Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Disinformation Age

The Information Age—we are told that we live during a time when information is power and that our access to information is unfettered thanks largely to spectacularly advances in technology.

There is no doubt in my mind that the breadth and depth of our access to information is not only virtually immeasurable today, it continues to grow at an exponential rate. Computers are certainly at the center of this information boom, but smart phone technology now puts all this information at our fingertips 24/7 nearly any place on the planet.

I am a self-admitted technology junky. I was dubbed the Alpha Geek when I ran the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce. It was the same year “Alpha Geek” came in second place to “Soccer Mom” for the best new term of the year. When I went on to be a Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Department of the Interior in Washington, DC, I soon found I was inducted as the Chair of the newly formed E-Government Team. I was one of the first to ditch my Franklin Day Planner for a Palm Pilot. And when the Blackberry came out, I was the living embodiment of a CrackBerry head.

There is a certain sense of exhilaration when you can settle the argument over who wrote a song while zooming around the Capital Beltway at 70 mph. Together with the adrenaline rush of circumnavigating Washington, DC, in a car, the combined events can pump more endorphins than running the Boston Marathon.

But, just like the Capital Beltway, the Information Super Highway is subject to traffic jams; accidents; poor signage; unskilled, aggressive, and passive-aggressive drivers; vandalism; law breakers; hoodlums; and thieves. Yes, at times, the Information Super Highway seems to carry as much junk and disinformation as it does valuable goods and services. At the risk of being politically incorrect, dare I say that taking the wrong off ramp on the information highway can be almost as dangerous as making a wrong turn in Southeast Washington, DC.

You see, the problem with the internet is the same thing that makes it so wonderful—it is cheap, unbridled, uninhibited, uncensored, accessible, unaccountable, and run by highly opinionated people. In short, for every true fact found on the internet, there seems to be at least as many distortions or down right untruths presented. And the opinions expressed, oh my. I have heard it said that opinions are like posteriors, everyone has one; but, on the internet two or three seems to be more the norm. I am reminded of what Dick Cheney once said, “You have the right to free speech, but that does not make you right.” Or, as Al Simpson often said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own set of facts.” If ever there was a time for people to exercise discernment and even skepticism in what they read, it is now.

I cannot count the times that someone has forwarded an email to me that was so glaring in its distortions that I felt compelled to correct the Sender even at the risk of offending them. The problem is that it is so easy to Forward an email to your group of friends that we do it without ever thinking that what we are Forwarding may be wrong.

I know there are fact checking websites out there such as FactCheck.org and Snopes.com, but it seems even those sites have their own agenda and are not always as objective as they lead you to believe.

The problem seems to have its origins in an age old phenomena—if you see it in print, it must be true. I don’t know when or why this became part of the information-processing norm, but I can tell you that if people read it they believe it is true and that is scary. What makes it worse is a new journalistic ploy of making an outlandish and unsubstantiated statement in an opinion piece for the editorial page. Opinion pieces are not held to the same journalistic standard as regular news stories. The danger is that often times op-eds are quoted in subsequent news stories where the reader assumes the reporter has done their due diligence and fact checked their story.

I have personally been the victim of this new kind of character-assassination journalism when the New York Times published a lead editorial impugning my work and character based on mistruths and distortions put out by an environmental group. In the end, these lies were reprinted nearly 300 times in newspaper stories across the country. Google Paul Hoffman and the Department of the Interior and you will find many disparaging stories about me. They are not true, but they are “in print” nonetheless. And it is amazing how many people who do not know you or your work will believe the worst about you because they read it in print or on the internet.

Unfortunately, these kinds of disinformation stories gain traction in the eyes of the reading public because reporters do not take the time to verify their information or contact the victim of the story to hear their side. There is an old saying that says, “Bad news travels at the speed of light; good news is lucky to get up to the speed of sound.” Unsubstantiated and misinformed emails can go around the world in seconds. And if seeing it in print makes it true, then seeing three or four times in your Inbox must mean it is accurate. As unfortunate as that is, it is real and that is why in the Information Age it is more important than ever that you be appropriately skeptical and take the time yourself to learn the rest of the story. Before you hit the Forward button on your email program, ask yourself, “Do I know this to be true?” If you can’t answer that in the affirmative, then the Biblical advice will serve you well, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Thanksgiving--the Forgotten Holiday

As I write this column, it is Thanksgiving Day 2010, but you would not know that if you drove through any downtown, listened to the radio, or watched television. Thanksgiving has become the forgotten holiday. The quintessential American holiday has become subservient to Halloween followed by an immediate transition to Christmas. In my view, this is a shame because despite the recession, regardless of your negative opinions about politics in America, and notwithstanding the unstable state of the world, we have much to be thankful for here in America.

The problem, it seems, is that the retail sector has not found a way to significantly market Thanksgiving. Store shelves can be stocked with Halloween decorations, costumes, and candy and those same shelves are quickly converted to Christmas merchandise. In an effort to maximize potential sales, the Christmas shopping season now begins before Thanksgiving. Even if the buying doesn’t start early, the advertising and buzz for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday begin long before Thanksgiving.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of capitalism, free enterprise, and merchandizing. For decades, the United State’s economy has been largely consumer driven. Jobs and livelihoods are riding on a good Christmas season. I am all for it. I hope everyone makes a million bucks.

But, let us not forget to take time at least once a year on Thanksgiving to give thanks. To reflect on the bounty, blessings, liberties, and inalienable rights that God has bestowed upon us, the residents of the greatest nation on earth. Let us take the time to give thanks to all those soldiers, veterans, law enforcement personnel, and emergency workers, who put their lives on the line for our safety and to secure the blessings we enjoy.

Perhaps it would even behoove us to reflect back on the values expressed by Congress and the first President of the United States when Thanksgiving was established by proclamation back in 1789 as the original American holiday.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and

Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness":

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the Beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we many then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have enabled do establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our national government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, AD 1789

- George Washington

I believe those words are more than enough to remind us why we should never forget to stop from time to time and give thanks. And not just thanks for all that we have or are, but thanks to the one true God—the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is within them. We should not relegate Thanksgiving to just another day off, or a football tradition, or a celebration of food, or the kickoff for the naked consumerism of Christmas. In fact, as we pause just once a year to give thanks, perhaps as a nation, we should consider taking God off the shelf, recognize and honor our Christian heritage, and give thanks to and bless the Almighty God whom our forefathers freely acknowledged and unabashedly credited for their blessings and rights.

As the Bob Dylan song goes, “But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed; You’re gonna have to serve somebody; Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord; But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

Even more to the point, consider what Joshua said to the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land, “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Friday, November 19, 2010

Change

Change! It’s everywhere. It’s rapid. It’s huge. It can be overwhelming. Some say the only constant in life is change. Resistance is futile. Build a bridge and get over it.

But, is all change good? A friend of mine, who also was my computer tech, often said, “Progress is not always progress.” It is legitimate to ask if computers have really saved us any time? Or, has the paperless society really resulted in less paper being consumed? In fact, it is appropriate for us to weigh the pros and cons of any change—to ask the tough questions.

And how do we cope with all this change and when does change become too much for people to handle? Everyone has their own capacity for change. When they reach that threshold, stress increases and we can see that manifest in anger or even violence. Certainly, stress resulting from too much change is the one reason many people have heart disease, hypertension, high blood pressure, ulcers, and headaches—even cold sores can be attributed to stress. Those are the physiological manifestations of stress caused by too much change, but what about the psychological impacts—psychotic breakdowns, frayed nerves, and people who take it out on their fellow workers or their family?

I took a course on Change Management when I attended the Institute for Organizational Management back in the early 90’s. Everyone in that class was under the same misconception that we would learn how to control all the change around us and thus reduce the stress. Wrong! What we learned is that change is all around us and most of it is virtually out of our control. But, what we can do is develop coping mechanisms to help us deal with change—to build that bridge and get over it. Most of our coping mechanisms take the form of habits; those things we do routinely that take our mind off of everything else and restore that sense of control we have lost. Obsessive compulsive behavior fills this need for many of us. The instructor told a story about a guy who was experiencing extraordinary change in his workplace. His coping mechanism was his sock drawer! He would go home every night and admire the way each pair of socks were matched, folded, and in their place—just the way he wanted them; the way they should be.

For me, this guy’s sock drawer was somewhat of an epiphany. You have to know my wife. She is an artist and a writer, a left-brain person. I am more anal compulsive and right brained. We are a match made in heaven because together we have the full compliment of left and right-brain thinking, but I digress. At our house, one can find the scissors have been put away in any one of five drawers. Historically, it drove me nuts because I always wondered why the scissors could not be put in one drawer where they belonged. The sock drawer story made me realize that the reason I was so obsessive about the scissors was that I was looking for stability at home to help me cope with all the change at work. What a brilliant flash of genius! When I got home I was eager to explain my new revelation about my behavior and foolishly thought my wife would fully understand. But, no, she blithely told me, “That’s nice, Honey, but don’t expect me to change.” Argh!

