Monday, July 14, 2008

Shut Up and Drill

When it comes to talk of "green," I am first a skeptic. I deeply distrust the mainstream media, the public education system, and our institutions of higher learning. I see in these institutions an intentional, organized push toward an indoctrination of the general public, particularly our youth. If you doubt my statement, just ask yourself how free our science teachers are to discuss the "Intelligent Design" alternative to the "creed" of Darwinism in the classroom.

When it comes to politics, I prize liberty above everything. Liberty is the engine which has made our nation the most prosperous, the most blessed nation on earth. If my grandchildren are to enjoy these same blessings, then I see myself as having a responsibility to defend liberty—liberty of thought, liberty of worship, liberty to pursue one's dreams and aspirations. To me, liberty sits far above protecting the environment on my scale of important things. And this is so because once liberty is gone, it is almost impossible to get it back.

I grew up in Cleveland Ohio. For a short time I lived on the third floor of an old house that overlooked the Cuyahoga River Valley. At night I would walk out onto the metal fire escape and look out at the steel plants belching fire out of their smokestacks. I could see the river barges moving coal and other raw materials up and down the river. Trains also carried their goods in and out of those plants. Both night and day that entire river valley bustled with manufacturing activity. Dirt and noise filled that valley, the valley that provided jobs and income for thousands of men so they could put food on their tables and feed their families.

Then in 1969 the Cuyahoga River caught fire. $45,000 of damage was done to the Norfolk & Western trestle bridge over the Cuyahoga. We became the laughingstock of the country for a while. But that dirty old river had had two previous fires, one in 1936, and one in 1952.

Cleveland sits on Lake Erie. The Great Lakes, especially Erie, suffered greatly from toxins and trash. After the fire, the US Congress passed the Clean Water Act and efforts to clean up the river and the lake went into full swing.

I was part of a small clean-up crew in 1970. A bunch of us went down to one of the beaches of Lake Erie and picked up trash and debris. It was filthy. Dead pigeons littered the beach. The air was putrid.

Nearly forty years later, the steel mills are gone, the river and lake are cleaned up, and the Cleveland waterfront, along with the Cuyahoga River valley are enjoying a renaissance of parks, recreation, restaurants, walking paths, and many other people-friendly features.

I tell this story only to demonstrate that environments can be reclaimed. Political liberty on the other hand, is not nearly so easy to recapture once taken.

Liberty of course comes with responsibility, and our nation certainly has a long laundry list of abused liberties. Labor unions came into real influence around 100 years ago because factory owners, mine owners, and other wealthy business magnates took advantage of their workers. In time, our federal government crafted laws and established agencies to defend and protect the little guy. Today, labor unions exist primarily to line the pockets of labor union bosses and to perpetuate their existence.

I grew up in the fifties and sixties. In those days our highways were utterly littered with trash. Our public rights-of-way looked like today's third world countries. Recycling did not even exist. Everything was used up and then just tossed out.

We've learned. We've become much more cognizant of our environment. And that's a good thing.

My father was one of the first people hired by the EPA when they came into existence in 1971. In fact, his job here in DC is the reason I live in Virginia today.

Our nation's economy runs on oil. And 70% of the oil we use comes from outside of the United States. We have become far too dependent on foreign oil. Because of our politicians' fear of radical environmentalists, we have become prisoners of OPEC.

As for the "hated" oil companies themselves, say what you want about them, but they keep this country running. Eighteen wheelers bring us our food, our clothes, and everything else we Americans consume on a daily basis. Airlines carry millions of people across this great land of ours every year. Transportation, which runs largely on oil, is absolutely vital to a healthy economy. Right now, Florida's economy is in the tank. Why? It's largely due to the drop in the tourist trade. People can no longer afford to travel like they used to.

The company I work for has eight plants in Florida. Five of them have been shut down this year.

I have truck-driving friends whose livelihood depends on oil. Just the other day I heard that it cost a driver over $900.00 to fill up his tanks with diesel fuel. Many truckers are now off the road, unable to afford the fuel. The rising cost of oil drives up the cost of everything else. When people can no longer afford to buy products, the workers that provide them lose their jobs. Everyone suffers.

"But even if we drill for oil today, it will take ten years to see the benefit."

