Mr. President, Time to Save the World

Steve Novick

Mr. President, congratulations. I have to say, I didn't think it could be done. A President re-elected with nearly 8% unemployment? Unbelievable.

I'm especially pleased with your victory because I'm about to join Portland's City Council in a time of budget cuts, and I'm counting on the Affordable Care Act to reduce the workload of our police and firefighters. Our police spend a lot of their time acting as first responders to what are really mental health crises. Much of the time, the people in crisis don't have health insurance. But I'm pretty sure a lot of them are under 133% of poverty, so they'll come in under the Medicaid expansion, and hopefully get the care they need from our new Coordinated Care Organizations. I suspect the number of health emergency calls our firefighters respond to will also go down once more people have access to regular health care.

So keeping the ACA in place will be a very big deal. But as far as new initiatives go, you've obviously got your work cut out for you. The odds of getting anything good past the House of Tea are low.

So ... as long as the odds are against you no matter what you try, why not try to do the most important thing of all? The combination of Superstorm Sandy, the fiscal cliff, the start of a new Administration and Congress, even the changing of the leadership guard in China, give you a unique opportunity to take the initiative on global warming.

The week after Thanksgiving, announce that Sandy has convinced you that global warming is the greatest threat to America's national security. (There are already plenty of Pentagon studies to back that up.) Say that accordingly, you're not going to restore the coming automatic cuts to the military. Instead, you propose to use that money on a Manhattan Project on solar energy and carbon sequestration research, plus the beginning of a massive investment in mass transit and high-speed rail and building retrofits.

Call up Xi Jinping, Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel, Yoshihiko Noda, Manmohan Singh, Vladimir Putin, even David Cameron, and tell them it's time for a serious international climate treaty that includes an international carbon tax. Say that in the United States, you plan to offset the impact of the carbon tax on the poor and middle class through an income tax rebate -- Jimmy Carter's old plan. Suggest they do the same. I don't think it would be administratively possible to determine each individual person's carbon use and key the rebate amount to that, but you could vary it depending on regional carbon intensity. Oregonians would get lower rebates than people in coal country, because by accident of geography we happen to get lots of hydropower, so the tax would affect us less. Meanwhile, it's not individual Ohioans' fault that they use lots of coal; poor and middle class Ohioans would get a bigger rebate than the national average. Of course, anyone who happens to be a low carbon user would get a bigger "rebate" than the amount they spend on carbon. That's fine. In fact, that's the idea - to change behavior while trying to be fair.

Similarly, I think that to be fair the proceeds of an international carbon tax might also need to be partially reallocated internationally to offset any disparate impact resulting from the differing carbon intensity of locally available fuel. I don't think the fact that we've been able to reduce coal use because we're replacing it with natural gas, whereas China isn't in the same position, should result in China paying more. You'd have to figure out something fair.

Reallocating scheduled military cuts won't give us the money we need for all the investments we need to make. But don't let that slow things down. You could, frankly, just borrow the money. Interest rates are still amazingly low; it's the perfect time to borrow for long-term investments. But if you can't bring yourself to do that, propose further cuts to the military. In fact, that should be part of your calls to foreign leaders, especially Jinping, given China's military ramp-up; say it's time for everyone to forgot the weaponry and refocus on the warming.

Of course the House Republicans will freak out. But so what? The House Republicans freak out at the idea of ending the carried interest loophole. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, the sight of a President doing something so patently unpolitical and daring would make some of them start to wonder if this global warming thing is real.

Again, I know full well that the odds would be against you. But what were the odds that a State Senator could get to the White House in less than five years? What were the odds that a President could get reelected with 7.9% unemployment? What were the odds that the San Francisco Giants could come back from 0-2 in the division series and and 1-3 in the NLCS, and that the Panda would hit two dingers off Justin Verlander? And, most importantly, what are the odds against the human race, and lots of other species too, if we do not act?

Okay, I admit I have an ulterior motive. We have a full-scale rebellion brewing in Portland because years ago, in our climate-conscious way, we adopted zoning codes that allow for apartment buildings to be built without on-site parking. Now, some developers are actually taking advantage of this opportunity, and people in the neighborhoods are freaking out. Our planners tell them we're only allowing this in neighborhoods with good transit access, but our dirty little secret in Portland is that although we brag about our transit, and it's better than in a lot of places, we don't have anything like the New York City or Washington, D.C subway system, not yet, anyway. So the neighborhoods have a point. I'd love to be able to tell them, "don't worry, the President is bringing us a subway really soon."

