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Cheap Seats Online 2013

rich@examinerpublications.com

  www.threedonia.com

December 25, 2013 - That Time of Year

December 18, 2013 - Three Questions

December 11, 2013 - A Tale of Two Colonies

December 4, 2013 - Nuclear Iran

November 27, 2013 - Bad to Worse

November 20, 2013 - No column

November 13, 2013 - Period

November 6, 2013 - Risk Analysis

October 30, 2013 - Where Credit is Due

October 23, 2013 - No column

October 16, 2013 - Slimdown Blues

October 9, 2013 - Camping

October 2, 2013 - Your Change, Sir

September 25, 2013 - Travelogue

September 18, 2013 - No column

September 11, 2013 - The War on Coal

September 4, 2013 - Presidential Moments

August 28, 2013 - Po Motown

August 21, 2013 - A Prayer for Egypt

August 14, 2013 - No column

August 7, 2013 - Nothing to Prove

July 31, 2013 - New England (Part II)

July 24, 2013 - Responsibility

July 17, 2013 - New England (Part I)

July 10, 2013 - Nothing to See Here!

July 3, 2013 - History Lesson (Part 4)

June 26, 2013 - History Lesson (Part 3)

June 19, 2013 - History Lesson (Part 2)

June 12, 2013 - National Defense

June 5, 2013 - History Lesson (Part 1)

May 29, 2013 - The Stern Effect

May 22, 2013 - No column

May 15, 2013 - Accountability

May 8, 2013 - Reality vs. Perception

May 1, 2013 - A Departure

April 24, 3013 - Where’s the Outrage MSM?

April 17, 2013 - Reality Check

April 10, 2013 - Mayor Nanny Strikes Again

April 3, 2013 - Feeding on Their Own

March 27, 2013 - Another Time, Another Place

March 20, 2013 - No column

March 13, 2013 - No column

March 6, 3013 - Spraying to All Fields

February 27, 2013 - Unsustainable

February 20, 2013 - Mr. Trzupek Goes to Washington (Again)

February 13, 2013 - Fracking Ridiculous

February 6, 2013 - No column

January 30, 2013 - Little of This, Little of That

January 23, 2013 - Redemption

January 16, 2013 - Gore is a Whore

January 9, 2013 - Drowning In Red Ink

January 2, 2013 - Promised Land

That Time of Year

By Rich Trzupek

  You’ve surely seen the story. An atheist group slapped its message on a digital billboard in Times Square, asking the question: “Who needs Christ during Christmas?” and then providing the petulant answer: “Nobody”.

  The American Atheist organization apparently felt compelled to post its message in answer to an evangelical organization called Answers in Genesis who put up a billboard that read: “To all of our atheist friends: Thank God you’re wrong.”

  Note the difference in tone between the two messages. On the one hand we have pouty and mean, and on the other hand we have friendly and clever. Which is not to say that all atheists are pouty and mean. Indeed, some of my best friends…(etc.)

  But there is a particular brand of atheist who seems to revel in being put upon, perpetually taking offense and lashing out at believers with malignance. This time of year seems to bring that particular brand of atheist out of the woodwork.

  It’s unfortunate and unnecessary. As a practicing and believing Roman Catholic, I am saddened by our nation’s slow slide down the slippery slope of secularism, but the trend is clear. Less Americans identify themselves with organized religion every year and the Judeo-Christian heritage of which we were once so proud has somehow become a shameful burden to the modern way of thinking.

  Were I an atheist, I would look at the changes that have occurred in this nation over the last fifty years and say to myself: we’re winning! Or, at least, we’re on the way to winning. So, why all the petulance?

  But to answer American Atheist’s question, everybody needs Christ during Christmas. Yes, it’s very unlikely that Jesus was actually born on December 25. And yes, in choosing to celebrate the birth of Christ on that date, the church co-opted a very popular pagan celebration, that which marked the winter solstice. But it’s not the date nor the history that matters, it’s the idea.

  We Christians mark the birth of the Savior and the renewal of hope in the world, for everyone. We believe that Jesus is not our Savior alone, but everyone’s, believer and non-believer alike. Sometimes, some of us lose sight of that, but it’s part of the foundation of our faith. The door, so to speak, is always open.

  That particular part of the Christian message often gets lost and it did again in the flap over Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson’s remarks about homosexuality. For while Robertson expressed his belief that homosexuality is a sin, he also said that we’re all sinners and that, as Christians, it’s our duty to love our fellow sinners and God’s place to judge those sins.

  I don’t watch Duck Dynasty and I know very little about the Robertson clan. From what I understand, they are a very devout Christian family and the A&E network surely know that devout Christians generally (but not always) believe homosexual behavior to be sinful. I don’t know why Robertson’s remarks would in any way be a surprise.

  Personally, I believe what consenting adults do with their naughty bits is their business. I have better things to worry about than attempting to discern the Divine Will on the subject.

  All that said, if we live in a society where good people cannot express their personal beliefs without being condemned, we’re all in trouble. Once the thought police worm their way into culture to this extent, no one is safe, for what’s PC today will be condemned tomorrow.

  Agree or disagree with Robertson, but don’t tell him – or anyone – to shut up. And, most of all, listen to all of what the man said. We’re all sinners and we’re all looking to make this journey as best we can. That too is part of the Christmas message. So, as we say every year at this time, here’s wishing you peace on earth and good will to man.

  Merry Christmas

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Three Questions

By Rich Trzupek

  Mainstream media outlet CNN committed a rare (and refreshing) act of journalism earlier this month. Z. Byron Wolf penned a piece entitled “3 questions the Obama administration won’t answer about Obamacare” that ran on December 4. It’s a well-done, honest look at how the administration is desperately trying to manage the flow of information about the (un)Affordable Health Care Act.

  Wolf prefaces his three questions thus: “Here, in order from least to most alarming, is a look at three of the things we're pretty sure the Obama administration knows about the health law and is choosing not to share.”

  The three questions he poses are:

1) How many people are on the website?

2) How many people are signing up?

3) How broken is the back end?

  While question 1 is interesting, it’s not that important. Many observers suspect that the administration is over-inflating the number of visitors to the website, but even if the most optimistic numbers are true, visitors don’t matter. Signups matter.

   And that is where the wheels start to come off the train. Far fewer people have signed up for Obamacare than projected and, of those that have, the so-called “invincibles” – young, healthy folks needed to spread the load – have been staying away in droves. Organized “don’t sign up” movements have spontaneously broken out among the younger set and I can’t say that I blame them.

  Which leads us to the next problem the President doesn’t want to talk about: many of those that think they’ve signed up may not have signed up. Insurance companies are reporting that they are getting incomplete information, or none at all, because of the back end problems with the website.

  But what would you expect from a government run website? Healthcare.gov brings a new twist on the old adage “garbage in/garbage out”, since it appears that the way the site works it’s more appropriate to say “anything in/garbage out”.

  I understand the dilemma the administration faces and, to an extent, I can sympathize. The more failures they admit to, the less enrollment they are going to get. The less enrollment, the higher the costs are going to be for those enrollees who don’t qualify for the subsidies.

  And the costs are already kind of appalling. Premiums have shot up by unprecedented amounts. If you don’t qualify for the subsidies and go for the Obamacare bronze plan – the least coverage you’re allowed to get – your deductible will be $12,000. That’s nuts.

  During the debate about government run healthcare, honest proponents of the idea (and there were plenty of dishonest ones) would admit that there is a difference between being uninsured and not receiving healthcare. Those 30 million uninsured that we heard so much about back then got health care, through a combination of state-funded programs, charitable clinics and, most often, at the emergency room.

  There is, as honest proponents pointed out, something inherently inefficient and needlessly expensive about treating the uninsured common cold in the emergency room while the insured effectively picked up the tab. The promise of Obamacare was to eliminate the inefficiency and reduce the cost by utilizing the wise, benevolent guiding hand to government.

  Unfortunately for the President’s shrinking group of admirers, it hasn’t worked out that way. As flawed as the old system was, this is worse. As expensive as the old system was, this is costlier. As inequitable as the old system was, this an order of magnitude more unfair.

  And what’s particularly amazing about that last part is that Obamacare is pretty much unfair to everyone, from those who are forced to pay more for coverage they don’t want or need to the poor that this program was supposed to help who will be hurt most of all as costs continue to skyrocket and more and more medical professionals opt of the system.

  Avoiding talking about these and so many more uncomfortable issues is priority one for Team Obama right now and what they’re doing has become so obvious that even their cheerleaders in the press are starting to take notice.

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A Tale of Two Colonies

By Rich Trzupek

  As the colonial era wound down to an end in the late 20th century, there was a good deal of concern about what would become of the two richest ex-British colonies in Africa. As of the late seventies, Rhodesia was still under colonial rule and South Africa, though long independent, operated under the apartheid system that traced it roots to colonial days. Both nations were prosperous, even though access to a disproportionate amount of that prosperity was restricted to the white minority in both countries.

  The trick would be change the way each nation was governed, without upsetting the economic foundations of each. Rhodesia and South Africa were, and are, rich in natural resources and have great swaths of prime agricultural land. They have thus historically created a great deal of wealth in the mining and farming sectors of their economies.

  The simple solution to addressing economic inequities, both real and perceived, is also the worst solution: forced redistribution of privately-held wealth and resources. That is, and always been, a bad idea, not only for the wealthy who are the victims of government-mandated thievery, but for the poor who theoretically benefit from it.

  Inevitably, when thugs like Castro or Chavez steal from the rich to supposedly give to the poor, the consequences are disastrous for all. The rich tend to leave such nations, taking both their wealth and, more importantly, their ability to create wealth, to more friendly places.

  Some wealth will manage to slip through the fingers of the ruling elite, but never nearly so much as people expect. And, having no sense of its value, because it was bestowed rather than earned, a great many of the poor end up squandering this wealth in short order in any case.

  But, this was the course that strongman Robert Mugabe, who has being running the show in Rhodesia once it gained its independence in 1980 and renamed itself Zimbabwe, followed. His land reform program was a disaster, ruining his country’s agricultural sector, driving away badly-needed foreign capital and throwing his nation’s economy into chaos.

  Today, the average per capita income in Zimbabwe is $600 per year, unemployment is running at ninety-five per cent and over two thirds of the nation’s citizens live beneath the poverty line. Mugabe is a pariah on the world stage, a bitter racist, a homophobe and a thug. He was a bitter, angry man when he first came to power and, over forty years later, he remains as bitter and angry as ever, to the determent of his once-proud country and her people.

  South Africa might have met the same fate when apartheid ended in 1994. It probably would have, but for the courage and wisdom of one extraordinary man: Nelson Mandela.

  Mandela saw, quite clearly, that South African whites and blacks needed each other – would have to count on each other – if his country was going to continue to prosper in the post-apartheid era. He knew that seeking revenge over the inequities of the past by creating new inequities would benefit no one and thus he led South Africa through the dangerous first five years of this new experiment in shared rule, finding a path that combined equality and justice without resorting to kind of heavy-handed socialist tactics that Mugabe practiced.

  The results have been remarkable. South Africa remains that rarest of gems: a relatively prosperous African nation. The average household income of $11,600 per year is huge by Dark Continent standards and while unemployment, at twenty two per cent, would make Americans gasp, that’s not too shabby for that part of the world.

  It is all the more amazing that Mandela did what he did, when one considers what he had been through. After twenty-seven years of imprisonment, he had much more reason than Mugabe to be bitter and angry, but he never chose that route. He did his duty as he saw it and that was to serve all the people of South Africa, regardless of their color or their past sins.

  His was a remarkable life, one that will stand for the ages as a life lived in full and lived with honor. May he rest in peace.

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Nuclear Iran

By Rich Trzupek

  So, it appears Iran will become nuclear Iran in the relatively near future. President Obama’s Carteresque naiveté was on full display, making a deal that fooled nobody, least of all the mullahs who could hardly wait until the ink was dry to declare that the generous terms the administration agreed to were even more generous than United States’ officials claimed.

  The basis of the deal – such as it is – is that Iran agrees to keep only fuel grade uranium on hand for the next six months, as opposed to the more highly enriched weapons grade variety. In return, the west will ease up on the economic sanctions that have been pretty darn effective at hurting Iran’s economy and destabilizing its theocratic regime.

  Iran will not have to give up any of its nuclear production capability or equipment, which is disturbing enough, but that’s only one reason why this deal is more toothless than a hillbilly’s grandma.

  At its core, the deal rests on two or three faulty assumptions. One, it presumes that we can trust the mullahs to do what they say they are going to do, which, as we know from a long and painful history with theocratic Iran, we cannot.

  Two, the idea that Iran having only fuel grade uranium (even if they follow through on that commitment) will make the world a safer place is ludicrous. It’s a matter of a couple weeks processing to turn fuel grade uranium back into weapons grade stuff. Letting Iran keep uranium so long as its fuel grade is the functional equivalent of letting a serial killer have a shotgun, so long as he keeps the shells in a different room.

  The administration seems to recognize the flaws in the deal, at least at some level. In response to criticism from both parties, the President declared that a much better deal would be coming once this one expired in six months.

  Rrrrrrrright.

  Here’s the thing about economic sanctions: as difficult as they are to impose in the first place, they are damn-near impossible to re-impose once they have been lifted or relaxed. Our experiences with Saddam and the “oil for food” fiasco is ample proof of that. Once you crack that sanctions door, even a little bit, unscrupulous nations and companies will rush in.

  In Iraq’s case, once Saddam came up with the “oil for food” cover, countries like Russia and France were quick to take advantage of the golden opportunity. They got oil at fire sale prices, Saddam and his brood got billions with which to enjoy their lavish lifestyle, re-arm and suppress/murder the opposition. The Iraqi people, who were supposed to benefit from the scheme, got screwed.

  It will be the déjà vu all over again in Iran. The cover story is pretty much the same. In the name of supposedly “normalizing relations” and helping out the beleaguered Iranian people, the mullahs will get a chance to crawl out the economic hell-hole they are currently in. The beneficiaries will not be the Iranian people, but their captors.

  We can only pray that the ultimate victims will be the brave, plucky citizens of the only democracy in the whole of the Middle East: Israel. It is their neck on the chopping block more than anyone else’s. One never knows what is going on behind closed doors in foreign affairs of course, so we do not know how clear the Obama administration has made it to the mullahs that there would be hell to pay if they attacked Israel. Not sure that would actually dissuade the mullahs, but somebody high up in the administration sure as heck should be including that particular talking point in this newfound “dialogue”.

  And, it’s not just Israel. I have no doubt that the Saudis, Kuwatis and other Sunni states are apoplectic over this deal as well. Iran is no friend of theirs and a nuclear Iran is a nightmare none wants. It would not be surprising to learn that many of the Sunni states are hoping for, and perhaps secretly willing to support, an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear capability.

  Dangerous days are ahead my friends. Dangerous days indeed.

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Bad to Worse

By Rich Trzupek

  Visiting with my somewhat liberal niece – whom I dearly love – the other day, I chided her about the train wreck of Obamacare. (It’s something of a Trzupek family tradition to pour salt in open wounds whenever possible). Her response was a significant roll of the eyes followed by the exasperated question: “what is government doing designing a web-site anyway?”

  I let that question hang in the air, but had I answered it, the correct response would be: it’s doing exactly what you voted for. For, my niece along with the majority of the nation voted for an administration that not only believes it can design websites better than the private sector, but is sure that it can provide health care better than the private sector, run power plants better than the private sector, manage farms better than the private sector and do a bazillion other things better than the private sector by exercising the magic touch of something called “efficient government” (an oxymoron if there ever was one).

  The problem with Obamacare is not the website. The problem is Obamacare. A perfectly functioning website would not change the increasingly obvious fact that Obamacare is a deeply flawed scheme for income redistribution that makes healthcare less affordable for millions of hardworking Americans.

  The progressive elite don’t really have a problem with the above mission statement, but it wasn’t supposed to be quite so obvious quite so soon. Obamacare was supposed to make those shifts gradually, taking advantage of the public’s unfortunate flaw to forget about anything that happened more than seventy two hours ago. After a series of inevitable “fixes” that would erode away any vestiges of the old-fashioned private sector, we’d eventually end up at progressive health care nirvana: a single-payer system.

  Unfortunately for the progressive elite, their champion who was supposed to make all of this happen has proved to be spectacularly incompetent. And no Oprah, he’s not incompetent because of the color of skin, nor is he incompetent because of where he was born, or because of whatever version of God he does or does not believe in; Barack Obama is simply incompetent.

  Period.

  This should not be a surprise. A politician who never ran anything in the private sector and who never occupied an executive position in the public sector before assuming the ultimate position of leadership and power in the planet cannot be expected to be a resounding success.

  Heretofore, President Obama had at least excelled in one area: he has been a masterful politician. Thanks to his political acumen, Obama has managed to accumulate more power in the executive branch than any president since Lincoln, while his so-called progressive supporters – who would gnash their teeth and wail that the Constitution was being torn to shreds if the previous administration so much as misspelled a terrorist’s name on a federal warrant – have stood quietly by.

  However, the President has either convinced himself that he really is coated in Teflon®, politically speaking, or he is losing his touch. The decision to postpone 2015 enrollment in Obamacare until after the November 2014 elections is an unbelievably stupid move and I’ll go on the record here as predicting that Democrats will get hammered in 2014 unless they turn against the Affordable Care Act.

  In the first place, while I take a back seat to no one in my lack of faith in the average American voter to detect political shenanigans, the administration’s assurances that this move has absolutely nothing to with the election will fool no one this side of utter morons or extreme lefties, which – come to think of it – is really being redundant.

  Second, delaying the next round of pain will only hurt the President’s supporters. Think about it. The anticipation of getting a getting a shot is worse that than the shot itself. All the President has done with this bonehead move is to hand Republicans a marvelous issue on which to campaign.

  The pain of the first round of Obamacare will have hardly had a chance to settle into a dull ache (and that will include a great many more cancellations after employer requirements hit after the New Year) before candidates will start talking about round two. How bad will round two be? Here’s how Republican candidates are going to answer that question: Round two is going to be so bad that they won’t let you know how bad it’s going to be!

  Now, Democrats in safe districts don’t have to worry about anything, ever, as the election of a criminal like Jesse Jackson Jr. so amply demonstrated. But, in contested districts the looming tsunami of round two is to going to result in carnage for Democrats who are not wise enough to run as far away from Obamacare as fast as possible.

  Which leads to an interesting conundrum: will Obamacare die because the GOP wins a majority in both houses next year, or because Democrats promise to gut it in order to get elected?

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Period

By Rich Trzupek

  Unfortunately, we’re all pretty used to politicians playing fast and loose with the truth, so the undeniable fact that President Obama misled the nation about the effects of the Affordable Care Act should come as no surprise. It was the way did it that has upset a great many of his fellow citizens, including a fair number in his own party.

  There is something about a leader making a definitive statement and then, sometime later, doing exactly that he promised not to do that most of us find offensive.

  George H.W. Bush ran into effect when he famously challenged the American people to read his lips: there would be “no new taxes”. After Bush eventually signed onto a tax hike, that moment would come back to haunt him time and again during the 1992 election.