I don't know about you, but I have grown weary of what former Senator Phil Gramm calls "whiners." What happened to the American "can do" spirit? What happened to the America that built the largest military in just four short years and defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan? What happened to the America that, nearly one hundred years ago, dug a 51 mile-long canal through the tiny nation of Panama, with locks capable of handling ships 1,000 feet long? We saw what needed to be done, and did it.

Construction began on the ALCAN Highway in March of 1942. The 1,320 mile road from Dawson Creek British Columbia, to Delta Junction Alaska was completed just seven months later, in September of 1942. From March of 1975 to May of 1977, workers constructed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, an 800 mile conduit to carry crude oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, Alaska. We landed a man on the moon in 1969—almost forty years ago.

These examples show that when Americans decide to do something, we can do just about anything that needs to be done. Why can't we drill for our own oil and seek out new and renewable energy sources at the same time?

Today, we need oil to keep America strong. We need to wean ourselves from FOREIGN oil. We can do this. We should do this. And we can do it all while developing new, renewable sources of energy at the same time.

France's electric power is about 80% nuclear.

The environmental restrictions we labor under the weight of today strike at our liberty. That's how I see it. And the global warming alarmists want to lay more on us. They want to control the cars we drive, the light bulbs we use, and the food we eat.

I value liberty too much to stand by and do nothing. That's why I vote, why I write, why I speak out whenever the opportunity presents itself, and why I am in regular contact with my senators, my congressman, and even my president. I also write my state representatives as well.

I am not advocating destroying the environment. Besides, that wouldn't happen anyway. We've come too far and learned too much. What I am advocating is using our minds, our willingness to work hard, our American freedoms and know-how to find a way out of this mess. For the short term it will take oil. Fifty years from now, regardless of new technology, we will still need oil to some degree.

We just need the chains of government control loosened so we Americans can do what we have historically done better than anyone else in the world. Find solutions to problems.

Yeah ... I am essentially a free-market, laissez-faire capitalist. The free market almost always works better than the government. The people are almost always smarter and wiser than the politicians.

Look at the ethanol debacle. The government, under pressure from environmentalists, mandated that all of our gasoline include a mixture of bio-fuel. Corn ethanol is the bio-fuel of choice. Here are the unhappy facts: 1) the production of corn-ethanol (clearing of land, production, and transportation of the product to market) leaves twice the "carbon footprint" as gasoline; 2) corn-ethanol produces between two and nine times the greenhouse gases as the gasoline it replaces; 3) corn prices have soared because farmers are now producing corn for ethanol and not for food.

All this is because an army of government experts decided that they knew better than the free market.

I say, "Shut up and drill."

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Dwarfed by Giants

Saturday morning a friend dropped by the house and loaned me the seven part HBO series, John Adams. Last evening I watched Part II, Independence. I was deeply moved by the portrayal of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, struggling to find a way to deal with the oppression of Great Britain's King George. I decided that while we are still in our 4th of July weekend, and while things were still fresh, I needed to write something.

So far, this acclaimed series lives up to its reputation. The performances of both Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as "dearest friends" John and Abigail Adams, amaze. The quality of the production itself easily compares with the other Tom Hanks produced HBO series, Band of Brothers. And Tom Wilkinson's portrayal of the old sage, Benjamin Franklin, could not have been more believable.

But none of the above are my reasons for writing.

What compelled me to write was not the production itself, the actors, or even the conversion of work to a screenplay. I write because I saw the staggering peerlessness of the men in Philadelphia that summer of 1776. Watching Adams, Dickenson, Rutledge, and occasionaly Franklin debate the principles of independence, liberty, and the natural rights of men brought me to realize just what dwarfs we have for leaders in our generation.

Today, our elected officials wield power over some 300 million Americans. Most would argue that our world is far more complex than it was 232 years ago. And their arguments would be sound.

In 1776, the delegates in Philadelphia held the fate of 2-1/2 million colonists in their hands, a miniscule number compared to today's masses. And yet, upon the shoulders of those men weighed not only their own fate, and the fate of those they represented, but the future political course of the whole world.

Never in history had a nation come into existence so deliberately, so purposefully, so intentionally. What these men did has yet to be replicated. Oh yes, other nations have copied us to some measure, re-designed their system of government, and re-structured themselves in a new way. But none have made so clear and precise a break with intentions as noble, as high-minded.

We are, as noted in my previous blog, a nation "of the people, by the people, and for the people." Any free nation, with the privilege and opportunity to choose their own leaders, clearly gets the leaders they deserve. And so the only explanation for the dwarfish leaders we have, is the dwarfish people we have become.

