Monday, December 28, 2009

Smile When You Call Me That

“Smile when you call me that,” said the The Virginian with his six gun drawn and cocked in Owen Wister’s famous novel about the West. The author lamented that the outsider could not discern why one cowboy calling another a “SOB” sometimes resulted in laughter and at other times led to gun fire. As the story progresses, the outsider learns that there is an unseen bond among cowboys and an unwritten code of ethics.

There are certain things that form a bond among different ethnic groups or tie generations together. There are formative events or cultural icons that transcend any other differences of opinion that may exist within a particular group.

For cowboys, it was the shared experience of driving large herds of cattle across vast and fenceless landscapes that are harsh and unforgiving. There is also the bond between a cowboy and his horse. Over long and lonely days of riding herd, the cowboy gains understanding of the unique attributes of each horse in his remuda, the different personalities, characteristics, and needs of individual horses. Through this study of horses and horse behavior, the cowboy gleans an insight into the social behavior of humans. But, owing to the lonely nature of the job, his observations and understandings are seldom spoken. The cowboy observes and acts with a suddenness and certainty that is confusing to the outsider, at least, until the outsider goes through the same experiences and acquires the same understanding.

There are events that serve to unite different people groups. The Civil War by its very nature established a bond that transcended the war between the North and South. The Civil War pitted Americans against Americans, family members against other family members, but in the end, the United States of America was reunited in order to form a more perfect union.

Certainly each of the World Wars had a similar effect on Americans fighting overseas to protect the freedoms and liberty of other nations against the aggressors.

And, then the Viet Nam War established a unique bond among baby boomers, but for a completely different set of reasons. There was deep division within the United States about our involvement in Southeast Asia, a schism largely between the World War II generation and the baby boomers. It was our first experience in a guerilla war with a loosely organized enemy that did not wear uniforms and the dangerous cohabitation of combatants with women and children. Moreover, the conflict in Viet Nam was as much psychological and spiritual warfare as it was conventional. The psychological assault continued when returning soldiers were spit upon by baby boomers and rejected by World War II veterans.

But even between the World War II generation and the baby boomers there are those events, movements, and things that serve to form that common unifying bond that makes us all American.

Events like the assassination of President Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, or the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, or the terrorist attacks on American soil on September 11, 2001, all serve to unify Americans of all generations, of all political persuasions, and of all ethnicities.

Social movements can have a similar effect. Who does not share some memory of, link to, or affinity for the Civil Rights Movement and how it changed America?

Generations remember Love Canal, or the Santa Barbara oil spill, or the Cayahoga River catching fire in Ohio, or Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring. These were the events that led to the modern environmental movement which has so impacted our culture today.

Americans love affair with food also seems to exhibit the capacity to transcend all other divisions. Most of us put aside our differences and join together to enjoy the roast beast of our choice at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner each year.

And what about music? It sooths the wild beast. A young King David played the harp to help calm down then King Saul’s horrible moods and headaches. Music forms a link between generations, across ideological divides, and reminds us of our common heritage. The same music may affect each of us in a unique way. The fact is that certain lyrics or a series of notes and chords can trigger memories for all of us, and while the memories may be unique, it is that special song we all identify with that can unify us as well.

When I served at the Department of the Interior under President Bush, I was a political appointee. There is always a dynamic tension between political appointees and the career civil service employees. Some career employees agree with the philosophy of governance of the sitting President and some do not. While most of them serve the administration without political rancor, there are parlays between politicals and careerists while each tries to feel the other out. I remember one such meeting when I related a story about misdirected emails. I had been trying to send regular monthly reports to an individual whose email address was, but was inadvertently using the email handle of I kept getting the most curious replies from the unknown recipient. In the process of identifying the problem of the misdirected emails, I began corresponding with the owner of who as it turns out is none other than the drummer from Janis Joplin’s first band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. We had a wonderful exchange about the history of rock and roll and the San Francisco genre of the same. Well, by telling that story to this career federal employee, who was particularly challenged by my political persuasion, he suddenly could identify with me. We were able to work well together after that and advanced several productive policy changes as a result of having first established the unlikely common bond of rock and roll.

As we all celebrate the Christmas and New Year holiday season together, let us take a little time to refresh our memories about the things that unite us as a people. I believe this country may be as divided today as it was during the Civil War. And I believe those divisions are real and significant. I am as deluxe a partisan as anyone out there, and as you have no doubt noticed, I have very definite opinions about issues and policies. But, in the end, the things that bring us together are much greater than what divides us. For our collective mental health and the future of the United States of America, let us from time to time lay down the sword and focus on those unseen bonds that make us E Pluribus Unum, a people united.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Nuclear Option

If you have read my columns in the past, you probably know that I am not convinced that humans are the principal cause of climate change. Moreover, the policies under consideration such as Cap and Trade and the UN Copenhagen Treaty will likely do nothing to alter the earth’s climate, but could very well result in a lot of people freezing in the dark.

But, the question that keeps coming back to me is why doesn’t the United States of America go nuclear? Whether or not you believe in human-caused climate change, nuclear power has the potential to be a full-time, zero-emission, safe, reliable, and significant source of electric power. And because we have a lot of uranium ore here in the United States, like coal, it can be a power supply that decreases our dependence on foreign oil. And with about half of the world’s supply of uranium ore residing in Canada and Australia, going nuclear significantly reduces the number of dollars funding terrorist sponsoring countries in the Middle East.

Nuclear power currently provides the United States with about 20% of our electric supply. In France, it supplies about 80% of the electricity.

Nuclear power can provide abundant electrical supplies and it does not stop when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining. It does not result in development phenomena called energy sprawl nor does it require extensive new transmission line development.

Contrary to current American mythology, nuclear power is safe. I remember the rather blunt message on a bumper sticker back in the height of uranium production in the early 1980’s in Wyoming. “More people have died in the back seat of Ted Kennedy’s car than have died from nuclear accidents in the United States.” While albeit a bit nasty, it makes the point—no one in the United States has died from a civilian nuclear accident in the last 40 years.

America virtually stopped constructing nuclear power plants after the infamous Three Mile Island plant’s partial meltdown in March of 1979. Though only a partial meltdown, some radioactive material escaped the confines of the facility resulting to doomsday predictions of higher cancer rates and deaths to be associated with the accident. However, a report released by the presidential commission, appointed to investigate the Three Mile Island accident, concluded that "there will either be no case of cancer or the number of cases will be so small that it will never be possible to detect them. The same conclusion applies to the other possible health effects." Several epidemiological studies in the years since the accident have supported the conclusion that radiation releases from the accident had no perceptible effect on cancer incidence in residents near the plant.

Of course, the facts about the benign nature of the accident were overshadowed by the hype and hysteria of anti-nuclear activists. This anti-nuke mood was exacerbated by Hollywood which had coincidently released a nuclear power accident thriller “The China Syndrome” just weeks before the Three Mile accident.

Then came the reactor explosion at Russia’s Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine. There was a massive release of highly radioactive material and a radioactive plume traveled over Eastern Europe eventually resulting in radioactive rain as far away as Ireland. This horrific accident was not a complete surprise to observers of the USSR’s nuclear program. Safety was never a priority for the Soviets and one has to wonder about the capacity to construct safe nuclear power plants in a country that could not even make a toilet that flushed properly.

Nonetheless, the 2005 report prepared by the Chernobyl Forum, led by the International Atomic Energy Agency and World Health Organization, attributed 56 direct deaths and estimated that there may be 4,000 extra cancer deaths among the approximately 600,000 most highly exposed people. While any loss of life is tragic, by comparison, deaths resulting from Chinese coal mine accidents numbered nearly 37,000 from 2000 to 2005, averaging 6,151 dead miners per year!

Even if we get past the red herring of nuclear accidents, the anti-nuclear folks will tell us that the nuclear waste disposal is too hot to handle, no pun intended. Currently, nuclear power plants in the United States produce about 2,000 ton of nuclear waste each year. Compare that to the 230 million tons of municipal waste disposed of each year, a staggering 4.6 lbs. per person per day. This is arguably not toxic waste, or is it? Have you ever thrown out old paint cans, pesticide bottles, household chemical containers, or perhaps worst of all, unused pharmaceuticals?

By applying existing nuclear fuel rod reprocessing technology, the United States could reuse the 2,000 tons of annual nuclear waste, generate more energy, and greatly reduce the amount residual waste as well as significantly reduce the time the reprocessed waste remains radioactive. The remaining waste can be safely stored in steel/concrete containers. I will always remember when a company proposed constructing a temporary spent fuel rod storage facility near Moneta, Wyoming, back in the 1990’s right in the heart of some of the richest uranium deposits in the country. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission expressed concerns about the project because the naturally occurring background radiation levels exceeded their allowable standards.

