Pubdate: Sun, 10 Jun 2001
Source: Times Record (ME)
Copyright: 2001 Times Record Inc., ASC Inc
Author: Arthur Cannon


So Vice President Dick Cheney has declared an energy crisis and is urging
that we build between 1,300 and 1,900 new power plants over the next 20
years, to solve our current energy "crisis" and meet projected demand.

Hmm. We built 1,000 new prisons between 1980 and 2000, one a week, to
"solve" the drug crisis, some 1.5 million new beds worth, and quadrupled our
inmate population. But the drug crisis is still as bad as ever.

The Bush-Cheney-energy industry energy crisis plan, if implemented, would be
as effective in solving the energy crisis. But that's not the point. As with
the drug war, the point is increased profit and political power, not solving
the purported crisis.

It's an age-old story. Wielders of power seek to consolidate and increase it
by turning real or imagined problems into crises. The Inquisitors had their
heretics, the witch hunters of the American Colonies and Europe their
witches and the Devil. Hitler had his Communists and Jews, and a deep
resentment from World War I, to bring about his Third Reich and the
Holocaust. All had their willing enablers, operating from the profit motive.
An opportunity to steal with impunity.

Sometimes crisis manipulation is an organized conspiracy. More often it just
happens when a group of disparate interests coalesce around a perceived
crisis and a constituency against it develops. But intentional or otherwise,
once they reach a certain point the power structure adopts it and the
constituency becomes virtually unstoppable. The "cure" mechanism becomes an
end in itself, the purported crisis used only to justify and fuel that

Drugs were a real and serious problem when Ronald Reagan declared the war
against them in the 1980s. But although drugs are extremely dangerous to
individual users, the danger to society as a whole was grossly exaggerated.
The average number of alcohol-related deaths in the United States from
1990-94 was 110,640; total number of licit and illicit drug -related deaths
in 1998 was 16,926; total number of deaths in 1998 was 2,337,256. (Source:

But -- with the help of sensational media coverage -- paranoia prevailed.
The "cure" became far more harmful than any amount of drugs ever could. And
20-plus years, trillions of dollars and tens of millions of man-years of
incarceration later, the drug problem is no better.

But we will be paying the huge societal costs of that folly long after the
drug war ends.

Although a Republican president declared that war, Democrats led the charge
for its draconian sentencing laws. And both parties cooperated in keeping
the true costs well hidden from the public. Nor did the Democratic President
Clinton do anything to slow it down. The drug war became the epitome of
bipartisanship and political correctness, the slightest hint of moderation
meaning certain political oblivion.

No one ever said that we needed to build one new prison a week for 20 years;
they just kept getting built. And as fast as they were built new tenants
were found to keep them filled and overflowing. The prison-industrial
complex became an end in itself, fueled by the extremely harsh mandatory
minimum sentencing laws, $80,000 per bed construction cost, $30,000 annual
incarceration cost per inmate and the more than $200 billion annual cost of
the drug war. That money found its way to a lot of people, and increased the
power of politicians from the White House down to the smallest town hall.
That constituency has so far proven unstoppable.

But manufactured crises cannot last indefinitely, and the wise ruler will
have replacements in the wings. And the drug war is finally showing signs of

Lo and behold -- our newest crisis: energy. The Bush-Cheney-energy industry
energy crisis plan copies the same failed strategies of the drug war: Throw
lots of money, material resources and technology at it and ignore the only
things that could improve the situation: conservation and changes in human
thinking. Build thousands of new power generating plants and power lines;
drill more gas and oil; build more refineries; lay thousands of miles of
fuel lines; allow more use of dirty coal; increase nuclear energy; relax
pollution controls. More of the very things that led us to our present

Critics will call it madness, because -- as with the drug war -- it would be
precisely the wrong way to solve the problem. But again they would miss the

The conservation and rational energy alternatives they propose would not
generate nearly the profit and jobs as all that new construction. Energy
would be cheaper and plentiful once again; and just as the drug war prisons
were filled up as fast as they were built, uses for the additional energy
would be quickly found: more energy guzzling cars and other energy intensive
equipment, more roads and greater urban sprawl, etc., to expand our economy.

More importantly, a truly rational energy policy would not provide nearly as
much additional power to politicians and bureaucrats. And lobbyists.

And as with the drug war and other crises, it would be a totally bipartisan
effort, with all opposition politically incorrect. Democrats and Republicans
alike would scramble to hop aboard the energy crisis bandwagon, and lobby
for the facilities to be constructed in their districts. As with the drug
warriors ridiculing treatment and prevention as "soft-on-drugs," the energy
warriors would dismiss conservation and other viable programs as
impracticable "tree hugging" efforts.

That's the picture as Bush and Co. envision it. But crisis policies don't
always take off, and unlike the drug war there is already powerful
opposition to this one. And perhaps we will have learned some lessons from
the drug war.

The most ludicrous rationale for the energy plan though is to reduce our
dependence on foreign oil. We are becoming increasingly dependent upon
foreign oil for engaging in precisely what they are proposing more of: an
increased demand for oil even as our own resources dwindle.

But if implemented, this crisis plan would be even more harmful than the
drug war. What would we do if the foreign suppliers refused to sell us
enough oil at reasonable prices? The answer should be chillingly obvious;
our national interest would allow no option but to go in and take it.

Have Bush and Co. thought that through?

In case they haven't, they might consider some not too ancient history.

In 1941 Japan was totally dependent on foreign oil, and felt forced to go to
war to secure it when its major supplier cut off sales. That supplier was
the United States, then the world's leading oil exporter.

Arthur Cannon, Phippsburg

MAP posted-by: Doc-Hawk