So what are we to do about all this change in our lives and in society. I recently read an essay by Philip Kennicott, staff writer for the Washington Post: The Civil War taught us to fight for the right to be wrong. Yes, the Civil War Sesquicentennial is in 2011 and Americans will once again go through the exercise of second guessing our history and the motives of those long gone. The essence of the essay is that the South seceded from the Union because they were resisting the inevitable change of the abolition of slavery. In hindsight, which of course is always 20/20 vision, I believe we all agree that slavery was wrong and abolishing it was the right thing to do. But, there were significant cultural and economic barriers to change in 1861. In some ways, the die of secession had already been cast and the Civil War occurred because people fixated on their differences and not on their common ground. It often happens that way.

Today in our nation, we have seen a lot of change in our governance. Many people believe that over the last seventy or so years, this country has enacted programs that have gradually moved our economy away from a free enterprise system and to a more socialist system. The enactment of health care reform this year has been for many a straw that is breaking the camel’s back. People have reacted by organizing and mobilizing. I have never heard more “revolutionary” rhetoric since the anti-Viet Nam War protests of the 60’s. But, it is for all of us to consider whether people are “fighting for the right to be wrong” or whether this particular kind of change is bad.

I would argue that the change we are experiencing in our government and economy is not good. Communism and its diminutive form, socialism, have failed elsewhere in the world and these systems do not work largely because they ignore the basic needs and motivations of humans. I believe, therefore, it is important to resist this kind of change through every peaceable means available to us. The free enterprise system works and is worthy of our defense. It generates the most wealth for the greatest number of people. As for me, I will not be bullied into accepting change just because some progressive tells me it is the natural course of things or that it is for the greater good.

And one of those forms of resistance, fortunately for us, was built into our Constitutional form of government. Our Founding Fathers built a system of check and balances, and intentionally or not, the end result has been bureaucracy. While normally considered to be a bad thing, I believe bureaucracy is the keel of the ship of state. Were it not for bureaucracy, each political change in administrations could conceivably change the course of the ship of state 180 degrees. As it is, each new administration can only get what can be characterized as a course correction of 5 or 10 degrees, to the left or to the right, and then they spend the rest of their time tying down the wheel and welding the rudder.

Change—it is inevitable, or is it? Change is always about progress, or is it? Should we all just find a way to cope with change and consider it to be just a fact of life—build a bridge and get over it. Or, should we consider the merits of change—the pros and cons of any particular change—and then work for it or against it based on what we believe to be best for our families, communities, and the country?

Friday, November 5, 2010

You Picked a Fine Time to Lead Us, Barack

"I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."

Those are the words Admiral Yamamoto supposedly uttered shortly after receiving the first reports about the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in the early hours of December 7, 1941. More prophetic words could not have been spoken because, as a result of the sneak attack by Japan, the United States of America was jarred out of its complacent, isolationist position that the war in Europe and the Pacific were somebody else’s war. By the end of World War II, victory of the good and righteous was secured in both theatres of that conflict by an American military machine and soldiers that mobilized and fought with conviction and courage from the islands of the South Pacific to the shores of Normandy.

As Abraham Lincoln said in his 2nd Inaugural Address, “With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work…” That is what Americans do when stirred into action for a just and noble cause.

If you have been reading my column for the past few years, you will know that I am no fan of Barack Obama’s policies. From economics to tax policy, from climate change to cap and trade, from real health care reform to Obamacare, from uniter to divider, I am convinced that Barack Obama may go down in recent history as one of the worst Presdients of modern times. Now, of course, history will be the final judge of that, but as far as my humble opinion goes, well, I probably need say no more.

At the time of this writing, the 2010 Mid-Term Elections are barely over. Although perhaps overly projected by some pundants to be Republican sweep of seismic proportions—even exceeding the Republican Revolution of 1994—the final outcome is nonetheless a popular rejection of many of Barack Obama’s major policy initiatives.

Barack Obama has awaken the sleeping giant of the conservative movement in this country. He has unleashed an ultra liberal agenda that exposed many Members of Congress who had been hiding behind a more conservative fa├žade The ensuing uproar has become the newest “…shot heard around the world.”

The Tea Party Patriots owe their very existence and huge popularity to Barack Obama. But for the $867 billion failed stimulus bill, the job killing cap and trade bill, and the final death knell of Obamacare, the Tea Party Patriots would have gained little traction. Now, they will hold the new Republican leaders accountable.

America has been dismayed by the shock and awe of some of the extreme anti-buisness rhetoric and the government control of key sectors of the private sector by Congress and this Administration. Many citizens even dare to say our nation is dangerously close to becoming a socialist state.

The arrogance of Barack Obama’s words, “I won!” at his first meeting with the Republican Minority in Congress. The audacity of Congress passing legislation that few had read and no one fully understood just so, “We can find out what is says,” according to Nancy Pelosi. The idea that Americans should be happy with the notion that “…electric rates would necessarily skyrocket…,” according to Obama, so that we can address what may, or may not, happen to the climate in 100 years whether we do anything or not. The creation of dozens of Czars in the United States Government who are given unpresedented authority to carry out their missions, arguably without the benefit of our Constiututional checks and balances. Yes, the past 20 months have been a never ending series of arrogant elected officials talking down to a population who is not buying one bit of it. It is a sham.

Here in Prince Edward County, Virginia, I have witnessed first hand a resurgence of conservative activism. One night last winter in Farmville, 10 volunteers signed up to be members of the local Republican Committee. Since then, we have seen an unprecedented surge in party activism. These people are fired up for the election like never before. Thank you, Barack Obama.

Across the 5th District here in Central and Southside Virginia, I have heard about World War II Veterans saying, “This is the most important election of my lifetime.” They are truly scared for the future of this country and for their grand children who will be saddled with unprecendented and record-setting deficit spending. Terms like “income redistribution” and higher taxes for the “rich”—whatever rich is in today’s world—scare the heck out of the Greatest Generation.

Pre-election accounts of voter fraud were running rampant and stories about the Service Employees International Union running the ballot machines in key states smacks of conflict of interest. And now we have the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals talking about giving illegal aliens the right to vote in 2012! I am reminded of the movie, Bridge of River Kwai, when, after the British Colonel falls dead on the detonator blowing up the bridge the British prisoners had ill-advisedly built so well, Major Clipton stands on the hill exclaiming, “Madness! Madness!”

Yes, I have certainly had my share of exascerbating moments with Barack Obama’s policies. He certainly picked a fine time to lead us, perhaps even down the path of socialism, but as I savor the 2010 Mid-Term Election results, I must admit I owe Barack Obama a debt of gratitude. For indeed, it must be said that President Obama has awakened “…a sleeping giant.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

Do Not Muzzle the Ox

There are two hot button topics that receive a lot of attention these days— Congressional retirement and Congressional pay. Unfortunately most of what you hear about Congressional retirement is just plain false and I believe much of the ballyhoo about Congressional salaries is not justified.

The often repeated rumor is that a Representative or a Senator receives their full salary for the rest of their lives even if they have only served one term. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but that rumor is pure poppycock. Representatives and Senators participate in the same retirement plans that are available to federal employees with one notable exception; they are fully vested in their retirement after five full years of service whereas federal employees are partially vested after 10 years and fully vested only after 20 years of service.

All Members of Congress elected in 1984 or later, like all federal employees hired after that date, participate in the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS). They pay into the Social Security system at the rate of 6.2% of the first $97,500 of their salary and they pay into the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund at the rate of 1.3% of their full salary. The federal government matches their contributions to those funds just like your private sector employer matches the 7.5% you pay into the Social Security fund. Representatives and Senators elected prior to 1984, like federal employees hired before that date, are participants in the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). After 1984, they were all given the opportunity to stay in the CSRS or convert to FERS.

Representatives and Senators are fully vested in the FERS after five full years of service, but they may not draw upon that retirement until age 62 with the following exceptions. If they have 20 years of service they may start drawing retirement at age 50 after they leave Congress, and if they have 25 years of service, they may start drawing retirement at any age after they leave Congress.

The amount of their retirement pension is based on the number of years served and the average of their highest three years of salary, but by law, their pension may never exceed 80% of their final salary.

According to the Congressional Research Service, “As of October 1, 2006, 413 retired Members of Congress were receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service. Of this number, 290 had retired under CSRS and were receiving an average annual pension of $60,972. A total of 123 Members had retired with service under both CSRS and FERS or with service under FERS only. Their average annual pension was $35,952 in 2006.” (http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RL30631.pdf)

Now that the retirement myth is busted, let’s turn to the issue of Congressional pay. Many people believe we ought to have more of a citizen Congress that requires Members of Congress to earn their money in the real world and to not be paid by the federal government. Indeed, the Founding Fathers had this same debate during the Constitutional Convention with Benjamin Franklin arguing for no pay. However, he did not prevail and the first Members of Congress were paid a per diem of $6.00 a day when in session. Members of Congress began receiving an annual salary in 1855 and the rest is history. Current Members of Congress are paid $174,000 per year except the Speaker of the House who gets $223,500 per year and the Senate and House Majority and Minority Leaders who each receive $193,400 per year. The salary levels are calculated by the Office of Personnel Management and these salaries become the basis for Judges’ salaries as well as the salaries of senior federal executives.