Since 1987, proponents and opponents to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository have argued about the safety of nuclear waste storage. Through the loyal opposition, future nuclear power plant construction has been stifled until the United States addresses the issue of nuclear waste disposal. During this same twenty year time frame, nuclear power plants having been storing their nuclear waste on site, often in or near urban areas, and without any detected leakage, harm to humans, or any other life form. In the meantime, we wonder if the most studied mountain on the planet and should be developed at all. Yucca Mountain, the United States’ only Congressionally designated long-term repository for nuclear waste, is composed of geological material that is suitable for long-term nuclear waste storage. It is part of an Air Force operations area that includes the site of 904 atomic bomb tests between 1945 and 1992, and is 80 miles from the nearest population center, Las Vegas, Nevada. In order to address the long-term storage of nuclear waste, we need to move forward with the development of the Yucca Mountain deep geological repository.

Nuclear power is the only non-carbon-dioxide-emitting method of generating electricity that could ever come close to replacing coal, oil, and natural gas in the United States. Wind and solar will never generate the amount of electricity that America needs to power our homes, businesses, and industry, nor will it ever be as reliable as other more traditional sources of power. America needs to get past Three Mile Island, the nuclear waste issue, and utilize zero-emission nuclear power to generate electricity. I say this because America needs safe, diverse, reliable, and stable supplies of energy. I do not support the vain and anti-human agenda that attempts to address a naturally occurring climate cycle that most likely cannot be stopped anyway. But, if the climate change debate is to serve any good purpose, it should be to shock us out of our nuclear phobia and back into the Atomic Age.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How Did We Get Here?

Many people across this great land of ours are expressing deep frustration about how far and how fast this country seems to be heading into an economic abyss. People feel as though we have abandoned the principles of free enterprise and rewarding individual work and achievements. People are burdened by how much they have to pay in taxes. People are concerned about the proliferation of entitlement programs that cannot possibly be sustained as our population ages and more people become dependent upon the government largess. People don’t like heavy-handed government interference in their private lives. And people are worried about the accumulation of U.S. debt that has interest on the debt alone potentially bankrupting our federal government.

“How did we get here?” we ask ourselves.

We are witnesses to what happens to a representative form of government when the people realize that they can vote themselves a stipend from government programs. This is what you get when more than half of the electorate receives more from the government than they pay in taxes.

And when the liberal policy wonks in Washington suggest that we just raise the taxes on the “rich” to solve our problems, they have ignored basic tenants of human nature and rational decision making.

When I was in the fifth grade and my teacher was extolling the virtues of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, I had the temerity to tell the class, “Yeah, just wait until you make a buck.” This resulted in a note from the teacher to my parents, who as Goldwater Republicans, reveled in the afterglow of my words for years.

Then along came college when I was certain that I was smarter than a fifth grader. I was an economics major at the University of California at San Diego. The Negative Income Tax was the latest fad among economic policymakers. Instead of complicated and administratively burdensome entitlement programs, there would be a tax policy put into place that would have people below a certain income level actually receive money from the federal government. Not just a refund, actual income from the federal government over and above what they have paid. As part of our macro economics class, each student had access to a computer that had a sophisticated model of the US economy. We were told to establish our own parameters for a negative income tax, plug them into the computer model, and watch the resulting impact on the economy. Being a naïve and vintage 1970’s liberal, I proceeded to set a very generous policy for negative income tax and, fully expecting a Utopian-like outcome, I began to watch the results. Very soon after my policy went into effect, the economy experienced an increase in inflation and a drop in productivity. As time went on, the inflation began to spiral out of control. The last inflation rate I recall was in the neighborhood of 1200%! In the end, the computer spit out a punch card with a sobering message to this effect, “The incentive to work is so low that the workers have all quit working, your economy has collapsed, and your country is in revolt.” Seriously, according to the computer, I had precipitated the failure of our economy and revolution!

I believe we got where we are because we ignored history and the warnings of the founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson said, “A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government.” Another time he fore shadowed the current debate about health care reform when he said, “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

According to the Internal Revenue Service, in 2007, the top 10% of Adjusted Gross Income earners paid 71.2% of the income taxes for that year. The bottom 50% of earners paid a piddling 2.9% of the total US income tax. But, don’t say somebody didn’t tell us so, because Alexis de Tocqueville warned Americans, “A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it.”

This all makes me wonder if I missed some major event that got us to this point in history. Did I sleep, like a Rip Van Winkle, through a violent overthrow or a bloodless coup d’etat in America? The Cold War is over, so we must have stopped the march of the Communist Revolution. The Domino Theory did not work. Every nation in Southeast Asia did not fall to a communist overthrow after South Vietnam was defeated by Ho Chi Minh. Cuba was not able to export Che Guevara’s style of gorilla warfare and Fidel Castro’s brand of communism to the United States.

In fact, in what has become one of the strangest twists of fate, the former USSR and Red China are now the bastions of capitalism and free enterprise. The Chinese government owns $1 trillion of US debt and they never miss an opportunity to tell us to get our fiscal house in order.

The history lesson that we have all overlooked and failed to heed is that prediction made in 1848 when Karl Marx and Fredriech Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto. In their now infamous treatise, Marx and Engels postulated that communism would be a byproduct of democracy. Classical Marxism is not about bloody revolutions such as the Bolshevik Revolution of Russia in 1917. Nor, does it support Chairman Mao Tse-Tung’s Little Red Book that says “All political power comes from the barrel of a gun.”

So, once again, how did we get here? We are where we are because “we” have voted ourselves into this mess. This is representative democracy at its worst. Taken as a whole, Congress has approval ratings in the mid-20% range, yet we continually re-elect our representatives and senators. It is time for all Americans to take a longer view when they step into the voting booth. We must stop decrying pork barrel spending while praising our members of Congress when they bring it on home. We must recognize that there will be a straw (tax) that will break the camel’s (taxpayer’s) back (economy). And paying it forward should bring shame to us all and will result in fear and loathing from our children. Fortunately, there is a way forward and that is through the same democratic process that got us to this point. Let us not forget the principles put forth by our founding fathers, that free enterprise and personal liberties are strengths and enduring values to be cherished and protected. Moreover, let us remember that in America, revolution comes through the ballot box and that is where we need to go.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Culture of Death

A couple of months ago, the town of Farmville, VA, where I live, was shocked by the senseless murder of four people. In April 2007, 32 people were shot to death in the Virginia Tech Massacre. Ten years earlier the nation was rocked by the mass killing at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO.

Drive-by shootings, gang members killing rival gang members and innocent bystanders—the list of these senseless murders being perpetrated by young adults and often upon other young adults has grown to epidemic proportions. Everyone is asking the same question, why?

You hear the common refrains—ready access to guns, bullying, lack of self esteem, unrealized potential, child abuse, and the stress of a modern world filled with violence.

Now that Halloween is over—a formerly obscure holiday that now overshadows Thanksgiving and is second in retail sales only to Christmas—let me suggest that the problem can best be attributed to the growing culture of death in America.

The slow boil began decades ago and steadily we have been turning up the heat. In 1972, it became legal and even vogue to take the life of an innocent unborn child. In our own calloused way, we refer to aborted babies as fetuses, but of course those carried to full term are still called babies.

In 1999, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was sentenced to prison for assisting terminally-ill people in hastening their deaths. Contrast that to the voters in the states of Oregon and Washington approving legalized assisted killing. Consider that just this year several versions of proposed health care reform bills contained provisions for “end-of-life counseling.”

Most people are unaware that only a small percentage of World War II and Korean War combatants ever pulled the trigger of their guns or shot at their enemy. That figure went over 50% in Vietnam, and in recent conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan, as many as 90% of the veterans have actually shot their guns with the intent to kill their targets. This is not a normal human reaction and the military knows this. That is why they use video games to desensitize soldiers and condition them to instinctively react to their enemy by aiming their guns and pulling the trigger.

Other significant changes in the last 40-50 years include the actions of secular humanists who have successfully removed prayer from schools, taken Jesus Christ out of Christmas and turned Easter into a holiday about bunnies and colored eggs. All the while, America has turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the increasing presence of the occult in our culture. The fun and frivolity of Halloween makes light of the fact that there are serious practitioners of the occult who actively promote the culture of death. The Harry Potter books about a student of witchcraft are worldwide best sellers and a new Twilight book series features heroes and heroines who are vampires.

When I was a kid, the pastors were decrying rock and roll as the devil’s music and we all laughed. Surely, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones weren’t seriously singing about having real “Sympathy for the Devil.” Back masking subliminal messages about taking drugs was just innocent play like the Paul-McCartney-is-dead spoof. Yes, I scoffed in the day, but as I look back and then look forward to what music and lyrics say today, the slippery slope indeed has become a precipitous cliff. The suspect in the Farmville murder was a musician in the growing genre of death core music where the lyricists obsess about death and murdering people. The weekend before the murders took place, the suspect and the victims had all driven together to Detroit to attend the Strictly for the Wicked concert.

