Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bones' Latest Offering

Click Here to Comment

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Is President Obama’s oil policy
actually just a means to an end?

Judging Barack Obama’s policies on drilling for oil under the lands and waters of the United States evokes words like “incoherent,” “confused,” and “bizarre.”

While Mr. Obama decries our dependence on foreign oil, his administration cripples oil producers’ efforts to harvest oil reserves from US lands and waters through regulatory excess, administrative mischief and outright bans. In the Gulf of Mexico alone, 2011 will see 130 million barrels less production than the Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicted last May, and that number will grow to 200 million barrels in 2012. Those numbers represent a third of the Gulf’s total capacity and more than 10 percent of total US domestic production.

Even if the administration removes the obstacles and issues leases and permits, EIA Administrator Richard Newell notes that it takes several years before real production results, so the administration has decreased American oil production for years to come.

And now, after incapacitating much of his country’s oil production, the President of the United States went to Brazil to encourage it to drill for oil off shore, and the US would acquire some of that oil through a trade deal, while huge supplies of domestic oil lie undisturbed, and the US oil industry waits helplessly for red tape to be removed and new leases and permits to be issued.

As the various agencies of the government block production of domestic oil that reduces our dependence on foreign sources, the President publicly offers to help another country drill for its oil. Does that sound incoherent, confused, and bizarre?

The president told officials in Brazil, “We want to work with you. We want to help with technology and support to develop these oil reserves safely, and when you’re ready to start selling, we want to be one of your best customers.”

And then – incredibly – Mr. Obama said, “At a time when we’ve been reminded how easily instability in other parts of the world can affect the price of oil, the United States could not be happier with the potential for a new, stable source of energy.”

“It is beyond comprehension the administration would encourage trade for Brazilian oil while obstructing U.S. oil and natural gas development, eliminating related jobs here at home, and decreasing oil and natural gas revenues to the U.S. Treasury when the government is trillions of dollars in debt,” said American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard. “The message from the White House to America’s oil and natural gas workers: we’re going to outsource your job.”

Mr. Gerard then went on to point out the obvious, or what should be obvious to anyone: “What makes sense for Brazil also makes sense for the United States. Like every other nation, we should be developing our own oil and natural gas resources. It’s good for energy security, good for the economy, good for jobs, and it will help bring down our deficit.”

But the President then told the Brazilians exactly what is behind his incoherent policy: “In the United States, we’ve jump-started a clean energy industry, and we’ll soon have the capacity to produce 40 percent of the world’s advanced batteries,” he said. He could have added, “whether it makes any sense, or not.”

Mr. Obama’s oil policy looks like part of a plan to force enough fuel price discomfort on the American people that they will start walking, riding bicycles or taking the bus to work, and helps to justify high speed trains of which he and the other statists are so enamored.

We shouldn’t be surprised, though, because the Secretary of Energy in-waiting, Steven Chu, said as much back in 2008: “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe,” he declared. Indeed, we are well on our way toward reaching that goal. Gasoline has more than doubled in price since Mr. Obama took office, from $1.65 per gallon to around $3.50 per gallon. This is the steepest rise in gasoline prices since the Carter administration, and the Obama administration’s decrease in domestic oil production definitely will help increase prices.

Mr. Obama doesn’t mind ramping up oil drilling, so long as it’s not our oil, and he doesn’t mind keeping oil workers on the unemployment line and hurting local economies, even when America is desperate for job creation, so long as it advances his ideological agenda. “Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead,” the saying goes.

The central planners in the Obama administration and Congress have it all figured out, and if we pesky personal liberty proponents and free market capitalists would just shut up and wise up, they would set up a command economy like the former Soviet Union’s, North Korea’s, and Cuba’s, and our omnipotent government would solve all our problems and take care of us from cradle to grave.

That’s what far too many of our so-called leaders and an increasing number of the American people want. But they should understand the wisdom of this thought, attributed to several great Americans from Thomas Jefferson to Ronald Reagan: “a government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take from you everything you have.”

