actions from the right-wing thinktanks
  • 2000 - Bush (this is my own), pathological extreme of the party leading to overreach

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March 09, 2006

Innovative Land-use ideas

Today I attended a Yamhill County public hearing on what is probably among the most interesting of Measure 37 claims.  This is a claim by a responsible land steward that has invested years of time and money to improve and restore his land, including working cooperatively with many government agencies and private organizations.  Their work to restore wetlands has even been chronicled in Heroic Tales of Wetland Restoration by the The Wetlands Conservancy.

Because of the proximity to other claims and their long-term reputation as land stewards, this hearing was very well-attended, with eloquent testimony from concerned neighbors that both respect the Gahr’s and worry about the effects of Measure 37.  It demonstrated, once again, the depths of community concern about the havoc being reeked by Measure 37 on the community and neighbors.

Two factors seem to have driven him to make his claim: first, current land-use laws are so restrictive that he feels he is extremely limited in his ability to both persue land stewardship and farming and also have an economic future and second, the proximity of several other Measure 37 claims means that he must face the invevitable encroachment and find a way to fight back.

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January 27, 2006

Re: 10 will ask Oregon: What do you want? [Oregonian]

[Submitted to The Oregonian 1/27/2006 Re: 10 will ask Oregon: What do you want?]

Surveys show that by two-thirds majorities, Oregonians want both strong land use and respect for property rights.  The “Big Look” forward at Oregon’s land-use policies for the next few decades must recognize people want both and not a false choice between them.

When Senate Bill 100 was implemented, it came with assumptions that remained true over much of the last 30 years.  For example, that if we preserved farmland, and gave farms a very low tax rate, that farming would continue to be an economically positive activity.

But the forces of globalization, vast distribution efficiencies and innovative economies of scale have produced pressures on small- to mid-sized farms.  Just look at the vast reduction in Oregon strawberries -- easily the best looking and tastiest, but crowded out even in our local markets by alternatives shipped from over a 1000 miles away.  The consequence, at least here in Yamhill County, is that many small farms are not economically viable -- often people continue some limited farming but have their livelihoods in town.

We should look at the broader view of our public investments and land-use.  For example, when land is brought into Urban Growth Boundaries, we invest millions in infrastructure to enhance its planned-for new uses, but make almost no investment to sustain the existing planned-for use of rural areas to ensure their continued viability.  As just two little examples, many farmers still don’t have access to broadband internet, making it hard for them to participate in markets; and, as less land is farmed, it cuts the market size for suppliers of materials and equipment to farms.

Oregon needs to look not only at the preservation of productive farm and forestland, but also at what sustains the economics of those lands -- saving farmland without viable farming businesses will ensure continued friction.  The Big Look should include how Oregon’s land-use fits in this broader Oregon economic vista.

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October 20, 2005

Report from the biannual Democratic Party of Oregon’s summit

Overall Impressions from the biannual Democratic Party of Oregon’s summit, in Sunriver.

My impression is that the Democrats in Oregon are

  • doing more of the right things
  • doing more of them better

It will take time for it to come to fruition, but people are working hard to be more competitive, reach more broadly and to fashion a vision of the future.

I saw a fairly low level of identity and issue politics -- most everyone is focused on common needs and building a more effective organization on many fronts.

The criticisms of the Republican power structure is more crisp, but, I think, still occupying too much air time relative to a positive, unifying vision of the future.

Among the forward-looking, positive vision/themes, the best were (no particular order):

  • J. Kitzhaber - articulating the case for, and changing the healthcare system to provide Universal Health more effectively and at lower cost
  • E. Blumenauer - developing part of what I call a “new urban-rural bargain” in Oregon thru new food grower-consumer strategies (I think this could be part of a three-legged stool of food, energy, water)
  • T. Kulongowski - think of K-college as complete public ed system since high school diploma isn’t enough in today’s economy
  • D. Carol - renewable energy investment for jobs in Oregon
  • J. Smith - not left, right or center, but FORWARD!

High level

The highly public policy failures (Katrina, Iraq, ...) and ethical failures (cronyism, corruption) have given Democrats an opening or (“reachable moment”  as one speaker put it) to touch independents and moderate Rs.  This means more than criticizing though, it means using their increasing openness to listen to alternatives in order to put forth a positive vision that they could evaluate ... where earlier their minds may have been closed.  (Note that Bush retains 79% approval among Rs though, so the opening is primarily with independents, who have left in double-digits per week, and only a few Rs -- there is no fundamental break within the R ranks yet.)

Looking at it from a Lakoffian view, a recent survey showed that the independents are “strongly dual” with both “strict” and “nuturant” metaphors operating, and faith voters lean nurturant.

Jefferson Smith captured well for me the need to move beyond the pundits false choices of left/center/right: “not left, not right, but forward!”

Gov. Kitzhaber made a good point about the importance of focusing on “ends” not the means“, so that

  • we don’t get caught defending policies that were designed for the right reasons but aren’t working as intended (more below), and
  • not being caught up in the political gamesmanship that focuses on gaining power and losing focus on *why* to gain that power: we have to have the positive vision of what we want to do when we have the power to move it forward
  • instead play citizenship over partisanship

There was very little ”identity politcs“ and issue politics in evidence to me.  For example in one workshop, the couple-of-dozen participants were basically united in being at the Summit because of concern about the kind of country their kids/grandkids would be stuck with if they didn’t get involved and change it.  That’s pretty fundamental and allows crossing traditional internal divides.

What I didn't expect: at least four times when the audience was moved to tears by the personal sacrifices some people have had to make these last few years.

Following are impressions from some of the key speeches

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