Something else has changed in our culture that leaves a vacuum in the minds of young people into which the culture of death swoops in to take over. When I was a kid if I talked back to my parents or did not do what I was told, there were consequences. Those usually took the form of a spanking or a quick whack of the back of the hand. The pain was short lived and I was never “abused,” but I knew my boundaries and I had respect for my parents and elders in general. In an acute overreaction to horrific cases and all too often ignored child abuse, psychologists and schools have effectively purged society of all forms of corporal punishment. Children are removed from families and placed in foster care when there is a mere hint that a spanking took place. Classrooms are out of control, leaving many teachers playing amateur diagnosticians and collaborating with doctors to get students medicated into submission. At a local juvenile detention center an officer was recently hospitalized because he was not allowed to defend himself against his juvenile attacker. Maybe we should heed the warning in Proverbs 23:13 & 14, “Don’t fail to discipline your children. They won’t die if you spank them. Physical discipline may well save them from death.” (NLT)

Beyond removing discipline from our homes and schools, our culture has also made a mockery of parents and parenting. So-called non-traditional parents are held up as shining examples. The so-called non-traditional families are held up as role models. The role of the father as head of the household has been dismissed as a relic of a sexist stone age. This is most evident on television where fathers are mocked as bumbling idiots who depend on everyone else in the family for the most elemental decisions.

The culture of death has a firm grip on our society, but there is a way forward. It is time for the societal pendulum to swing back the other way. I do not favor more regulations. Ratings of movies, music, and video games have done nothing to reduce the violence among young people today. What we need is for parents to be parents. High standards, yes, dare I say moral values, are a good thing that should be reincorporated into family life. Corporal punishment in and of itself does not constitute abuse. In fact, a case can be made that too little discipline can be as bad for the psyche as excessive physical abuse. And parents shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that all they need to do is be their child’s friend. You are a parent and a parent cannot be a good friend and a good parent too. And, I don’t care what society says today, a married father and a mother still make the best parental unit. Whether you believe in intelligent design or the theory of evolution, a mother and father is the accepted definition of “parents” that has stood the test of time.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

When a Deal is Not a Deal

I am not a big fan of outrageous salaries. 99.99% of Americans will never get the opportunity to earn fat-cat paychecks of 8 or 9 figures (that’s $10 to $100 million a year or more), and at first blush, some of these compensation packages seem downright un-American.

However, this is America is it not? This is the land of opportunity where anybody who works hard and is fortunate and honest can achieve their highest aspirations whether it be President of the United States or just plain old filthy rich. Last time I checked being rich and successful is not in and of itself illegal or even un-American.

I must admit I have found myself even pondering the notion that I could run a major bank, or a telecommunications firm, or an insurance company. Yeah, two years at $10 million or more ought to do it. Then I could retire without a care or worry in the world.

But, do I really want to be responsible for thousands of employees and millions of customers, or answer to the stockholders and regulators, or fend off con artists and groupies, or work 18 hour days without a day off, or feel like everyone around you only likes you for your money? No, the money sounds nice, but that is where the appeal ends.

So, what is it with America’s fascination with corporate salaries? Why is it that we all feel that nobody in business should be making that kind of money? And it is big money. According to the AFL-CIO, Americas 100 highest paid CEOs start at over $17 million per year and top out at more than $133 million per year. By any measure, those are outlandish compensation packages even if much of the pay is based on performance and paid in stock options.

But, there should be equal outrage at the top-20 highest paid baseball players whose 2007 salaries, according to ESPN, range from almost $14 million per year to $26 million per year. Ninety eight players in MLB made $8 million or more in 2007, and to my knowledge none of them could even hit a baseball 4 out of 10 times at bat.

The liberal pundits also should be talking about the top-20 NFL players who earn from $12 million to nearly $28 million per year for throwing, catching or running with a pig skin. Will any professional athlete ever discover the cure to cancer, or invent the next piece of technology that will make life better for people all over the world, or create jobs that bring people out of poverty and into prosperity? Probably not.

But, America wanted “change” in Washington, DC, and now we have it. We have dozens of newly created Presidential appointed positions called “czars.” Well paid czars I might add. In a strange twist of irony, one of these new positions is called the “pay czar.” Under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), pay czar Kenneth Feinberg has explicit legal authority to cut the salaries of, even “claw back” payments already paid out to, executives at seven companies: American International Group, Bank of America Corp, Citigroup, General Motors, Chrysler, GMAC, and Chrysler Financial. Even more striking is the power the pay czar claims to have to cut and/or claw back the pay of executives at any company that received federal bailout money under TARP.

No matter how much I dislike ridiculously high salaries, it seems to me to be abhorrent that any government official would take it upon themselves to unilaterally decide whose paycheck is too big or what an individual ought to earn. I agree that nobody should get an exorbitant paycheck for running a business into bankruptcy, but the decision to hire and fire or to cut a CEO’s pay and by how much is appropriately within the purview of that company’s Board of Directors, not the government.

Some say that because a company received federal bailout money, it is appropriate for government to decide what the CEO gets paid. Really? Next I suppose we will be hearing that government should set the wages for the workers too, or set production levels and the price of the products. This is the slippery slope some people warned us about when we started all this government bailout spending.

It would be different if the companies who took assistance from the federal government were told ahead of time that the government may come back and retroactively set salaries and even take back money already paid out to executives. But, that was not part of the deal. George W. Bush supported TARP because he felt that the financial industry was too important to the rest of the economy to let the big financial institutions fail, but he did not want nor intend to dictate how those businesses were to be operated. President Obama, on the other hand, wants to control businesses and make day-to-day decisions for corporate offices and officers. Reading this writing on the wall is probably why Goldman Sachs and Bank of America wanted to pay back the TARP money last spring and why Obama would not let them pay back the money “early.” President Obama wanted control and nothing controls like the purse strings.

It used to be in America that a deal was a deal. People could be taken at their word and that contracts meant something. In the case of the TARP, there are only provisions for the government to control the salaries of executives at seven companies (American International Group, Bank of America Corp, Citigroup, General Motors, Chrysler, GMAC, and Chrysler Financial). But, this Administration has assumed authority to go beyond those seven companies and has even “fired” one CEO. They have exerted authority where they have none. They have changed the terms of the deal unilaterally. They are making value judgments about business practices about which they have little experience or knowledge.

I will not defend what certainly appear to be excessive salaries for CEOs who run companies into the ground and then step into the government trough with all four feet. Somehow though I am equally offended at the notion of some bureaucrat deciding on a whim what constitutes fair compensation and taking back salaries and bonuses after the fact. In my view, the recent actions of the Obama Administration are indeed as unscrupulous as the very CEOs they wish to demonize.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

National Parks—America’s Best Idea

Many people are enjoying the long-awaited recent release of the Ken Burns documentary, “National Parks—America’s Best Idea.” This production is a highly acclaimed, not just for its imagery, but for detailing the history of parks, the sense of place, and the role of National Parks in our culture.

At the outset, one of the documentary’s historians notes that “National Parks—America’s Best Idea” is an expression usually attributed to Wallace Stegner, although it is a paraphrase of what he once said about National Parks. The historian goes on to correctly make the point that National Parks are not “America’s Best Idea.” He says, and I paraphrase, that America’s best idea is expressed by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

While his point is well taken, one certainly cannot argue that National Parks are one of America’s best ideas. America’s National Parks were the world’s first large, intact, unspoiled, natural landscapes to be legally set aside for conservation and enjoyment. Later, these large natural areas were followed by historic sites, cultural icons, battlefields, and intangible concepts of the American experience. The National Park System has been admired and emulated around the world. So much so, that the United States was encouraged to take the lead in drafting the World Heritage Convention which took the National Park idea to the world.

The link between Jefferson’s words and National Parks is more than a debate about which is America’s best idea. I contend that one of the things that makes National Parks one of America’s best ideas is that National Parks are uniquely democratic in the way they are set aside. Inscribed on a magnificent arch over the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park are the words “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.” These words are from the legislation that established Yellowstone in 1872 and the National Parks Service Organic Act of 1916 subsequently set out the core mission of the newly established National Park Service. “…which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life [sic] therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

In the late 1800s, the concept of setting aside large natural landscapes for both conservation and the enjoyment of the people was new. And the idea has its roots in the origins of the American conservation movement that had begun earlier in the 19th Century. Following the decimation of wildlife populations throughout much of the eastern United States and then extending into the once thought of as limitless West, Americans began to rethink the role of hunting. People realized that there had to be limits on harvesting wild animals or we would face more extinctions.

At that time in history, the only example of conservation Americans could learn from was the European model. Europeans had long before learned that wildlife was finite, but European conservation was conducted by the nobility. There were private reserves established and hunting was not just limited; it was exclusively available to the wealthy and elite classes. The peasants were not allowed to hunt or even gain access to these hunting preserves. Only those with the right connections and credentials, the worthy and privileged, were given the honor of enjoying these natural landscapes and the bounty within their boundaries.

Americans bristled at the idea of conservation if it meant wildlife would only be conserved for a certain class of people. That would be un-American and anti-democratic. Indeed, at that time, democratic principles such as freedom and manifest destiny trumped regulation and restrictions. Accordingly, to some, the very idea of conservation through a system of game laws, hunting seasons, and bag limits was considered to be undemocratic.

