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Archive for March, 2012

Opening Russia

March 29th, 2012

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This piece was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

The World Trade Organization currently has 153 members, ranging from the United States and China, to Uruguay and Ukraine. The WTO is not an exclusive club. Venezuela, run by America-hating strongman Hugo Chavez, is a member. And plenty of other WTO countries have kings, presidents-for-life or juntas that are not making names for themselves as statesmen or democrats. Still, despite its varied membership, the WTO does play a vital role in opening markets and enforcing rules against unfair trade.

This summer, Russia will become the WTO’s newest member. Congress will have no say in the matter. But Russia’s WTO accession will nevertheless pose a quandary for Congress and for American exports. Current U.S. law would put American companies at a real disadvantage in exporting to Russia once it joins the WTO. Unless Congress acts to change the law, as President Obama and Congressional leaders have urged, American jobs in companies doing business with Russia — and the potential for tens of thousands more — will be at risk.
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The Fear Factor? Upending the conventional wisdom on Independent Voters

March 26th, 2012

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Why do many continue to be afraid to call an Independent an Independent? In a recent article, Jamelle Bouie argued that a paper we authored at Third Way showing that Independents are in fact Independent is incorrect. Mr. Bouie argues that Independents are a myth and neither party should try to appeal to them. While his comments are appreciated, he misses the boat on the data. His main critique is that we cherry-picked the election years used in our recent Leaners Don’t Fall report to ensure they represented the most conservative period in American history. Sadly, we didn’t pick the election years. We would prefer if the well-respected American National Election Studies had continued the panel study and had data at least through 2008. But they only conducted this survey for 3 elections—2000, 2002, and 2004. But even these three years are very illuminating. Independents, we found, were far more likely to switch allegiance than either Democrats or Republicans. By 2004, 38% of Democratic-leaning Independents—Independents who said they leaned towards the Democratic party in the 2000 election—voted Republican; less than one-quarter of even self-identified “weak” Democrats pulled the lever for the other side.

In addition, 2004 was not as conservative of a year as some like to think. The electorate was split 37%-37% between Democrats and Republicans, with 26% Independents. Seems like an even fight to us. Mr. Bouie suggests the wave Democratic elections of 2006 and 2008 would have given us different results. But that likely would have shown that Independents are capable of swinging back—not that they don’t swing at all. And 2010 would show that they swung yet again. In 2008, Independents voted for Democrats in the House ballot by 8 points. In 2010, Republicans won Independents by 19. That’s a 27 point shift in 2 years!  Clearly Independents are not a stable voting bloc. They actually swing—our point precisely. Let’s not pretend that Independents are phantoms. Believing they don’t exist may send them running to the other side.

Plenty of Blame to Go Around

March 19th, 2012

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This piece originally appeared in National Journal.

Who’s to blame for rising gas prices? No one. And everyone. The recent spikes we’re all seeing as we drive around are unavoidable. They are the consequence when there are no other widely available options to fuel our cars, trucks, and airplanes. As we noted in a recent paper, Why We Face More Pain at the Pump, current price spikes are the result of worries about renewed conflict in the Middle East, a growing global economy, and refineries going offline.

On the Middle East:

The oil market is spooked. Why? Tensions with Iran over their continued development of nuclear weapons, and Iran’s threats to cut off oil to Europe and close the Strait of Hormuz. Closing the Strait would shut off the shipping route for 20% of the world’s oil, dramatically curtailing supply. [Read more about the possible effects of war with Iran in our recent report Keeping Our Powder Dry] In 2011, the civil war in Libya had a similar impact on oil prices, despite the fact that Libya only accounted for 2% of global oil supply.

On the global economy:

Through the end of 2011, markets were frightened by the prospect of a Greek default pulling Europe, and the world, into a deep recession. This helped keep oil and other commodity prices down. In mid-February 2012, the European Union agreed to provide Greece an additional round of bailout funding to meet its debt obligations. With an economic crisis seemingly averted, economists anticipate that the global economy, and the demand for oil, will begin to grow more quickly in 2012.

On refineries:

Every year, domestic refineries take a time-out in the spring to perform maintenance and switch to a summer blend of gas. This year, a host of refineries began maintenance early, disrupting gas supplies earlier than usual. At the same time, several refineries are closing because high oil prices have destroyed their profit margins.

Our nation must begin to provide alternatives to gasoline. Whether the option is natural gas, electricity, or biofuels, forcing oil to compete for consumer dollars, would drive prices down. Will the price spikes caused by Middle East hostility, economic recovery, and refinery shortfalls be enough to move Washington to act? Only time will tell. I for one will be buying a Volt or Prius as soon as I can.