  It wasn’t as if Bush said that he didn’t think he’d raise taxes, or that he wouldn’t raise taxes unless x or y happened. He made an all-encompassing, definitive statement in such a manner as to dismiss any possible argument.

  Bill Clinton had his own moment of that sort when he wagged his finger at a TV camera and denied “having sex with that woman”. Which, thanks to Monica Lewinsky’s poor laundering habits, she was later able to prove that he kinda did.

  We now fast forward to President Obama selling Obamacare to America. One of the strongest criticisms of the Affordable Care Act was the idea that people would not be able to keep insurance plans they had before the act went into effect.

  Not true, the act’s supporters said. This nefarious rumor was pure propaganda created by evil Republicans who didn’t want people to have access to health care. The eternally lazy mainstream media, which might have sorted out the truth long ago, didn’t bother to do any more than repeat Democratic talking points about the issue.

  The act’s Cheerleader In Chief parroted the party line over and over and over (and over). One can view literally dozens of times when he said, as definitively as possible, that if you like your insurance plan, you can keep it. “Period”.

  That’s a period President Obama is surely regretting right about now. At first, Obama-apologists tried to repaint what had been said into a necessarily conditional promise. It wasn’t and few Americans are fool enough to believe such tripe. When you punctuate a promise with the word “period” any possibility of making the promise conditional disappears.

  Obama didn’t say “you can keep your insurance plan, but it won’t be exactly the same plan and you’ll probably have to pay more for the new plan”, which is of course what has happened to a great many people. Nor did he say “your plan may not exist any longer, which means that your insurance company may drop you and you’ll be forced into exchanges via the world’s crappiest website.”

  No, what the President said, ad naseum, was that you could keep your existing plan – period! Had he said anything else, there would have been even more opposition to Obamacare than there was and is.

  Some apologists have tried to dismiss the importance of this issue by saying that it “only” affects about 15 million people. Which is an odd way to looking at things. During the health care debate, we were told that 30 million people without insurance was a national disgrace, yet now these same folks want to dismiss 15 million people losing insurance they like and can afford as “only”.

  And while I think that the President may regret his choice of words in a political sense, I doubt that he personally regrets them. This is, after all, the signature achievement of his presidency, if we can use a word like “achievement” to describe this fiasco. I suspect that whatever he had to do to push this legislation though was justified in his mind. For this is a President for whom the ends always seems to justify the means.

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Risk Analysis

By Rich Trzupek

  We live in the Age of Fear. I don’t know what else to call it. Not all of us live within the boundaries of this unfortunate era, but a great many of us who are fortunate enough to call the more advanced and developed portions of our world home most certainly do.

  The average, economically-challenged, resident of Calcutta or Karachi or Lagos would shake their head in wonder at the sort of things that we – we who have been so blessed to live in times that bring us such prosperity and such comfort – choose to wring our hands over.

  We, who are fortunate enough to live in the developed nations, are so prosperous that we can afford to sponsor tremendously well-funded organizations whose sole purpose seems to be scaring the hell out of people in order to raise money.

  The focus of fear changes, depending on the organizations involved, but the basic themes are usually the same: something is putting your health and your children’s health in grave danger, some large organization (usually business, but sometimes government or a coalition of the two) is responsible and there is very little or no oversight over this particular danger.

  If the danger involves technical issues that are incomprehensible to the average person, so much the better. For then the messaging is simple: who are you going to trust: some greedy corporation or our public service organization that only exists to protect your interests? Obviously you, Mr. or Ms. Average American aren’t qualified to decide on your own.

  And so, every year, millions of Americans are duped by supposed do-gooders who shamelessly scare good people in order to get them to open their pocketbooks. It’s a marvelously effective, if despicable, way of raising money.

  It hasn’t taken the business world long to realize that there is a good deal of money to made in the private sector by using the tactics. Companies are falling over each other to create messaging that shows how their products protect you from dangers you didn’t even realize existed (most always because they don’t).

  Take all of those water filtration people, for example. The basic message pushed is: there is crap in your water and we’ll protect you by taking it out. Isn’t it worth your health – your children’s health – to invest a few dollars to ensure that your water is as clean as possible?

  The problem with that message is that one cannot deny that: 1) tap water does contain contaminants, and 2) water filtration products will remove contaminants. However, the filtered water will still contain contaminants. Less, to be sure, that was in the water to begin with, but you can never get to zero when removing pollutants from water, air or the soil.

  So the relevant question, with respect to your tap water, should be: are the levels of contaminants in my tap water anything to worry about? Or, put more crudely, if there’s a tiny amount of crap to begin with, does it make any sense to spend my hard-earned money to go from “tiny” to “itsy-bitsy”?

  In most parts of the nation, the answer is not only “no”, but “hell no”. American boasts one of the cleanest public water supply systems in the world and one of the best monitored. There are very few places where the small amount of contaminants present in tap water are not well below the exacting standards that were established with large safety measures built in.

  But you can never say “zero” and people – or at least non-scientific people – are not used to dealing with things like quantification and relative levels of risk. If somebody finds lead in drinking water, that’s all that most people will hear. Newspapers (and especially the paper that used to be the Chicago Tribune) will pump out sensationalist headlines warning readers that “toxic lead” infests their drinking water.

  The other side of a story like that – the important side – is rarely told and even less rarely believed by those determined to be frightened. Few mainstream news organizations would point out, for example, that the amount of lead was found in the parts per trillion levels, that today’s instruments are so sensitive that it’s possible to find some level lead in the purest water if you look hard enough, that those low levels don’t present any sort of health risk or that those levels are pretty much natural background.

  Obviously I’m creating a theoretical example here, simply to illustrate the principle. It applies across a whole spectrum of public safety “issues” that are blown out of all proportion by an unholy coalition of public interest organizations and unscrupulous companies. And I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

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Where Credit is Due

By Rich Trzupek

  It’s a mistake for Republicans to target Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for all of the problems with the Obamacare rollout. Doing so focuses attention on the failings of a single person and therefore serves as a distraction from the issue that should continue to be the real object of our attention: does it make sense to hand over control of one-sixth of our economy to the federal government?

  Sebelius is a placeholder, a career politician/bureaucrat who has been rewarded for her years of service and loyalty to her chosen party with a plum position in the current administration. There’s nothing in her resume that screams expertise in health or human services, much less a skillset that would enable her to oversee implementation of the most massive governmental program ever attempted.

  But there’s nothing unique there. Throughout history, the vast majority of cabinet-level appointees have been marginally-qualified – at best – for the positions with which they are entrusted, no matter which party is in charge. They may mean well and I suspect the vast majority of them do, but good intentions have nothing to do with qualifications, experience or effectiveness.

  One of the basic, if undeclared, principles of Obamacare is that we would hereafter entrust management of our healthcare system to lifelong politicians/bureaucrats like Sebelius. The problems is therefore not Sebelius, it’s a program that depends on someone in Sebelius’ position.

  Let us all agree that the healthcare issue is a tough one to solve. The basic problem is that there are certain number of people who can afford insurance and there are certain number of people who cannot.

  B.O. (Before Obamacare), the insured paid for the uninsured in the form of higher premiums and higher taxes. It’s inaccurate to say that the uninsured didn’t have access to healthcare B.O. They most certainly did. At a minimum, they had access to healthcare through the emergency room at any hospital, and – in many states – through clinics and subsidized programs that the insured and higher-income taxpayers effectively paid for.

  A.O. (After Obamacare), this inequity is supposed to go away. Everyone will be forced to be part of the insurance pool, distributing the load more equitably and the US Government will manage the system to ensure that everyone gets a fair shake. That was, at least, the theory.

  Like many a good intentioned idea, there are some problems with that theory. According to the Supreme Court, the government can’t require everyone to purchase health care insurance. But the government can tax people who choose not to purchase insurance, a tax that is currently set at the rate of $750/year.

  The problem here is that $750/year is far less expensive than the cost of an actual insurance policy. Part of the way insurance is supposed to work is that low risk groups – like the young and healthy – are supposed to absorb some of the risk associated with higher risk old folks like me.

  But, why in the world would any healthy young person choose to pay $2,000 - $3,000 per year for insurance when they can pay a $750 tax and, should they actually need insurance, just jump into the pool when they have to, since pre-existing conditions can’t keep them out? There’s nothing about Obamacare that provides incentives to young, low-risk people to participate and help spread the load. Without young, low-risk people spreading the load, it’s unlikely that the full implementation of Obamacare will do anything to reduce spiraling healthcare costs.

  The bigger problem with Obamacare, however, is the who’s running it part. I take a back seat to none of my fellow libertarians/conservatives in my lack of confidence to do anything efficiently or cost-effectively. Give me greedy insurance companies instead of incompetent bureaucrats any day.

  The identity of the person on the top of the stinking heap of government-run healthcare doesn’t matter. Blaming Sebelius misses the point. It’s not the person that’s the problem, it’s the entire stupid idea.

  Blech.

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Slimdown Blues

By Rich Trzupek

  The problem with prophesizing doom is that when doom does not occur, the credibility of the prophet is drastically reduced. Or it should be anyway. Certain doomsday cults have a way of attracting followers no matter how many times predicted catastrophes fail to materialize.

  The partial federal government shutdown – or “slimdown” if you will – is a case in point. Prior to the slimdown, handwringers galore amongst politicians and pundits bemoaned all of the terrible things that would happen if the government were not fully-funded. Markets would crash, the world-wide economy would suffer, our enemies would rise up, cats would be sleeping with dogs, etc.

  None of these disasters have occurred of course. The country and the nation manages to chug along with the economy no more nor no less sluggish than has been the norm for the last few years.

  It is unfortunate, unnecessary and a bit annoying that national parks and monuments have been closed, but we can live without them for a little while. Federal workers get a bit of an unscheduled vacation, which might create some temporary cash-flow problems, but they’ll ultimately get their back pay once Democrats and Republicans strike a deal.

  And a deal will be struck, not because the slimdown is a big honking deal, but rather because authorizing an increase in the debt ceiling is. Failure to do so would have disastrous consequences, not just for the United States, but for the world. Both sides, I am sure, understand that and when it’s time to end the posturing, it’s the debt ceiling vote that will force both sides to figure out a deal.

  Now I would not be the first to observe that this episode goes to show how many supposedly vital services that government provides turn out to be not quite so necessary after all. An archaic term of which I am particularly fond applies in this case: “frippery”.

  There is much frippery in government, but that’s not really the long-term problem from an economic point of view. The real problem are the two bloated entitlement programs – Medicare and Social Security – that neither Republicans nor Democrats have had the courage to fix. Those two (unaffected by the slimdown, by the by) make up the vast majority of our long-term debt, a debt which has more than doubled since then-Senator Barack Obama voted against increasing the debt ceiling under George W. Bush, saying it was irresponsible and “unpatriotic” to so burden future generations of Americans.

  Unfortunately, Americans have a long and often undistinguished history of not addressing looming problems until they slap us in the face. I am sure this will be the case when it comes to the outrageous spending habits of our government.

  If you advocates of responsible spending and small government out there – whether you call yourselves Tea-Partiers, or libertarians, or conservatives, or kumquats – are looking for something to take heart in about the current mess, it should be this: your message is being heard.

  That is not to say that your message will be acted upon anytime soon. Under our system, that’s not the way it works. The majority of the voters – some knowingly and some unwittingly – have chosen to support big government and more reckless spending. People who support small government and limited spending are not going to change their minds. Circumstances will.

  For it has always been circumstances that have forced the nation to confront the big problems it didn’t want to confront. The fine rhetoric of abolitionists didn’t end slavery; the Civil War did. A desire to battle fascism didn’t bring the United States into World War II; Pearl Harbor did. Segregation didn’t end because of what people said; it ended because of what people did in places like Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham. Great issues inevitably come to head. In the nature of things, they must.

  What we say now may or may not influence the speed at which a day of reckoning approaches, but it’s still important to say it, because people will remember. No, your ideological opponents on the left will never, ever admit they were wrong no matter how bad the crisis. But, that vast amorphous mass in the middle – the independents – will remember your message when the time comes.

  And that’s why this battle matters. Not because we’re going to get rid of Obamacare, or Big Government, or reckless spending today, but because there will come a time when we’ll be forced to deal with them and your message, repeated as often as you can, will help ensure that we do so in the right way.

  Blech.

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Camping

By Rich Trzupek

  Part of the price that my bride pays for making me endure the horrors of camping (and, I might add, a very small price, considering) is to let me bitch about enduring the horrors of camping.

  This is also known as “therapy”.

  First of all, I have learned that a Honda Insight (Honda’s version of the Prius) was not designed with the horrors of camping in mind. Further, the designers surely did not anticipate that, in addition to the all and sundry items necessary to endure the horrors of camping, someone would also stuff two adults and two collies into the vehicle. All that was missing as we trundled down the road was the happy piping of a calliope and the sweet smell of elephant dung.

  When we arrived at the campsite and opened the doors, everything exploded out of the car in a scene not unlike the stateroom scene in “Night at the Opera”. I believe I landed three campsites over after the explosion took place.

  (If you’re wondering what the heck am I – of all people – doing owning and hybrid, well it has nothing to do with saving the planet, which take care of herself quite well thank you, but it has everything to do with being a cheap Polack. Forty five miles per gallon are not to be sneered at.)

  Secondly, I learned that tents – or at least some of the people who make tents – are deceitful, dishonorable rogues. The social contract demands that each party to an agreement fulfill some minimum conditions. At some point in time (prior to our union) Cheryl plunked down money in good faith for this tent. In return, I would expect that the tent contribute a certain skill set that enhances our camping lives.

  Now I don’t expect a lot from a tent. I don’t expect a tent to protect me from a marauding grizzly bear or ax murderer. I don’t expect that a tent will deflect an asteroid crashing to the earth or a pick-up driven by some drunken redneck careening through our campsite. Should I be killed or maimed in any accident of this type, I would not hold the tent manufacturer responsible.

  However, I had believed that part of a tent’s core responsibilities was to protect me from rain; the tent’s very reason for being, if you will. I was mistaken. As the rain slowly began to fill our tent in Titanic-like fashion Saturday night, Cheryl looked forlorn and said: “We should have water-proofed the tent!”

  Really? Really! Tents have to water-proofed?? It seems to me that being water-proof is kind of a tent’s job. Raincoat, umbrella, car roof and other devices that we pay to protect us from rain are able to do so with little or no help from us, on a consistent basis. They don’t require intervention. They fulfill their part of the social contract, without complaint or excuse. How is that tent – which we count on more than any of the above – gets away with such slovenly behavior?

  As far as I can tell, the only thing that tent can be counted on to do is to protect me from the wind. This is a job that can be handled just as well by sweater or jacket, NEITHER OF WHICH REQUIRES ASSEMBLY!

  The basic problem is that the tent people chose Nylon – one of the very few porous plastics – as their working material. Cripes, there are guys driving down the Dan Ryan right now who have been motoring along for years with sheets of Visquine duct taped to the hole where their side window had been and never, ever has a drop of water gotten into their vehicle. Do we need to put the tent people in touch with the baddest part of town in order to fix the tent problem?

  Frankly, I smell a conspiracy between the tent people and the water-repellant spray people here. And don’t even get me started on how the water-repellant stuff isn’t actually “water-repellant”, but is rather “somewhat less than kindly disposed toward water, until it gets exposed to too much water, in which case it ceases doing its job until you buy more of the stuff”.

  But then, it’s all part of the indescribable horrors of camping.

  Blech.

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Your Change, Sir

By Rich Trzupek

  The fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has hit the streets, and it contains some remarkable revelations. Turns out that, contrary to previous reports, planet Earth’s mean temperature is not directly tied to the concentration of one, relatively weak, greenhouse gas (that’s carbon dioxide to you and me folks) floating around in the atmosphere.

  Instead, it appears that there are other forces that serve influence the planet’s climate, forces that are – for the most part – well beyond our control. Volcanoes can pump particulate matter into the air, for example, a phenomenon that will lower global temperatures by dissipating sunlight.

  The planet’s oceans, and in particular the massive Pacific Ocean, can serve as enormous heat sinks, effectively modulating any natural temperature variations. And, perhaps most importantly, the ultimate source of our day to day temperature fluctuations, the sun itself, can undergo its own fluctuations, changes that can influence our day to day lives far more than the flickers associated with burning carbonaceous compounds in order to generate heat and power.

  All of these facts, facts that skeptics like yours truly have been trumpeting for years, are contained in the latest IPCC report, although we are still asked to believe that none of these other climatic influences matters near as much as the amount of carbon dioxide that mankind adds to the atmosphere.

  Doomsday is still on the way, according to the IPCC, its arrival has just been delayed a bit by a particularly meddlesome ma nature. But, we must not waver in our confidence that ruination is just around the corner.

  We are supposed to forget, apparently, the degree to which the prophets of doom were equally confident thirty some years ago when they asserted that unless we kicked the fossil fuel habit the world would face disaster early in the twenty first century.

  Well, here we are, early in the twenty first century and the global climate isn’t markedly different from the end of the twentieth. The “hockey stick” has given way to a broom stick, lying placidly flat atop temperature records for the last fifteen years.

  In just about any other realm of human existence, being this dramatically wrong would be reason to dismiss the authors of such errors as unreliable quacks, unfit to participate in public policy discussions in any meaningful way. In the crazy world of climate activism, much like it’s sister discipline of environmental activism, there is little difference between seeing one’s predictions come true and finding them go spectacularly awry.

  There is no wrong in climate activism, there is only the message – a message that must be pushed irresistibly, without regard for questions, contrary evidence or honest skepticism. Unsettling facts must not get in the way of “settled science”.

  In a world where a fellow like Paul Erlich, who – in my humble opinion anyway – has been more tremendously wrong about more doomsday predictions than anyone this side of end-of-the-world religious cults, can not only remain gainfully employed in academia but win awards for his work as well, it’s hardly surprising that a Michael Mann retains both the respect and admiration of the climate-change community.

  There cannot be accountability in a world where evidence is irrelevant, at least in so far as such evidence tends to undermine ones pet theorem. If you disagree with the norm and say that climate science is not “settled”, then the climate change crowd promptly labels you a Neanderthal who no doubt believes in a flat earth and the philosopher’s stone. Of course the science is settled! What more evidence does one need?!

  On the other hand, if you have the temerity to question Michael Mann’s assertion that he has no obligation to demonstrate that his version of climate science matches what happens in the real-world, you’ll be told that proofs are for mathematics alone and only a blockhead would demand anything of the sort when it comes to global climate.

  Climate science is thus both solid and liquid at the same time, although uniquely neither, a neat sort of trick that reminds one of the Trinity in Christian doctrine. This should not be surprising, given the many parallels between environmental/climate activism and matters of faith.

  We peasants are no more qualified to understand the subtle nuances of climate science than the serfs of medieval Europe were qualified to understand the mysterious motions of the heavens. And so we are told to put our faith in the modern day version of the Papal astronomer and to never, ever question the word of the educated elite, for to do so would be heresy, a sin that has the most heinous of consequences.

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Travelogue

By Rich Trzupek

  Just got back from a week in Qatar (that’s pronounced “cutter” by the locals, by the by) and am dutifully recording my impressions to share with you, dear readers.