In response, the conservationists of the 19th Century proposed public ownership of fish and wildlife. Hunting and fishing seasons and licenses would be managed by States and generally available and affordable to the largest cross-section of the population. Revenues from hunting licenses would be used to manage fish and wildlife and to further conservation efforts. Large tracts of federal lands previously open to homesteading and commercial development were reserved to be conserved for the public in the form of National Forests and National Parks. It was in this unique American atmosphere of democratic principles that the idea of setting aside National Parks for both conservation and enjoyment was conceived.

This history is important because it is instructive today. There is a concerted and well-funded movement in the United States that would have conservation of National Parks trump enjoyment. This is a dangerous precedent and an undemocratic shift in policy. The drafters of the National Park Service Organic Act were very clear; the purpose of the Service was both conservation and enjoyment. Conservation of the resources is to “…leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Enjoyment is the heartbeat of National Parks that increases the understanding and appreciation for conserving these unique resources. Conservation and enjoyment are not in conflict. Indeed, they go together like a horse and carriage. Horace Albright, the second Director of the National Park Service said, “The National Parks are more than the storehouses of Nature's rarest treasures. They are the playlands of the people, wonderlands easily accessible to the rich and humble alike. They are great out-of-doors recreation grounds, where men, women, and children can forget the cares and the sounds of the cities for a few days.” Former Director of the National Park Service, Conrad Wirth, is attributed with saying (and I paraphrase), “…to manage parks emphasizing either conservation or enjoyment to the exclusion of the other is detrimental to the whole concept of National Parks.”

National Parks can be called “America’s Best Idea” because hundreds of millions of visitors enjoy National Parks every year. Visitors fiercely speak out in favor of conservation, but I suspect that they would never consider that “conservation” might mean they could not visit and enjoy their National Parks. But, that is exactly what certain non-profit organizations want to do. While Americans are trying to get back outdoors and get children engaged in nature, some environmental groups would restrict access by targeting commonly used modes of transportation. Their actions have the effect of shutting many classes of people out of National Parks, including the young, the elderly, and the disabled. Other groups favor severe limits to all forms of visitation through area closures and/or strict limits on the number of visitors allowed into a park at any given time. And the most elitist of all these organizations would go so far as to restrict access to parks to only those who are strong, healthy, enlightened in their philosophy of nature, and who agree with the premise that the biggest threat to mother earth is humankind. This is a dangerous kind of class warfare that would exclude many people from National Parks because of the way they think, their age, or their physical abilities. If implemented, National Parks would no doubt soon become known as “America’s Worst Idea.”

“America’s Best Idea” will only remain a best idea if National Parks are both conserved and enjoyed. Enjoyment should embrace the broadest cross-section of people, provide for diverse types of enjoyment, and accommodate appropriate modes of transportation in such manner and by such means as will leave resources unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. This requires an inclusive and democratic approach to park management. Management must be innovative, adaptive, and informed by the best available science. It means park managers should shun the elitists who want to keep America’s Best Idea as their exclusive domain, under lock and key if you will, while relegating the rest of America to peering in from the outside.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Who Shot John?

I don’t know who fired the first volley. I am not sure when all the political hostilities began. I don’t know who shot John, or whatever it was that started the latest version of the legendary Hatfield and McCoy feud. The Hatfield and the McCoy families went after each other for several decades over a pig. These days Republicans and Democrats appear to be feuding over pork among other things.

The ideological divide within this great nation has grown to epidemic proportions over the last few decades. I attribute part of this divisiveness to the journalists who have made a national pastime of playing “Gotcha” with politicians ever since Woodward and Bernstein tasted President Nixon’s blood during Watergate. Somehow, from that point forward, Americans have developed disdain for public service, contempt for politics, and diminished respect public offices such as the Presidency.

I get nearly a dozen emails a day that refer to tax payer revolts, revolution, tyranny, and vote the rascals out. Even more disturbing for me are the messages that use inappropriate humor or suggest that the cost of travel and security for the President and his family are waste, fraud, and abuse. Now, if you know me, then you know that most of my emails are from conservative organizations, but I know the liberal outfits are out there doing the same thing. I see it on Facebook and in the media. They most definitely went after George W. Bush with a vengeance and irrational anger that was unparalleled in it ferocity. By now many of you are probably saying to yourselves that I should either “unsubscribe” or utilize the “delete” button on my keyboard.

But, remember that this is America and the First Amendment affords all of us the inalienable right to free speech. Unfortunately, that does not make everything we say “right” or “productive.” Free flow of information, honest debate on the issues and policies, civil discourse, agreeing to disagree—those are all the attributes that make this country great and strong.

My concern is that we appear to have devolved into name calling, slander, and a kind of ugliness that should, quite frankly, be an embarrassment to us all. So, again, I ask, “Who shot John?” Who crossed the line first? Who fired the first salvo at the figurative Concord that started this modern-day war of words?

The answer to this question is elusive. It is a little like trying to figure out how the Arab-Israeli conflict got started. Let’s face it; that one started several millennia ago, and at this point in time, it really doesn’t matter who committed the first wrong.

As I look back on this contemporary conflict that has grown to an epic scale, I have to say—and you have no idea how much this hurts—that it began with the Republican Revolution of 1994. Having said that, let me lay some ground work for what happened and why, not to justify it, just to better understand it.

In 1994, the Republicans swept into the majority in both the U. S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate for the first time in some 40 years. This was especially significant for the House Republicans of that time, many of whom had known nothing but a Democrat majority in the House all of their lives.

When you are in the minority, regardless of your party, you do not control the legislative agenda. The only available tactic is to oppose and defeat the legislative programs of the majority. You become an attack dog of sorts. There is nothing really wrong with that; it’s just the way of legislating. Legislators don’t operate in the world of cooperation and collaboration. Their world is dominated by a divide-and-conquer mentality.

After 40 some years as legislative naysayers, the newly established Republican majority had a difficult time making the transition from opposing everything to developing and driving an affirmative legislative agenda. Oh, there was the Contract for America, but that was short lived and Republicans soon found themselves back in the old mold. And, of course, there was President Clinton, a prime target for any red-blooded Republican. He raised taxes, he pushed health care reform, and his moral conduct was not quite what many Americans considered appropriate for a President. And after 12 years of Republican Presidential appointments for Federal judgeships being filibustered to death by Senate Democrats, Clinton’s judicial appointees became fair game for the new Republican majority.

Fast forward to when the Democrats regained the majority in the U.S. House in 2006. Pay backs are heck, and in this case, it was heck for the Republicans in Congress and for President Bush’s judicial nominees.

As we look toward the next mid-term election in November 2010, the political landscape begins to look a lot like the mid-term election in 1994. Two years of a Democrat in the White House who followed a Republican who was there for eight years. Remember, Clinton followed 12 years of Republican Presidents. I am not a betting man, but if I were, I would put even money on another Republican Revolution in 2010.

But, in order for a Republican Revolution to happen in 2010, the Republicans need a revolution of their own—inside the party. Republicans must turn away from pork-barrel spending. They must turn away from corruption and scandals. They must accept responsibility and stop blaming the Democrats for all their woes. And most of all, Republicans must have a vision for America—one that takes us back to what made this country great and one that involves being brutally honest with themselves and straight forward with the voters. Republicans need to pursue this vision grounded in principles such as integrity, strength of conviction, accountability to the voters, and adherence to what is right and good for America.

If Republicans can do all of this and more, if Republicans can turn the other cheek, then they can look forward to a new day and it won’t matter one whit “Who shot John?”

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cap and Trade: All Tricks and No Treats (Part 3 of 3)

This is the last of a three part series about the cap and trade legislation under consideration by Congress. Part 1 postulated the important question that everyone should be asking themselves, “Why do I care if the average temperature of the earth rises a few degrees Celsius over the next 100 years?” In Part 2, I addressed the reason why cap and trade on carbon dioxide emissions in the United States will not achieve the desired outcomes and that alternative and sustainable energy sources are not an environmental panacea.

It is time now to look at the potential economic impacts of the cap and trade proposal or, as some call it, the energy tax. There is no faster or more comprehensive way to adversely impact every sector of the United States economy than to implement policies that effectively and artificially increase the cost of energy. And if you believe that cap and trade will only affect the carbon-based part of the energy industry, then I have a bridge over the Hudson River I’d like to sell you.

There has always been a strong correlation between rising energy prices and a slowing of the economy. It is really rather elementary when you think about it. Rising energy prices drive up the cost of nearly everything that Americans buy on a regular basis. Whether it is the manufacturing of durable goods, producing food, transporting goods and services, running your household heating and air conditioning, commuting, or your family vacation, the cost of all of these go up when energy prices increase.

