October 24, 2012 - Election 2012
October 17, 2012 - Cheers and Jeers
October 10, 2012 - Windy Topics
October 3, 2012 - A Little of This, Little of That
September 26, 2012 - No column
September 19, 2012 - Arab Winter
September 12, 2012 - Lessons in Free Markets
September 5, 2012 - Abraham vs Barack
August 29, 2012 - No Column
August 22, 2012 - The Third Rail
August 15, 2012 - Questions, Questions…
August 8, 2012 - No Column
August 1, 2012 - Bullies
July 25, 2012 - Who Really Built That?
July 18, 2012 - No column
July 11, 2012 - Double Standards
July 4, 2012 - Contortionists
June 27, 2012 - Moving Forward
June 20, 2012 - No column
June 13, 2012 - Mr. Trzupek Goes to Washington
June 6, 2012 - Another kind of terrorism
May 30, 2012 - A Record Unmatched
May 23, 2012 - Yay NATO
May 16, 2012 - No column
May 9, 2012 - The Campaign
May 2, 2012 - EPA Abuse on Center Stage
April 25, 2012 - Obama’s Energy Follies Continue
April 18, 2012 - No column
April 11, 2012 - Roosters of the Apocalypse
April 4, 2012 - The Death of Coal
March 28, 2012 - Censorship
March 21, 2012 - Obama’s Extreme Energy Dilemma
March 14, 2012 - What’s In A Name?
March 7, 2012 - Canada Puts Greens – and the U.S. – On Notice
February 29, 2010 - Obama’s Failing Energy Policy
February 22, 2012 - Obama’s Green Energy Scandal Widens
February 15, 2012 - Arrogance On Display
February 8, 2012 - Obama’s Green Disasters Pile Up
February 1, 2012 - Relax, It’s Just Chemistry
January 25, 2012 - Wrong, Wrong and Wrong Again
January 18, 2012 - Get Real
January 11, 2012 - Fixing the EPA
January 4, 2012 - The End of Something
By Rich Trzupek
Please do not confuse this column, which is more of the whimsical nature column in the scheme of things, with the “hopes to accomplish something” sort of column that is so popular among modern journalists.
There is nothing to be accomplished here. President Obama will win all of Illinois electoral votes come Election Day. Neither my vote nor anything I write will change that. Like it or lump it, Illinois is every bit entrenched a blue state as California or New York. That said, let us consider what will be at stake come November 6.
It would not be overstating the point to say that this election will be a referendum on our nation’s soul.
On the one hand we have a candidate who stands unashamedly for big government and who quite sincerely believes that more government, more regulation and more taxes will result in many more positive than negative outcomes.
On the other hand, we have another candidate who stands equally unashamedly for the power of free markets unfettered by more government, more regulation and more taxes and who believes – equally sincerely – that the route he advocates will result in many more positive than negative outcomes.
We caricature each position to some extent, because it’s both the easiest thing to do and because politics – unfortunately – is all about demonizing your opponent. We say we deplore this state of affairs, but there’s nothing that moves polling data like negative advertising.
On my side of the spectrum, some conservatives like to call Barack Obama a socialist – committed to government control of virtually every part of your life. On the other side, some liberals liken Mitt Romney to a modern day “robber-baron” – a cigar-smoking (figuratively speaking) heartless SOB determined to enrich himself and his uber-wealthy pals.
I don’t know that either of those caricatures do either man service and I’m certain that they don’t do the nation a service, other than letting people vent their spleens. Government control vs. the free market is a contest that involves a lot of subtle, nuanced arguments that go way beyond the silly labels and talking points.
Some government regulation of the free market is necessary – desirable even. But there is surely a point where the heavy hand of government in the free market causes more misery than it prevents.
Let’s take my particular area of expertise: environmental regulation. When I was on my last book tour, many of the folks who interviewed me asked the same question: do I think we should do away with the EPA. My answer was always the same: no way.
Look, we need an EPA to make sure that everyone is playing on the same, level playing field. Most companies – I would say it’s over 95 per cent in my experience – are committed to doing the right thing, environmentally speaking. This is particularly true these days of big corporations, because none of the big boys want their brand sullied by being labeled an evil polluter – a la the BP oil spill in the gulf.
But, without an EPA, the 5 per cent of shady characters would say to hell with the environment and to hell with public health. But for government oversight, they’d skip investing in the kind of controls that are needed in order to gain a competitive advantage over others in their industry. The EPA stops that from happening.
Yet, saying that the EPA is necessary is not to say that the EPA should be given free rein to do anything and everything in the name of environmental purity. There have to be limits to the agency’s mission and authority, as there should be with any bureaucratic organization.
Mitt Romney says that we have gone way beyond those limits. Barack Obama says we’re not even close to that point. At its core, that is what this election is about. I hope – I pray – that we make the right choice.
Cheers and Jeers
By Rich Trzupek
Kudos to the mainstream media for covering the Malal Yousufzai story with a degree of honesty that has, unfortunately, most often been lacking when radical Islam is involved. Not that many MSM outlets gave the story the priority it deserves (one has only so much room to devote to non-Miley Cyrus related stories after all) but at least the coverage was fair.
If you missed the story, Yousufzai is a 14 year-old Pakistani girl who has made it her personal mission to speak out about the importance of educating girls in the Muslim world. At first, beginning when she was 11, she did so anonymously because the Taliban controlled the part of Pakistan she lives in. Once the Taliban were driven out, she continued her campaign, under her own name.
This outraged the Taliban of course, who routinely force men to grow beards in those areas they control along with the charming practice of blowing up girls schools. Accordingly, two cowards from the Taliban shot Yousufzai in the head last Tuesday, lest she continue to voice her infidel ideas. The Taliban said the teen deserved to be shot, because she was promoting “western thinking.”
Yousufzai was flown to the United Kingdom, where the medicos are trying to repair her shattered skull. Hard to believe somebody could be shot in the head and not die, but this is obviously one tough young lady.
In any case, the media seemed to be as outraged as the rest of us. Sure, if you’re not outraged by thugs shooting fourteen year old girls you probably don’t have a soul. Still, we’ll take what honesty we can get from the MSM these days. Baby steps – baby steps.
Hats off as well to Altaf Hussain, chief of the Muttahida Quami Movement in Pakistan, which stands in opposition to Taliban extremism in Pakistan. Hussain (living in London, because dissent isn’t especially welcome in Pakistan) denounced the gunmen and the ideology that motivated them. He also spoke warmly of Yousufzai.
"Malala Yousufzai is a beacon of knowledge, he said. “She is the daughter of the nation."
Those are the kind of works that will get a fatwah issued against you by the more radical Muslim clerics, but Hussain obviously has some guts.
The same could be said of the thousands of Pakastanis who took to the streets in Karachi on Sunday to show their support for Yousufzai. The crowds weren’t as large as the crowds of protesters who were supposedly upset about the goofy “Innocence of the Muslims” video, but – again – it’s a start.
On the other hand, the MSM has been shockingly incompetent and/or biased when it comes to covering what happened in Benghazi on September 11. The Obama administration’s stubborn refusal to back off the “spontaneous demonstration” nonsense for a full nine days is a matter of either gross incompetence of a blatant cover-up, especially since we now know that the State Department was informed Benghazi was a pre-planned terrorist attack within 24 hours of the incident.
Put the “Bush test” to this one. If Dubya had ignored repeated requests for beefed-up security AND terrorists then carried out a deadly attack AND the administration pushed a false narrative for days AND our Ambassador to the United Nations led the disinformation campaign AND the Presidential spokesperson then tried to walk everything back to make it look like none of the above happened, how do you think the media would have reacted?
I think they would have had a team of scientists researching a new font called “Outrage!” that could only be printed with a minimum of 200 point pica to cover the story. But, as this particular bit of incompetence involves the Chosen One, the New York Times and the rest apparently can’t be bothered to actually do their jobs.
It’s about what we expect from the MSM these days, and never have expectations been lower.
By Rich Trzupek
A brief aside, before we get to today’s topic: what the hell happened last week?!
Yep, I blew it. I could imagine no scenario in which the incumbent President of the United States of America could possibly behave so idiotically so as to be universally declared the loser of a so-called debate in the twenty first century. And yet, somehow, some way, Barack Obama managed to do just that.
It’s mind- boggling. This President has devoted an unprecedented amount of resources toward defining and defending his reputation. No chief executive, in the long history of the Republic, has been more sensitive about public opinion. It was reported that his staff put him through numerous practice debates.
No matter. Against all odds, Barack Obama still managed to display a combination of smirking arrogance and emotionless indifference that was absolutely remarkable. When even MSNBC says you took a licking, you know you’re in trouble.
Perhaps “The View” isn’t the best place to practice dealing with tough questions after all.
Though I hope that I’m wrong, I don’t think the debates (even if Obama does as badly as this one in the next two) will be enough to drive Romney to victory. It was something to see though, wasn’t it? And imagine just how much more of a disaster it would have been for the President if we got rid of the moderator.
Anyway, let’s move on from talking about windbags to talking about wind energy. There is increasing sentiment to end government subsidies for wind projects. I don’t see that happening during an Obama administration, but if I’m wrong about the election there’s a good chance that the Production Tax Credits for wind power would end.
Should they end? Before we explore that question, we must first understand that the wind industry needs the subsidies to survive. Contrary to popular eco-logic, wind power is not free.
Wind turbines must be maintained, and that cost most money. The infrastructure to deliver electricity from the wind farms (typically located far from population centers) to where the electricity is needed must be maintained, and that cost money. Employees must be paid, the banks that loaned the money to build the turbines and infrastructure must be repaid and – like any other business – there are countless other expenses.
In fact, wind power is not – by the industry’s own admission – competitive when compared to traditional forms of power (coal, natural gas and nuclear). The average wholesale price for electricity in the United States is about five cents per kilowatt today. Wind farms receive an additional 2.2 cents per kilowatt courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer – a subsidy of about forty per cent of revenue.
That’s a huge, ginormous subsidy. Wind advocates will often point to the fact that oil industry gets subsidies as well, but they never seem to offer a comparison between the two.
Even if we accept the oft-quoted (and over-inflated) subsidy to the oil industry of $4 billion per year, that amounts to about sixty cents per barrel of crude. With crude selling at around $125 per barrel, it’s to a subsidy of about half a per cent of revenue.
Put another way, subsidies to the wind industry are eighty times greater, on a per dollar of revenue basis, than subsidies to the oil industry. If the wind industry were to get a subsidy equivalent to the oil industry, it would get about 0.03 cents per kilowatt, not 2.2 cents per kilowatt.
Anyway, among the big players in the wind industry is a diversified energy company by the name of Exelon which owns, among other entities, Commonwealth Edison. Though Exelon owns wind farms, they have joined the call for an end to wind subsidies.
Why? Because Exelon owns other types of power generation facilities and subsidies pumped into wind artificially depresses the overall price of power. Now that we taxpayers have effectively jump-started the wind industry, Exelon believes it’s time for wind farms to live or die on their own, which would have the side-effect of allowing power pricing in the market to rise to its natural level.
That free-market stuff doesn’t set very well with the wind lobby of course. The American Wind Energy Association went so far as to kick Exelon out of their group for daring to bring free market principles into their happy little corporate welfare club.
And so, for now, those massive, ugly wind farms will continue to operate. The next time you drive by one, listen very closely. In addition to the whoosh of the blades, you’ll hear a certain clinking sound.
That would be the sound of coins coming out of your pocket with each and every revolution.
A Little of This, Little of That
By Rich Trzupek
- Debate this week. (Yawn). The modern American political debate tells us practically nothing about the candidates. It’s about as meaningful as a yard sign.
I can confidently predict who the winners will be: whoever you support. The mainstream media will gush over Obama’s performance. They’ll probably try to find reasons to tell us what a great job Biden did as well, though that’ll be a daunting task.
On my side of the aisle, we’ll declare Romney the winner. Having actual relevant facts on his side, Romney will win in a sense, but “winning” in a democracy means convincing millions of voters who have little or no grasp of the issues that you are more trustworthy than the other guy.
This brings in the whole “likeability” thing, which is a tough hurdle for Romney to overcome, especially given the fact that he made the mistake of being both rich and successful. I don’t see how Mitt can establish a bond with the mushy middle in the course of debate that is slightly less formal in structure than a reception at Buckingham Palace.
Ryan will do well in terms of both substance and style methinks. His biggest challenge will be not to call Joe Biden a fargin idiot to his face. If he actually makes Biden break down and cry on national television, Ryan will probably be labeled a bully – which has become a mortal sin in twenty first century America.
I renew my call to do away with today’s boring, useless debate format. I want to see Obama and Romney sitting across a table from each other for an hour or two. No moderators. No rules. Just let ‘em have a discussion like real people. I guarantee we’d learn a lot more about these candidates, or any candidate, that way then we will this week.
- Speaking of the mainstream media, Gallup released results of a poll last week in which they posed the question: how much trust do the American people have in the press when it comes to reporting the news accurately, fairly, and fully. For the first time, a majority – sixty per cent of those polled – said they had “Not very much” or “None at all.” There was a partisan break, of course: Fifty eight per cent of Democrats believed that the MSM was fair and accurate, but only twenty six per cent Republicans thought so, while trust among independents was a pathetic thirty one per cent.
The MSM has nobody but themselves to blame. Over the last four years, they’ve become administration cheerleaders to an extent that we’ve never, ever seen before – ignoring scandals and incompetence of the sort that would have whipped them into frenzy during a Bush administration and pushing the administration’s preferred narratives without question or comment.
- Exhibit one of the MSM’s incompetence and blatant bias involves escalating violence in the Middle East and Africa. Last week twenty – twenty! – United States’ embassies were under attack. Not a word – not one bloody word – about the attacks in the mainstream media. It defies comprehension.
It’s also remarkable that they continue to push the Obama administration’s narrative that they somehow “didn’t know” that devastating attacks in Libya were terrorist attacks until very recently. The whole “it was a spontaneous demonstration” message was perfectly legitimate. Not a politically motivated deception at all. No – no, of course not! Everybody brings mortars and RPGs to “spontaneous demonstrations”, don’t they?
- And finally, here’s a fascinating factoid that I stumbled across last week. A little background to begin with however.
Historically, there have been two great periods of Islamic expansion, up to now. The first dates from the initial expansion of the religion in the Arabian peninsula beginning in 622 AD through a remarkable series of conquests throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Spain, until Charles Martel halted the Umayyad dynasty in France at the Battle of Tours in 732 AD.
After that, Islamic military expansion went into a period of hibernation, until the Ottoman Turks initiated a second great period of conquest, encompassing south-eastern Europe and much of what was then known as Persia (modern-day Iran). That period began in roughly 1300 AD and lasted until 1683.
In 1683, the Ottomans attacked Vienna. Opposing the massive Ottoman Army of Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha was an allied army pledging allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire, led by the King of Poland Jan Ill Sobieski, which included Polish, German and Austrian troops.
The allies emerged victorious, ultimately ending the second great period of Islamic military expansion and sending the Ottomans into a long retreat that would culminate in the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. The Battle of Vienna, according to many historians, was thus one of the most important turning points in the history of Western Civilization.
Care to guess the exact day that the Battle of Vienna was waged in 1683?
The more things change, the more they stay the something.
By Rich Trzupek
So, “Arab Spring” has turned into “Arab Winter” and – brrrrr – the weather is surely cold outside.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road folks: there are some Muslims willing to discard the crazier parts of by-the-book Islamic teachings and there are some Muslims who believe that compromising any bit of Islam will result in soul-damning damnation.
The “let’s get along at any price” portion of America – chiefly represented by the left – believes (or purports to believe) that the hard-core faction of the Islamic community represents a tiny and ultimately insignificant portion of Islamic beliefs. They assert that Islam is indeed the “religion of peace”, not because the Quran wholly supports that particular ideal, but rather because there are portions of that Muslim Holy Book that support such an ideal and because too many of us (as the overwhelmingly Christians and Jewish American nation) gleefully attach ourselves to that hopeful definition is Islam, no matter the ample evidence to the contrary.
Perception has rarely been so disconnected from realty.
The real question here is whether or not the kind of interpretive blending of “official” spiritual teachings and personal enlightenment that defines the way the vast majority of practicing Christians and Jews approach religion can get real traction in the Muslim world.
And yes, if it has to be said again, there are millions upon millions of Muslims – particularly those who live in the west – who don’t feel obliged to go along with the some of the crazier parts of the Quran (or crazier interpretations, if you prefer) any more than I believe it’s my obligation as a Catholic to make sure that civil law is consistent with Deuteronomy.
