Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Striking a Balance Between Energy Reality and Ideological Fantasy

This time last year the Energy Information Administration (EIA) had just released a report showing the energy sources for electricity production in 2012.

That report showed that more than one-third of the electricity in the US comes from burning coal, and coal and natural gas together produce 67 percent of our electricity. And nuclear power comprises about 19 percent. That is the reality of energy production in the United States.

President Barack Obama prefers producing electricity with clean, renewable sources like solar and wind. Currently, wind accounts for just 0.11 percent of energy production and solar accounts for 3.46 percent, according to the EIA report.

The ideological fantasy is the idea that in a few years we can transition to producing a majority of our energy from sources that today account for less than 5 percent of energy production. Even ramping up wind and solar to produce the 37 percent of energy produced by coal in only a few years is a fantasy.

Under the most desirable circumstances imaginable, this transition would still be a tall order, and current circumstances are a long, long way from ideal. Solar energy is almost twice as expensive as natural gas, and wind energy is 46 percent more expensive than natural gas.

If the portion of electricity produced by natural gas were replaced with solar power, the price of electricity would increase by about 25 percent, and the costs for replacing coal-fired electricity with wind and solar are higher still.

Despite the difficulty with making this transition at all, or transitioning in a rational manner to keep pain and inconvenience to a minimum, the Obama administration is doing everything in its power to destroy the coal industry, and force the country to transition to producing electricity from clean sources that are not yet capable of doing the job.

Mr. Obama once said that anyone who wanted to build a coal-fired generating plant could do so, but the venture would go bankrupt, and those in coal producing states have already experienced the pain from this War on Coal.

Dan Lowery, writing for SNL Financial last September, paints the jobs picture: “Employment among U.S. coal miners plummeted by roughly 19 percent in the first quarter compared to the end of 2012, according to federal data.” He went on to say the number of employees of coal operators and contractors fell by more than 30,000 from 2011 to early 2013.

Coal jobs suffer from excessive government regulation, but also are affected by low natural gas prices. But then natural gas is also on the list of no-no energy sources.

An analysis for the Heritage Foundation predicts that significantly reducing coal’s share in America’s energy mix would, before 2030, destroy more than 500,000 jobs, cause a family of four to lose more than $1,000 in annual income, and increase electricity prices by 20 percent.

“Even worse,” authors Nicolas Loris, David Kreutzer, Ph.D. and Kevin Dayaratna write, “the Americans forced into unemployment lines and those paying higher energy prices couldn’t even claim that their suffering is helping to save the planet. If America stopped all carbon emissions, it would decrease the global temperature by only 0.08 degrees Celsius by 2050.”

While loudly and frequently pointing out the problems with coal, oil and natural gas, the green faction remains mostly silent about the problems with wind and solar energy installations. The obvious weaknesses are that if the wind isn’t blowing and if the sun isn’t shining, turbines and solar panels produce no electricity. So when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, more dependable sources must be used for production. That means that coal, oil and/or natural gas units must run 24 hours a day in backup mode in order to be ready when needed.

The wind and solar energy that the environmentalists count on to reduce pollution produced by fossil fuels actually create serious pollution problems themselves. Both use rare earth minerals in their manufacture, and the mining and processing of these minerals generates hazardous and radioactive byproducts.

Both wind and solar have a negative impact on wildlife. The mirror-like surface of solar panels attracts birds, which think they are bodies of water, like ponds and lakes. The birds then flock to the solar array, where they are fried from the heat of the reflected sunlight.

Wind turbines also claim their share of birds, in addition to warming the land beneath them. "Given the present installed capacity and the projected growth in installation of wind farms across the world, I feel that wind farms, if spatially large enough, might have noticeable impacts on local to regional meteorology," according to Liming Zhou, associate professor at the State University of New York, Albany. So, while they don’t put CO2 into the air, “clean” energy sources cause their own form of climate change.

Combining the substantially higher cost of wind and solar energy with the job losses from the War on Coal, and the fact that trading fossil fuels for “clean,” renewable energy will produce miniscule benefits to the environment, one has to seriously consider the wisdom of this obsession.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Election protections in the US Constitution are being circumvented

Back in the good ol’ days, school kids studied history and civics where they learned how and why America came to be. And they came away from that with an understanding of the wisdom the Founders applied in creating this country.

They learned that the first governing document was not adequate to accomplish the desired goals. The Articles of Confederation reflected the Founders’ profound and well-grounded fear of a too-strong national government, gave too much independence and control to the states, and had other problems that failed to provide a solid foundation for a cohesive nation.

Their solution to that misstep was to develop a new governing document that gave enough power to the federal government to hold the union together, but left the states with a significant degree of control and autonomy.

The Founders created a unique and enlightened form of government that prevented a small minority of self-serving people from controlling the masses, and also prevented a majority of citizens from imposing its will on the minority.

In creating the US Constitution to replace the Articles the Founders considered having Congress select the president, but the president would then be beholden to the Congress, confounding the idea of three co-equal branches of government. They also considered state legislatures or governors selecting the chief executive, but those ideas, too, were rejected. And they rejected electing the president through a purely popular vote, because they wanted to balance the power of the larger and smaller states. 