Cap and trade on carbon dioxide emissions will do little to reduce the demand for energy in the United States, but it will most definitely increase the cost of using carbon-based energy and the generation and delivery of electricity. It is estimated that 85% of the total energy supply for the United States comes from carbon-based energy sources. Every single form of transportation in the United States—ships. planes, trains, and automobiles--burns some form of refined oil. 45% of the current United States electrical supply comes from coal-fired power plants.

It has been calculated that cap and trade will increase the cost of running an average household by as much as 29% after adjusting for inflation and after taking into account the greater efficiencies consumers will gain by switching to public transit, higher mileage vehicles, and more efficient homes. The Heritage Society has conducted analysis of the cap and trade proposal and they estimate that the average American household will be paying $1,200 per year in increased energy costs. Many dispute this figure, but there is no disagreement that cap and trade will increase the cost of energy for all Americans. And the higher energy prices would come at a time when people are already struggling with a recession, reduced income, and higher unemployment.

The increased cost of energy will have a disproportionately greater impact on the unemployed and the working poor of this nation. Because it is a much higher percentage of a lower income, this is effectively one of the most regressive kinds of pseudo-taxation policies. In fact, like taxation, cap and trade will transfer somewhere on the order of $250 to $300 billion per year out of the private sector (consumers and manufacturers). Cap and trade has the potential to be one of the largest tax-like programs in the history of this nation.

And as though Congress considering a cap on carbon dioxide emissions is not enough, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a new rule that will impose a penalty on all livestock producers who don’t—and they cannot—control the carbon dioxide emissions from all that livestock flatulence. At about $125 per year per cow, less for smaller animals, this carbon tax will effectively increase in the cost of eggs, milk, cheese, poultry, pork, and beef by nearly 10%. And we have not even added the cap and trade impacts of increased cost of producing feed for these critters or the higher cost of getting them to processors and then on to your local grocery store.

And all this increase in the cost of energy is being foisted on us at a time when the country is still in a recession, unemployment is still climbing, the Stimulus package is flagging, the national debt is skyrocketing, and Congress is looking for a way to pay for a trillion dollar health care plan. When the credit card company asks, “What’s in your wallet?” you will soon be saying, “Not much!”

Remember, cap and trade is supposed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions over the next 50 years in order to delay by 10 years the global warming that is projected to occur 100 years from now. I find it fascinating that even though we have been studying economics for a lot longer than the climate, our best economic models cannot project economic impacts much beyond 20 years. Nonetheless, the 20 year estimates of cap and trade impacts on the United States economy are stunning. By 2030, cap and trade could cost $4.8 trillion in reduced gross domestic product and is projected to result in the loss of 3 million jobs in the manufacturing sector alone. And these job losses are after all the new “Green Energy” jobs have been added and all the jobs created to make homes and cars more efficient have been created.

In review, we are told by some of the same climatologists who usually cannot accurately predict the weather 10 days from now, that in 100 years the average temperature of the earth may rise 2-3 degrees Celsius. The warmists insist that cause of this increase is not attributable to natural climate cycles, even though historic and natural swings in the earth’s average temperature are well documented. Instead, fear mongers contend that mankind’s excessive burning of carbon-based fuels is the major reason for the warming trend that started 160 years ago. And even though much of the world either cannot afford it or chooses not to play in the high risk carbon dioxide emissions game, a few in Congress want American families to ante up first and big even though most climate experts would bet that reducing human-caused emissions to zero tomorrow would only delay the inevitable by 10 years.

Did I tell you about that bridge I have for sale? I bet you won’t buy it either.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cap and Trade: All Tricks and No Treats (Part 2 of 3)

Last week I wrote about the cap and trade legislation under consideration by Congress. In Part 1, I postulated the important question that everyone should be asking themselves, “Why do I care if the average temperature of the earth rises a few degrees Celsius over the next 100 years?” In that column I pointed out that the science is not conclusive or unanimous that humans are the cause of global warming despite the overwhelming media and political support for this hypothesis.

In this column, I will be discussing the policy implications of trying to reduce carbon dioxide emission through this cap and trade bill. The intended outcome of this legislation is presumably to stop, or at least slow the rate of global warming by reducing the amount of, or at least stopping the growth in annual emissions of carbon dioxide in the United States. I will also be looking at the potential secondary environmental impacts of reducing carbon dioxide emissions through the proposed cap and trade legislation.

One of the biggest challenges facing environmental policy makers today is that they first must come to the realization that there are no solutions, only trade offs. We do not live in Utopia and there is no perpetual motion machine out there that will allow us to ignore the most basic laws of physics.

Let’s take fuel cells as an example. In these engines, hydrogen and oxygen are burned to release energy and the only emission coming out of the tail pipe is water. If we ignore the fact that water vapor and clouds account for 90% of greenhouse gases, then fuel cells could replace carbon burning internal combustion engines and reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly. But, hydrogen in its pure form is not an abundant resource, therefore, hydrogen fuel must be derived from sources such as water and natural gas. The fact of the matter is that it takes more energy to make hydrogen fuel than one gets from burning hydrogen. Because making hydrogen fuel is a net negative energy transaction, the only way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions with fuels cells is to make hydrogen fuel using energy that has been generated from non-carbon-based sources. I once read an analysis that suggested that using only solar and wind power to produce the hydrogen fuel required to run all the cars in California would impact half of that state with solar and wind power generation facilities! I can imagine the hue and the cry from environmentalists at that proposal.

And that gets us to one of the fundamental policy problems with the cap and trade bill. It attempts to create incentives for alternative or sustainable energy sources, but incentives are not enough, so it actually goes so far as to underwrite development of alternative or sustainable energy by taxing carbon-based power. “Alternative” and “sustainable” are buzzwords for any source of energy other than coal, oil, gas, nuclear, and hydroelectric. If the goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, we should be encouraging the development of zero-emission electric generating facilities such as nuclear or hydroelectric plants. The term “sustainable” implies that these resources are unlimited or that there are no environmental impacts associated with these power sources. The most favored forms of alternative and sustainable energy, wind and solar, ignore the fact that many parts of the country do not have enough sunshine to make solar effective and other parts of the country do not have the kind of winds necessary to make wind power efficient.

As has been amply demonstrated by the permitting process for the Cape Winds Project in the Nantuckett Sound off the coast of Massachusetts, everybody wants wind energy. They just do not want it in their back yard. Indeed, it appears we have transcended from the “not in my back yard” (NIMBY) phenomena to “build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything” (BANANA)! The same people who do not want wind towers in their viewshed will also oppose the power transmission lines necessary to transport electricity from where wind and solar will work and be tolerated.

And consider this. The highest demand for electricity occurs when there is a heat wave, and during heat waves, the wind is often very calm. In order to meet peak demand in the new alternative/sustainable powered electric grid, power companies will have to build more peak demand generators that usually run on natural gas and emit carbon dioxide. Some analysts have suggested there might not be any net gain there.

Lastly, I am waiting for the climatologists to clue in to the fact that solar and wind power works on the principle of converting wind energy and the heat of solar radiation to electricity. What will be the long term effects on our climate from the human-caused alteration of these two very significant contributing factors to weather patterns around the world?

Other attempts to impose policies to reduce carbon dioxide around the world have failed. The European Union has imposed cap and trade on its carbon dioxide emissions, yet their total annual carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase. The Kyoto Protocol was intended to slow the growth in carbon dioxide emissions, and though some would blame the United States for not obligating itself to this treaty, the fact is that nearly every country that did sign on to the carbon dioxide reduction plan has failed to meet its obligations. These policies do not work because people will always find the loophole or a work around. More importantly, the people of the world are not curbing their appetite for electricity; the demand is increasing everyday.

Most egregious of all, a cap and trade bill in the United States will do nothing to address carbon dioxide emission from other countries. Yes, the United States may be the largest single source of human-caused carbon dioxide, but China (150% increase from 1992-2007) and India (103% increase from 1992-2007) are coming on fast. These two population giants have made it clear they will not deny their people the opportunity to prosper economically, improve their health, and enjoy the creature comforts of light and air conditioning.

By unilaterally and artificially making electricity less abundant and less affordable in the United States, we will create a huge incentive for American industry to take its business overseas. To address this contingency, the bill proposes tariffs on goods that come from countries that are not limiting their carbon dioxide emissions. In the current world economy and even with our trade deficit, the United States is still the largest exporting nation in the world. It would not be good policy for the United States to initiate a trade war, especially with the countries that are bank rolling our National Debt.

For better or for worse, the United States has built the most sophisticated and efficient infrastructure to explore for and produce oil and gas, process it, and distribute its byproducts to consumers across the nation. And we are finding more oil and gas all the time; these resources are not nearly as finite as some people would have you believe. We have domestic sources of clean burning, low sulfur coal that can meet the current US demand for centuries. At present about 45% of the electricity generated in the United States comes from coal and new coal fired power plants can be extremely clean. Our nation runs on energy and our life style, jobs, and the economy are dependent on a stable and affordable supply of it. We need new technology and we need more diversified forms of energy. We need more efficient transmission and improved battery technology. But, we should not be shooting ourselves in the foot by penalizing our most abundant and affordable energy sources. The United States in a prospering economy has shown itself to be incredibly resourceful at solving complex problems and meeting challenges. Conversely, if people cannot meet their basic needs of food, shelter, and security, then their willingness to expend time and resources to address the other issues decreases.