That said, there are also millions upon millions of Muslims – particularly those who live in the Middle East and parts of Africa – who devoutly believe that everyone should live under Sharia Law. Many of us, in the west, want to write these millions off as “fanatics”, or “extremists” whose numbers don’t really amount to all that much and whose threat is overblown in any case.
But in their own minds, the people in this group are not fanatics – as we understand the word – and they’re not extremists. They are believers. Their particular set of beliefs lead them to treat women in ways that we find reprehensible, but they find perfectly acceptable. Their particular set of beliefs lead them to think about other religions, about atheists, about homosexuals and about other cultures in ways that would shock and appall us in the west, but they believe – sincerely – that those ways of thinking have been mandated by God and to think otherwise would be to risk one’s immortal soul.
The Enlightenment largely did away with that kind of rigid, linear spiritual thinking in the Judeo-Christian west. There has been no similar event in the Middle East or in those portions of Africa where Islam is dominant.
At the same time, many Muslims who have live in the west would readily identify with the Enlightenment and would reject the literal interpretations of the Quran that lead to the kind of violence we have seen – and will continue to see – in the world. They don’t want the “extremists” to succeed any more that you or I. But, they recognize something that so many of us in the west refuse to acknowledge: the “extremists” are far more powerful and numerous than those us living fat and happy in the west wish to acknowledge.
You don’t get riots and arson and murder breaking out across huge swaths of the world if extremists are few and relatively week. You get that because there is a deep-seeded hatred for the west and all it stands for among millions upon millions living in squalor in Muslim countries. I’ve seen it, first hand, and I know of what I speak.
The elite in Muslim nations, be they imams or princes or just plain tyrants, need to blame somebody for the plight of the masses and the infidel west is a very convenient target. When I was in Saudi Arabia in the late nineties, the degree to which America and Israel were routinely denigrated in the Saudi media was appalling. And they are our allies.
So no, it’s not about some stupid video that some idiot in California put up on the internet months ago that nobody actually watched. And, as James Lileks observed, even if it was about the video, it’s still not about the video. Any religion that was actually that touchy would be incompatible with western traditions of free expression.
But the video was just an excuse and just the latest excuse. The violence will flare up again and there will be more excuses again. The Obama administration may be naïve enough or stupid enough to believe the excuses, but it’s time that the rest of us focus on the root of the problem.
It’s not going to go away.
By Rich Trzupek
Many thanks to West Suburban Patriots for inviting me to speak to them this past Saturday. The subject at hand involved that marvelous environmental concept called “sustainability”, which has been embodied on a global scale in the form of the United Nations’ “Agenda 21”, which has, in turn, morphed into a National Academy of Sciences report commissioned by the United States EPA which – surprise, surprise – strongly encourages the USEPA to make “sustainability” a focal part of its agenda in the coming years.
The use of the word “sustainability” is a way of cleverly defending centralized control systems in lieu of the free market. Defenders of “sustainability” precepts hold to the principle, as a matter of faith, that employing free market systems will ultimately result in disaster for both humanity and the environment.
This is the mindset that is at the core of this Presidential election. When you strip away all of the rhetoric, the basic message that President Obama and the Democrats are delivering is this: we can’t trust the free market because the free market depends on greedy corporations that will exploit our system of governance to the ruination of the average fellow. The basic message of Governor Romney and the GOP in response is this: for all of its failings, maintenance of a truly free market is ultimately more beneficial to the average fellow and more economically profitable for everyone than the alternative of government micromagement.
We’ve been having this “free market vs. managed market” argument for a long, long time. I’m rather amazed that we’re still having it today. In my mind, that particular discussion was settled over twenty years ago, when a radical leftist tree hugger from the west coast was utterly put to shame by a Midwestern economist who understood the way that market forces worked in reality, as opposed to theoretically.
The tree hugger was Dr. Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University who, in the late sixties, wrote a book called “The Population Bomb” in which he predicted the imminent end of civilization as we know it. Ehrlich predicted mass starvation, hundreds of millions dead, the disappearance of life in the oceans by 1980 and – most amusingly methinks – that the United Kingdom would cease to exist by 2000.
This would happen, Ehrlich wrote, because the world was running out of resources to supply its growing population. In many ways, Ehrlich is the father of sustainability scares.
In response to this nonsense an economist at the University of Illinois, Dr. Julian Simon, wrote a book called “The Ultimate Resource” in which he asserted that Ehrlich was full of horse puckey. The following quotation from Simon pretty much sums up his views:
“More people, and increased income, cause resources to become more scarce in the short run. Heightened scarcity causes prices to rise. The higher prices present opportunity, and prompt inventors and entrepreneurs to search for solutions. Many fail in the search, at cost to themselves. But in a free society, solutions are eventually found. And in the long run the new developments leave us better off than if the problems had not arisen. That is, prices eventually become lower than before the increased scarcity occurred.”
Putting his money where his mouth is, Simon challenged Ehrlich and other Chicken Littles to a bet. Ehrlich could pick any five commodities that he believed were growing short in supply. Both Ehrlich and Simon would buy $200 worth of each of the commodities. They would then wait ten years. If the price for a commodity rose over that time, Simon would pay Ehrlich the difference. If the price fell, Ehrlich would pay Simon.
Ehrlich jumped at the opportunity, along with two of his sustainability disciples: John P. Holdren and John Harte. Ehrlich said: “I and my colleagues, John P. Holdren and John Harte jointly accept Simon’s astonishing offer before other greedy people jump in.”
Ehrlich picked copper, chrome, nickel, tin and tungsten. He and Simon purchased $200 worth of each in 1980. If Ehrlich were right – if there was unsolvable crisis in the supply of limited resources – the prices for these commodities would rise. If Simon was right – that the free market would adapt – prices would fall.
In 1990 the results were in: the prices of each of the commodities dropped. Every one. The prices dropped by an average of thirty eight per cent. Ehrlich (and I’m sure it galled him to do so) wrote Simon a check for $576.07, not a bad return on a $1,000 investment at all.
More recently, we have seen Simon’s belief in the free market confirmed once more. Ten years ago, natural gas prices were at record highs, shortages were grimly predicted and the United States was starting to build the infrastructure necessary to import natural gas from Russia and the Middle East.
That market opportunity led some clever, greedy people to develop new technologies to get at the incredible amounts of natural gas trapped in deep shale formations in North America. The new technology was not fracking – for we’ve been fracking tight gas formations since the 1940’s – but rather horizontal drilling technology that allows us to frack more cost effectively and new sensing technologies that allows us to locate gas supplies with incredible accuracy.
As a result of these free market innovations, the price of natural gas has dropped to record lows and the United States will soon become a net exporter of the resource. Once again, the free market worked.
Sadly, few people seem to remember Julian Simon, who passed away in the late nineties, today. Fewer still seem to understand the lessons that this defender of the free market taught us.
Ehrlich on the other hand is a hero of the environmental left, having won a bunch of awards despite the fact that he has been wrong about just about everything.
Oh, and remember those Ehrlich disciples I mentioned? Remember the name John P. Holdren? Do you know what happened to him?
He’s Obama’s Science Czar.
By Rich Trzupek
With the Democratic National Convention taking center stage this week, it might be instructive to compare that party’s presumptive nominee – one Barack Hussein Obama – with that gentlemen’s self-avowed Presidential role model: Abraham Lincoln.
Like Mr. Obama, I am an unrepentant admirer of the sixteenth president of these United States. Ironically, that puts me at odds with a certain fraction of my conservative colleagues. Some of these despise Lincoln for the massive expansion in federal power that occurred during his presidency. I understand, and to a certain extent sympathize, with the sentiment. But, given that particular expansion in powers was necessary to save the Union, I don’t find that it diminishes Mr. Lincoln’s record in the least.
Anyway, I’m not sure exactly why President Obama admires Lincoln. Now, I don’t believe Obama is nearly as clever or well-read as his handlers would have us believe. Of course you could prove me wrong on that by presenting his college records, but unfortunately Mr. Obama has steadily refused to release them. Go figure.
Being the not very clever fellow that I believe him to be, I suspect that the President ascribes to the most popular – if most superficial – version of the Lincoln legacy: the martyr president who freed the slaves.
Those parts of Lincoln’s history are accurate of course, but neither accounts for the esteem in which serious historians view him today. To understand why Lincoln was one of our greatest presidents, if not the greatest, we have to do something that your average liberal is loathe do to: dig well beneath the surface.
So let’s do a bit of digging, examining what made Lincoln so exceptional and comparing his record against that of the man who would take the oath of office one hundred and forty three years after Lincoln’s death.
Lincoln’s exceptionalism is chiefly defined by three outstanding characteristics.
1) Standing up to his party
For most of his time in office, a significant portion of Republican politicians – the powerful Radical faction – despised Lincoln. They believed he was a rube and a fool. They regularly made fun of him. He was “the ape in the White House” for many.
The Radicals hatred of Lincoln had two chief causes. One, he refused to cater to their wackier schemes, steadily steering a middle course instead. Two, he regularly reached out to moderate Democrats in order to create as much bi-partisanship as is possible in a two-party system.
Has Mr. Obama lived up to this part of Lincoln’s legacy? Clearly he has not. In 2008 Obama sold himself as a centrist, but – with the rare (but welcome!) exceptions like refusing to close Gitmo and not trying terrorists in New York – he has consistently pandered to the leftist fringe of his party. His attempts to reach out to the GOP have pretty much consisted of the political equivalent of “it’s my way or the highway”.
2) Keeping his focus
Lincoln’s great goal was to save the Union. Period. As he famously wrote to Horace Greeley, if he could save the Union by freeing all the slaves, he would do that; if he could save the Union by freeing none of the slaves, he would do that; and if he could save the Union by freeing some of the slaves and not freeing others, he would do that.
It wasn’t that Lincoln was indifferent to the plight of those in servitude. Far from it. But he believed that the institution of slavery was doomed to die no matter what he did, so long as the Union was preserved. That was the key. Not just for the slaves, but for everyone. The American experiment had to succeed and Lincoln was determined that it should.
I don’t know what Mr. Obama’s presidency is about, other than giving away unprecedented amounts of dollars and creating mountains of debt. Over the last four years, the Obama administration has lurched from theme to theme like a drunken sailor, trying to find the right formula that will sell to the voters. There is no focus, unless one considers a wet forefinger raised to the wind to be some kind of focal point.
Lincoln’s profound ability to inspire is something that wasn’t apparent to many while he was alive. Both the Gettysburg Address and the even more remarkable Second Inaugural were greeted with a mixture of indifference and even contempt by the chattering classes at the time. It is only in retrospect that the nation began to realize how deep and how moving Lincoln could be. A century and a half later, the great man’s word’s still echo through history as we continue to struggle to preserve “the last, best hope on earth”.
Obama? Some seem to think he’s a great speaker. I don’t see it, but each to his own tastes. But as far as inspiring future generations, I don’t think that historians will put “you didn’t build that” in the same league as Honest Abe.
The Third Rail
By Rich Trzupek
Conventional political wisdom holds that Medicare and Social Security are the “third rail of American politics” – touch them and you die. Neither party has made any serious attempt at reforming these programs, which explains why they have grown into monsters that threaten to bankrupt our country.
Forget about welfare and defense spending and pork-barrel project and all the waste. In the biggest picture, none of it matters, because none of it comes close to comparing with the massive amounts of money and massive deficits associated with Medicare and Social Security.
And, clearly, the situation is getting worse, both because the America is aging more rapidly than the country is generating fresh generations to pick up the slack and – in the case of Medicare – because the President’s health care program will cut Medicare funding by a whopping $716 billion over the next ten years.
It’s impossible to ignore this issue any longer. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it should be impossible to ignore it, because the Obama administration has kept its collective head stuck firmly in the sand when it comes to Medicare and Social Security reform.
That’s why, in my humble opinion, Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as a running mate was such a wise move. Ryan is as well-versed on our financial woes as anyone in Congress, particularly when it comes to entitlements. By bringing him into the campaign, Romney sends a clear message: we are going to talk about Medicare and Social Security reform in this campaign.
Politically, that’s surely a risky strategy. Democrats are skillful fear-mongers and there is plenty of fear to whip up when it comes to touching this particular third rail. They will do their best to turn the discussion around, from one that involves the collective solvency of the nation, to one that brings forth visions of grandma, wasting away in a dingy nursing home, unable to afford her medicine.
But maybe, just maybe, enough of us understand that something needs to be done about entitlements before a financial disaster of unprecedented proportions hits us.
And sure, as a guy in his fifties, I don’t like the thought of not getting back all of the money that I’ve paid into social security and I wish that somebody else would pay for my healthcare in my golden years. However, if we continue to spend public money like drunken sailors, the consequences will be far worse, for us boomers and for the generations to follow.
We need to figure this out and this is probably our last chance to do so. I would have wonderful if Obama had tackled entitlements. Just like Clinton’s welfare reforms, it’s far easier for a Democratic President to implement austerity measures, if for no other reason than the fact that the mainstream media is loathe to criticize any liberal Democrat living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
Unfortunately, Obama seems unwilling or unable to tackle our economic problems beyond writing more checks and printing more money. Do you realize that Barack Obama is the first President in modern history to never pass a budget? Not once – not even when he had Democrat majorities in both the House and Senate. That’s simply amazing.
The last budget the President proposed was shot down in the Senate by a vote of 99-0. The man could not come up with a budget that even one Senator from his own party agreed with. That shows you just how out of touch with economic reality Barack Obama has become.
The election of 2008 was supposed to be about “change”, but the last four years have been more of the same (on steroids): more spending, more taxing and more ignoring the big problems at the root of our economic woes.
I wasn’t terribly hopeful that Mitt Romney was the guy who could make actual, meaningful, desperately needed changes in Washington, but his selection of Paul Ryan for VP is quite promising. Maybe – just maybe – we can get a little change after all.
By Rich Trzupek
I got questions – lots and lots of questions. For example:
Why in the world did Mr. Gower (that’s an It’s a Wonderful Life reference there folks) stock poison in his drug store? What kind of pharmacy sells poison? How often does one restock poison? How does that conversation with one’s supplier go?
“Acme Pharmaceutical Supply? Gower here – I’d like to place an order.”
“Go ahead Mr. Gower.”
“OK, I need five cases of aspirin, two bottles of Digitalis, a case of Dr. George’s Miracle Elixir and two cases of poison.”
“Let’s see here – yep, everything is in stock. Regular delivery OK?”
“That’ll be fine. Oh, but on the poison, make sure that you send the Deadly Poison only this time, not the Regular Poison. Last time you mixed in some of the regular stuff and I got a number of complaints.”
“We’re very sorry about that Mr. Gower. Rest assured that won’t happen again. And I’m sure that you won’t get any more complaints. Dead men tell no tales I hear, nor do they complain much!”
“Ha ha – good one. That’ll do fine.”
“Thanks for doing business with Acme Pharmaceutical Supply Mr. Gower!”
We also need to explore the burning questions: why did the original starship Enterprise (that would be NCC-1701) have an auxiliary bridge, who in the hell built it and why wasn’t the government agency that supervised its design sacked for gross negligence?
Think about it. There were a number of episodes in which some alien greaseball or another took over the main bridge. At that point, Kirk, Spock and the rest of the crew would inevitably head for the auxiliary bridge in order to try to regain control. But, there was a problem: the auxiliary bridge never, ever worked. Not once. Not a single, solitary time.
Presumably, the whole point of installing an auxiliary bridge is to have an alternative means of controlling the ship in case the main bridge has problems – such as having alien greaseballs taking it over. But, here we have proof that government incompetence will extend well into the 23rd century.
And what’s the deal with sit-com best friends? This is a continuing, seemingly insolvable problem. In the sit-com universe, seemingly likable, reasonable lead characters almost always seem to have loser best friends.
Couldn’t Andy Taylor have done a little better than Barney Fife? Why in world would Jack Tripper hang out with an idiot like Larry? Rob Petrie was way too cool to waste his time with Jerry. None of these relationships make any sense.
A best friend ought to be an alter ego – a compadre – somebody that you are entirely in tune with, not some freaky weirdo devoid of social skills.
Moving on, can we start a “I don’t get the Godfather” support group? I get it – the Godfather trilogy is among the greatest film series of all times. Everybody says so, therefore it must be true. But, having watched Part 1 again this weekend and trying very, very hard to understand the attraction, I am forced to conclude that I will never, ever understand the attraction.