Click Here to Comment

Technorati Tags:
, , ,

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How would we Americans survive
without the United States Congress?

The United States Congress is one branch of our tripartite government, the one through which the people have the most direct input into how their government operates, through elected representatives.

Congress looks after us and tends to our needs, and assures that we don’t do crazy things that will hurt us, and let’s thank our lucky stars that it does. And without the insight of our elected public servants we would not have had banks making home loans to unqualified buyers, toilets with mandated water use standards, or unwary UPS shippers going to jail for putting the wrong sticker on packages. Can I get an “amen?”

We should also thank members of Congress who, in their infinite wisdom, determined that Thomas Edison’s wildly successful incandescent light bulb that we are so accustomed to and have used for so long is no longer good enough for us, and have decreed that a newer design is better. The Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulb became the bulb of choice back in 2007, when the ban on incandescent bulbs was enacted and put on course for full implementation by 2014, at which time Mr. Edison will be forced into Congress-induced irrelevancy.

It was a stroke of genius, and our Congresspersons really earned their large salaries and generous benefits on this one. Now we have longer lasting bulbs that use less energy. And, they are new! That’s all good, right? Besides, they are made in China, so every bulb we buy supports that struggling economy, and that may prevent the Chi Coms from foreclosing on their portion of the enormous debt that Congress ran up.

But wait. As USAToday reported recently, not everything is glowing brightly in Bulb Land. “Now that more people are using CFLs, the bulbs' shortcomings are giving some consumers pause,” and it pointed out some of them:

• They cost $3 to $10 each, compared with about 50 cents for incandescent bulbs.

• They don't start out at full brightness, and don’t work well in cold temperatures.

• They put out a “dingy” light that some folks object to, and they “flicker,” which sets off epileptic seizures in some people.

• The brighter CFLs are bigger and won't fit in many lamps and fixtures, and many CFL bulbs don't work well with dimmer switches and three-way light fixtures.

• And last – but certainly not least – they contain mercury, a highly toxic substance, and that makes disposal an issue.

So how the heck do you dispose of a burnt-out CFL bulb? Don’t worry; it’s a simple process, really.

To dispose of a burnt-out bulb, tells us: “If your state or local environmental regulatory agency permits you to put used or broken CFLs in the garbage, seal the bulb in two plastic bags and put it into the outside trash, or other protected outside location, for the next normal trash collection.” But if this is not permitted, we aren’t told how to dispose of the defunct bulb.

In the unfortunate event that your kid or the cat knocks over a lamp, or your mother-in-law drops a CFL and breaks it, here’s what you have to do:

1. Have people and pets leave the room for 15 minutes or more, and don't let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out. Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.

2. Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with a metal lid or in a sealed plastic bag. Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass pieces and powder.

3. Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place towels in the glass jar or plastic bag.

4. Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.

And there are special processes for other potentially hazardous situations, such as clean-up steps for carpeting or rugs; for clothing, bedding, etc.; disposal of clean-up materials; and future cleaning of carpeting or rugs.

Every good idea is at some point replaced by a better one. Or in the case of CFLs, a good idea has been replaced by a worse one. But environmental activists in and out of government are not dissuaded from shoving half-baked or un-baked ideas down our throats, all justified by the unproven and hotly debated theory that human activity is doing irreparable harm to the environment.

This environmental mania is behind the drive to replace perfectly good technology with a problem-causing “green” idea that is worse than the problem it is supposed to solve.

Former Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter correctly noted that "the Constitution was not written in order to right every wrong [or to] allow every federal do-gooder and busybody to impose his notion of clean living, safe working, or pure thinking on individuals. It was written to restrain government from interfering with … the freedom of the individual to pursue happiness."

If only our public servants understood this.

Click Here to Comment

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Self-annihilation: Watching as America
methodically kills itself

Of the interesting comments about democracy is this one attributed to Scottish historian Alexander Fraser Tytler: “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse (money-benefits) from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years."