If global warming is indeed principally caused by human sources of carbon dioxide, then this problem began about 150 years ago with the industrial revolution. The most pessimistic projections are not expected to manifest themselves for 50 to 100 years. Even the scientists who believe humans are responsible for global warming agree that nothing done in the short term is likely to significantly impact the long term projections.

The policies of the United States should facilitate improving our understanding of climate science, promote and support expanded research and development on greater efficiencies and energy generation, transmission technology, and energy storage mechanisms. In the mean time, the United States should continue using the cleanest forms of carbon-based energy to fuel the economic engine that will improve our understanding and adequately develop the new technology and infrastructure necessary to fully address all the issues of the future.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cap and Trade: All Tricks and No Treats (Part 1 of 3)

Before the August Recess, the House of Representatives passed Cap and Trade legislation intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The Senate will be considering the Cap and Trade bill after the recess. The popular media message and political rhetoric is that human sources of carbon dioxide emissions are the cause of projected global warming that will take place sometime over the next 100 years.

Cap and Trade is an often used and sometimes effective mechanism to reduce the amount of pollutants being released into our environment. The principle is fairly simple. Put a cap, an upper limit, on the amount of the pollutant that can be released, issue credits to those who reduce emissions, allow those credits to be traded to industries that increase emissions, all the while keeping total emissions below the established cap. The trading of credits provides a market mechanism and an incentive to reduce emissions.

The underlying and unspoken question that every American should be asking about global warming is, “Why do I care if the average temperature of the earth rises a few degrees Celsius over the next 100 years?” Now, before you dismiss me as some sort of hedonist, a holocaust denier, or a minion of the oil, gas or coal industry, bear with me while I try to explain a few things that may change your answer to this important question. And don’t dismiss me with the cliché “Scientists say it is so, therefore it is.” The science of climate change is far from conclusive. The division between scientists who believe humans are the reason the temperature is rising versus natural climate change is about an even split contrary to what environmentalists and many in the media would have you believe.

The issue of global warming has been hyped by the media and environmental alarmists. Polling data now indicates that the fear mongering on climate change has led many children in America to believe that the earth may become a dead planet within their life time.

One example of this hyperbole and a gross injustice is calling carbon dioxide a “pollutant.” If this column causes you to gasp in horror or yell hallelujah, then you are emitting carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is an essential compound for the existence of life on earth, just as much as oxygen and water. Since the industrial revolution and the advent of burning coal, oil and gas, man has contributed significant amounts of additional carbon dioxide to our atmosphere. This leads us to the number one reason why some people “care” about global warming. You see, if this were a natural climate change cycle, then some folks would not be able to blame mankind for this crisis.

Other misconceptions being perpetuated are that there is an ideal average temperature for the earth and that the sea level should remain constant. The sea level has been rising for centuries and is likely to continue to rise with or without global warming. And, on a planet that on any given day can have a high temperature exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit and a low temperature of below minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, a change in the average temperature of 1-3 degrees Fahrenheit is not outside of an expected natural range of fluctuation.

In fact, scientists have been studying ice core samples, tree rings, and lake and sea bed sediments for decades, and as a result of that research, scientists say that the earth has experienced dramatic and rapid changes in average temperature over the past 100,000 years. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have gone up and down significantly over the years as well. An impressive graph plotting average temperatures and carbon dioxide levels over time is used by Al Gore in his docudrama, An Inconvenient Truth. A little known truth about that graph is that it compresses a very large span of time onto a relatively small space giving the illusion that when carbon dioxide levels go up so does the temperature. Upon closer examination, however, every single historically significant increase in temperature was followed, not preceded, by an increase in carbon dioxide. When I had the opportunity to ask the climate change expert from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) about this apparent discrepancy, I was left aghast by his answer. “Well, it’s kind of a chicken or the egg thing,” he said. I could hardly believe my ears. In response to a question about the data used to support the theory that increased carbon dioxide levels are the cause of global warming, the lead USGS scientist says, “It’s a chicken or the egg thing!”

Now, consider the following verbiage from a National Science Foundation/USGS brochure describing the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver, Colorado, and the modeling of climate systematics. “Information from ice studies represents pieces of the puzzle of understanding climate. It complements data from study of pollen, tree rings, coral, and lake and sea floor sediments. Through studies of ice, extreme climate swings have been identified in Earth's past; some have occurred remarkably quickly (in less than a decade). Mathematicians and modelers use the ice core data to create Global Climate Models, which are theoretical extensions of Earth's past climate conditions to what could happen in the future. Once the past can be explained, possible future events may be identified and their rapidity and effects predicted with at least some confidence and accuracy.” (emphasis added) These underlined words were carefully and deliberately chosen to describe the process of modeling climate change and demonstrate just how tenuous and uncertain the process of projecting climate change is. In fact, climate change modelers readily admit that there is not enough understanding of the role of clouds and cloud formation to include that in their “theoretical extensions.” Pure and simple, while rigorous and representative of the best knowledge available, modeling climate change is the one of the most under-informed, least reliable, and absolutely unverifiable forms of science that exists.

I have visited with two of the top mountain glacier scientists in the world and they both told me that the average temperature of the earth has been rising since the end of the Little Ice Age around 1850. As you might expect at the end of an ice age, most glaciers have been receding, but some have been advancing. Sometimes glaciers will both recede and advance in the same decade. It is important to note that all of this change began before the industrial revolution and before there were any significant sources of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions.

The same climate change alarmists who profess global warming today projected in 1975 (Newsweek Magazine, April 28, 1975) that the earth was entering a new and dramatic cooling period with many of the same calamitous effects that warming is predicted to cause.

Even the International Panel on Climate Change, the subject-matter experts often cited politicians and journalists, says in their report that if all human-caused carbon dioxide emissions were reduced to zero tomorrow, it would only slow the projected increase in the earth’s average temperature over the next 100 years by adding ten years. Moreover, natural sources of carbon dioxide emissions such as wild fires and volcanic eruptions could eclipse any reductions in human-caused emissions.

So, again, I ask, “Why should you care about global warming?” Or, more importantly, “What are you willing to pay or give up in light of the fact that in the end you may have no affect on climate change?” I suggest that if being more economical and efficient has the added benefit of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, then go for it. But, don’t forego a healthy economy, your car, your food supply, or your heating and air conditioning for a false hope. And don’t expect the people of China or India to give up their newly found prosperity, light bulbs, refrigerators, and air conditioning to appease the global warming extremists. I contend that “Reduce your carbon footprint” has become the moral equivalent of “Let them eat cake.” The people of the United States do not need to, nor should we, throw ourselves on the climate change sword based on theoretical projections, a focus only on humans as the cause, and a questionable outcome of any action we take.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Health Care Reform—What’s not to Like?

You don’t have to work hard these days to hear plenty of thoughts about Health Care Reform. Opinions abound. And the anecdotes to back up these opinions are coming out faster than cars off the assembly line in Detroit.

I am from Wyoming and we have a saying out there, “Everything in Wyoming is political, except politics, that is personal.” Because everyone needs health care at some point in their life, it is personal too. Mix health care and politics, stir in a little economics and your pocketbook, and you have achieved the kind of social critical mass that makes nuclear warfare look like child’s play.

I have also heard it said that, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, just not their own set of facts.” But which facts are true and which ones are just cooked up to make someone’s case? It pays to looking deeper into the facts. What was the methodology that led to the stated conclusion? What was asked and who gave the answers? We all need to exercise some due diligence before we embrace the things we hear today.

So, by now, you are wondering what my angle is. Am I for health care reform, or am I against it?

First, like everyone else, including Congress and the President, I have no idea what “it” is. And that may be the most troubling part of the debate. We are all fighting windmills.

Secondly, if you are asking me if I think we need health care reform, then the answer is “Yes.” If you ask me if I am supporting what we all think is working its way through Congress, then at this point in time, I would have to say “No.”

Let me point out a few things that everyone should be factoring into this debate:
• With all its challenges and problems, I firmly believe the health care delivery system and technology in America is among the best in the world, bar none.
• It has been said that somewhere around 45.7 million people in this country do not have health insurance. The reasons vary including: they can’t afford it, they have been declined, some refuse to buy it, others do not use available public health care, or they are here illegally. That said, nobody in America goes without health care. We are already paying for the uninsured every time we pay for health care or our health insurance premiums. A recent CNN story estimated the cost of providing health care to the uninsured at about $1,200 per household per year.
• A government run health care system would be unfair competition. You may have the right to choose your plan and your doctor, but sooner or later, only the government plan and doctors will be left standing on that uneven playing field.
• The question of how can the US economy (personal and corporate taxpayers) finance health care reform is the single most important question in this debate. When you consider that 61.6% of the President’s 2009 Budget ($2.9 trillion) is non-discretionary spending (add another 12.1% if you consider Defense spending non-discretionary), then one has to ask “How can we afford to tack another trillion dollars a year of non-discretionary funding on to that?”
• If you don’t have tort reform as part of health care reform to reduce the number of frivolous malpractice lawsuits, then you will not contain the escalating cost of health care.
• Let’s stop calling it “health insurance.” Insurance is the pooling of money to pay for an event that has less than a 100% likelihood of occurring. The fees you pay are based on mathematical analyses of the risk of a certain event occurring, factoring in the cost of remedying the event and the number of payees into the system. Insurance is for things like fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. Because everyone needs health care at some time in their lives, what we buy when we pay for health insurance is really a pre-paid medical expense plan.