Sure, I understand what the attraction is supposed to be. There’s the brooding mood, the ironically soulful soundtrack, the multitude of moral dilemmas and the hypocrisy of honor as applied in the underworld. It’s all so wrenching – all so conflicted. As a “the world is full of shades of grey” flick, there’s few that compare. But, as a piece of entertainment – which is what I understand to be the purpose of motion pictures – it’s a complete yawner to your humble correspondent. The plot is predictable, the characters are stereotypical and the pace is agonizing.
But that’s just me. As noted, I’ve just got a lot a questions – and there are many more to come.
By Rich Trzupek
As we all know, the left is all about freedom of expression and individual rights, unless of course one use that freedom to express opinions that they don’t happen to agree with. In that case, the righteously indignant, bullying liberal backlash machine kicks into high gear.
Make no mistake here – it’s everyone’s right as an American to be righteously indignant and bullying. And, there’s nothing illegal about being a hypocrite. But, we do get to point out their behavior and if doing that makes somebody uncomfortable: tough beans.
The Chick-Fil-A “controversy” prompted this particular rant, of course. It was bad enough that the usual hyper-sensitive gay and lesbian groups started their – predictable if exasperating – round of finger-wagging, but when elected officials got involved, it was really too much.
Chick-Fil-A President Dan Cathy spoke out in support of traditional marriage, an opinion that roughly half of his fellow citizens (including this one) happen to share. Cathy didn’t criticize homosexuality or homosexuals, he simply affirmed that he believes – and his religion teaches him – that marriage involves a man and a woman, period.
The left will go on and on (an on) about “diversity” and “co-existence” and “tolerance”, all of which sound fabulous in theory, but those concepts go straight out the window when somebody expresses an opinion they don’t like. I don’t believe that there is a less tolerant group this side of the KKK than modern American liberals.
I wish liberals would cut to the chase and just admit that they despise Judaism and Christianity. Many will deny that of course, but it’s patently obvious. When you condemn the teachings of a religion over and over again, clearly you don’t think much of the religion itself. How about all you folks on the left just cop to that already and we’ll move on from there?
Now I’ve got absolutely nothing against boycotting a business if one doesn’t happen to like what the business stands for or if one doesn’t agree with the cause(s) the business supports. You’ll never, ever see me in Men’s Warehouse, for example, after the company supported the Occupy Idiots last summer.
Nor will I ever buy anything made by Toshiba, because that company sold some very cutting edge to the Soviets back in the eighties that put our sailors at risk. (Yes, I have a lonnnnng memory folks).
So if limiting marriage to its traditional – and for people like me - its spiritual definition greatly offends somebody, it’s surely their right and their duty to boycott a business that takes such a stance. Let the free market decide.
(Based on the long lines at the Chick-Fil-A when I went to buy my bride and I tasty sandwiches on Saturday, I don’t think the market is imposing much of a punishment).
But, it’s cowardly and offensive for elected officials like Mayor Emmanuel to threaten to ban a business because the elected official happens to disagree with the religious beliefs of the officers of that business. I’m no legal expert, but it seems to me that using ones power to that end is – or oughta be – illegal if not unconstitutional. At the very least, it’s both shameful and hypocritical.
This is the worst sort of government bullying, albeit not at all surprising in a Chicago politician like Emmanuel.
Somehow the liberal mindset has evolved into a place where it’s offensive to ask a person for an ID before they can cast a vote in an election, but it’s perfectly fine for government to ban a business because some dope in government doesn’t like the business officer’s religion. What’s next? Will future applicants for business licenses in the city of Chicago have to swear that they support gay marriage, gun control and redistribution of wealth? (Although they obviously wouldn’t swear on a Bible or anything…)
One hundred years go liberalism was about idealism, about the best that man could be. Today, it’s all about whining and bullying, in pretty much equal proportion, as this latest ridiculous incident so amply demonstrates.
Who Really Built That?
By Rich Trzupek
The President’s now infamous “you didn’t build that speech” has attracted a lot of criticism, so I feel compelled to pile on, although from a slightly different angle.
Many have jumped on the Prez for supposedly telling American entrepreneurs that they are not responsible for their own success – that they didn’t build their businesses. That’s not what Mr. Obama meant, but he phrased it so clumsily that it was easy to jump on him for appearing to utterly dismiss the value of hard work and intelligence.
What the President was trying to say was that there are some things that we build together, like roads, and bridges, and communication systems and other pieces of infrastructure. Government plays a role in in creating such things and – in the President’s mind – that role is of primary importance and thus justifies the big government expansion and redistribution of wealth that is so near and dear to Mr. Obama’s heart.
Well, I’ve got news for you Mr. President: all of those roads and bridges and communication systems and other pieces of infrastructure weren’t built by government either.
Think about it. Who actually builds the roads? The private sector builds the roads. Private sector engineering firms design them; private sector refineries and cement plants and asphalt plants provide the raw materials; private sector equipment companies build and sell the graders and back-hoes and shovels; and private sector construction companies do the actual work.
The US Government didn’t build the internet either. The internet was – and is – built and maintained by the private sector. The private sector builds the nodes and lays the fiber optic cable and creates the browsers and does the millions of other things that keep the world wide web functional and every-expanding.
Government plays a role in building roads, sure. But it’s a very limited role – one that involves planning and oversight – rather than active participation in the construction process. And, thank God for that! If government actually built roads, they would cost twice as much and last half as long, for government is about as inept and inefficient as any organization in the history of man.
Did government agencies kick start the internet (after Al Gore invented it, of course)? Sure they did. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation got the ball rolling. But after that, it has been the private sector that has played the predominant role – by far – in developing and expanding this remarkable communications system.
If pressed, Mr. Obama might concede these points. But, even if he did I expect he would argue that government pays for the roads and bridges and research, so – in that sense – government did indeed “build that”. And to that, I say: horse-puckey. Government doesn’t pay for anything. We do. Government doesn’t have a source of income. We do. Government doesn’t create wealth. We do.
I’d love to be a fly on the wall if the President dared to tell some independent, long-haul trucker that he didn’t pay for the bridge he was crossing. If the trucker didn’t pay for the bridge, who the hell did? Where did all of the taxes that he pays to fuel and operate his truck go, if not to pay for the bridges he crosses and roads he travels?
And who pays the most money to build the roads and bridges and everything else? Why, it’s the most successful among us – it’s those smart, hard-working people that the President appears to disdain so much – it’s the people who create wealth.
So yeah, Mr. President those remarkable entrepreneurs did build that, no matter what “that” you’re talking about. They built their own success stories, they built their own companies and they sure as heck built the infrastructure we all depend on.
By Rich Trzupek
Perhaps you missed it, but a particularly disturbing video is making the rounds showing a mob of Bible-thumping Christian kids attacking a small group of Muslims who were holding a quiet, peaceful demonstration last month, while both the children’s parents and the police stood around and did nothing. It was reprehensible and disgusting behavior that is in complete opposition to the principles of freedom of speech and religion that are so dear to us.
Oh wait. There’s an error in that there paragraph. It wasn’t a group of Christians attacking Muslims, it was the other way around and it happened – nationally speaking – right next door, in Dearborn, Michigan.
From the American Freedom Center:
“During the 2012 Arab International Festival held this past June in Dearborn, Michigan, a group of Christian evangelists were pelted with stones, bottles, and debris by Muslim youths while deputies from the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office stood idly by, allowing the criminal assault to take place. Many of the Christians were bloodied by the attack. When Ruben Israel, the leader of the Christian group, asked the law enforcement officers present to step in and enforce the criminal law so that the Christians could exercise their right to freedom of speech, Israel was given the option of either leaving the festival or facing arrest.”
If you’d like to see what happened, go to YouTube and search for “Arab Festival Dearborn 2012 Attacks”. The video speaks for itself.
Some may say that the evangelists were asking for trouble. As a matter of fact, some YouTube commenters say just that, but then people who post comments on the internets are not usually the brightest of bulbs.
The “they had it coming” argument is cowardly crap. Nobody who peacefully demonstrates in support of any cause whatsoever in America should be physically attacked. And, should they be attacked during the exercise of free speech, it is government’s obligation to protect the innocent and prosecute the guilty. No exceptions.
Illinois Nazis (I hate Illinois Nazis) have the right to spew their vitriol in Skokie. Court said so. Those morons from Westboro Baptist have the right to picket funerals of heroic young men and women who fell in combat. Court said so. You and I might not like what organizations like this stand for, but we must defend their right to deliver their message.
If free speech only applies to innocuous situations and messages, then it means nothing. Nobody is going to try to intimidate the Wiggles into shutting the hell up (as delightful a result that might be). Free speech matters most of all at the fringes.
Robert Muise, Co-Founder and Senior Counsel at the American Freedom Center put it this way:
“The Supreme Court has long recognized that speech serves its ‘high purpose’ when it stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging, and it may have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. That is why freedom of speech is protected against censorship or punishment. There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view. Additionally, the courts have made clear that a police officer has the duty not to effectuate a heckler’s veto, nor may he join a violent mob intent on suppressing speech. Instead, the officer must take reasonable action to protect persons exercising their free speech rights. The Wayne County Sherriff’s Office egregiously breached its duty in violation of the U.S. Constitution.”
This isn’t the first time that free speech has been under attack in Dearborn, a city with a large and active Muslim population. By all indications, it won’t be the last time. Another court case is brewing, but the only way that this kind of reprehensible behavior is going to stop is if Americans of all creeds come together to reassert that free speech is more important than offending anyone’s sensibilities. If we lost the ability to do that, we’re in worse shape than I thought.
By Rich Trzupek
There are so many fascinating aspects to the Supreme Court’s decision on Obamacare and the aftermath that it’s hard to keep track. But there is one over-riding theme that seems to permeate everything that’s happened in the past week and it can be summed up in one word: contortion.
According to the dictionary, the word contortion means “the state of being contorted” – which is hardly useful if you don’t know what the bloody word meant to begin with. However, we can eventually get back to the word “contort”, which means “to twist, bend, or draw out of shape; distort”.
And boy has there been a whole lot of logical twisting, bending and drawing out of shape going on. It’s like somebody invented a Salvador Dali bomb. The landscape is littered with the intellectual equivalent of melting clocks.
It started, of course, with Chief Justice Roberts twisting the legal argument that the Obama administration was trying to make (the Affordable Health Care Act was constitutional based on the Commerce Clause) into the legal argument that Obama administration has been desperately trying to avoid (the act is constitutional based on Congress’ power to tax).
The distinction matters, although it ultimately doesn’t matter as well. It matters in the sense that the court has at least said that there are indeed limits to the Commerce Clause. Historically, it’s been used to expand the reach of government well-beyond what I (and my fellow conservatives) feel is healthy. Both the majority and the minority of the court agreed that healthcare is not under the purview of the federal government because it’s a part of interstate commerce.
But, in this instance, that doesn’t matter because Roberts decided that while government can’t regulate healthcare as interstate commerce, it can levy a tax to fund a healthcare program. It seems to be somewhat tortured logic, but then the law often is just that.
Spasms then spread on both left and right, as each tried to untwist the decision to fit their own agenda, but only succeeded in distorting reason and common sense even more.
The left was happy with the result of course, but not the reasoning. It’s easy to understand why. None of this president’s fans wants to deal with having passed the biggest tax increase in the history of the United States, so they immediately tried to find ways to unsay what the Supremes has said.
It has been fun to watch Presidential spokesman Jay Carney, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew and other members of the administration trying to explain their way out of this conundrum. Sure, it’s a tax in the sense that the Supreme Court needed to say it’s a tax, but that doesn’t mean it’s really a tax. Or something like that.
The odd thing is that the administration is arguing against itself. Obamacare has to involve a tax to be constitutional. That’s what the court said. So, when the administration argues that Obamacare doesn’t involve a tax, they’re really saying that the act should have been overturned.
On the other side of the aisle, we’ve got some conservatives who say this ruling is a good thing because: 1) it finally establishes some limits to the commerce clause, and 2) it will mobilize the base and thus helps ensure victory in November. Sorry guys, but I’m not buying either point of view.
Establishing limits to the commerce clause at this juncture is a case of closing the barn door after the cow escaped – hell, after the whole damn herd stampeded through. It’s great that the court agrees that the federal government can’t regulate 17% of the economy based on the commerce clause, but the feds pretty much reach down into every other part of our lives already.
Will this ruling mobilize the base? To an extent, I’m sure it will. Yet (and call me a pessimist if you will) I find it hard to believe that the GOP can capture both houses of Congress AND the White House AND find the political backbone to actually get rid of Obamacare in the unlikely event that the first two happen.
As I wrote last week, I think we’re pretty much stuck with this now. And, as I advised my daughter, the best thing you young healthy kids out there can do for yourselves is to blow off buying any insurance until you actually get sick. They can’t turn you down when you do get sick and paying the tax is whole lot cheaper than actually buying insurance.
By Rich Trzupek
As I write this, the Supreme Court has not yet released its decision regarding the health care overhaul, aka: “Obamacare”. As you read this, chances are that the decision has been made and that half of the country is up in arms.
If the court struck down – in part or in whole – this law, the left will be calling for the heads of the Supremes (or at least five of them), the President will be wagging his finger and, in general, those who believe that government run health care is a good thing will be predicting doom.
If the court upholds the law (which seems unlikely, but – like most SCOTUS decisions these days – it pretty much comes down to what Justice Kennedy had for breakfast when he made up his mind) then the right will be calling for the President’s head (note to Secret Service: that’s a metaphor there – a metaphor), Governor Romney will be wagging his finger and, in general, those who believe that government run health care is a bad thing will be predicting doom.
Now, it will come as no surprise to you dear readers to hear that I am among those who believe that government run healthcare is a bad thing. I hope that Obamacare becomes another distant memory, just as its ignominious predecessor – Hillarycare – slid into dumpster of history.
That said, raise your hand if you are as tired as I am of people screaming “the end is nigh!” over every damned issue. Cripes it gets old. And, it’s intellectually lazy. It’s like people who advocate hiring an infinite number of firefighters, and who instantly invoke the specter of burning babies should anyone oppose them.
If we’re stuck with Obamacare, then so be it. It will irrevocably change the nature of America to be sure. You can’t hand over control of seventeen per cent of the economy to government and expect everything to stay the same. But, we’ll remain a far better place to live than the most of the rest of the world.
My daughter, now going to school in England, noted that Scandinavian friends she has made seem entirely happy with socialism. Your average Swede, for example, gives about seventy five per cent of his earnings to government and expects – in return – that government will take care of him, which it does, more or less.
More, in the sense that there are more rules, especially the kind of “nanny state” regulations that Americans have traditionally abhorred, and less, in the sense that government isn’t nearly as efficient in delivering goods and services as the private sector. But there is a certain comfort in knowing that one doesn’t have to make the decisions that a free market economy demands and can rely instead on the benevolent, if heavy, hand of big brother instead.
While in the UK, the daughtorial unit is part of their National Health Care system, which is “free”, in the sense that Brits pay for it out of their taxes rather than through insurance and out of pocket expenses. However, it’s not like health care here. People don’t go to the doctor for aches and pains, or because they have a flu, or get a sinus infection, or the like. There’s no point. “It takes at least six weeks to see a doctor unless you’re in danger of dying,” my daughter reported. “By that time you’re going to be better anyway, so why bother?”
And yet, her British friends love their system and can’t understand why we wouldn’t love it too. “It’s free!” they happily declare. “But you don’t use it,” she observes. “But, it’s free!” they retort. And so on and so on, in ever-widening loops of circular logic.
Yet, the Brits have survived National Health Care. The nation is surely diminished, but what western nation isn’t diminished these days? We’re in our decline and maybe we just need to come to grips with that.
Perhaps I’m growing weary in my old-age, but I’m just sick of fighting about every damn thing. If we get stuck with Obamacare, so be it. And if we get rid of Obamacare, I hope that the people who adore it can ease up on the hysterical hyperbole just a tad.
Not that I have a lot of hope of that happening. We live in the age of hysterical hyperbole and that doesn’t reflect much credit at all on any of us.
Mr. Trzupek Goes to Washington
By Rich Trzupek
Last Wednesday, June 6, saw yours truly in our nation’s capital, testifying before a House of Representatives committee. The topic – naturally enough – was the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the effect that particular collection of bureaucrats has on the nation and our economy.
I was asked to testify as a result of penning my latest book “Regulators Gone Wild: How the EPA is Ruining American Industry”, the subject of which just happens to coincide with renewed attention that the Agency has attracted of late.
It was an interesting experience, but not one that will result in any earth-shattering changes for anyone or anything. For a brief moment in time, I was another cog in the grand machine of government. Weird.
You may wonder who pays for this sort of thing. In most cases, the answer involves the organization or lobbying group backing each particular witness. The side of the aisle doesn’t really matter – both left and right have the means to get their point of view across.