Alas, those are not Mr. Tytler’s words, but it is nonetheless germane today.

The United States of America is about 230 years old, depending upon exactly where you begin counting, a few years longer than that prediction allows. Evidence abounds, however, that our representative democracy is collapsing around us, and for exactly the same reasons the statement noted: the people have realized that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.

Credit the exceptional foresight of our Founders for setting up a democratic form of government that allowed the US to evolve into the greatest economy and strongest nation in history. It’s a pity that we haven’t had the intelligence and self-discipline to hold fast to their brilliant format. Instead, we’ve succumbed to the self-serving behavior of pusillanimous Americans, who are responsible for turning the United States into just one more collection of socialistic, government-dependent momma’s boys.

Another insightful quote about democracy comes from 1960s Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman, who said, “Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat, but it's something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles.”

But today what passes for participation is often a “me-centered” exercise, where the political class goes to bed with various special interests for their mutual benefit. Historian and economics writer Gary North terms it thusly: "Thou shalt not steal, except by majority vote."

Nothing illustrates this better than the current budget battle on Capitol Hill, where most Democrats and more than a few Republicans strongly resist efforts to reduce spending, cut the budget deficit, and begin to pay down the $14 trillion-plus – $14,100,000,000,000 – national debt.

So far, the big spenders in Congress give the clear impression that in a budget of $3.6 trillion – $3,600,000,000,000 – with a budget deficit of $1.3 trillion – $1,258,000,000,000 – they can’t imagine cutting more than a few billion, which is a grain of sand on a beach compared to the entire deficit.

The size of these numbers is part of the reason many Americans either don’t comprehend the problem, or just can’t cope with it; how many of us, or them, can really grasp how many a billion of something is? Or a trillion? All those digits – 13 of them for a trillion – make your head hurt, cause your eyes to glaze over.

So let’s take eight digits off those huge numbers and make them small enough to understand. The budget then becomes $36,000, the deficit is $12,580, and the National Debt is $141,000.

Pretend your friend Joe makes $36,000 a year, but last year he spent $48,580, $12,580 more than he made. And for years on end he’s spent lot’s more than he earned and now owes $141,000.

Joe didn’t have enough money to buy all the stuff he wanted, but bought it anyway, hasn’t paid down any of his debt for several years, and in fact has been adding to it every year. His creditors are beginning to get nervous. And yet, Joe plans to spend more than he makes again this year, adding even more to his debt.

Joe looked over his budget and couldn’t find more than about $60 worth of things he could do without – like one meal at a restaurant for him and the wife, or beer for a couple of months – too little to meaningfully reduce his mounting debt.

He reasons this way: “Well, we shouldn’t have over-spent all those years. But we did, and my wife and kids are used to this lifestyle, and it just wouldn’t be fair to make them cut back. We can stretch it another year or two while we prepare to make cut-backs.”

Do you think Joe is financially irresponsible, and maybe crazy?

This is essentially how Congress and the administration are responding to fiscal conservatives who insist on substantive spending cuts to try to balance the budget and reduce the national debt.

Most of our elected leaders seem unfazed by the reality that we don’t have the money to continue doing all the stuff they want to continue doing, and apparently are immune to the common sense of it all. The country now borrows 40 cents for every dollar it spends. That can’t continue; it has to stop. Now.

Yes, there will be pain. But like the guy who drank too much while his friend paid the tab, he’s the one that will have the hangover.

If we are smart, we will learn the lesson that having the self-discipline and good sense to stick to the plan our Founders gave us is crucial if we’re going to survive.

Click Here to Comment

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Punishing the oil and natural gas industry
punishes the country

The turmoil in Libya that halted oil shipments from the country for a period has played havoc with oil prices, pushing them above $100 a barrel for the first time since September of 2008 and causing average gasoline prices to edge closer to $4 a gallon.

"Traders are concerned about potential loss of supply," Andy Lebow, oil analyst at MF Global in New York told the Wall Street Journal. "We can ill afford the loss of Libyan production."