  Veteran residents of the Cheap Seats will recall that my previous extended Middle East duty involved the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a nation that left me less than favorably impressed.  I am happy to report that Qatar is, by contrast, a pleasant place to visit and/or work.

  The nation has been described as “Middle East-lite” by some cynics who seem to believe that the absence of threats of random car-bombings and religious oppression somehow detracts from one’s travel experience in this part of the world.

  I would counter that Qatar is “Middle East-right”, for the ancient Arab tradition of extending gracious hospitality to visitors is alive and well in this happy land. When I was working in Saudi Arabia, native Saudis were so-often surly toward westerners that meeting a friendly sort stood out. In Qatar it’s much the opposite: there are so many good eggs that it’s the rotten ones that catch your surprised attention.

  If a moderate version of the modern Islamic state can co-exist with western-style secular institutions and Judeo-Christian tradition, then Qatar is surely a model for how that can work. Women dressed in the traditional abaya (black robe) and hijab (head scarf) share the streets with women clad in western garb. A foreigner can even find a place to have a drink in Qatar, though – in keeping with Islamic teachings – native Qataris may not imbibe.

  This sensible state of affairs, in which both east and west are tolerated, owes its existence primarily to one man: the recently retired Emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Hamad ousted the previous Emir, who also happened to be his father, in a bloodless coup in 1995. He immediately set about doing what his father had resisted: building closer ties to the west and bringing his nation into the modern world.

  Hamad brought in experts from Japan to help Qatar figure out how to best tap into its recently discovered, vast natural gas reserves. Partnerships between Qatar and experienced energy companies enabled that nation to rapidly build up the infrastructure necessary to extract its natural gas and to send it to market in an energy-hungry world.

  The return on investment was both amazingly quick and remarkably robust. Depending on what source you believe, Qatar is either the highest income nation in the world, in terms of per-capita income, or is merely number three.  Either way, fortunes have been made and will continue to be made in this small peninsula in the Persian Gulf.

  Qatar has its issues, to be sure. For roughly half the year it’s about as hot and humid as anyplace on planet Earth. Temperatures up to one hundred twenty degrees are not unusual in summer months, and when you combine that kind of heat with ninety-five per cent humidity, the misery of being outdoors for even a short time is hard to fathom until experienced.

  The nation is roughly the size of Connecticut and the vast majority of its residential and commercial resources are concentrated in the capital city of Doha. Like many a growing metropolis before it, Doha has had its growing pains. Traffic, particularly during rush-hours, is horrific. Parking opportunities range from “abysmal” to “wishful thinking” in the city center. The current airport, slogging along while the authorities sorts out continuing problems with its “due to open soon” replacement, isn’t worthy of middling size town in Wisconsin, much less the modern center of a growing nation.

  But, money solves a whole lot of problems and Qatar won’t be hurting for cash anytime soon. If the nation can continue on the moderate, sensible path that they have been following for the better part of the last two decades, Qatar may not only solve its own remaining problems, it will show its more troubled neighbors how to fix theirs as well.

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By Rich Trzupek

  Five years into the Great War on Coal, here’s where we are:

  1) Coal is clearly losing. Tens of thousands of megawatts of coal-fired electrical generation capacity have been retired and tens of thousands of megawatts more will be retired in the next few years.

  2) In this odd war, the losers (the coal industry) are more than willing to admit defeat, while the victors (the enviro-left) are oddly reluctant to declare victory. The latter are clearly getting what they said they want – massive reductions in the use of coal in America and equally massive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in this country – but they continue to act as though nothing has changed.

  3) We’re nearing the point where we’re maxed out on wind power. You can reliably generate about 20% of your power needs using wind, simply because wind is an unreliable power source and you can’t maintain a stable power grid when an unreliable power source takes up much more than 20% of the load.

  This particular point will be disputed by the enviro-left, whose official TV spokesperson is a little girl running around on the beach, patiently explaining to us how simple it is to run a power grid. A little sun, a little wind – poof! You’re done. If only science were that simple.

  Back here in the real world, electric system operators struggle to get wind power onto the grid every day. They know they have to, but it’s a royal pain in the rear figuring out ways to make it happen. There’s the unreliability problem for one. And, for two, there’s the scientific fact that the wind blows the hardest when temperatures change most drastically around dawn and dusk. But, electrical demand is typically the highest during the middle of the day, when winds are usually more stagnant.

  4) Renewable fuels could, and should, fill in some of the energy gap that we have artificially created by declaring war on coal, but there’s a problem with renewable fuels: the enviro-left is afraid of fire.

  Seriously. Not kidding – not even a little bit. President Obama’s EPA came up with extensive new rules designed to ensure that renewable, plant-based fuels (called “biomass” in my business) can be legally burned to generate energy. Guess who’s opposing those rules in court? It’s not Big Oil. It’s not Big Coal. It’s not anyone on the right. It’s the greenies, who fervently believe that we shouldn’t burn anything, ever. Whether they are also opposed to the wheel has not yet been documented, at least to my knowledge.

  5) At the same time, newly-accessible supplies of natural gas continue to replace coal-fired generation at a cost that – thanks to American ingenuity – is surprisingly low. One of the technologies used to access those natural gas supplies, commonly known as “fracking”, short for “hydro-fracturing”, is a very old, very established technology.

  Two of the other key technologies used to tap into our immense natural gas supplies are – well let’s not say “newer” technologies – but have been made much less expensive and much more effective in the last decade or so. These are horizontal drilling techniques, necessary to economically recover natural gas from deep, thin and tight shale formations; and remote sensing technologies, necessary to figuring out where to drill in the first place.

  The Mainstream Media, enviro-groups and the Matt Damons of the world are either too dopey to understand or choose to remain willfully ignorant of the nuances of our energy challenges and opportunities. Either way, the world is swiftly passing them by, though they don’t demonstrate the slightest awareness that it’s happening.

  What’s to come is anybody’s guess. We can only hope that ingenuity and science rules the day, rather than superstition and irrational fear.

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By Rich Trzupek

  We will take a brief break from our weekly mission of annoying our liberal friends in order to annoy our conservative friends instead. Or rather a portion of that group anyway.

  There can be no more difficult decision that a President makes than that to send serving members of the military in harm’s way. As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, President Obama has been presented with this painful responsibility and, in my not-so-humble opinion, has made the correct choice.

  As I wrote a few weeks ago, the Syrian Civil War is a conflict that one would wish both sides could lose. Bashar al-Assad has proven to be every bit the brutal, petty tyrant that his father was. Moreover, he’s receiving substantial support from Iran and their puppets in Hezbollah.

  On the other hand, Assad’s opponents includes a significant percentage of fanatic Islamists who would turn Syria into a fundamentalist Muslim theocracy given half a chance. This is a war between blech and more blech.

  However, there are now principles involved that transcend the ends that each undesirable side desires. While it was proper and prudent to sit on the sidelines while the opposing factions bled each other dry, once one side or the other broke the rules of civilized warfare (the latter two words being the very definition of “oxymoron” if there ever was one) it is the clear duty of the most powerful nation on earth to step in and say “this behavior is unacceptable”.

  By resorting to the use of chemical weapons Assad has abandoned any tenuous claims that he may have retained to be the legitimate leader of a nation defending itself from insurgents. Thugs use chemical weapons and, like all bullies, thugs need to put in their place. Not only in the name of justice, but as importantly, to make sure that other thugs operating on the world stage understand that such behavior will never, ever be tolerated.

  It’s unfortunate that our British cousins chose not to join us in suppressing Assad, but – sadly – not all that surprising. I love the British, with all of the unreserved admiration that any historically-minded American could have for that plucky island nation, but Britain today is a nation in repose. It’s as if that magnificent, valiant effort during World War II took all the energy out of them and all they care to do these days is sit on the couch, kick up their feet and watch the telly.

  Certain snarky Republicans (and some Dems as well) have taken much delight in chastising President Obama for his decision to act unilaterally in this case, since candidate Obama criticized his predecessor for making foreign policy decisions without the approval of our allies. Screw that noise. I applaud the President for putting the interests of the world and our nation ahead of dopey campaign talking points. That doesn’t mean that I regret that he felt obligated to resort to such talking points, but rather that I respect the man for making the right choice now.

  I’m also OK with the President seeking Congressional approval before taking action against Assad. It’s not necessary – and the President clearly knows it’s not necessary – but, given the political climate in Washington, it’s both an understandable and prudent move.

  The Rand Pauls of the world will certainly oppose the proposal, which is fine. As much as I like Rand Paul’s thinking in a number of policy areas, he’s followed his father down the isolationist road, a path that ultimately leads to less secure, infinitely more unstable world.

  As of this writing the vote to authorize the use of military force in Syria is said to be a 50-50 proposition. I’m no Beltway Guru, but I suspect that both houses of Congress will ultimately vote with the administration. And, if they don’t, I’d be willing to bet that the President will do what needs to be done anyway.

  Finally, and most importantly, if future events shake out as I suspect they will, let’s all take a moment once again to thank and pray for our men and women in uniform who will be charged with carrying out this mission. They are the best of us and no amount of gratitude could possibly be enough.

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By Rich Trzupek

  Is there another city in the world that has fallen as far and as fast as Detroit? Outside of Troy after Achilles and Odysseus hit the beach that is.

  In its heyday, Detroit was one of America’s greatest and richest cities, an industrial powerhouse, the very embodiment of the Arsenal of Democracy that won World War II. Today, Detroit is a smoking hulk of a city, depopulated and depressed.- as much of a ruin as the German cities that United Army Air Force B-24 heavy bombers built in Ford’s massive Willow Run plant helped to destroy over sixty years ago.

  There are many reasons for Detroit’s decline, but a great many of them are related to the hoary combination of union culture and liberal, Democratic public policies that have defined Motown for decades.

  When one criticizes “union culture”, union members frequently interpret that as a criticism of themselves. I think it’s important to distinguish between average union members, who are generally reasonable and well-intentioned folks, and the leadership elements in unions like the UAW, which are entirely different beasts.

  Too often union leadership is much more about preserving their own importance and authority – and justifying those hefty dues as well – than they are about actually working in the best interests of their members.

  One of my first experiences with the UAW dates back to the mid-nineties, when the American automotive industry was still chugging along tolerably well, if not exactly the powerhouse it once was.

  As an environmental consultant, I was called in by one of the Big Three (and I’ll avoid naming exactly which out of privacy concerns) to address an issue that has been of some concern to UAW local: sand particles in the air.

  In the water treatment world, sand filtration is a commonly-used technique. Sand filtration is just what it sounds like: you run dirty water through a pile of clean sand and the sand removes a bunch of the contaminants in the water. It mimics, on a smaller scale, what happens when rain water filters through layers of earth before collecting in an aquifer before we withdraw the water through a well.

  The “problem” at this plant, such as it was, involved opening bags of sand and dumping the contents into the filter apparatus. When a worker did so, some sand particles swirled up into the air, irritating the worker’s airways.

  At this point, I’m guessing that ninety-five per cent of you readers have figured out the solution to this problem, which qualifies you too to be a big-time environmental consultant. But, let’s move on with the story.

  UAW leadership, gravely concerned, demanded that management find a solution, in accordance with the procedures that management had agreed to in the last contract. These procedures included, among other things, forming a task force that consisted of about ten union members and ten management members, who jointly agreed to hire a professional consultant to advise them – a.k.a.: your humble correspondent.

  That decision led me to Motown, where I sat down in a rather surreal meeting of this massive task force and listened, with appropriately grave concern, as management and union discussed the issue in exacerbating, unnecessary detail for hour upon hour.

  When the time was right, and as gently as possible, I offered my professional consultant’s advice: workers needed to wear dust masks when they were topping off the sand filters. Amazing, I know. Who woulda thunk?

  I doubt that there was more than one or two people in that room who were not aware that this simple, common-sense solution was the obvious fix. But it was equally clear that nobody in that room believed that the politically-correct definition of union/management harmony then in vogue prevented either from making the obvious decision and moving on to more important problems. Indeed, many appeared disappointed that I had not advised them to pursue a massive, impressive-sounding, expensive study to further narrow down the problem, as many of my colleagues in the consulting industry routinely do in these situations.

  The particularly depressing part of this story for me was how readily both management and labor accepted this deeply stupid, counter-productive behavior. If they were perfectly willing to toss away several thousand dollars on a consultant they didn’t actually need over an issue this tiny, how may millions might they being throwing away when more is at stake?

  Twenty-some years later, I have my answer. Detroit threw money away like a drunken gambler in Vegas and, sad as it is to say, that once-great city is now paying the price for its years of folly.

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By Rich Trzupek

  This Sunday Fr. John Cusick of Old St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Chicago visited my parish and I was privileged to attend a mass that Fr. John presided over. He began the service in a most striking way, reading the congregation a letter from a nun serving in Egypt in which she recounted the danger that moderates of all faiths, and Christians in particular, face during the current upheaval.

  Many (not all) in the mainstream media have attempted to cast the violence in Egypt as a battle between pro-democracy, grass-roots forces who are understandably angry at having their democratically elected leader (Morsi) deposed  and a military cabal that jealously guards its power.

  That's not at all accurate. As I noted a few weeks ago, the Egyptian conflict involves intolerant religious fanatics on one side and moderates who believe in secular, western-style government on the other, with the military siding with the latter.

  Christians are among those who have been caught in the crossfire. The fanatics have made them a target as the situation in Egypt continues to deteriorate. According to the latest reports, more than sixty five Christian churches have been torched since the violence began. The following excerpt from an Associated Press story gives you a sense of what has been going on:

  “Sister Manal is the principal of the Franciscan school in Bani Suef. She was having breakfast with two visiting nuns when news broke of the clearance of the two sit-in camps by police, killing hundreds. In an ordeal that lasted about six hours, she, sisters Abeer and Demiana and a handful of school employees saw a mob break into the school through the wall and windows, loot its contents, knock off the cross on the street gate and replace it with a black banner resembling the flag of al-Qaida.

  By the time the Islamists ordered them out, fire was raging at every corner of the 115-year-old main building and two recent additions. Money saved for a new school was gone, said Manal, and every computer, projector, desk and chair was hauled away. Frantic SOS calls to the police, including senior officers with children at the school, produced promises of quick response but no one came.

  The Islamists gave her just enough time to grab some clothes.

  In an hourlong telephone interview with The Associated Press, Manal, 47, recounted her ordeal while trapped at the school with others as the fire raged in the ground floor and a battle between police and Islamists went on out on the street. At times she was overwhelmed by the toxic fumes from the fire in the library or the whiffs of tears gas used by the police outside.

  Sister Manal recalled being told a week earlier by the policeman father of one pupil that her school was targeted by hard-line Islamists convinced that it was giving an inappropriate education to Muslim children. She paid no attention, comfortable in the belief that a school that had an equal number of Muslim and Christian pupils could not be targeted by Muslim extremists. She was wrong.

  The school has a high-profile location. It is across the road from the main railway station and adjacent to a busy bus terminal that in recent weeks attracted a large number of Islamists headed to Cairo to join the larger of two sit-in camps by Morsi's supporters. The area of the school is also in one of Bani Suef's main bastions of Islamists from Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salafis.

  "We are nuns. We rely on God and the angels to protect us," she said. "At the end, they paraded us like prisoners of war and hurled abuse at us as they led us from one alley to another without telling us where they were taking us," she said. A Muslim woman who once taught at the school spotted Manal and the two other nuns as they walked past her home, attracting a crowd of curious onlookers.

  "I remembered her, her name is Saadiyah. She offered to take us in and said she can protect us since her son-in-law was a policeman. We accepted her offer," she said. Two Christian women employed by the school, siblings Wardah and Bedour, had to fight their way out of the mob, while groped, hit and insulted by the extremists. "I looked at that and it was very nasty," said Manal.

  The incident at the Franciscan school was repeated at Minya where a Catholic school was razed to the ground by an arson attack and a Christian orphanage was also torched.

  That story speaks for itself methinks. I hope that readers of all faiths will join me in praying that peace will come soon to that troubled nation and that good people like Sister Manal and Saadiyah will continue to find sanctuary from the angry and intolerant mob.

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By Rich Trzupek

  A post of mine over at the Heartland Institute’s web-site created some minor internet buzz last week, so I thought that I’d share:

  In a post over at Peter Guest’s blog, Michael “Hockey Stick” Mann is quoted making one of the most remarkable statements that I’ve ever heard coming out of a supposed scientist’s mouth:

  “Proof is for mathematical theorems and alcoholic beverages. It’s not for science.”

  He goes on to explain that science is all about “credible theories” and “best explanations” and his gosh-darn critics supposedly don’t offer up any of those.

  Now it seems pretty obvious that Mann’s attempt to separate proof from science stems from increasing public awareness that the warming predicted by the high-sensitivity models that Mann and others have championed just hasn’t occurred over the last fifteen years. No matter. You don’t need “proof” when you have “credible theories”.

  That comes as something of a shock to me. When I was going to school to earn my degree in chemistry, we were taught that science was indeed all about absolute truths and proofs at the end of the day. “Credible theories” is how you got to those truths, not an alternative to them.

  The proposition that phlogiston made combustion possible was a “credible theory” for a long time, until Lavoisier conclusively “proved” that oxidation was responsible. Before USEPA approves the use of an air pollution dispersion model, real world data that “proves” the model can successfully and accurately determine dispersion patters is necessary. Climatologists, apparently, do not suffer under similar uncomfortable burdens.

  And the problem here is that guys like Mann, Jones, Gore, etc. have been running around for years, essentially presenting their hyper-sensitive version of climatology as established, unquestionable fact. I can’t count the number of times that AGW-heads have told me that “climate change is an established, scientific fact!” (Which it is of course, but not in the sense that these knuckleheads use the phrase).

  Guest laments that: “Bound by honesty, the scientific consensus (sic) is going to struggle to overcome this problem, appearing unable to actually back up its results with tangible events…” Cross out the word “appearing” and you have as concise a statement of the problems that alarmists like Mann increasingly face with each passing day.

  Guest also calls the US the world’s biggest carbon emitter, a position we’ve surrendered to China some time ago, while Mann moans that his critics have “…delayed the necessary reductions in carbon emissions for decades…” I don’t know whether to conclude Mann is stupid, lazy or willfully ignorant, but EPA data clearly shows that the United States has been making massive reductions in carbon dioxide emissions since 2008 and the combination of new CAFÉ standards, EPA-forced coal-fired power plant retirements and state renewable portfolio standards ensure that these reductions will continue far into the future. Good Lord – the guy got what he wanted and he’s still whining. Michael if you want to sell your doomsday routine, take your act to Beijing or Delhi – there’s nothing left to do in the states short of going Flinstones.

  This Mann-love comes as the enviro-left takes pot-shots at the brilliant conservative writer Mark Steyn, who made the mistake of not only questioning Mann’s theories, but had the effrontery to do so utilizing satire. The thin-skinned climatologist is in the process of suing Steyn, National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, apparently for both hurting his feelings and for pointing out that “credible theories” do not equate to either proof or truth.

  The whacky world of climate alarmism is falling apart. The leading acolytes of the movement will continue to wail that it’s all the fault of those evil energy interests that supposedly make fellows like me question the theology of AGW theory, but in reality they have no one to blame for their increasing irrelevance but themselves.