Being an obstinate sort of fellow, I chose to pay my own way. A part of me really wished that somebody on the committee would ask me who was paying for my appearance so that I triumphantly reply “just me!” Unfortunately, that question wasn’t asked.
The questions that were asked were rather odd, at least from a scientist’s perspective. But the nature of the inquiries were all too sadly familiar when one brings politics into the equation. It’s all about the talking points, not reality.
So, let’s start with the issue that Congress wanted your humble correspondent to discuss: the costs and benefits of environmental regulations. On the benefits side of the ledger, the EPA routinely claims that environmental regulations result in huge net profits, economically speaking. The current EPA Director, Lisa Jackson, is on record saying that every one dollar “invested” in air quality regulation generates forty dollars.
The majority of the “revenue” generated comes in the form of something the EPA calls “premature deaths avoided”. Supposedly, according to the Agency, every regulation will cause a given number of people to live a little bit longer and – also according to the Agency – we can attach a monetary value to the increased time that those people get to spend on planet earth.
The monetary value attached to “premature deaths avoided” is calculated based on a truly disturbing government metric called the “value of a statistical life”, or “VSL” for short.
VSL is the sum economic total of everything that an average American does during his or her average life. It’s the wages they earn during their life, their investment income, the value of their productivity and a bunch of other things, all added together. According to the EPA, the average person generates about $9 million in economic activity through the course of their average life.
When the EPA does its economic analysis, they multiply the number of “premature deaths avoided” (which is itself a dubious figure) by the VSL of $9 million. It does not matter, in their eyes, whether the “premature death avoided” involves an octogenarian who lives an additional, theoretical two weeks or a theoretical newborn who lives out his or her life in full.
We’ve already departed far from reality in this analysis, because nobody actually knows how may “premature deaths avoided” the EPA actually avoids. It’s all theoretical crapola. But, we do know that a senior citizen who lives an extra two weeks on account of not breathing an extra molecule of theoretical air pollution isn’t going to generate $9 million in economic activity. Based on the health care debate that we had a couple of years ago, the reverse is true: the longer we live, the more expensive it is to keep us alive.
The ranking Democrat on the Energy and Environment Subcommittee Brad Miller (Dem. NC) turned the discussion into a version of the following: those damned, dirty Republicans hate old people!
Seriously. That’s where the guy went. So, on the one hand (according to the Dems) it’s perfectly OK for the EPA to assign a dollar value to a life and to base that dollar value on that person’s effect on the economy. But, it’s NOT ok for anyone to question how that math is done. This is known as having your cake and eating it too.
Anyway, you can see for yourself if you’re interested. Go to http://science.house.gov/subcommittee-energy-and-environment, click on the link to “EPA’s Impact on Jobs and Energy Affordability” and then click on the webcast link.
Another kind of terrorism
By Rich Trzupek
As election season heats up, we’re sure to hear a lot more mumbo-jumbo about the tea party movement’s supposed potential to inspire violence from the left and their allies in the lamestream media. It’s a predictable response to a powerful grass-roots movement that they aren’t capable of understanding: crank up the fear machine boys! If bogus charges of racism won’t stick and if the tea parties themselves are peaceful – if passionate – protests, then you have to find some theme with which to frighten independent middle-America away from a movement to which they would otherwise instinctively sympathize with. To wit: OK, maybe the tea-partiers themselves aren’t violent, but by expressing their anger with regard to big government, they will surely inspire some fringe nut-job to violence!
Bill Clinton, in a NY Times Op-Ed said that it’s fair to draw “…parallels to the time running up to Oklahoma City and a lot of the political discord that exists in our country today." ABC News dutifully picked up on the theme:
"Watch your words," warned ABC News, reporting that Clinton "weighed in on the angry anti-government rhetoric, ringing out from talk radio to Tea Party rallies."
Got all that? Millions of Americans can band together to peacefully protest the incursions of swelling bureaucracies into their private lives and their government’s assumption of crippling debt, but they’re – by definition – dangerous, because they might inspire some lunatic into an act of violence. If that’s truly the issue, why doesn’t the MSM apply the same standard when it comes to another wildly-popular movement that, despite the fact that the vast majority of its adherents are peaceful activists, inspires violence not in theory, but in fact? I refer, of course, to the environmental movement, which has inspired lunatic, fringe organizations and deluded individuals to commit acts of violence that have resulted in the destruction of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of personal property and threatens innocent workers with injury or death unless they toe the green line.
Let’s begin with the words of a couple of “mainstream” environmental organizations and apply the “tea party test” to their words. Greenpeace first:
“Today, we have grown from a small group of dedicated activists to an international organization with offices in more than 30 countries. But our spirit and our mission remain the same. Our fight to save the planet has grown more serious – the threat of global warming, destruction of ancient forests, deterioration of our oceans, and the threat of a nuclear disaster loom large.”
Then there’s the Natural Resources Defense Council:
“Devastating heat waves sweeping across continents. Poisonous plants producing more potent toxins. Air quality plummeting on summer days. Disease-carrying insects swarming mountain villages. These scenarios aren't the recipe for a summer disaster movie. They're some of the widespread health consequences caused by global warming.”
If these organizations believe that the supposed threat to the well-being of our entire planet “has grown more serious” and that “a summer disaster movie” don’t begin to cover the danger, is it any surprise that fringe organizations like the Earth Liberation Front would take the green cause to the next level? From the North American Earth Liberation Front Press Office’s website:
“The earth is not dying, it is being killed. And those that are killing it have names and addresses. What are you doing tonight?”
Had a tea-partier published an equivalent message, can you imagine the righteous outrage such a statement would generate among the MSM? How would Chris Matthews or the NY Times have reacted if some looney had said: “Your liberties are not dying, they are being killed. And those that are killing it have names and addresses. What are you doing tonight?” The left and the MSM would sound the alarm bell and they would be correct in doing so. But, I cannot help but wonder: why is supposedly inflammatory rhetoric from the right that doesn’t generate actual violence among fringe elements on our side defined as dangerous, while inflammatory environmental rhetoric from the left that results in documented acts of fringe violence gets a free pass?
I’m not claiming that Greenpeace, NRDC, the Sierra Club, et al support, or even sympathize with, violent eco-terrorist groups, but ELF, the Animal Liberation Front, Earth First and all the rest would have no reason to exist but for the hysterical rhetoric that mainstream environmental groups spew forth on a daily basis. If the tea-partiers are supposed to prospectively take ownership of “anti-government” violence that hasn’t actually occurred, why shouldn’t the green movement be held accountable for the hundreds of documented cases of eco-terrorism, millions of dollars worth of destruction and injuries that have happened in the real world? If one wasn’t so certain that liberals and journalists in the MSM are motivated by only the noblest of intentions, one might suspect the existence of some sort of double-standard.
A Record Unmatched
By Rich Trzupek
By no means is the following list all-inclusive, but with Memorial Day here it is well to remember not only the fallen, but the reasons they fell. War is, of course, a terrible thing, but our warriors are the best of us. May we never forget.
Revolutionary War: 1775 – 1783. Result: Establishment of the first, lasting, truly representative form of government on earth – the first step in the continuing process of ending the rule of monarchs, despots and other forms of tyranny. Cost: ~25,000 American lives.
Barbary Wars: 1801 – 1805, 1815. Result: Suppression of petty pirates preying on civilian shipping and enslaving Americans. First affirmation of the principal that America does not pay tribute to nor negotiate with terrorists. Cost: 212 American lives.
War of 1812: 1812 – 1815. Result: Firmly establishes the independence of the fledgling republic from Great Britain. Reaffirms freedom of the seas. Cost: ~20,000 American lives.
Mexican-American War: 1846 – 1848: Result: Protects the free peoples of Texas and their right to self-governance. Cost: 13,283 American lives.
American Civil War: 1861 – 1865: Result: The end of slavery and the beginning of the long road leading toward equality of opportunity for all. Assurance “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Cost: ~625,000 American lives.
Spanish American War: 1898: Result: Established the independence of Cuba. Ended Spanish rule in the Philippines, eventually leading to the creation of the Republic of the Philippines in 1948. Cost: 2,446 American lives.
World War 1: 1914 – 1918: Result: Dissolution of the Austrio-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. Re-establishment of several sovereign states in central and eastern Europe (including your humble correspondent’s native Poland). Cost: 116,516 American lives.
World War 2: 1941 – 1945: Result: Utter defeat of one of the most murderous tyrants the world has ever known. Utter defeat of military caste in Japan. Liberation of millions of people in occupied nations in Europe, Asia and the Pacific. Creation of stable, thriving democracies in Japan and Germany. Cost: 405,399 American lives.
Korean Conflict: 1950 – 1953: Result: Protection of the free peoples of South Korea, without which that vibrant nation would not exist today. Cost: 36,516 American lives.
Cold War: 1947 – 1991: Result: Defeat of a murderous tyranny armed with weapons of mass destruction. Liberation of Eastern Europe. Re-establishment of many independent nations, such as the Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, etc. Cost: 32 American lives.
Vietnam War: 1955 – 1975: Result: Proved once and for all that the American fighting man is the toughest SOB on the planet and can do any job, provided meddling, inept politicians stay the hell out of his way. Cost: 58,209 American lives.
Invasion of Grenada: 1983: Result: Protected American lives and representative government in Grenada. Cost: 19 American lives.
Libyan Bombing Operation: 1986: Ended terrorist activities of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, who – up to that point – had been the world’s foremost supporter of terrorism. Cost: 2 American lives.
Persian Gulf Actions: 1987 – 1988: Result: Protected freedom of the seas during the Iran-Iraq War. Cost: 39 American lives.
Invasion of Panama: 1989: Result: Re-establishment of representative government in Panama, protection of American citizens in Panama and the arrest of a major drug trafficker. Cost: 23 American lives.
First Gulf War: 1990 – 1991: Result: Protection of Saudi Arabia and liberation of Kuwait. Protection of world’s oil supplies. Cost: 258 American lives.
Second Gulf War (Iraq): 2003 – 2011: Result: Liberation of Iraqi people, end to Kurdish repression in Iraq. Creation of another representative government in the Middle East. Inflicted grievous damage on Al-Qaeda terror network. Cost: 4,477 American lives.
War on Terror – Afghan War: 2001 – Present: Result: End of Taliban rule, inflicted grievous damage on Al-Qaeda terror network. Work in progress Cost: 1,803 American lives.
The price has been terrible, but the accomplishments have been astounding. We should never forget what they sacrificed, nor dishonor their memories by forgetting what they did. And to all of the jarheads and doggies, to the swabbies, flyboys and coasties – living and passed-on – to whom we owe so much, we simply say this: “thank you”.
By Rich Trzupek
As many folks have observed, the public’s collective memory extends back no more than seventy two hours. Fortunately, your humble correspondent’s memory is far, far more efficient than that. So chillens, let’s enter the Way-Back Machine and travel back to a time that was both more simple and more frightening than the world we know today.
They year was 1949. The biggest, most destructive war in history had ended just four years hence. The good guys – defined as the US, Britain and France – won that war, but there was a price. They made a deal with the devil – defined as the Soviet Union – to do so. It was a classic case of the lesser of two evils and most people today (including me) believe it was the right thing to do.
However, there were undesirable post-war consequences. America and Britain spent a great deal of money helping to arm the Soviets to fight Hitler. Without that help, it’s unlikely that the Soviets would have survived the Nazi onslaught. Unfortunately, the stronger, tougher USSR that the west helped create during World War II naturally became a much more formidable enemy of the west once the war was over.
As the war wound down, Franklin Roosevelt basically ceded control of Eastern Europe to the USSR, despite the objections of Winston Churchill. That decision – made in the naïve expectation that Stalin would actually keep his word and support liberty in the nations under his thumb – ensured that millions of Eastern Europeans (including a number of my relatives living in Poland) would suffer poverty, oppression and persecution for decades.
It was 1949. The western powers had eliminated one of the most despicable tyrants the world had ever known just four years ago. And yet, the vacuum of tyranny had been filled by a former ally, a despot even worse than the Austrian corporal – for Stalin would ultimately kill more even innocents than Hitler.
Our President in 1949 was a tough-as-nails Missourian by the name of Harry S. Truman. Unlike his predecessor, Truman did not believe that the Russian Bear could be tamed with soothing words. Truman was rather sure that the Soviet threat could only be contained through a combination of strength and resolve.
How to demonstrate strength and resolve to a thug like Stalin? Truman and his fellow leaders in the west came up with the answer. They would band together in an unshakable alliance dedicated to defending liberty and democracy. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or “NATO”, was born.
NATO was created to do the job that the United Nations couldn’t – or wouldn’t – do: promote liberty throughout the world. The UN became the “why can’t we just all get along?” organization, which basically puts everybody at the mercy of the most despicable members of the club. NATO was formed to do the heavy-lifting that the UN would never attempt.
Over the next fifty years, NATO was at the forefront of the most difficult, dangerous conflict that we have ever been involved in: the Cold War. No disrespect to the wonderful vets who fought in World War II, the Korean War, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Iraq or any of the other “hot” wars where our warriors have put their lives on the line, but winning the Cold War was a remarkable achievement – all the more so since so many Americans have so little understanding of the monumental achievements of the Cold Warriors.
For fifty years, the world teetered on the edge of nuclear annihilation. As a kid, practicing “duck and cover” and knowing the location of the nearest fallout shelter was a normal part of growing up.
NATO’s dual mission was to both prevent global self-destruction and to defeat tyranny. Few jobs could have been more difficult. It was a job that called for the ultimate in professionalism and restraint. The Cold Warriors sent a consistent, powerful message to the USSR for five decades: we’re so damn good that we’ll defeat you in a moment’s notice, but we’re not going to fire the first shot.
It was the ultimate stare-down and – at the end of the day – freedom won. If you somehow don’t think that matters, I would invite you to speak to anyone who grew up on the far side of the Iron Curtain pre-1989. Millions upon millions of people who lived in those nations are so much better off today than they were before, and that would never have happened without NATO.
NATO, and by extension the Cold Warriors, accomplished something amazing – something noble – something wonderful. After the Cold War ended, NATO and a new generation of peacekeepers maintained the tradition, in Kosovo, in Iraq and in countless other locations throughout the world.
Last weekend, a few bozos’ chose to ignore all of that remarkable history and tradition of service in order to attempt get some attention that they obviously so desperately need. “Pathetic” is the only word that applies to their “demonstrations”. On behalf of an embarrassed nation, I hereby apologize to all of the Cold Warriors out there. Please ignore the idiots. You guys did us proud and, on behalf of a grateful nation, I thank you.
By Rich Trzupek
There are a number of conservative pundits and Republicans running about, complaining that President Obama is taking playing up the death of Osama bin Laden way too much, because he is dancing in the end zone for political purposes, as it were. To my dear conservative colleagues and conservative friends I say this: get over it.
For one, SEAL Team Six did indeed take bin Laden out during Obama’s watch. Presidents have always used and will always use successful military operations for their own advantage during election season. And yes it’s true that Presidents rarely have much of anything to do with successful military operations, but leaders of both parties do it and I believe that the American people both get that and are not terribly offended by the practice. Obama gets to put taking bin Laden out in his win column every bit as much as his predecessor got to put capturing Khalid Sheik Mohammed in his.
Moreover, focusing on this particular point – which is ultimately a matter of style rather than substance – distracts from the issues that actually matter this election season. Rather than criticizing the nuances of bin Laden end zone dance, Republicans need to concentrate their effort and attention on the myriad of other playing fields where the President failed to advance the ball at all.
The so-called “Arab Spring” is a great example of Obama’s eerily Carteresque record. In Egypt, what was hyped as the overthrow of a dictator and the birth of democracy has – sadly and predictably – deteriorated into religious extremism that threatens our interests and that of our allies in Israel every day.
The radical Muslim Brotherhood, which represents the worst of Islamo-fascism, has gone back on its promise not to run a Presidential candidate in Egyptian elections. Religious fanatics in the legislature have pushed for increasingly more abhorrent Sharia-inspired laws, including – most recently – one that would establish a husband’s “right” to have sex with his wife for up to six hours after her death, which would give the term “frigid” a new and particularly disturbing meaning.
It should be noted that Egyptian authorities denied that any such law was contemplated, after international uproar reached its peak. But, as anyone in who has spent time in the Middle East knows, that’s just the nature of the culture. There’s nothing wrong with denying an inconvenient fact, particularly when doing so involves infidels.
This extreme example highlights the larger point. Egypt is falling into the hands of the zealots, people who want to see Israel wiped off the map and who don’t think there is anything at wrong with men marrying fourteen year old girls.