The Middle East is less stable today than in many, many years, and this latest crisis adds yet another serious concern to our nation’s domestic hot list. With all of this uncertainty it is especially comforting to know that the White House is on the job. Press Secretary Jay Carney reassured the nation: "When there is unrest in the world, specifically in that region, that can affect oil prices. … We are closely monitoring that situation but I would not speculate on where oil prices could go."

Mr. Carney did not say, but should have said: “We now are beginning to understand why our policies that prevent drilling for our own oil reserves were such a goofy idea.”
Those policies include a ban on all drilling in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deep Water Horizon explosion, even though serious problems on drilling rigs are rare. It was an ill-considered policy that cost Gulf Coast states thousands of jobs at a time when the country was in the throes of the worst recession in decades, as President Barack Obama told us repeatedly. Another dumb policy is the de facto ban on issuing permits on new drilling projects anywhere in the US. These policies have combined to put us months behind in bringing oil from existing wells and finding more oil to replace foreign supplies.

Last week, five months after the Gulf drilling ban was lifted, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management finally allowed the approval of the first and only drilling permit.

Despite the federal government’s own estimates that oil and natural gas will provide over 50 percent of our energy needs for decades, the administration continues to punish the industry and push hard for imposition of cleaner forms of energy.

American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard briefed reporters last week on the industry’s value, telling them the industry can “help bring more American oil and natural gas into America’s homes, businesses and factories accessing domestic resources that are currently off limits, and accessing North American energy resources—which are abundant—could create up to a million new jobs.”

“Producing more of our own energy will help reduce federal and state deficits through the fees, royalties and taxes that our member companies pay for the right to produce on federal lands, offshore and onshore,” he said, noting that the industry pours nearly $100 million a day into federal and state treasuries.

But the industry can only help if government “sets aside antiquated assumptions and disproven myths,” he added.

So far, Mr. Gerard describes the government’s response as underwhelming.

“Instead of recognizing how our industry has and can continue to contribute to meet our nation’s fiscal and economic goals, the president – in his State of the Union address, and in his 2012 budget proposal – called for higher taxes on this industry to pay for new federal spending programs, he continued, and “some in Congress are echoing that call.”

There are three areas of serious concern where the oil industry can really help the country: energy security; job creation; and government revenues. With Middle East stability in question, unemployment still nearly double normal levels and massive national debt and annual budget deficits, the Obama administration foolishly ignores this obvious avenue of relief for all three problems.

You might expect the president, whom we are frequently told is a brilliant man, to avail himself of any and all legitimate methods to give the American people some relief from the rampant unemployment, rising fuel prices and overwhelming debt and deficits, and put his ideological compulsions on hold for a few months. That’s what a good leader would do: wait until things stabilize, then return to the agenda when doing so won’t further cripple the nation.

Blinded by ideology, the administration still aims to convert our energy system to alternative technologies, all the while ignoring obvious barriers to alternative energy, such as:
• technologies like wind and solar are not capable of replacing a significant fraction of what fossil fuels now produce;
• wind power is both undependable and unpopular with the people in whose vicinity the turbines would be installed;
• electric cars are not economical, sensible, desirable or very green;
• hybrid vehicles use less gas but are not environmentally advantageous and do not pay for themselves quickly enough.

Which begs the question: If the president really is as intelligent as we are told he is, why can he not see the logic in letting the oil industry help the country? Or, is he simply wedded to a “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” agenda?

The US didn’t become the world’s strongest nation and the world’s strongest economy because of overactive government agencies like the EPA and the Department of Energy. The US didn’t become the strongest nation and strongest economy because of liberal/socialist/statist influences within its government.

What built the country was a vibrant business sector uninhibited by excessive regulations and red tape, and if the president and his fellow statists in the administration will only unshackle the private sector, as it was when it built America, our problems will begin to abate.