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New England (Part II)

By Rich Trzupek

  So here’s the thing about the Brits: when faced with a threat they don’t get their crap together until it’s almost too late, but they do get it together eventually. They’ve been that way throughout history.

  The Vikings invade and king after king tries to play nice with them or buy them off, neither of which works, until the only remnant left of Saxon Britain consists of a young king and a few followers hiding in a swamp. But, that king and his progeny stage a comeback for the ages, reasserting Saxon ascendency while blending in the culture of the Norsemen at the same time. He does all of this so well that the king – Alfred – remains the only English monarch to be known as “the great”.

  More recently, we have seen a certain Austrian corporal come uncomfortably close to conquering that plucky island nation. Today, most people associate Britain’s unpreparedness at the start of World War II with Neville Chamberlin, the well-meaning, but somewhat muddled Prime Minister who believed that Hitler could be reasoned with.

  Chamberlin was naïve, to be sure, but he was also handed a pretty lousy hand by his predecessor, Stanley Baldwin. It was Baldwin, serving first as Lord President of the Council during the period when Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald was losing his marbles and then as Prime Minister in his own right, who led Britain from 1931 through 1937. These were, or course, the years that saw the Nazis rise to power in Germany.

  It was Baldwin who made the conscious decision not to effectively rearm to counter the growing threat across the sea. Certain revisionist historians have attempted to put Baldwin’s excuses for his failures in a generous light, echoing Baldwin’s claim that had he tried to substantially rearm Britain in those years, his government would have been voted out of office.

 That may indeed have been true, but by putting politics above public service, Baldwin failed to do the very thing that the populace expects of those they vote into high public office: he failed to lead. And by failing to provide leadership when it was so clearly needed, it was Baldwin – more than any other Englishman – who nearly brought Britain to the precipice.

  And yet, Britain didn’t fall. When the threat to their sovereignty and the other free peoples of Europe became so crystal clear that one would have to have been blind or a fool not to notice, the British people reacted to the challenge with all of the considerable courage and determination that our cousins across the pond possess.

  Let’s say Mark Steyn is proven correct sometime in the future. To wit, as a result of a growing Muslim population, that fraction of the island’s Muslims who identify with Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law (and let’s just call that fraction “radicals” from here on in, shall we?) attempt to change Britain into an Islamic theocracy along the lines of Saudi Arabia or Iran. How would that play out?

  I believe that there are certain lines that what we will call the “traditional British populace” (including the English, the Scots, the Welsh, the Northern Irish, Indians, etc.) will not suffer to be crossed. Perhaps the brightest of these lines involves the rights of women. Radical Muslims are hell of the rights of women, as we in the west understand those rights to be, and today’s young British women are probably about as feminist a group as the United Kingdom has seen. Moreover, once one starts to annoy women, one automatically incurs the wrath of the alpha-males in the women’s lives (husbands, lovers, brothers, dad’s, etc.) whose instinct for chivalrous defense of the maiden quickly kicks in.

  There are many other parts of radical, fundamentalist Islam that are incompatible with western values, things like forced worship, subjugation of other religions, a horrific penal code, etc. One cannot get to a Britain under Sharia law without these issues coming up. Should that happen (in anything but the most local sense, like those Muslim sections of East London where Sharia law is informally, but effectively, enforced at the neighborhood level) there will be resistance and, knowing the Brits, that resistance will be successful.

  Of course, knowing the Brits also means that they will inevitably wait until the very last moment to fight back. Indeed, there are some uncomfortable parallels between the way the current Tory government under David Cameron is sticking its head in the sand over the radical Islam elements in Britain today and the way the Baldwin governments tried to ignore the Nazi threat.

  Yet, if Cameron is Baldwin, I have every confidence that the British will find another Churchill among them when and if they need one. Furthermore, and perhaps even more than is the case in most countries, the British people are – on the whole – far better and wiser than the people they often pick to lead them. They’ve been there when their country has needed them in the past and, God forbid, should they need to defend their island and their way of life again, I have no doubt that they will be up to the challenge.

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Responsibility

By Rich Trzupek

  We’ll go back to Britain next week, because I’d like to have my say on the just-concluded George Zimmerman trial.

  Allow me to begin with a general observation about race: I don’t care about it. The only way to interact with people is to treat each one as a unique individual, not as a member of a group.

  Back in the seventies, I rode the Dan Ryan L to get to high school. Most of the time, I was the only white face on that particular L, but I never thought of myself as “the only white boy on the Dan Ryan L”. I thought of myself as a guy on the L with a lot of other guys and gals, the vast majority of whom were decent people who were entirely indifferent to my presence. The occasional jerk would try (and sometimes succeed) is making trouble for me, but jerks are everywhere. Somebody hassling you or mugging you doesn’t indict a group – just the person doing the hassling or the mugging.

  It’s silly and it’s stupid to pre-judge people based on any characteristic related to appearance. We should evaluate individuals and those evaluations must be based on their actions. Now, we do group individuals based on common actions, and that is appropriate. For example, we call people who break the law “criminals” and it’s wholly apropos to treat that group of individuals differently from the rest of the populace. The same goes for violent religious fanatics, etc.

  Which brings us back to George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Many, many people acted irresponsibly in this case, including the prosecutors, the media, politicians and the legions of race-baiters who infect America, and that irresponsible, despicable behavior was inevitably based on treating both players in this tragedy as members of a group, rather than the individuals they are and were.

  The mainstream media, with a few exceptions, attached Zimmerman to group that might be described as “angry, racist white guys”, a description that likely includes only one accurate word – the last. When it came out that Zimmerman’s mother is Peruvian, the New York Times invented a whole new group “white Hispanic” in a pathetic attempt to preserve their preferred narrative.

  Trayvon (and isn’t it interesting how one guy was always referred to by his last name, while the other was always referred to by his first?), according to the media, belonged to a group that might be described as “innocent black children who are in danger of being killed by angry, racist white guys”. One would think this particular group is huge, although the reality is that a black child in America is far more likely to die at the hands of another black person than anyone else. The bloody streets of Chicago, which should be a national embarrassment, are just once example of this tragic phenomenon.

  Once the media (and others) jammed these two people into those two slots, it was almost impossible for them to pull them back out. The facts of the case, which clearly didn’t come close to supporting a second degree murder conviction, were irrelevant to the true believers.

  In their fury to adhere to the narrative, media commentators, dopey politicians like Bobby Rush and race-baiters from Al Sharpton to our own Father Phleger were more than willing to throw our legal system, trial by jury and the concept of reasonable doubt under the bus. The only thing that mattered to them was having the fellow that they chose to represent their favored group triumph over the fellow they chose to represent the group they hate.

  Our President, whom I assume the New York Times will now refer to as “white-black”, even got into the act, declaring that he could have been Trayvon. I don’t know what that means, but if it’s supposed to mean that he has been tempted to slam somebody’s head into the concrete, we may excuse the observation on the grounds that living in Washington D.C. for over five years is bound to make anyone a little cranky.

  Nobody alive today, other than George Zimmerman, will ever know for certain what happened that night. George’s version of events, that Trayvon attacked him, is credible and there is nothing in the body of evidence inconsistent with that explanation. The prosecution’s version of events, that George stalked and attacked Trayvon unprovoked, is possible, but did anything in the trial prove that version to be true according to our demanding standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt”? It wasn’t even close.

  There are no winners in this story. I feel badly for Trayvon Martin’s family and I feel badly for George Zimmerman. But, unfortunately, both Trayvon and George were poorly served by those segments of our society who refuse to treat people as individuals, preferring to tell stories based solely on their racist points of view.

New England (Part I)

By Rich Trzupek

  Just got back from the UK, where I had the privilege of watching my daughter graduate from college. In addition to doing the (very) proud papa routine, I had a chance to make some observations about how that nation is changing and what it all means. So let’s chat a bit.

  For some time now I have been worried about our friends across the pond. Like many a Yank, I admire that plucky island nation, its history and all that it has stood (and still stands?) for. The USA may have eclipsed the UK in terms of military might, but we have yet to lap our British cousins when it comes to moral prerogative.

  And yet, like more than a few of my conservative colleagues, I have been distressed by the larger role that fundamentalist Islamic religious/political strictures have manifested themselves within certain segments of British society.

  As we speak, Muslims do not constitute a majority, nor anything close to it, in the United Kingdom. Yet, as the incomparable Mark Steyn has definitively documented in his many articles and books, the trend is clear: if nothing changes, Islam will become the dominant cultural force in the United Kingdom within a generation or two.

  The numbers are inescapable. Muslim immigration into the British Isles continues to expand. The birth rate among the existing Muslim population in the United Kingdom is more than double that of the rest of the populace. Combined, these two trends can only lead to one result over time: a United Kingdom that will eventually be ruled by a populace that is – at least on the surface – biologically and/or spiritually connected with the followers of a seventh-century religious icon who believed that he, and he alone, had sole access to the mind of God and believed that it was the will of God for his version of theology to dominate the globe.

  The recent history of the ever-polite, always-civilized British nation suggests an unwillingness to admit that a spot of trouble might be brewing on the horizon simply because the actions of a foreigner or foreigners might be interpreted in a somewhat negative light. The rise of the Nazis during the thirties and the studied indifference of the Baldwin governments to the Nazi threat during that time is the classic case in point that provides – on the surface if nothing else – the studied example of a willingly naïve British response to the kind of decidedly un-British extremism that threatens British customs and law today.

  Today, it is widely accepted within the UK, among Tories, Liberals and Labor alike, that the recent massive incursion of Muslim immigrants is nothing to worry about. Isn’t the UK the very epitome of tolerance and inclusion? Why worry?

  Islamic apologists assure us that the recent influx in Muslim immigrants will no more affect the institutions of the United Kingdom any more than the influx of Indian immigrants has. Those Muslims who don’t already do so will come to appreciate the value of democratic ideals and, at the same time, Britain will be all the richer for their presence. Just as India brought curry to the British table, Muslims will introduce more flavors (literally and figuratively) to the national palate.

  This might be true, were we to define Islam as a nationally-defined cultural preference (as opposed to an imperative), as we would define the adjective “Indian”. The nation of India bequeaths a rich, complex (and, particularly when it comes to cuisine) flavorful history upon those connected with it. Neither the Indian people nor the sub-continent’s dominant religion of Hinduism requires or implies any prescribed political system. The same is simply not true of Islam, as defined by its most ardent adherents.

  As Steyn, Robert Spencer and other observers have documented, there are Muslim-dominated regions of London where fundamentalist, Sharia law is strictly-enforced and where authorities are loathe to enforce secular law. Islamic apologists routinely shrug-off such troubling observations, pointing out that Muslims represent a (relatively) small minority in the UK and therefore that anyone who is bothered by their presence must necessarily be racist, intolerant bigots of the first order.

  But, of course, it’s not the numbers that are the problem, but their relative effect when those numbers matter and their trend in so far as making such numbers matter. Minority or no, the radical elements of the Muslim populace in Britain has found the power to make government jump in a way that disenfranchised Newcastle coal-miners would have envied. However, there are more forces at work in the UK and, as we shall see, because of those forces I have high hopes for the future of Britain and all of its citizens.

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Nothing to See Here!

By Rich Trzupek

  So, the employer insurance mandate part of Obamacare – which is to say some of the real meat of Obamacare – has been pushed back till after the 2014 mid-term elections. Yeah, yeah, there was that unfortunate wording in the Affordable Care Act that directed companies with 50 or more employees to provide insurance to their employees in 2014, but that just a technicality. In the Age of Obama, the law is whatever the Prez says it is.

  Congress doesn’t see fit to pass a bill to address the non-existent problem of climate change? Screw ‘em! The Prez will take care of it. The IRS targets conservative groups and spends its own money to play dress up? Big whoop. Nothing to see here.

  Then we have Attorney General Eric Holder explaining to Congress that he didn’t lie to them, because he lied to a federal judge instead when he approved a search warrant in which Fox News reporter James Rosen was accused of the criminal act of actually doing a reporter’s job. What else would we expect from our Attorney’s General in the Age of Obama?

  The amazing thing (although I’m not sure why I consider it amazing any longer after five long years of The Greatest President Ever In The History Of Presidents) is the mainstream media’s lackadaisical attitude toward all this nonsense.

  I understand their inability to hold Obama to any kind of reasonable standard for the first year or two. This was their president, the man who freed the nation from the evil cowboy whom nearly wrecked the nation during his two inglorious terms. The honeymoon between Obama and his adoring fans in the media was bound to last for a while.

  I get that, but this is getting ridiculous. After five years the biggest problem the MSM has had with Obama involved bugging of the AP section of the Presidents cheerleaders – and that was actually legal!

  (Why does this not bother me, you’re wondering, but the Rosen cases does? Because Holder approved a warrant that named Rosen an unindicted co-conspirator – i.e.; the Justice Department told a federal judge that Rosen was involved in criminal activity when he was not. No such representations were made in the AP case.)

  So there we have the big scandal of the Obama administration according to the MSM: bugging a bunch of AP reporters, which is a problem not because it was illegal, but because it involved too many reporters.

  OK. Interesting standards we have now. Benghazi? Who cares? It’s old news. (“What difference does it matter now!?!?”) The IRS? A little misguided perhaps, but does any of it really matter? Crabby-assed Tea Partiers deserved it anyway. Just don’t mess with the journalism club.

  So, in that fetid atmosphere, there’s no way that the press is going to call out anyone in the administration – much less the soon-to-be sainted President himself – for an obvious political ploy like delaying the employer’s insurance mandate.

  Obama knows, economists know, Democrats and Republicans know – pretty much everyone this side of Michael Moore knows (and if you’re on the far side of Michael Moore, good luck getting around the grounded whale) – that the employer mandate will be a disaster. The costs of goods and services will rise, employers on the cusp of triggering it will dismiss employees and/or create part-time positions instead and the IRS will blunder about in the middle of everything.

  These are not the kind of talking points one wants to hand the other side during a mid-term election, when the party in charge of the White House generally gets it butt kicked anyway. Valerie Jarrett can spout all of the placid-sounding rationales and justifications that she can think of (which is no inconsiderable number) but the delay in the employer mandate rollout is all about politics. Jarrett knows it, Obama knows it and surely the press knows it as well. It’s just that the press doesn’t care anymore. So long as the guy in White House is ideologically aligned with them, that guy is going to get an infinite number of free passes. That’s the reality today and the rest of us are just going to have to learn to live with it.

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History Lesson (Part 4)

By Rich Trzupek

  Now we arrive at the last installment of this particular series, in which we’ll transition from looking back at history to observing history in the making. For historic events are in motion right now, struggles that will do much to decide the future of Muslim-ruled nations and their relationship with western democracies.

  The centerpieces of these struggles are Egypt, Turkey and Syria. In each of these nations secularists of the sort that Kemal would have recognized and approved (more or less) are going toe to toe with theocrats who, if not calling for the restoration of the Caliphate just yet, would certainly like to see their nation governed according to Islamist principles.

  In Egypt, the administration led by Islamist Mohammed Morsi has been a failure and a bloody failure at that. The man Morsi replaced, Hosni Mubarak, may have been a petty tyrant, but he more or less maintained order and made sure citizens had enough to eat. Morsi has done neither.

  Emboldened by elevation of one of their own to the highest office in the land, the Muslim Brotherhood went on the offensive against the Coptic Christians who make up about ten per cent of the nation’s population. Christians were murdered and churches burned in the name of religious purity.

  Thankfully, this behavior has not set well with all Egyptians. As I compose this column, reports are filtering in that anti-government protestors have stormed a headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood and calls for Morsi to either resign or authorize early elections are increasing. The Egyptian military has given Morsi forty eight hours to fix the crisis.

  It may have been possible for Morsi to set up Muslim theocracy of the sort the Muslim Brotherhood espouses, had Morsi been able to govern adequately. He has not. Disturbed by the chaos and encroaching Islamic fundamentalism creeping into the ruling structure, wealthy Egyptians fled the country in droves, taking badly-needed capital with them.

  And, despite billions in US aid, Morsi hasn’t been able to prevent a downward economic spiral that not only affects the lifestyle of the average Egyptian, but his or her ability to eat. According to reports, mass starvation is right around the corner, if it has not already begun.

  In Turkey, Prime Minister Tayyi Erdogan has done somewhat better, but after ten years of rule, it appears that many Turks are tiring of the outspokenly religious conservative leader. There is a fear among many Turks that Erdogan is edging the country farther and farther away from the secular tradition that Kemal founded, allowing creeping Islamic law to fill the voids thus created.

  Those fears metastasized into weeks of rioting, the scale and scope of which was largely underplayed by the mainstream media, when it was covered at all. The violence comes in the midst of Erdogan’s third consecutive term as Prime Minister, during which he has become more and more authoritarian and has continued to take actions that his religiously conservative base approves of, but which troubles most of the more liberal, westernized segment of the Turkish populace.

  And that brings us to Syria, where thanks in part to Russian aid, President Bashir al-Assad continues to hold out against substantial rebel opposition. Here, the situation is somewhat reversed, as compared to the situations in Egypt and Turkey, for the opposition in Syria has a significant Islamist element, while Assad represents more of the secular tradition, albeit in a pretty deplorable incarnation.

  Assad, no friend to either the United States or Israel, is not a religious fundamentalist, but (like his father) he’s in an awkward position as an Alawi, a branch of Shia Islam. Representing only twelve percent of Syrians, the Alawis are considered heretics by some Sunni Muslims and the Sunnis make up about three quarters of the Syrian populace.

  Assad thus has the unenviable task of leading a nation where religion matters a great deal and where he is part of a minority that is despised by many in the majority. As father did before him, Assad has used the greater Syrian hatred of Israel and United States as a foil, deflecting – at least up until now – hatred that might be directed his way.

  But, as bad as Assad is, rebel forces are likely even worse, for reports indicate that they contain a substantial portion of fundamentalists, if not actually Al Queda, then near enough so as to make little difference. The Syrian civil war, in other words, is a conflict that one can wish everyone to lose. However, of the two bad choices, Assad is probably the least terrible.

  And so here we are friends, at what I believe is a critical juncture in history. To my conservative friends who say there are no moderate Muslims, or no Muslims who will stand with secular governance, I invite you to pay close attention to what is happening – right now – in the Muslim world.

  History tells us that secular government, individual liberty and Islam can co-exist, but it’s a very difficult three-way marriage to accomplish. There is hope that it may be accomplished in Egypt and re-affirmed in Turkey. Our prayers should be with the brave citizens of both nations who have stood up in opposition to religious tyranny, as our ancestors did so very long ago.

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History Lesson (Part 3)

By Rich Trzupek

  It’s odd how the course of history can sometimes change so enormously as the result of a single decision and how certain individuals can have such disproportionate effects on those decisions. If someone other than George Washington were appointed commander of the Continental Army, for example, the United States would never have evolved as it did, if it would have come into existence at all. And without the United States, the world today would look a whole different.

  The fall of the Ottoman Empire was, to a large extent, the outgrowth of a decision that was (largely but not entirely) made by one man: Ismail Enver Pasha. Enver was the Ottoman Minister of War in 1914 when World War I broke out in Europe and it was he who engineered the Ottoman-German alliance that brought the Empire into the war on the side of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria).