Hosni Mubarak was undoubtedly a tyrant, but he was also a reliable ally – one that could be counted on to align his nation with the best interests of the United States and Israel more often than not. In his place, we now have a rather shaky military junta that is all that stands in the way of a collection of radicals who are ready and willing to make Egypt the next Iran and, as a result, to oppress Egypt’s people in ways that Mubarak never imagined.
The warm and fuzzy (aka: incredibly naïve) foreign policy approach that candidate Obama espoused four years ago have turned into dismal failure for President Obama. Hugging Hugo Chavez didn’t make Chavez any less of communist dictator or an enemy. Trying to make nice-nice with Iran hasn’t lessened that rogue state’s nuclear ambitions one bit. Indeed, all that Obama’s show of weakness has done is to embolden the mullahs further.
Even the correct decisions that he has made demonstrate just how much of a fraud this President is. Candidate Obama promised to close Gitmo, to try the 9-11 terrorists in civilian courts and to pull out of Iraq within twelve months of taking office. None of those things happened, and for good reason: none of those things should have happened. Following through on any of them would have been a disaster for the United States.
These are decisions that John McCain would have made, and that George W. Bush would have made. But there’s a difference. McCain and Bush told the American people up front that they didn’t believe that closing Gitmo, trying the 9-11 terrorists in civilian courts and pulling out of Iraq in 2009 were good ideas. They told the truth – truths that I am firmly convinced that Obama was well aware of when he was a candidate (for Presidential candidates are very well briefed in foreign policy realities) – while our current President knowingly sold a pleasant tale he knew he could never bring to life.
Obama is not the first President to say this during the campaign and then act thus in office. We see it all the time. Bush II the candidate was a free-trader, for example, until Bush II the President decided to stick Chinese steel with tariffs. But playing games with the truth when it comes to national security is another thing entirely. And I hope that the people who voted for Obama primarily because they believed he address the supposed “injustices” that Bush II had inflicted on the world will face the facts this time around. That’s not to say who you all should vote for, but it is to say that I hope you will be a little less naïve in making your choice this time around.
By Rich Trzupek
For those of us in industry who have watched the agency grow in power and arrogance over the decades, there wasn’t anything all that surprising about somebody suggesting that the EPA uses threats and intimidation against the regulated community. We all know, from long and bitter experience, that’s how the EPA works. What was remarkable is that it was an EPA official admitting it.
Al Armendariz, EPA Region 6 Administrator, was caught on tape urging the troops attending a 2010 meeting to be ruthless in their dogged pursuit of dirty rotten polluters (aka: anybody in the private sector). “You make examples out of people who are in this case not complying with the law ... and you hit them as hard as you can," he said. But it was the spectacularly inappropriate analogy Almenadariz utilized to underline the point that really caught the public’s attention:
"It was kind of like how the Romans used to, you know, conquer villages in the Mediterranean," he said. "They'd go in to a little Turkish town somewhere, they'd find the first five guys they saw, and they'd crucify them. And then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”
Yet, as spectacularly inappropriate as that analogy was, it was also dead-on accurate. When the EPA undertakes an enforcement initiative against one industry sector or another, they go for the jugular. We’ve seen it time and time again. The initial “crucifixions” take the form of crushing fines against a handful of supposed bad actors, which serves to send a singular message to the rest of the companies in a particular industry sector: resistance is futile. It doesn’t matter whether the administration in power is Republican or Democrat. It’s an EPA thing. Congress has handed the EPA a tremendous amount of power over the years and the Agency isn’t at all shy about wielding it.
Consider the Clean Air Act, for example. Under the Clean Air Act the EPA has the authority to levy fines of up to $25,000 per day for each violation. Those violations don’t have to (and frequently don’t) have anything to do with emitting more pollutants into the air than are allowed by applicable regulations. If the EPA finds that a company didn’t file the right paperwork at the right time, or failed to keep a required record in exactly the right form, or committed a host of other environmental sins that don’t have anything to do with protecting the environment, they can wield their $25,000 per day per violation cudgel to get what they want. And what they want is revenue, both as an end for its own sake, and as a tangible means to “prove” to enviro-activists and Congress that they are doing their job. As I detailed in my book Regulators Gone Wild: How the EPA is Ruining American Industry, the more complex regulations become, the more opportunity the EPA has to pick meaningless nits and jack up enforcement revenue.
It’s all about the price point, as is the case with any protection racket. If the target is a big corporation, you have to load up a lot of alleged violations such that the possible penalty is huge, and then hit them with a settlement offer that makes just a little more fiscal sense than the company deciding to lawyer-up.
The little guys are easier marks. There’s not as much money to made of course, since one can only squeeze so much juice out of a turnip, but all the Agency has to do is point at the monster settlement it made with the big boys in the target industry and the rest of the peasants are as sure to fall in line as any ancient Turk facing the might of Roman legions.
Need an example? Consider the electric power industry. Starting in 1999 and continuing through present day, the EPA went after coal-fired power plants for allegedly violating certain portions of the Clean Air Act. These complex cases were, in many ways, without real merit in my opinion but it was easier for the big guys to pay what amounted to a tax for daring to operate a coal-fired power plant than engaging in a long, costly legal battle. These cases affected large utilities who operate plants that generate hundreds and thousands of megawatts of electricity.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are the little guys – the local co-ops and municipal utilities that operate small power plants that generate a couple dozen or so megawatts per facility. Some of these local players burn coal. The Obama administration doesn’t like coal. And so, like the heavy in 1930’s gangster movie, EPA officials have been calling on these small, environmentally insignificant coal fired power plants and presenting them with a simple choice: shut down or switch to another fuel, because if you don’t we’re going to come after you, and you’ve already seen what we can do to the big guys. It’s like one of Capone’s boys showing up and darkly observing: “nice power plant you got there pal – it would be a shame if anything happened to it.”
Almost none of this racket is about actual environmental protection. The United States is one of the most environmentally pristine nations in the world and continues to get cleaner every year. No matter. The more we reduce pollution, the more outrageous EPA enforcement becomes. How can it be otherwise? The Agency, the environmental groups whom it answers to and their leftist supporters in Congress use enforcement activity as the primary metric by which the EPA’s successes and failures are judged. As a result, to bastardize Churchill, never in history have so many been fined so much for so little.
Republican Senator James Inhofe announced that he’s launching an investigation into EPA abuse as a result of Armendariz’s all-too-honest comments. Here’s hoping that something come of the Senator’s efforts. There’s a few million of us in the private sector ready, willing and able to bear witness to what has been going on, and the nation will be far better off if Inhofe can help reign in this out-of-control agency.
By Rich Trzupek
The Obama administration’s bizarre energy policy took another confused turn last week as the President asked Congress to spend $52 million for more oversight and investigation of petroleum markets. The crackdown would supposedly be aimed at “those who manipulate the market for private gain at the expense of millions of working families”, although neither Mr. Obama nor presidential press secretary Jay Carney could identify who these dastardly villains supposedly are, or if they even exist.
It was, even by this administration’s standards, a pathetically inept response to an issue that could be a big problem for the President come November: brutally high gasoline prices. Rather than addressing the well understood, free market supply and demand forces that keep driving up the price of crude, the administration resorted to class warfare once again, to the point of resurrecting the Enron boogeyman in a vain attempt to divert attention and decline responsibility for Obama’s spectacular failures with regard to energy issues. Even the Washington Post wasn’t buying it, taking the administration to task in an April 17 editorial:
“President Obama is fond of saying that there is no silver bullet to bringing down gasoline prices. On Tuesday, however, he went into the silver bullet business.
Recent history shows that gas prices over time depend on a range of factors, predominantly supply and demand fundamentals, that the U.S. government can’t easily control. And even if bona fide Wall Street manipulation were a primary force moving prices, The Post’s Brad Plumer points out, the United States alone can’t police the world market.”
Republican leaders were even more direct, dismissing the President’s proposal as nothing more than an election-year tactic:
"It probably polls pretty well, but I guarantee it won't do a thing to lower prices at the pump," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
"The president has all the tools available to him if he believes the oil market is being manipulated," said John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives.
This comes at a time when the Obama administration surpassed a dubious record that was previously held by the Carter administration (to which the current regime is often compared): the greatest increase in nationwide gasoline prices during a president’s term. Gas prices rose by 103.77 per cent during James Earl Carter’s term in office. As of two weeks ago, gas prices have risen by 103.79 per cent since Barack Hussein Obama took the oath. By way of comparison, gas prices dropped 66 per cent during the Reagan years, rose by about 30 per cent when Clinton was in office and climbed roughly 20 per cent under George W. Bush.
Gas prices are, of course, evidence of just one of President Obama’s many energy policy failures. There’s the ludicrous diversion of tax dollars to solar energy companies whose business model depends on evading the laws of both economics and thermodynamics. There’s the remarkably short-sighted decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline. There’s the continuing effort to undermine drilling in the Gulf by throwing up pointless regulatory obstacles. Yet, in spite of all that this president has done to damage the cause of American energy independence, there is one sector of the energy business that even he hasn’t been able to screw up – yet: the natural gas industry.
Make no mistake: were it not for the incredible renaissance of the American natural gas industry, what is currently an economic mess would be a far larger economic disaster. The natural gas industry is creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, developing export markets that will help address our trade imbalance and recovering byproducts that will revitalize our chemical manufacturing sector. Natural gas will also take a big bite out of foreign oil sales. The big natural gas producers are investing billions in infrastructure that will allow semi-trailer tractors to use natural gas fuel, at less than one fifth the price of diesel. Will natural gas powered automobiles dominate the roads a decade from now? It would not be at all surprising if that were the case.
The growth in natural gas production in the United States is largely due to the industry’s ability to access gas trapped in shale formations. We can now get at that gas because horizontal drilling technology has evolved to the point that it’s economically viable to get at those deep, but relatively “thin” formations in a cost effective manner. Once producers put horizontal pipes into place in a shale formation, they can then get at the gas trapped in the formation using the age-old technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. This technology, which dates back to the late forties, involves injecting a lot of water, along with a bit of sand and a tiny amount of chemicals in order to fracture the shale and release the trapped natural gas.
There is nothing more sinister about drilling for shale gas than there is about any of the other myriad of ways that we drill into the earth for a variety of other reasons. Unless, of course, one happens to be an eco-activist. In that case, there has to be something horrible about shale gas drilling, since it involves fossil fuels and because people are making money while doing it.
With that history as a back drop, last Friday President Obama signed an Executive Order coordinating federal oversight of domestic natural-gas development. If Obama were a President who both understood and believed in free markets, that would be a good thing. There is much in the way of overlapping state and federal authority when it comes to natural exploration and production. If “coordinating” equated to “streamlining” that would be welcome news indeed. Unfortunately, the history of this administration suggests that every regulatory review of this sort will inevitable result in the creation of more onerous regulatory obstacles in the free market.
More than any other factor, energy availability, energy prices and energy policy drive this nation’s – or any nation’s – economic future. In the past week the President of the most powerful nation on earth has demonstrated that he neither understands nor cares to understand the realities that drive global energy markets. It’s hard to imagine that Obama could contrive of ways to prove that he is even more out of touch with reality, but he has once again manage to exceed America’s lowest expectations.
By Rich Trzupek
And now for something completely different: a book review for ya.
One of the difficulties inherent to combatting the excesses of environmental activists is that their message sounds so innocuous on the surface. Who can be against a cleaner world? How can anyone not want to protect the wonders of nature? And, if the green crowd may take things a tad too far at times, what’s the harm? After all, better safe than sorry, right?
Author Rael Jean Isaac explodes the myth that eco-puritanism is harmless in her new book Roosters of the Apocalypse: How the Junk Science of Global Warming Nearly Bankrupted the Western World, published by the Heartland Institute. It’s a devastating take-down of the excesses of the environmental movement past and present, in the form of a well-reasoned, easy to digest analysis that packs equal parts reason and entertainment into a surprisingly compact package.
Isaac uses the tragedy of South Africa’s Xhosa tribe as the backdrop for her tale. In 1856 the Xhosa willingly destroyed their own economy, killing half a million cattle, destroying grain stores and ceasing to plant new crops. After a year tens of thousands of Xhosa – about a third of the population – had starved to death before British authorities intervened. Why would a society willingly destroy itself? Isaac explains why:
“The Xhosa had acted on the prophecy of a 15-year-old girl who promised that if they destroyed all they had and purified themselves of “witchcraft” (including evil inclinations and selfishness), the world before the white invaders came would be restored; The British oppressors would flee, and the Xhosa ancestors would return, bringing with them an even greater abundance of cattle and grain.”
Some of the parallels between the Xhosa tragedy and modern-day global warming alarmism are striking. For example, Isaac points out how both are essentially matters of faith, not science. As real-world evidence that challenged the young-lady’s prophecies mounted (for the tribes ancestors surprisingly failed to re-appear leading a ghostly cattle drive) true believers doubled down in their commitment to the cause. So it is today with alarmist crowd. The more actual data continues to diverge from alarmist predictions, the more intransigent alarmists become.
Just as cattle and grain were the life-blood of the 19th century Xhosa economy, fossil fuels have powered the engine that has driven western economies to higher and higher levels of prosperity for over one hundred years. By demanding that we voluntarily abandon the use of fossil fuels and have faith that some other form of cheap, abundant energy will magically appear, environmentalists would lead us down the same kind of self-destructive path as the Xhosa.
Isaac ties in Boston University historian Richard Landes’ work Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience, persuasively arguing that global warming alarmism displays virtually all of the characteristics common to apocalyptic movements that Landes describes. Such movements pit two groups against each other, according to Landes: “roosters” who try to whip up panic and hysteria among the populace by any means possible, and “owls” who calmly appeal to sound reasoning. Isaac goes on to describe how roosters cannot abide the existence of owls, no matter how many or how few in the latter group. She writes:
“As the ancestors failed to appear and the Xhosa believers began to starve, they blamed the stubborn owls who had kept their cattle. Arguing it was their disbelief that delayed the return of the ancestors, they believers began to kill the cattle of those they called the amagogotya, the selfish hard ones, those who “eat alone.” In the global warming apocalypse, every effort is made to banish climate change owls, no matter how distinguished their scientific record, to the outer fringe. The owls are flat-earthers, patsies for big oil, “deniers” (as in Holocaust deniers), analogous to racists (Al Gore’s contribution), “people who say that asbestos is as good as talcum powder” (this from Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). James Hansen says CEOs of fossil energy companies should be tried for “high crimes against humanity and nature.”
All and all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening read. The chapter entitled “A Climate Rooster Becomes President” should be required reading for every voter. Isaac outlines President Obama’s multi-pronged, all-out war on fossil fuels, which is sure to continue to have serious economic repercussions far into the future. Still, she remains hopeful that the wave of this particular apocalyptic movement has already crested. Indeed, fewer and fewer Americans profess to be worried about man-made climate change every year. “Roosters of the Apocalypse” explains why.
The coal industry and coal-fired power has been dealt a series of body blows by the Obama administration over the last four years. Last week, the EPA delivered the coup de grace to coal, in the form of a new rule that – unless overturned by Congress or a future administration – will ensure that no new, modern coal-fired power plants will be built in the United States.
The EPA released Subpart TTTT of New Source Performance Standards yesterday, a proposed rule that limits carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants. No coal-fired power plant can meet the emission limit (1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt of power produced), but natural gas fired power plants can. This will lead to some significant changes in the power energy once the rule goes final, sometime next year.
It is now estimated that around 50,000 to 80,000 megawatts of coal fired power will be retired from the grid over the next few years. Coal fired power is base load power (that is, power that has to be available all of the time) and neither solar nor wind can provide base load power anywhere but in the President’s green fantasies. Biomass (wood, energy crops, etc.) can provide base load power, but there’s not nearly enough of the fuel to replace so much coal. More nuclear power could easily shoulder the load, but there’s no way that we can permit and build enough nuclear plants in the time available. That leaves natural gas as the only fuel that can possibly be used to replace all of that coal.
Right now, natural gas is looking pretty good. Thanks to shale gas, we have abundant supplies (over one hundred years of proven reserves, even in the worst-case demand scenario) and prices are incredibly low. New, highly efficient combined-cycle gas-fired power plants are actually competitive with coal-fired power at today’s prices.
Replacing all of that coal with natural gas should soothe global warming alarmists as well. (I say “should” because everyone knows that the environmental doom industry cannot and will not ever admit that it is satisfied with any level of reductions until we’re living in caves). Natural gas generates much less carbon dioxide per unit of energy as compared to coal and, as noted above, natural gas fired power plants can be much more efficient. The combination of these two effects means that carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, which have been declining for the last five years in any case, will drop even more precipitously in the future.