Now, one can certainly debate the merits of these salaries and what level of salary is appropriate for the job, but the Founding Fathers clearly understood the Biblical principle that you should not muzzle the ox—in other words it is only fair that if the ox helps you harvest the grain and turns the mill stone to make the flour then you should not prevent the ox from eating while it works. We have certain expectations of our Congressmen and Senators and we should pay a fair wage for the work they do on our behalf. And, when re-election time comes around, we should hold them accountable for the job they have done.

More to the point, we want smart, energetic, and principled leaders to run our country, therefore we ought to expect to pay them a salary commensurate with their skills. The reality is that most Members of Congress have extraordinary skills that would probably enable them to earn more money in the private sector than they get paid in Congress. Many Members of Congress have left much higher paying jobs to enter public service in order to help make this country a better and safer place to live.

Certainly, in most communities across the United States and compared to the average American salary, $174,000 a year is a very comfortable income. But, let us consider that Members of Congress must maintain two households, one in their home district and one in the Washington metropolitan area. Moreover, unless you are willing to commute over one hour each way on top of your 10-12 hour day at work, sometimes seven days a week, then you will probably be paying somewhere between $800,000 to $1 million for a modest town home within 30 minutes of the Capitol.

The Bible also says in Proverbs 30:9, “For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.” There are countless stories in recent times about Congressional corruption, or at minimum, questionable business dealings by several Members of Congress. Certainly, an appropriate salary should help reduce the need and temptation to seek outside income, and at the same time, a salary that is not too high will help our representatives remember from whence they came. But, whatever the salary is for Members of Congress, let us remember we pay them because we expect a lot from them and we do not muzzle the ox.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Stop the Bush Bashing

To coin the often used phrase, “I am mad as heck and I am not going to take it anymore!” It has been almost two years since George W. Bush left office and he is not just still the focus of the Democrats, but even Republicans have taken to blaming Bush for whatever issue they face today.

Enough is enough. George W. Bush has retired to Crawford, Texas, and in the most dignified retirement from public life in decades, he has stayed completely out of the public fray over politics and the debate about the changes this country is going through.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I worked for George W. Bush from 2002 through most of 2008. I consider it an honor to have served under his Administration and leadership. Although I never met him personally, he would periodically gather all of his political appointees to one location and share with us his vision for public service. He would tell us he ran for President and came to Washington, DC, to do a job and that at the end of that job he would go home to Texas. He encouraged us to focus on that particular part of government we wanted to improve when we came to Washington. He told us in 2004 to forget the politics; that was his job. Our job was to serve the American people and strive to improve the government of the people, by the people, and for the people. He talked about the Oval Office. He pointed out the obvious; it has no corners. His point was that there is no place to run to in that office that did not turn you back to facing the difficult and sometimes intractable issues that face every President. But, George W. Bush is a man of faith and that faith gave him a sense of optimism and it also gave him strong convictions about what is right and what is wrong.

It is George W. Bush’s faith in Jesus Christ that I believe made him the object of so much scorn throughout and even after his Presidency. Just as many of today’s critics of the Tea Party, it seems to be vogue in America to belittle Christians. It is almost as though the intellectual elite believe you have to have your brain siphoned out to be a Christian. Even the way the words “Born-Again Christian” cross their contorted lips seems to belie their underlying seething and disdain of anyone who is a person of faith. And of all the ironies of life, these are the same people who preach tolerance.

Much of the criticism of George W. Bush revolves around the War on Terror and specifically the war in Iraq. George W. Bush did not ask for or seek to go to war. It is as though Americans have already forgotten that on September 11, 2001, less than nine months into his Presidency, America experienced the most devastating foreign attack on American soil in history. Moreover, the attackers could not be identified with any nation, and in fact, were just part of a loosely connected network of terrorists who believe America is the great evil. America struggled in Viet Nam because it had never faced guerilla warfare and we struggle today because the War of Terror is the most unconventional warfare planet earth has ever witnessed.

George W. Bush did not pick this fight, but he did just what any other red-blooded American would do when attacked. He undertook every possible effort to secure the safety and security of America. He did this by increasing homeland security and taking the war to the terrorists, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. Oh, I know, the terrorist attacks on 9/11 did not originate in Iraq. Nonetheless, every available piece of intelligence reviewed and supported by the intelligence agencies, Republicans and Democrats alike, suggested Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and that he was actively supporting terrorists in Israel by paying $50,000 to the families of suicide bombers. Saddam used weapons of mass destruction on his own people and is widely considered to have been one of the cruelest of the post-World War II dictators. A free and democratic post-Saddam Iraq will be a stabilizing influence in a part of the world that seems to breed instability.

Another action for which George W. Bush has been roundly criticized, and this time by Republicans and Democrats alike, is the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) or the so-called bank bailouts. While it is always in fashion to be a bank basher, banking is without a doubt at the center of every aspect of our economy. Read your history; it was the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent failure of the banking industry that led to the Great Depression. Again, George W. Bush acted, in cooperation with Congress, to enact TARP. As a result, the banking industry did not collapse and indeed virtually every dollar invested in the banks has been repaid to the federal treasury and there has not been a calamitous failure of banks that might have bankrupted the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Border security is also an issue for which people like to say George W. Bush did not defend our borders. Nothing could be further from the truth. I actually worked on border security issues because the Department of the Interior is responsible for managing lands along nearly one half of the US/Mexico Border. I helped author a Memorandum of Understanding among the Interior, Agriculture, and Homeland Security Departments that increased cooperation, granted access to the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), and increased border security. It was the Bush Administration that completed nearly 700 miles of border fence over just a few short years. And it was George W. Bush who tripled the size of the CBP forces along the border and who ordered the National Guard to assist the CBP.

History has a way of proving over time the real value of any President. Richard Nixon, who was humiliated when he resigned in the face of imminent impeachment proceedings, has now been acclaimed as one of the best modern Presidents for his foreign policy and especially his diplomacy that led to substantially improved relations between the free world and Communist China. He got the US out of Viet Nam, a war started by John F. Kennedy and escalated substantially by Lyndon B. Johnson, in as orderly a manner as was possible.

Perhaps even more significant is that at the time of his assassination in 1865, Abraham Lincoln was perhaps the most unpopular President in our history. He was, of course, blamed for the Civil War which led to nearly one million American casualties. The scars of that war are still healing and goal of freeing slaves and providing them their Constitutional and God-given civil rights are still a work in progress. But, at one end of the National Mall in Washington, DC, stands the Lincoln Memorial, one of the largest monuments ever built to honor a President of the Untied States. As history shined favorably on Abraham Lincoln, I believe one day that same vindicating light will shine upon the Presidency of George W. Bush.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

When the Tide Comes In

“Workers at a Honda plant in China recently went on strike over wages and work conditions. The Chinese have had enough of slaving in factories for $30 per week while Americans sit home on their couches, collect $400 per week in unemployment benefits, and consume the goods that the Chinese make. Chinese manufacturers are now being forced to increase the wages they pay to workers and these costs will be passed on to American importers of Chinese goods like Wal-Mart.” This according to the National Inflation Association will lead to all sorts of economic problems for the USA in the form of higher cost of living and inflationary prices.

I prefer to take longer look at events such as a growing third-world economy and China’s policy regarding international monetary markets and the value of their currency.

The Chinese are finally experimenting with the value of their currency, the Yuan, by allowing limited float like every other currency in the world. Floating currencies change in value relative to other currencies such as the US Dollar, and they reflect a country’s economic strength and can help balance trade. It works like this. Under the communist regime, the Chinese economy was weak just a few decades ago. The Communist Party determined to embrace capitalistic investment in their country and their lower wages and lack of regulations made them more competitive than US and European manufacturers. So, Chinese manufacturing grew and their economy gained strength which would under normal international monetary policies lead to a stronger Yuan. But, the Chinese authorities until recently would not allow their currency value to float in the world currency market. If the value of the Yuan is allowed to gain strength against the US Dollar, Chinese goods become effectively more expensive for US consumers. The stronger Yuan also makes US goods and services more affordable for Chinese consumers. The net effect of a stronger Yuan would be less Chinese imports into the US and more US exports into China, and for the USA, a smaller trade deficit.

For organizations like the National Inflation Association, increased prosperity in China is seen as a negative for the US economy. I have a substantially different view of these turns of events.

As a life-long conservationist, I have been saying for decades that environmental laws and regulations in the USA are driving businesses offshore. To be sure, cheap labor in Asia and other locations has been a huge competitive disadvantage for a number of industries in the United States. But, many people have failed to take into account the high costs of cleaning up our waterways, reducing air pollution, and preventing hazardous waste from entering our ecosystems. Do not get me wrong; I am a strong supporter of cleaning up and protecting our nation’s air, water, and soil is important, and within limits, it is worth paying more for goods and services to live in the cleanest environment the world has to offer. But, the unintended consequence of our stronger environmental legal and regulatory framework has been to substantially increase the cost of generating power, manufacturing goods, providing services, and growing food for the world. Some of those higher expenses have been mitigated by improved technology and more efficient production methods. But, it is an incontrovertible fact that cleaning up our environment has caused a lot of industry to move to countries that do not value their environment as highly as we do.