We have an oversized, over-active government and a heavily limited private sector. What we need is heavily limited government and a much freer private sector

Click Here to Comment

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The acrimonious battle over public employee unions continues

In Wisconsin, newly elected Governor Scott Walker wants public employees to increase their contributions for health insurance to just 13 percent and start contributing at least something to their pension to help reduce budget over-runs, and to fix it so public employees cannot gain excessive benefits from state legislators paying unions back for their election support.

For trying to follow state law and balance Wisconsin’s budget, Gov. Walker has been labeled a “union buster,” but despite the accusations, the governor does not want to take away collective bargaining from public employees; he only wants to take fringe benefits out of the negotiations, because that’s where the most egregious excesses come from. Fringe benefits equal 47 percent of salaries.

In a desperate but laughable attempt to turn the argument to their favor, union supporters make a lame and plainly false statement: They say the $3.6 billion deficit amassed over two years is actually due to the $137 million in tax cuts the governor gave that haven’t even taken effect yet, not public employee costs.

This controversy has focused much needed attention on public employee labor unions. It is a discussion we need to have, and it is likely to get taxpayers, who bear the weight of public employee salaries and benefits, really worked up when they understand just how good most public sector workers have it, compared to workers in the private sector.

A report by the Cato Institute illustrates the differences between public sector workers as a class and private sector workers as a class. Citing 2009 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics the report shows that public sector workers enjoy total compensation (salaries and benefits combined) nearly half again better than their private sector counterparts, averaging $39.66 an hour for government workers to $27.42 an hour for private sector workers, and one-third higher raw salaries/wages, $26.01 to $19.39 an hour.

Of the nine compensation areas reported, government workers had a significantly better deal than private sector workers in all but two areas. The most glaring difference came in defined-benefit pensions, where government workers had nearly a seven-to-one advantage, and health insurance, where government workers had more than twice as much of their benefits paid for than the employees of the nation’s businesses.

Cato reports that public sector workers also enjoy the following advantages:
• They generally retire earlier than private sector workers with generous pension benefits for life, indexed for inflation.
• Virtually all their plans calculate benefits based on pay in the last one to three years of work; private plans normally use the last five years of pay or career-average pay.
• In several states public workers can “retire” early and then either resume their existing job or take a new job, thus receiving a salary and pension at the same time.

Public sector workers also enjoy far greater job security than workers in the private sector. Consider’s report last May showing that when the financial crisis began in December of 2007, U.S. private sector employment was almost 116 million and employment in government at all levels was about 22.4 million. However, by the beginning of 2010, the private sector had lost 7.3 million jobs while government employment rose by 98,000 jobs.

It often goes unmentioned in the mainstream media that the effect of higher compensation of public sector union labor raises costs to government entities, and those costs have consequences. In both business and government, higher costs result in higher prices, both of which make the business or government less competitive. State and local governments are thereby less able to attract new residents and businesses, and retain existing residents and businesses. When businesses leave a state or city, jobs go with them and tax collections go down, putting pressure on budgets and creating deficits.

Case in point: Ohio has the 7th highest taxes among the 50 states. The Tax Foundation found that since 1993 Ohio has seen 231,000 more taxpayers leave the state than move into it, and during the same period, state spending grew from $38 billion to over $60 billion, a 58 percent increase in the face of declining population. The Buckeye State saw job losses totaling 255,000 from December 2008 to December 2009.

Government is parasitic; it exists by confiscating the fruits of the private sector, taking what the people earn through the sweat of their brow. Government therefore has an obligation to be frugal and efficient.

Public sector unions do not fit into that scenario because of the incestuous relationship with elected public servants who readily accede to their excessive demands. In the 2008 election cycle, labor unions threw in $400 million to buy favors from their preferred candidates, and that explains why government employees have it so good. 

Unionized government employees comprise a pressure group whose interests often are at odds with those of the general public whom they exist to serve. They should not have the power to shut down essential public services in a dispute over wages or benefits, like Wisconsin teachers have done with their “sick out” while they protest the potential loss of their golden goose.

Click Here to Comment

Technorati Tags: , , ,