There is every reason in the world for Congress to proceed cautiously. And the American people should be wary of any new government program of this magnitude. If you think Congress will tax the rich and provide the poor with health care at no cost to the poor, the middle class, and the rich, then think again. Having majored in economics in college, there is only one thing I can say about the economy with absolutely certainty, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Like Newton’s Laws of Physics, the no-free-lunch principle is an unavoidable fact of life.

What we need is more portability of health care insurance (HIPAA provides some portability now), a way to insure those with pre-existing conditions, tax incentives to offset the cost of employer and individual health insurance premiums, and tort reform.

What we don’t need is another government run mega-program. History has shown government programs to be inefficient, ineffective, ripe for fraud and abuse, and much more costly than anticipated.

The subject matter is complex. The health care industry makes up 20% of our national economy, so the impact could be huge. The current proposal could add a trillion dollars to a $3 trillion budget. The wrong move by Congress could cost us jobs when we can least afford to lose them. In the end, health care reform deserves much more than a passing interest and a gloss over by our leadership.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Everglades in Danger?—This Time Don’t Blame the United Nations

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced he wants Everglades National Park to be re-inscribed to the List of World Heritage in Danger saying “…when we achieve restoration, we can remove the park from the list of sites that [are] in danger.”

Many people have argued over the years that being on the World Heritage List somehow puts the United Nations in charge of United States property and impinges on private property rights. I am very familiar with the World Heritage Convention, the World Heritage Committee, its Operating Guidelines, and the Rules of Procedure and I disagree with those who believe the U.S. surrenders it sovereignty and that property rights are violated. I base my conclusion on knowledge acquired while serving as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks and leading the U.S. Delegation to the World Heritage Committee for five years.

However, when the Clinton Administration talked the World Heritage Committee into putting both Yellowstone and the Everglades on the List of World Heritage in Danger in the early 1990s, the flames of fear and loathing against the United Nations and UNESCO, which runs the World Heritage Program, were fanned into a conflagration.

Neither park should be considered “in danger.” The List of World Heritage in Danger is a tool the World Heritage Committee uses to gain the attention of the owner of a World Heritage Site when its conservation is “threatened by serious and specific dangers.” Putting a site on the In-Danger List achieves two ends. It is designed to encourage the country in which the site is located to take action or actions necessary to ensure the site’s conservation and it makes international assistance (technical and monetary) available to the property owner for such conservation actions. A country or private owner of a World Heritage Site is under no obligation to take any action requested by the World Heritage Committee. Under the World Heritage Convention conservation only occurs through “cooperation and assistance.” If in the final analysis a property loses its Outstanding Universal Value for which it was inscribed as a World Heritage Site, the Committee may then vote to remove the site from the List of World Heritage.

The World Heritage Committee removed Everglades National Park from the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2007. Many people cried foul blaming the Bush Administration for advancing the idea of removing the site from the In-Danger List before the restoration is complete. Here are the facts. The World Heritage Committee has been monitoring Everglades for nearly two decades and they have been continuously awe struck at both the dollars spent and efforts taken by the U.S., the State of Florida, and others to restore this site. Taking action is all the Committee ever wants to see. They do not expect restoration to be complete before taking a site off the List of World Heritage in Danger, especially when the restoration of the Everglades is likely to be a 20-40 year process. The Committee expressed a desire to remove the Everglades from the In-Danger List at every meeting where I represented the U.S. from 2002 to 2006. In 2007, they had seen enough and they asked Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Todd Willens, to make a motion to remove the site form the List of World Heritage in Danger. He did, and though the Committee usually does not vote, but seeks consensus, no member of the Committee or any one else present spoke against the motion.

The United States should not seek to re-inscribe Everglades to the List of World Heritage in Danger. Instead, Americans should be proud that the international community recognizes our significant and costly efforts to undertake the largest ecosystem restoration project the world has ever known. The restoration is far from complete and nothing should deter the ongoing commitment and efforts to restore and conserve this unique and valuable marsh land habitat. Unfortunately, some environmental groups cannot stand success. Success apparently does not sell enough memberships and does not perpetuate their power base. Too bad, because the United States does more for conservation than any other nation in the world and we should welcome the international recognition of our leadership in this area and the well-deserved pat on the back for doing the right thing for Everglades National Park and the South Florida Ecosystem.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Research Suggests Winds Dying Down

A recent story by AP Science Writer, Seth Borenstein, says researchers believe winds in the United States are dying down, especially east of the Mississippi River. Obviously, this research was not conducted in Washington, DC, where the wind bags continue at hurricane force.

“The idea that winds may be slowing is still a speculative one, and scientists disagree on whether that is happening,” the article says. And, the cause, of course, may be global warming.

After four years of college and a degree in economics and biology, the only thing I can say with certainty is, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” This principle has its roots in physics, “Energy or matter can neither be created nor destroyed.” In policy making, it becomes, “There are no solutions—only trade offs.”

With all the buzz about renewable energy and non-carbon-emitting sources of energy, I have been patiently waiting for the other shoe to drop and the reality of physics to set in. You see, it takes energy to create the energy we most often use—electricity. In fact, because of inefficiencies and physical principles such as friction, it takes more energy to produce electricity than you get back out of the electrical energy.

For instance fuels cells, which burn hydrogen and oxygen with only water vapor for emissions, require a supply of pure hydrogen. That hydrogen is usually separated from water (H2O) or methane (CH4) and the physical fact of the matter is that it takes more energy to make hydrogen fuel than you get back from burning the same hydrogen.

If you generate electricity from solar panels then you are using solar energy that normally would be absorbed by the earth, the atmosphere, or its various life forms. Sooner or later, that energy loss to the earth’s system will have some effect on life forms or the climate.

And wind power converts wind energy to electricity. When the power of wind is used to run a turbine, the result is less wind because the wind energy has been converted to electricity.

When will some scientist point out that wind and solar power generation could have an impact the climate. A small impact you say. Well, as the environmentalists are so wont to say, all small impacts result in cumulative impacts. Many scientists are skeptical that human-caused carbon dioxide emissions have a significant impact on the climate, so it only follows that some would say wind and solar power will have no effect on the climate.

However, if the global warmists have one ounce of intellectual integrity, they would readily admit that all forms of energy production could have some impact on our climate, no matter how insignificant. The question is whether our impacts are meaningful or significant, and if they are, then it would appear that the only solution is for mankind to be removed from the system. But, then that is what the extremists want, isn’t it?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Oh My Gosh, We Could All Freeze in the Dark

On March 1, 2009, one foot of snow fell on top of a freezing rain here in the Southside of Virginia. At our house, the power was out for three days and the low one morning was zero degrees Fahrenheit.

After the power was restored, my family concluded that we do not want to freeze to death in the dark, but that is the slippery slope Congress may take us down if they pass a cap and trade bill.

I don’t care what Al Gore says. I don’t care what some Federal Judge says. I don’t care what the EPA says. Carbon Dioxide is not a pollutant! For crying out loud, we breath it in and out every day with no harmful side effects. Our bodies produce it and plants thrive on it. To treat it the same as dioxin or DDT or Sulphur Dioxide is absolutely ridiculous.

Will a cap and trade reduce greenhouse gases and thus stop global warming? An emphatic “No” is the answer. Even the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that if all human-caused CO2 emissions went to zero tomorrow, it would only delay by 10 years the projected rise in global average temperature supposed to occur 100 years from now.

Global Warming or Climate Change is voodoo science. Read what a joint National Science Foundation and U.S. Geological Survey brochure about the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver says about past data and projections (emphasis added).

“Information from ice studies represents pieces of the puzzle of understanding climate. It complements data from study of pollen, tree rings, coral, and lake and sea floor sediments. Through studies of ice, extreme climate swings have been identified in Earth's past; some have occurred remarkably quickly (in less than a decade).”

“Mathematicians and modelers use the ice core data to create Global Climate Models, which are theoretical extensions of Earth's past climate conditions to what could happen in the future. Once the past can be explained, possible future events may be identified and their rapidity and effects predicted with at least some confidence and accuracy.”

There are an awful lot of qualifying modifiers and less than certain language is used in this statement. If a “Warmist” heard someone recite this statement verbatim, they would call the reader a “Holocaust Denier.”