So, one might be tempted to ask: what’s the big deal? If natural gas is cheap and if burning natural gas might cause at least a few hysterical enviro-types to lower the volume of their incessant shrieking just a tad, it’s all good – right? Well, not quite.
Historically, natural gas prices have been very volatile and, despite the current glut, there is no reason to believe that supply will so greatly outstrip demand in the long run. The big energy players in natural gas, companies like Chesapeake, Cabot and Chevron are working hard to create new markets, increase demand and thus get prices back up. A major South African chemical company recently announced plans to build a plant here that will produce gasoline from natural gas feedstock. Several players in the energy market are in the initial stages of planning Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminals with exports to Europe and Asia in mind. There are plans in the works to create more natural gas infrastructure so that the nation’s truck fleet will convert over from diesel to natural gas.
Perhaps most importantly, using natural gas to generate thousands of megawatts of power will consume huge quantities of the fuel, thus necessarily causing prices to rise as more new power plants come on line. It’s no surprise that the two big manufacturers of natural gas fired turbines – GE and Siemens – have been flooding the airwaves with commercials extolling the virtues of their wares. Both companies stand to make a whole lot of money in the next few years thanks to the Obama administration’s all-out war on coal.
In contrast to the volatility of natural gas prices, coal prices have always been pretty steady. Thus the coal fleet (along with the nuclear fleet) has helped to dampen out any fluctuations in natural gas that affects that relatively small portion of energy production in the United States. As we shift away from coal and put more of the energy burden on natural gas, electricity prices are likely to fluctuate more than they ever have and are likely to increase substantially over the long term as well.
It’s a shame that we’re knowingly abandoning such a cheap, reliable and plentiful resource like coal in a foolish effort to fulfill a ridiculous crusade led by eco-puritans. It’s maddening that such a decision was made not by Congress, nor by the voters, but by a few faceless bureaucrats hiding behind global-warming pseudo-science that has become the twenty-first century’s version of alchemy. But that’s where we are and, unless something changes this November, that’s where we’re likely to be for quite a while.
By Rich Trzupek
Media Matters for America, George Soros’ uber-liberal attack dogs, have now taken aim at conservative talk-radio icon Rush Limbaugh, insisting that advertisers drop his program in order to make Limbaugh go away. This is nothing but left-wing bullying of the sort that the godfather of “community organizing”, Saul Alinsky, made famous: isolate your target and then attack, attack, attack until you’re victorious.
Let’s get a couple of things out of the way. First, though I understand that Rush is an important voice in the conservative community, his is not a voice I listen too. Nothing against the guy, but I prefer reading to listening when analyzing issues.
Second, though Alinsky was certainly a leftist of the first order, his “rules for radicals” are not without worth. If you’re trying to get the city to renovate a run-down park in your neighborhood, for example, there is a lot to be said about isolating the problem and pressing forward relentlessly until it’s taken care of.
However, it’s another thing entirely to apply the same tactics to attempt to silence people with whom you disagree. Doing so comes down just a little short of censorship.
Look, I personally think that Bill Maher is a misogynistic, empty-head ass. That said, I don’t think he should be denied a forum to air his worthless views. The free market will figure it out and – in the long run – the right side eventually wins in a free exchange of information and ideas.
I also use Maher as an example because he is routinely cited for doing that which Limbaugh has been accused of in the Sandra Fluke matter: denigrating women. But Maher uses sexist slurs to describe conservative and Republican women. That’s OK with Media Matters and their ilk. Taking a shot at a woman who attends a Catholic university and is surprised that it won’t support free contraception (that she could get for free at a bazillion clinics) is a firing offense. Calling a conservative woman a bitch or a whore is not.
Free speech means free speech, whatever the circumstances. Period. Nobody – particularly an organization that supposedly defends journalistic ethics – should ever resort to the “shut the hell up” argument.
There is certainly nothing illegal about saying “shut the hell up”, at least not yet. That constitutes speech that is also protected by the First Amendment. However, it’s a dangerous road for public policy organizations of any sort to follow.
And the fact of the matter is that we’ve been following it for a while. We have, in effect if not by law, been edging closer and closer to official censorship for years now. But it’s not the supposedly fascist right that’s leading the charge, but it is rather the reverse – a growing trend to what Jonah Goldberg has rightly labeled “liberal fascism”. (And, in fact, fascism is profoundly socialist – and therefore leftist – in nature, but I digress).
Eco-liberals do everything they can to silence voices who don’t agree with global-warming heterodoxy and, failing that, to smear the thousands of scientists – and yes dears, there are thousands of us – who point out the myriad of flaws in the data and theory.
Libs are quick to insult Christians and Jews of all sorts when it suits their purposes, but most support censorship when it comes to even pointing out a troubling fact or two about Islam. Remember all the libs who jumped up to support Trey Parker and Matt Stone when South Park was censored for tweaking Islam a bit? Me neither. Insulting Christians and Jews is hip and edgy. If you don’t like it, it just proves that you’re a stuffed shirt without a sense of humor. But questioning Islam – why that’s just horrible. It’s – it’s racist, by God! (The fact that Islam isn’t a race doesn’t seem to matter in their world).
For the left, who should have a voice depends on what they intend to say. It’s Orwellian. We’re not all that far away from goodthink and badthink. As Mark Steyn has observed, it’s easy to be for free speech if the speaker is talking about puppies frolicking or world peace. But if you want to censor those ideas that you find reprehensible, then you’re not really for free speech at all.
By Rich Trzupek
As U.S. gas prices steadily rise to alarming levels, Republican presidential hopefuls have pointed to the Obama administration’s dysfunctional energy policies as a significant influence in the distressing trend. It’s an issue that endangers the President’s re-election prospects and Team Obama is now in full defensive mode, simultaneously claiming that it is “all in” with respect to energy sources of all sorts, while it says that it has also made important inroads in increasing domestic oil production and reducing dependence of foreign oil.
In order to support these claims, the administration turned to the tactic that has become a staple among global warming alarmists: pick a couple of convenient data points that support your position, claim they are representative of an overall trend and let the ever-gullible, technologically ignorant mainstream media regurgitate the message. For example, Obama has tried to mollify critics by saying that domestic production of crude oil is up to the highest levels that we’ve seen over the past eight years. While that is technically true, it’s a meaningless factoid, for the President doesn’t seem to understand – or refuses to acknowledge – that market forces have raised the value of crude oil enough that domestic production has marginally increased over the already pitiful rates of 2004.
The fact is that United States domestic crude oil production topped out at about 3.5 billion barrels per year in the 1970s, according to Department of Energy statistics. Since then domestic production has steadily declined as both Congress and Presidential administrations of both parties have sacrificed energy independence in favor of appeasing environmental radicals. By 2004 – the year that the administration cites as the benchmark – domestic production had dropped more than forty per cent, to about 2 billion barrels per year. Since then, domestic production has basically leveled out in the 1.8 billion to 2 billion barrel per year range, nowhere close to what we could actually produce if somebody in power had the wisdom and courage to tell leftist environmentalists to find something else to complain about. So yeah, 2012 domestic production is creeping a bit higher than the already pitiful 2004 figures, simply because oil prices are high enough to bring more marginal wells back into production, but the Obama administration had nothing to do with that dubious achievement.
The President also attempted to dabble in the unfamiliar realm of free market economics, asserting that the only way to reduce gasoline prices was to reduce demand and thus the United States must consume less petroleum products. This we have been doing. Overall consumption of crude oil in the United States has dropped almost ten per cent since the peak year of 2005. Interestingly, that reduction – along with reductions in burning coal to produce power – have also resulted in significant drops in greenhouse gas emission in the United States since 2005, something that the President strangely fails to mention. (The Obama administration’s EPA recently released its annual greenhouse gas inventory report, in which it picked 1990 as the benchmark year in order to claim an overall rise in United States’ greenhouse gas emissions, while it pretty much ignored the overall reductions that have been achieved relative to 2005).
The free market model tells us that there is another way to reduce gasoline prices of course: instead of decreasing demand, we can increase supply. America has the ability to do so, and to do so to a larger degree than any other nation in the world, for the constraints to increasing production in this country are not geological or technical, but rather self-imposed and political. Those constraints can be cast off by the stroke of a pen, the market would quickly respond and everyone would be the richer.
Instead, we choose a kind of economic self-flagellation, deluding ourselves to believe that if we use less cheap, abundant fossil fuels then a planet supposedly in desperate danger will be saved. The facts tell us something quite different. For, as the years go by, our continued reductions in fossil fuel use are less and less significant in the global scheme of things.
Let’s go back to that benchmark year of 2005. Since then, United States’ consumption has dropped from about 7.6 billion barrels per year of crude, to less than 6.9 billion barrels per year, a reduction of over 650 million barrels per year. At the same time, crude oil consumption in China and India increased by over 700 million barrels per year. While it would be foolish and selfish to deny the peoples of China and India the opportunity to raise their standards of living by telling them that they can’t use more oil, it’s equally foolish to attempt to maintain the world’s level of petroleum consumption at a constant level on the back of the American consumers. Yet, that is exactly what we have been doing, in effect if not in name. Rather than using our talents and resources to increase supply, we have been drawn into a decades long, increasingly futile effort to micro-manage domestic demand. It’s a program destined to fail – designed to fail – and American consumers are paying the price at the pump for this failed energy policy every day. Unless and until we have an administration that can deal with the reality of energy production in the twenty first century, rather than the delusional fantasies that our current President is so in love with, five dollar per gallon gas will be upon us in astonishingly short order.
By Rich Trzupek
Sunday marked the beginning of the end of the latest version for one of the most honored names in the history of the United States Navy: Enterprise. “Big E”, or CVN-65 if you please, headed out on its final deployment, providing back up to our forces in the Middle East. When she returns in December, her nuclear reactors will be removed and, once that’s complete, the remainder of the ship will be sold for scrap.
No doubt but it’s time for the grand old dame to retire. She’s been in active service for fifty years now, twice as long as she was designed for, and longer than any ship in the history of the United States Navy, save the venerable Constitution. And, with all due respect for Old Ironsides, Big E has spent more time in harm’s way.
There is something magical about the name “Enterprise”, a magic that existed long before Gene Roddenberry chose the moniker for James Tiberius Kirk’s starship. The first USS Enterprise was a sloop-of-war that was instrumental in delaying a British invasion into New England along the Hudson River in 1776. Served as General Benedict Arnold’s (who commanded the squadron in Lake Champlain) flagship too – back when Arnold was still a heroic patriot, not a turncoat.
The third Enterprise, a schooner, fired the first shots of the Barbary War in 1801. She encountered the Tripoli, a pirate operating out of the state after which it was named and whose shores would later be immortalized in the opening lines of the Marine Hymn. Lieutenant Andrew Sterett captained the Enterprise during the action. A few lines from a contemporary report give you a flavor of both the battle and the man:
“This was the commencement of a hard fought action, which commenced at 9 A.M. and continued for three hours.
Three times, during the action, the Tripolitan attempted to board the Enterprize, and was as often repulsed with great slaughter, which was greatly increased by the effective aid afforded by the Marines. Three times, also, the Tripolitan struck her colors, and as often treacherously renewed the action, with the hope of disabling the crew of captain Sterret, which, as is usual, when the enemy struck her colors, came on deck, and exposed themselves, while they gave three cheers as a mark of victory.
When for the third time, this treacherous attack was made, captain Sterret gave orders to sink the Tripolitan, on which a scene of furious combat ensued, until the enemy cried for mercy.
Captain Sterret, listening to the voice of humanity, even after such perfidious conduct, ordered the captain either to come himself, or to send some of his officers on board the Enterprize.”
The years passed and more Enterprises came and went, until the most famous of them all was launched in 1936: the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise – CV-6, the original Big E. She was the most decorated American warship of World War II, and the only carrier in the fleet to survive from Pearl Harbor through VJ Day.
Her remarkable exploits would fill volumes, from sending some of our first fighters into action on December 7, 1941, through escorting the USS Hornet on the Doolittle Raid, to Midway, Guadalcanal and Leyte, the Big E was involved in practically every important naval engagement in the Pacific. She was wounded several times, but never succumbed. For a time, she was the only United States afloat carrier in the Pacific, prompting her crew to post a sign summing up the state of things: “Enterprise vs. Japan”. As later events would prove, that was no contest. The Enterprise fought to the end, was decommissioned in 1947 and eventually sold for scrap, and ignominious end to a remarkable career.
When it came time for the Navy to commission its first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the choice of name was easy, and CVN-65 steamed out of Newport News naval shipyard in 1961 bearing that proudest of names: Enterprise.
Like her older sister, the new Big E would become something of a legend herself, serving around the globe in a variety of missions during both wartime and peacetime. She was there during the evacuation of Saigon. When Ugandan dictator Idi Amin took Americans hostage, she cruised into range of Entebbe and the petty despot had a sudden change of heart.
She escorted Kuwati tankers through the Persian Gulf when the Iranians were stirring up trouble in the late eighties and her air wing convinced the Ayatollah to stop his shenanigans with the aid of a few well-placed bombs. Soon after 9/11, aircraft from the Enterprise initiated attacks on Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan, among the first to respond to the cowardly attack, just as her World War II namesake had been among the first to respond to another sneak attack sixty years before.
It will be sad to see this great lady retired, but it’s also inevitable – circle of life and all that. And, no doubt there will be another Enterprise in the Navy’s future. Till then, let us remember and salute her and – more importantly – all of the dedicated and professional men and women who served on her and utilized her to spread liberty throughout the globe.
By Rich Trzupek
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has demonstrated that he’s more than willing to do that which his counterpart in the White House is unable or unwilling to do: display a little backbone when dealing with radical environmentalists and their pet causes. Harper’s administration both commenced hearings on an alternative pipeline that would be used to ship Canadian crude to China, as well as putting the “green movement” on notice that extremism masquerading as environmentalism will no longer be tolerated in the Great White North.
Clearly Canada would prefer to ship crude recovered from massive reserves in Alberta to Texas via the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Unfortunately, the combination of green fear-mongering and President Obama’s predictable pandering has put approval of Keystone XL in doubt. The President refused to approve Keystone XL last month, claiming his administration didn’t have enough time to review the proposal – even though the permit application has been in their hands for over three years.
As Harper is aware, the United States is as litigious a society as there is on earth and – thanks to the many misguided decisions made in the pursuit of environmental purity by both parties – the massive statutory and regulatory infrastructures that have been constructed in the name of protecting mother earth practically guarantees that environmental groups would tie up an approval of Keystone XL in the courts for years. It would be silly to put all one’s eggs in one basket in any case, but given the dysfunctional manner with which America addresses environmental issues and energy issues, Harper would worse than foolish to assume that Canada’s best energy customer will continue to be so.
So, the Harper government opened hearing s on the Northern Gateway pipeline, an alternative route that would send crude from Alberta to Kimat, British Columbian, where it would be loaded onto tankers and shipped to energy-starved China. To be sure that pipeline faces opposition and its own bureaucratic obstacles as well, but with hundreds of billions of revenue at risk it is clearly well worth the effort to move forward on a both tracks. Keystone XL is surely the preferred – and sensible – way to get Alberta’s crude to market, but Northern Gateway will do just fine if the United States is too stupid to approve a project that is so clearly in our national interest.
For not only would Keystone XL generate tens of thousands of new jobs, both in terms of construction jobs and in terms of a myriad of employment opportunities down the supply chain, it would also take a huge bite out of overseas oil imports. At full capacity, Keystone XL would provide about ten per cent of America’s crude oil demand, without the slightest risk of a foreign tyrant cutting off production or closing a supply route.
That the Harper government is savvy enough to pursue a second pipeline option is testament to its wisdom, but the fact that it also called out (finally!) the environmental movement for its unrestrained, unscientific extremism speaks volumes about its courage. In an open letter published at the Financial Times, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver put environmental groups on notice last week, letting them know that their tawdry little games would no longer be tolerated in Canada. He called them out in no uncertain terms:
“These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects. They use funding from foreign special-interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest. They attract jet-setting celebrities with some of the largest personal carbon footprints in the world to lecture Canadians not to develop our natural resources. Finally, if all other avenues have failed, they will take a quintessential American approach: Sue everyone and anyone to delay the project even further. They do this because they know it can work. It works because it helps them to achieve their ultimate objective: delay a project to the point it becomes economically unviable.”