Indeed, the globalization of the economy and the associated increases in pollution in third-world countries is because some countries would gladly sacrifice their environment for jobs and prosperity for their people. In response, the environmental activist industry has gone international as well. The problem with the environmentalist’s message is that they believe those third-world countries should shun industry and thus prosperity in favor of maintaining their pristine environments. What the environmental community fails to recognize is that prosperity is the environment’s best friend.

If you think about it, the only reason the USA has the cleanest air, water, and soil in the world is because Americans could afford, and therefore agreed, to pay more for goods and services in order to clean up our land. To put it another way, look at the polling data on American concerns about the environment when the economy takes a downturn. When we are in a recession, Americans show much greater concern about job creation and much less interest in new environmental restrictions. This was recently demonstrated when the Cap and Trade Bill effectively died in the Senate because people saw the bill as a job killer. At this point in time in most American’s minds, jobs are more important than the environment. It is not insignificant that, even in the face of the largest oil spill in history in waters of the United States, Americans chose jobs over a bill designed to reduce our reliance on oil and other carbon products.

For decades now, I have told people who were concerned about the increased pollution associated with the industrialization of the third-world to relax. “Once those people have a taste of prosperity, they will become interested in cleaning up their land, water, and air,” I would say.

There was a time when Chinese workers beat a path to the $30 a week manufacturing job. But, now they have a television and a computer with internet access. They see the world news and they begin to compare their situation with others around the world. “If Americans can get $400 a week for doing nothing, why can’t I get a higher wage for making the goods those Americans are buying,” they reason. And, now that they have a job and some level of economic security, organizing into unions and contemplating going on strike is much more palatable than it was ten years ago. And so prosperity will spread across the third-world and with prosperity and increased economic security there will be a greater desire to breath in cleaner air, to have safe drinking water, to not have toxic chemicals oozing from the soil, or fish dying in the rivers. I believe we will see a grassroots environmental movement spring up in these third-world countries, just like it did in the USA back in the sixties and seventies. But, it won’t be because some extreme environmental group made them feel guilty for having a little prosperity; it will come from within because of increased wealth and economic security.

And the really good news to come out of all of this is that, in time, higher wages and more environmental awareness resulting from increased prosperity will result in more jobs coming back to the United States and more lucrative markets for US products overseas. The old adage about how an improved economy is good for everyone will be enhanced to read, “When the tide comes in, all the ships—big and small—float a little higher in cleaner water and under clearer skies.”

Friday, September 10, 2010

Caveat Emptor

“Caveat emptor” is a Latin phrase meaning “Buyer beware.” It is a principle that every consumer should adhere to for their own benefit and protection. It is a concept at the core of how micro-economics quantifies consumption decisions made by people.

The need for buyers to beware is as old as the Devil’s temptation of Eve and then Adam and it has been a sad part of human nature ever since.. There have always been snake-oil salesmen and conmen who would sell you the cure for whatever ails you, the Brooklyn Bridge, or some land in Florida that turns out to be a swamp. Nowadays, it is the email you get from a Secretary of the Treasury of some banana republic who just happens to have $12 million dollars he would like to share with you if only you would provide your bank account numbers and other personal information.

We are all taught to be skeptical consumers. Phrases like “Too good to be true,” or “There is no such thing as a free lunch” are burned into our psyches. We all have a deep seated mistrust of salesmen, and as wary consumers, we do our research on products before we buy them. Well, at least, I thought this was all true.

It turns out we are not very smart consumers, so we need the government to step in and protect us poor unwitting souls. Enter the Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Products Safety Commission, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to protect us from ourselves. Not that these agencies don’t serve a valuable role, but when does government protection slip over the line into the realm of a nanny state that treats us all like babies and severely limits our consumer choices.

Recently, our Congressman, Tom Perriello, touted the final implementation of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act (Credit CARD) and his roll in drafting the legislation. First of all, you have to love the acronym—Credit CARD. Unfortunately, that is often the most thought that goes into legislation written these days.

While the nation is still reeling from the effects of the Great Recession, much of the blame for our economic woes are now being laid at the feet of the banking industry. “We bailed out the fat-cat banks and now they are not loaning money, thus the economy is not growing,” we hear some say. Never mind the fact that it was federal government mortgage policies that required banks to loosen the credit requirements for home loans and that is what led to the sub-prime mortgage defaults that started the Great Recession. There can be no doubt that bankers share the responsibility for coming up with products like “liar loans” and Wall Street packaged up these bad loans and sold security interest in them to consumers thirsting for a higher rate of return. Everyone can share a little blame for the collapse, but the federal policy was the root of the problem.

But, how do we reconcile the desire to have banks loan more money on the one hand with more restrictive regulation of the banking industry on the other hand. And is more readily available credit really good for the economy? Should the American consumers borrow our way out of the recession like the federal government tried and failed to do with the stimulus bill? Was it all the fault of credit card companies that consumer credit card debt in America went from $69 billion in 1986 to $1.8 trillion in 2006?

It is irrefutable that some credit card companies charged interest rates that were too high and they lived off consumers who spent money liberally, but paid it back with the Minimum Payment. Some of those credit card companies created their own delinquency problems by adding excessive late charges and penalties on to balances that caused the borrower to spiral into default. But, it is not as though somebody held a gun to the consumer’s head and made them buy that flat-screen television and all the other luxury items that put them in debt up to their eyeballs.

I worked at a bank back in the 1980’s when credit companies had liberal credit policies and were mailing pre-approved credit cards to college students. But, it did not take a new law to correct the problem. It was the market system that led to a correction. Credit card losses and bankruptcies are bad for business and the appropriate response of credit card companies was to tighten credit requirements and not be so liberal in their issuance of credit cards. Obviously, memories are short term and the credit card companies thought the economy would just continue to grow us out of our excess spending habits and now the chicken has come home to roost once again. But, instead of allowing a market correction to take place, Washington has come to the rescue with a new set of onerous regulations that will increase the cost of credit cards.

But since credit card standards are tightening up again, guess who will be paying for the new credit card regulatory compliance? That’s right, those of us who did not rack up tens of thousands of dollars in debt, those of us who pay our bills on time, those of us who exercised fiscal responsibility in our personal finances, we will be the ones paying for this new regulation. Many of you diligently guard your credit rating. You take responsibility and pay back what you borrow from others, including the banks. And because of your responsible actions and because you practice the principle of buyer beware, you most likely had a credit card with a low interest rate and no annual fee. You most likely use your credit out of convenience only and pay the balance in full each month. Good for you if you do.

But, now, we are inundated with television and radio ads that advise us all that we have a right to make the credit card companies charge off up to one half of our credit card debt. However, that “right” only applies to those who owe more than $10,000 and to those who are delinquent on their payments. It is an upside down and crazy world that rewards bad behavior by punishing those who acted responsibly. “Buyer beware” has become “What me worry?” And “There is no such thing as a free lunch” has been embellished with “unless you eat at fine restaurants and stiff the credit company when they send you the bill.” Perhaps we should move from “Caveat emptor” to “Electoris emptor.” November is coming.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Main Street USA

There is a lot of talk about Main Street USA these days. President Obama says he wants to help Main Street USA through his efforts to recover the American economy and Main Streets all across the USA are challenged like never before.

The struggles faced by Main Street USA are not new. Main Street businesses feel like they are under siege and the attacks come from many fronts. Certainly, federal issues such as tax policies, free trade agreements, minimum wage, banking regulations, health care, energy policies have had their impact; some would say mostly negative. But, there are also a host of free market changes that have impacted Main Street USA from Wal Mart and the big-box revolution to suburbia and the proliferation of shopping malls and strip centers. A less loyal set of consumers coupled with a high degree of mobility as well as the phenomenal growth in internet trade have also contributed to Main Street woes. Add to all that what the pundits now call the Great Recession and it is not hard to see why Main Street USA is suffering.

On the other hand, there are a number of things that bode well for Main Street USA. Entrepreneurship is still alive and well, although some would say many new policies coming out of Washington, DC, these days are driving entrepreneurs out of the marketplace. Nonetheless, high unemployment rates always cause a number of people to pursue that business dream they have always had. And, while high vacancy rates on Main Streets don’t do much for business right now, they do represent opportunity and more affordable places to locate new businesses.

Fortunately for Main Street USA, Americans are a nostalgic lot and they are longing for the hometown feel that takes them back to a more idyllic time. We love our history and nothing conveys that like a thriving historic downtown area. The United States has a robust federal policy to preserve our history in the National Historic Preservation Act. In the United States, we use the free market system to preserve history by granting very generous tax credits to real estate owners who preserve and redevelop historic commercial properties to rigorous historic standards. Called “adaptive reuse,” downtowns across the USA are seeing historic buildings converted to indoor shopping malls, micro-breweries, restaurants, retail outlets, office space, and even apartment complexes.