  It didn’t have to be that way. The Ottomans could have stayed out of the war, or could have entered on the side to the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia). Advocates for both of those courses could be found in the Ottoman government at the time. But, Enver wielded a great deal of power and he believed that German army would make short work of its enemies.

  It didn’t work out that way of course. Having picked the losing side, the Ottoman Empire was doomed. After the war ended, pieces of the empire were parceled out to France and Britain and the consequences of that decision resonate through history to this day.

  Many of the peoples living in North Africa and the Middle East in the newly created British and French mandates saw little to like about the change in rulers. From their point of view, they had traded one foreign (i.e.; Turkish) master for a new, even more foreign version of the same beast. Worse, the new bosses didn’t share their religion, much less their religion’s inherent political system.

  As we have seen, over the centuries the Ottomans had edged their empire toward western values and institutions, if not completely embracing them. The dissolution of their empire reinforced the idea that the Ottomans had grown weak by abandoning the True Path and embracing the decadence of the west instead. This, plus the empire’s replacement by rulers who, in the minds of the more religious, were infidels had the net effect of driving the former Ottoman colonies farther away from the west. Fundamentalist Islam, such as the Wahhabi Movement that would come to dominate religious life in Saudi Arabia and give rise to Al Qaeda, would thus grow over the decades following the end of the Great War.

  There is an exception to most every rule and the exception in this case involved the home of the Ottoman Empire: the nation we now call Turkey. With the empire gone and the caliphate disbanded Turkey did not follow the path of many of its former colonies. Rather than retreating into a “pure”, fundamentalist version of Islam, Turkey went the other way, becoming the most westernized of any Muslim nation. That happened almost entirely because of the skill, effort and iron will of the giant of Turkish history: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

  Critics of Islam sometimes assert that the biggest problem with the religion is that there has never been an Islamic Reformation to separate and isolate the secular and theological spheres. That’s not wholly true. Kemal led a revolution that was, in its own way, as remarkable as the one that Martin Luther sparked in Germany centuries before.

  Kemal did away with most all of the vestiges of religious (i.e.: Islamic) domination of public life. He expanded the nation’s educational system, got rid of Islamic Sharia Law, eliminated religious dress codes and built a recognizable republic that transferred the power of governance to the governed. Kemal liberated Turkish women, insisting that they be given access to the same educational opportunities as men, rejecting Islamic dictates to segregate the sexes and encouraging women to seek election to public office.

  Fundamentalist Muslims today despise Kemal. Many of them blame him for the dissolution of the Caliphate, an institution much longed-for among the pious. Many believe that Kemal betrayed the religion by formally introducing secular and western concepts in what was once the center of the Caliphate itself. Don’t believe me? Try searching “Kemal traitor to Islam” (without the quotes of course) and see how today’s fundamentalist Muslims feel about the guy who was given the name “Atatürk” (Father of the Turks) by act of the Turkish Parliament.

  The west’s struggle to incorporate Islam and Islamic dominated nations into the family of peace-loving nations today is an extension of the battles that Kemal fought almost one hundred years ago. And, as recent events have shown, Kemal’s homeland is once again at the forefront of that struggle.

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History Lesson (Part 2)

By Rich Trzupek

  Back into the mists of history. When we last chatted, the Reformation was in full swing, leading to some unfortunate consequences, but – on the whole – it was a seminal moment in the history of western civilization.

  The Reformation occurred in the midst of another movement that was sweeping Europe, or at least part of Europe: the great Ottoman Expansion.

  This was the second period of significant Muslim expansion. And yes, it is correct to call this a “Muslim” expansion because the religion that Mohammed founded was not just a religion, but a political system as well, complete with laws, a system of governance and territorial objectives.

  Now it may occur to you that laws are part of Christianity and Judaism, that both religions influenced systems of government and that territory was certainly conquered in the name of each.

  These things are all true, or rather were all true, but one of the great consequences of the Reformation was to increasingly separate the secular from the spiritual. Jews and Christians could, if they chose to do so, personally follow the Deuteronomic Code (or any other parts of the Bible or Torah), but civil laws would become a separate matter.

  Thus, as one part (the larger part) of Europe was beginning to turn away from theocratic rule, another part was coming under the influence of a system that embraced theocracy as a basic part of its dogma.

  The Ottoman Expansion began in the fourteenth century, but it kicked into high gear after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. That event marked the end of the Byzantine Empire, which if you connect the dots between the Byzantine Empire and the Roman Empire (and most historians do) means that about two thousand years of continuous classical rule had ended.

  That was a long stretch in terms of human history. The Byzantines had their issues and many of their emperors weren’t fit to govern a third world village, but the thread of history that ran from ancient Rome through Constantinople was pretty remarkable. Yet, as Pete Townsend observed, history is also all about out with the old boss and in with the new boss.

  That event popped the cork, so to speak, on the next phase of Muslim expansionism. The first phase carried the system from the Arabian peninsula through North Africa and Palestine and into Spain, ending only when Charles Martel defeated a Muslim army under Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi at Tours, France in 732.

  After Constantinople fell, and with the Byzantines therefore no longer in the way, the Ottomans were free to expand into the Balkans, which is of course what happened. The Balkans thus became, and still are, a hodgepodge of Christian and Muslim cultures and traditions which are generally in varying degrees of conflict. The roots of Kosovo and the Serbian conflict were planted during the Ottoman expansion.

  Emboldened by their success in the Balkans, the Ottomans pushed northward in Central Europe into modern-day Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. They were checked on occasion, for example by Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (part of Romania today) whose habit of impaling his enemies earned him the nickname “Vlad the Impaler”, but whom is better known to history as the “son of the dragon” (his father being “the dragon”), a title rendered in Romanian as “Dracula”.

  The Ottoman Expansion reached – quite literally – the Gates of Vienna in the seventeenth century. It was there that combined Polish, Lithuanian, German and Austrian army under the leadership of the Polish King Jan III Sobieski decisively defeated an Ottoman army under Kara Mustafa during a battle waged on September 11 and 12, 1683.

  Subsequently, European forces would roll back Muslim gains, pushing the Sultan’s forces out of Romania and Hungary and, finally, out of Serbia following the equally decisive Battle of Zenta, fought on September 11, 1699. That battle would result in the Ottomans signing the Treaty of Karlowitz, which effectively ended the second great Muslim expansion.

  The Ottomans would hang around for a little over three hundred more years, but their empire gradually took on more of the appearance of western nations during that time. This is not to say that the Ottomans adopted republican (much less democratic) institutions, but they drifted away from the ideal theocracy that Mohammed had envisioned. And the final step in severing that close relationship, by introducing recognizably secular governmental institutions into a Muslim nation during the early twentieth century, arose from a most surprising source: the nation itself.

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National Defense

By Rich Trzupek

  We’ll get back to the “History Lesson” series nest week, for I feel a burning obligation to comment on a big story of the day. (And if anyone knows of an ointment that will help me with my burning obligation problems, please pass that information along).

  The media is all abuzz with the “news” that the National Security Agency has been involved in data mining of phone records and internet traffic on a massive scale. This revelation has led to righteous outrage on both the left and the right, with even the New York Times, that tireless cheerleader of all things Obama, wagging a finger at their favoritest president ever.

  Now faithful readers may have concluded somewhere along the line that I am not the biggest fan of the guy who currently makes his residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave N.W.  However, this is not a case where I can criticize the President.

  First of all, is this story really a surprise? What did people think the NSA did all day – search for potential terrorists at the local Suicide Bombers R Us store?

  Doing the snooping is a thankless job methinks. If you’re successful in averting a terrorist attack, you can’t tell anybody about it because you don’t want to give the nut jobs tips on how we find about things. If you don’t avert a terrorist attack, you’re criticized for not doing your job properly. And, whatever happens, the fact that you have access to mountains of data is scary as hell to the rest of your fellow citizens.

  And the power that NSA wields is frightening. The potential for abuse is clear. But, in my judgment anyway, the rewards more than outweigh the risks.

  Look, we’re at war. Call it the “War on Terror”, or the “War Against Radical Islamists” or “An Unfortunate Conflict Involving Abused, Misunderstood Individuals Who Desperately Need A Hug”, or whatever else floats your boat. Whatever you call it, there are people out there trying to kill us who don’t believe in freedom and would – if they only could – govern the entire world through a theocracy.

  When people are attempting to end one’s life and one’s way of life, that’s a war. It’s a rather extraordinary war involving a shadowy enemy, but it’s still a war and an extraordinary war calls for the use of extraordinary weapons.

  This isn’t the first time that an administration utilized measures of questionable legality to fight a war. Lincoln unhesitantly and quite unconstitutionally suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War, enabling him to lock up thousands of enemies (and perceived enemies) without benefit of a trial. He reasoned that unconstitutional acts taken in defense of the constitution are allowable in war time, though the Supreme Court did not concur.

  Franklin Delano Roosevelt fought an undeclared war in the Atlantic before we actually entered World War II, reasoning that Britain’s desperate situation at the time called for equally desperate measures from the island nation’s closest ally.

  Some said then, as some say now, that the presidents in question were abusing their power and that our constitutional freedoms and rights, once surrendered, may never be regained.

  I understand that point of view. Indeed, I sympathize with it. But, in time of war, a strict adherence to peacetime niceties may result in defeat and thus even more catastrophic consequences. 

  Do we, should we, expect the NSA to do its best to uncover terrorist plots hidden in the mountain of mundane daily communications? I believe we do and we should. And if that means that NSA might come across the fact that I called my brother three times last month, I’m OK with that.

  I say that flippantly, but I don’t make that remark quite as off-handedly as it seems. Let’s say that I am on some kind of list of political enemies of the current administration. (For the record, I don’t think that I am, because I’m a pretty little fish, but one never knows). Anyway, if I were on such a list, then the people I talk to could also be of political interest.

  But, to repeat, I’m OK with that possibility. Information like this can be abused for political reasons and we have ample proof that there are people in government who do abuse their power. If such abuse takes place, or may take place, I would rather have it happen as an outgrowth of efforts to defend our nation and save lives, rather than as an outgrowth of efforts to enforce an arcane, incomprehensible tax code.

  The problem, in other words, is not about the NSA doing its job, mining data to try to protect us, but is rather about the way that data may be abused by the people at the time. And the answer to that problem is simple: elect people you believe to be both trustworthy and fair.

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History Lesson (Part 1)

By Rich Trzupek

  (First in a Series)

  Let’s start here: the autumn of the year 1517, in Wittenberg, Germany. A pious, rather irascible priest by the name of Martin Luther is disgusted by the Vatican’s practice of selling indulgences to raise money. Luther is so disgusted that he pens a document entitled “A Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”, which will come to known over time as “The Ninety Five Theses”.

  Legend has it that Luther nailed the document to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, but this is probably an embellishment.  What is certainly true is that The Ninety Five Theses started a firestorm throughout Europe as the document was printed and circulated throughout the continent.

  Luther was not the first to criticize the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, but he was the first to do so in such a way as to start a revolution. For that’s what the Reformation – as it would come to be called – was: a revolution.

  Like most revolutions, the Reformation was chaotic, disorganized and was sometimes abused by selfish interests (see Henry VIII). Nonetheless, this revolution took hold. A continent dominated by one Christian sect would soon be home to dozens, each of which featured their own particular tweaks of dogma and worship.

  Like most revolutions, the Reformation also involved bloodshed. Religious differences offered a fine excuse for grasping leaders to attack their neighbors, or to ignite civil war. For the next hundred years or so, most conflicts on the continent featured a religious component.

  The Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648) was the most famous, and the most bloody, of these wars. Yet, as the Thirty Years War progressed shifting allegiances among the combatants regardless of faith amply demonstrated that the primary motivation behind that struggle was political, not theocratic.

  And that’s an important point to remember as we move forward through history. While it’s popular in certain circles to assert that “more blood has been shed in the name of religion than for any other reason”, that’s not only not true, it’s not close to true.

  The three biggest murderers in history, Stalin, Mao and Hitler were all atheists who killed in the name of power, not in the name of God. (And yes, Hitler was born a Catholic, but he had long since abandoned Catholicism by the time he came to power, where he would eventually found the entirely pagan Church of National Socialism).

  Further, when wars appear to be religious – like the Thirty Years War – a little scratching below the surface often reveals political components provided a lot more motivation than anything else.

  Despite the chaos and the bloodshed, the Reformation was a seminal moment in the history of Western Civilization. After centuries of Papal interference in civil affairs, the political role of the Vatican would gradually erode. The Pope’s realm would encompass only what St. Augustine had called The City of God, while the affairs of the City of Man were left to the laity.

  The concept of separation of church and state, an idea that is so important to maintenance of a free society, traces its roots to the Reformation. We often think of this notion in terms of an individual’s freedom of worship and that’s certainly part of what the separation of church and state implies, but there’s more to it than that.

  Dividing the world into the City of God and the City of Man also means that the rulers of the City of God may not rule the City of Man. Theocracies, in other words, cannot co-exist with a free society. Before the Reformation, the idea that the Pope should not play a leading role in governing mankind was, quite literally, heretical. Eventually, in time after the Reformation had taken root, most of the west accepted that concept as a given, as we still do today.

  Accepting that the rule of law trumps one’s personal belief in a free society can be a challenge at times for people of any faith. As a Catholic, I loathe the practice of abortion and believe that killing of fetuses is a sin. As an American, I understand that the only way to end the practice is through the ballot box.

  Whatever your religion, or if you don’t believe in any Higher Power, you are sure to come across something in free society that is inconsistent with your beliefs, if not outright offensive. That’s part of the downside of a free society, but we who choose to live in a free country endorse the concept that the upsides of freedom to worship and separation of church and state, those precious concepts that trace their roots to the Reformation, more than make up for any failings.

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The Stern Effect

By Rich Trzupek

  Remember when shock jock Howard Stern was slapped down by the FCC a few years ago? The incident turned Stern – whose politics up to then would probably best be described as libertarian – into a raving Bush-o-phobe.

  Similarly, Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane targeted the FCC for a few jabs after finding that the agency objected to some of his material.

  Both are examples of what I have to come to call the “Stern effect”, which is defined thus: most people tend to ignore and/or dismiss the debilitating effects of an expanding bureaucracy until some portion of that bureaucracy reaches out to bite them in the ass.

  The first corollary of the Stern effect is that when the bureaucracy affects someone personally, most people will develop a negative opinion of the single bureaucratic institution with which they had a negative interaction, but not extend their negative opinion to the entirety of the bureaucratic structure.

  The irony of the current IRS scandal is that in targeting Tea Party organizations, the agency went after one of the few groups of people in our country that are predisposed to distrust the bureaucracy as a whole. If somebody in the current administration had spent weeks trying to figure out a way to vindicate the Tea Party and validate their limited government message, it would be hard to imagine anything more effective than what has actually occurred.

  The backwash of the scandal has stained the Obama administration, and rightly so. But focusing on the administration’s role in this scandal – whatever that role may be – ignores the bigger problem: Congress.

  For it’s Congress that had ceded so much power to the alphabet soup of regulatory agencies that dominate more and more of our lives. And when I say “Congress” I mean both parties. Our representatives in Washington, with a few exceptions, feel obligated to “do good things” in order to justify their existence and a whole lot of those “good things” involve further empowering the bureaucracy.

  It’s a lazy and disingenuous process, one that Democrats and Republicans constantly engage in. Ceding powers to bureaucrats enables our representatives to say, with a reasonably straight face, that they are doing their best to improve our lives, without having to participate in making the difficult decisions.

  For regulatory agencies effectively get pretty general directions (albeit couched in mountains of legalize that few actually understand) and a whole lot of authority to carry out their missions. This combination provides cover for Congress, for if the agency fails to accomplish its mission, then it’s clearly the agency’s fault, not the people who directed them down the path.

  If the agency in question really comes off the rails, as the IRS did in this case, then the abuse obviously has nothing to do with the congressmen and congresswomen who provided them with the authority to abuse in the first place.

  If we’re going to take home a lesson from this IRS debacle, it should be that we need to demand much more of our elected representatives. Wouldn’t it be nice to see them take a break from passing new laws for a while and do any or all of the following instead:

  1. Review the acts that created and enabled every large federal regulatory agency and update those acts with an eye to limiting bureaucratic authority as much as possible and to limit abuse of that authority.

  2. Implement an act (yeah, I’m already disagreeing with my basic premise that Congress won’t pass additional acts for a year) that limits regulatory enabling acts to a fixed term – say five years – so as to require review and reauthorization on a periodic basis.

  3. In addition to the regular activities of the Inspector General, how about we implement more Congressional oversight as well. Yeah, it’ll get politicized, but I’d rather my representatives spend more time evaluating how all these regulators are doing their job rather than figuring out more things for them to do.

  4. Finally, since this is my dream world, let’s require every single member of Congress to spend at least one month per year doing the grunt work in a regulatory agency and at least one other month per year working in the trenches for someone who is a target of the regulatory agency they just worked for.

   None of that will happen of course, but just imagine how much better the nation would run if it did.

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Accountability

By Rich Trzupek

  Sadly, it’s not at all surprising to find that the IRS has been targeting people associated with the Tea Party and other conservative organizations. That’s typical of a particular type of the bureaucratic mindset, one in which particular bureaucrats become so enamored of their own importance and power that they can internally justify abuse of their position.

  That is not to say that everyone in government service behaves in such a manner. Most bureaucrats that I interact with on a daily basis take great pains to try to be equitable. However, there is never any shortage of the puffed-up sort who define the stereotype.

  Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been quick to condemn the IRS, as they should. As Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers said: “I don't care if you're a conservative, a liberal, a Democrat or a Republican, this should send a chill up your spine.”

  In addition to the Tea Party, the IRS also targeted groups that focused on government spending, debt, education, taxes, limited government, the Constitution and who were associated with Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project.

  The interesting thing to watch going forward will be to see how the administration spins this one and how compliantly the Mainstream Media goes along with the storyline. As a rule of thumb, the more the MSM echoes the administration’s “nothing to see here” narratives, the more there actually is to see.

  The still emerging Benghazi scandal is a case in point. Soon after the attacks happened and the “it’s all a protest over some silly video” narrative was thoroughly debunked, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said – with an incredibly straight face – that the administration had only edited the official talking points memo for style. Edits amounted to no more than a word. Really.

  Thanks to ABC News (the MSM doing its job? Hallelujah! ) we now know that the official talking points memo went through at least a dozen iterations, with the State Department playing a significant role in determining the final product, in which all references to Al Qaeda were removed.

  At the time, with a presidential election in progress, a cynical fellow like me might wonder if removing all references to Al Qaeda might be a politically-motivated action. After all, with bin Laden gone the President said that Al Qaeda was on the run. A well-planned, effective attack by Al Qaeda might be a bit politically embarrassing in that context.

  Not so, the administration now says. Politics had nothing to do with it. References to Al Qaeda were removed because they didn’t want to jump the gun and accuse somebody before all of the facts were in.