Ready-to-Tweet: Recent Actions to Reduce the Burden of Gas Prices

March 15th, 2012

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Increasingly, important and complicated policy debates in Washington are being reduced to sound bites or even tweets. The debate over skyrocketing gas prices is no exception. As we outlined in a recent memo, there is not much that can be done to reduce the immediate impact of high gas prices. There is, however, a lot that can be done to kick the oil habit once and for all over the long-term. We’ve included a list of steps the government has taken over the last three years below, in a handy Tweet-able format.

Kicking the Oil Habit with Alternative Fuels

The US SuperTruck program will save trucks $15,000 in fuel costs every year http://tinyurl.com/7j4vesb

Increased tax breaks to families and companies that buy alternative fuel vehicles up to $10000 from last year’s $7500 http://tiny.cc/min4aw

Feds getting off of oil: By 2015, 100% of government vehicles to run on alternative fuels http://tiny.cc/3en4aw

Save money at the pump, go electric: Feds and private sector to develop car battery that’s ½ price, 300 miles/charge http://tiny.cc/cln4aw

4 commercial biorefineries are 1 year ahead of schedule. Will produce nearly 100 million gallons of biofuels/year http://tinyurl.com/8xkhu52

Recovery Act grant recipients purchased 1,286 buses and vans powered by clean tech like biodiesel and natural gas http://tiny.cc/0qn4aw

Increasing Domestic Oil and Gas Production

Domestic oil production has increased every year President Obama has been in office http://tinyurl.com/7reblq8

Since 2009, the United States has been the world’s leading producer of natural gas http://tiny.cc/u1n4aw

Currently, the U.S. has a record number of oil and gas rigs operating – more than the rest of the world combined http://tiny.cc/p9n4aw

We have already cut net imports of oil and gas by ten percent – 1 million barrels a day – in the last year alone http://tinyurl.com/8ywheaw

Last year the US was a net exporter of refined petroleum products for the first time in sixty years http://tiny.cc/jco4aw

In 2008, US imported 11 million barrels of oil/day. By end of last year, that number fell to 8.4 million barrels/day http://tiny.cc/oeo4aw

Natural Gas STAR Program encourages companies to adopt safe practices and technologies to reduce methane emissions http://tiny.cc/kjo4aw

Natural Gas STAR partners reported domestic emissions reductions of 86 Bcf, worth over $421 million, in 2009 http://tinyurl.com/2bnwwk

Rapid development of oil and gas spurred by shorter lease terms http://tinyurl.com/6rj73so

The Administration has tied lease-extensions for oil and gas to lessee investment in exploration and development http://tinyurl.com/5ubvep8

New Admin proposal would reward rapid development of oil and natural gas through new royalty structures http://tinyurl.com/769qbup

Increasing Fuel Efficiency

Higher fuel standards mean filling up less often – by middle of next decade cars will average almost 55 miles/gallon http://tiny.cc/lno4aw

The Obama Administration has put in place the first-ever fuel economy standards for heavy-duty trucks http://tiny.cc/mqo4aw

New CAFE standards for passenger vehicles will save drivers more than $8000 in fuel costs http://tiny.cc/iso4aw

Heavy duty fuel economy standards will reduce oil consumption by over 500 million barrels http://tiny.cc/ruo4aw

There’s a Silver Lining in the Gas Price Gloom

March 13th, 2012

by and

With gas prices hitting record highs rarely seen since 1918, it’s understandable that pundits and politicians are looking for someone to blame. Headlines from recent polls have all but shouted that President Obama’s popularity is taking a hit from bad news at the pump. The reality is, however, that voters are a lot more sophisticated than they often get credit for. In fact, the data suggests that voters are taking a much more realistic position about how high gas prices are impacting them and who is, and is not, to blame.

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The Times They Are a-Changin’

March 12th, 2012

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“Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’…”
-Bob Dylan 

The battles of the sixties may finally be over. How do we know? Because 2012 looks like the first election in nearly fifty years in which social issues are working to the advantage of Democrats.

Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to the United States in 2011 provoked a thought. In the 1960s, China experienced the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. They got over it. In the 1960s, the United States experienced the Great American Cultural Revolution. We never got over it.

Until now.

Eight years ago, Bill Clinton offered this defining explanation of American politics: “If you look back on the sixties and, on balance, you think there was more good than harm in it, you’re probably a Democrat. And if you think there’s more harm than good, you’re probably a Republican.”

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