All my best,

Steve Novick

Portland, Oregon

P.S. - You ARE going to get rid of the carried interest loophole, aren't you???

P.P.S. - Wasn't what happened on marriage equality in four states really great? And Jerry Brown stole (and expanded on) Oregon's idea of avoiding more cuts through a progressive tax initiative, and the voters said yes -- pretty cool, no? Oh, and can you start telling people that it's a false image that people who want to build a successful business and live in the Northwest should go to Washington, while if you just want to get stoned, you go to Oregon? After all, they were the ones that passed the marijuana measure, not us. We're the sober and responsible ones. (But we're still cool, because we're going to have an out lesbian Speaker of the House.)

Comments

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    Federally subsidzed subway in Portland?? Not while the GOP controls the House. Maybe after 2014 when Dems resume control of the House. I'm waiting for high speed rail along the West Coast I-5 corridor. I rode the "Freccia" bullet train in Italy ( a poor country) in Sept. Cruising speed 185 MPH (300 KMPH). Very kool! We can do that!

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    Steve,

    in regards to the "a full-scale rebellion brewing" because of apartments without on-site parking, the city just released a report on parking impacts along these inner corridors[1]. it shows that even at peak activity, we are seeing < 85% utilization of existing parking spaces. it shows that within 1 to 2 blocks of each project there is ample parking available (sometimes completely empty streets).

    this suggests that it is not an issue of scarcity, but rather allocation. this is a problem that can be solved without adding minimum parking requirements for new buildings. we are amidst a secular decline in the use of automobiles[2] as primary means of transportation. every new parking structure we build is going to increase the cost of living now, and be a total misuse of space in the future.

    [1] http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/420059

    [2] http://gregor.us/policy/the-demise-of-the-car/

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    Yes, indeed, let's tackle climate change. Obama would be more successful at this if local leaders, such as city council members, put every possible rail block in the way of climate destroying coal trains.

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    Instead of pinning my hopes on what re-elected president Barack Obama may do for us, I fully expect our new mayor and city council to take bold leadership and move forward with pushing the 'Common Sense Alternative' to the Columbia River Crossing, as well as banning coal trains or barges coming anywhere near our city, and what the hell, tear down the I-5 and Marquam bridge since we're in the middle of a climate crisis. Think globally, act locally.

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      I've already written to you about the coal trains, Mr. Novick -- http://www.blueoregon.com/2012/08/open-letter-steve-novick-coal-you-kant-be-serious/ -- but I'm with Hart. You need not speak to the top of the pyramid. We need people to save the world HERE by making Portland an actual sustainable city. Not by building "green" high rises in East Portland or simply adding rail to freeway expansion projects. Incentivize decentralized renewable energies here instead of trying to draw in GE like Sam Adams did. Look to Germany's model instead of the BS that is coming out of right wing think tanks.

      Feed-in tariff.

      Phase out pollution locally.

      Farm the city.

      Seize on the ideas of the rebuilding center and the tool library and incentivize the creation of industries that make use of the stuff we've already got here.

      Move toward restoration of fragile ecosystems.

      Incorporate ideas of social justice and environmental sustainability into citywide efforts.

      Let's make "sustainable" actually mean something other than a slogan for a slightly different kind of expansionist capitalism. Portland has to be a model city or we're screwed. No one else in this country is going to do it first and we're tired of green-washing and passing the buck.

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    The President needs to provide leadership, but there should also be action in Congress. At very least, Senate Democrats should pass a strong cap & trade bill (or gut & stuff a revenue bill from the House and send it back with a carbon tax) as well as a major green investment bill to support green buildings and mass transit projects. Sure, House Republicans will kill them, or bottle them up in committee to avoid a floor vote. But it would help get activists engaged in getting out the vote in 2014 by showing that yes, there are bills already passed and a Democratic House is all that's needed to finish the job.

    In fact, Senate Democrats should do that with bills on a whole bunch of issues important to various parts of the Democratic base. A bunch of good bills that have already passed the Senate and are languishing (or dead) in the House would make one hell of an action agenda to turn out Democratic voters in the mid-term.

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    Steve, Now that you are on the record in support of coal trains running through Portland day and night, how can you claim to be concerned about global warming???

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