Regarding the basic elements of our self-governing system, the spectacular ignorance of the general population in America is more than alarming. We are unskilled in wielding big ideas. We have become reduced to slandering those who don't agree with us rather than debate ideas on their merits.

As a baby boomer, I have watched my share of presidential debates, both in the primaries and in general elections. They make me very sad. Few and far between can we find candidates who stand, unashamedly, on an ideological platform they can passionately defend. They dodge and weave through the tough questions, hoping to supply answers that will leave them wiggle room should the winds shift direction. Few with firm convictions emerge from the pack. Most are simply proefessional opportunists with deep pockets seeking power and influence.

Our founders were reluctant everymen. Farmers, doctors and shopkeepers, they convened in Philadelphia to address the problem of British oppression. Little did they expect when they first arrived that they would break ties with England and form a new nation. They made great sacrifices to do their duty. They pledged everything (their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor), expecting that everything would be lost. And yet they chose this course because they believed it to be the correct course.

In 1825, one year before John Adams passed away (both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on July 4th, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence), young neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson stopped by to visit him. Emerson later recorded their conversation in which Adams stated, "I wish people had more ambition. Ambition of the laudable kind. To excel."

Indeed, we stand as dwarfs to these giants.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

We the Middling People

I offer my thoughts this Independence Day, July 4th, 2008.

In 1747, Benjamin Franklin, a man who would one day become a founding father of our nation, published a pamphlet titled Order, Discipline, and a Few Cannon. His purpose for this pamphlet was to rouse the everyday people to form a citizen's militia. He referred to his fellow Philadelphians as "we, the middling People, the Tradesmen, Shopkeepers, and Farmers of this Province and City."

Middling? Average. Everyday. Common. Joe Six-Pack.

America has always been about "we the middling people." We are the nation who rejected the reign of monarchs, who established a system of self-government run "of the people, by the people, and for the people." We Americans have historically been able to do just about anything we set our minds to do.

We defeated Great Britain, the world's mightiest military twice, once in 1775-83 and again in 1812-14. We survived a war between ourselves and came out better for it. We built telegraph lines from coast to coast, then railroads, then telephone lines, then airlines, then Interstate highways. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, we geared up our factories and built the world's mightiest military machine in just four short years, defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. We set the wheels in motion to correct past abuses when we repealed Jim Crow laws and determined that the "civil rights" of every American would be protected. We landed a man on the moon.

But now, pundits are decrying the horrible condition of of things in this sad little country of ours. Other nations are passing us by in education, technology, science, etc. Fareed Zakaria writes in Newsweek of his read on the American situation:

"American anxiety springs from something much deeper, a sense that large and disruptive forces are coursing through the world. In almost every industry, in every aspect of life, it feels like the patterns of the past are being scrambled. "Whirl is king, having driven out Zeus," wrote Aristophanes 2,400 years ago. And—for the first time in living memory—the United States does not seem to be leading the charge. Americans see that a new world is coming into being, but fear it is one being shaped in distant lands and by foreign people."
Zakaria goes on to say that the day is coming when America will no longer be the leader of the free world. Huh? ... who will take our place, then? Will there even be a "free world" if America slips from the stage? Read it for yourself: The Rise of the Rest.

I admit that there is somewhat of a pall that hangs over our country these days. We are portrayed by media as a nation divided. We are "red states" and "blue states." And according to Michelle Obama, America is "just downright mean."

None of this makes us feel real good about ourselves, does it? And it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, either. How is it that we have somehow slipped into this self-induced, "woe is me" state?
We suffer from an identity crisis. Who are we? Apparently we are not as sure as we once were.

Are we the same "middling people" who did all of those great things listed above, and more, or are we now some other people? Have we lost pride in our country, our flag? Is patriotism now passé?

America is becoming like the child who has been told over and over and over again by a parent that they will never amount to anything. Our self-image is bruised. We beat each other up with our words. Our national psyche has been damaged.

Have "we the middling people" trusted too much in our presidents, our judges, our congressmen, our senators, our bureaucrats, our radio talk show hosts, our college professors, our media elites?

Well ..... duh.

Hey, here's some GOOD news! America belongs to "we the middling people." It is ours, not theirs! The first step in climbing out of our national "malaise" is to remember the first three words of our nation's Constitution: "We the middling People."

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