In conjunction with historic preservation, there is a national Main Street Program that seeks to facilitate the preservation and re-invigoration of historic downtown areas across the country. In addition to physical improvements to store fronts and thematic preservation of history, the Main Street Program gives downtown associations and chambers of commerce the tools to create a thriving retail atmosphere. Store hours are adjusted to meet the needs of today’s two-income families, pedestrian friendly streetscapes enhance the visitor experience, events make downtown more than a shopping destination, return policies are changed to match the big-box competition, the business mix has changed so as to not compete directly with the chain-discount stores, and excellence in personal service and product expertise helps downtown compete with the internet.

What makes Main Street USA work is not a federal stimulus program, not another pork-barrel project brought to you by your local Congressperson, and not more government interference in the free enterprise economy. No, what makes Main Street USA work is less government, streamlined regulations, lower taxes, especially the capital gains tax rate. And, Main Street needs a National Historic Preservation program that recognizes the requirements of today’s developers and new businesses and more cooperation that allows historic preservation to be profitable. Most of all, what Main Street USA needs is government at all levels to see that what is good for business is good for all, that government/private-sector cooperation is what causes the economic tide to come in and float all the ships, big and small, a little higher.

Farmville, Virginia, is a text book example of how Main Street USA and the United States economy will grow strong once again. It will not be through government programs, but by Americans pulling ourselves up by the boot straps. There has been a lot of talk in Farmville in recent months about the high vacancy rates, declining condition of the store fronts, and lack of downtown visitors.

At first the discussion seemed to focus on the Town of Farmville and their parking meter policies. This local issue is a lot like a microcosm of our national economy. While it is true that the parking policies are not the cause of downtown Farmville’s woes, the parking meters are not helping the historic area recover. At the national level, while President Obama did not cause the Great Recession, his proposed policies such as nationalized health care, carbon emissions cap and trade, and higher taxes on the Americans who invest in Main Street USA have severely impaired the ability of America to pull itself out of this economic slump.

In Farmville, the Town Council immediately took to heart the notion that their parking policies may be hurting the historic downtown, but they were not willing to shoulder the whole burden. They wisely engaged the downtown business owners, the chamber of commerce, the two local college communities, and other interested parties. The Town Council appointed two council members to be part of a newly formed, non-governmental committee to address the revitalization of downtown. At a recent inaugural meeting of the new downtown group, ideas were thrown out faster than lightning bolts in a late summer thunderstorm. The excitement was contagious and the enthusiasm to undertake a thorough and comprehensive assessment of all of the possible actions has caused some long-time downtown observers to conclude that this effort will be successful.

In my varied career as a bank loan officer, a congressional staffer, and the director of a chamber of commerce, I have seen time and time again what can happen when a vibrant, highly motivated, unfettered-by-government group can do if the rest of us just step back and get out of the way.

For much of my life, I had a plaque that my mother gave me that read, “Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way!” I actually resented that plaque for years because I thought my mother was trying to push me to lead; something I was not ready for or inclined to do at the time. Then it hit me like an epiphany. There are three elements to good leadership—being a good leader, being a good follower, and knowing when to get out of the way. Government, at all levels, can learn a lot and do more good for the country if they would sometimes just get out of the way.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

National Parks "For Sale"

The headline on the British news website, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/06/wyoming-grand-teton-national-park, reads “US national park faces sale.” The story talks about school section land the state of Wyoming owns within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park and the Wyoming Governor’s threat to sell the land to the highest bidder if the federal government will not swap the land for a minerals estate of equal value or other compensation. Headlines like this are used by some organizations to suggest that our national parks are threatened and not adequately protected or funded.

A little Grant Teton history is warranted here. According to the National Park Service history of the park, “The birth of present-day Grand Teton National Park involved controversy and a struggle that lasted several decades. Animosity toward expanding governmental control and a perceived loss of individual freedoms fueled anti-park sentiments in Jackson Hole that nearly derailed establishment of the park.” A large portion of Grand Teton was carved out of private land that had been bought up by John D. Rockefeller and later donated to the National Park Service. Unlike nearby Yellowstone National Park, the nation’s first, that was 100% federal land when it was established in 1872, Grand Teton to this day continues to have substantial tracts of privately owned land within the park boundaries.

The tension between private land owners and the park system and the animosity generated by carving a park out of privately-held lands are very similar to what occurred in Virginia during the establishment of Shenandoah National Park and in North Carolina and Tennessee when Great Smokey National Park was established.

Back to the fire sale in Grand Teton, because the land in Jackson Hole that became Grand Teton National Park was private property, there are also state school lands in the park that were set aside when Wyoming was granted statehood in 1890. Under the Wyoming Constitution the state is required to manage those school lands to maximize return to the school trust for education in Wyoming.

In Grand Teton, Wyoming owns two full sections (a section is one mile square or 640 acres) of land plus one smaller 85 acre parcel. With land values in Jackson Hole at about $200,000 per acre, it is easy to see why Wyoming may be tempted to sell their land. Especially when you consider that the state currently receives about $3,000 per year in grazing lease revenue on land that may be worth more than $250 million.

Back in 2002, Congress passed a law directing the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management to work out an exchange with Wyoming for the state lands inside the park. At the time, Wyoming wanted undeveloped minerals of equal value to the land, but valuation of undeveloped minerals is challenging and other matters of law caused that deal to bog down. Moreover, nobody really wants to have the state land sold into private ownership and that includes the residents of Wyoming who have long since realized that, despite a controversial beginning, Grand Teton is an economic engine that drives millions of dollars into Wyoming’s economy every year in the form of tourism. There is also the recognition in Wyoming that even though $250 million is not chump change, it would be quickly absorbed into the $1.4 billion per year school budget and $1.4 billion per year capital construction for schools.

So the questions are: Will Wyoming really sell their land inside Grand Teton National Park? Is it worth $250 million to a bankrupt federal treasury to make sure Wyoming does not sell the land?

In my opinion, the answer to the first question is “No.” I believe Wyoming’s governor is playing high stakes poker and attempting to leverage the national and international appeal of Grand Teton National Park to extract money from the feds. To answer the second question, let’s first take a look at the National Park Service annual budget and what they should be doing with the funds they are appropriated.

As a general principle the National Park Service has enjoyed increasing budgets when other agencies have been cut. They spend more dollars per acre of land managed than any other federal land management agency. There is the perennial complaint that there is a maintenance backlog that ranges from $4-6 billion. Ironically, no matter how much more money Congress gives the park service, there seems to be no end to the backlog. You may have heard recent radio advertisements featuring actor Sam Waterston decrying the failure of the federal government to address the maintenance backlog and telling us that your national parks are falling into complete disrepair.

A scan of annual NPS budgets over the last 10 years is illustrative. In 2000, the year George W. Bush was elected President, the NPS budget was about $2.1 billion. When Bush left office in 2009, the NPS budget was $2.9 billion. On top of those annual appropriations, over the years the Bush Administration spent more than $4 billion in additional money on the maintenance backlog. Soon after Barack Obama took office, the so-called stimulus bill allocated an additional $750 million to the National Park Service presumably to address the backlog. How many of you have seen a nearly 50% increase in your income over the last decade and were given about two years’ worth of salary to improve your home and property to boot? Most likely none of you saw that kind of boost in your personal budget, but nonetheless, I would wager that your home has been maintained and is in as good or better condition than when you bought it.

So why can’t the National Park Service maintain our national parks on an ever increasing appropriation? First and foremost, maintenance is not very exciting, but acquiring land and building new facilities is the stuff that pads a park superintendent’s resume. Secondly, Congress keeps adding new parks to the system. Not only do new parks rarely come with new money, the added units often have ready-made maintenance backlogs as well as future commitments for construction and land acquisition.

We are witness to this latter phenomena right here in Southside Virginia. Congressman Perriello has asked the National Park Service to study the feasibility of adding the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford to the national park system. I have seen dozens of these kinds of studies by the park service during my tenure at the Department of the Interior, and in almost every instance, the NPS will present a wonderful case for why the particular site is of national significance and should be added to the list of national parks. Buried in the conclusion of the study, you will find small and weak argument about why the system cannot afford the new unit. Few Congressmen can resist the lure and glory of adding a new park to their district and they usually ignore the fact that the system cannot afford to take on the burden of new units. But, for the good of the whole national park system, somebody in Congress should stand up and say enough.

And by the way, until the Bush Administration made the NPS develop a system that established and validated an inventory of their assets and each asset’s condition, nobody could ever give an accurate estimate of any maintenance backlog. But that matters little to the groups, like the National Parks Conservation Association who use celebrities like Sam Waterston to bemoan the degradation of our parks, because they are more interested in whipping up a crisis and selling memberships than actually doing anything that would benefit or conserve the national park system.