On this point, before being elected president then-US Sen. John F. Kennedy noted, “Direct election would break down the federal system under which states entered the union, which provides a system of checks and balances to ensure that no area or group shall obtain too much power.”

The deliberations on how best to select the president ultimately resulted in the creation of the Electoral College. But now there is an effort afoot to do away with this beneficial safeguard of the US Constitution that the Founders meticulously developed to best serve the citizens of their country.

Changing the Constitution requires amending the Constitution, and that requires the consent of two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the states; very difficult and unlikely to be accomplished any time soon.

The National Popular Vote (NPV) plan claims its purpose is “to ensure that every vote for president is equally valued no matter where it is cast.” However, it seeks to make this change without a Constitutional amendment. The Founders realized there might be legitimate reasons to change the Constitution, but also understood that such changes must have broad support among the citizenry and it therefore should not be too easily done. The system for amending the Constitution is demanding, as it should be.

Rather than approach this important change the proper way, by putting it before the people and the Congress through the amendment process, NPV advocates decided to take a short cut and simply subvert the Constitution through a back-door agreement.

The mission statement of the NPV initiative should therefore read: “Things aren’t working out to suit us, so we need to change the rules.” Its campaign seeks to obtain the consent of the majority of the 538 votes in the Electoral College to award electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote instead of the winner of the popular vote in each state, a system in which the inmates run the asylum.

The president will be chosen not by the electors voting as the voters of their state determine they should vote, but under the terms of an agreement among themselves.

This effort to buy control of presidential elections must be the work of the evil Koch brothers, or the TEA Party, right? Nope. It is uber leftist Hungarian-American multi-billionaire George Soros pulling the strings.

Ten states have already signed up for this subversion: New York, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington, Vermont, California and Rhode Island. The District of Columbia also has joined the scheme.

Since the Electoral College protects the balance the Founders created with deference to states with smaller populations and by ensuring that the interests of these states be reflected in national decision-making, circumventing it through the NPV creates serious problems, according to former Federal Election Commission member Hans A. von Spakovsky:

** Recounts would be both more prevalent and more problematic.
** It could destabilize America’s two-party system, leading to a higher incidence of close elections and recounts.
** Provisional ballots could also lead to an extensive, widespread, and complex battle that could further delay and confuse the results of a presidential election.
** The plan would encourage vote fraud.

According to Mr. von Sapkovsky, “The NPV is unconstitutional because it would give a group of states with a majority of electoral votes the power to overturn the explicit decision of the Framers against direct election. Since that power does not conform to the constitutional means of changing the original decisions of the framers, NPV could not be a legitimate innovation.”

The NPV is yet another liberal idea that upon analysis turns out to be a lousy idea. Is it also criminal?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Potpourri: government porn, federal lands, freedom of speech, etc.

Here’s an example of what can happen when there are too many government employees with too much time on their hands.

A report says that an Environmental Protection Agency employee watches porn for up to 6 hours a day. He makes $120,000 a year, and still has his job.

Nothing epitomizes a government that is so big and inefficient that its left hand has no idea not just what the right hand is doing, but doesn’t even know what its own fingers are doing. Or, just doesn’t care.

When the number of employees in a department or agency exceeds the number of truly essential employees, bad things happen, as the EPA example shows.

Agencies like the EPA are regulators; they produce regulations. Too many regulations exist already, and those people are paid to create more. On second thought, maybe it’s less harmful if they watch porn.

An efficient government, the kind of government we expect, deserve and pay for, should have few enough employees that every one of them is busy 8 hours a day doing beneficial work, serving us to the best of their ability, and to our highest expectations.

One of the major reasons our government has grown so humongous and overbearing is because too many people don’t understand that government is limited in its scope by the supreme law of the land, the US Constitution, and haven’t been paying attention to what is happening, or haven’t protested it. Still others seem to like living under the federal boot or seek control over us.

Did you know that the federal government owns or controls nearly one-third of the land in the US? Do you imagine that the feds are making the most beneficial use of it?

Some of it is used for government installations, national parks and memorials and so forth, which is fine. But much of it either lies essentially unused, like the land where Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his fellow ranchers freely grazed their cattle for decades before the federal government took over the land on the fraudulent premise that a tortoise that lived there was a “threatened” species.

More than a few cited Mr. Bundy as being a law breaker, so they thought it was just fine when the Bureau of Land Management sent 200 armed Rangers to the area because Mr. Bundy has refused to pay grazing fees for many years.

Mr. Bundy’s critics apparently believe that “if government says so, we must do it.” Had our forebears had this attitude, hundreds of singers at sporting events would be badly singing “God Save The Queen” instead of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Other federal lands imprison vast stores of natural resources that would unleash new jobs and prompt energy independence.

When it was announced that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been invited to speak at the Rutgers University graduation and receive an honorary degree, some members of the faculty passed resolutions calling for her to be “disinvited.”  Students protested outside the office of the university president, some with signs calling her a “war criminal” because of her role in the Iraq War and the Bush administration’s use of waterboarding.