  Which might be believable, except that they did accuse somebody of wrong-doing. They accused Coptic Christian Nakoula Basseley Nakoula of making an epically crappy anti-Islamic video that sparked a riot in Benghazi. Nakoula, his life likely ruined, remains in jail to this day, supposedly over a probation violation, but in reality as a modern-day political prisoner.

  Famously, or perhaps infamously, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice made the round of the Sunday news talk shows, blaming the attack on “the video”. Secretary Clinton blamed the attack on “the video”. Many observers (including this one) said that explanation was sheer nonsense.

  Now that we know it was sheer nonsense, and that the administration knew it was sheer nonsense, two new talking points have emerged in an attempt to defend the administration’s actions.

  The first is the Hillary Clinton defense: it doesn’t matter who did what or why they did it. That’s so pathetic a response, I’m surprised that someone as savvy as Clinton resorted to it. When people die, whether it’s in the slums of Chicago or halfway across the world, it matters. Identifying the perpetrators and bringing them to justice matters. It’s insulting to everyone, and especially to the relatives of the victims, to suggest anything else.

  The second is the Daily Koz defense: there were multiple attacks on American consulates and embassies during the Bush administration and nobody called for hearing after hearing, ergo this whole Benghazi thing is all politically-motivated.

  That’s a clever sidestep, but it deliberately misses the point. The Benghazi hearings are not about the attack per se, but about what appears to be an attempt to disguise the nature of the attack, which is quite a different thing. Had W attempted to whitewash the nature of any of the attacks the press would have jumped all over him, and rightly so.

  Now I doubt that the President himself played a direct role in either the IRS scandal or the Benghazi spin-doctoring. But, both happened on his watch and I suspect that both are indicative of an administration in which the way things look is much more important than the way things are.

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Reality vs. Perception

By Rich Trzupek

  This is the kind of stuff that drives me (more) nuts. Following up on my testimony before the House Environment sub-committee last February, the ranking minority member, Susan Bonamici (D – Oregon) submitted a number of questions intended to correct supposed “inaccuracies” in my testimony.

  I’ll preface this by observing that Ms. Bomanici seems to be a genuinely nice person. When I was last in D.C. she took the time to thank me for testifying and we exchanged the expected pleasantries. I don’t think her intent is bad in other words, but she is as caught up as just about everyone else in the silliness that passes for governance in Washington today.

  The question that caused me to roll my eyes the most involved toxic air emissions from three sources: industrial boilers, utility boilers and cement plants. USEPA recently passed new regulations targeting toxic emissions from these sources. Ms. Bomanici made the following statement in her interrogatory:

  “The cancer risks associated with air toxics are real, and yet the three largest industrial sources of many of these toxic pollutants  remain uncontrolled at the federal level until as late as 2012”.

  She then posed the following question:

  In your opinion, and based on the most recent National Air Toxics Assessment and other information that we invite you to identify, how close are we to reaching the goal of reducing cancer risks to less than 1 in 1 million established by Congress in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990?

  Sounds like those guys are getting away Scot free, and creating a huge public health danger while they’re at it, doesn’t it? Here’s my reply to that question:

  “It will come as something of a shock to the owners and operators of electric generation facilities, cement plants and industrial boilers that were required to install add-on controls under federally enforceable Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) construction permits and that are required to operate, monitor and regularly test those devices under federally enforceable Title V permits that their facilities are “uncontrolled at the federal level”. Based on my experience, the billions that those industries have invested in baghouses, electrostatic precipitators, scrubbers, selective catalytic reduction units and other such devices would qualify as “control” and the nature of their permits would qualify as “federally-controlled control”.

  It is accurate to say that the controls installed have been primarily been installed to address criteria pollutant emissions. However, the majority of these devices will also control emissions of toxic air pollutants as a happy side benefit. For example, the particulate control devices that are currently installed on electric generating facilities, cement plants and industrial boilers – and I don’t know of any of solid fuel-fired electric generating facility, solid-fuel fired industrial boiler, or cement kiln that doesn’t control particulate emissions – remove the vast majority of toxic metals from the gas stream before the gas stream enters the atmosphere. It is thus incorrect to describe these sources as “uncontrolled” or to imply that rules like Boiler MACT will cause such sources to control emissions for the first time.

  What these rules actually do is to force certain existing facilities to install new, more expensive controls in order to achieve an incremental reduction in certain air toxics and to help President Obama fulfill his pledge to make it impossible to construct a modern coal boiler in the United States.

  I am not qualified to address the question of how close we are to achieving the 1 in 1 million cancer risk goal, or whether we have in fact achieved it already. In my experience people who perform risk assessments layer on so many margins of safety in the interest of performing conservative assessments that any objective analysis of the “real risk” differs from published data by an order of magnitude or more. In the case of the USEPA, I would note that it is never wise to allow an organization that has an interest in the outcome to act as one’s own gatekeeper when it comes to vetting studies of this sort. I have faith is EPA’s ability to develop objective data with regards to emission rates and ambient air concentrations of air pollutants. However, I do not trust the Agency to evaluate risks associated with this data, or to develop unbiased and complete risk/benefit analyses.”

  The devil is in the details, of course, and in today’s world – with people tripping over each other to prove that they’re “greener” than the other guy – the details seem to get tossed aside more often than not. It’s all pretty depressing at times, but the fight goes on.

Whatever the real (as opposed to reported) risk that air toxics represent, the extent to which industrial boilers, utility boilers and cement plants contribute to that risk should not be measured by the raw amount of air toxics emissions associated with those industries, but by their proportionate contribution of the specific compounds deemed to represent a risk in those areas where an unacceptable risk associated with a particular compound is found to exist.

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A Departure

By Rich Trzupek

  Last month Dr. James Hansen resigned as head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, a position he had held since 1981. In the course of those thirty two years, Hansen used the bully pulpit that went with running a prestigious agency like Goddard to push his pet theory in the public consciousness: that the use of fossil fuels was leading to catastrophic global warming.

  Hansen has been described as the “Godfather of Global Warming”, which I find to be a fitting moniker. Others, like the late Dr. Stephen Schneider jumped on the global warming bandwagon (or perhaps “gravy train” would be the more apt metaphor) early on, but no scientist played the climate catastrophe dirge longer, louder or more effectively than Hansen.

  He unapologetically mixed science and politics, getting himself arrested on several occasions while lending his name to the more radical breed of environmentalists. The end always justifies the means for Hansen, which isn’t what science supposed to be about, but such is the era we live in.

  In announcing his retirement for NASA, Hansen promised more of the same, noting that an employee of the federal government couldn’t sue the federal government, but a private citizen can. The implication being that private citizen Hansen would lend his weight to one or more pointless lawsuits that will force the government to “do something” about global warming.

  The basic supposition here, that the government isn’t “doing something” to fight the imaginary threat of global warming is faulty, but Hansen the crusader has never been one to let an inconvenient fact or two get in his way.

  The fact is that United States greenhouse gas emission rates are down to a twenty year low and that trend will continue. The fact is that a combination of federal and state regulations, laws and programs targeting fossil fuel have brought these reductions about and will continue to do so.

  Personally, I think it’s silly not to take advantage of the abundant and cheap coal reserves that America has tucked away, but we’re using less and less of them and we will continue to use less and less of them. Hansen thus is getting his wish, for he believed that coal industry – not the oil industry – was ultimate environmental enemy. But while Hansen the scientific theorist may have set his sights on killing coal, Hansen the activist apparently can’t be bothered to understand that he succeeded.

  Hansen’s climate models, whose catastrophic predictions set the stage for all of the lesser prophets to doom to come, described an earth that was frighteningly hyper-sensitive to the slightest variations. As another NASA scientist, Dr. Roy Spencer, once told me, if the climate were as sensitive to small changes as Hansen believes, it wouldn’t matter what we did, because we’d all be doomed anyway.

  Chugging along in the fourth decade since global warming activists first predicted the worst, we find that doom still seems to be a way off, a fact sets the “sky is falling” crowd to gnashing their teeth into dust. Global average temperatures have remained pretty stable for the past fifteen years, despite assurance from the Chicken Little’s that coastal cities would be awash and inland areas virtually ablaze by now.

  Like most petulant children, Hansen never understood the downside to invoking drama to get your way. One can only stomp one’s feet and hold one’s breath for so long before the people whose attention you hope to attract grow bored and choose to ignore you.

  If the current climate unchanged trend continues, as I believe it will, Hansen’s legacy will be that of another bit player on the world stage whose apocalyptic visions were as empty as the multitudes of doomsday prophets who preceded him.

  I don’t know the man, but presumably James Hansen is a decent human-being who – like most misguided activists – is sincere about his misguided convictions. But, as a scientist, I deplore the way he has contaminated science by mixing in the poisons of politics. And, as an American, I deeply regret the foolish paths that he has led us to follow by doing so.

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Where’s the Outrage MSM?

By Rich Trzupek

  Dr. Kermit Gosnell may be – probably is – the most prolific mass murderer in United States history. Worse, the vast majority of his victims were babies. It’s an appalling, sickening story and yet the name “Kermit Gosnell” isn’t familiar to a great many Americans. Of those who have actually heard something of this story, many are under the vague impression that Gosnell botched a few abortions and ran a rather filthy clinic or something.

   There’s good reason that “Gosnell” isn’t as reviled a name as “Gacy” or “Dahmer” or “McVeigh”: the mainstream media. It’s not that the MSM hasn’t covered the Gosnell case. Stung by charges of left-wing bias, liberal columnists and bloggers have spit out lists of Gosnell stories that have been published and broadcast since a Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on Gosnell was released in January 2011.

  And yet, in our hyper informational age, it’s not about whether a story is covered, since one can find dozens and dozens of stories about the most trivial bits of news these days, but rather about just how the story is covered. Certain stories are front page worthy. Certain stories, as tragic events in Boston have just shown us, are not only front page worthy, they’re outrage worthy. Yet, somehow, today’s editors and journalists didn’t find that the Gosnell case rose to either of these standards.

  It’s not like your modern journalist would have had to work all that hard to digest the horror that occurred in West Philadelphia. The Grand Jury report is available on-line for anyone to review. In it, the Grand Jury notes how it is illegal to perform abortions in Pennsylvania after the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy and how Gosnell got around that little problem:

  “Gosnell’s approach, whenever possible, was to force full labor and delivery of premature infants on ill-informed women. The women would check in during the day, make payment, and take labor-inducing drugs. The doctor wouldn’t appear until evening, often 8:00, 9:00, or 10:00 p.m., and only then deal with any of the women who were ready to deliver. Many of them gave birth before he even got there.”

  The report goes on to describe how Gosnell dealt with the next little complication:

  “When you perform late-term “abortions” by inducing labor, you get babies. Live, breathing, squirming babies. By 24 weeks, most babies born prematurely will survive if they receive appropriate medical care. But that was not what the Women’s Medical Society was about. Gosnell had a simple solution for the unwanted babies he delivered: he killed them. He didn’t call it that. He called it “ensuring fetal demise.” The way he ensured fetal demise was by sticking scissors into the back of the baby’s neck and cutting the spinal cord. He called that “snipping.”

  According to the report, Gosnell “ensured the demise” of hundreds of babies over the years. We’ll never know how many, since the records (and bodies) have been destroyed. He’s been charged with ensuring the demise of seven babies and one mother, which hardly reflects a fraction of the horror that this beast inflicted on the world, but which one can hope will be enough to put the bastard away for rest of his miserable life.

  Mainstream media coverage of Gosnell, such as it is, has tended to shy away from the fact that the doctor was killing living, viable babies. Not fetuses folks – babies. Instead, MSM outlets have tried to dance around the real story by turning this into something else. For some, it’s a story about a poorly run abortion clinic that didn’t meet Department of Health standards. For others, it’s a story about how the poor don’t have access to adequate healthcare and how more government oversight is desperately needed in low income communities in order to curtail the operations of such poorly-run operations.

  Hogwash.

  Gosnell didn’t run an abortion clinic, he ran a murder factory. Not only in moral terms (for most Pro-Life advocates, including this one, would describe the abortion of fetuses in mothers’ wombs as murder in the moral sense) but in legal terms as well. He killed human beings and it matters not a whit that whether those human beings happened to be one minute old or thirty years old. Murder is murder.

  And the reason that government didn’t keep a close eye on this clinic is not because Pennsylvania didn’t have the resources to do so. According to the Grand Jury Report, the Department of Health made a conscious decision to stop inspecting this clinic because they worried that low-income mothers would avoid going to the clinic if government inspectors were hanging about. The lack of oversight was the result of pro-choice concerns in other words, not because government didn’t have the wherewithal to provide a safety net.

  I understand why the mainstream media wants to keep the intensity of the spotlight on Gosnell to an absolute minimum. When one brings to light the fact that murdering babies on this side of the vaginal wall might be a bit abhorrent, it might make some folks wonder why it’s OK to do so on the other side. The mainstream media being overwhelmingly on the left and the left being overwhelmingly pro-choice, this would be an uncomfortable philosophical discussion to have. It might even make Pro-Lifers look a wee bit creditable.

  Can’t have that.

GrandJuryWomensMedical.pdf

Reality Check

By Rich Trzupek

  So how are we doing – really? According to the administration and most of the ever-compliant mainstream media, we’re doing all right. The unemployment rate, while not ideal, is pretty good. Inflation is under control. And so on.

  That tale, such as it is, depends on some statistical sleights of hand that have become sadly commonplace.  Neither unemployment nor inflation are what they used to be.

  The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps track of six different flavors of unemployment statistics. The “official” unemployment rate, the one we see quoted most often in the press, is the U-3 unemployment rate. This is limited to people who are out of work and who have been actively looking for work within the past four weeks.

  The U-6 unemployment rate is the one that reflects unemployment as most of us understand it. In addition to out of work folks who have looked for work with the last four weeks, it also includes people who would like to work but have given up looking as well as people who are working part time who would like to find full-time employment.

  So, while the current U-3 unemployment rate of around seven and one half per cent sounds pretty reasonable, the fact that U-6 rate is up around fourteen per cent is a bit more troubling. The U-6 rates among teens and some minorities are even worse.

  As the provisions of Obamacare continue to kick in, the U-6 rate will assume even greater importance. One way for employers to escape the expense of Obamacare is to hire more part-time employees and it hasn’t taken people long to figure that out. I don’t think that we’ll ever see part-time employment become the rule, but it’s sure to be less of the exception as the years go by.

  The unemployment rate deception is – in your humble correspondent’s opinion anyway – far less significant than the games that the government plays with the inflation rate.

  There are two types of expenses that are not calculated into the officially published inflation rate these days: food and fuel. The official excuse is that there is too much fluctuation in these two categories, so it’s somehow wrong to figure them in.

  That’s so much hooey of course. The real reasons for not including food and fuel when performing inflation mathematics are rather more self-serving.

  For one, keeping food and fuel out of the equation keeps the officially-published inflation rate low, which is a good thing for whomever happens to be in power at the time. The massive inflation that hit the nation during the Carter years (when food and fuel did count) played a large role in unseating that singularly incompetent President, since the numbers helped make it obvious just how incompetent the peanut farmer was.

  But there’s even a bigger, and more cynical, reason to play inflation-rate shenanigans. The growth rate in many government programs is tied to the official inflation rate. Cost of living increases, for example, are directly linked to this metric.

  The greater the inflation rate, the more these payments increase. For the big-government crowd, this is a serious problem, because the faster such payments increase, the more obvious it becomes that our current entitlement/nanny state is economically unsustainable.

  Sure, a fifteen trillion dollar debt should have given everybody a clue about that whole unsustainability thing, but some folks need to be beaten over the head (metaphorically speaking) before they finally wake up.

  If you factor in food and fuel, the real inflation rate would be close to fifteen per cent, which is about as bad as it’s been since the Carter days, which is to say that it’s about as bad as it gets. If the government were honest about the way were printing money and it’s real effect on our purchasing power, support for this administration would dwindle to insignificance. But, that’s not going to happen of course – today’s “journalists” are both too lazy and too dim-witted to perform that sort of analysis. How much easier it is to simply spit back whatever your ideological pals explain to you.

  And it should be noted, in closing, that President Obama is not responsible for creating either of the flawed accounting methods described above. But there’s little doubt that no president has benefitted more from this particular form of sleight of hand.

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Mayor Nanny Strikes Again

By Rich Trzupek

  Chemo-phobia has become an accepted part of modern life, but New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on the use of polystyrene foam in food service items is truly depressing.  As a chemist, I can state emphatically, that it has no sound scientific basis, needlessly increases costs to restaurateurs and their patrons in the Big Apple and would do more harm than good to the environment.  

  In fact, polystyrene is consumed by the “green industries” that are so near and dear to the mayor’s heart. Most windmill blades, for example, use polystyrene as a base component, not to mention its use in wind turbine housings and other structural components.  Polystyrene also plays a featured role in the production of many solar panels. It’s fair to say that but for this remarkable material, the renewable power industry would be facing even bigger challenges than it is today.

  Why do they use polystyrene?  Because it's strong, durable, inexpensive, doesn’t corrode and it’s relatively lightweight. Those characteristics make it the ideal material for use in many food service applications as well, especially when we add in one additional factor unique to the expanded version of polystyrene: it’s a great thermal insulator.

  Expanded polystyrene (often mistakenly called StyrofoamTM, a similar-looking insulation product, but produced in a different way) is mostly air, about 98% air for your typical grade of expanded polystyrene. In this era of double-paned glass, most people are aware that air is a terrific insulator. An expanded polystyrene cup, or a clamshell left-overs container made from the material, utilizes that double-paned glass principle a million times over, trapping the tiny pockets of air that combine to protect your hand from that piping hot cup of morning coffee and to keep that bit of dinner you couldn’t finish warm until you can get back home.

  Paper products just aren’t as good at thermal insulation as the people who double cup know. That’s because paper is porous and therefore not terribly good at trapping air.  And creating a paper product for food service use consumes more energy and uses more water than the expanded polystyrene equivalent. While paper has its uses, polystyrene is better--hands down.

  Environmentalists say that polystyrene is toxic, cannot be recycled and does not biodegrade. 

  Here's the truth:  While "styrene" has been identified as a possible human carcinogen (as have, to be fair, many other chemicals in common use) once the molecules have been linked together in the molecular equivalent of a Rockettes chorus line that is polystyrene, the risk of styrene exposure no longer exists. It’s not just non-toxic, it’s effectively non-existent as far as biological systems are concerned.

  Polystyrene can be recycled. Many communities are recycling it today. The only question is: how do you want to use it? You can grind it and heat it and turn it into a good filler for other plastic products. You can run it through a gasification process, break it back down into smaller components and put those components back together to make other plastics or fuels.

  The final environmental objection, polystyrene’s lack of biodegradability is more problematic because polystyrene doesn’t biodegrade.  But the foundation of this biodegradability objection rests on environmental mythology: that the United States is chock-full-o landfills and, even more disturbing, those landfills are just about full to the brim.  This is not accurate.

  Over the last thirty years, total landfill acreage has remained stable as we moved away from small urban landfills to larger, more modern landfills located in rural areas that serve multiple municipalities. We’ve got about as much landfill capacity as ever and there is little reason to believe that will be ever be a concern.  In fact,  you could fit all of the landfills in the United States into one moderate sized county in the Midwest and still have plenty of room left over.