Be careful which environmental groups you support. Do your homework. Research the fact base around each issue and behind each headline. And most of all, understand the motives and tactics of the group to whom you are giving your hard-earned money. Some organizations are actually doing conservation work on the ground and others are just doing it to you.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Peoples' Tax Cuts

Americans “…will not see their taxes increase by a single dime…” if they make less than $250,000 is the promise Barack Obama repeated to the American people all throughout the campaign in 2008. Although, the income threshold below which no one would see a tax increase seemed to vary from speech to speech, what is abundantly clear is that candidate Obama pledged not to increase income taxes on those who are not “wealthy.”

In 2001 and 2003, George W. Bush worked with a Republican Congress to lower taxes for nearly all Americans. The lower tax rates are set to automatically expire January 1, 2011, unless Congress acts to extend or make them permanent. And do not be fooled by the rhetoric, failure to extend these tax cuts is the equivalent of raising your taxes.

The premise of cutting tax rates is a simple one and is supported by the economic history of tax policy in the United States. If you lower tax rates, people will use the money they keep to create jobs, invest in America, purchase goods and services, and otherwise stimulate the economy. Moreover, that increased private sector activity actually results in an increase in tax revenues to the federal treasury.

Art Laffer successfully argued when Ronald Reagan was President that there is a point of diminishing marginal returns if tax rates are too high. Any economist will tell you that raising tax rates has a depressing effect on the economy, and as the Laffer Curve illustrated, if you increase tax rates beyond the point of diminishing marginal returns, tax revenues will decline.

The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are commonly called the “Bush Tax Cuts.” I am continually amazed at the Constitutional illiteracy of the American media. Then-President Bush may have proposed the tax cuts, but as the Constitution says, all legislation regarding federal taxes must originate in the House of Representatives. It must then be passed by the Senate before the President signs it into law. So, why don’t we call it “Congress’ Tax Cuts” or better yet the “People’s Tax Cuts?” My guess is that even two years after George W. Bush left office, it is still vogue to blame anything and everything you don’t like on George W. Bush.

The strategic error in blaming this on Bush is that everybody likes a tax cut, and in the case of the Bush Tax Cuts, virtually everybody got one—not just the wealthy. Let’s take a look at what happens to the tax rates that apply to all Americans today, if the Bush Tax Cuts are allowed to expire next January.
• Taxpayers currently in the 10% bracket will pay 15%
• Taxpayers currently in the 15% bracket will pay 15%
• Taxpayers currently in the 25% bracket will pay 28%
• Taxpayers currently in the 28% bracket will pay 31%
• Taxpayers currently in the 33% bracket will pay 36%
• Taxpayers currently in the 35% bracket will pay 39.6%

First of all, look at who gets the biggest tax rate increase. It is the same people who got the biggest tax rate break under the Bush Tax Cuts. If allowed to expire, the lowest income bracket (well under $250,000) will see a 50% increase in their tax rate. The people in the highest, or wealthiest, tax bracket will only see a little over a 13% increase in their tax rate. This is where the rhetoric gets scary. The liberal policymakers think the higher income bracket should have their tax rates increased more than the lower income folks. And all you seem to hear from some Democrats is that the Bush Tax Cuts were only for the rich. Wait a doggone minute. Lowering the tax rate for the lowest income earners by 50% and reducing the rate paid by the richest Americans by 13% does not constitute a tax break only for the wealthy?

Besides, the “rich” are already paying the lion’s share of the taxes collected by the income tax. In 2007, the top 10% of income earners in America—the “rich” who don’t pay their “fair” share—paid more than 71% of the total income taxes collected. Moreover, it is the “rich” who invest in America and create more jobs and provide more growth opportunities than any Stimulus Plan ever has done. Tax the “rich” more and what do you think will happen to job creation and the unemployment rate?

Also, if the Bush Tax Cuts are allowed to expire, the estate tax rates, which have been reduced over time, will resume in 2011 at a 55% rate on estates above about $1.2 million. What do you think will happen to the average family farm when the parents die with a death tax rate of 55%? Do you like having a variety of food products available at prices that have been stable? Do you appreciate the values and beneficial impact on the economy that comes from having a viable family farm agricultural economy? Do you like having the pastoral scenes and do you want to protect open space and wildlife habitat? Do you think paying taxes all your life is enough and paying them when you die is not fair? If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, then you should support the abolition of the estate tax once and for all.

There is a lot of talk in America today about traditional family values. People are starting to recognize that the traditional family unit means children are much more likely to be socially well-adjusted, productive citizens and much less likely to end up living in poverty or on welfare. But, if we allow the Bush Tax Cuts to expire, the so-called Marriage Tax Penalty comes back. If not extended, the standard deduction for a married couple will be one-third less than the standard deductions for two single people. Oh, yes, and if you have children, the deduction for dependents will be cut in half if the Bush Tax Cuts expire this January.

Do you hope to retire some day? Have you been putting away a little money in an IRA or a 401-K through your employer? You don’t have to be rich to want to retire and save some money for your future golden years. Or, maybe like most Americans, your home is your single largest investment. If the Bush Tax Cuts expire, the long-term capital gains tax rate on your retirement account growth goes from 15% to 20% and the tax rate on the dividends your retirement account will eventually pay to you will surge to 39.6%.

If President Obama wants to keep his promise to the American people, he should encourage Congress to extend the Bush Tax Cuts. He could even call them the Obama Tax Cuts. If the President and the Congress are serious about stimulating the economy, seeing future tax revenues increase, and preserving the family farm and family values, then they should support making the Bush Tax Cuts permanent. It is after all the people’s money; let’s support the People’s Tax Cuts.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

From Sibling Rivalry to Socialism

Ever notice how the partisan squabbles in Washington, DC, and even the political divisions within our country, have many of the same characteristics as a sibling rivalry. There are struggles for control, a deep desire to be appreciated, attempts to make sure everyone is treated fairly, disparate perceptions of the same event, distrust of others, and distinct people with different ideas and motivations. Sibling rivalries are considered unhealthy and most parental units spend an inordinate amount of time trying to eliminate, or at least, mitigate the rivalry between siblings.

The Bible says, “Blessed are the peace makers,” but does that mean everyone must come to agreement, or can we sometimes just agree to disagree? And does the peace maker necessarily have to take a side to fulfill their responsibility? Is peace possible in every circumstance? Doesn’t the Bible also say that, “Steel sharpens steel.” Could it be that some level of disagreement is actually healthy for siblings and a nation?

In most cases when a sibling rivalry has gone bad, one can usually find a parent or parents who went out of their way to try to treat both siblings equally. The parents wrongly believe that equality will lead to peace. This approach almost always fails because of parental failure to recognize the individual and unique strengths and weaknesses of each child and to appreciate their diversity. The best approach parents can take with competing siblings is to ensure that each child has the opportunity and environment in which they can maximize the benefits of their unique strengths.

Viva la difference! At a dining table in Paris several years ago, one of the French guests commented to my wife that “America has no culture.” The French are intensely proud of their culture and indeed much of the world enjoys the benefits of French architecture, art, cooking, and wine. Over the past few decades, the government of France has gone to great lengths to protect that culture by outlawing the use of non-French words—how do you say iPod in French?—and more recently by banning the wearing of head dresses and veils worn mostly by Muslims.

My wife bristled at first, but then calmly stated, “That America has a very strong culture and that culture is deeply rooted in our diversity.” And it is true. Diversity is our greatest strength and Americans can be uniquely proud of how our diversity has helped this nation to become the economic and social powerhouse of the world.

Owing to its liberal immigration policies and low birth rates among the native French, France is now a much more culturally diverse country. But, unlike America, which was founded on the principle of accepting and embracing diversity, the French are fighting it all the way.

During the first 200 years, the United States of America was known as the melting pot of the world. People emigrated from every continent, religious freedom and tolerance was the norm, and in that environment, people were assimilated. Nobody needed Affirmative Action, income redistribution was not necessary, and social welfare programs did not exist. There were, however, expectations. You learned English, your loyalty was to America, and you became an active participant in our citizen-led form of government. Notice the difference? No laws outlawing the use of your native language. Nothing prohibiting you from sharing your homeland’s culture thus American cuisine includes Chinese, Italian, and Mexican, even French cooking, to name a few. Our government did not take it upon itself to equalize the different people groups; we just provided them a place to flourish and maximize their individual strengths.

America grew to be the envy of the world in it first 200 years because we stuck to the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence. The first among these is that we cherished liberty over life itself as when Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death!” But, then there is that principle of equality wherein the Declaration says, “…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.”

So, where did we go wrong? Why shouldn’t our parents and our government work to make sure we are all treated equally—that the playing field is leveled, so to speak? The difference is that the Declaration of Independence says we are all “created equal.” It does not say we will all become equal or are all to be equalized. What the Founding Fathers were trying to say is that we all enjoy the same inalienable rights, that we all start with the same opportunities, and that we are free—enjoying the freedom to succeed and to fail. To believe that we are all born with the same strength, mind, and heart, and therefore, we should all end up equal is the utopian delusion of egalitarianism and it just does not exist in the real world. Europeans have fixated for decades on egalitarian principles and this has led them down the path of socialism. We are now witnessing the end result of these unsustainable economic policies as European governments collapse under the burden of their national debts. How long will it be before we will wake up here in the United States?