Showing she clearly has more class than those faculty members and students, Dr. Rice, withdrew her acceptance. “Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families,” she said. “Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time.”

And so the tolerant and open-minded atmosphere of the university endures and the grand ideal of free and open debate of important, often conflicting ideas on campuses everywhere may continue for yet a while longer.

Then there is this: “I think that there are impulses in the government every day to second guess and look into the editorial decisions of conservative publishers,” warned Federal Election Commission Chairman Lee E. Goodman in an interview. “The right has begun to break the left’s media monopoly, particularly through new media outlets like the Internet, and I sense that some on the left are starting to rethink the breadth of the media exemption and Internet communications,” he added.

You have to admire the determination of the leftists to find a way to defeat contrary opinions when they cannot do so through the power of superior ideas and arguments. When they have control of government resources, they have no compunction about unleashing this power against their political enemies. “Well, we may not be right, but we will prevail.”

I’ve had an epiphany about Benghazi. I have adopted the Dem/lib philosophy: “Dude, that’s so yesterday.”

Since it happened on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s watch, and she is satisfied that all the questions have been answered, shouldn’t that be enough for anybody? What difference, at this point, does it make? Now I can focus on other liberal goals, like which of the 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights we should trash next.

Oh, have you heard that a new helicopter fleet to ferry the president for short distances is being considered, and that the Congressional Budget Office estimates it will only cost $20 billion?

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Administration stonewalling cheats Americans of the truth about Benghazi

A large number of Americans still believe we have been told too little about who did things they shouldn’t have done, and/or didn’t do things they should have done that would have prevented the September 11, 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The result was the brutal torture and murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and the deaths of Information Officer Sean Smith, and two embassy security personnel, former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.

The heat was turned up on this simmering issue last week when emails that should have been turned over when requested by congressional committees months ago were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from Judicial Watch.

White House spokesman Jay Carney answered a press question on this development by saying that an email that discussed talking points really wasn’t about Benghazi, but about regional demonstrations, despite the fact that the FOIA request specifically asked for Benghazi documents.

This email from Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser to then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who used the talking points on Sunday talk shows, calls attention yet again to the story advanced by the White House and the State Department for far too long after the attack that it was the result of an anti-Islam YouTube video, not terrorism.

The administration has no one to blame but itself for the months-long effort to find answers to questions about the Benghazi attack. Had the White House and State Department responded appropriately to legitimate requests for answers to important questions, instead of stonewalling and dodging, we would know what mistakes were made, and by whom. But when you have something to hide, you stonewall and dodge.

The following events preceded the Benghazi attack:
• February: The US embassy is granted a four-month extension of a Tripoli-based “site security team” of 16 special forces soldiers who provide security, medical and communications support to the embassy.
• March: State Department Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom asked Washington for additional diplomatic security agents for Benghazi, and said he received no response. He repeated his request in July and again got no response.
• April 6: Two fired Libyan security guards throw an IED over the consulate fence.
• May 22: An Islamist attack on the Benghazi Red Cross office is followed by a Facebook post warning “now we are preparing a message for the Americans,” and another a month later highlights Ambassador Stevens’ daily jogs in an apparent threat. The Red Cross closed the office.
• June 6: Unknown assailants blow a hole in the British consulate’s north gate described as “big enough for 40 men to go through,” and four days later, the British ambassador’s car is ambushed by militants with a rocket-propelled grenade. The consulate is closed soon thereafter.
• July: The anti-Islam video “Innocence of Muslims” appears on YouTube.
• August. 14: The US security team leaves Libya, despite Ambassador Stevens’ desire that they remain, according to Lt. Col. Andy Wood.
• In the weeks before Sept. 11, Libyan security guards are reportedly warned by family members of an impending attack. On Sept. 8, the Libyan militia tasked with protecting the consulate warns US diplomats that the security situation is “frightening.”
•  September 10: Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri calls on Libyans to avenge the death of his Libyan deputy, Abu Yahya al Libi, killed in a June drone strike in Pakistan.

The American people deserve answers to the following questions:
• Why were the requests for additional security not granted, or even acknowledged?
• Why was the existing security team recalled when Ambassador Stevens asked that it remain?
• After violence against the Red Cross office and the British consulate forced their closure, why was the Benghazi consulate kept open?
• Why was Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi, given the rising violence and warnings of violence?
• Not knowing how long the attack would last (it lasted 7 hours), why were no US military assets dispatched to at least try to get to Benghazi in time to help?
• Why have those responsible for the attack not been hunted down and captured?
• Where was the president while the attack was being followed in the White House Situation Room?

Some administration supporters say that policies have been designed and put into place to see that a Benghazi-like event doesn’t happen again, so we don’t need another investigation. But doing so must be based upon knowing what went wrong, and if the administration knows what went wrong, why not come clean with the American people, as we expect from “the most transparent administration in history”?

That was Barack Obama’s pledge on the campaign trail, and reiterates that pledge: “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

The Obama administration is open and transparent, unless an election is coming up, or it will make someone look bad, or it will confound some aspect of its radical agenda. It apparently did not learn about cover-ups from Richard Nixon, whose scandal did not include dead Americans.