  So it’s hard to get upset about putting a material into the ground that – as polystyrene’s biggest critics freely admit – isn’t going react with anything, leach into waterways or do anything else except sit there as inert as inert can be for the next several millennia, especially when the ground you’re putting it in represents such a tiny fraction of the nation’s land.

  So while though the road to hell may indeed be paved with good intensions, that does not mean that the intender--Mayor Bloomberg-- is a bad fellow. He's just listening to the wrong people.  I suggest that the mayor mobilize the intellectual talent concentrated in a capital of modern civilization like New York City, a city full of academics, professionals and business leaders to review the issue.  It is possible to develop means of incentivizing the recycling of those materials so we can both enjoy their benefits and recover their substantive value. 

  A leader interested in maximizing the standard of living for his constituents in this day and age needs a strategy more in tune with contemporary intellectual developments in science and technology.

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Feeding on Their Own

By Rich Trzupek

  Rarely has a television commercial annoyed me – disgusted me actually – as much as this one has. The Peak Antifreeze brand has lately been featuring an ad that emphasizes their down-home, familyesque character as a company (which is fine), but that does so while dumping on the hundreds of thousands of men and women who labor to keep America’s increasingly abused  energy industry cranking along.

  The Peak commercial in question, like Peak’s website, distances the brand from the supposed evils of “big oil”, whatever that is supposed to be.

  Based on their website, the company that owns Peak, Old World Industries, appears to be an entirely philanthropic organization: “We're not here to sell you more performance than your car needs just to make a few extra dollars for shareholders - We don't have shareholders.”

  Really? Old World may be a privately held (as opposed to publicly held) company, but the last time I checked privately held companies do indeed have shareholders. And – go figure – those people running private companies are as interested in making a “few extra dollars” for their shareholders (a.k.a.: themselves) as the people running public companies are interested in making a “few extra dollars” that may help boost the value of the IRA held by their shareholders (a.k.a.: you and me).

  To be sure, we’re all used to hearing about the supposed evils of the “big-oil” boogeyman when we deal with grandstanding politicos and ignorant media types. For them, it’s a simple matter of pointing to the number of zeros included in a particular company’s financial statement and reaching the conclusion that something fishy must have been going on to create such gaudy numbers.

  “Big oil” is convenient punching bag for environmental extremists, unreformed hippies, “occupy” idiots, and the like. And that’s fine. The men and women who work in the industry are used to abuse coming from that quarter, courtesy of our ever-compliant mainstream media, but to get kicked by another petrochemical company – one that ought to know better – is something else again. It’s the difference between taking crap from your annoying neighbor and a member of your own family stabbing you in the back.

  Besides that, I’m not buying Peak’s proposition that the company is not “big oil”. Old World Industries, and by extension Peak, sure seems to fit comfortably under that umbrella to me.

  Being a privately held company, we don’t know what Old World is worth. But we do know that Old World sells a variety of transportation-related products in over sixty countries. We do know that it sold its U.S. ethylene glycol (the basic component of most anti-freeze) production facility to a Thai company last year for a cool $795 million. I’m pretty sure that most people would call a company doing business in over sixty countries that also gets involved in transactions totaling close to a billion dollars “big”, but maybe that’s just me.

  How about the “oil” part? Can we say that Old World is in the oil business? Well, most of their products are both ultimately derived from petroleum and are sold into transportation markets that are wholly dependent on petroleum. Without oil, Old World wouldn’t have anything to sell, but that would be OK, because they’d have nobody to sell to anyway.

  So yeah, I’m pretty sure that Old World Industries and Peak Antifreeze deserves to wear the “Hello My Name is: Big Oil” name tag to cocktail parties, something that wouldn’t bother me a whit, were it not for the fact that the company is taking such care to simultaneously deny its own place in the industrial world and dump its petrochemical brethren.

  Cowards.

  To be fair, I doubt that Tom Hurvis, one of two entrepreneurs who founded Old World and who still serves as CEO, had anything to do with this offensive ad campaign. This sounds a lot more like the brainchild of some Madison Avenue type who has little knowledge of or appreciation for the way industry really works in the United States.

  Because, like Old World Industries, “big oil” doesn’t’ make money via a collection of unreformed robber-barons exploiting the masses so they can add some wings to their sprawling estates. The petrochemical industry – including Old World – earns their keep in this world because of the hundreds of thousands of men and women working in the oil and natural gas fields, refineries, petrochemical plants and all the off-shoots of this dynamic, wealth-producing industry. I’ve had the privilege to work with many of them over the years and they have my respect and my gratitude.

  And while I have no qualms about privately held companies like Old World or Koch Industries, nor am I offended by the publicly-held variety. The public is you and me after all. If I can save a few bucks more toward retirement because an oil company I’m invested in had a good year, then I’m all for them.

  So pull your head out of your posterior Old World. When it comes to your fellow companies engaged in the petrochemical business, perhaps you should employ the old adage: if you can’t say something good about someone, perhaps it would be better to say nothing at all.

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Another Time, Another Place

By Rich Trzupek

  I am not one of those prone to endlessly mourn for days gone by. Which is not to say that I don’t mourn for the old days, just not endlessly.

  Over the course of my fifty-some years on the planet, some things have changed for the better of course. Automobiles, for example. Some of my fellow old-timers bemoan the demise of the old gas guzzling tanks that we grew up with, but who’s kidding whom?

  Forty years ago, getting one hundred thousand miles out of a car was rare, today that magic number represents middle-age for most cars. If you lived in northern climes your car would be infected by rust after dealing with a winter or two. With modern sealants and paints, one rarely sees rusty clunkers on the road.

  There are other good things about the twenty-first century, but there are many things that are so very different and, in their own ways, so very much worse.

  I was ruminating on this the other day as I was dealing with one of the most annoying parts of modern life: the cattle line at the airport.

  Those of you younger than about thirty have never known anything else. The delays have grown and the indignities to which you are subject have increased, but the cattle line has always been a part of your life whether or not it involved removing your shoes and full body scanners. That’s what people do when they travel by air: they stand in long lines and get inspected before they are allowed on an airliner.

  It’s justified of course. In a world crawling with fanatics willing to kill and be killed to advance their cause, we have little choice but to be as cautious as we can.

  And yet there was a time, not so very long ago as all that, when going to the airport was one hundred per cent adventure and zero per cent goofiness.

  Fifty years ago, people dressed up before boarding something as exotic as an airliner. There was a red-carpet vibe to walking down the aisle of a 707 and few would be so crass as to make that trip clad in denim and a t-shirt.

  Fifty years ago, there were no cattle lines. There was no need. Hijacking hadn’t been invented yet – or at least it was so rare as not to be of much worry. Using airplanes as large-scale suicide bombs was simply inconceivable.

  That would all come later. The “summer of love” in 1968 morphed into a dangerous new world containing almost unprecedented levels of hate and we have debated ever since whether the latter was the inevitable outgrowth of the former.

  But, in the innocence of the early sixties, there was something magical about going to the airport, whether you happened to be flying or not. If you were taking a trip yourself, the size and power of the 707s and DC-8s that were – at the time – the queens of the skies was almost unimaginable. Flying in one was just this side of going to the moon, and no doubt the airline would be inaugurating scheduled service to a lunar spaceport in just a few years.

  If you were seeing somebody off, you walked right on to the gate with them. Nobody stopped you anywhere short of getting on the plane itself.

  So you went to the gate, you said your good-byes, watched everybody board and waited by the window until the plane pushed back. As the pilot ran up his engines and got ready to taxi away, you searched the windows of the plane for whomever you were sending off. Everybody, on the plane and at the gate, waved madly, although I doubt more than one in ten on either side could actually identify whomever they were waving at.

  You might linger at the airport for a while after that, watching the jets take off and land, stretching out the magic just a little bit longer. Then, reluctantly – very reluctantly – you headed home, wishing that you were the one soaring through the heavens toward some exotic locale.

  Those days and that feeling are long gone, a remnant of another, less complicated time that we will probably never see again. It was a different world, one that I and most of my contemporaries look back upon with a sense of rueful wonder.

  The loss of innocence is inevitable I suppose, but I sometimes wonder if there has been any other period in human history where we have – as a society – lost so much of it so quickly.

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Spraying to All Fields

By Rich Trzupek

  I write this column in the faint hope that it may reach your eyes, faithful Examiner readers. I realize that this is unlikely, given that sequestration has occurred, thus triggering the Apocalypse.

  However, just in case the power grid is still functioning and airliners crashing to the earth have not completely destroyed the interstate system, let us consider recent news.

  Crude is Crude – I have long been a fan of The Onion, so I was especially disappointed to find the “nation’s finest news source” at the center of an Oscar-week controversy. In case you have been in hibernation for the last few weeks, an Onion employee went on Twitter to mock nine-year actress Quvenzhane Wallis in a particularly offensive manner.

  The Onion apologized, as was right, but the satirical newspaper/website was just the latest example of what happens when folks confuse crude for edgy. It’s an on-going problem that isn’t going to get better anytime soon.

  There is an element of the entertainment industry that feels the need to constantly push the edge of the envelope of good taste. This is nothing new of course, my generation had Richard Pryor and the one before that had Lenny Bruce, along with countless other examples through the years.

  At some point, however, pushing the edge of the envelope must result in tumbling over that edge. I mean, that’s the whole point of having an edge, isn’t it? I’m sure that the idiot tweeter at The Onion thought he was being terribly hip using a crude sexual term to make fun of a nine year old, but it turns out that our culture hasn’t degenerated to that point.

  Not yet anyway.

  The Pension Crisis – The Newspaper That Used To Be The Chicago Tribune spent some of its ink this weekend to wag a finger at Illinois lawmakers who have steadfastly been avoiding do anything substantive to solve the state’s pension crisis. My thought regarding Tribune editors, in the immortal words of John McClane, are this: “Welcome to the party pal.”

  It’s nice that the Trib has noticed the mountain of unsustainable pension debt that has accumulated over the past ten years, but one cannot help but wonder where those crusaders – excuse me “watchdogs” – were ten years ago when all of this started.

  Ten years ago the state’s pension system was pretty much solvent, until Blago, Madigan and the rest of the gang started fooling with it to pay for a bunch of goodies we couldn’t really afford. It wasn’t hard to predict where that fiddling would end up, as many people not employed by The Newspaper That Used To Be The Chicago Tribune (including yours truly) pointed out at the time.

  Ten years ago, municipal governments could keep their fiscal houses in pretty good order, until the state started meddling in their business by passing mandates that vastly increased the pension and insurance liabilities of villages and cities throughout the state. Again, it was pretty easy to see how that would end up, as this writer and others at the mighty Examiner observed at the time, but the reaction over in Tribune Tower was pretty much a collective yawn.

  Now that the crisis – actually crises – are here, the editors at TNTUTBTCT (how’s that for a new acronym!) have decided to do something about it. To resort to another analogy from the cinema, they are as shocked (shocked!) as Claude Rains to find that Springfield has spent the last decade gambling with our money. Thanks a lot Trib.

  Crude is Oil – Recently released statistics show that crude oil production in the state of Texas increased at a greater rate last year than any time since the 1950’s! That’s amazing. No matter what restrictions this, or previous, administrations put on the oil industry, a lot of talented, hard-working people figure out a way to get it done anyway. That’s the real power of the free market. It’s a shame that the current administration doesn’t have a clue how to harness that kind of power.

  Dumb is Dumb – So, to recap: 1) the city of Chicago has had one of the toughest (if unconstitutional) gun-laws in the nation for years, 2) the city of Chicago has one of the highest murder rates of any municipality in the nation, 3) no one was killed in the Sandy Hook massacre with an assault weapon, and 4) more people in the United States are killed by hammers every year than are killed by assault weapons.

  And yet, according to Chicago pols, the way to stop the bleeding in the streets of the Windy City is to ban assault weapons in the state of Illinois. Rrrrrright.

  This is not just an example of avoiding confronting a problem, it’s the poster-child for not actually understanding what the problem is.

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Unsustainable

By Rich Trzupek

  I’m pretty sure that if somebody told me that I had the choice between racking up more credit card debt to pay for things I could not otherwise afford, or cutting down on the amount of money I spent, I would choose the latter. Most of us – I hope anyway – would do the same.

  It’s certainly not a choice that requires a degree in economics to make. If you can’t afford something today, and you don’t have any reason to expect that you can afford it tomorrow, then you must do without.

  As simple as that decision should be, it’s mind-boggling to me that the Washington elite are apparently incapable, or perhaps unwilling, to face it. We are told, by members of both parties, in the sort of shrill terms usually reserved for announcing the presence of a rock-star or a fire, that sequestration will result in disaster.

  Why? Because if those automatic spending cuts kick in, then the government won’t be able to do all of the wonderful things that it has been doing. OK. So what’s the answer?

  Raise taxes on the rich some more? Raise them all you want, we still can’t pay for all the goodies people demand of their government these days. Actually make spending cuts? Can’t have that. Deal the entitlement train wreck? Don’t make me laugh.

  All that’s left is more of the same: raise the debt ceiling and print/borrow more money to stave off the inevitable day of reckoning a little longer. Or, in other words, put it on the credit card again.

  The word “sustainable” having crept its way into popular culture as one of the noblest goal of the green generation, it is remarkable that the largest institution in the nation – that being the United States government – should pursue a path so obviously unsustainable.

  “But how are we going to live without (fill in the blank with the goodie of your choice)” people shriek. By definition, if we can’t actually pay for it, we’re going to have to live without whatever “it” is. The only question is “when”.

  Well, no, there’s another question as well. There’s the question of how we adjust. For the more we put off the inevitable crisis, the bigger the crisis becomes and the more painful it will be to come to terms with it.

  Today, we’re talking about some flights – maybe, possibly – being delayed if sequestration hits, for example. I suspect that’s just more propaganda, but even if it were so, how in the world would it possibly make more sense to let the fiscal crisis build up to the point that the inevitable depression would relegate flying to the rich and famous?

  Whenever people involved in any sort of business, be it private or public, hears that their department’s budget might be cut, the inevitable cries of doom and gloom follow right behind. It’s human nature.

  More often than not – much more often than not – people deal with budget cuts just fine. We see this in the private sector time and again. It is, in fact, a natural part of the economic cycle in the business world. Organizations get fat and bloated, profits drop, the least productive are cut and the new, leaner organization does a much better job than the old one did.

  Unfortunately, the nature of the public sector, particularly on the federal level, usually prevents this kind of self-correcting behavior from happening as it naturally should. We’re now at the point where that kind of correction is being forced upon lawmakers who don’t have the guts to make the hard decisions themselves.

  And yeah, there will be some tough times ahead when/if sequestration hits, but not so nearly wide-spread nor so tough as the doom-sayers have advertised. Besides, it will be a hell of a lot better than what would happen if we continue to ignore the bills we’ve been running up for far too long.

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Mr. Trzupek Goes to Washington (Again)

By Rich Trzupek

  So last week marked my second opportunity to testify before a Congressional committee on the subject that is, if not quite near and dear to my heart, at least pretty important to me and in which I may claim to have a certain expertise.

  The hearing was held before the Subcommittee on Environment of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology and the subject was (quoting from my invitation to testify letter): “The State of the Environment: Evaluating Progress and Priorities. The purpose of this hearing is to assess broad environmental trends and indicators, including an examination of recent developments in air and water quality, chemical exposure, environmental health, and climate change.”

  Chairman Andy Harris (R – MD) opened the hearing by calling all of the environmental progress we have made over the past forty-some years, “the greatest story never told”, a sentiment with which I rather agree. It set the tone for the rest, including a good deal of back and forth in the question and answer phase. You can watch the whole thing here, if you’re interested: http://science.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-environment-state-environment-evaluating-progress-and-priorities.

  So what’s it like testifying before Congress? A few observations come to mind.

  Everybody is very nice, very polite, before and after the hearing. The lone Dem witness, Dr. Goldstein, and I had very pleasant conversations in both cases. Ranking member Bonamici took the time to come up after we wrapped up and thanked me for my contributions. It’s all very civilized.

  Which is a good thing of course, but there is a part of me that yearns for our wild west days when congressmen called each other the most creative of names and were even know to take a poke at one another when they felt honor was at stake. I’m not so sure that having Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell duke it out to settle their differences would be such a bad idea. I’m certain that it would be damn entertaining.

  There is also the paperwork, which includes – among other things – a “Truth in Testimony” form in which you are required to disclose who is paying you to go to DC and say whatever you intend to say. That was pretty short list in my case, since nobody was paying me to say anything. However, that didn’t stop the opposition from throwing mud my way.

  Prior to the hearing, the National Resources Defense Council published a hit piece attacking me and my fellow GOP witness. You can read the whole thing here: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/jdevine/gop_science_subcommittee_kicks.html

  I actually found the NRDC thing entertaining rather than offensive. It’s amazing the degree to which some people will sling arrows in order to divert attention from their own failings.

  But more than anything, I came away from that hearing with the overwhelming feeling that nothing I said, nothing Ms. White said and nothing Dr. Goldstein said actually mattered. It was a sad, depressing realization.

  The inertia that pervades Washington is so all-encompassing these days. It’s palatable. It’s a national paralysis that creeps up your spine the minute you deplane, and I don’t know what the heck we’re ever going to do about it.

  There are good people in that town to be sure. I like Dr. Harris and think he gets it. I like Lamar Smith too, who now chairs the Committee on Space Science and Technology. He’s sharp and he’s a gentleman, which is a good combination in my book. And while I don’t agree with Ms. Bonamici’s positions on this topic, I don’t think she has bad intentions.

  But maybe that’s the problem. The road to hell, it is said, is lined with good intentions. In DC, everybody claims to want to do the right thing. Maybe they all do. I just know. But with half the nation pulling in one direction and the other half pulling just as firmly in the other, the ship of state isn’t going anywhere.

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Fracking Ridiculous

By Rich Trzupek

  Matt Damon’s anti-fracking film “Promised Land” may have flopped at the box office, but the dubious claims and outright lies that lie behind Damon’s obsession with this particular part of the energy industry continue to grow. There has been so much disinformation disseminated, most of it generated by environmental groups and their tame, technically ignorant allies in the mainstream media, that it’s impossible to refute it all in one short commentary. However, we can try. In that spirit, here’s my list of the top five fracking fantasies currently in circulation:

  1) Fracking is a new and therefore poorly understood technology – Not even close to true. Fracking (more properly “hydro fracturing”) is a technique that is more than fifty years old and is consequently very well understood. Breakthroughs in horizontal drilling technology and exploration techniques are the real drivers for today’s natural gas boom. These two advances made it possible to identify deep, natural gas rich shale formations and to economically remove the gas. Fracking is merely the most efficient way to ensure that the greatest possible amount of gas can be removed from each shale formation.

  2) The chemicals used in fracking are dangerous and can contaminate aquifers – As is often the case when it comes to green disinformation, there is a tiny morsel of truth here, surrounded by a great mass of distortion and hyperbole. When a hole is drilled deep underground, for any purpose, it necessarily must pass through shallow aquifers. The depth of aquifers used for drinking water vary, but 50 to 200 feet is typical in the United States. When the hole passes through the aquifer, an impermeable casing must be used to ensure that the materials used in drilling do not contaminate the aquifer. Again, this is the case whenever one drills deep, for any purpose.