Family dynamics are like a microcosm of our society. As parents, we would do well to recognize that trying to level the playing field for our children and micromanaging their lives to try to achieve an egalitarian outcome exacerbates sibling rivalry and often results in the break down of the family. On the macro level, forcing equality where it does not exist and manipulating the economy to achieve an egalitarian society will lead to our economic failure and the break down of our society.

Let us instead return to the principles articulated by our Founding Fathers. We should recognize that we are all created equal, share the same inalienable rights, of which the chief among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Let us return to a government that protects our individual rights and liberties and fosters opportunity, but does not try to micromanage the outcome.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Chicken Little the Sky is Falling

Chicken Little is a children’s story that chronicles the tendency of humans to blow out of proportion the effect of events, or in the worst case, completely invent a disaster where none exists.

For decades now we have been told by environmentalists that we are killing the earth and each ecological disaster is described in cataclysmic terms of doom and despair. But, the historical record tells a different story and there is mounting scientific evidence of the earth’s incredible capacity for recuperation and the restoration of its ecosystems after even the most violently destructive events. Moreover, natural disasters of many varieties have demonstrated destructive powers that eclipse human-caused ecological disasters.

Take, for example, the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State on May 18, 1980. Within a three minute time span, one cubic mile of earth was blown off the side of the mountain in a pyroclastic explosion that leveled 230 square miles of old growth forest. 300 mph winds with temperatures approaching 1200 degrees melted glaciers creating volcanic debris flows called lahars that dumped as much as 400 feet of hot mud over the landscape for miles. Spirit Lake rose 200 feet in a matter of minutes and the heat depleted the entire lake of oxygen and all life in the lake died. This catastrophic event literally destroyed an entire ecosystem in a matter of minutes. Immediately, we were inundated with the reports from scientists who said the area would never be the same again and that biological recovery was unlikely within our life times.

Now, 30 years later, our scientific understanding of ecological recovery has been turned upside down. Scientist documented elk, bears, and other critters returning to Mt. St. Helens within days of the blast. On the newly formed Pumice Plain that was covered with 250 feet of 1200 degree sterile volcanic pumice, prairie lupine was found growing within weeks. This was soon followed by insects, then other plants, and soon after that, other animals. Frogs thought to only be able to live in the shade of old growth forests thrived because the tadpoles flourished in the sun-drenched ponds and lakes. Virtually, every prevailing pre-1980 theory about ecological disaster recovery was debunked by the events that took place in the Mt. St. Helens ecosystem within the first ten years following the eruption.

There are countless places in the United States that were once considered to be permanently scarred by human activities such as market hunting, grazing, mining, and timbering. Many of these places assumed to be ruined forever now actually qualify to be Congressionally designated wilderness areas “…where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” (Wilderness Act of 1964)

As the Deepwater Horizon oil spill continues unabated in the Gulf of Mexico, let us consider the historic impact of oil spills on similar ecosystems. And let us also consider the fact that oil seeps naturally into the ocean and often times at amounts much greater than man-made spills. A 2009 study by the University of California at Santa Barbara concludes that natural oil seepage off the coast of Santa Barbara alone has been occurring at a rate of 20-25 tons per day for hundreds of thousands of years. There is abundant evidence that natural oil seepage into the oceans worldwide each day exceeds all the oil spilled by man.

But somehow society has been trained to think that natural disasters are okay; it is only man-caused disasters that harm the environment. The fact is that ecosystem damage or alteration is independent of the cause of the change.

I happened across a story the other day in the Washington Post (In gulf oil spill’s long reach, ecological damage could last decades, June 6, 2010) about an oil spill in Gulf of Mexico and what scientists had learned from it. What amazed me the most is that the Ixtoc 1 oil spill is the largest oil spill on record and it happened in 1979. I had never heard of it, have you? The Ixtoc 1 well was in Mexican waters in the southern Gulf of Mexico and was the result of a blowout in 150 feet of water. The Mexican national oil company, Pemex, tried to plug the well with drilling mud and then steel and lead balls. They then tried to contain the spill with a cap dubbed “The Sombrero.” Only, after 290 days of spillage, were they able to complete the drilling of a relief hole and cement in the well to stop the spill, but not until 138 million gallons of oil flowed into the gulf. According to InfoPlease.com, “Although it is one of the largest known oil spills, it had a low environmental impact.”

The Washington Post story went on to say, “Ecosystems can survive and eventually recover from very large oil spills, even ones that are Ixtoc-sized. In most spills, the volatile compounds evaporate. The sun breaks down others. Some compounds are dissolved in water. Microbes consume the simpler, "straight chain" hydrocarbons -- and the warmer it is, the more they eat. The gulf spill has climate in its favor. Scientists agree: Horrible as the spill may be, it's not going to turn the Gulf of Mexico into another Dead Sea.”

Clearly, the Deepwater Horizon spill will significantly alter the ecosystem and damage some life forms and life styles for decades to come. Other critters will only be impacted for the short term. More importantly, we have learned from historical spills and clean up efforts. We know that the marshes of Louisiana are much more sensitive to damage from oil than beaches. We also know that after the Cadiz spill off the coast of France in 1978, it was a mistake to scrape off the oil infested top of the marches. They never recovered. As the Post article says of the Louisiana marshes, “Although many scientists and officials have warned that the marshes are in danger, one scientist who has studied oil spills in Louisiana marshes said that these wetlands are generally able to recover if human intervention doesn't make the situation worse.”

Americans are not a patient lot and we tend to worry most about only those things that affect us directly. The Ixtoc 1 disaster did not affect us; the Deepwater Horizon spill does impact us. The similarities between the two events from a technological and ecological stand point are striking. And, there is much to be learned from that experience and others. If we take a longer view of the event, maybe we can all agree that much work remains to be done, but the sky is not falling.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

It's Just a Horrible Accident

It is about day 60 since the horrific explosion of the Deepwater Horizon Drilling Rig that killed 11 people and will probably result in the largest oil spill in the history of man’s exploration and production of oil and gas. It is a tragic and horrible accident. The loss of human life, the survivor’s remorse, those who will forever be reliving that accident and wondering what went wrong and how they could have prevented it, and the impact on the environment that will be played out over the ensuing decades—these are all the horrific outcomes of a tragic accident.

But all of that will most likely be eclipsed by the self flagellation that America will put itself through in the form of investigations, special commissions, second guessing, prosecutions, new laws and rulemaking, and lost opportunity that comes from overreacting to what in the final analysis is just a horrible accident. We have a history of doing this to ourselves in the wake of accidents. It can be described in six distinct phases of almost any given project: 1) Enthusiasm, 2) Disillusionment, 3) Panic, 4) Search for the Guilty, 5) Punish the Innocent, and 6) Praise for the Uninvolved.

Prior to the explosion that occurred on April 20, President Obama showed enthusiasm as he announced plans to expand offshore oil and gas leasing for a number of good and sound reasons. There is tremendous potential to develop domestic oil and gas supplies offshore as improved technology has proven the existence of huge oil and gas reserves under the ocean floor and our offshore oil and gas exploration and development industry has a sterling record of safety and environmental responsibility. Consider that when Hurricane Katrina went right through the heart of the Gulf of Mexico’s offshore drilling region in 2005, all the drilling rigs and production platforms were successfully shut down. Even though some platforms were wrecked beyond belief and blown ashore, nobody was hurt, the spillage was nominal, and full production was back online in a matter of months. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar testified before Congress a few weeks ago that the United States had successfully drilled and developed more than 36,000 offshore wells without a serious incident or spill up until the Deepwater Horizon accident.

Then came the disillusionment. A huge explosion rocked the rig. Lives were lost. The ensuing fire and efforts to put it out in an attempt to save the lives of those men who were missing at the time resulted in the floating rig sinking which collapsed the drill stem and broke it near the bottom of the ocean 5,000 feet below the surface. The blowout preventer—a device used on all drilling rigs to prevent accidental spills after the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill—failed either as a result of human error or the shear magnitude of the pressure produced by this gusher.

We are still in the panic phase. How do you cap a blowout that is 5,000 feet under water when the rig that can handle the equipment is lying on the ocean bottom nearby? In typical American fashion we oversimplify or ignore the physics and engineering challenges. We argue about how much oil is actually flowing out of the hole as though that really matters. And even though the oil industry standard for volume measurement has always been the Barrel, we estimate the spill in gallons which makes the number much bigger and adds to level public panic and media hyperbole. Tourism in the Gulf Coast region is almost none existent this year because the public believes the oil is ankle deep from Texas to Florida, even though most of the oil is still offshore at this time.

Of course, since a quick and easy fix did not present itself and this disaster now has the potential to play out all the way into September, political expediency requires us to jump right to the search-for-the-guilty and punishment-of-the-innocent phases.