How refreshing it is to hear a leader of a representative form of government speak in such a clear, uncompromising manner. Oliver’s words are reminder why plain-spoken leaders like Reagan and Christie are so well-received: they are remarkable because they are so rare. And surely Oliver is correct on all counts. For what are massive, well-heeled environmental groups like the Sierra Club and NRDC if not special interests? What are rich, finger-wagging Hollywood celebrities like Streisand, Cameron and DiCaprio if not hypocrites? What is the reason behind the numerous, pointless lawsuits that greenies file if not to obstruct and demoralize those who seek to create wealth?
President Obama killed Keystone XL because he was afraid of upsetting his green base, but it hardly matters because it’s clear that Canada is determined to find a way to sell its riches to someone. It ought to be us, yet perhaps this too is just another sign of the way power is shifting in the world today. For not only are China and India showing more leadership than Obama’s America, it seems that even Canada is too.
By Rich Trzupek
Get ready for five dollar per gallon gasoline folks, if not more. The Obama administrations lack of any coherent, realistic energy policy is providing Republican candidates with a good deal of ammunition as gas prices and oil prices continue to rise. The issue has put the President on the defensive as the specter of massively expensive gas this summer gives Team Obama heartburn.
"It's the easiest thing in the world (to) make phony election-year promises about lower gas prices,'' Obama said, speaking at the University of Miami last week. “What's harder is to make a serious, sustained commitment to tackle a problem that may not be solved in one year or one term or even one decade.''
Indeed. Clearly, making a serious, sustained commitment to a sound energy policy is well beyond this administration’s capabilities. Rather than investing in proven, affordable and plentiful sources of domestic energy, Obama has thrown billions of tax dollars away in misguided efforts to find pixie dust solutions to America’s energy needs.
From wind, to solar, to bio-fuels, the President has abandoned the free market to cast his lot with the most extreme of environmental utopians and we’re all paying the price for his folly. This President, who asserts that America’s future depends on science and technology, has yet to even come to grips with the basic laws of thermodynamics. That level of scientific ignorance doesn’t bode well for consumers, or for Obama’s re-election prospects
The President has tried to blame rising gas prices on factors that are beyond his control, such as increased demand from China and India, increasing tension with Iran and speculation in oil futures. While it’s accurate to say that those America can do little to influence those factors, it’s entirely disingenuous to ignore the fact that we could have – and should have – taken action to mitigate those market effects.
We have seen crude demand in China and India rise steadily for over a decade now. That it continues to do so as those economies continue to grow shouldn’t surprise anyone, least of all the President of the United States. The same holds true for the effect of the Iranian nuclear crisis. And, given all of the uncertainty and demand-side pressure, it’s clear that the free market is going to respond by hedging its bets in the form of rising oil future prices. The President sees the latter in terms of greedy speculation, but Obama has long-since abandoned any pretense of understanding – or caring – about the way that a healthy free market actually works.
Rather than whining about all of the predictable market pressures that are out of his control, the President should have spent his time planning ways to counterbalance them so that consumers would not get slammed. This he could have done, in both the short term and the long term. Short term efforts like pushing drilling in the Gulf and encouraging more development of more wet shale gas production would have helped stabilize prices immediately. Longer term projects, like Keystone XL and opening up federal lands like ANWR for drilling would have taken the winds out of the sails of speculators, along with generating billions in tax revenue and tens of thousands of jobs.
Instead, the President continues to funnel tax dollars into ridiculous, pie-in-the-sky, money pit energy projects. For example, during his University of Miami speech, the President announced that his administration was committing $14 million to help develop algae-based fuels. He expects that will sound terribly cutting edge, but here’s the punch line: we know how to make algae-based fuels already. There’s no magic about doing so. There are no secrets to be uncovered. We’ve known how to turn algae into fuel for decades, but there’s a reason that we haven’t done so: it’s not even close to being cost competitive compared to traditional fuels.
At least it’s not cost-competitive to undertake such projects unless one is determined to game the system such that using less-expensive energy alternatives is no longer allowed. In that case, tossing money at ridiculous, expensive and unreliable forms of power generation under the guise of developing “clean energy” makes all the sense in the world. That is, if your ultimate objective is to make sure that your friends cash in on the scheme, no matter what happens to the average consumer.
Obama’s Green Energy Scandal Widens
By Rich Trzupek
Last week Al Gore called capitalism “unsustainable”. It was a silly pronouncement, but considering the way that the Obama administration is manipulating the economy to benefit their “green energy” buddies, the ex-vice president may have stumbled across a greater truth: Obama’s crony-capitalism is clearly unsustainable.
In a blockbuster story published last week, Washington Post reporters Carol D. Leonnig and Joe Stephens outlined more of the details of the incestuous relationship that the administration and green energy companies share. With $80 billion of stimulus money set aside for so-called clean energy projects there was a huge temptation to cross ethical boundaries separating the private and public sectors and it appears that few people involved in the business were able to resist that kind of temptation.
For example, the Post story explains how venture capitalist Sanjay Wagle served on an Energy Department panel that decided which companies would receive a chunk of the $80 billion pie, even though Wagle’s former firm – Vantage Point Venture Partners – received $2.4 billion of those funds over the past three years. According to the Post:
“Wagle’s former employer had invested in several companies that received federal money: Brightsource, which won a $1.6 billion federal loan for a solar-generating plant; Tesla Motors, which won a $465 million loan to build electric cars; and biofuels firm Mascoma, which in 2011 received $80 million for a Michigan ethanol plant.”
Overall, the Post investigation unearthed $3.9 billion in federal grants and financing flowed to 21 companies backed by firms with connections to five Obama administration staffers and advisers. It’s easy to conclude that’s just the tip of a very big iceberg.
Ironically, these latest troubling revelations come just as the poster-child of the President’s failed energy policy is falling apart. The wind lobby was unable to convince Congress to extend production tax credits for wind power generation. Without that revenue, wind power cannot compete in the free market as even industry advocates themselves admit. Like failed solar power companies such as Solyndra and Ener1, the wind industry faces tough times ahead, despite billions upon billions of government subsidies.
Other players identified in the Post story include:
* David Sandalow, a former Clinton administration official and Brookings Institution fellow. Sandalow had been paid $239,000 for consulting work for a venture capital firm, Good Energies, in 2008 before joining the Energy Department as assistant secretary for policy and international affairs. SolarReserve, a company backed by Good Energies, was the recipient of a $737 million government loan.
* David Danielson, another venture capitalist who joined the Energy Department. Three companies backed by his former firm, General Catalyst, were awarded a total of $105 million in government funding.
* Steven J. Spinner was a loan advisor who worked in the Energy Department. His wife worked for the law firm Wilson Sonsini in California. Wilson Sonsini’s “clean-tech” clients were awarded a total of $2.75 billion in Department of Energy grants. According to the Post, Spinner helped raise half a million for Obama in the 2008 cycle and has pledged to do the same this year.
* Steve Westly, founder of the Westly Group, is another venture capitalist and an Obama fundraiser. Westly served on Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s advisory board. Companies backed by Westly’s firm received $600 million in government funding.
* David Prend of Rockport Capital Partners held a 7.5 percent stake in Solyndra. Prend was appointed to an advisory position to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory during the Bush administration. He stayed on during the Obama regime, and also chaired a panel that helps advise the department on solar energy. In addition to his investment in Solyndra, Prend is also tied to Ener1, the electric car battery company that received over $100 million in government funding that has since filed for bankruptcy.
The administration denies any impropriety of course. It seems that these cozy relationships are meaningless and didn’t influence any of the favorable funding decisions at all. It’s all just a series of happy coincidences apparently.
So the story goes. On the other hand, there is the undeniable fact that the Obama administration has been using its power to drastically change American energy policy. By forcing droves of coal-fired power plants to shut down, the President is both raising the cost of electricity and creating an artificial need for new sources of energy. But that’s not enough, for green energy isn’t competitive enough to make sense even in such a skewed market. And thus the impetus for the kind of crony capitalism that has so tainted this administration. It’s a great deal if you happen to be one of the President’s buddies, but it’s about as unsustainable an economic plan as one could design.
By Rich Trzupek
That’s the only word for it. We have never seen an administration as addicted to governance by regulatory fiat as this one, but even so Team Obama’s latest diktat defies understanding. It’s outrageous, insulting, despicable – appalling.
Reports indicate that Catholics who form part of Team Obama, like Bill Daley and Leon Panetta, urged the President not to make the move, but it didn’t matter, for Barack Obama’s arrogance knows no bounds, particularly when it comes to satisfying his leftist pals. And so he’s kicked down the walls separating church and state, insulting not only Catholics but millions of other people of faith in America.
Make no mistake, the issue is not whether Americans should have access to contraceptives and other forms of birth control. The issue is whether government has the right to force a religious institution – any religious institution – to act in a manner that is contrary to that institution’s beliefs and values.
If government can do that, then religion will cease to have any practical meaning in America any longer. That should be a matter of grave concern, not only for Catholics like me, but for men and women of any faith.
The constitutional separation between church and state is one of the most important foundations of our freedoms and liberties. That division works in both directions. It must work in both directions if it is to mean anything. No church can assume the powers of the state and the state cannot compel churches to alter their beliefs.
At least until now.
It is ironic. A majority of Catholics voted for Barack Obama in 2008, having swallowed whole the fiction that the President was a “centrist” who would unite the nation. Three and a half years later, that disguise has long been discarded. This administration has decided to go all in with the left and if that annoys a few million Catholics, so be it.
Catholic leaders across the nation are fighting back. Francis Cardinal George’s powerful letter of February 5 is but one example of the firestorm that the President has unleashed. Among other things, the Cardinal said:
“…the Administration has seemingly ignored the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation's first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. As a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics must be prepared either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). The Administration's sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply.
We cannot-we will not-comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens because of their religious beliefs. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America's cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights. All that has been built up over so many years in our Catholic institutions should not be taken away by the stroke of an administrator's pen. This order reduces the Church to a private club, destroying her public mission in society. In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same.”
Like all powerful and influential organizations, the Catholic Church has made mistakes over the years. The pedophilia scandal was a particularly painful low-point for a lot of us. Indeed, the church in the United States seems to have been languishing in the doldrums for the last few years.
But now, with the stroke of a pen, this administration has managed to reignite the flames of determination and dedication that are such a large part of our spiritual heritage. And if Obama manages to lose his re-election bid, this monstrous display of arrogance will mark the moment that he secured the demise of his administration.
By Rich Trzupek
The Obama administration has spent three years and billions of tax dollars in efforts to jump start a “green energy” industry in the United States. The President says that “sustainable”, clean energy sources are the wave of the future, vital to America’s future security and the well-being of the entire planet. And yet, after all this time and all that money, all the administration has to show for those efforts are a series of spectacular failures that would make a less arrogant leader blush.
The Solyndra fiasco is the highest-profile of the President’s many green failures, but it’s hardly the only one. Barely a week goes by but that we learn of yet another government-funded “clean energy” boondoggle. Let’s consider a few examples.
Late last year, Beacon Power Company filed for bankruptcy protection. Beacon had previously received a $39 million government-guaranteed loan in order to fund research aimed at producing energy storage devices on an industrial scale. These kinds of “super batteries” are necessary solely to cover for the deficiencies and unreliability of solar and wind power.
Two weeks ago, Ener1 Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection. Ener1 develops lithium storage batteries for electric cars manufactured by a company called Think Holdings, AS, which in turn has a manufacturing company located in Elkhart, Indiana. Ener1 received over $130 million in stimulus funds, and a $480 million loan from the Energy Department, promising to deliver 1,400 jobs to Indiana, while Think Holdings would generate a further 415 jobs. To date, Enre1 has created 275 jobs, while Think Holdings is down to 2 people who guard a plant at which about 100 electric vehicles – most of them unfinished – sit idly in storage.
A year ago, Vice President Joe Biden hailed Ener1 as one of “100 Recovery Act projects changing America”. “A year and a half ago, this administration made a judgment,” he said at the time. “We decided it’s not sufficient to create new jobs—we have to create whole new industries.” Unfortunately for Ener1, the free market did not share the Vice President’s enthusiasm. Demand for expensive, short ranged, small electric cars has not materialized, and thus Ener1 has no market for its product.
Even the much-ballyhooed Chevy Volt has turned into a disaster. Fire hazards aside, there is simply no demand for the vehicle beyond some arms of government, a few corporations with cash to waste and rich, tree-hugging celebrities who can afford the luxury of pretentiousness. Chevrolet hoped to sell 10,000 Volts in 2011. Actual sales amounted to 7,671 units. GM has temporarily laid off 1,200 workers on the Volt production line and is considering slowing down production. A recent study concluded that real cost of Volt – when you consider all of the government subsidies involved in developing and building the car – is about $250,000 per unit. To borrow one of the environmental movement’s favorite terms, it’s hard to see how production of the Volt could ever be sustainable in the free market.
Ironically, these green disasters are being revealed at a time when more scientific data and opinions are turning against the global warming alarmism that has driven the administration to make foolish green investments. In an Op-Ed published in the Wall Street Journal, sixteen prominent scientists took a strong stand against the alarmists. The signatories included luminaries like Richard Lindzen, professor of atmospheric sciences, MIT; Rodney Nichols, former president and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences; Burt Rutan, aerospace engineer, designer of Voyager and SpaceShipOne; Harrison H. Schmitt, Apollo 17 astronaut and former U.S. senator. Among other things, the scientists said:
“Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now. This is known to the warming establishment, as one can see from the 2009 "Climategate" email of climate scientist Kevin Trenberth: "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't." But the warming is only missing if one believes computer models where so-called feedbacks involving water vapor and clouds greatly amplify the small effect of CO2.”
Then, a story in the Daily Mail pointed out the equally inconvenient fact that data published by the infamous Climate Unit at the University of East Anglia confirms that there has been no significant warming since 1997. The models that the IPCC rely upon predicted that average global temperatures should have climbed steadily over the last decade and a half. Why haven’t the predictions matched reality? Like many scientists, Dr Nicola Scafetta, of Duke University in North Carolina, believes that alarmists put too much emphasis on the role of greenhouse gases in the climate and not enough on solar activity. ‘If temperatures continue to stay flat or start to cool again, the divergence between the models and recorded data will eventually become so great that the whole scientific community will question the current theories,’ he said.
Yet, in spite of the ever-increasing body of evidence that “climate change” is a figment of a computer’s imagination, the Obama administration continues to pour money into companies whose sole reason for existence is to battle the non-existent problem. Imagine where we would be today if the President hadn’t wasted that money and had instead stayed out of the way of development of cheap reliable sources of domestic energy. We would be so much farther along the way to energy independence if we were tapping our vast reserves of coal and oil and bringing more energy down across the border from our friends in Canada. Sadly, the net effect of Obama’s energy policies has been to increase our dependence of foreign oil while doing nothing to secure our economic future.
By Rich Trzupek
As a chemist, it’s always disappointing to see how rampant chemiphobia is in the world today. Journalists, politicians and – above all – environmentalists exaggerate the risks associated with chemical on a regular basis. I don’t blame you non-scientific types out there for worrying about their dire warnings, but I do blame the fear-mongers for spreading such rot. Chemicals are a boon to modern existence, from today’s remarkably effective medicines to the wide variety of advanced polymers that make a world of products available and affordable. Yet, the very mention of the word “chemical” causes so many people today to quake in fear. They believe that chemicals must be dangerous poisons that are on the verge of wiping out life as we know it.
It’s simplistic and, from a scientist’s point of view incorrect, to attempt to divide the world into two classes of chemicals: those that are “safe” and those that are “unsafe”, or those that are “toxic” and those that are “non-toxic”. There are toxic doses, and when the harmful dose of a particular compound is exceptionally low we may highlight that relative danger by labeling it a poison. As a way of alerting people to the magnitude of the risk posed by substances that are toxic in low doses, this method of “branding” is quite useful. Unfortunately, the way we think about toxics and poisons today has been unduly influenced by organizations and individuals who are modern-day Luddites – opposed to industry, progress and prosperity. These organizations and individuals use the publics’ natural fear of the unknown to further their own agenda and, in that context, they have hijacked terms like “toxic” and “poison”, twisting their meanings until they have become almost meaningless.
This is a matter of concern for a couple of reasons. For one, it has the unfortunate effect of diluting the message when real, substantive risks are encountered. One cannot cry “wolf” time after time without the risk of causing a significant portion of one’s intended audience to tune out. Secondly, when these kinds of distortions do get traction the responses to the perceived threat are – as is the case in California and Maine – usually ill-considered, overly burdensome and liable to cause much more harm than the benefits promised.