  Drilling also requires the use of very small concentrations of certain chemicals, such as corrosion inhibitors (to prevent metal oxidation) and anti-bacterials (to prevent biological growth and fouling). This has and will continue to be the case of any kind of deep well drilling. So, if a casing is poorly constructed, there is a chance that a small amount of certain, well-understood chemicals could seep out into an aquifer. That risk – tiny as it may be – will always exist as long as man uses drills to explore the earth and extract its resources. However, if the casing is properly installed, there is no way for any material used to extract shale gas lying a mile below the surface to seep into aquifers lying a couple of hundred feet down.

  3) Fracking releases dangerous amounts of natural gas into host communities where the wells are drilled – This particular myth, most famously perpetuated by HBO’s faux-umentary “Gasland”, persists even though it’s been debunked time and time again. The simple truth is this: there are some parts of the country where sources of natural gas (typically shallow coal deposits) lie close to the surface and, in some of these places, these sources of natural gas may seep into aquifers. People who live in such places must install equipment to deal with the problem. This was the case before fracking began and will continue to be so whether or not fracking takes place in these areas. There is simply no way that a natural gas contained in shale formations can pass through thousands of feet of impervious rock and seep into shallow aquifers.

  4) Fracking in pretty much unregulated – Untrue. The big shale gas states have rules and regulations that cover fracking and USEPA has proposed more rules that will apply to drilling, extraction, transportation and processing of natural gas and natural gas liquids. There is, in other words, extensive regulatory protection that applies to the natural gas industry and those protections are going to grow even stronger.

  5) People like me who write commentaries like this are unscrupulous, unprincipled pawns of the big energy companies – Actually, people like me who write commentaries like this stand in awe of the technology and the people that have – in the matter of a decade – removed all worries that the United States would run out of natural gas and will soon turn our country into an exporter of that vital commodity. The shale gas revolution is an American success story of the first order and hundreds of thousands of men and women across the nation have had their lives enriched by the remarkable bright spot in our otherwise dismal economy. Rather than mindlessly criticizing that which they plainly don’t understand, critics like Damon and the mega-environmental lobby ought to join the rest of us in offering thanks to this badly-needed, amazing addition to America’s economic engine.

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Little of This, Little of That

By Rich Trzupek

  - Saw “Lincoln” this past weekend. Spielberg’s politics being Spielberg’s politics, I wish I could say that it blows, but it just doesn’t. It’s magnificent. More than that, it’s historically accurate, down to the little details that few but Civil War buffs would appreciate.

  David Strathairn’s portrayal of Secretary of State William Seward, for example, was spot on. He captured the complex nature of the Seward-Lincoln relationship, in which the two routinely swapped the role of student and teacher.

  Picking Tommy Lee Jones to play irascible Congressman Thaddeus Stevens was certainly the obvious choice, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right choice. Nobody does brilliant curmudgeon better than Jones and those two words pretty much define Stevens, by all accounts.

  The performances of Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field have been universally praised of course. And rightly so. The combination of Lewis’ talent and Spielberg’s touch brought out a Lincoln that – in this writer’s humble opinion – is the most historically accurate to ever have been captured on film, down to the great man’s rather high-pitched voice, melancholy character and shambling walk. It you haven’t seen “Lincoln” yet, what the heck are you waiting for?

  - It’s a shame that the 787 Dreamliner is having some teething problems, but I wouldn’t go selling that Boeing stock just yet. The mainstream media does a wonderful job of wringing its hands and gnashing its teeth whenever aviation problems arise. And they are pros at consulting so-called “aviation experts” whose lack of professional qualifications are only matched by their willingness to say anything in order to grab the spotlight.

  The late Michael Crichton did a wonderful job of exposing the lazy way that the mainstream media covers aviation issues in his novel “Airframe”. If you haven’t read it, get your butt out there and do so. It’s “Exhibit A” in the case explaining why journalism majors should not cover aviation stories – or any technical issues for that matter.

  Practically every airplane every built has had some kind of problem (or problems) develop soon after introduction into regular service. Those problems get figured out and fixed, making aviation the safest form of transportation going.

  The Dreamliner will be a success. Count on it.

  - A few folks have asked me to weigh in on the Sandy Hook tragedy. I am somewhat reluctant to do so. However…

  It’s easy to understand the desire to do something – anything – to ensure that this kind of tragedy can never happen again. Any parent (this one included) can empathize with that feeling. But, the reality is this (Piers Morgan notwithstanding): in a nation with 300 million fire arms and the Second Amendment, the answer is not going to include, and should not include, outlawing guns.

  It’s worth noting that Sandy Hook is not the deadliest mass murder at an elementary school in American history. That dishonor goes to Bath School bombings of 1927.

  In that tragedy, a mentally-disturbed, fifty-five year old school board treasurer by the name of Andrew Kehoe killed his wife and then set off explosives at the local elementary school. By the time he was done, Kehoe had murdered forty five people, including thirty eight children.

  The point here being that evil always tries to find a way and we’re kidding ourselves if we believe that we can defeat evil by meager efforts to limit evil’s access to a world full of tools with which evil may accomplish its ends.

  - Egypt is coming apart at the seams. Wish it wasn’t, but that seems to be the reality. A prayer or two for the Copts who are still there would be in order at this point.

  - And, speaking of Christians living in theocracies, the fact that Iran sentenced Christian pastor Saeed Abedini – an American citizen – to eight years in prison because of his religious beliefs is reprehensible, if predictable.

  The fact that the Obama administration has done little more than offer lip-service in protest, and that the mainstream media hasn’t gone to bat for Abedini is absolutely shameful, if equally predictable.

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Redemption

By Rich Trzupek

  I’m a particular fan of stories of redemption and this particular story of redemption is not only one of my favorites of the genre, it’s also timely. All will be revealed at the end.

  Our tale begins in 1919, when a twenty six year old lefthander pitching for the Chicago White Sox won two games in the World Series that would come to known for the infamous Black Sox Scandal. The lefty, who was also a rookie that year, hailed from St. Louis, Missouri. His name? Richard Henry “Dickey” Kerr.

  Kerr then has a couple more good years with White Sox teams that were really, really bad following the Black Sox purge. After that, having been loyal to the Sox, he asked owner Charles Comiskey for a raise. Comiskey, being the tight-wad that Comiskey was, refused to cough up. So, following some legal maneuvering, Kerr ends up out of the majors.

  The reserve clause was then in place in baseball. If you don’t know what that was, the reserve clause allowed owners to tie a player to a team for life. There wasn’t any free agency. There wasn’t any open market. You played for the team the owners wanted you to play for – period.

  Save a so-so comeback in 1925, that was Kerr’s major league career: one World Series season, marred by a despicable cast of miscreants who soiled the game; two more seasons during which the club would be gutted and what remained would become the laughingstock of the American League; and, to top it off, an owner that couldn’t come up with the lousy five hundred bucks after Kerr pitched his butt off with a cast of clowns to back him up. Thanks for the memories Dickey. Don’t let the doorknob hit you in the ass.

  Dickey Kerr had ample reason to be bitter, particularly toward the game he had put so much honest effort into, but which treated him so shabbily in return. You have to believe that Kerr put at least a little time pondering the “what ifs”.

  Were it not for the Black Sox scandal, the White Sox were on the road to establishing a dynasty that might have displaced the Yankees as the team that dominated the twenties. And Kerr, a talented, relatively young pitcher, could have won a ton of games for such a team. Would we remember Dickey Kerr as a Hall of Fame pitcher, if only the 1919 Sox hadn’t tanked the fall classic? Who knows, but Kerr surely had to wonder, at least a little bit.

  To be sure, there are indications that Kerr felt some resentment to the game. “All baseball gave me was the boot,” he is said to have complained. And yet, he kept giving. He spent time as a scout after his playing days were over, and he also coached young players at Rice University and later, in the minors.

  It was in the minors, while managing the Daytona Beach Islanders, that Kerr took a promising young pitcher under his wing. Unfortunately, the youngster developed a sore arm. Depressed, he contemplated quitting baseball. He needed to eat. He couldn’t afford to wait around to see if his arm healed and, even if he did, he understood that he would be viewed as damaged goods by major league teams.

  Kerr had other ideas. He liked the young man and recognized his raw athletic talent. Even as a pitcher, the youngster demonstrated some talent with the bat. Stick around, Kerr said, get better and we’ll try you out in the outfield. As far as money went, well Kerr and his wife would take the youngster in till he got back on his feet.

  The pitcher took Kerr up on his offer. And it turned out he could hit. He hit so well in fact that he made it to the majors, where he became a star of the first order. And he never forgot what Dickey Kerr did for him. He ended up buying Kerr a big, brand new home in Houston and he would remain friends with Kerr until the old lefthander passed away in 1963.

  I like to think that Kerr felt a bit of redemption and I’m sure that he felt more than a little pride, given the career and the type of man his young protégé became. For, the name of that injured pitcher who went on to become a Hall of Fame outfielder was Stan “The Man” Musial, one of the greatest hitters and greatest gentlemen in baseball history.

  With Stan passing from this life into the next this past weekend, I imagine he’s enjoying his reunion with Dickey. They both lived lives in full and they are proof – if any more proof is needed – that you never know where the tides of life will take you.

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Gore is a Whore

By Rich Trzupek

  At this point, can we just call him “Al Whore”? I’m not sure which is worse, that the guy was Vice President of the United States for eight years, or that he came within one Supreme Court vote of being elected President. Good Lord, what a pathetic, hypocritical, slimy, cowardly, egotistical, son of a bitch Gore is.

  What little respect (if any) that I had for Gore has long ago evaporated. This is the man who pretends to be an expert on climate science, but refuses to talk to any actual climate scientist who disagrees with him. This is the guy who has made a career out of whining about global warming while living in a huge mansion and flying around the world in private jets.

  Nice carbon footprint you got their Al.

  Gore justifies his massive use of evil fuels in a couple of ways. For one (according to Al) he’s serving the greater good by flying to exotic locales and staying in fancy hotels to expose the evils of the world’s energy companies. And, if a hot masseuse happens to make her talents available to the former veep, he’ll be all the more refreshed when going into battle.

  The other part of his rationalization involves the purchase of carbon credits. Yeah, carbon credits. They still exist, even though the United States has done away with any notion of a “cap and trade” program and the European version has been a disaster. Carbon credits are composed of equal parts pixie dust and guilt, but they are an important part of making the privileged class feel good about themselves.

  Apparently Gore’s carbon credit bill has gotten hideously expensive, for why else would he agree to sell Current TV to Al Jazeera for over twice what the cable network is worth? A guy has to be hurting for money to sell an American television network to an organization with ties to terrorist organizations.

  Gore, who had a twenty percent stake in Current, is said to have netted $100 million in the sale to Al Jazeera. In turn, Current will be reborn as “Al Jazeera America”, as the Arab news network adds additional news bureaus across the country.

  Now it’s self-apparent that Al Jazeera has as much of a right to peddle their propaganda as anyone else. A nation that puts up with the twaddle emanating from MSNBC can’t be all that worried about a network that throws welcome home parties for terrorists.

  However, the fact that Gore is the guy to provide Al Jazeera its entry card into the club of American broadcasting definitively demonstrates just how much of a hypocrite the man is.

  Gore, that bastion of modern liberalism, has decried the evils of corporate, money-grubbing American for decades, but he obviously has no problem raking in millions himself to secure his place among the “one per centers”.

  Gore, the environmental champion, supposedly hates fossil fuels and everyone involved in their production, sale and distribution, but he doesn’t blink an eye when a network founded and paid for by Middle Eastern petrodollars hands him a windfall.

  Here’s how Big Al described Current TV and Al Jazeera when the sale was announced: both networks exist, he said “to give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling."

  (Note to Al: the reason that no one else is telling those stories is because the stories they tell are so much horse-puckey).

  Now, whenever anyone uses the phrase “truth to power”, you can be damned sure that the speaker possesses neither, and that is certainly the case with Al. He’s a fraud – a charlatan – a con-man of the first order. One hundred and fifty years ago, he would have been selling snake oil and charms to ward off evil spirits.

  I don’t imagine Al Jazeera will attract many viewers and those that do tune in will be those predisposed to Al Jazeera’s point of view. That’s fine. I get that. But how in the world a fraud like Al Gore continues to be accepted by polite society is utterly, completely beyond my comprehension.

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Drowning In Red Ink

By Rich Trzupek

  So we got a budget deal. Ain’t we proud. Democrats got their cherished tax increases on the rich. And Republicans got – well, I’m not sure what Republicans got, but I do know what we the people got: nothing.

  Actually, we got less than nothing. Literally. The tax increase doesn’t do anything to offset spending increases, which has been the standard for the Obama administration. Nor does the budget deal do anything to address the real problem: entitlements. This is, in other words, just the latest version of the kick-the-can game that the nation has been playing for the last few years.

  It goes without saying that this is all Bush’s fault. Clearly, the only way to address the huge debts run up during the Bush years was to run up truly horrendous debts in the Obama years. It was a brilliant solution to a problem that should never have existed.

  Honest economists of all political ilks acknowledge that the problem is entitlements. Neither Social Security nor Medicare can continue in their current form for very much longer. It doesn’t matter how much we tax who. It doesn’t matter how much reduce defense spending. All of that is sideshow. If we don’t fix entitlements, the nation will go broke (if it hasn’t already).

  That’s also the conclusion that the Simpson-Bowles Commission – assigned by President Obama to find solutions to the nation’s budget woes – arrived at. Just this past Sunday, former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles repeated the message on Meet the Press: “We have to slow the growth of entitlement spending,” he said. “A big part of going forward has to be entitlement reform.”

  We could have and should have dealt with this ten years ago, when President Bush tried to address entitlement reform. That attempt came a cropper, as everyone in D.C. put political posturing ahead of fixing what is so clearly broke.

  So far, the current administration’s approach to the problem has been consistent with the President’s Chicago politics roots: ignore an uncomfortable issue and hope everyone else does as well.

  It’s more than a little ironic that we’re having this discussion nationally at the same time that the President’s adopted home state is being forced to face up with its equally unsustainable pension program.

  Back when Blago started raiding the state pension funds over a decade ago, it was pretty damn clear that we’d eventually get to this point. Or, at least, it should have been clear to anyone who was paying attention at the time.

  I happened to be among those paying attention at the time and wrote about how stupid, short-sighted and ultimately disastrous Blago’s plans (fully supported by his fellow Democrats in the General Assembly) would be. This of course led to the usual barrage of letters accusing me of that most damning of sins: uncontrolled conservatism.

  In reality, that particular prediction had nothing to do with conservatism or liberalism, it had to with basic math: you can’t continue to pay out more than you could conceivably take in.

  With a few blessed exceptions, politician of both parties stuck their heads in the sand as the crisis got worse and worse over the years. The incredibly ignorant mainstream media pretty much ignored the problem as well. It was one of the stories that involve numbers and math and somewhat complex analysis and modern journalists lake both the will and brains to cover boring old stories like that.

  If this sounds like your humble correspondent crowing “I told you so”, you’re damn straight that’s what I’m doing. Now that the fecal matter has finally hit the fan so hard that it’s impossible to ignore the splatter any longer, the alarm bells and clanging and hands are wringing from Chicago to Cairo. About time, or too late?

  I rather suspect the latter and I think that Illinois is going to be in for even tougher economic times than those we’ve seen. And there’s little doubt that Illinois Dems will evade the notion that they are in the least responsible for the mess. Such is what passes for governance in the Land Of Lincoln these days.

  But, to bring us full circle, what is happening in Illinois is a microcosm of what will soon be happening on the national level. It’s the same irresponsible philosophies brought to you by the same Chicago pols and it’s leading us to the same place: a black hole of debt that will suck the life out of each and every one of us.

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By Rich Trzupek

  I haven’t decided whether or not to see “Promised Land”, the new Matt Damon fantasy film which – I am reliably informed – is basically an attack on the natural gas exploration industry. On the one hand, watching Hollywood hatchet jobs usually raises my blood pressure. On the other hand, it’s probably better for me to know what garbage is being spewed about in popular culture. We’ll see.

  The particular part of the natural gas exploration industry that seems to disturb Damon is what is (usually inaccurately) described as “fracking” in the popular media. Fracking is shorthand for “hydro-fracturing”, a technique that is part of extracting natural gas from shale formations.

  We will pause for a minute to answer two questions that usually come up when I talk about energy issues:

1) What makes you think that you’re an expert on these issues?

  Because I’ve worked with scores of energy companies in my day job for the last thirty years and I understand how a great many processes in the energy sector work, including shale gas exploration. People like me have to understand the processes so that we can help companies obtain permits for them.

  2) You’re just writing this because you’re a tool of the big oil companies!

  Okay: A) that’s not actually a question, and B) most (but not all) of the work in this sector of  the energy business is performed by companies that have nothing – zip – nada – to do with oil companies.

  2A) OK, fine. Isn’t it true that you’re writing this because you’re a tool of the big natural gas companies and those big oil companies that are also in the natural gas business?

  No, it’s not, but I have learned long ago that there is a certain portion of the population that is so infatuated with making corporate America the villain in every story there is absolutely no point in attempting to dissuade them. So if that’s what you need to believe, be my guest.

  With that out of the way, let’s deal with a couple of common misconceptions regarding fracking and shale gas.

  Misconception 1: Fracking is a dangerous new technology and we don’t know nearly enough about it for it to be used safely.

  The hydro-facturing technique is over sixty years old. Pump a bunch of water and sand into a “tight” formation in which natural gas is trapped and you create fissure for the gas to escape so that it can be collected and used.

  What’s “new” is horizontal drilling technology that makes it economical to “frack” deep, but relatively thin shale formations, along with sensing technology that has driven drilling success-rates from roughly one in ten twenty years ago to over eighty five per cent today. Combine the two and we have the ability to recover natural gas reserves in amounts that were almost unimaginable ten years ago.

  Misconception 2: The chemicals used in fracking are toxic and will contaminate water supplies.

  Whenever one drills any kind of hole deep in the ground, for any purpose, chemicals are used. Some of the chemicals help lubricate the drill bit, some keep bacteria from growing and fouling the well, some prevent corrosion and there are others that serve other purposes. All are used in very small concentrations, but some could potentially foul a water table there was a leak into the water table.

  Note however that this is true of any hole that is drilled, not just those holes drilled to extract natural gas. The “danger area” is the zone where the hole passes through shallow aquifers – typically 50 to 250 feet, depending on local geology. When the hole passes through the aquifer, a secure casing prevents any communication between chemicals used for drilling and the aquifer. It is the quality of the casing that determines whether or not drilling chemicals will contaminate an aquifer. 

  In the case of shale gas, once the well is in place with a quality casing, there is no way for the natural gas – typically found at depths of a mile or more – to get into an aquifer as the result of the drilling. That’s reality, not that such things matter to Hollywood.

  I suspect that Damon will do his level best to perpetuate these misconceptions, and many more that have made their way into our internet culture. It’s stupid, especially since the natural gas industry is one of the few parts of the economy that’s really working, but that’s Hollywood for ya.

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