There is and should be culpability and accountability for this accident. The measured and appropriate punishment is the means by which society corrects wrong or inappropriate behaviors that may lead to accidents. This is the natural course of action for us to follow. Personally, I believe BP to be that guilty party and they have already owned up to this by their unflinching commitment to stop the leak, clean up the mess, and keep whole those impacted by this disaster. However, it is not lost on me that British Petroleum has for about a decade tried to market themselves as Beyond Petroleum. Despite the fact that oil and gas exploration, development, refining, and retail sales makes up the vast majority of their business portfolio, they have been spending millions of dollars trying to convince us all that they are “green.” If you look into their history, I suspect you will find that BP does not have the best track record of safety and maintenance practices and a higher than industry average of accidents and spills.

In the world of government we always rush to punish the innocent. In Washington, DC, this usually takes the form of “throwing someone under the bus.” The President is the Chief Executive, but the spill is not his fault. The Secretary of the Interior is in charge of the Minerals Management Service (MMS) which is the office responsible for selling oil and gas leases, collecting the royalties, and enforcing safety on offshore rigs. But, Ken Salazar is not to blame. In an ah-hah moment, Salazar visits the Director of the MMS, and like a good loyal political appointee, she throws herself under the bus. But, it does not stop there. An old Inspector General Report that reveled that sex and drugs were corrupting a few MMS employees in the Lakewood, CO, office suddenly becomes news again. I do not support corrupt behavior, but corruption by sex and drugs is hardly a novelty in America today. I dare say, and the annual reports of Inspector Generals across government support this, that you can find a corrupt employee in every single federal agency. It is true of the private sector, too. However, to suggest that the people cited in the report somehow were the cause of this accident is ludicrous.

I happen to have worked with many of the top managers at the Minerals Management Service and I personally know them to be honest, hard working, smart, and highly motivated to do the best possible job they can. This is one of the smallest of federal agencies, yet through their work selling oil and gas leases and collecting federal mineral royalties, they are responsible for the second largest source of revenue to the United States Treasury. In recent years they have collected as much as $16 billion a year, second only to the Income Tax in total revenue. There are, as in any organization, a few bad apples and they should be and have been punished. But, let us not, in our zeal to punish the innocent, throw the whole agency under the bus.

Many people who have no direct association with this accident or its mitigation will soon rush to try to fix the problem which will lead to praise for the uninvolved. Let me again suggest that this oil spill is the result of a horrible accident. Horrible accidents happen every day. In excess of 40,000 people die as a result of car crashes every year, but automobiles have not been outlawed and automobile use and safety has increased. From time to time an airplane crashes sometimes killing hundreds of innocent people, but we still fly in record numbers every year and flying on a commercial airline is one of the safest modes of travel we can use. People die daily in hospitals sometimes due to human error, but we don’t close down the hospitals or imprison the doctor who makes an unfortunate, but honest mistake. Let us learn from this tragic accident in the Gulf of Mexico, let us work together to mitigate this environmental disaster, let us hold accountable those responsible, but please, please, let us not stop exploring for and developing domestic supplies of oil and gas. We are the most environmentally responsible nation in the world and our track record, even with this accident, is excellent. And like it or not, we need reliable domestic supplies of oil and gas to sustain our economy, quality of life, and to get us through to the next generation of energy sources.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Let My Species Go

“Let my people go!” uttered Charleton Heston in Cecille B. Demille’s classic, The Ten Commandments. It is one of his most famous lines. Today, the Endangered Species Act—a well-intentioned law hijacked by environmentalists—has many fish and wildlife professionals crying out, “Let my species go!”

Recalling the Biblical account from Genesis and Exodus, the Israelites went to Egypt because a severe drought in the Promised Land threatened the very survival of God’s chosen people. Joseph, the son of Jacob who was sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers, had interpreted Pharaoh’s dream that foretold the drought and so Egypt had set aside grain for the seven years of famine. Thus, Joseph was able to save his father, brothers, and all the rest of the Israelites from extinction.

But all did not end well for the Israelites who sought refuge in Egypt. Oh, they prospered in the Land of Goshen and in time they numbered in the hundreds of thousands. But, subsequent Pharaohs were not as benevolent as the one for whom Joseph worked. The Israelites were put into slavery making the bricks for Pharaoh’s pyramids and elaborate tombs. God sent Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Pharaoh was hard hearted, and even after Moses performed nine miracles, he would not release the Israelites until the tenth miracle took the life of Pharaoh’s own first-born son. Finally, the Israelites, who fled to Egypt to prevent their own extinction 400 years earlier, were free to leave.

We have set up a new kind of Egypt right here in the United States which is supposed to prevent the extinction of species that are threatened or endangered. Species that are in peril because of types of drought or famine are sent to a kind of Land of Goshen for recovery only to later find that they are being held captive by Pharaoh-like environmentalists who want to enslave the species to do their bidding.

Passed by Congress in 1973, the Endangered Species Act is supposed to identify species that are faced with extinction in the foreseeable future because of loss of habitat, excessive harvesting, disease or predation, inadequate regulations, or other manmade factors. Species added to one of two possible lists, threatened or endangered, receive federal protection until such time as the species is considered to be recovered and no longer warrants protection.

The goals of the Endangered Species Act are laudable enough. Humans should—indeed we are the only species that can—take steps to ensure that our actions do not unnecessarily or inadvertently cause the extinction of other species. The problem is that we have successfully identified and listed nearly 1,400 species of animals and plants in United States, but we have removed fewer than 50 species from the same list. Only 21 of those species removed from the list are identified as recovered, nine of the species are extinct, and the rest were removed because they were originally listed because of a data error.

Suppose you operate a hospital and 1,400 people have walked through the doors since you started taking patients 37 years ago. During same that time period, about 20 checked out because they were there by mistake, nine died, and 21 were cured and sent home. The rest—a staggering 1,350 people—are still in that hospital. No matter how well they feel, no matter how cured they are, and without regard to the doctors saying they should be released, these 1,350 patients are being held captive in that hospital.

There are a number of reasons why the Endangered Species Act has so struggled in achieving its fundamental purposes of protecting and recovering species.

For one thing, environmental groups have learned that the Endangered Species Act can be used to stop virtually any kind of project or activity that they do not like. The law has become a de facto form of federal control of land use that can significantly impact the use and development of private land as well as lawful private sector activities and uses of public lands and resources. It works like this. There is a proposed development in your community that a group of people do not like. They hire a biologist to find an existing threatened or endangered species on that land, or absent the presence of a listed species, find a new sub-species that is so unique as to warrant listing, and petition to have that new species listed as threatened or endangered. Suddenly, what was once a private sector decision, regulated only by local city or county land use planning, is elevated and becomes a proverbial federal case.

Another problem is the law is written in such a way that environmental lawyers can easily sue the government and win in court. For instance, a petition to list a species as threatened or endangered must be reviewed and determined whether it warrants further analysis within 90 days. If the agency is one day late, they have violated the law and any judge will likely rule against the government. A final decision on a listing petition is due within 12 months, and again, one-day late is a violation of the law. Another matter of law equally well understood by environmental lawyers is that if you sue the federal government and win, the government must pay all reasonable attorney fees and costs. The end result is many environmental groups are nothing more than environmental law shops that are self funded by taxpayer dollars. The environmentalists flood the pipeline with petitions to list species, the government gets further behind, there are more lawsuits, more money going to environmental groups, and the cycle continues. Most importantly, the agencies are overwhelmed which results in courts and judges making decisions about species recovery instead of science-based management being conducted by fish and wildlife professionals. Another outcome is limited federal resources, which could be used for species conservation and recovery, are wasted on litigation.

Adding to the challenges, certain threatened or endangered species are considered to be charismatic mega-fauna. These are the grizzly bears, wolves, whales, bald eagles, etc. that environmentalists exploit as pawns in their fundraising juggernauts. Who would not want to protect polar bears, or penguins, or sea otters? Especially with Hollywood helping out with movies such as Free Willy, or Happy Feet, or An Arctic Tale. The reality is that the bulk of the protected species are plants and among the animals on these lists are a number of spiders and insects.

The science is not conclusive either. Biologists are nearly equally split into two camps—the lumpers and the splitters. Splitters believe that the slightest morphological difference between a species justifies designating it as a sub-species. These sub-species are immediately classified as rare because they have limited geographic distribution and smaller populations and they, therefore, become instant candidates for listing. If you applied the same standard of morphological differences to human beings, one could easily imagine every single person out there as a distinct sub-species because of observed differences in the size of heads, shapes of noses, colors of skin, differences in ear configurations, hair color, etc. The biologists in the lumpers’ camp would say most humans have two eyes, one nose, one mouth and two ears and are therefore part of the broader human race.

The Endangered Species Act has become a sacred cow. Much like the Social Security system, even though it is broken, no one dares to try to fix it. This is indeed unfortunate because the current law is not achieving the desired outcome and instead results in species being keep in a bureaucratic bondage much like the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. What we need is Moses-like Senators and Representatives who will emphatically demand that the Pharaoh-like environmental groups, “Let my species go!”