The principle that Paracelsus established during the Renaissance still applies today: the dose makes the poison. Sodium and potassium are important electrolytes, for example. A person totally deprived of either cannot live. Yet, the ingestion of too much sodium or potassium can lead to sickness or death. One would be ill-advised sprinkle uranium on a hamburger, but our bodies naturally contain a tiny – but measurable – amount of uranium. The same goes for lead, mercury, arsenic and a variety of other elements; as just one example, selenium is rightly regarded as a highly toxic substance, but most organisms (including humans) have an absolute requirement for small amounts of selenium as an essential element for life.”
This is not to say that we should indiscriminately use elements like lead, mercury, arsenic and selenium with a complete disregard for the hazards associated with them. Rather, we should consider how chemicals are used, the benefits associated with using them and the nature of the risks associated with the application. Lead, for example, has proven to be a critical component in batteries for over one hundred years. The lead in your car’s battery presents no risk to you or your loved ones at all in the form that it is used. The upstream process of lead smelting is a necessary step in ultimately producing that battery and, if not properly controlled, lead smelting could result in the emissions of a significant quantity of lead vapor which could certainly cause harm to both humans and the environment. Accordingly, we have extensive regulatory structures in place to ensure that lead smelters are properly controlled, are maintained to keep control equipment in working order and face big penalties if they fail to do so.
Have all those efforts been successful? Undeniably. We are a healthier, longer-lived society today than we were when the first rules examining and limiting the public’s exposure to chemicals were established in the early seventies. After peaking in 1990, overall cancer mortality in America has dropped by eighteen per cent, from a rate of 215 deaths per 100,000 to 175 deaths per 100,000, according to the Center for Disease Control. It should also be noted that most of these cancer deaths occur in the oldest segment of the population. When we look at the fraction of the populace less than 50 years old, we find a steady decline in cancer mortality from 1975 to the present, from a rate of 30 deaths per 100,000 in to 18 deaths per 100,000, a drop of forty per cent.
We live in a remarkable era folks. Technological progress has raised the standard of living and the length of life throughout the globe more than any other era in human history. Chemistry has been a big part of that record, whether the environmental movement understands that or not.
Oft times, people who disagree with me accuse me of being “anti-environment”. Most of these folks seem to envision a sinister corporate sponsor who pays me to utter my “anti-environment” heresies, an accusation that never fails to amuse me, for it’s nothing more than more evidence of the simplistic world that these people live in. In their world, if someone disagrees with their vision then some villain must be paying that person to do so.
But the fact is that I’m not “anti-environment” at all. I am rather “anti-environmentalist”, which is quite a different thing. For the modern environmental movement in America has less and less to do about ecology, health and nature every year. The modern environmentalist has evolved into a fear monger of the sort that would make Professor Harold Hill blush.
The modern environmentalist is about messaging, not about science and certainly not about reality. The environmental movement in America is a “look at me!” experience, designed to establish moral superiority. Examples of the this phenomena abound, but a while ago Reason Magazine published their Top 5 Environmental Disasters That Never Happened, a list that’s hard to argue with. It’s such a good example of the Chicken Little mindset of these goofs that I feel compelled to share. So, without further ado, here’s the list, with my own (typically brilliant) comments on each non-event.
This was a big one ten years ago. Author Vandana Shiva published a book called “Stolen Harvest” in which she predicted that the introduction of genetically engineered food crops would lead to the extinction of those crops and consequent mass starvation. Her reasoning? Nothing really, except for the tired old environmentalist canard that anything man does must be bad. None-the-less environmentalists around the world latched on to her loony theories, providing a shot in the arm to farmers more than willing to sell gullible tree-huggers “organic foods” at premium prices.
The reality has been quite a bit different than Ms. Shiva’s apocalyptic visions. Rather than destroying crops, genetic engineering has vastly increased yields, enabling farmers to feed more of the world’s population. In addition, todays hybrids are more pest resistant, which decreases the amount of pesticides that farmers use. You would think enviro-heads would think that’s a good thing, but we’re hardly dealing with rational people here.
#4) The End of Bio-Diversity
This theory held that pollution and the production of man-made chemicals would result in mass extinctions of life forms throughout the planet. In 1970, S. Dillon Ripley, who was then head of the Smithsonian Institution, predicted that seventy to eighty per cent of all animal species would be extinct by the year 1995.
Estimates vary, but there are somewhere between 3 to 30 million animal species on planet earth today. Accordingly, Dillon predicted the extinction of between 2.1 million to 24 million species. Naturally, tree huggers everywhere dutifully wrung their hands in woe. The actual number of species that have gone extinct since 1970? Seven, which is pretty much consistent with natural attrition.
#3) Peak Oil
This one also goes back to the seventies and the first OPEC oil embargo. The idea was that there would come a time when oil supply could no longer keep up with demand. Once that happened, oil reserves would continue to dwindle until we inevitably ran out of the stuff. Back then, the environmentalist crowd confidently predicted that we’d run out of oil before the close of the twentieth century.
That, of course, never happened either. Today, proven oil reserves are larger than they have ever been and exploration continues to discover new, massive oil fields. Far from draining a very limited supply, the last forty years of our history suggests that we have hardly begun to scratch the surface of a vast pool of global petroleum reserves.
#2) Silent Spring
The book that started today’s environmental craze was Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”, published in the early sixties. Carson argued that the use of insecticides in general, and DDT in particular, would lead to the mass extinction of birds. There wasn’t any actual science to back up Ms. Carson’s claims (which were later and thoroughly debunked) but that didn’t stop governments around the world from discontinuing the use of DDT.
The result? About one million malaria deaths per year in the Third World – deaths that could have been avoided had Ms. Carson been ignored. Thankfully, the UN has recently (if quietly) taken steps to encourage the use of DDT once more.
#1) Malthusian Famine
The King of the Fear-Mongers is Paul Erlich, a biologist who – for some unfathomable reason – still has a job teaching our youth at Stanford University. In 1968 Erlich published a book called “The Population Bomb” in which he made this remarkable assertion: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”
Erlich urged the west to stop sending food to nations with big populations like China and India. We should keep that food for ourselves. Let me repeat that. The guy said that we should combat the inevitable famine he foresaw by following a policy that would have ensured it.
Fortunately, saner minds prevailed and the market responded to demand. Today, a greater proportion of the world’s population is better fed than in any time in recorded history. Birth rates continue to go down and, despite what the doom-sayers would have us believe, we are well on our way to a stable population. That’s reality, but then reality is the last thing the modern environmentalist wants to discuss.
Only in Illinois.
Well, maybe in California too, but then California is like another planet or something. In any case, it was reported that 77 of 177 Illinois lawmakers did not give out free scholarships to state universities in 2011. Hoo-ray! That means the percentage of Illinois lawmakers who are not in fact as dumb as a bag of hammers has risen to almost forty four per cent. Perhaps a rudimentary understanding of arithmetic may be next, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.
Allowing any politician, much less a politician in a state with as long and as spectacular a history of corruption as this one, to hand out free-rides to college like candy was never a good idea. Come on – we’re the state in which the residence of the chief executive has about an equal chance of referring to the Governor’s Mansion as it does the Big House. This should be a no-brainer.
And yet, there are still those who argue that Illinois lawmakers should be able to hand out free college tuition. There are typically two arguments used to support this point of view: 1) sometimes the scholarships actually end up in the hands of deserving candidates, and 2) who cares, the scholarships are “free”.
The first argument essentially distills itself down into the proposition that even blind squirrels find nuts every once and a while. True enough, as far as it goes, but hardly the foundation of an effective system. If Illinois lawmakers truly want to send more deserving, but underprivileged, kids to college every year then how about we take the process of making that happen out of the hands of Illinois lawmakers?
Surely there are some legislators who truly seek out deserving scholarship candidates whose parents were neither big campaign contributors nor whom exercise a great deal of clout. Let us accept that such legislators exist, even in our misbegotten state. Yet, do we have any evidence to suggest that such folks represent anything more than the very few exceptions who prove the rule?
If we want to get more poor, but deserving, kids to college, then let’s do it right. Let’s take that authority out of the hands of 177 people we have no reason to trust with that authority and put the decision-making process in the hands of people who have nothing to gain.
Like a lot of people, I have volunteered my time on scholarship committees for various philanthropic organizations. The question of who is donating cash to whose political war-chest not only did not come up in those meetings, it could not have possibly come up. Nobody cared. You can’t have the appearance of conflict of interest if there’s not a possibility of conflict of interest.
As for the second part of the argument, the idea that scholarships to state schools are “free” is part of the continuing mythology that anything government ultimately pays for doesn’t cost you or I a dime. That kind of thinking isn’t merely silly, it’s dangerous.
Somebody has to pay for the teachers, the facilities, the energy use, the supplies and all of the other many things that are necessary to run a modern-day institution of higher-learning. If that institution happens to be state-supported, then – by definition – a certain percentage of those costs are borne by the taxpayers of the state.
When one gives away the value of the education, and all of the costs inherent to providing same, to a student, then it should be obvious to the simplest of souls that the taxpayers of the state are on the hook for a proportionally larger sum of money.
In addition, when state-supported institutions of higher learning find that their revenues don’t match their outlays, they are forced to take action, by: raising tuition, and/or asking the taxpayers of the state to send them more bucks.
Does the ability of 177 lawmakers to distribute free-rides make or break the financial viability of state-supported universities? Of course not. Does that authority directly result in higher tax levies to support these entities? No. But when lawmakers are allowed to freely give away something as enormously valuable as a college education, it’s inevitable that doing so will both erode the financial viability of state-supported universities and contribute to an economic environment in which these institutions seek more taxpayer dollars.
Yet, ultimately, when Illinois legislators argue that they ought to maintain their authority to distribute these scholarships, they are really asking the citizens of Illinois to trust them. There’s nothing in their recent history that suggests we should remotely begin to do so. Instead of asking for more blind-faith on the part of Prairie State electorate, lawmakers ought to be seeking ways to restore the relationship that has been so badly eroded over the last decade.
As the great book tour continues, a number of people have asked me what question I get most often. The answer is easy, because there is one particular question that always seems to come up in interviews: do I think we should get rid of the EPA?
Most people seem to assume that I will answer in the affirmative, whether the interviewer is of a conservative or a liberal bent. And most seem surprised when I tell them no, we shouldn’t get rid of the EPA. We need an EPA.
At the most basic of levels, there are certain resources that we all share, like the air and water. It’s clearly within the purview of government to ensure that those resources are used in a responsible, equitable manner.
Furthermore the EPA functions to keep the playfield level, which is a matter of some importance on the industry side of things. Liberals and the mainstream media are in love with the stereotype of evil industrial types who can’t wait to poison a few thousand babies, but there is little truth in that anymore. The vast majority of people involved in industry – and I’ve dealt with hundreds of them over the course of my career – want to do the right thing.
Yet, while the vast majority of people on the industrial side care about doing the right thing, there is still those annoying few who would cut corners to squeeze out a few more pennies of profit. The EPA keeps these miscreants in line and that’s a good thing.
So if I’m in favor of the continued existence of the agency, why in the heck did I write a book bitching about it? Because, like so many other regulatory agencies, the EPA has gotten too damn big for its britches. We don’t need to get rid of it, but we – and by “we” I mean Congress – need to refocus the EPA and redefine its mission.
The air, water and soil in this country are far, far cleaner than they were when the EPA was first created in 1970. There is simply no comparison between the state of the environment today and that of forty years ago. When pressed, even officials with environmental groups like the Sierra Club will admit that, albeit oh-so-grudgingly.
But the Agency doesn’t behave like they are even aware of all of the spectacular environmental progress we have made over the last four decades. Indeed, they can’t. Maintaining their current levels of funding and prestige requires a “crisis”, even if none actually exists.
They aren’t that much different than environmental activists groups in that regard. The Sierra Clubs and NRDCs of the world have been reduced to searching for increasingly more meaningless and insignificant problems to “solve” in order to keep their all-important fund raising efforts going strong.
So, while we need an EPA, we don’t need an EPA whose reason for existence is existence itself. We don’t need an EPA that continues to move the goalposts farther and farther back in order to stay relevant.
Consider my particular field of expertise: air quality. The Clean Air Act gave the EPA the power to continually redefine what “clean air” is and the Agency continues to use this power to make sure it has something to do. Every time we meet an air quality goal, the Agency comes back and says that what used to be clean is now dirty. This particular nefarious game has reached epic proportions under the current administrations.
EPA officials will deny it of course, asserting that they set air quality standards based on the best scientific advice available. What they don’t tell you is that “the best scientific advice” consists of a committee of seven egg-heads whose research and academic relevance depends on perpetuating the myth that a little bit of nothing is infinitely risky.
Congress should amend the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act to reflect the reality of today’s environment. At the very least, Congress should take back the power to set air and water quality standards and they should require risk/benefit analyses of environmental regulations.
Those two small changes would have enormous benefits and would do much to rein in an agency that has gotten more and more out of control over the last few years. By all means we should have an EPA, but that doesn’t mean we have to keep handing the Agency a blank check.
By Rich Trzupek
So gentle readers, it’s 2012 at last. Welcome to the end of the world!
We must first take note of the fact that – as Douglas Adams of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame dutifully observed – the end of days is not only a time, but also a place. The space-time continuum is a very odd beast.
In any case, the doom supposedly associated with the current year mostly arises from what some people think they know about the Mayan calendar. According to them, ancient Mayans predicted that the end of the world this year.
That’s not exactly right. If we ignore for the moment the wisdom of placing our faith in the beliefs of ancient Mayans, there is still a problem with this particular view: the Mayan calendar doesn’t actually predict the end of the world in 2012.
The old Mayans believed that the world moved through a series of concentric cycles. Or, to put it more simply, the year 2012 does not represent the end of world to the Mayans, but rather the end of one age, and – necessarily – the beginning of another.
In this sense one cannot help but wonder if the Mayans were on to something. For, while we will not witness the end of the world in 2012, nor even the end of an age, it’s likely that this year will be one of the most pivotal in recent memory. The immediate future course of the world will – to a great extent – likely depend on what happens this year.
Converging, powerful forces are set on a collision course, both in this country and around the world. If you believe, as I do, in the innate goodness and wisdom of mankind, that’s a good thing. If you believe, as others do, that mankind is inherently selfish, cruel and corrupt, the prognosis isn’t quite so hopeful.
The climax of this pivotal year will come in November of course, when America will decide in which direction the ship of state will sail for the next few decades. Ideologically, there won’t be any of the fuzziness that characterized the 2008 election when Barack Obama ran as the supposed “centrist, unifying” candidate. That particular mask has long since been discarded and the President is all in with the left.
Now there’s no way that the President can run on his record. Even the most delusional of lefties has to admit that the nation is in worse shape in 2012 than it was in 2008. That means that the best spin liberals can put on the massive unemployment and continuing economic doldrums is the dubious proposition that the previous administration screwed up things worse than they ever anticipated and that – given just another four years – an infusion of extra-special, double-top-secret socialism will fix everything.
The David Axelrods of the world are way too savvy to believe that such a message will actually win his President a second term, no matter how big Obama’s war chest. The only chance that Obama has is to attack the Republican nominee to a degree that will rival the worst of the horrific, mud-slinging campaigns of the nineteenth century. This campaign will be very, very ugly.
If Obama wins a second term, then America will be set upon the socialist road without an exit ramp in site. At the very least, a second term for Barack Obama means that Obamacare will take root (absent a good Supreme Court decision) and once the federal government takes over that much of the economy, there’s no turning back.
To be sure, there are socialist countries that are quite happy with the system. Swedes are very happy to hand over more than sixty per cent of their income to the government for example, in exchange of a plethora of “free” services.
And that’s great, but for the fact that the one thing socialist nations don’t do – and have never done – is to defend the free peoples of the world. In modern times, that burden has fallen upon those nations that can afford the luxury of strength: the United Kingdom, France and, since the end of World War II, the United States of America. If we choose socialism, we’ll have enough money to keep our citizens fat and happy for a little while as the credit card bill mounts, but we sure won’t have enough to protect the free world, a burden we have assumed for these sixty some years.
Perhaps it’s time to surrender that responsibility, just as Britain did after that wonderful nation’s supreme effort in World War II. I’m not qualified to say. But, we should not fool ourselves: that is one the inevitable consequences of this election if we choose to re-elect this President.
Yet, this is kind of a pointless column to write in Illinois isn’t it? It’s a foregone conclusion that Barack Obama will win all of our state’s electoral votes. Alas, we have become a solidly blue state (and we are paying the price for that choice, by the by). The nation’s future will be decided by voters in a handful of voters in places like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Here’s hoping they make the right choice.