Cap and trade will not reduce carbon emissions. It will be a regressive tax on ordinary citizens. It will cost jobs at a time when we can least afford to impair our economy. And, it will result in more American jobs going offshore. Global Warming and greenhouse gas reductions are to modern elitist what “Let them eat cake” was to Joan of Arc. I don’t know about you, but I don’t look forward to eating their cake or freezing in the dark.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Third Culture Kids and the Fork in the Road of Life

A recent post on the British Telegraph website by Gerald Warner referred to President Obama as “President Pantywaist.” Coincidently, I was reading my wife’s newsletter from the Alumni Association of the American Community School at Beirut. In that newsletter, there was a reprint of a January 31, 2009, post on The Daily Beast blog and the article describes the psychological phenomena called Third Culture Kids.

Third Culture Kids are people who spent some portion of their formative years living in a foreign country. The argument is that people who do part of their growing up outside their “passport country” have a global perspective, are socially adaptable and intellectually flexible. They are quick to think outside the box and can appreciate and reconcile different points of view. At the same time, Third Culture Kids (TCK) can demonstrate a certain sense of detachment and feel rootless. Barack Obama, the article goes on to say, is a textbook example TCK and this is highlighted in his book, Dreams of My Father, where he searches for self-definition. Obama’s Harvard Law Review colleagues observed his excellent negotiation skills as well as his “aloofness” or “above-it-all” attitude. The article goes on to talk about how the Obama Administration is staffed by a number of TCKs and how that affects their vision of the world and the Administration’s approach to international issues.

My wife is a TCK. At the age of 12 she lived for a couple of years in Maricaibo, Venezuela, and when she was a high school sophomore in the seventies, her family moved to Beirut, Lebanon. They witnessed the beginning of Lebanon’s civil war and were in Beirut up until all Americans were evacuated. Living in an apartment between the Black September and PLO camps with bullets and mortar rounds flying over head can and usually does impact your life and perspective. Such an experience during your formative years either matures you well beyond your years or it can reduce you to a shell-shocked hull of your former self. My wife came home from Lebanon a mature adult who demonstrated some of the classic traits of a TCK—adversity that does not kill you makes you stronger. I always likened her to being an Army Brat except that her father worked in the oil industry, not the armed services.

I believe there is a lot of merit to the description of the TCK profile and their approach to life. However, every TCK comes to a fork in the road of life and their choices are come home proud of your passport country or come home apologizing to everyone for some perceived shame of your homeland. It seems to me that most Americans who spend any time overseas, especially in third-world countries, come home with a much greater appreciation for America and what it represents to the rest of the world. Returning American ex-patriots often kiss the ground when they get back to the Land of the Free. There is a deeper understanding of the values this country holds dear and the quality of life it provides: freedom to move about the USA, lack of military or police harassment, habeas corpus and a trial by your peers instead of life sentences for trumped up charges and kangaroos courts, free speech, safe drinking water and cleaner air, and a cheeseburger along with all the other benefits of living in the most advanced society on earth where the poorest of the poor are often better off than the middle class of other countries.

I usually feel sorry for those who come home to America ashamed of what we do and who we are. But, now, we have a TCK President who has chosen to go around the world apologizing for America. He apparently took what I believe is the wrong fork in the road of life and at his core he is ashamed to be an American. His wife expressed similar emotions when she said, after Obama secured the Democratic nomination, that it was the first time she was proud to be an American.

I believe that greater understanding of other cultures is a strength. I believe when you grow up in the minority where the majority holds all the power and speaks a different language that you will come away with the kind of negotiation skills that will be of value throughout your life. I believe any American TCK should have, as a result of their foreign experience, recognized and gained greater appreciation for the values America represents and the good that Americans do. They should be proud to be an American. In my opinion, if an American TCK takes the wrong fork in the road and is ashamed of America and what it represents—which is their right as an American citizen, a right many other nations do not confer upon their citizens—then maybe they should not be President of the United States of America and I am fairly certain that they don’t speak for the majority of Americans.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Getting Away with Murder

There is an epidemic of murders in this nation. You won’t find them in the FBI statistics and there are no detectives or investigations. These are virtual murders—character assignations. And staying with the metaphor, the New York Times is a serial killer of historic proportions.

There is an MO that can help you identify and maybe even prevent a murder. A reporter or a columnist thinks they have a story—usually a deep, dark, insidious plot that must be revealed to protect the American public—and they are sure it is true. But they do not have facts or proof, they cannot corroborate their theory through confirmed sources, not even through sources who wish to remain anonymous because they fear retribution. The writer could contact the victim directly and get their side of the story, but that would likely dispel the mythical plot and exonerate the villain. Left with no place else to go and a faint twinge of commitment to the journalist’s code of ethics—they go where they can say what they want about anything or anybody without fear of libel suit or being bound by any sense of honor—they go to the Op Ed page. The murder in the form of character assassination is committed in the office, with the pen, by the journalist.

I have witnessed two attempted murders recently by Maureen Dowd. And her intended victim, who she has been trying to kill for years, is Vice President Cheney.

In the first recent attempt, Ms. Dowd claims to have obtained a copy of the Top Secret testimony of Dick Cheney before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Then she proceeds to fabricate the most outlandish concoction of the Vice President’s testimony about torture and the war on terrorism. But, it is not enough just to write a fictional piece; Ms. Dowd uses quotation marks to add an air of authenticity to her diatribe of lies.

The second attempt was the omni-present Maureen Dowd listening in on a private conversation between Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfield at a Georgetown café. Again, she uses quotation marks to suggest that this was a factual report of an actual meeting of the former VP and Secretary of Defense. And, if it was not bad enough that she completely made up the conversation she “listened” in on, consider her moral outrage at the trampling of her Constitutional “rights” if it had been the omni-present NSA listening in of her private conversation at a public place.

Ms. Dowd does such a great job of building these fantasies about Dick Cheney that I even found myself wondering if they could be true. I suspect that 90% of the readers were left wondering the same thing. The difference for this reader is that I know Dick Cheney. I worked for him for four years when he represented Wyoming in the US Congress and I have remained a personal friend through the years. Suddenly, I snapped to full consciousness and realized I had witnessed two attempted virtual murders.

Moreover, I have had personal experience with the media’s new penchant for character assassinations, fabrications, slander, and manipulation of their readers through the unethical perversion of the Opinion Editorial. At least three lead editorials in the NY Times have impugned my character, my professional qualifications, and outright lied about an action I had taken as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior. The NY Times never consulted with Interior or me about the veracity of their fabrication. In fact, they twice refused to even print a 150-word letter to the editor correcting the record. And if it is not enough to be the subject of lies and even likened to the devil himself in a major national newspaper, the story gets reprinted in thousands of smaller papers across the country.

You see the real danger here is that once it has made it to newspaper print, then in the eyes of every journalist out there, the fabrication is now incontrovertible fact. This happens even though the original piece is printed on the Op Ed page, where journalistic license allows the authors a certain degree of factual latitude when expressing their “opinion.” But, the follow up stories are not printed on the Op Ed page; they are now news and that is how they get reported.

I feel sorry for the “Maureen Dowds” of the journalistic world. She just can’t get over the fact that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were elected twice. She can’t get over the fact that Dick Cheney is still making news about issues for which his qualifications are undisputed. To my knowledge, no journalist has suggested Al Gore “shut up” about global warming even though several reputable scientists have caught him in his own fabrications on the issue. I haven’t heard anyone suggest Jimmy Carter go away and stop his interloping, dare I say, cowboy brand of diplomacy.

Two things will continue to frustrate Maureen Dowd. The first is that Chaney is right and polls show that the American people know he is right. Second, she is frustrated that her multiple murder attempts, each more deadly than the previous, have failed to kill Dick Cheney’s credibility. By now she should know that, if you want to kill a cowboy, you can’t just cut off his head; you have to hide it from him.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

If Fiction Works for the Left, Why Can’t We Use It Too?

While conservationists make a difference by cooperatively working to improve habitat, the environmental industry employs stables of lawyers who march across the nation and advance bad policies through litigation. Our economy is being strangled, the bureaucracy is entangled, and lives are destroyed. In the meantime—thanks in part to the entertainment industry—America is happily “going green.”

Why—even though our environment has improved—do millions of Americans believe our world is teetering on the brink of destruction? Environmentalists are influencing people through the entertainment industry.

It all started with the 1975 novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang. Over time, this work of fiction became a manifesto for radical environmentalism and it paved the way for thousands of other novels that depict mankind as an eco scourge.

You can count on your fingers the number of times that fiction has been used to expose the dark side of environmentalism. Michael Crichton’s novel, State of Fear, and L. P. Hoffman’s new release, The Canaan Creed, are among them.

The response to The Canaan Creed has been overwhelmingly favorable, but the mainstream media won’t carry this message. I need your help. Together we can penetrate the entertainment market and reach millions of Americans with the truth—radical environmentalism does not work, conservation does!